News and Updates (as of 12/22/96)

FEBRUARY 21, 2024:

TEXAS:

‘My heart aches with this news,' body of missing girl, 11, found in Trinity River----Man arrested Friday as a person of interest in the case is expected to be charged with capital murder, Polk County DA says

The search for a missing 11-year-old Texas girl is over and is transitioning to a capital murder investigation after her body was recovered from the Trinity River on Tuesday.

Audrii Cunningham was reported missing last Thursday after she didn't return home from school in Livingston, a town in Polk County about 70 miles north of Houston. Investigators later discovered that she'd never gotten on the bus to go to school that morning.

On Tuesday, after searching for the missing girl for five days, Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said the girl's body was found in the Trinity River, underneath the U.S. 59 bridge about nine miles south of Livingston and about 10 miles downstream from the Lake Livingston dam.

My heart aches with this news and I express with my deepest sympathies and condolences to everyone who knew, who cared for, and loved Audrii.

"At this time, I sadly announce, that Audrii's body was located at the Trinity River, under U.S. Highway 59," Lyons said. "As a result of today's developments, I will discontinue the AMBER Alert for Audrii."

Rescue crews were seen gathered at that location at a public boat ramp Tuesday afternoon.

Lyons thanked the Trinity River Authority for lowering the water level in the lake to aid in the search for Cunningham's body. Lyons added the girl's body was found through an analysis of cell phone data, videos and information provided to police by a person of interest in the case, 42-year-old Don Steven McDougal.

Audrii CunninghamAudrii Cunningham was last seen near her home in Polk County, Texas, at 7 a.m. Thursday.

"The information we have gathered in this criminal investigation is substantial," Lyons said. "My heart aches with this news and I express with my deepest sympathies and condolences to everyone who knew, who cared for, and loved Audrii. The sheriff's office, we will continue to process the evidence that has been gathered to ensure justice for Audrii."

Authorities on Friday arrested McDougal on suspicion of aggravated assault, in what police said was an unrelated incident.

Audrii and her family lived on a property near Lake Livingston with her father, grandparents and other family members. McDougal was said to be a friend of the girl's father and lived in a camper on the family's property. Officials said McDougal was believed to be the last person to see the girl alive.

Lyons and Polk County District Attorney Shelly Sitton were both reluctant to share any other details about how Cunningham's body was located or what may have led to her death, due to the ongoing investigation.

Sitton said Tuesday afternoon that McDougal is expected to be charged with capital murder in the death of Audrii Cunningham. She said if the evidence in the case supports pursuing the death penalty as a punishment, they would do that. A capital murder conviction in Texas carries a punishment of either life in prison without parole or death.

McDougal has not yet been formally charged and it's not clear if he's obtained an attorney to speak on his behalf.

A backpack that authorities believe belonged to Cunningham was found Friday near the dam on Lake Livingston, one of the state's largest lakes. The Trinity River winds to the south and southeast out of the Lake Livingston dam toward U.S. 59.

(source: nbcdfw.com)

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Supreme Court declines to hear death penalty appeal in a horrific Garland murder case

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear the death penalty appeal in a horrific Garland murder case from 2012.

Matthew Lee Johnson is on death row for the May 2012 burning death of an elderly gas station clerk.

At that time, 76-year-old Nancy Harris was working at the Whip-in on Broadway in Garland when Johnson burst in. Police records show he doused her in lighter fluid and demanded cash. Then he set Harris on fire.

Police happened to be across the street and saw Harris, called for help, and got her to the hospital where she soon died from the severe burns.

A jury found him guily in 2013 and sentenced Johnson to death.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a US District Court judge, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals have all allowed the conviction and sentence to stand. The US Supreme Court did not give a reason for rejecting the case.

The case will now go back to a trial judge for an official death penalty date.

(source: audacy.com)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Defense blames Westmoreland DA for trial delays in death of New Kensington boy

County man facing a potential death penalty for the alleged murder of his 9-year-old son in New Kensington told a Westmoreland County judge that prosecution delays have left them unable to move forward with preparing their defense.

The case has languished in the courts for nearly 18 months.

Jean Charles, 41, of Brackenridge has been in jail without bond since he was charged in September 2022 with 1st-degree murder.

The body of Azuree Charles was found near his home at East Ken Manor in New Kensington five months earlier, in May 2022. Police said Jean Charles strangled the boy, then dragged his body over an embankment and tried to hide it under lawn furniture.

During a court hearing last March, defense attorneys said they expected to file pretrial motions in the case before the end of 2023. Those motions have yet to be filed. During a court appearance Monday, defense attorneys blamed the delay on the prosecution.

“We finally started to get some discovery, and now we need time to go through 6 inches of paperwork. There’s no delay because of us,” said Westmoreland County public defender Wayne McGrew. “It’s just been so slow coming in. But for the delays from the commonwealth for the last year and a half, we’d be better able to tell the court where we are at.”

Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Echard told Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio that the District Attorney’s Office had struggled turn over its evidence to the defense but most of it has now been disclosed. Additional digital files are being prepared for release to the defense, Echard said.

The judge ordered prosecutors to appear for another court hearing March 14 to address ongoing issues related to the production of evidence.

Prosecutors have said that, if convicted, Charles should be subjected to the death penalty because his victim was younger than 12 and he was subject to a court order at the time of the alleged murder that restricted him from having contact with the boy.

Prosecutors claim Charles was permitted by his former wife, Luella Elien, who is the boy’s mother, to watch Azuree and his three younger sisters in defiance of the court order.

Charles previously pleaded guilty to assaulting the boy in 2019 and was accused of doing so again in November 2021, according to court records.

Elien, 31, of New Kensington was charged with aggravated assault, child endangerment and hindering prosecution. Police said she failed to prevent her former husband from abusing the child and permitted Charles to stay at her home despite knowing there was an active warrant for his arrest.

Elien’s case is pending. She served two months in jail following her arrest but was freed Nov. 19, 2022, after she posted $50,000 bond, according to court records.

(source: Rich Cholodofsky is a TribLive reporter covering Westmoreland County government, politics and courts)

GEORGIA:

Op-Ed: Law Professor Stephen Bright Encourages SCOTUS to Review ?“egre­gious racial dis­crim­i­na­tion” in Georgia Death Row Prisoner’s Case

PROSECUTORIAL ACCOUNTABILITY RACE GEORGIA

In a February 14, 2024 op-ed published in the Washington Post, the longtime defense lawyer, former director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, and law professor Stephen Bright highlights the continued illegal exclusion of Black jurors in violation of Batson v. Kennedy (1986). The op-ed titled, “Struck from a jury for being Black? It still happens all too often,” uses the case of Georgia death-sentenced prisoner Warren King, whose petition the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to review on February 23, as the latest example of the persistent practice.

“The right to a fair trial before an impartial jury of one’s peers is one of the criminal legal system’s most basic principles. But for many Black people, the promise is illusory,” writes Mr. Bright. He explains that Black people are “completely or substantially underrepresented on juries, especially in death penalty cases.” Juries in capital cases must be death-qualified, meaning that they can be neither categorically opposed nor categorically in favor of the imposition of the death penalty. Through this process, which has been criticized as both problematic and discriminatory, Black people opposed to the death penalty are dismissed and prosecutors subsequently use their preemptory strikes to dismiss those who remain. “As a result, all-White juries are still common in criminal trials, even in communities with substantial minority populations,” states Mr. Bright.

In Batson v. Kennedy, the Supreme Court made clear that prosecutors are prohibited from excluding jurors based on race and when challenged, must provide race-neutral reasons for using preemptory strikes on Black people. “And yet prosecutors routinely get away with striking based on race because courts fail to scrutinize their often-flimsy excuses, which include such dubious reasons as alleged low intelligence, lack of eye contact with prosecutor, living in a high-crime neighborhood or showing boredom or inattentiveness,” Mr. Bright explains.

Mr. King, an intellectually disabled man diagnosed with schizophrenia, filed a petition for certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that the prosecutor in his case, John B. Johnson III, intentionally discriminated against Black people when selecting jurors at his trial. Mr. Johnson, known for a career with “persistent allegations of misconduct,” was 10 times more likely to strike a Black juror than a white one – 87.5% to 8.8% respectively – during voir dire. Rather than provide race-neutral reasons for the dismissal of seven Black jurors, Mr. Johnson angrily expressed his disdain for the decision in Batson. The trial judge only found that Mr. Johnson violated Batson in dismissing one of the seven Black jurors.

“This was egregious racial discrimination,” states Mr. Bright. “Because King did not receive a fair trial by an impartial jury and now faces the ultimate punishment, the Supreme Court should take his case and make clear once again that such discrimination has no place in the legal system.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

FLORIDA:

Convicted child killer faces death penalty once again in Broward. Is it the last time?

Decades after a convicted child molester killed two girls in Broward, a jury is deciding if he should live or die — for the 3rd time — following recent changes to the death penalty. In 1999, Howard Steven Ault was convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl in front of her 7-year-old sister before strangling both girls and shoving their bodies in his attic. The 57-year-old is currently sitting through a resentencing for the 1996 murders of DeAnn Emerald Mu’min, 11, and Alicia Sybilla Jones, 7, whom he lured into his Fort Lauderdale duplex with the promise of Halloween candy.

Facing the possibility of being condemned to death row a third time, Ault’s fate depends on 8 jurors after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law last April that allows juries to recommend a death sentence with an 8-4 vote instead of a unanimous vote. Florida now has the lowest threshold in the U.S.

DeSantis pushed for the change in law after the Parkland school shooter, who killed 17 in 2018, was spared from the death penalty. In late 2022, only 9 of the 12 jurors voted for death.

The latest changes the death penalty has undergone raises uncertainty about its future in Florida, said Craig Trocino, director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Miami’s School of Law.

RESENTENCED FOR A 3RD TIME?

In 2017, the Florida Supreme Court granted Ault, who was on death row, a new sentencing hearing after it found that Florida’s death penalty process was unconstitutional because it didn’t require that jurors make a unanimous decision. The jury in the 2007 resentencing recommended Ault be put to death in a 9-3 and 10-2 vote for the murders of DeAnn and Alicia, respectively.

Jurors in the original sentencing, which took place in 2000, opted to send Ault to the electric chair. But 3 years later, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing over concerns about the jury selection process at Ault’s trial.

The order for Ault’s 2017 resentencing was brought on by the U.S. Supreme Court finding Florida’s sentencing scheme unconstitutional, Trocino said. And looking back at the case’s outcome may shed some light on what could be in store in the future.

U.S. SUPREME COURT WEIGHS IN

In the Hurst v. Florida case, the Supreme Court justices ruled that all jurors must find aggravating factors, or facts related to a crime, before handing down a death sentence. The court also found that Florida judges had too much power compared to juries in death penalty cases.

After the ruling from the nation’s highest court, Florida’s Supreme Court found the law unconstitutional and declared that death sentences must be determined by an unanimous jury instead of in a 10-2 vote.

“That raises the very real possibility that the United States Supreme Court can find that scheme unconstitutional, and we’re back to where we are now with Mr. Ault and many similarly situated people,” Trocino said.

Before Hurst v. Florida, Trocino said, a jury could have agreed on an aggravating circumstance — that the crime was heinous, atrocious and cruel or cold, calculated and premeditated — but it wasn’t known how many jurors voted for which factor.

Under current state law, a jury must unanimously find that prosecutors proved at least 1 aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt. They must also determine that aggravators outweigh mitigating factors, which provide context related to the defendant that could be used to help advocate against the death penalty.

Following the Hurst decision, the state had to determine which death row inmates would be eligible for resentencing, Trocino said. They did so by considering another case in which the U.S. Supreme Court weighed on the death penalty: Ring v. Arizona.

The court ordered that anyone on death row who was sentenced before the Ring decision in 2002 wouldn’t receive a resentencing.

Though convicted in the ‘90s, Ault qualified under the criteria because of his 2nd death penalty sentencing in 2007.

Death penalty cases, like Ault’s, can take decades from verdict to sentence.

Resentencings can be costly, time consuming and emotional exhausting for a victim’s loved ones. However, for Trocino, they’re also traumatic for the jury.

“I don’t think that’s discussed nearly enough,” Trocino said. “...The jury is sitting there listening to all of this, having to assess all of this, and then [they have to] vote on this ultimate sanction or not.”

(source: miamiherald.com)

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Man convicted of raping, killing 2 young girls making 3rd death penalty appeal

Howard Steven Ault is no stranger to what’s happening in court on Tuesday.

Ault was convicted of the heinous murder of two little girls back in 1999. He was sentenced to death both that year and again in 2007.

Successful appeals after both of those sentences now require a jury to consider his fate again.

On Tuesday, Ault attended his third penalty phase trial.

During the hearing, jurors heard from witnesses, including Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones, a renowned researcher in the field of medical disorders.

“Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is not a diagnosis, it’s an umbrella term,” Jones said on the stand. “It too is very important in terms of our functioning, and in Mr. Ault’s case, it’s important in terms of his behavior.”

Ault was on death row for the 1996 rape and murder of 2 sisters, who were just 11 and 7 years old. The victims were found in the attic of his Fort Lauderdale home -- a stunning crime that shocked South Florida.

According to investigators, Ault lured the sisters into his duplex, promising them Halloween candy.

He then raped DeAnn Emerald Mu’min in front of her younger sister, Sybilla Jones, before strangling both girls, authorities said.

The now 54-year-old’s initial sentencing trial was appealed and later upheld in 2007, but not by a unanimous decision, which led him to win his appeal.

When Ault was in court 5 years ago, he asked for a new lawyer.

(source: WPLG news)

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana could soon jail anyone who reveals the identity of execution drug suppliers

Anyone who discloses where Louisiana gets its drugs to use for executions could face a criminal sentence and fines — even journalists who obtain the information lawfully — under a proposal the Legislature is considering.

The provision is tucked into House Bill 6 by Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond. The primary goal of his legislation is to expand the methods Louisiana can use to execute prisoners to include electrocution and nitrogen hypoxia.

The bill shields all records related to the execution, including which companies and individuals provide execution drugs, from public disclosure. Anyone who discloses the information would be subject to up to two years in prison and up to a $50,000 fine.

Offenders could also face a civil suit from the drug provider or the individual whose identity is disclosed. The crackdown on disclosure is meant to incentivize drugmakers to sell execution drugs to the state, Muscarello said.

“This legislation is an assault on the First Amendment right to speak and the freedom of the press,” Katie Schwartzmann, director of the Tulane First Amendment Law Clinic said in a statement to the Illuminator. “The bill punishes a journalist for sharing government information of great public concern – something the Supreme Court has consistently rejected, even if confidential information is leaked.”

Muscarello said punishing a journalist was not his intention but would not commit to removing the provision from the bill.

“Ultimately, the message needs to be that we don’t want to expose drug manufacturers, no matter how that may be,” Muscarello said in an interview.

Even the prospect of jail time for publishing information in the public interest could constrain the news media, experts say.

“The threat of two years in jail or $50,000 will have a massive chilling effect on reporting on the death penalty and leave the public in the dark,” Schwartzmann said. “The state’s power is at its peak when it puts someone to death. There should be more transparency — not less. The need for transparency and accountability is even greater as the state implements new or different methods of executions.”

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is charged with handling legislation related to public records laws, will meet Wednesday to discuss Muscarello’s bill, which the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice unanimously approved Tuesday.

Muscarello said he supports the freedom of the press and is open to discussing an amendment that would remove that provision — but added “there’s no guarantees.”

That provision of the bill is likely unconstitutional, experts say, as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bartnicki v. Vopper set the precedent that media defendants can’t be held liable for publishing information, even if a third party violated the law to obtain it.

Though the bill will get a 2nd hearing to discuss the records aspect of the law, the loss of transparency when the Legislature expedites proposals is a problem for Schwartzmann.

“It’s also troubling that the legislature is fast-tracking this bill during a special session when it could be considered during a regular session, with more opportunity for the public to weigh in on this matter of great public concern,” Schwartzmann said.

Gov. Jeff Landry’s call to bring the Legislature into a special session gives lawmakers more than 2 weeks to achieve his priorities. Republican leaders, with the power of supermajorities in both chambers behind them, have made haste with their legislation at every opportunity, potentially putting the legislature on track to adjourn early.

(source: Louisiana Illuminator)

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Jeff Landry supports death penalty by nitrogen gas. Here's how an eyewitness described it.----A bill to legalize that method in Louisiana is up for debate today in a state House committee.

Gov. Jeff Landry and Republican lawmakers want to restart executions using nitrogen gas, a method untested save for a 1st-of-its-kind execution in Alabama last month.

Landry alluded to Alabama's execution of Kenny Smith by nitrogen gas hypoxia in remarks to reporters at Nicholls State University recently. And on Monday, he urged lawmakers to approve a bill that would legalize that method in Louisiana, saying it would help the state fulfill promises to victims' families.

Alabama officials have said the execution went as planned and later touted nitrogen gas as a model to be emulated by other states struggling to obtain lethal injection drugs. But eyewitness accounts and expert reviews of the Alabama execution have cast doubt on whether the method is humane.

"It was more violent than any previous execution I’d witnessed in Alabama," said Lee Hedgepeth, a journalist who had viewed 4 attempted executions by lethal injection in Alabama before the state put Smith to death on Jan. 26. One of those was a botched execution attempt the state carried out on Smith himself.

A Louisiana House committee was slated to debate the bill to legalize nitrogen gas executions on Tuesday. The measure would also allow electrocution and would seal a range of records related to private companies providing drugs used to carry out the death penalty. The state has not executed anyone since 2010 amid a shortage of lethal injection drugs.

Hedgepeth said he filed into the Alabama death chamber's witness room to a view of Smith splayed out on a gurney with a mask strapped to his face. Smith was wrapped in a white sheet and restraints connected his limbs to the gurney.

