"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cruel & Unusual? The Death Penalty’s Trials in Mississippi

Mississippi's death chamber
Mississippi's death chamber
Mississippi's lethal-injection litigation nightmares are coming mainly from the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans where attorney James Craig, who represents several Mississippi inmates on death row, works. In September 2015, three inmates on death row, including Richard Jordan, filed a federal complaint against the state for violating their rights to due process and "to be free from cruel and unusual punishment" under the U.S. Constitution.

Lawyers amended this complaint just months after the Mississippi Department of Corrections changed its lethal-injection protocol that July to substitute a drug called midazolam as one of the three drugs in the series that creates the lethal injection. Midazolam, Craig and other attorneys allege, could create a substantial risk of harm to those on death row.

The State denies that midazolam creates a risk and but does admit in court documents that "MDOC intends to use midazolam as the first drug in Plaintiffs' executions and that midazolam is classified as a benzodiazepine."

The legal challenge against midazolam relies on the question of whether or not it is really "a similar drug" to the increasingly hard-to-get barbiturates, which Mississippi law currently allows. Midazolam is a sedative considered a "benzodiazepine" drug class—not a "barbiturate." Lawyers and advocates against the death penalty—and against the use of midazolam—argue that midazolam is not a true anesthetic, therefore not guaranteeing that it will render a person unconscious, which is its purpose.

Oklahoma state employees used midazolam in the botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett in 2014; the procedure took 40 minutes before he finally died of a heart attack.

Arizona and Ohio officials also used midazolam in two executions where prisoners "showed visible signs of pain before dying," as Newsweek reported.

The U.S. Supreme Court did not deem midazolam unconstitutional in a case from Oklahoma, leaving the potential for future litigation about the drug open, since its ruling only applied to the evidence that Oklahoma inmates presented. In its 2015 Glossip v. Gross ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the prisoners failed to identify known and available alternative methods of executions that "entail(s) a lesser risk of pain." The 5-4 decision on June 29, 2015, came down just a month before MDOC announced that it would change its death-penalty protocols to include midazolam.

If House Bill 638 becomes law, this legal question will be moot—because the new wording broadens the language, allowing the state to legally use midazolam. Attorney General Hood sent a statement to the Jackson Free Press about the current bill to change the state's death-penalty law.

"Because we cannot obtain the first drug in the three-drug protocol and now are experiencing difficulty obtaining the second and third drugs, we have requested a change in the language on the types of drugs to be utilized, as well as alternative means," the statement said.

Advocates oppose the use of midazolam as well as the broad language in the bill, however. The ACLU of Mississippi, which opposes the death penalty generally, also opposes House Bill 638. Blake Feldman, one of the advocacy coordinators there, said midazolam is to blame for several botched executions—and that it is disturbing that state officials would want to use a drug that has been the root of problems elsewhere.

"We can't ignore that what this bill does is it very seriously increases the chances of a botched execution. ... The death penalty is a gross injustice, but a botched execution by the State paid for with tax dollars in our name is as bad as you can get," Feldman told the Jackson Free Press.

While Richard Jordan, Ricky Chase and Thomas Loden's midazolam complaint will be moot if House Bill 638 passes, the three death-row inmates will continue to challenge the use of a three-drug lethal-injection procedure as unconstitutional.

That is, the state's legal problems over the death penalty are far from over.

The 'Alternative Methods'

Mississippi would be the second state in the country to enact a method called nitrogen hypoxia if House Bill 638 becomes law. Rep. Foster, aware that the lethal-injection litigation is stalling the death penalty, added several other measures the State could carry out in lieu of the lethal injection. Originally his bill added nitrogen hypoxia (lethal gas), firing squad and electrocution in that order as alternatives to lethal injection—if that method is deemed unconstitutional.

Most states with the death penalty use lethal injection to execute people. Oklahoma, after all its negative lethal-injection headlines seems to be moving forward with a new method: nitrogen gas.

In 2015, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill to allow the state to use the method to execute its prisoners on death row, and last September, the attorney general there suggested that the state needs to develop a protocol for the new method, the Tulsa World reported.

The only hang-up for nitrogen hypoxia is that there are no reports of it ever being used to legally execute a human, the Associated Press reported in 2015. In May 2016, a grand jury in Oklahoma issued a report about what went wrong in another botched lethal-injection execution, and in that report, suggested that nitrogen gas could be a better alternative for the state to use, The Oklahoman reported.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: Jackson Free Press, Arielle Dreher, March 22, 2017

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Bangladesh: Mufti Hannan to seek presidential clemency

Mufti Hannan
Mufti Abdul Hannan
Convicted of killing in terrorist attack, the chief of Bangladeshi chapter of Harkat ul Islam, Abdul Hannan, will seek presidential clemency after the apex court dismissed his plea to review death sentence, prison authorities said on Wednesday.

Hannan, also known as Mufti Hannan, expressed his willingness to seek the pardon after officials read out the death warrant to the convict after the Supreme Court rejected his review against the conviction.