A prison official read the death warrant and Smith spoke his final words, saying that "tonight, Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards." Nitrogen then began flowing into Smith's mask from a tube behind him, Hedgepeth said. Smith "immediately began reacting violently," he said.

"Both his body and his head are strapped to the gurney, so as soon as the nitrogen begins to flow his entire body begins violently writhing under the straps," Hedgepeth said. "For the next few minutes, that continues to the point that the entire gurney is moving up and down."

The movements under the straps become gradually less violent and Smith began breathing heavily and "gasping and struggling for air," Hedgepeth said. About 20 minutes after the process began, journalists were read the time of death, he said.

Dozens of advocates on both sides of the death penalty debate were waiting Tuesday for lawmakers to begin debating the bill carried by state Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond, to expand execution methods and seal records related to lethal injection drugs.

In an interview, Muscarello said Landry's "preferred method" for carrying out executions remains lethal injection.

Provisions in the bill to shield drug manufacturers from scrutiny will make it easier to for the state to secure those drugs — potentially allowing the state not to have to use nitrogen hypoxia or electrocution, Muscarello argued.

(source: nola.com)

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Louisiana advances bill to add electric chair, nitrogen hypoxia to executions

The state legislature is advancing a bill that would expand methods of execution. HB6 is part of campaign promises from Governor Jeff Landry to resume executions. It adds the electric chair and nitrogen hypoxia as methods of execution.

Louisiana has only put one person to death in the last two decades. There have been lawsuits and a hesitation to provide the drugs for lethal injections. Governor Landry promised to bring executions back, claiming it brings justice to the families of victims.

“We made an oath to uphold the laws of our state. Today, you can honor that oath and remove the hurdle so that justice can be served,” said State Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, R-Hammond.

Alabama became the 1st state to put someone to death by nitrogen hypoxia. It is a gas that is given to an inmate and essentially suffocates them. Advocates argued that the method is inhumane and painful. There is currently a lawsuit filed in Alabama to prevent nitrogen hypoxia to be prevented as a form of execution again.

At the hearing at the capitol, Howard Vincent shared how his brother was an officer killed at a traffic stop. He said the state needs to uphold the sentence.

Proposed bill to lower age of criminal responsibility in Louisiana advances

“You have to take into account there are extremely evil, deviant people,” Vincent said.

Vincent was joined by a number of other family members of victims who were killed by people on Louisiana’s death row. They asked for closure in their cases by seeing the inmates executed.

“Victims should not be sitting here listening to a bunch of bureaucracy and having to go back to court. We had to go to sentencing twice,” Vincent said.

Louisiana has exonerated 11 people from its death row in recent history. Advocates against the bill say there is too high of a risk of innocent people being put to death and it is costly to the state to continue with appeals.

“You have seen time and time again that our death penalty system is broken. Imposing new execution methods of electrocution, of smothering, of using secret poison is not the way to fix our death penalty,” said Ceceilia Kappel, Executive Director of the Capital Appeals Project.

Advocates also said the death penalty does not deter crime.

“There is no data, no report that will show that state execution is going to make us safer. It is pure vengeance, and the state shouldn’t be in the business of vengeance,” said Sue Weishar with the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola.

The bill also adds a level of secrecy to executions. It makes it illegal to share where the drugs come from and who may have provided them. This would clear up some of the current hold ups around carrying out the death penalty.

The bill was passed out of committee without objection, now it heads to the full House for its next round of votes. The special crime-focused session can last until March 6.

(source: brproud.com)

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Death penalty and House Bill 6 cause controversy for state leaders and faith advocates----House Bill 6 passed the house committee and now heads to the floor for debate. Last month, Alabama became the first state to use nitrogen gas for an execution.

“That is the law of the land, and we need to enforce the law of the land,” said Howard Vincent as he testified before a house committee Tuesday.

Vincent told lawmakers it’s time for executions in Louisiana to be upheld.

“You have to take into account there are extremely evil, deviant people and these people only worry about themselves,” said Vincent.

Vincent’s brother, Steven Vincent, was a state trooper who was killed in 2015. The 44-year-old was responding to a driver who ran into a ditch in Lafayette Parish. That driver, Kevin Daigle, shot Vincent. Daigle was later convicted and sentenced to death.

“This guy is on video. They got a confession. They got DNA,” said Vincent. “It exceeds the standard of reasonable doubt.”

Louisiana has had trouble getting the drugs needed for lethal injections, so executions have been on hold.

Lethal injection is currently the only legal method.

“This bill will bring healthy debate, as it should. What is not debatable is that the death penalty is legal in Louisiana,” said Representative Nicky Muscarello of Hammond.

Under House Bill 6, authored by Muscarello, electrocution and nitrogen gas would be added as legal methods. It would also keep secret the manufacturer of drugs used to carry out executions.

“Our governor has asked the legislature to bring back barbaric practices of the electric chair and of nitrogen hypoxia, which is essentially suffocation,” said director of Louisiana Interfaith against Executions (L.I.F.E.), Alison McCrary.

McCrary is a spiritual advisor for death row inmates and even works with victim’s families. She points to wrongful convictions and guilty inmates who’ve repented as reasons to rethink capital punishment altogether.

“It’s important to know who will be killed in our names and for us to ask to be a culture of life, a culture of mercy, a culture of forgives, rather than vengeance,” said McCrary.

While opponents see it as vengeance, supporters see it as justice. “Members, we made an oath to uphold the laws of our state. You can honor that oath and remove the hurdles so that justice can be served,” said Rep. Muscarello.

House Bill 6 passed the house committee and is now headed to the floor for debate. Last month, Alabama became the first state to use nitrogen gas for an execution.

(source: WWL TV news)

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Landmark criminal justice reforms targeted in Louisiana special legislative session----Republican Gov. Jeff Landry wants to roll back a slew of laws that granted 2nd chances to incarcerated people and helped shrink Louisiana’s prison population.

Louisiana’s legislature took up dozens of hard-won landmark criminal justice reforms on Monday as part of a special session at the behest of Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, who wants to see that progress reversed.

Lawmakers considered more than 24 “tough on crime” items, including expanding methods to carry out death row executions, restricting parole eligibility, harsher penalties for carjackings, “immunity from liability” for law enforcement based upon a certain criteria and publicizing some juvenile court records.

This aligns with Landry’s campaign promises to “make our state safe again,” but advocates say the policy changes threaten to undo 6 years of criminal justice reform in Louisiana.

Louisiana used to have the highest incarceration rate in the nation but relinquished the title under 2017 reforms enacted by Landry’s predecessor, Gov. John Bel Edwards. Edwards, a Democrat, overhauled a series of bills that expanded probation and parole opportunities and reduced sentences for mostly non-violent offenders. Money the state saved in the process – at least $150 million – went toward programs aimed at keeping recidivism rates low. Under the new policies, the rates fell by around 25 %.

But Landry, a former sheriff’s deputy and the state’s former attorney general, slammed the reforms early on and vowed to crack down on crime.

One item on Landry’s agenda could legalize nitrogen hypoxia executions, the controversial method recently used for the first time in Alabama. Other forms of execution, including lethal injection and electrocution, would remain intact under the bill, though the state hasn’t used them to carry out an execution in almost 15 years. Louisiana has around 60 people currently on death row.

The bill also grants confidentiality to companies who provide drugs for lethal injections.

Landry’s agenda items aren’t just confined to adult prison facilities. The governor is hoping to repeal protections for incarcerated youth by overturning Raise the Age, a key criminal justice reform that raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18. The law requires the state to treat teens under 18 as juveniles for all minor offenses. State Sen. Stewart Cathey’s proposal, if adopted, would drop the age of criminal responsibility back down to 17 and could result in more youth being incarcerated in adult prisons. The law was aimed at protecting youth from abuse in adult prisons, a major issue in several of the state’s facilities.

Advocates expressed concern over Landry’s proposals, including the ACLU of Louisiana, which said in a statement that people of color would be disproportionately harmed.

“The ACLU of Louisiana is deeply concerned with the “tough on crime” sweeping policy proposals of the governor.with Landry’s sweeping policy proposals.” the statement said.

Some anti-death penalty advocates say Landry’s rush to hold a legislative session amounts to political grandstanding and does little, if anything, for public safety.

“You’ve got a new governor and he wants to be tough on crime.” Co-founder of Death Penalty Action Abraham Bonowitz said. “But offering up new ways of executions isn’t going to do anything to keep people in Louisiana safe. We know that we can be safe from people who’ve committed terrible crimes and hold them accountable without them.” Bonowitz said.

The special legislative session will convene again Tuesday and must adjourn before the regular legislative session on Wednesday, March 6.

(source: Makaelah is Reckon's daily news and trending reporter. She is a former Julian Bond Fellow, where her coverage of politics and inequality in the South appeared in the biweekly newsletter Facing South----reckon.news)

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Opinion: I witnessed an execution and regretted it. Now I’m not so sure

The coroner wore a tuxedo. The condemned man wore blue jeans and a white short-sleeve shirt. Though his ankles were no longer shackled, he still took baby steps as he approached the electric chair. The yellow cinderblock walls of the execution chamber looked and smelled as if they’d been freshly painted.

In May of 1990, I watched through a window of a building at Angola State Penitentiary as Dalton Prejean became one of the last criminals put to death by electrocution in the state of Louisiana. I saw his chest heave, his fists clench and his right wrist twist outward. A spark and a puff of smoke shot from the electrode attached to his left leg.

Over the years, I came to regret my decision to witness an execution. It made me feel complicit, ashamed, a cog in a machine that dehumanized the process of death. But recent events have forced me to reconsider.

Last month, Alabama became the first state to use nitrogen gas to execute a prisoner. A small group of people, including five journalists, witnessed the execution of convicted murderer Kenneth Eugene Smith. They were not allowed to wear watches, to carry phones or even to use pen and paper to make notes.

Some of the witnesses said Mr. Smith tried to hold his breath. One said he struggled for 4 minutes against the straps that held him to his gurney and appeared to remain conscious for another 2 to 3 minutes. The commissioner of Alabama’s prison system said the prisoner “struggled against his restraints a little bit” but “nothing was out of the ordinary of what we were expecting.”

Witness statements matter. The witness of Sister Helen Prejean (no relation to Dalton) helped move public opinion when she used her experiences at Angola to write “Dead Man Walking,” a book that became a movie.

In 1990, when I reported in The New Orleans Times-Picayune that I had seen that spark and a puff of smoke from the area where electrodes had been attached to Dalton Prejean’s leg, lawyers and prison journalists seized on the detail and investigated further. Attorneys for one man on death row claimed that the electric chair caused burning, mutilation and torture. The Angolite, the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s inmate-run news magazine, published photos revealing the seared flesh of a man who’d died in the chair. Soon after Prejean’s execution, the Louisiana legislature passed laws mandating lethal injections for executions.

Louisiana hasn’t executed anyone since 2010, in part because state officials have been unable to acquire the chemicals needed for lethal injections. Now, Gov. Jeff Landry, who campaigned on a promise to bring back the death penalty, is calling for a special legislative session beginning February 19 to enact a bill making lethal injection, nitrogen asphyxiation and electrocution legal methods of execution. The governor’s proposed legislation would also seal records related to the drugs and materials used in executions, which could be perceived as an attempt to limit scrutiny of the process.

Around the time I witnessed Prejean’s execution, roughly 80% of Americans said they approved of the death penalty, according to a Gallup poll. Now, only 53% say they support it, and about half of those surveyed say they believe it is applied unfairly.

Since the 1990s, Americans have grown more skeptical of capital punishment, coming into alignment with much of the rest of the world. Their views seem to be rooted in morality, in the belief that its legality depends on its respect for human dignity. Public opinion has no doubt been shaped by reports from witnesses like me who have provided accounts indicating that despite all our advances in technology we have not yet found a humane method for killing.

That Landry would seek to reinstitute the electric chair despite this trend should come as no surprise. Politicians often play to fear and anger. But fear and anger are not the only emotions at play. Americans live now with the greater awareness that innocent people have been convicted and executed for their crimes. Private cell phones and body cameras on police have shown us that official accounts of incidents can’t always be trusted. We also live with the awareness that legal standards and community standards change over time while executions remain final in their judgment.

Prejean, who was convicted and executed for the murder of Donald Cleveland, a Louisiana state trooper, was 17 at the time of the murder. In 2005, the Supreme Court made it unconstitutional to execute people who commit crimes before the age of 18. The court held that executing young criminals violates “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” and noted that American society had come to regard juveniles as less culpable than adult criminals. Today, Prejean would not have been executed.

As our society matures, we should resist the temptation to return to crude forms of punishment. If we can’t, we should demand accountability from the officials carrying out executions. We should permit witnesses to carry pens, paper and cameras. As long as the death penalty remains a part of our system of justice, we shouldn’t shrink from looking at it.

(source: Opinion; Jonathan Eig, CNN)

OHIO:

As Ohio lawmakers consider executions with nitrogen gas, DeWine keeps postponing execution dates

While some lawmakers are seeking to revive Ohio’s death penalty through the use of nitrogen gas, Gov. Mike DeWine is continuing the state’s de facto moratorium on executions by rescheduling execution dates well into the future.

DeWine announced Friday that he pushed back the scheduled executions dates for convicted murderers Timothy L. Hoffner and John David Stumpf from later this year until 2027.

The governor has repeatedly issued such reprieves since he first took office in 2019, citing state prison officials’ years-long inability to obtain drugs for lethal injection, the only execution method currently allowed under state law.

But the two reprieves are the first DeWine has issued since Alabama carried out the nation’s 1st-ever execution using nitrogen gas on Jan. 26. That execution – as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to block it on constitutional grounds – led more than a dozen Ohio House Republicans to introduce legislation early this month that would allow condemned inmates in Ohio to be put to death using nitrogen gas so long as lethal-injection drugs remain unavailable or if an inmate chooses it.

It’s unclear whether the legislation, House Bill 392, will pass the Ohio General Assembly before the current legislative session ends in December, though both Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican, and House Speaker Jason Stephens, a Lawrence County Republican, have said they are overall supporters of the death penalty.

DeWine, as a Republican state lawmaker in 1981, helped pass the legislation that is now Ohio’s death-penalty statute. But since DeWine was elected governor, he has refused to publicly say whether he still supports capital punishment.

When the governor was asked late last month what he thought about legislation allowing executions via nitrogen gas, he replied by noting that lawmakers have also introduced a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Ohio. (That legislation, Senate Bill 101, has gone nowhere since it was introduced nearly a year ago).

“We have different bills, and my practice is to not really comment on them until something starts to move,” DeWine said.

DeWine rescheduled Hoffner’s execution date from June 18, 2024 until July 14, 2027. Hoffner was 1 of 2 men who buried 22-year-old Christopher Hammer alive in a 2-foot grave near Toledo in 1993 after they stole his car, tied him up and gagged him.

Stumpf, who had been scheduled to die on Aug. 16, 2024, had his execution date moved back to August 18, 2027. He was convicted in 1984 of fatally shooting Mary Jane Stout during a robbery attempt in Guernsey County.

It’s the 3rd time DeWine has delayed Stumpf’s execution date in the past four years, and the 2nd time he’s postponed Hoffner’s execution date.

(source: limaohio.com)

TENNESSEE:

Blount County judge rules Kenneth DeHart to face 1st-degree murder charges in fatal deputy shooting----Deputy Greg McCowan was fatally shot on February 8 during a traffic stop, along with his partner, deputy Shelby Eggers, who recovered from her injuries.

Kenneth DeHart, the man accused of killing Blount County Deputy Greg McCowan and injuring Deputy Shelby Eggers, returned to court on Tuesday.

The court heard testimony from Eggers, who entered the room on crutches and is still recovering from her gunshot wounds. She recounted the traffic stop on Feb. 8 and the subsequent shooting that killed her partner.

Her body cam footage was then played before the court, followed by McCowan’s body camera footage and the dispatch audio.

Leslie Earhart from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation then took the stand to explain the agency’s role in “officer-involved” shootings, and this case, specifically.

After hearing the 1st-hand account and seeing the footage, Judge William R. Brewer ruled that the 1st-degree murder charges against DeHart will stand, and the case is headed to a grand jury for its determination of probable cause.

DeHart is charged with 1st-degree murder, attempted 1st-degree murder, and felony possession of a weapon in the Feb. 8 shooting, which occurred during a routine traffic stop. The deputies requested that DeHart exit his Lexus SUV and tased him when he did not comply, according to body cam footage.

DeHart allegedly produced a firearm and shot both deputies before speeding away. McCowan later died from his gunshot wounds and Eggers was hospitalized and later recovered from her injuries.

DeHart was captured on Tuesday, Feb. 13, when police raided a home on Linden Avenue. His capture followed the arrests of his girlfriend, Carrie Matthews, and his brother, Marcus DeHart, who were both charged with accessory after the fact.

DeHart made his appearance in court on Feb. 15 and was appointed a public defender for the case after stating that he did not have a lawyer representing him.

As he was escorted from the courtroom, DeHart turned to a weeping woman in attendance and said: “Tell everyone I love them.”

Blount County Sheriff James Lee Berrong has said he would like prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in DeHart’s case. Derrong said their actions and what they went through qualify them as heroes after viewing their body camera footage.

DeHart is not being held in Blount County to avoid any possible blame should anything happen to DeHart while in custody.

(source: WSMV news)

OKLAHOMA:

When the stakes are literally life and death----Disagreements over the death penalty are sharp. A case in Oklahoma reveals just how high the stakes feel to people on all sides of the issue. At heart, they're all grappling with what constitutes justice.

In 25 years as a journalist, I've hardly ever had people cry during interviews. That was before I reported this week's cover story about how some Oklahomans are reevaluating the death penalty. During my trip to the Sooner State, I interviewed three people who struggled to fight back tears. Reader, my eyes welled up, too.

In keeping with the Monitor's impartial journalism, this article doesn’t take a stance on the death penalty. But what I have striven to capture is just how high the stakes feel to Oklahomans on all sides of the issue – and why. At heart, they're all grappling with what constitutes justice. They're seeking a system that provides them a sense of inner peace and fairness. Something that they can trust.

What struck me most was how many individuals in this story have had to confront their prior positions on the death penalty. Kevin McDugle, for instance, has always ostensibly favored capital punishment. But when the Republican lawmaker heard about the case of Richard Glossip, he had to fundamentally rethink his position. He believes that this person on death row is innocent. And he now favors a moratorium on the death penalty.

For others, the issue felt distant, something that didn't necessarily apply to their lives.

Oklahoma City entrepreneur Craig Blankenship told me, "I didn't think a whole lot about it." That was before his former daughter-in-law was murdered in such a gruesome manner that it made global headlines.

Disagreements on the issue are sharp. Jennifer Harmon, a victims' rights advocate from Tulsa, abhors the efforts of Mr. McDugle and others to free Mr. Glossip. She argues that he's guilty. And she's upset that media coverage can make people on death row better known than people who were murdered.

But people don't always fit neatly into categories on divisive issues. When Oklahoma held a referendum to enshrine the state’s right to impose capital punishment, Ms. Harmon voted against it. (Read the story to find out why.)

At the same time, many of those who ardently oppose the death penalty can empathize with why a majority of Oklahomans still favor it.

"If someone brutally murdered one of my daughters, I would want that person's death," acknowledged Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, who argues that a consistent pro-life position includes opposing the death penalty. "But I would have to admit in my heart of hearts that my motivation is purely retribution, for I would probably be outside of myself."

There's one concept of justice that almost everyone I spoke with brought up: the possibility of grace through genuine atonement.

"Justice is so much bigger than, 'We had the trial. He's guilty. Here's his sentence,'" says Ms. Harmon, who has been a spiritual counselor for people in prison. "Something happens by owning what they've done. ... They avail themselves to some kind of transformation."

(source: Commentary; Stephen Humphries, Christian Science Monitor)

COLORADO:

Jurors' Death Penalty Views Not Tied To Race, Colo. Justices Say

The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected a Black man's efforts to reverse his 2008 murder conviction for a drive-by shooting, with the justices finding that prosecutors' dismissal of two Black jurors did not amount to improper racial bias.

In an opinion published Tuesday, the justices said they found no clear error in a trial court's decision to strike the two jurors from Sir Mario Owens' murder trial.

While Owens contended the two Black jurors were improperly sent home because of their race, prosecutors cited valid, "race-neutral" reasons to dismiss the prospective jurors, such as their views on the death penalty, the court said in affirming Owens' conviction.

The justices also disagreed with Owens' contention that prosecutors didn't scrutinize white jurors as closely as one of the Black jurors, Juror J.C., who initially said she couldn't impose the death penalty for religious reasons but later changed her mind.

"The record reveals that the prosecution engaged in a thorough voir dire of those jurors, and any differences in the questioning was attributable to the extent and nature of those jurors' hesitation to impose the death penalty," Justice Richard L. Gabriel wrote in finding prosecutors consistently struck jurors who expressed opposition to or difficulty imposing the death penalty.

The court also rejected all of Owens' evidentiary arguments for reversal, including his claim that evidence about an earlier shooting should not have been presented at the trial.

Prosecutors with the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office had argued the 2005 drive-by was an effort to intimidate witnesses to a shooting one year earlier in Aurora, Colorado's Lowry Park neighborhood.

The trial court had wide latitude to decide how much evidence was appropriate, the high court said.

"Although the Lowry Park evidence was, to some degree, prejudicial, it was not unfairly prejudicial because a good amount of this evidence was necessary to establish the prosecution's theory of its case," Justice Gabriel said. "And although we might have reached a different conclusion than the trial court were we deciding in the first instance how much of the Lowry Park evidence to admit … we perceive no abuse of discretion in its determination."

Justice Carlos A. Samour Jr. did not participate in the opinion.

In a statement Tuesday, the legal team representing Owens said they disagreed with the justices' legal and factual conclusions and intend to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Owens, who was convicted of the drive-by murders in 2008 at age 22, is serving a life sentence.

"Mr. Owens was a young Black man when he was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Black jurors who would have otherwise sat on the case were improperly excluded from service; there was a mountain of unfairly prejudicial evidence admitted at trial; and, the district court placed unreasonable limitations on Mr. Owens's ability to present a viable defense," Owens' team said. "Our position has always been that Mr. Owens didn't receive a fair trial before an impartial jury of his peers."

18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner said he was "pleased" with the ruling Tuesday but disappointed by Gov. Jared Polis' 2020 decision to commute Owens' death sentence, after state lawmakers eliminated the death penalty in Colorado.

"From the beginning, our team has fought to hold this murderer fully accountable for his heinous crimes. A fair and impartial jury unanimously found him guilty and imposed our harshest sentence under the law — the death penalty," Kellner said.

The case involves a 2004 shooting at a public rap battle in the Lowry Park neighborhood of Aurora that killed organizer Gregory Vann and injured 2 others. About a year after that shooting, in June 2005, one of the injured organizers, Javad Marshall-Fields, and his girlfriend Vivian Wolfe were killed in a drive-by shooting.

Owens was convicted for Vann's murder in 2007. He and 2 others were separately charged with 1st-degree murder and witness intimidation for the drive-by, which prosecutors argued was an effort to intimidate witnesses to the Lowry Park shooting.

In his brief to the state Supreme Court, Owens argued that race imbued the entire trial, with prosecutors essentially placing "urban Black culture on trial for an all-white jury." In addition to the exclusion of 2 Black jurors, he alleged that the court unfairly precluded him from questioning jurors about racial bias.

Although the trial court judge didn't allow Owens to ask jurors about their race on a written questionnaire, the court didn't keep him from questioning prospective jurors about race or racial bias during voir dire, the justices said.

Prosecutors also "did not advance an overtly race-based challenge" when they sent home a Black man referred to as Juror C.W., the high court said.

In response to a question about "pleasant or unpleasant" experiences with law enforcement, Juror C.W. wrote "DWB," shorthand for "Driving while Black." Owens claimed the trial court wrongfully upheld Juror C.W.'s strike despite acknowledging the juror's response had a "racial overtone."

The fact that prosecutors questioned the juror about his "driving while Black" response doesn't, in of itself, suggest bias, the justices said. Prosecutors also offered other valid explanations for removing Juror C.W. from the jury, such as his consumption of "very liberal media" and his views on the death penalty.

Owens also can't use a comparison to white jurors who reported negative experiences with police to claim Juror C.W. was treated differently, Justice Gabriel wrote.

Those jurors spoke about incidents in which they received traffic tickets, which would be a negative experience for most people regardless of race, according to the opinion.

The court also found "no grounds" to conclude that the consecutive dismissal of the Black jurors revealed racial motivation for the peremptory strikes.

Owens' case is among a number of criminal appeals before the state Supreme Court involving allegations that jurors were improperly dismissed from service based on their race. The high court has said it will decide those cases before weighing in on a proposal that would modify a criminal jury selection rule to make it harder to exclude people of color from juries using peremptory challenges.

Owens' attorneys declined to comment on that proposed rule change Tuesday.

Owens is represented by Mark G. Walta of Walta LLC, Todd E. Mair of Mair Law LLC and Jonathan D. Reppucci of the Reppucci Law Firm PC.

The state is represented by Colorado Attorney General Philip J. Weiser and Katharine Gillespie and John T. Lee of that office.

The case is People v. Sir Mario Owens, case number 2008SA402, in the Colorado Supreme Court.

(source: law360.com)

CALIFORNIA:

SLS’s Michael Romano on Disproportionate Sentencing, Clemency, and Mass Incarceration

Q&A with Professors Richard Thompson Ford and Pamela Karlan California’s “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law, which passed in 1994, was one of the tough-on-crime measures that swept the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Later, as the prisons were overflowing, the stories started to come out: A man sent to prison for life for stealing a pair of shoes. Another sentenced to life for breaking into a soup kitchen.

Michael Romano, JD ’03, is the founder and director of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School, the 1st law school program of its type in the country, focused on securing reduced sentences for incarcerated people deemed to be serving disproportionate sentences. He has guided hundreds of Stanford Law students through the process of winning the release of more than 200 Californians imprisoned under the state’s Three Strikes law. Romano and his students also helped change the law in California and he has been active in reforming the process of federal and state clemency.

On a recent edition of the Stanford Legal podcast, Romano sat down with co-hosts Richard Thompson Ford, the George E. Osborne Professor of Law, and Pamela Karlan, the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery professor of public interest law, to talk about his groundbreaking work. The following is an edited excerpt of the full interview, which can be found here:

Karlan: Can you explain what the three strikes law is, where it came from, and what its effects have been?

Thirty years ago there was a pair of horrific murders of young girls in California and, after struggling with deciding how to handle a violent crime, especially sensational and violent crime, sentiment spread throughout California and the country to enact laws that would send people to prison for the rest of their lives if they committed three felonies. Almost every state in the country passed some version of a three strikes law.

The way that it worked in California was particularly harsh because the felony threshold for crimes like simple drug possession and petty theft could be for extraordinarily minor crimes. As a result, we had thousands and thousands of people who were sentenced to life in prison for street crimes. Not that they were innocent, but they had committed these minor crimes—not the kind of crimes that prompted the law in the first place.

Karlan: How did the Three Strikes project get started and what is it designed to do?

I was clerking on the Ninth Circuit and there were 2 cases that came before the judge I was working for. One involved somebody who forged a DMV application. He filled out the DMV application for his uncle who didn’t speak English. Yes, that’s a felony. You’re not supposed to do that. But he received a life sentence under the Three Strikes Law for that. The other case involved aiding the sale of $5 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover police officer. Because of Andrade and Ewing (U.S. Supreme Court cases upholding sentences imposed under California’s three strikes law), if the judges spent 20 seconds on these cases, that was a lot. That shocked me. Were these really outlier cases or were there a lot of them? When I finished my clerkship, I started working for a criminal defense firm in San Francisco, and we had another one of these cases: three strikes for possession of 0.03 grams of methamphetamine. I was doing research and kind of pulling the thread, and it turned out there were not just a couple or a dozen or hundreds. There were thousands of people who are serving life sentences for these really minor crimes.

When I came to Stanford and the law school was expanding its clinical program, I went to Larry Marshall, who of course was legendary in the wrongful conviction world, and I said, “Larry, we should do sort of an Innocence Project here, but not “innocent.” It’s the Guilty Project.” These people are guilty. But the question was whether a life sentence was appropriate and could we figure out a legal strategy, especially after Ewing and Andrade, that might afford these people some relief.

Karlan: How did you get around the provision in three strikes law that judges had to sentence these people to life in prison, even if they didn’t think it was the appropriate punishment?

We decided to borrow from death penalty litigation. Around the same time, the Supreme Court recognized that there was a right to effective representation, not only at trial, but at sentencing. I thought that maybe we could apply the same principle in three strikes cases, because there is a narrow loophole that courts can use to avoid the three strikes sentencing in extraordinary circumstances. So we started filing habeas cases in California, based on this idea that our clients received ineffective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase. An extraordinary mitigating circumstance which had never been presented before in court could be presented—similar evidence that you hear in death penalty cases: mental illness, low cognitive function, extraordinary amounts of childhood trauma and abuse. It was a bit of an experimental claim. This strategy had been the province of capital cases. We ended up winning some cases. In some ways we even surprised ourselves. One case led to another and we’ve been extraordinarily lucky and successful.

Karlan: So have all of these cases been cases where the claim is that the original lawyer should have brought this material out and didn’t, or are there other sorts of claims that you’re bringing as well?

We’re not devoted to any particular claim. Occasionally we’ll meet with clients and they’ll say, “I’m innocent,” and we generally don’t go down that road. There is new law in California on disproportionate punishment under the state constitution, which we have litigated. We recently won an equal protection claim. There have been a number of reforms to sentencing laws, which we’ve actually helped enact, that also raise new claims. There are new laws in California that allow law enforcement to nominate people for resentencing, and we’ve also successfully represented clients under those laws. We definitely started under this idea of ineffective assistance of counsel, and that’s still our kind of our bread and butter claim, but we usually raise 2 or 3 claims for each of our clients.

Ford: I understand you’re working on reintegration of people post-release. How is that work going and how challenging is that process of avoiding recidivism?

It’s an extremely heavy lift and it’s a good problem to have. So, we would win these cases, and we would meet people at prison gates and say, “Congratulations and we’re so happy for you. And where are you going next?” Of course we realized almost instantaneously that our clients had nowhere to go. The vast majority of people sentenced under the three strikes law are homeless and destitute and addicts and didn’t have intact families or communities to begin with.

We have formed partnerships with different residential treatment, housing, job training placement programs throughout California. We created the Ride Home Program, through which we’ve hired some of our former clients who are out and doing great, to go pick up people at the prison gates, bring them to their first meal, and then hand them off to their residential programs, usually in Los Angeles or in the Berkeley area.

Karlan: Recently, you had an interesting oped in the New York Times about clemency. Can you tell us a little bit about your ideas and where you think we’re headed?

We were asked to help on then-President Obama’s efforts to award clemency to people who are overly incarcerated and subject to racially disproportionate punishment in the federal system. It was extraordinarily flattering and exciting. It was also frustrating to see how difficult it was to actually navigate the clemency process and for people to actually trickle up or get distilled down to where the President would sign off on their release.

I sit on a committee to advise Governor Newsom here in California to avoid the sticky political problems that clemency raises. For example, can we identify people who are doing very well in prison and may have proven their rehabilitation, but instead of having the executives, who are very politically sensitive, sign off on these cases, can we instead just bring those cases back to court? And once in court, have an open discussion about what their rehabilitation has been like, whether or not they remain a threat to public safety, what was their original crime, and do they have a reentry plan. None of that conversation happens in the clemency process. In California, we have a process where the prison system can actually nominate people who’ve been incarcerated for long periods of time and send them back to court to have this conversation and maybe be resentenced. The federal system actually has a similar law but it is almost never used. And so my oped was about encouraging the Biden administration to do something similar.

Prison officials really have a good sense of who’s incarcerated, who’s unfairly there, who’s safe to be released, and they don’t feel really part of that process. They just feel like they’re in the warehousing business.

Ford: I want to ask you about the Three Strikes Project’s work to reform the Three Strikes law in California.

We were doing these individual cases in the basement of the law school when one day, our colleague, David Mills, knocked on my door and said, “This is great what you’re doing with these one-off cases, but aren’t there thousands of people?” We both essentially said, “There ought to be a law.” In California, if a law was passed by a voter initiative, as Three Strikes was in 1994, the only way it can really be reformed is by another voter initiative. That’s a huge campaign and a lot of money and a lot of mobilizing. Together with David and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, we built a campaign and students helped draft what would become the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012, or Proposition 36, was put on the ballot in California and reformed California’s three strikes law to prohibit life sentences if the third strike is one of these non-serious, non violent sort of petty crimes, which did an extraordinary amount of good. Almost 4,000 people who had been serving life sentences were released under the measure. And of course it prohibited life sentences moving forward for these minor crimes.

I’m proud to be part of the work out here in California, and to some degree on a national level, to try to find solutions that actually reduce that harm and improve public safety at the same time. A lot of prejudices and bureaucracies and old ways of thinking remain, but we’ve been lucky for the most part and I’m optimistic that there will be further reforms.

LISTEN TO THE STANFORD LEGAL PODCAST

Michael Romano is the director and founder of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School. Previously, he was founding director of the Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic. He currently teaches criminal justice policy and advanced criminal litigation and has published several scholarly and popular press articles on criminal law, sentencing policy, prisoner reentry and recidivism, and mental illness in the justice system. In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Michael as inaugural chair of California’s criminal law and policy reform committee, the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code. He was principal author of the Three Strikes Reform Act (Proposition 36), one of the country’s first criminal justice reform initiatives, which led to the release of over 3,000 people serving life sentences for non-serious, non-violent crimes. He has gone on to develop and co-author numerous other reforms and led impact litigation, which together have resulted in reduced sentences for tens of thousands of additional people. Michael also founded the Ride Home prisoner reentry program, which has provided immediate assistance to formerly incarcerated people in 38 states and in 2015 partnered with the U.S. Dept. of Justice in support of President Obama’s executive clemency initiative. The work received numerous honors, including recognition by the White House as a “Champion of Change.”

(source: law.stanford.edu)

WASHINGTON:

A Life and Death Sentence at Walla Walla, Recounted 50 Years Later

For a few months in 2019, Don Snook, 71, was transferred to Washington State Penitentiary (Walla Walla) for chemotherapy. It was supposed to be his end-of-life facility. Almost 50 years had passed since he was shipped to Walla Walla the first time, for assaulting a corrections officer. It was his end-of-life facility back then, too.

Walla Walla today houses minimum-security prisoners. But in 1974, when Snook arrived to finish what was originally an 18-month sentence for a nonviolent conviction, it was where Washington State sent the “worst of the worst.” It was the site of Blood Alley. It was where prisoners were exposed to radiation to determine what levels would sterilize them. It was where they had death row, and the gallows. It’s a dark place.

By 1977, Snook had been given a life sentence for killing one Walla Walla prisoner and a death sentence for killing a second. Washington State had abolished the death penalty in 1975, then reinstated it by ballot initiative in November that same year. The state Supreme Court ruled capital punishment unconstitutional in 2018, but the gallows were considered active up until the governor legally abolished capital punishment in 2023. They were the last active gallows in the country.