"Hannan told us that he would file mercy petition to the president," senior jail superintendent Mizanur Rahman said as the authorities were preparing for execution of the terrorist.

Inspector General of Prisons Brigadier General Syed Iftekhar Uddin told reporters that all preparations were taken to hang the militants.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday released full verdict that upheld its order confirming his death penalty for the 2004 grenade attack on then British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury.

Attorney General Mahbube Alam said that the execution of the convicted militant was a matter of time as the Supreme Court dismissed the review petitions of 3 death-row convicts, including Hannan.

A court in Sylhet on December 23, 2008 sentenced Hannan and 2 of his associates - Bipul and Ripon - to death for carrying out grenade attack on the British envoy at a shrine in the north-eastern city.

Choudhury escaped, but 3 people, including 2 security officials were killed in the attack on May 21, 2004.

2 other members of the banned militant group - Muhibullah alias Muhibur Rahman alias Ovi and Mufti Main Uddin alias Abu Zandal - were sentenced to life in prison.

The High Court confirmed the death penalty on February 11, 2016. The convicts however filed appeal with the Appellate Division, which rejected the militant's plea upholding the punishment on December 7, 2016.

Their reviews were dismissed on February 23 this year.

Source: newsnextbd.com, March 23, 2017

Related content: Bangladesh: Mufti Hannan’s death penalty upheld, March 19, 2017

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Texas: List of available death-qualified attorneys needs to be broadened

'The Walls' Unit, Huntsville, Texas
'The Walls' Unit, Huntsville, Texas
The shrinking list of lawyers qualified to handle the growing list of capital murder defendants in Bexar County does not bode well for the criminal justice system.

With 68 capital murder cases pending and only 11 lawyers living in the county who meet the minimum requirement to represent indigent defendants who might end up on death row, the likelihood is high that many of those cases will not be resolved soon.

Most defendants charged with capital murder are at the mercy of the criminal justice system for their legal defense. They generally lack the financial means to hire legal counsel or post bond.

That means those accused of capital murder in Bexar County will spend a long time in the local lockup awaiting their day in court. It also means a long wait for resolution by the families of the victims in those cases.

Usually, two lawyers are assigned to each capital murder case. Texas law requires those assigned as lead lawyers in capital murder cases to have spent five years doing criminal law work; have experience challenging mental health or forensics experts in court; and be skilled at presenting mitigating evidence to a jury.

The rules are well intentioned given the growing number of death row inmates across the country who have been exonerated. In Texas alone, 12 people have been released from death row since 1973.

The problems with the strict appointment guidelines is that they do not allow the assignment of former prosecutors who may have tried capital murder cases or former judges who may have presided over such cases.

Lawyers on the list of candidates qualified to handle capital murder cases in Bexar County are vetted by a local selection committee, but the group of veteran lawyers and jurists serving on it are strictly bound by the state regulations.

Attempts by the Bexar County judiciary to broaden the rules to allow former prosecutors and judges to qualify for the appointments have met with stiff opposition at the state level.

The issue needs to be addressed.

Burdening a small group with the defense of the most serious of felonies is a disservice to the lawyers and their clients.

The cases can be emotionally and physically grueling on the defense team. The sheer number of cases each lawyer is handling makes a strong case for an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

The shortage of lawyers to handle capital murder defense work is not unique to Bexar County. Express-News Staff Writer Bruce Selcraig reports that other jurisdictions are experiencing the same situation.

Establishing a public defenders office that would include lawyers who are experienced in capital murder defense is an expensive proposition. The same can be said for hiring defense lawyers from out of town to tackle the caseload.

The fee paid to court-appointed lawyers in capital murder cases is only $150 an hour for actual trial work, but the costs add up quickly for taxpayers footing the bill. If lawyers are brought in from out of town, there is the added cost for travel, lodging and meals.

The number of death sentences in Texas has been steadily declining since life without parole became a sentencing option. It has gone from 48 people sent to death row in 1999 to only four in 2016.

Lack of eligible lawyers to handle capital murders defense work could bring those numbers down further.

If that was the intent behind the strict rules on the criminal defense appointments, then let’s be upfront about it and start a serious discussion on the future of the death penalty in Texas.

If not, the stressful workload piled on the few attorneys qualified to represent capital murder defendants needs to addressed.

It is simply unacceptable that defendants without financial means have limited access to defense lawyers in capital cases. The list of available attorneys needs to be broadened.

Source: mySA, Express-News Editorial Board, March 21, 2017

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USA: Can Mentally Ill Americans Be Executed? It's Complicated

Several states are considering a ban on capital punishment for people with mental illnesses or brain injuries.

There is a difference between mental illness - which encompasses a wide range of diagnoses, including serious ones like schizophrenia and paranoia - and insanity, a condition that is much more narrowly defined and more difficult to prove.

Insanity can shield you from being put on trial, found guilty or executed. But serious mental illness can't.

Dylann S. Roof, who killed 9 African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, has been sentenced to death despite some evidence of mental illness.

Here is a primer on mental illness and the death penalty.

Yes. The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to shield mentally ill people from the death penalty, saying only that people who are insane cannot be executed.