Death row was the last 6 cells on A-Tier in Walla Walla’s administrative segregation unit, a building known as “Big Red.” A metal grate separated the condemned from the other 11 cells on the tier. The gallows were in their own building, connected on one side to Six Wing, the living unit where I was housed from 1995 to 1998.

Death row never got direct sunlight.

When I got to Walla Walla, the state had just carried out what would be its final execution by hanging. Prisoners could opt for lethal injection, but the default method was still the gallows. If you were housed in Six Wing at the end of A-, C-, or E-Tier, once in a blue moon you could hear the ker-thunk during test runs when they dropped the trap doors.

By this time death row had been moved to another building and the original six cells converted to more ad seg, but you could tell those ones were different. The other cells had metal bunks; these had concrete slabs. The metal grate had been taken out, but you could see the scars on the walls where it had once been.

Most solitary confinement cells I’ve lived in had a window. At Big Red, the windows aren’t in the cells themselves, but out on the tier’s opposite wall about 15 feet away. A-Tier never gets direct sunlight. Even with the fluorescent lights overhead, it felt dark all the time. The only other place I can recall cells that dark was the LA County Jail after the 1992 Rodney King riots, when they temporarily reopened a historic ad seg building that had been preserved as a museum.

I spent a few months in those cells altogether, sometimes in the old death row cells; I think the longest stretch was 40 days. Snook was on death row for 3 years.

“I survived,” he told Filter. “They didn’t break me.”

Snook was at Walla Walla during the era when prisoners ran the joint. Administration gave them their own office building and brought them into operational meetings. There were riots and pipe-bombings and constant murders and drugs used out in the open. Snook was there during all this, but it would be 6 years before he was a part of the general prison population.

On Snook’s second day at Walla Walla, he was sent to the notorious Mental Health Unit for head psychologist Dr. William Hunter’s behavioral modification program. Prisoners were made to wear diapers and drink from baby bottles. Snook refused, and often spent sessions chained to a radiator at the edge of the group.

“It was degrading,” Snook said. He recalled Hunter, sporting a flat-top haircut and a Western bolo tie, standing over him during their first meeting and saying, “Don, I’ve been breaking horses for 20 years. If I can break a horse, I can break any man.”

This was before Snook was put into the actual program. He first spent 16 days in restraints while Hunter’s favorite prisoners injected him with thorazine and hosed him with cold water, and sometimes mopped up the piss and shit. One of them wrung the mop out over Snook’s face. 8 months later Snook ran into him during a stint in ad seg, and killed him.

It was unusual that someone on death row was serving both a life sentence and a death sentence.

Because everyone on death row is in prison for the rest of their lives, they’re also considered lifers. But it was unusual for someone to begin serving a death sentence while already serving a life sentence. By the time he was moved to death row, Snook was a bona fide member of the Lifers Club.

The Lifers Club had a certain amount of power. There were a lot of lifers at Walla Walla, and they were organized. If they pushed for a given issue, administration often listened. This was how Snook came to be allowed visits from the other members, who’d stand in front of his cell for a few minutes.

In 1980 Snook won an appeal and had his death sentence dropped to life. He was taken off death row, put straight into ad seg, and tried to kill himself not long after. By that time he’d been in one form of segregation or another almost continuously for 6 years.

“I wanted to end it,” he told Filter. He described several more attempts to end his own life, and several attempts by cops to end it, too. But he lived.

Over the course of Snook’s 50 years in prison, Washington State executed 5 people, the last of them in 2010. Death row, primarily, isn’t a place people are sent to die. It’s a place people are sent to live in deprivation.

Walla Walla is almost a century older than the Washington State Department of Corrections, and 3 years older than Washington State itself. Since it was opened in 1886 it’s been retrofitted with things like electricity and plumbing, but nothing really works. The walls are covered in concrete because the bricks underneath are crumbling. At Washington Corrections Center, where both Snook and I are currently incarcerated, prisoners who’ve been at Walla Walla within the past few months told Filter that A-Tier is still used for ad seg, but all the bars have been covered over with sheet metal and plexiglass. So the cells get even hotter now.

When I was in those cells 23 hours a day, they didn’t take us outside during the hour they let us out. But they let us walk up and down the tier in pairs, for the sake of human contact. It was the same for the non-death row prisoners in Big Red back when Snook was there. The death row prisoners would be taken outside to a small yard that was just for them, but only one at a time.

Most of the sparrows were named Chance.

During his years on death row, Snook’s closest company were critters: eight cockroaches, one black widow, one bobtail mouse and 25 sparrows.

The cockroaches lived in a shoe box. Constance, the black widow, did kill one of them, but she never bit Snook. She lived in 2 Styrofoam cups joined together. Snook had poked in air holes, and added some twigs and things. He let her crawl all over him.

The mouse’s name was Herman. He had his own corner of the cell, but after death row got TV sets out on the tier Herman would climb up on the concrete slab with Snook and lay on his chest to watch with him. Snook smiles as he talks about Herman.

Most of the sparrows were named Chance. The Lifers would find them mangled from flying into the razor wire, and hand them through the bars to Snook. He splinted their wings and cleaned their wounds. He made them nests out of his T-shirts. He fed them chewed-up bread from his own mouth, like he was their mother. One of his favorites would hop down a few cells to one of the other men on death row and steal his socks. Then drag them back to Snook.

When the sparrows were healthy Snook would take them out to the small yard and set them free.

(source: Jonathan Kirkpatrick covers harm reduction and re-entry. He’s incarcerated at Washington Corrections Center, where he’s a Teacher’s Assistant for re-entry workshops and trains peer educators in HIV and hepatitis C harm reduction. His Washington State Department of Corrections job is crafting quilts out of recycled materials to donate to nonprofits for fundraising. His writing has been published by the Appeal, Truthout, Jewish Currents and the Seattle Journal for Social Justice----part 1, filtermag.org)

USA:

Biden said he opposed death penalty. Why do feds want to kill the Buffalo shooter?

President Joseph Biden's stated opposition to the death penalty is running counter to his administration's decision on the fate of the racist who murdered 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket in 2022.

"It's really out of synch with what Biden said during his campaign," said Karen Pita Loor, a clinical law professor at Boston University who has written of the Department of Justice's decision to seek the death penalty in another case.

Last month the Justice Department announced it would seek the death penalty for Payton Gendron, who fatally shot 10 people with a semiautomatic rifle at the Buffalo Tops Friendly Market in May 2022. 2 others were wounded in the attack.

During his successful 2020 bid for the presidency, Biden said he wanted to abolish the federal death penalty.

His campaign website then said: "Because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, Biden will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example. These individuals should instead serve life sentences without probation or parole."

Among the families of the 10 people murdered in May 2022 at the Tops market in Buffalo, there has been a split: Some support Gendron's execution, some don't.

Federal authorities "decided to pursue the death penalty and as a matter of record we all had to submit our wishes to the prosecutors in terms of what we wanted to see happen," said Garnell Whitfield Jr., a Buffalo resident whose mother, Ruth Whitfield, was one of those fatally shot at the Tops.

The trial is now expected for late 2025, and the jury would decide after a guilty verdict whether Gendron should be executed. But the days, weeks and months before will continue to bring heartache for those who lost loved ones.

Garnell Whitfield's sister is traveling from Ohio to Buffalo soon with a sad chore ahead of her.

"2 years removed and we're starting to go through my mother's things," Whitfield said. "It's going to be difficult." Attorney General Garland's Buffalo shooter decision

Gendron, now 20, has agreed to a life without parole sentence with a guilty plea to the murders in state court. His attorneys have said he would do the same with federal charges.

"As the defense has made clear, without the prospect of the death penalty, Payton Gendron will plead guilty to the Indictment and no trial will be necessary," his federal attorneys wrote in recent court papers.

The Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland are the decision-makers with death penalty decisions.

The Biden administration and the Justice Department decided against the death penalty in more than 30 cases in which capital punishment was sought by previous administrations, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which produces research on the death penalty.

And there have been cases in which the administration and the Justice Department allowed cases to continue with a possibility of the death penalty as punishment.

Gendron's crimes, however, occurred in the 2nd year of the Biden administration.

"This is the 1st case that has been approved for the death penalty by Merrick Garland," said Robin Maher, DPIC's executive director.

Austin Sarat, a political scientist professor at Amherst College who has written extensively of the death penalty, said, "Joe Biden has promised more than he's produced with respect to the America death penalty.

"Biden is the 1st (death penalty) abolitionist American president to be elected," said Sarat, a death penalty opponent.

Will Buffalo mass killer Payton Gendron face execution?

Even those questioning the decision to seek death for Gendron say they see possible rationales for what could appear to be an about-face by the Biden administration.

Specifically, they say, the reasons could be:

A willingness by the president to defer to the Justice Department for the decision. "Garland's own record has been consistently inconsistent," Sarat said.

"He has declined to go forward with some cases that were left over from the Trump administration and he has gone forward with others." For instance, Garland decided against seeking the death penalty for Patrick Crusius, who committed the racially motivated Walmart attack in El Paso, Texas, that killed 23 people, and Anderson Aldrich, who killed 5 in an LGBTQ hate-motivated attack in the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

A belief that terrorism or hate crimes should be treated differently. The Justice Department has agreed to the death penalty for the Boston Marathon bombing killer and for the man who murdered 11 Jewish people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. "This was a mass shooting with multiple victims, an act of domestic terrorism," Maher said of Gendron's murders. In its papers, federal prosecutors highlighted the racism foundation of Gendron's crimes. However, observers say, this is counter to the decisions in the Crusius and Aldrich cases.

A desire to abide by the wishes of the victims in the mass killing. This, however, is not so clear-cut because of the division within that group, a number who think Gendron would suffer more by spending his remaining days in prison.

Terrence Connors, a Buffalo lawyer representing the families of survivors in a civil suit, said there are some supportive and some opposed to the death penalty. A 3rd group, Connors said, is "dismissing (Gendron) as irrelevant."

They have turned their attention to community work and advocacy to try to strengthen their neighborhoods and the surrounding area, Connors said.

Whitfield has opposed the death penalty for Gendron. His bigger focus, Whitfield said, is on the civil suits against online companies that allowed the racist portals where Gendron and others communicated, as well as those responsible for the sale of the firearm and body armor.

"Just by fighting the fight, bringing this suit, it allows the next person to bring another suit and that’s how change happens incrementally over time," Whitfield said.

Why is there a federal execution moratorium?

Whatever the Justice Department decides with criminal cases, there is currently a federal moratorium on executions. Garland initiated the moratorium to study the fairness of federal death penalty cases and the method by which the condemned are to be killed.

"It seems to me not just inconsistent but an academic sort of move to say we're having a moratorium" while seeking the death penalty with some cases, Professor Loor said.

The Justice Department has used the moratorium to review and adjust its internal policies with death penalty decisions, said Maher of the DPIC. What's left to be decided is the methodology for executions, she said.

Numerous studies have shown the death penalty's use across the country to be racially skewed, with Black people more likely to be sentenced to death than white people for similar crimes. There also have been individuals sentenced to death who turned out to be innocent.

Lawyers in the Gendron case predict that jury selection could take several months, followed by more months of trial and then a decision by the jury of whether Gendron should be killed.

In this case, there is no question of Gendron's guilt with the murders, so the trial will largely be a precursor to the jury's deliberations over the death penalty.

Jury selection for the trial is expected to last months, as is the trial itself. Gendron's lawyers also could seek a change of venue, moving the trial away from Buffalo.

(source: Gary Craig is a veteran reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle)

***************

Jeremy Clarkson blasts USA as 'not a civilised country' as he makes stance clear on death penalty debate----The Clarkson's Farm host shared his thoughts on the first execution via nitrogen gas in the States

Jeremy Clarkson has pulled no punches with his thoughts on the USA's approach to capital punishment.

In his latest column, Clarkson blasted the death penalty as "bonkers" as he referred to the story of Alabama death row inmate, Kenneth Eugene Smith.

Smith was the 1st person killed using nitrogen gas - a process which saw prison officials strap a mask to his face and administer the pure gas, prompting nitrogen hypoxia.

He had been scheduled to die via lethal injection in November 2022 but the procedure went wrong which led to a rescheduled date with a new method of death on January 25, 2024.

Smith's death has hit headlines across the globe due to reports that the use of nitrogen gas went awry and took over 20 minutes to kill Smith, prompting calls that it was an inhumane method of execution.

Clarkson has waded into the debate, writing to his fans that he staunchly believes "we should not have a death penalty".

Jeremy Clarkson, who stars in The Grand Tour, has shared his thoughts on capital punishment

Delving into his reasoning, he went on: "Because let’s face it, a state should not be entrusted with the power of life and death when it can’t even mend potholes."

Turning his attention to the USA, Clarkson penned in the Times: "All of the people in all of the world’s properly civilised countries recognise this. Which of course brings us on to America.

"America is not a properly civilised country, so as a result, 27 of the 50 states allow its judges to sentence a person to death.

"And I can’t really get my head round the reasoning, especially when the methods of execution are so gormlessly inefficient and mad."

The Grand Tour star then delved into the details of Smith's case before reeling off exactly why other methods such as the electric chair were "bonkers" and "unreliable".

Clarkson went on to poke fun at the paradoxical notion held by many Americans that executions must be "somehow humane" before offering his own solution.

"So how’s this for an idea: catch the murderer, try him, and if he’s found guilty, put him in a prison. That’s the best idea, surely, unless he’s dropped some litter, obviously," Clarkson joked.

Among other critics of the nitrogen gas method was Smith's "spiritual adviser" who was in attendance on the day of his death.

He told USA Today that "anyone who claims that this [Smith's execution] was anything short of torture is not just mistaken, they are a dangerous liar".

And a lawsuit has been lodged by an Alabama death row inmate which alleges that Smith's execution was "a human experiment that officials botched miserably".

A witness had also told the BBC that Smith "thrashed violently on the gurney and the execution took around 25 minutes" and it was condemned by the United Nations.

However, Alabama has defended the method and said the process had been completed humanely.

(source: gbn.com)

INDIA:

Kurnool court awards capital punishment for father-son duo and life imprisonment for the mother in a double murder case

(see: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/amaravati/kurnool-court-awards-capital-punishment-for-father-son-duo-and-life-imprisonment-for-the-mother-in-a-double-murder-case/articleshow/107885491.cms)

CHINA:

Chinese Australian Blogger Waives Appeal of Suspended Death Sentence in China

The family of a Chinese-born Australian writer who was convicted of spying and given a suspended death sentence says he will not appeal.

Yang Hengjun has been in custody since he was arrested in the southern city of Guangzhou on a flight from New York in 2019. He was sentenced earlier this month in a Beijing court, nearly three years after he was tried in a secret hearing.

His family and close friends issued a statement Wednesday saying Yang has decided to waive his right to appeal his sentence because it would delay the possibility of receiving “adequate medical care after five years of inhumane treatment” and “neglect.” He has developed a serious kidney condition during his detention.

The statement also said Yang did not believe an appeal would remedy his “unjust” sentence.

A suspended death sentence in China is usually commuted to life imprisonment after 2 years of good behavior.

Yang, who blogged about democracy and Chinese affairs and wrote spy novels, has always denied allegations of espionage, or that he worked as a spy for Australia or the United States. He was a visiting scholar at Columbia University at the time of his arrest.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong issued a statement saying Canberra understood the “difficult decision” Yang made to waive his appeal.

(source: voanews.com----Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters.)

IRAN----executions

Execution Carried Out in Hamedan Prison for Drug Offenses

On February 21, 2024, Ahmad Esmaeili, convicted of drug-related crimes, was executed in Hamedan Prison.

A reliable source informed HRANA that Esmaeili was apprehended by security forces in 2018 under suspicion of smuggling 11 kilograms of methamphetamine, leading to his subsequent death sentence.

As of now, there has been no official confirmation of this execution from domestic media outlets or official sources within the country.

In 2023, 66% of HRANA’s reports on executions lacked official announcements by judicial authorities and went unreported by media inside Iran, highlighting a troubling lack of transparency in due process. This report also reveals a concerning prevalence of executions for drug offenses in Iran, constituting 56.4% of the total executions.

(source: en-hrana.org)

**************

Tuesdays’ Hunger Strike in the Women’s Ward of Evin

A group of female political prisoners supporting the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) who are incarcerated in the women’s ward of Evin Prison joined the prisoners’ hunger strike today, Tuesday, February 20, 2024.

Their objective was to denounce the escalating frequency of executions in Iran. The hunger strikes against the death penalty, aimed at condemning the imposition of the death penalty, was first launched on Tuesday, January 30, 2024, by death-row inmates at Qezel Hesar Prison in Karaj, following the executions of detained protesters Mohammad Qobadlou and Farhad Salimi.

Hunger Strikes against the Death Penalty

This was the 4th round of hunger strikes against the death penalty initiated by political prisoners across several prisons, including Evin, Qezel Hesar, Mashhad, Karaj, Khorramabad, and Saqqez. The campaign vehemently denounces the executions and demands an immediate cessation of such actions.

On Tuesday, January 30, several death-row prisoners in Qezel Hesar made an announcement: “In order to amplify our voices, we will commence a hunger strike every Tuesday. We have chosen Tuesdays because this day often marks the final moments for our fellow inmates, who are usually transferred to solitary confinement a few days prior.”

The ongoing resistance of political prisoners against the clerical regime’s killing machine persists amidst a concerning escalation in the issuance of death sentences.

(source: women.ncr-iran.org)

**************

Iraj Paaki Executed for Drug Charges in Urmia

Iraj Paaki, a man sentenced to death for drug-related charges, was executed in Urmia Central Prison.

According to information obtained by Iran Human Rights, a man was executed in Urmia Central Prison on 19 February. His identity has been established as 35-year-old Iraj Paaki from the Kouhsar region of Salmas. He was sentenced to death for drug-related charges by the Revolutionary Court.

An informed source told Iran Human Rights: “Around 6 years ago, Iraj was arrested in Ardabil with his friend Omar Khashmani for drug-related charges. In court, Omar was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and Iraj was sentenced to death. He was transferred to solitary confinement from Ward 1 of the prison the day prior to his execution.”

At the time of writing, his execution has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

Drug-related executions have continuously risen every year for the past 3 years. At least 305 people were executed for drug-related charges between 1 January-10 October 2023, a 69% increase compared to the same period in 2022, and the number of drug-related executions in 2023 were close to 20 times higher than 2020.

The number of drug executions dramatically dropped in 2018 following a 2017 Amendment to the Anti-Narcotics Laws. Consequently, drug executions ranged between 24-30 per annum between 2018-2020. The Amendment was reversed in practice in 2021 when executions increased 10-fold to 126 in 2021 and doubled again in 2022 with 256 drug-related executions. On 13 September 2023, IHRNGO reported a 94% rise in the number of drug-related executions in the year following the start of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement in September 2022.

*****************

90 People on Death Row in Zanjan Central Prison----“The majority of the 90 prisoners have been sentenced to death for drug-related charges and four of them have rape charges.”

While 15 drug-related death sentences were commuted to prison terms in Zanjan Central Prison, 90 others are remain on death row for various charges at the prison.

According to information obtained by Iran Human Rights, there are currently 90 prisoners with confirmed death sentences in Zanjan Central Prison. They are on death row for drug-related, murder, moharebeh (enmity against god) through armed robbery and rape charges.

An informed source told Iran Human Rights: “The majority of the 90 prisoners have been sentenced to death for drug-related charges and four of them have rape charges.”

Zanjan Central Prison is situated in the north west of Zanjan city in Zanjan province and currently houses around 2500 prisoners.

Of the 582 executions recorded by IHRNGO in 2022, 12 (2%) were carried out in Zanjan Central Prison.

To mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, the death penalties of 15 drug death row prisoners were commuted to 13-25 years imprisonment.

(source for all: iranhr.net)

FEBRUARY 20, 2024:

TEXAS----impending execution

Texas Gives Ivan Cantu New Execution Date of February 28, 2024

Ivan Cantu is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm local time on Wednesday, February 28, 2024, inside the Walls Unit execution chamber at the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Texas. 50-year-old Ivan is convicted of murdering 27-year-old James Mosqueda and 21-year-old Amy Kitchens on November 4, 2000, in Dallas, Texas. For the last 22 years, Ivan has resided on death row in Texas.

Ivan Abner Cantu graduated from high school and did not have any prior convictions. Ivan had previously worked as a laborer. In 1998 or 1999, Ivan was hired by his cousin, James Mosqueda to work in James’ mortgage banking business in Dallas, Texas. James eventually fired Ivan in mid-2000.

Ivan Cantu moved into an apartment with his girlfriend and her brother on October 15, 2000. The apartment was located about one mile from where James lived. In late October, Cantu informed one of his roommates that he was going to kill his cousin James. Cantu alleged that James was a part-time drug dealer of cocaine and marijuana. Cantu also planned to steal James’ money.

On November 4, 2000, Cantu left his apartment around 11:30 pm in his vehicle. Shortly before leaving, Cantu told his girlfriend he was going to kill James. Cantu returned to the apartment about two hours later covered in blood. His face was also swollen.

James lived with his fiancé, Amy Kitchen. On November 4, 2000, at the request of Amy’s mother, the Dallas Fire Department forcibly entered James and Amy’s home. James and Amy were found deceased in the bedroom, with no sign of struggle. They had been killed by multiple gunshot wounds.

Police quickly narrowed in on Cantu as a suspect. A search of his apartment a few days later revealed that he had a key to James’ home. He also had in his possession keys to Amy’s vehicle. Further, police found clothes in the garbage that had blood on them. DNA testing revealed that the blood matched James and Amy. Eventually, police also located the murder weapon at Cantu’s ex-girlfriend’s apartment.

Cantu was arrested, charged, and convicted of the robbery and murder of James and Amy. Cantu alleged that rival drug dealers were responsible for the couple’s murder. He previously had an execution date in 2011. That date was stayed to allow additional DNA testing.

Judicial District Court Judge Benjamin A. Smith in Collins County, Texas, withdrew the execution date for Ivan Cantu. Attorneys for Ivan previously requested his execution date be withdrawn to all time to review new revelations in the case. Specifically, Ivan’s girlfriend at the time gave testimony against him saying Ivan had shown her the crime scene and given her some items from the deceased. At least 1 of these items was later found to be in the possession of the family of the deceased. The girlfriend is now deceased. Another person who testified against Ivan has also come forward saying he wanted to recant his testimony and that he was using drugs at that time.

Please pray for peace for the families of James Mosqueda and Amy Kitchen. Pray for strength for the family of Ivan Cantu. Please pray that if Ivan is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason, that evidence will be provided before his execution. Pray that Ivan may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

(source: theforgivenessfoundation.org)

MASSACHUSETTS:

3 good reasons for the death penalty

David Goldstein’s letter to the editor in the Feb. 13 Recorder (“Death penalty makes liberals sad”) is well taken but doesn’t go far enough. There are 3 good reasons to have a death penalty for 1st degree murderers: justice for the family and friends of the victim, the deterring threat of death for anyone contemplating murder (presently you can kill 100 innocent people in Massachusetts and not have to face the death penalty) and, last but not least, a death penalty could save the taxpayers the tremendous expense of housing, guarding, feeding and caring for a murderer not fit to live free in society for maybe 50 or 60 years!

Fred Schindler

(source: Letter to the Editor, Greenfield Recorder)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

First Alabama brought in nitrogen gas executions. Now South Carolina could bring back the electric chair----With supply issues leaving states grappling to get their hands on lethal drugs, some are turning to alternative and highly controversial execution methods.

First, Alabama brought in nitrogen gas.

Now, South Carolina is looking to bring back the electric chair and firing squad.

With supply issues leaving states grappling to get their hands on lethal drugs, some are turning their attentions to alternative methods to execute the hundreds of prisoners currently sitting on death row.

South Carolina has not executed a death row inmate in 13 years because these drugs, used for lethal injections, have become increasingly difficult to find. Pharmaceutical companies and drug manufacturers do not want to sell them to states unless they can remain anonymous, The Associated Press reported.

With issues around the use of lethal injections playing out, the state of South Carolina brought the use of the controversial methods of electric chair and firing squad to the table.

Now, the electric chair is currently the state’s backup method if inmates do not select a method of execution. That policy is due to a 2021 law that made the electric chair the default method with firing-squad as an alternative.

The firing squad has only been used 3 times in the last 50 years – all in Utah, with the last execution of this type in 2010. The last time the electric chair was used was 2020.

Meanwhile, Alabama put the first person in the world to death using the controversial – and wholly untested – method of nitrogen asphyxia in January.

Alabama’s use of nitrogen gas

Kenneth Eugene Smith was put to death using nitrogen hypoxia, a method that slowly deprives the brain of oxygen, in January at William C Holman facility in Atmore.

Smith had been convicted of the 1988 murder of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett, a pastor’s wife. At his trial, a jury voted 11-1 for life imprisonment, but that verdict was overruled by a judge who sentenced him to death.

Media witnesses in the room said Smith could be seen thrashing and writhing during the execution, at points pulling against his restraints.

This was followed by several minutes of heavy breathing, until his breaths were no longer detectable and he was pronounced dead.

Smith had chosen the method after the state tried to put him to death in 2022 using lethal injection and botched the procedure. Officials aborted the attempt after they could not place a 2nd intravenous line into Smith’s system.

Attorneys for the state argued that Smith would be unconscious in seconds and dead within minutes using the nitrogen gas method. However, following his execution, the state said the procedure took about 22 minutes.

The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Smith’s execution.

“Mr Smith should have never been killed, let alone in such a gruesome manner,” the organisation’s Deputy Legal Director Yasmin Cader said in a statement after his death.

“Alabama’s execution of Kenneth Smith is a horrific, reckless, and untested manner in a proud illustration of the barbaric practice of capital punishment.”

Following this 1st-of-its-kind execution, the state’s Attorney General Steve Marshall said that 43 other inmates had also elected nitrogen gas as their execution method – and that he hopes other states will use Alabama as a blueprint.

South Carolina’s plans

There are currently 33 people on death row in South Carolina.

In 2021, the electric chair became the default method in the state when there is no lethal injection drugs available – with firing-squad as an alternative option.

The state began setting execution dates using these methods.

This prompted some uproar and, in September 2022, South Carolina Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman determined that both were unconstitutional execution methods.

During a 90-minute hearing in front of South Carolina’s Supreme Court in early February, attorneys for the state argued that the methods are in accordance with existing protocols and asked the high court to overrule Judge Newman’s decision, according to Greenville News.

Meanwhile, attorneys for four men currently on death row argued that the execution methods constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

However a change in law has made lethal injection drugs available again in the state.

Last year, South Carolina therefore passed a shield law that would protect the identities of pharmaceutical companies selling the lethal drugs to the state.

Attorneys for 4 men currently on death row argued in court that the law is shrouded in secrecy and does not allow inmates to get details about their executions.

It’s not uncommon for states to release limited details about their execution policies. According to The Associated Press, an attorney for the inmates asked if the state has secured a regular supplier of pentobarbital, a sedative, and whether there are guidelines to test it.

“No inmate in the country has ever been put to death with such little transparency about he or she would be executed,” Lindsey Vann, an attorney working with Justice 360, a nonprofit, said, according to the outlet.

Attorneys for the state clapped back, stating that the attorneys were only seeking that information so they can put public pressure on the companies to stop supplying the drugs to the corrections department.

Yet, now that lethal injection drugs are available, attorneys for Republican Governor Henry McMaster and the South Carolina Department of Corrections said that the years-long debate into the constitutionality of the electric chair and firing squad are redundant.

What are other states doing?

After Smith’s death, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced new legislation to authorise the use of nitrogen gas in state executions.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker in Nebraska introduced legislation that would also allow the state to use nitrogen gas as an execution method.

Currently, only Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma have approved the use of nitrogen gas in executions.

Following South Carolina, Idaho Republican Governor Brad Little signed legislation into law last year permitting firing squads in executions, becoming the fifth state to implement the method.

What do experts say?

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina said the death penalty is “immoral and unconstitutional. It is racist in practice, it is ineffective as a deterrent to crime, and it traumatises those who carry it out”.

Experts who testified for the four prisoners, arguing against the constitutionality of the electric chair and firing squad, said that the former method is likely to cause immense pain as the individual’s body begins “cooking” in 2,000 volts of electricity.

Meanwhile, the firing squad iwould cause the inmate’s heart to stop almost immediately, rendering them unconscious as they quickly bleed to death.

A 1993 study conducted by a researcher at the University of Surrey found that firing squad was one of the least painful methods of execution, though it is ultimately impossible to know how much pain the person being executed experiences.

(source: independent.co.uk)

GEORGIA:

High school football coach arrested after strangling his girlfriend to death, police say

A Georgia high school football coach was arrested after allegedly killing his girlfriend in Maryland on Saturday, according to Prince George’s County Police Department.

Carl Kearney, Jr., 43, walked into the Division V Clinton police station and confessed to officers that he had strangled his girlfriend earlier that morning at her home, authorities said.

Kearney is the head football coach at Spalding High School in Griffin, Georgia.

The victim, identified as 38-year-old Patrina Best, was found unresponsive by officers who responded to the home for a welfare check. She was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.

During questioning by detectives, Kearney admitted to strangling Best during an altercation.

Kearney faces charges of 1st- and 2nd-degree murder along with related offenses.

(source: WANF news)

ALABAMA:

Alabama death row inmate sues to block future nitrogen executions

An Alabama death row inmate has sued to stop Alabama’s use of nitrogen gas executions, calling it cruel and unusual punishment.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, David Wilson, sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of Dewey Walker during a robbery, argues that nitrogen gas asphyxiation is inherently inhumane and would be particularly painful for Wilson due to pre-existing health conditions, including chronic lung problems and sensory sensitivities.

The legal action follows questions about the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen in January, and criticisms of Alabama’s execution procedures more generally.

The lawsuit includes accounts from five reporters present during the execution, including Alabama Reflector reporter Ralph Chapoco, and one reporter who accompanied Smith’s family, who said that Smith experienced prolonged suffering on the gurney.

“This is an open and shut case. The media witnesses were there to be the public eye, and to tell us what happened. They described minutes of writhing in agony and pain, and that is simply unconstitutional,” said Bernard Harcourt, executive director of Columbia Law School’s Initiative for a Just Society and counsel for Wilson, in a phone interview on Friday.

Messages seeking comment were left with the offices of the Alabama Attorney General and Department of Corrections Friday morning.

The lawsuit states that the Attorney General’s Office told federal courts that death would occur “within minutes,” but “in stark contrast to the Attorney General’s representations, the five media witnesses chosen by the Alabama Department of Corrections and present at Mr. Smith’s execution recounted a prolonged period of consciousness marked by shaking, struggling, and writhing by Mr. Smith for several minutes after the nitrogen gas started flowing.”

The lawsuit argues that “it is morally repugnant” the Eighth Amendment has been interpreted to mean people who are going to be executed have the responsibility of proving there are more humane methods. To require that a plaintiff develop their own execution protocol forces a person to participate in their own execution, the filing stated.

To force him to choose how he would prefer to die would be equal to “forcing someone to dig their own grave,” the filing stated, adding that it is considered torture under international law. But to have the case heard in court, he had to suggest an alternative method of execution — a federal requirement. The lawsuit suggest new method of medical aid-in-dying currently used in the United States, such as a drug cocktail known as “DDMP II,” which includes substances such as morphine and diazepam.

It would also be a form of torture because Wilson has “unique medical conditions” that may cause Wilson to experience severe pain and suffering if executed by nitrogen asphyxiation, the lawsuit said, such as pulmonary heart problems and Asperger’s Syndrome.

It states that Alabama has a “bad track record of botched executions,” with the state performing 60% of all failed executions and that since 2018, there have been 10 failed executions, half of which happened in Alabama. The lawsuit alleges that Alabama accounts for about 12% of all executions but more than half of failed executions in the country.

Alabama officials conducted three consecutive botched executions in 2022. A private autopsy conducted on Joe Nathan James Jr., executed in July of that year, found cuts and abrasions on his arms. The lethal injections of Alan Miller and Smith later in 2022 were called off after personnel were unable to establish a vein.

“By any metric, the State of Alabama is the least competent state at carrying out executions in this country,” the lawsuit states.

Wilson was convicted of Walker’s death in 2004. Walker, 64, was found dead in his home after failing to show up for work. Wilson admitted to being there to steal a computer and confessed to hitting Walker with a bat when he discovered him, then attempting to disarm him with an extension cord. Three others received prison sentences of 23 to 25 years for their roles. Wilson was sentenced to death based on a 10-2 jury vote.

Alabama is the only state that has conducted an execution under the method. Mississippi and Oklahoma have both authorized the method. Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach has come out in support of using the method of execution in Kansas, which has not conducted an execution since the 1960s.

(source: Alander Rocha, Alabama Reflector)

MISSISSIPPI:

This Mississippi man sits on death row. Expert says his confession may have been coerced

Stephen Elliot Powers was convicted in December 2000 of capital murder and sentenced to death for the murder of Beth Lafferty in Hattiesburg. Her parents have fought to see him executed over the more than 20 years he has been imprisoned for the crime.

Powers, now 54, confessed to killing Lafferty, but he has always maintained he never attempted to rape her nor had any sexual contact with her. To charge a person with capital murder in Mississippi, there has to be an underlying crime that was perpetrated during the murder, such as rape or robbery.

But did Powers confess to a crime he didn't commit? New evidence has come to light in the form of testimony from an expert witness who said Powers' confession may have been coerced.

Gregory DeClue is a licensed psychologist in Florida who is an expert in forensic psychology. He specializes in the psychology of interrogations and confessions. He also was a police psychologist for 25 years.

Stephen Elliot Powers was convicted in 2000 for the 1998 murder of Beth Lafferty, 27, of Hattiesburg.

DeClue said in his affidavit filed with the state Supreme Court on Powers' behalf, that Hattiesburg police did not record their interview with Powers, even though they had the equipment to do so at the time of his arrest. Nor did they hold back evidence that may have indicated whether Powers was telling the truth.

"Mr. Powers had been in custody for approximately 7½ hours, according to police, when he wrote out a confession story," DeClue wrote in his affidavit. "Because police failed to prepare a hold-back list and to electronically record the interview/interrogation, it is unknown whether, and to what extent, Mr. Powers revealed details that, via independent verification, would show that his confession story independently showed that he must have done it."

DeClue pointed out that there is an affidavit on file from another man who also was apprehended by police and accused of murdering Lafferty.

"Police's failure to record the interview/interrogation of Mr. Powers, even though they could have set up the video recorder and recorded the interaction, along with the use of coercive police tactics against other persons of interest in this case, strongly suggest that police used coercive tactics during their interview/interrogation of Mr. Powers and hid that from view by not recording," DeClue wrote.

"The content of Mr. Powers’ statement fails to match his charges and convictions, and what police understood to have happened," he said.

In Powers' case, DeClue suggests that part of Powers' confession may be true and some of it may be false, given that Lafferty's body was found in a position that suggested she had been sexually assaulted or someone attempted to sexually assault her in addition to killing her.