But "the insane" is narrowly defined as "those who are unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it" - a definition that excludes most people with severe mental illness.

Georgia executed Andrew H. Brannan, a decorated Vietnam War veteran with post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder, in 2015. Florida executed John E. Ferguson, who believed that he was the "Prince of God" and that his death would save the world, in 2013.

7 states are likely to introduce legislation this year that would bar execution for people with severe mental illness, according to the 8th Amendment Project, an anti-death-penalty group. The bills do not agree on a common definition of severe mental illness, but it would typically include schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

If enough states exempt people with such illnesses, the Supreme Court may decide that national standards of decency have evolved and follow suit.

Critics of executing people with serious mental illnesses, including the American Bar Association, say these people are more vulnerable to wrongful convictions. Among other things, they may be more likely to make false confessions.

Are other categories of people exempt from execution?

Yes. The Supreme Court has held in recent years that juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities should not be put to death because they are less culpable.

But the limits can seem arbitrary: Someone who is a day under 18 when they commit a crime cannot be executed, but someone who is a day past their 18th birthday can. And because intellectual disability is legally defined as a disorder that manifests before age 18, people with brain damage do not necessarily qualify. Someone who suffered a brain injury as an adult would not be exempt from capital punishment even if their cognitive function is similar to that of an intellectually disabled person.

Insane is different from mentally ill. The legal definition of insanity centers on the inability to comprehend the nature of one's actions, a lack of understanding of right and wrong, or, in some states, a lack of capacity to control one's actions.

The insanity defense is rarely used and even more rarely successful. For example, Andrea Yates was deeply psychotic when she drowned her 5 children in 2001, believing she was saving them from damnation. But that did not mean she did not understand the consequences of her actions or know they were wrong. At her first trial, the jury rejected her insanity defense.

And when it comes to execution, it is the person's mental state at the time of punishment that matters. No one argued that Alvin Bernard Ford was insane when he killed a police officer in 1974. But he later became obsessed with the Ku Klux Klan and came to believe that family members and prominent politicians were the victims of a prolonged hostage crisis. His case, Ford v. Wainwright, reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1986 that an insane person could not be executed.

3 years later, though, a federal judge ruled that Mr. Ford was not insane. He died on death row, of natural causes, in 1991.

Sanity can fluctuate. Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, argued that one of his former clients, Gary M. Heidnik, was incompetent to be executed (that is, insane) because he believed that the death warrant against him was fake. During a hearing, it was explained that the warrant had been signed by the real governor of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Heidnik accepted that it was legitimate.

"While on the stand, he became competent to be executed," Mr. Dunham recalled. "He was executed despite the fact that he was stone-cold nuts."

The Supreme Court and many state laws say that mental illness - along with things like childhood abuse, trauma and the lack of a previous criminal record - can be presented as a mitigating factor for jurors to consider during the punishment phase of capital cases. Mitigating factors weigh against the death penalty; aggravating factors, like torturing a victim, weigh in favor of death.

A jury declined to give a death sentence to James E. Holmes, who killed 12 people at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in 2012, because of his long-term mental illness. There is, however, a risk that jurors will view severe mental illness as inherently dangerous.

Dylann S. Roof represented himself during the sentencing phase of his trial and refused to allow the jury to hear evidence of mental illness. He wrote in a journal that psychology was "a Jewish invention." Court papers unsealed after the trial indicated that he had "social anxiety disorder, a mixed substance abuse disorder, a schizoid personality disorder, depression by history and a possible autistic spectrum disorder."

The judge in Mr. Roof's case had to determine not whether he was mentally ill, but whether he was competent to stand trial - in other words, to understand the proceedings and assist in his defense - and able to represent himself.

Mr. Dunham argues that if Mr. Roof had the delusional belief that mental illness did not exist, it was a mistake to deem him capable of making rational decisions on whether to present evidence of his condition, "because his views about mental illness were themselves a product of his mental illness."

Source: New York Times, March 22, 2017

⏩ Related content: Severe mental illness and the death penalty, March 21, 2017

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Japan: Man sentenced to death for killing 5 neighbors on Awaji Island

Gallows trap door, Tokyo Detention Center, Japan
Gallows trap door, Tokyo Detention Center, Japan
KOBE — A court sentenced a 42-year-old man to death Wednesday for killing five people on Awaji Island in western Japan in 2015.

The defendant Tatsuhiko Hirano’s mental condition was “normal” when he carried out the killings, Presiding Judge Hidenori Nagai said in handing down the ruling at the Kobe District Court. 

Hirano’s lawyers immediately appealed the ruling.

The focus of the trial was whether Hirano was mentally competent enough to be held responsible for his actions. He had argued during the trial that the case was a “false accusation plotted by ‘operatives’ who destroyed my brain and forced me to commit the murders.”

His lawyers, who had sought acquittal or a lesser punishment, had said he was unable to make normal decisions because of a psychotropic drug he had been taking.

Hirano was accused of fatally stabbing five neighbors with a knife in two separate homes in Sumoto, Hyogo Prefecture, on March 9, 2015. 

The victims were three women and two men aged between 59 and 84.

He was committed to hospital in 2005 and 2010 after being judged by local authorities to be a danger to the public due to mental illness.

The prosecutors, in seeking capital punishment, highlighted the fact that “he took the lives of five people who did nothing wrong.”

Pointing to the brutality of the case and the numerous stab wounds on the victims, they said the influence of the psychotropic drug the defendant had been using for a long time was “limited.”

Source: Japan Today, March 23, 2017

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Iran: Women are Being Arrested, Tortured, and Executed under Rouhani’s Watch

Iranian women
Iran is A Leading State in Women’s Oppression

All dictators are known to oppress their opponents, lie to society about their policies, and resort to any crime necessary to remain in power. Hitler believed a lie should be preposterous to make it believable.

As the world marks International Women’s Day on March 8th, Iranian regime President Hassan Rouhani has recently been making remarks about women’s rights (!) in an attempt to cloak his portion of the Iranian regime’s misogynist report card. Shahriar Kia wrote in ‘American Thinker’ on March 7, 2017, and the article continues as follows:

In his own memoirs, from page 571 to 573, Rouhani explains in detail how in 1980 he began enforcing mandatory hijab regulations as the mullahs began their historical campaign against Iranian women.

On a more general scale, Rouhani is known for his preposterous remarks. During the 2013 presidential campaign he once said, “Not only do I believe we should not have any political prisoners, but I believe we shouldn’t have any prisoners at all.”

This same Rouhani, in 1980 when he was a member of parliament, provided a theory on how to establish security across the country: “Conspirators must be hanged in public before the people during Friday prayers to have more influence,” he said, according to the official Sharq website.

Rouhani’s tenure has also been the hallmark home of systematic oppression against women, workers, college students, writers, journalists, dissident bloggers; imposing poverty and unemployment on a majority of Iranians; continuous threats made against the media; punishment of political prisoners have increased significantly even in comparison to the years of Iran’s firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During Rouhani’s human rights violations-stained tenure, an average of two to three people have been executed on a daily basis.

Iranian women are known for their high rate of college education. But Iranian women have a lesser chance of entering the workforce in comparison to their counterparts in war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq. This despite the fact that Rouhani had pledged to set aside all barriers before women and provide them a larger share in politics and economics.

Statistics from the period of March 2015 to March 2016 show unemployment amongst young Iranians reached over 26%, and that 42% of young women were out of work.

“Based on numbers, around 300,000 women were working and enjoying social security insurance. However, these numbers have diminished to 100,000,” said Soheila Jelodarzadeh, advisor to Rouhani’s Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade to the official ILNA news agency.

On the salary gap between men and women working in factories, this advisor added in many cases women receive less than a third of the set minimum wage.

Rouhani had also pledged to establish a Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Not only has no such ministry ever been formed, Rouhani’s cabinet lacks even a single female minister.

Iranian female police officers
Iranian female police officers
During his four years in office, Rouhani has presided over the establishment of gender-segregated universities and women being restricted from many university courses. Many educational books have been changed to the detriment of women, and many fields are only allocated for men.

Perhaps the most atrocious of all crimes has been the phenomenon of regime hoodlums splashing acid on women. Not one individual was arrested after around 15 women were attacked with acid in the city of Isfahan.

Due to the nature of the mullahs’ regime, there are no specific numbers of how many women have been arrested, tortured, and executed under Rouhani’s watch. Yet rest assured, such statistics would be very troubling, to say the least.

On January 27th, 2016, coinciding with Rouhani’s visit to France, the country’s Members of the National Assembly issued an open letter to President Francoise Hollande published in Le Figaro:

“…the new version of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code continues to legalize stoning to death. Generally, women are under the pressure of legalized discrimination in regards to marriage, divorce, parenting children and inheritance. Women, continued to be considered minors, are not permitted to work and cannot travel without their husband’s consent. A 2013 bill was ratified in Iran’s parliament allowing men to marry their adopted daughters once they reach the age of 13. This is tantamount to legalizing sexual harassment of children…”

This short slate of facts shows that despite all his claims of being a “moderate” or “reformist,” Rouhani’s report card, especially on women’s rights, proves he is nothing but another mullahs’ regime loyalist striving to maintain the establishment intact.

Despite Iran being one of the most ruthless regimes in respect to women’s rights, it is believed that the women of Iran can bring about change if not suppressed.

Source: NCRI, March 22, 2017

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Chambers' new effort to repeal death penalty elicits emotional testimony before Nebraska Legislature

State Sen. Ernie Chambers
State Senator Ernie Chambers
LINCOLN — She spent what would have been her mother’s 52nd birthday asking Nebraska lawmakers not to stand in the way of executing her mother’s killers.

Christine Tuttle urged members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to reject a bill that would pull their colleagues into yet another debate over abolishing the death penalty. Rather, listen to the 61 percent of voters who went to the polls in November and reinstated capital punishment, she said.