Beth Lafferty, was murdered June 13, 1998, at her home in Hattiesburg. She was 27.

"In that light, it is clear that, after hours of unrecorded interview/interrogation, Mr. Powers gave a partially true, and partially false, confession statement. What is unclear from the confession evidence is which part of Mr. Powers’ confession statement is true, and which part is false," DeClue said.

In addition to the possibility of a false confession, Powers' attorneys said their client's right to examine materials held by police and the state and question jurors and potential jurors for information that may show evidence of procedural issues at his trial.

The state and Hattiesburg police have refused to allow Powers access to those documents and the jury pool.

Powers' attorney Kyle Malone with the Mississippi Office of Capital Post Conviction Counsel is asking the state Supreme Court to allow Powers to present oral arguments.

Powers has sought relief from both state and federal courts since his conviction.

Most recently, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled against Powers in 2023, when he sought to have his death penalty set aside on the grounds that he is mentally incompetent. He allegedly suffered 2 strokes and a bleeding aneurysm in his brain, according to a prison ministries newsletter published in December 2017 by University Baptist Church.

The justices denied Stephen Elliot Powers' request for post-conviction relief, upholding earlier rulings, including one handed down in 2022, in which the justices overturned a longstanding precedent that says death row prisoners must be mentally competent for all phases of their legal proceedings.

(source: Hattiesburg American)

LOUISIANA:

Proposed Louisiana public defender overhaul is a power grab, critics say

A proposal to move Louisiana’s public defender system under the governor’s direct control has alarmed attorneys, local defense attorneys and retired judges.

Critics describe the proposition as a power grab by the sitting state public defender, Rémy Starns, who has clashed with the Louisiana state public defender board that oversees his office.

“It certainly has his fingerprints all over it,” said Frank Neuner, a Lafayette attorney and a former chairman of the public defender board from 2008 to 2012.

Senate Bill 8, sponsored by Sen. Mike Reese, R-Leesville, would transfer authority over the state public defender system’s $52 million budget and its personnel from the 11-member board solely to the position Starns currently holds.

If this bill passes, politics is front and center. There’s essentially no checks and balances. – Ross Foote, former public defender board member and retired judge

The bill takes away the board’s power to hire the state public defender and gives it to the governor, contingent on Louisiana Senate confirmation. Once selected, the state public defender would serve a 6-year term.

Critics worry the proposed structure doesn’t create enough distance between the state, which technically brings all charges against people accused of crimes, and the criminal defense system.

The governor’s direct role in executions could also create a conflict of interest for the state public defender, who pays for attorneys representing clients facing the death penalty.

“From a pure separation of powers perspective, I don’t think it’s a good idea for the executive branch to choose the district defenders in each district,” said Ross Foote, a former state public defender board member and retired state judge from Alexandria whose wife, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote, serves on the federal bench in Shreveport.

“If this bill passes, politics is front and center,” Foote said. “There’s essentially no checks and balances.”

Starns said in an interview Friday he isn’t behind the legislation, but he supports the proposal and hopes Gov. Jeff Landry would consider keeping him on as state public defender if it passes.

“The governor is responsible for this bill,” Starns said. “It’s going to save the public defender system.”

Reese filed the measure for consideration in the Louisiana Legislature’s special session on public safety. An overhaul of public defense management in Louisiana would touch far more people than most of the other criminal justice changes Landry is pushing.

Public defenders represent nearly every criminal defendant in the state. In fiscal year 2022-23, 88% of people charged with crimes relied on a public defender, according to the state public defender’s most recent financial report. Collectively, public defenders had 142,000 clients during that budget cycle.

District defenders, who manage Louisiana’s 37 local public defender offices, are uncomfortable with the proposal. In a rare move, they voted overwhelmingly last week to oppose the legislation.

Several declined to be interviewed for this story or didn’t return phone calls seeking comment. A few said they feared speaking out publicly against the bill would cost them their job.

If the legislation passes, the new state public defender will have the discretion to fire any of the district defenders. Once terminated, there isn’t an appeals process in place to overturn that decision included in the legislation unless the state public defender personally chooses to change their stance.

Reese’s bill also calls for significant changes in how district defenders and rank-and-file public defense attorneys are compensated.

Currently, local public defender offices have a mix of full-time staff attorneys and private lawyers working on a contract basis to meet their needs. The proposed legislation would eliminate all public defender attorney staff positions in local offices and move solely to a contract system.

Starns has pushed for an all-contract system for years, but critics say the change would cost staff lawyers across the state their health care and retirement benefits. It might also create a massive work shortage.

The Louisiana Board of Ethics has advised staff attorneys in public defender offices to avoid returning to the work as contract attorneys for at least 2 years.

Critics of Reese’s bill said the prohibition could create gridlock in court if public defense attorneys were suddenly pushed out of their government jobs and also not allowed to resume their work through private contracts over the short term.

The bill also reverses pay raises the state public defender board recently put into effect for district defenders, over Starns’ objection, in September.

Current and former board members said they needed to approve the pay raises to close wide gaps in district defender pay. Until recently, a district defender’s compensation didn’t necessarily reflect their experience, workload or size of their office. Some district defenders hadn’t received a pay increase since 2007. The board wanted a more standardized approach.

“My appreciation of any board in general is to act as the guardrails in terms of action, advice and direction,” said Frank Thaxton, a current public defender board member and retired judge from the Shreveport area who supported the pay increase.

If Reese’s legislation passes, many district defenders would not only see a pay cut, they would also be dependent on the state public defender to restore their compensation to current levels and approve any future pay hikes.

The proposal also removes current requirements for women and people of color to be considered for district defender positions.

Flozell Daniels, a former state public defender board member from New Orleans, said Reese’s bill is designed for the state public defender to wield as much power as possible over district defender hiring because, he believes, it was crafted by Starns personally.

“He wants to maintain control in a way that allows him to pick the winners and losers,” Daniels said in an interview Friday.

“This is ripe for corruption,” Daniels said.

Daniels and others also believe Starns was behind a legislative proposal in 2021 to weaken the state public defender board. That proposition ended up scuttled after Neuner, the former board chairman and a prolific political donor, put pressure on Lafayette senators to kill it.

But this time, Neuner said he won’t have the “political stroke” to get the bill pulled.

Louisiana lawmakers have often expressed skepticism about the state public defender board. They don’t agree with how much money the board spends on private attorneys for death penalty cases and other niche areas of criminal defense.

Last June, the board voted to pay around $8 million to nonprofit law firms who represent death penalty defendants, people sentenced to life in prison as teenagers and those who might have been wrongfully convicted and qualify for exoneration.

Legislators have often wondered why the public defender board approves such massive contracts, especially when so few death penalty cases are active. In the 2022-23 budget cycle, approximately $6 million in payments – which often exceed $1 million for each nonprofit capital defense organization – covered work for just 23 cases.

Recently, though, the public defender board has also questioned whether the state might be spending too much money on capital defense. In June, the board actually voted down the capital defense contracts proposed by Starns initially, hoping to negotiate a lower price point with the attorneys.

Then a few weeks later, the members reversed themselves and approved the payments, after Starns argued that threatening to pull the contracts while dozens of clemency applications to end death penalty sentences were active was disruptive and unfair, according to minutes from the June meeting.

Starns, who was also a member of Landry’s transition team for public safety, said he met last week with the governor to discuss the future of public defense.

He said those district defenders and board members opposed to Reese’s legislation might not understand what’s at stake for the public defender system. Landry, a conservative Republican with a law enforcement background, has political allies who want to dismantle the public defense system altogether.

“The governor was going to change the current system regardless,” Starns said. “I’m trying to save the public defense system.”

(source: Louisiana Illuminator)

***********

Death penalty expansions being considered in Louisiana

The Louisiana legislature convened for its second special session Monday, with crime solutions at the forefront for lawmakers. Legislators are days away from deciding if the new execution methods will be legal with a bill filed by Republican state Rep. Nicholas Muscarello.

One of the governor's top priorities is adding new capital punishment methods. It's one of the issues Governor Jeff Landry campaigned on.

"Everyone in this room is aware that crime has put a national spotlight on our great state," Landry said.

The governor says he's tired of Louisiana being considered one of the most dangerous states in America, and suggests the death penalty is a deterrent for criminals. The death penalty has not been used in Louisiana since 2010, under Governor Bobby Jindal.

Critics on the other side of the aisle disagree with the death penalty proposal. State Rep. Edmond Jordan (D) says the punishment is risky, and there are bound to be mistakes.

"Louisiana has one of the highest wrongful conviction rates in the nation," Jordan said. "We have more people being exonerated than most other states. If someone is exonerated and they're dead, it doesn't do them any good."

The bill would add death by nitrogen gas and electrocution as legal methods for execution, though lethal injection would remain the preferred method. Despite the governor's backing, some Republicans disagree.

"When it comes specifically to the death penalty, I personally am not a death penalty guy. I'm pro-life. I believe pro-life is from birth to death," Rep. Dixon McMakin (R) said.

The Senate will convene again Tuesday at 3 p.m., and the House will convene at 5 p.m.

(source: WBRZ news)

IOWA:

Iowans Against the Death Penalty Legislative Newsletter 2024

February 2024 Vol. 4 Issue #4

Until Next Year

Many Iowans are aware of a ritual in the Iowa General Assembly called “funnel week.” That week was this week. If a legislative bill, such as Senate Study Bill 3085 (this year’s effort to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa), fails to pass out of a committee, such as the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill is dead for the year. Funnel week has come and gone and so has SSB 3085.

A bill may die, but an issue lasts forever. Under unusual circumstances, a bill re-establishing capital punishment in Iowa could come back up again for discussion in the Iowa Legislature this year. However, the possibility is extremely rare, just not impossible.

In any case, IADP needs to keep going in order to prepare for next year. It’s an election year, and legislative turnover may be conducive to our efforts, or unfavorable. We must remain vigilant.

The value of life

Senator Tony Bisignano (D-Des Moines) made a point to prove that the bill would call for the death penalty if a police officer was killed in the line of duty rushing into a school with an active shooter. However, the death penalty would not be considered if a child in that school was a victim of the active shooter. To paraphrase Senator Bisignano, are police officers, who willingly choose an occupation that they know is dangerous more valuable than our children in schools? Sitting in the room, you could sense that the bill was dead at that point.

Notable Quote

“But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal’s deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”

Albert Camus, "Reflections on the Guillotine"

(source: IDAP)

UNITED KINGDOM:

A Cruel Love | Lucy Boynton set to play the last UK female to receive the death penalty in ITV drama----The story of the last female to be executed in the United Kingdom is set to come to ITV later this year with “A Cruel Love: The Ruth Ellis Story”

Ruth Ellis, the last female to be executed in the United Kingdom before the abolishment of the death penalty, will see her final days and the crime that led to her execution come to the small screen later this year with ITV’s “A Cruel Love: The Ruth Ellis Story,” starring Lucy Boynton.

Producers for the upcoming drama have explained that the series will be “Set in 1955 in the glamorous and intoxicating world of London club-land, Ruth found huge acclaim, aged 28, as the capital’s youngest club manager,” reads the logline. “But her success soon unravelled as she became entwined in an abusive relationship with racing driver David Blakely. On trial for his murder, Ruth was condemned to hang by a system which judged her for far more than her crime.”

The gruelling role of Ellis will be played by Lucy Boynton, known to international audiences for her role in “Bohemian Rhapsody” but those closer to home (the United Kingdom) will recognize her from a host of television appearances, including her portrayal of writer Angelica Garnett on” Life in Squares,” which aired on BBC. She appeared as an isolated popular girl in “The Blackcoat's Daughter” and starred as a bold aspiring model in “Sing Street,” which was met with critical acclaim

The show has also cast Toby Jones (“Tetris”), Laurie Davidson (“Cats”) and Mark Stanley (“Trigger Point”) in the four-part series, which promises to "expose the British obsession with class, sex and death."

(source: nationalworld.com)

***************

Lucy Boynton Transforms Into Ruth Ellis, The Last U.K. Woman to Get Death Penalty, in First Image From ‘A Cruel Love’

“Bohemian Rhapsody” star Lucy Boynton smoulders as 1950s nightclub owner Ruth Ellis in a new image from upcoming ITV drama “A Cruel Love: The Ruth Ellis Story.”

Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain in 1955 after she was convicted of shooting dead her lover, racing driver David Blakely.

Boynton is joined by Toby Jones (“Tetris”), Laurie Davidson (“Cats”) and Mark Stanley (“Trigger Point”) in the 4-part series, which promises to expose the British obsession with class, sex and death.

“Set in 1955 in the glamorous and intoxicating world of London club-land, Ruth found huge acclaim, aged 28, as the capital’s youngest club manager,” reads the logline. “But her success soon unraveled as she became entwined in an abusive relationship with racing driver David Blakely. On trial for his murder, Ruth was condemned to hang by a system which judged her for far more than her crime.”

Joe Armstrong, Arthur Darvill, Nigel Havers, Toby Stephens and Juliet Stevenson round out the cast.

Kelly Jones (“The Long Call”) wrote the script, which is an adaptation of “A Fine Day for Hanging: The Real Ruth Ellis Story” by Carol Ann Lee. It is produced by ITV Studios banner Silverprint Pictures (“Vera”).

“Lucy Boynton is absolutely mesmerizing as Ruth Ellis at the height of her success as London’s youngest club manager,” said Kate Bartlett, executive producer for Silverprint Pictures. “Aged 28, her ascendancy was brought to a sharp halt when she became enmeshed in an intoxicating love triangle which brought death and tragedy.”

ITV’s head of drama Polly Hill and drama commissioner Huw Kennair Jones commissioned the show.

Bartlett executive produces alongside Jones and Silverprint Pictures development director Antonia Gordon. Angie Daniell (“World On Fire”) produces. Lee Haven Jones (“Passenger”) directs all 4 episodes.

ITV Studios is handling international distribution.

(source: aol.com)

CHINA----execution

Man executed for robbery and desecrating victim's corpse

The victim, surnamed Zhu, had gone for a morning run in Nanshan Park in Zhushan County, Hubei Province, before being attacked.

A man convicted of robbing a woman, murdering her, and desecrating her body has been executed, Beijing Youth Daily reported on Monday.

The man, surnamed Zhang, was sentenced to death on charges of robbery, intentional homicide and corpse desecration as ruled by the Hubei Higher People's Court in 2022.

The Supreme Court approved his death penalty after a review.

Zhang, 41, carried a dagger to Nanshan Park in Zhushan County, Hubei Province, with the intention to commit a robbery on November 1, 2021.

After seeing that the victim, a 21-year-old woman surnamed Zhu, was alone, he followed her and stole her iPhone.

He then forced Zhu at knife-point to some bushes. When she resisted and cried out for help, Zhang, in order to silence her, repeatedly stabbed her with the dagger, resulting in her death.

Zhang sold the iPhone and returned to the scene the following day to carry out acts of desecration on the corpse, which was later placed in a plastic bag with the knife and discarded in the river.

Zhu's body was found by local police on November 5. 3 days later, Zhang was apprehended.

According to China Judgements Online, Zhang had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 for the crimes of robbery, rape and theft. However, he was released in 2016 after commutation of his sentence.

(source: shine.cn)

SRI LANKA:

Death sentence for Kotakethana Serial killer----Long investigation with DNA reports

Ratnapura High Court Judge Lanka Jayaratne yesterday sentenced Akurugoda Jayalathge Neel Lakshman, 42 to death over the killing of mother and daughter of same family in Kotakethana in Kahawatte on July 12, 2012. He was indicted with the murder of Liyanaarachchige Premawathi and Hewagamage Pushpakumari, mother and daughter of same family residing in Kotakethana in Kahawatte.

High Court Judge Lanka Jayaratne declared the verdict where the accused was found guilty of 2 of the 3 charges against him. The suspect was arrested in 2015 in connection with the murder.

The convict had used a heavy weapon to bash the heads of the 2 victims causing fatal injuries and murdered the mother and daughter.

He was charged with murdering Liyanaarachchige Premawathi and her daughter Hewagamage Pushpakumari by inflicting nine serious wounds on her head and nine serious fatal injuries on her mother’s head as well.

He was also charged with covering up the evidence after the murder of Hewagamage Pushpakumari, an unmarried young woman on the day of these crimes, by putting the two bodies on a mattress in the house and burning them with the house subsequent to committing a sexual act either by force or consent.

The judge announced that the accused was proved guilty for murdering subsequent to a long investigation in this case and DNA reports.

Here the judge asked the convict whether he has anything to say. The accused said that he had not committed an offence. Deputy Solicitor General Lakmali Karunanayake appeared for the Attorney General.

**************

2012 Kotakethana twin murders: death sentence for convict

Ratnapura High Court Judge – Ms. Lanka Jayaratne on Monday (19 Feb.) issued the death sentence against the accused in a twin murders in the Kotakethana area in 2012.

The convict named Neil Lakshman is said to be a resident of the same area.

He was ordered to be hanged at the Welikada Prison until dead at a date and time declared by the President.

The twin murders in 2012, where a mother and daughter in Kotakethana were found killed, sent shockwaves through the nation.

(source: srilankamirror.com)

INDIA:

Ulfa-I: Ulfa-I alters death penalty of youth held for ‘spying’

(see: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/ulfa-i-alters-death-penalty-of-youth-held-for-spying/articleshow/107838313.cms)

**************

TP Chandrasekharan murder: HC to explore death penalty possibility for convicts----Rema said the accused persons committed the murder in a planned and brutal manner by engaging professional criminals and after several attempts.

In a significant turn of events surrounding the TP Chandrasekharan murder case of 2012, the High Court has announced its deliberation on the possibility of awarding capital punishment to the nine convicts currently serving life term.

The move marks a crucial juncture in the legal proceedings, reigniting public interest and scrutiny into one of the shocking political murders in the state.