Further, she told senators on the committee that they should feel ashamed for celebrating on the legislative floor two years ago when a different repeal bill passed. Her mother, Evonne Tuttle, was one of five people killed in the 2002 bank shooting in Norfolk.

“I watched you laugh and hug and high-five,” she said. “You celebrated on the pain and sorrow of my family, and we have heard enough. This behavior hurt me and it angered me and it’s not becoming of state senators, and I hope and pray that you do not make the same mistake again.”

For State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, there was no mistake in championing the repeal, no shame in celebrating a victory that seemed unattainable in a conservative state like Nebraska. Instead, he only sounded resolved to take up the old battle once again.

“As long as I have breath in my body and I’m in this Legislature, I’m going to do what I think is right,” Chambers said. “And I don’t think the state should kill anybody.”

Even as Chambers renewed the signature cause of his four decades in public office, some of his colleagues took another step to return capital punishment to viability. Members of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee advanced Legislative Bill 661, which would allow the Department of Correctional Services to hide the identities of lethal injection suppliers.

Secrecy laws in other death penalty states are credited with making it easier to carry out executions. LB 661 has a priority designation, which means it almost certainly will be scheduled for floor debate this session.

Legislative Bill 446, Chambers’ repeal proposal, has not been prioritized. So even if the Judiciary Committee votes to advance it, the bill probably would not be debated before the session concludes June 2.

Despite losing last year’s ballot referendum, about a dozen death penalty opponents lined up to testify in support of the Chambers bill.

They used familiar arguments: The death penalty costs the state more than life in prison; it does not significantly deter crime; it risks executing the wrong person; it conflicts with “pro-life” beliefs.

“I don’t trust the government to deliver the mail on time or fix potholes. How could I trust them to make life-or-death decisions,” said Matt Maly with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

Mark Metcalf urged senators not to be deterred by the referendum vote, arguing that lawmakers who carefully studied and considered both sides of the argument gained a better understanding of the death penalty.

“It should not be surprising that our senators could be right about something and we the people could be wrong,” he said.

Testifying against the bill was Assistant Attorney General Corey O’Brien, who said the death penalty is intentionally reserved for a small percentage of the most heinous killers.

Also speaking in opposition was Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt, who passed out photos and video of the celebratory scene in 2015 when the repeal bill passed. He said voters sent a clear message that Nebraska is a death penalty state and their elected officials should act accordingly.

The most compelling testimony was delivered by Tuttle, who described what it was like to see her mother on the bank surveillance video as three masked men walked in with guns.

“You want to yell, they’re coming, but you can’t,” she said. “Before the robbery even starts, it’s done and all five people are dead.”

She listed the names of the others gunned down in less than a minute: Samuel Sun, Jo Mausbach, Lisa Bryant and Lola Elwood. The three gunmen are among the 10 currently on death row.

And she gave a glimpse of the agonizing conversation she had that day with her two young sisters.

“Has anyone ever told a 3- and 5-year-old that their mother is dead?” she asked. “The goodbye hugs and kisses that morning were the last they would ever receive from my mom.”

Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln apologized, saying any displays of emotion on the floor of the Legislature were not intended as an insult to the families of murder victims. Rather, they said the scene reflected the kind of outpouring that naturally follows any difficult struggle over an issue people care deeply about.

Pansing Brooks also said that she resented the implication by the sheriff that she and other death penalty opponents were being intentionally disrespectful.

And Chambers told the sheriff the story of a favorite nephew, the victim of an unsolved homicide. He told how death penalty supporters wanted to know if he felt differently about capital punishment after death had struck such a blow to his family.

No, he said he told them, he never for a moment felt differently.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, Joe Duggan, March 23, 2017


Senator: Restoring Nebraska's Death Penalty Was Wrong


Campaigning against the Nebraska repeal
Campaigning against the Nebraska repeal
A Nebraska senator who fought for decades to abolish the death penalty is trying again, arguing that the statewide vote to reinstate capital punishment doesn't make it right.

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska senator who fought for decades to abolish the death penalty is trying again, arguing that the statewide vote to reinstate capital punishment doesn't make it right.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha presented his repeal bill Wednesday to a legislative committee. It's unlikely to pass, but Chambers says a popular vote shouldn't decide issues such as capital punishment.

Lawmakers abolished the death penalty in 2015, overriding Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto. 

Death penalty supporters responded with a ballot petition drive partially financed by Ricketts. 

Voters overturned the Legislature's decision and restored the punishment in November.

Nebraska's corrections department recently changed its lethal injection protocol after years of failed attempts to obtain the necessary drugs. 

Another bill would let the state hide the identity of its suppliers.

Source: Associated Press, March 22, 2017

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Mass trial for ‘sorcery’ killings in PNG

Ninety-seven of the 122 people charged pleaded not guilty to wilful murder

SYDNEY: A “berserk” crowd used bows and arrows, knives and axes to hack to death seven people including two small children accused of sorcery, a trial in Papua New Guinea has heard.

Ninety-seven of the 122 people charged pleaded not guilty to wilful murder, with the rest, who were released on bail, failing to show up to the court in the Pacific nation’s Madang province, local media reported.

The frenzied killings happened in April 2014 after men from six villages met to plot the assault on Sakiko village where those suspected of sorcery had sought refuge, according to the PNG Post Courier.

“Two children, aged three and five, were wrenched from their mothers’ arms and chopped to pieces,” it added. Five adults were also killed.

The newspaper called the trial the “biggest sorcery-related court case in the country”.

State prosecutor Francis Popeu described the gruesome murders as “planned with all aiding and abetting each other with the common intent to kill”.

PNG’s The National newspaper, in a report earlier this month, said the killings were “a kind done in certain cult practices as the people killed were slashed from their legs up and their heads were cut off and taken away”.

“Black magic” and cannibalism sometimes occur in PNG, a sprawling and poor nation where many people do not accept natural causes as an explanation for misfortune, illness, accidents or death.

Rights campaigners have long pushed for justice for sorcery-related attacks, spurred by the horrific murder of a young woman accused of witchcraft in 2013.

In that case, Kepari Leniata, 20, was stripped naked, tied up, doused in petrol and burnt alive in front of a crowd by relatives of a boy who died following an illness in the Mount Hagen area.

Following Leniata’s murder, in 2013 PNG repealed the 1971 Sorcery Act which had provided for a reduced sentence for anyone who committed assault or murder if they believed their victim had been committing acts of “sorcery”.

It also revived the death penalty to reduce rampant crime.

Source: Agence France-Presse, March 23, 2017
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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

California DAs should consider Florida state attorney's approach to death penalty

California's death row, San Quentin prison
California's death row, San Quentin prison
A new Florida State Attorney, Aramis Ayala, made a bold move when she recently announced that capital punishment is "not in the best interest of the community or the best interest of justice," and vowed not to seek the death penalty in future cases.

In taking this courageous stand, Ayala recognizes that the death penalty is a false promise to victims' families and the community. She joins other newly elected prosecutors across the nation who are no longer pushing for a policy that is tremendously costly, arbitrarily doled out and risky in its implementation. The death penalty is deeply flawed, and its use and support continue to dwindle nationwide.

California district attorneys should take a cue from their colleague in Florida and review and reconsider their support of this outdated policy.

Voters deserve to feel that their elected prosecutors actually listen to them. Last year, a majority of voters in 15 California counties supported Proposition 62, which would have repealed the state's death penalty. In Los Angeles, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Humboldt, Marin, Mendocino, Monterey, San Francisco, Alpine, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Yolo counties, California voters supported replacing the death penalty with the sentence of life in prison.

And it's not just the voters. There are many other signs that the death penalty in California should be dismantled once and for all. It's broken beyond repair.

California has not had an execution in more than 10 years because of legal challenges and difficulty acquiring drugs. The state has spent a decade unsuccessfully trying to create a legally sound lethal injection protocol. Corrections officials also have no means to acquire safe or reliable lethal injection drugs because pharmaceutical companies refuse to allow their lifesaving medicine to be used to execute people.

Proposition 66, which falsely promised to resume executions and was narrowly approved by the voters, is tied up in lawsuits because it is so deeply flawed legally and practically.

Fortunately, there is a viable alternative that is already available to prosecutors: life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is a severe punishment and ensures a lifetime behind bars. No one who has been sentenced to life without parole in California has been released, except those who were able to prove their innocence. The nation has evolved past the death penalty, and it's time for prosecutors to follow suit.

California's district attorneys have the power to reject this costly and failed policy. They can and should use their discretion to do what the Florida state attorney did: stop sending new people to our state's overflowing death row and take a stand against this failed government program.

The voters across California have shown that this is a decision they would support. It's time our district attorneys be the leaders we elected them to be.

Source: Sacramento Bee, Ana Zamora, March 22, 2017. Ana Zamora is criminal justice policy director at the ACLU of Northern California.

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Arkansas hunting for volunteers to witness April's 8 executions

A shortage of required citizen witnesses to watch 8 lethal injections over a 10-day period next month prompted the state prison director Tuesday to call on Rotary Club members to volunteer.

Citizen witnesses are there to verify that the individual executions are carried out according to law. A volunteer must be at least 21 years old, an Arkansas resident, have no felony criminal history and have no connection to the inmate or to the victim.

"The last times these were set, we actually did not have enough people volunteer," Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley told Little Rock Rotary Club 99 members. "You seem to be a group that does not have felony backgrounds and are over 21. So if you're interested in serving in that area, in this serious role, just call my office."

The 8 executions are scheduled two at a time beginning April 17 and ending April 27.

Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said he does not have a current count on the number of citizen witnesses who have signed up for the role. Kelley is making informal inquiries to find more volunteers, he said.

"Depending on the response received, further recruitment may not be necessary," Graves said.

The state's death penalty law, A.C.A. 16-90-502, Section 3, requires that the prison director procure no fewer than six and no more than 12 citizen witnesses for each execution. Kelley must determine that witnesses meet the requirements and that they do not present a security risk.

Graves said that while the legal requirement pertains to each individual execution, "nothing prohibits a witness from service during multiple executions."