The decision was taken on the plea by the state government and K K Rema, Vadakara MLA and Chandrasekharan’s wife, seeking maximum punishment to the accused.

Rema said the accused persons committed the murder in a planned and brutal manner by engaging professional criminals and after several attempts. Hence, the trial court ought to have given them maximum punishment, including capital punishment, and awarded heavy compensation to the victim, she said.

The division bench directed the jail superintendent to produce the 9 life convicts in court in February to decide enhancement of their sentence. The bench also sought reports on the convicts from the probation officer concerned.

It also sought a report from superintendents of Kannur, Tavanur and Thrissur jails, where the nine are serving jail term, regarding the nature of the work the convicts did in jail.

A psychological and psychiatric evaluation report of M C Anoop, Kirmani Manoj, Kodi Suni, Rajeesh Thundikandi, K K Mohammed Shafi, Annan Sijith, K Shinoj and K C Ramachandran – accused 1 to 8 – and 11th accused Trouser Manojan from the government medical college or hospital should be filed on February 26, the court ordered.

On the conspiracy to kill Chandrasekharan, the bench said that there are reasonable grounds to believe that accused 1 to 8, 10th accused Krishnan, Manojan, 12th accused Geothi Babu and 13th accused late P K Kunhanandan, were members of the conspiracy. The trial court had earlier found Ramachandran, Geothi and Kunhanandan guilty of conspiracy.

‘Enough evidence against conspirators’

The HC said while there is direct and circumstantial evidence to connect accused 1 to 7 with the act of murder, there is also evidence of interaction between them and Ramachandran, Manojan, Geothi and Kunhanandan, both through physical meetings and telephone calls

(source: newindianexpress.com)

PAKISTAN:

LHC Acquits Death Penalty Convict in Taxi Driver Murder Case----Lahore High Court acquits a death penalty convict in a murder case due to prosecution flaws and inconsistencies in witness testimonies, highlighting the importance of thorough investigation and adherence to legal procedures.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) has acquitted a convict facing the death penalty in the murder case of a taxi driver. As per a written order released here on Tuesday, the bench comprising Justice

Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Muhammad Amjad Rafiq allowed the appeal filed by the convict, Ulfat Rasool, and set aside his death sentence on benefit of doubt.The bench, in its order, highlighted several flaws in the prosecution’s case, noting the late filing of the case, the absence of a named accused initially, and inconsistencies in witness testimonies.

The bench also questioned why the wife of convict, allegedly involved in a relationship with the deceased, was not implicated in the case and why critical evidence, such as photos of the deceased found in the phone of the convict’s wife, was not subjected to forensic examination.

The verdict underscores the importance of a thorough investigation and adherence to legal procedures.

In 2019, a trial court handed down the death penalty to convict Ulfat Rasool for murdering Muhammad Shafique in 2018.

Pakpattan police had registered a case against the convict.

(source: Global Village Space)

****************

LHC acquits murder convict for poor prosecution

The Lahore High Court (LHC) has acquitted a convict facing the death penalty in the murder case of a taxi driver. As per a written order released here on Tuesday, the bench comprising Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan and Justice Muhammad Amjad Rafiq allowed the appeal filed by the convict, Ulfat Rasool, and set aside his death sentence on benefit of doubt.

The bench, in its order, highlighted several flaws in the prosecution’s case, noting the late filing of the case, the absence of a named accused initially, and inconsistencies in witness testimonies.

The bench also questioned why the wife of convict, allegedly involved in a relationship with the deceased, was not implicated in the case and why critical evidence, such as photos of the deceased found in the phone of the convict’s wife, was not subjected to forensic examination. The verdict underscores the importance of a thorough investigation and adherence to legal procedures.

In 2019, a trial court handed down the death penalty to convict Ulfat Rasool for murdering Muhammad Shafique in 2018.

Pakpattan police had registered a case against the convict.

(source: app.com.pk)

****************

Bill on public hanging of rape accused rejected in Senate----24 vote against the legislation while 14 senators express support for the bill in upper house

In a significant development on Monday, the Senate, the upper house of the Pakistani parliament, voted against the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill 2023, aimed at amending the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, and Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. The bill, which proposed public hanging as a punishment for rape accused, faced rejection with a majority vote in the house.

Chairman Muhammad Sadiq Sanjrani presided over the session when Senator Mushtaq Ahmed of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) presented a motion for the consideration and passage of the bill. However, the motion was met with resistance, ultimately leading to the rejection of the proposed amendments.

The voting results revealed a divided sentiment among the senators. Out of the 38 lawmakers present, 24 voted against the legislation, while 14 senators expressed support for the bill.

The bill faced opposition primarily from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and National Party. On the other hand, most members of Jamaat-e-Islami, PML-Q, JUI-F, and some from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supported the bill.

PPP Senator Sherry Rehman articulated concerns, stating that public hangings would only propagate brutality in the country. She emphasised that the PPP had consistently opposed the death penalty for rape and urged a focus on improving policing rather than relying on harsh punishment.

Rehman highlighted that Pakistan currently ranks 5th in the world in terms of the death penalty, asserting that public hanging is incompatible with the values of a 21st-century society. She argued that such a method would not effectively deter crime.

PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui echoed similar sentiments, advocating for maintaining the existing method of hanging within the confines of the gallows. Leader of the House Ishaq Dar opposed public hanging, citing the existence of the death penalty in the law.

While the PTI overall opposed public hanging, Barrister Ali Zafar expressed support for the death penalty but rejected the idea of public executions. Zafar emphasised the need for improving the justice system rather than resorting to public and street punishments.

However, PML-Q Senator Kamil Ali Agha, a supporter of the bill, argued that adherence to Islamic principles should guide the decision-making process. He referenced practices in other countries, such as the release of execution videos in the United States and public beheadings in Saudi Arabia, asserting the importance of aligning with Islamic values.

PTI Senator Muhammad Hamayun Mohmand stood in favour of public execution, drawing parallels between countries with public punishments and lower crime rates. He argued that such measures could act as deterrents, citing examples where public amputations for theft have reportedly led to reduced incidents.

(source: tribune.com.pk)

IRAQ:

Convicted killer of Sulaimani police officer sentenced to death

Sulaimani’s criminal court on Sunday issued a death sentence in connection with the murder of a police officer over 2 years earlier. 2 other people were handed life sentences.

Police officer Mohammed Latif was shot dead and four other officers of Sulaimani’s Combating Violence against Women directorate were wounded by armed persons in December 2021 while responding to a domestic violence call. Three people were arrested in April 2022 in connection with the case.

“After 11 court sessions into the case of Captain Mohammed, the court has issued its just ruling and the suspect will be executed,” Sarkawt Omar, director general of Sulaimani’s Combating Violence against Women directorate, told Rudaw’s Horvan Rafaat.

Omar stated that the ruling provides the directorate with “moral support” to continue carrying out its duties.

Additionally, the court has also ordered families of the suspects to pay 215 million Iraqi dinars (over $140,000) in compensation to Latif’s family, according to Salah Hassan, spokesperson for the presidency of Sulaimani’s court of cassation.

Kurdistan Region Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani thanked the court for issuing the ruling, as well as the security forces and lawyers that have worked on the case over the past two years.

“We reiterate that no murderer, women killer, or criminal should escape legal punishment in Kurdistan under any pretext,” said the deputy prime minister in a statement on Sunday.

Talabani visited the late officer’s family after the suspects arrest in 2022. He called Latif a “martyr in the path of combating domestic violence,” stressing that punishing criminals is not enough, and that more action should be taken to cases of domestic violence.

Also on Sunday, a Sulaimani court sentenced a man to death for burning his wife alive nearly 2 years ago, overturning a previous ruling which had sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) launched an app to tackle violence against women in December 2021. It also set up a support hotline for victims of violence in 2018, about 7 years after it passed the Combating Domestic Violence Law, criminalizing domestic violence and equipping the directorate to combat violence by investigating it.

The Kurdistan Region suffers from high rates of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, domestic violence, so-called honor violence, child marriages, and female genital mutilation.

At least 30 women were killed the Kurdistan Region in 2023, according to the Region’s Combating Violence against Women Directorate. In 2022, the Region reported its highest femicide rate in years, with at least 44 women killed.

(source: rudaw.net)

IRAN----execution

Hajar Atabaki 2nd Woman Executed in January

Hajar Atabaki, a woman on death row for drug-related charges, was executed in silence in Qazvin Central Prison in January.

According to information obtained by Iran Human Rights, a woman was executed in Qazvin Central Prison on 20 January. Her identity has been established as 41-year-old Hajar Atabaki from Tabriz.

Informed sources told IHRNGO that Hajar was a mother of one who had separated from her husband in 2018. She was arrested for drug-related charges around two and a half years ago and sentenced to death by the Revolutionary court.

At the time of writing, his execution has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

Drug-related executions have continuously risen every year for the past three years. At least 305 people were executed for drug-related charges between 1 January-10 October 2023, a 69% increase compared to the same period in 2022, and the number of drug-related executions in 2023 were close to 20 times higher than 2020.

Iran is the biggest executioner of women. In 2023, at least 22 women were executed for drug-related, murder and security-related charges in Iran. Hajar is the second woman to be executed in January 2024.

(source: Iranhr.net)

*******************

Death Sentence Implementation for a Kurdish Prisoner in Ardabil, Iran

A Kurdish prisoner identified as Iraj Paaki from Salmas, who was previously sentenced to death for drug-related offense charges, was executed in Ardabil central prison.

According to a report received by the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, on Monday, February 19, 2024, the death sentence for Iraj Paaki from Ostunrash village in Salmas city was carried out in Ardabil central prison.

According to a trusted source, this individual was incarcerated 6 years ago for drug-related offense charges, and subsequently, the judicial system of the Islamic Republic of Iran handed down a death sentence to him.

As of the release of this news, there has been no media coverage from government media outlets, particularly those that are affiliated with the judicial system of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

(source: hengaw.net)

***************

Abolghasem Salavati’s Black records, known as Judge of Death

Salavati's previously issued a death sentence for 3 protesters of the nationwide protests of November 2019, namely Amir Hossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi.

Abolghasem Salavati, 56 years old, was born in Tuisarkan in Hamedan province and is the head of the 15th branch of Tehran Revolutionary Court.

A part of the Ghasem Salavati’s Judge record (Abolghasem Salavati)

Name: Abolghasem Salavati, known as Judge Salavati

Date of Birth: 25 Tir 1346 (July 16, 1967)

Born in: Tuyserkan, Hamadan Province

Educational Degree: Likely a Bachelor’s degree in Law

Issued Verdicts: At least 328 verdicts (including executions, imprisonment, and exile)

Current Position: Head of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran

Judge Salavati, who is currently the head of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, joined the circle of judges close to Khamenei after the nationwide protests in 1388 (2009) and issued heavy judicial sentences. It is said that he doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree in law.

Judge Salavati, (Khalkhali II)

Abolghasem Salavati, 56 years old, was born in Tuisarkan in Hamedan province and is the head of the 15th branch of Tehran Revolutionary Court. He known as the “judge of death” or “Khalkhali II” due to excessive execution sentences. Abulghasem Salavati known as “Darzen Judge” or “judge of death”, even among the people of the judiciary. His last sentence is related to the death sentence for Mohammad Ghobadlo. Mohammad sentenced to death in a court chaired by Salvati on charges of corruption and his sentence executed on January 23, 2024.

Help us expose the killers, torturers, and human rights violators by sending any information to us.

The death sentence of Mohammad Ghobadlo by Judge Salavati

Judge Salavati was a veteran during the Basiji war. In 1967, he started his career in the Kurdistan Judicial Police. After the judicial police merged with the police force in 1991, it transferred to the judiciary. After the uprising of 2009, Salvati became close to Khamenei by issuing heavy judicial sentences to those arrested. It is said that he does not even have a law degree.

The death sentence of Mohammad Ghebadoloo issued by Judge Salavati.

In a decision in April 2011, the European Union made him subject to sanctions due to widespread human rights violations. On December 19, 2019, Salavati placed on the US sanctions list by the US Treasury Department, on the charge of involving in punishing the Iranian people.

Issuing mass death sentences for the accused

Abolghasem Salavati is known for giving mass death sentence to the accused and violating the sentence in other courts. He issued a death sentence for one of the detainees of the 2022 uprising, named Mohammad Broghni, on the charge of Moharebeh, but this sentence stopped in the Supreme Court due to a defect in the case.

Some of those whose death sentences issued by Judge Salavati

Salavati’s previously issued a death sentence for 3 protesters of the nationwide protests of November 2019, namely Amir Hossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi, which reduced to 5 years in prison at the appeal court.

Issuing the death sentence of protestors, prisoners and political activists by Judge Salavati

Judge Salvati issued the death sentence of Mohsen Shekari. He was the first young protester who sentenced to death by the court in 2022 and his sentence implemented.

********************

Moharebeh charge for 4 of the detainees in the Ekbatan case----The spokesman of the judicial branch had accused the detainees of the Ekbatan case of Moharebeh. Also, participation in murder and collusion against national security.

According to the Iranian Human Rights Society, in the days ending on February 17, 2024, the media reported the charge of Moharebeh against 4 people arrested in the so-called Ekbatan case. This accusation is dangerous for the detainees and can lead to heavy sentences and even their execution. At the same time as the nationwide protests of 2022 and after the death of a Basiji member in September of the same year, the security forces raided this settlement and arrested at least 50 young people. They have finally issued an indictment for 14 of these youths.

The spokesman of the judicial branch had accused the detainees of the Ekbatan case of Muharibeh, participation in murder and collusion against national security. “A case with many ambiguities and mistakes

According to the attorney Payam Darafshan, the judiciary has accused 4 of the detainees in the Ekbatan case of Moharebeh . However, there are many ambiguities and mistakes in the case, and also security forces have not presented any documents to the court to prove the accusations; only the confessions of the detainees under torture presented as evidence to the court.

Moharebeh charges for 4 of the detainees in the Ekbatan case

Payam Darafshan, regarding the situation of these 4 individuals, as reported by their friends, says:

“We saw those 4 who not released during the court session and we know how bad their situation is as their friends released while they are still in prison. Especially these prisoners are in GhezelHesar Prison. And every week they take one person in front of them to the suite for execution.”

He also mentioned gross mistakes in the case:

“There were many mistakes in the case. At that time, they arrested a person who announced to be the same person with a gray jacket who was present at the scene and went towards the deceased.”

The prosecutor Payam Darafshan emphasizes that:

“The detainees identified the individual as the person wearing the bronze jacket. And he also admitted to being the same person. After some time, another person arrested in Ahvaz, and the bronze jacket was found in his closet. The interrogator became angry and asked the first detainee, ‘Why did you admit that the person was you?’ The detainee replied, ‘Did I have any choice but to admit it?'”

The 4 suspects in the Ekbatan case are:

Mehdi Hosseini, 25 years old, arrested on 3rd of November, 2022.

Mehdi Imani, 29 years old, arrested on 11th of December 2022.

Navid Najjaran, 31 years old, arrested several months after the other detainees in Ahvaz.

Milad Armon, 25 years old, is the first-row suspect and one of the initial detainees in the EAkbatan case.

Accelerating the trial process and the danger of execution for the detainees of Evin Prison

Since mid-December 2023, this case held in Branch 13 of the Criminal Court for the charge of participation in murder. The Revolutionary Court is also handling the case of the youth from Evin Prison for charges of social unrest. Also conspiracy against national security, and waging war against the state.

In order to expedite the trial process, the judicial authorities have referred this case, which was previously in the lower court, to Branch 13 of the Criminal Court. The acceleration of the proceedings and the swift determination of the fate of these young detainees have increased the risk of their execution.

Especially since previously, the security detainees from Evin Prison were pursued by Judge Salavati. Salavati is one of the most notorious figures in the judiciary .And also issued several harsh sentences, including death sentences, for political prisoners.

This case, like many other cases involving detained youth, not followed its natural course. And many forced confessions obtained under torture. Previously, there were reports of brutal torture of the detainees by security forces.

(source for both: en.iranhrs.org)

******************

Why Iran’s Regime Is Intensely Hostile Towards PMOI Women

Last week, the head of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court, responsible for the execution of tens of thousands of dissidents during the clerical dictatorship, handed down severe sentences to three women who support the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI): Forough Taghipour, Marzieh Farsi, and Zahra Safaei, sentencing them to 15 years, 5 years, and 15 years in prison, respectively.

Forough Taghipour, a 29-year-old graduate in accounting, was apprehended for the second time on August 21, 2023, in Tehran. Her close family members were killed in the 1980s due to their association with the PMOI, with her father and sister currently residing in Ashraf 3. Initially detained in March 2020 along with her mother on charges related to their affiliation with the organization and involvement in anti-regime activities, Forough remained imprisoned until February 2021.

Marzieh Farsi, a 56-year-old mother of two, who endured three years of imprisonment previously and is now battling cancer, was also arrested on August 21, 2023, in Tehran. Her brother, Hassan Farsi, fell victim to the 1988 massacre. Marzieh’s siblings are also currently residing in Ashraf 3.

Last week also saw the incarceration of Zahra Safaee, a 60-year-old mother of two, for the third time. Zahra spent 8 years in prison in the 1980s for believing in a cause advocated by the PMOI. Arrested for the second time in March 2020 alongside her daughter, she was released in February 2023. Her father, Haj Hasanali Safaee, a prominent Tehran merchant and political prisoner during the Shah’s era, was killed by the clerical regime in 1980 for supporting the organization.

Despite the expectation of release, on August 27, 2023, Maryam Akbari Monfared received an additional two-year prison sentence from the Iranian regime’s Judiciary. Enduring 14 years of imprisonment without any furlough, this mother of three daughters stands as a symbol of remarkable resilience among female political prisoners in Iran.