Judd Deere, spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, said he could not speculate about the impact on the execution schedule if a sufficient number of citizen witnesses can't be found.

As the execution day approaches, "the attorney general will work in consultation with the governor and the Department of Correction director to make sure the law is followed as far as executions being carried out," Deere said.

Graves would not say whether the lack of witnesses would halt or postpone the executions, only that Kelley would "continue her informal recruitment efforts."

Finding volunteers among members of the Little Rock Rotary Club 99 may be difficult, said Bill Booker, acting president of the club.

"What I suspect is that some people might support the death penalty, but when it comes to witnessing something like that, it's a different story," Booker said Tuesday. "It may cause emotional trauma for quite a while. It would be one of the most significant things you'll ever see in your life."

Booker, a funeral director at Roller Funeral Home in Little Rock, said he will not volunteer for the task.

"It's a lot different to be involved after the death has occurred," Booker said, adding that he vividly remembers stopping to help at the scene of a fatal traffic accident 40 years ago and helping a young man as he was dying.

Viewing an execution would be too much for him, he said.

"At this point in my life, I don't know if I'd want to risk being traumatized by it," Booker said. "That doesn't mean that I oppose the death penalty."

Rotarian Charlotte Gadberry said she has no interest in volunteering as a citizen witness.

"I can't imagine she [Kelley] will get a lot of volunteers," Gadberry said. "I don't think I could handle it. I'm not real sure how I feel about the death penalty, but it seems like there should be a better way of treating our fellow man."

Rotarian Karen Fetzer said she would not witness an execution but that Kelley may find some volunteers in the Rotary Club 99 crowd.

"It's just a personal preference for me," Fetzer said. "But there are others in our population who may be up for it."

None of the handful of Arkansas residents interviewed Tuesday by the Democrat-Gazette said they would volunteer for the assignment.

Charles Moore of Camden, who served 2 tours during the Vietnam War, said he's seen enough death in his lifetime.

"I stacked bodies on top of each other in Vietnam," said Moore, a retired disabled veteran who operates the Camden nonprofit children's foundation Planting A Seed. "I don't believe in an eye for an eye."

The subject spurred an argument between Jayme Hickman of Little Rock and her mother, Linda Fitzhugh, of Sheridan as they were sitting on a hill in the River Market District in Little Rock watching Hickman's two children play.

"No," Hickman said, shaking her head. "I don't agree with killing a person. Both families lose in that situation."

Fitzhugh interrupted by directing Hickman's gaze to the 2 children.

"What would you do if they hurt your daughters? They should execute them," Fitzhugh said loudly. "We don't need to be taking care of them with taxpayers' money."

In the end, Fitzhugh admitted that she couldn't bring herself to witness an execution.

Executions have been set for (top row, from left) Kenneth Williams, Jack Jones Jr., Marcell Williams, Bruce Earl Ward, and (bottom row, from left) Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Jason McGehee and Ledelle Lee.
Executions have been set for (top row, from left) Kenneth Williams,
Jack Jones Jr., Marcell Williams, Bruce Earl Ward, and (bottom row, from
left) Don Davis, Stacey Johnson, Jason McGehee and Ledelle Lee.
Betty Fernau of Conway, who has officiated at weddings in prison, suggested a solution to the problem.

"I've heard jury duty can be traumatizing, depending on the case," Fernau said. "It seems like this is part of our judicial system. Finding witnesses should work the same way as calling jurors to a trial.

"If I were called to witness, I would see it as my duty and I would appear. But I would not volunteer."

The pace of the scheduled executions -- prompted by the fact that midazolam, one of the three lethal-injection drugs, will expire at the end of April -- is unprecedented not only for the state, but for the nation.

If the 8 executions are carried out next month, Arkansas will be the 1st state to execute that many inmates in that compressed of a timeline since 1976 -- the year the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

Arkansas has executed 27 inmates since 1976. The quickest pace for executions was 3 in 1 day on Aug. 3, 1994, and Jan. 8, 1997.

Department of Correction data show that 189 men and 1 woman have been executed in the state since 1915, when executions first began being tracked.

During that time, the most inmates executed in 1 year in Arkansas was 10 in 1926 and 1930. The most executed within close proximity on the calendar was 4 in one day on Feb. 12, 1926, and Nov. 14, 1930. There were 4 executions in the month of October 1959 and the month of May 1960.

Kelley said Tuesday that the close proximity of the 8 execution dates will not affect the department's readiness for the lethal injections.

"The staff will be prepared," Kelley said. "We will be doing practice rounds and having lots of meetings. The protocols are confidential, but we will be prepared. We want everything to go as smoothly as possible for the inmate as well as the staff in the room and the witnesses."

With the execution dates fast approaching, the atmosphere at the Varner Unit's Supermax -- home to 34 male death-row inmates -- is somber, Kelley said.

"I don't think the 8 executions in 10 days has anything to do with it," Kelley said. "I think the fact that an execution is set for any of them would make it somber back there."

No extra security has been assigned to the unit, Kelley said. When the proclamation from Gov. Asa Hutchinson setting the execution dates was released in late February, each of the inmates was seen in private. Prison chaplains have made repeated rounds on death row, helping each inmate determine whether he wants a spiritual adviser and, if so, assisting in appointing one.

"I've been down there since the date was set," Kelley said. "It doesn't have anything to do with the number of inmates being executed. It's just part of the process."

The last inmate to be executed in the state was Eric Nance on Nov. 29, 2005. The state has not put anyone to death since then because of legal challenges to the state's death penalty process and a federal lawsuit opposing the use of the drug midazolam. Death penalty opponents claim that the drug does not induce a complete level of unconsciousness, which allows the inmate to feel pain.

On Monday, attorneys for 9 death row inmates -- including the 8 scheduled to die next month -- filed a petition for a rehearing with the U.S. Supreme Court. The argument is that the 2 executions at a time within the 10-day time frame is "truly extraordinary" and presents substantial new ground for considering the prisoners' case.

"Executing 8 men in ten days is far outside the bounds of what contemporary society finds acceptable," the petition read.

According to the governor's proclamations, the executions are scheduled to be carried out as follows:

-- Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward, April 17.

-- Ledelle Lee and Stacey Johnson, April 20.

-- Marcell Williams and Jack Jones Jr., April 24.

-- Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams, April 27.

Source: Democrat Gazette, March 22, 2017

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Pakistan’s parliament votes to reinstate secret military courts

Karachi: Pakistan’s parliament on Tuesday amended the constitution to reinstate secret military courts that try civilians charged with terrorism offences, something activists have warned will lead to human rights abuses.

The government and Pakistan’s powerful military say the country’s civilian judicial infrastructure is ill-equipped to deal with such cases, partly as judges fear becoming victims of revenge attacks by militants.

Military courts were first set up by the parliament in early 2015 in response to an attack by Pakistani Taliban fighters on a military-run school that killed 134 children.

Under the system, defendants are not allowed to hire their own lawyers, instead being assigned one by the military. There is no access for the media and the venue and timing of the trials is withheld until a verdict is announced by the military.

The courts have delivered 275 convictions, including 161 death sentences, and carried out 17 executions. These courts do not allow the right to appeal and judges are not required to have law degrees or provide reasons for their verdicts.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office said in January that it would seek to keep them in place after the two-year legal mandate expired.

However, Sharif’s ruling PML-N was not able to extend the courts’ tenure on its own as it does not have the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution, leading to two months of consensus building between the major parties.

“The bill has been adopted today, our suggestions including the parliamentary oversight of the military courts have been included in the bill,” Senator Saeed Gani, from the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, told journalists.

Judicial experts have argued that the courts do not address the problem, with a criminal justice system badly in need of reform, and instead act as a stop-gap measure.

“The worrying thing is the conviction rate and the lack of representation for people being tried. It fails every single test of natural justice,” Furkan Ali, a lawyer, said.

Source: Gulf News, Agencies, March 22, 2017

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Belarus: First death sentence in 2017

Belarus prison
"Self-incrimination is used by the prosecution as the main evidence of guilt,
whilst the right to an effective legal defence is systematically violated."
Paris-Minsk. FIDH and its member organisation in Belarus Human Rights Centre "Viasna" denounce the first death sentence in 2017 and regret the Belarusian authorities continue to ignore calls to render Europe a death penalty-free zone.

On 17 March 2017, 32-year-old Aliaksei Mikhalenya was sentenced to death by the Gomel Regional Court of Belarus for two murders committed with particular cruelty. 

Although Aliaksei Mikhalenya has the right to appeal the sentence in Supreme Court in Belarus, the appeal court rarely commutes death sentences and the chances to get the Presidential pardon are illusionary, as revealed in the joint FIDH-HRC report "Death penalty in Belarus: Murder on (Un)Lawful Grounds". 

As the report demonstrates, throughout investigation and trial, self-incrimination is used by the prosecution as the main evidence of guilt, whilst the right to an effective legal defence is systematically violated. 

In general, the application of death penalty in Belarus is accompanied by severe human rights violations at each stage of the judicial proceedings and during detention.

Furthermore, considerable secrecy surrounds the application of death penalty in Belarus. Information concerning the death penalty is withheld from the general public, whilst information on detention conditions for death convicts and execution procedures is not publicly available. 

The exact number of persons convicted to death and executed in Belarus is unknown. 

The families of death convicts are neither informed in advance of the date of the execution, nor immediately thereafter, the body is never handed over to relatives and the location of the burial site is kept secret.

Belarus is the only country in Europe that applies death penalty. 

For the duration of negotiations around EU restrictive measures against Belarusian officials and businesses, the executions had been on hold. However, upon the lifting of sanctions in February 2016, executions resumed and by December 2016 reached their highest number since 2008: four convicts executed in secrecy in 2016.

Being a founding member of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, FIDH and its member organisation HRC "Viasna" urge the EU and other actors to use all leverages at their disposal to put an end to the capital punishment in Belarus.

Source: FIDH, March 21, 2017

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