On December 30, 2009, Maryam was abruptly transferred to Evin Prison without the opportunity to bid farewell to her daughters, under the pretext of being summoned “for questioning.” Sadly, she never returned home.

Maryam was put behind bars for seeking justice for her four siblings, executed at the hands of the clerical regime during the 1980s. Alongside Forough, Marzieh, and Zahra, she stands as a poignant symbol of the plight endured by countless women affiliated with the PMOI, their lives irrevocably altered by the regime’s oppressive measures.

In the 1980s, the Iranian regime executed tens of thousands of individuals, many of whom refused to tell their names to torturers and interrogators. The harrowing tales recounted by the few survivors of torture paint a picture of unimaginable atrocities, including rape and sexual assault.

In the 1988 massacre, among the tens of thousands of female prisoners, the clerical regime only executed those affiliated with the PMOI. The scarcity of women survivors has made it challenging for human rights organizations like Amnesty International to document evidence over the past decade. The majority of victims remain anonymous, their identities shrouded in secrecy, guarded by families shattered by tragedy, gripped by fear of reprisal, or resigned to obscurity in remote corners of the country.

This raises the poignant question: why does a regime purporting to lead the world’s Muslims display such extreme brutality towards women associated with a Muslim group?

Rooted in distorted and extremist interpretations of Islam, the regime has spent 4 decades striving to exclude half of Iran’s population from active participation in political and social spheres, perpetuating medieval superstitions and ignorance. According to its constitution, women lack the right to adjudicate in sensitive judicial and administrative realms, relegating them to 2nd-class citizenship, where their worth is deemed inferior to that of men.

Yet, PMOI women present a unique challenge to this regime: they not only challenge its misuse of Islam but also champion the rights of all segments of Iranian society, particularly non-Muslim women, with unwavering resolve. Their mere existence undermines the legitimacy of religious tyranny, as they steadfastly refuse to yield even under the harshest torture and execution.

It is not coincidental that women hold 100% of leadership positions within the PMOI and female representatives comprise over 50% of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The NCRI, enduring the most severe crises both domestically and internationally over the past four decades, remains Iran’s largest and most formidable opposition force. Despite enduring massacres, restrictions, and forced displacements, the PMOI continues to deal significant blows to Tehran, showcasing to the world the transformative power of women’s leadership for more than three decades.

However, the outcome of this 45-year confrontation is evident not only in organized resistance but also in the streets of Iran, where female-led uprisings continue to reverberate with the quest for justice and freedom.

(source: ncr-iran.org)

FEBRUARY 19, 2024:

ALABAMA:

I witnessed Alabama execute a man using nitrogen gas. It was horrific and cruel.----Taking off my glasses, I sobbed. I'd never felt so far away from God. I prayed that God would forgive me. I was doing the best that I could.

Nobody alive was closer to the nation’s first and thus far only nitrogen hypoxia execution than I was. As Kenneth Smith’s spiritual adviser, I saw every horrific second before, during and after the curtains closed

. I want to make something perfectly clear: Anyone who claims that this was anything short of torture is not just mistaken, they are a dangerous liar.

Kenny Smith's execution was horrific to witness

Does this sound humane?

When nitrogen gas started to flow, Kenny’s face grew more and more intense with every second. Colors started to change. Veins started to flex. Every muscle in his body started to tense.

We had talked for weeks before this moment about what he wanted to do. Never did he say that he would hold his breath. When things began to last way past the seconds that we were told it would, I began to wonder why.

Alabama executed Kenneth Eugene Smith in January using nitrogen gas.

His chest moved up and down with gusto. He was clearly trying to breathe. “Shouldn’t he be unconscious already?” He clearly wasn’t.

He started to look as if his head would pop off. I leaned back. There was nowhere to fall. There only was the nightmare in front of me.

As Kenny’s reactions grew more visceral and violent, the expressions of the guards started to shift dramatically.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The gurney wasn’t supposed to move. Yet, move it did. Kenny started heaving back and forth. The restraints weren’t enough to keep him still.

Kenny was shaking the entire gurney. I had never seen something so violent. Kenny’s muscles went from tensed up to looking like they were going to combust. Veins spider-webbed in every direction. It looked like an army of ants was running throughout every centimeter of Kenny. There was nothing in his body that was calm. Everything was going everywhere all at once, over and over.

His face. My God ... his face.

Death sentence didn't bring closure:Death penalty didn't help me heal after my mom was killed. Buffalo families deserve peace.

Repeatedly, Kenny’s face jerked toward the front of the mask. I kept wondering if his bulging eyeballs were going to shoot right through.

Saliva, mucus and other substances shot out of his mouth. The concoction of body fluids all started drizzling down the inside of the mask. Back and forth ... back and forth ... back and forth Kenny kept heaving.

We had been told by Alabama officials that the gas would kill Kenny in seconds, but the execution was now going on for minutes. Kenny was very much still conscious. I could see the horror in his eyes. In fact, I’ll never forget it.

God felt far away in those moments

Taking off my glasses, I sobbed. I had never felt so far away from God. I prayed that God would forgive me. I was doing the best that I could.

We all have decisions to make. I hope no one ever again has to deal with the options that I had. They were going to kill him one way or another with or without me, but I was still part of the horrific process. Life was never a choice. I just had to be present for Kenny.

Kids in Louisiana prison are suffering:Angola's death row is haunted by its past and purpose. It shouldn't be housing kids.

I prayed the words of the Psalmist repeatedly, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” But death was far more than a shadow at this point.

Convulsions gave way to shallow breathing. Kenny was barely conscious. Every breath brought more death. It wasn’t just death of a man - it was death to any idea that there could be anything humane about executing a person.

We were told that we would be watching something peaceful. The devastating spectacle of it all was everything but.

In recent days, politicians have become emboldened to push for nitrogen hypoxia executions in their own states. Such efforts are mindless lunacy.

Mindless in that the people backing the efforts have no idea what they’re talking about. Lunacy in that they are championing the wholesale acceptance of legally suffocating people to death.

These folks haven’t seen what I did. These insane explosions of moral suicide have the propensity not just to destroy life, but even to destroy our very souls. I felt it.

(source: Opinion; The Rev. Jeff Hood is a spiritual adviser to death row inmates across the United States----USA Today)

LOUISIANA:

2 children among suspects charged after toddler allegedly beaten to death----3 people, including 2 children, are facing murder charges after a 3-year-old girl was beaten to death.

4 people, including two children, are facing murder charges after a 3-year-old Lousiana girl was allegedly beaten to death. The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office responded to a call about an unresponsive 3-year-old girl, identified as Blessing Buckles, at a home around 3:45 p.m. Monday. Deputies say a child made the call and told them there were no adults at the home, WAFB reports.

Blessing was taken to the hospital in critical condition with a brain bleed, as well as bruises and abrasions to the face and body consistent with blunt force trauma. She died from her injuries on Wednesday, deputies say.

The following four suspects have been taken into custody for their alleged involvement in the child’s death:

While responding to the home Monday, deputies were met by Scott and Yates pulling into the driveway, saying they had just left the casino. Deputies later learned 8 children, ranging in age from 11 months to 12 years, had allegedly been left unattended at the home for several hours.

According to arrest records, Yates and her children had been staying with Scott for around 2 weeks, and the 2 women would allegedly leave them unattended often.

Investigators later identified a 10-year-old boy and a 12-year-old boy — Scott’s son and nephew, who were at the home — as suspects in Blessing’s death. They were both arrested Friday and booked into the EBR Juvenile Detention Center for simple battery and 2nd-degree murder.

Scott said she was aware her nephew was violent toward other children. Yates previously saw bruises on at least 1 of her daughters after they were left alone with the boy, but she “ignored her children’s pleas for help,” arrest records say.

Scott was arrested Friday and is facing charges of principal to 2nd-degree murder and principal to battery. Yates was arrested the following day and charged with principal to 2nd-degree murder and principal to simple battery.

The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has been contacted about the case, according to the sheriff’s office.

(source: WAFB news)

****************

Crime special session expected to produce emotional debate over death penalty

State lawmakers begin a 2 1/2-week session Monday that will address crime. Emotional debate is expected on legislation that will give the state more options to carry out a death sentence, such as the electric chair and nitrogen gas. Lapolitics.com publisher Jeremy Alford says different groups have differing opinions.

“Faith-based players, criminal justice reform players, you often see high-profile surrogates come in on this as well, it’s probably going to deliver some national attention,” said Alford.

Changes in sentencing laws are also expected during this session.

During former Governor John Bel Edwards’ eight years, there was a smart-on-crime approach. Alford says lawmakers and lobbyist groups supported Edwards’s effort to lower the prison population, but the Landry administration brings a different approach.

“Everyone from the conserving leaning the Pelican Institute to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, it’s going to be interesting to see some of these same groups what approach they are going to have on these tough on crime proposals,” said Alford.

Alford says Landry got most of what he wanted in the redistricting special session, he could have more success in this session.

“His ideology on crime lines up with a majority at least of the conservative members of the legislature,” said Alford.

(source: Louisiaina Radio Network)

COLORADO:

Former death row inmate recounts his story during Boulder NAACP event

Anthony Ray Hinton made audience members laugh and cry during the NAACP Boulder County Freedom Fund event Sunday as he recounted his story of spending 30 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he didn’t commit.

Hinton, author of “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row,” said that by telling his story, he hopes to inspire people to fight for justice.

He said that when he was arrested, the detective told him he would ensure Hinton was found guilty even if he didn’t commit the crime. Hinton said he was told he should “take the fall for one of your homeboys,” because if it was not him who committed the murder then it was another Black man.

Hinton said he was charged with murder based on testimony that the bullets from the crime scene came from Hinton’s mother’s gun. Hinton said his attorney didn’t like him and he was sentenced to death in 1985.

During the first 3 years on death row, Hinton said he never spoke and he was angry at God for his circumstances.

Hinton asked God to help him escape, and he found that his gift of imagination helped him travel anywhere in the world while he was in his cell. So, in his imagination, he went to visit Queen Elizabeth and they spoke about her family and drank sweet tea together. He said once he realized he could find solace in his imagination, he was able to find joy. In his head, he got married to Halle Berry for 15 years only to divorce her and get together with Sandra Bullock.

Eventually Hinton sent a letter to Bryan Stevenson, leader of the Equal Justice Initiative, asking for Stevenson to be his lawyer. Hinton said Stevenson is “God’s No. 1 lawyer” and they were able to meet and discuss his case.

Hinton remembered telling Stevenson he’d have to hire a qualified ballistics expert, specifically a white one from Alabama who believed in the death penalty. Hinton said it was the only way for the ballistics expert’s word to be good on the witness stand in Alabama. Recanting the story was emotional for Hinton, who was brought to tears by the memory.

The state dropped the charges against Hinton while preparing for his retrial in 2015, and he was released from prison. Hinton said he chose the word “released” rather than “freed” intentionally.

“I will never be free again, until the day I die,” Hinton said.

He added that the death sentence has no purpose.

He said that while Black people only make up a small percentage of Alabama’s population, Black people make up the majority of the prison’s population. Hinton asked people to rise up and help make changes to the judicial system, encouraging people to vote and fight for others who cannot fight for themselves.

He said he wakes up every day and tries to help people, and he is determined to be the light in darkness.

“I want to be better than the men who did this to me,” Hinton said.

Violeta Chapin, lawyer and law professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, worked under Stevenson and also advocated for prisoners on death row. While she expressed happiness that Colorado banned the death penalty in 2020, she said it shouldn’t be a history that is erased.

Chapin said despite being wrongfully incarcerated for 30 years, no one could take away Hinton’s joy.

Madelyn Woodley, Freedom Fund Chairperson and executive committee member at-large of the NAACP, said it’s crucial for people to learn to stand for right and against injustice.

“We are more alike than different, and we should learn to appreciate those differences,” Hinton said.

Danielle Ponder took the stage after Hinton. Before she was a R&B singer, she was a public defender in New York. However she always found herself drawn to music, so she took the leap of faith and quit her day job to pursue music.

Ponder performed songs from her debut album “Some of Us Are Brave.”

(source: dailycamera.com)

IDAHO:

Idaho Passes New Bill Seeking Death Penalty for Sexual Acts With Children Under 12

Idaho has passed a new bill that seeks capital punishment for child sex predators. The bill, known as HB 515, would carry out the death penalty for any conviction relating to sexual acts with children younger than 12 years old.

Simultaneously, another bill, HB465, which would allow prosecutors to charge producers of child pornography using artificial intelligence (AI) with sexual exploitation, was passed alongside it.

Currently, those who carry out “lewd conduct with a minor” below the age of 16 in the state, face a life sentence. HB515 seeks to amend the current statute to include the death penalty for those who engage in sexual acts with children under the age of 12, in addition to especially cruel and heinous acts with exceptional depravity.

The law would put Idaho on par with Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new bill into law that applies the death penalty to those convicted of sexually abusing children under the age of 12.

Idaho Republican state Rep. Bruce Skaug, one of the coauthors of the bills, said that a 2008 Supreme Court decision, which declared that the death penalty for child rape with a surviving victim was unconstitutional, was wrong in his view, Fox News reported.

HB 465 widens the scope of Idaho’s existing laws, by which the creation and distribution of child pornography are outlawed, to include AI-generated video imagery and depictions of children.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Republican state Rep. Dori Healey, said the technology has been applied worldwide to recreate videos and images of children that appear realistic.

“This technology is being used to create thousands of images of children across the world and in Idaho,” Ms. Healey said during the vote.

A current federal law prohibits hyper-realistic sexualized images of children. However, there appear to be many grey areas where it does not specify AI-depicted children with no real child present, prompting many calls to create more specific laws.

Dozens of Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), wrote to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2023, demanding answers on how the DOJ is tackling the growing online threat of AI-generated child pornography.

“We write to you with grave concern regarding increasing reports of artificial intelligence (AI) being used to generate child sexual abuse materials (CSAM) which are shared across the internet,” the letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland stated.

The letter noted that while there are benefits to appropriate use of AI, necessary action needs to be taken to prevent individuals from using AI to generate CSAM.

Also mentioned in the letter was a report by the MIT Technology Review from October 2020 exposing the emergence of a disturbing new app used at the time to digitally “undress” images of women, predominantly young girls, around a year after a previous app called “DeepNude” was taken down.

According to the review, the software worked by using generative adversarial networks, the algorithm behind deepfakes, to create realistic nude bodies in place of women’s clothes.

Prosecutors across all 50 states have taken steps to address the issue with both Republican and Democrat lawmakers, calling for more regulation on AI-generated child porn, and the threat it poses.

“We are engaged in a race against time to protect the children of our country from the dangers of AI. Indeed, the proverbial walls of the city have already been breached. Now is the time to act,” the prosecutors wrote in a letter.

(source: ntd.com)

USA:

The Gas Chamber, 100 Years of Cruelty

100 years ago this month, the 1st gas chamber execution was carried out in the United States. On February 8, 1924, the state of Nevada used cyanide gas to put Gee Jon to death.

In a cruel twist of history, in January of this year the state of Alabama revived the use of gas when it put Kenneth Smith to death. Over the course of the hundred years that separated Jon’s and Smith’s executions, the history of the gas chamber, as I noted in Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty, has been marked by claims that it would provide a painless death and a long series of failures to live up to that promise.

Like every other method of execution used in this country, execution by lethal gas has not been safe, reliable, or humane.

The road to the first use of the gas chamber began on August 28, 1921, at 8 in the morning, when Tom Quong Kee was found dead from a single gunshot. Two days earlier Jon and Hughie Sing had traveled to the small town where Kee lived.

Soon after Kee’s death, the local sheriff received a tip about 2 strangers who had been seen walking around the town. The tip identified Jon and Sing as members of a Chinese gang who had been sent to carry out a hit on Kee.

Sing confessed and implicated Jon. Later they were both sentenced to death under Nevada’s death penalty law that authorized lethal gas as the state’s method of execution.

That law, known at the time it was adopted as the Humane Execution Bill, passed the state assembly almost unanimously before being sent on to the state senate where it was approved the very same day. Nevada’s governor, Emmet Boyle, a longtime opponent of capital punishment, nevertheless signed the bill into law.

The bill that Boyle signed originally called for executions to take place while the condemned slept in their cell. Death row inmates would be housed in airtight, leakproof cells, separate from other prisoners. On the day of the execution, valves would be open that would fill the cell with gas, killing the sleeping prisoner painlessly.

The idea of using gas to execute prisoners can be traced back to 1791 when one of the commanders in Napoleon Bonaparte’s military filled a ship full of rebel slaves with sulfur dioxide gas, killing them all. In the late 19th century, legislators and activists disillusioned with hanging as a method of execution began to consider whether gas would be a better alternative.

For example, members of the Pennsylvania medical society recommended that the state adopt carbonic acid for use in its executions. Dr. J. Chris Lange said that during an execution by lethal gas, “death will happen in from 3 to 8 minutes after the gas ascends to a level with the mouth and nose of the prisoner.”

He claimed that it would lead to death “without preliminaries” and “without the possibility of accidents” and would “leave the criminal little more to dread of the future in the common lot of all mankind.”

While Pennsylvania did not end up adopting the gas chamber, interest in this method grew in the late 1800s and the first two decades of the 1900s. It was spurred on by the experience of World War I, in which lethal gas was a new and cutting-edge weapon.

By the time Nevada got around to executing Gee Jon, it had abandoned the idea of gassing an inmate in his cell. Instead, a concrete building in the prison yard, previously the prison barbershop, was converted into the country’s 1st gas chamber.

As a report from the Death Penalty Information Center says, “The gas chamber, which was built by prisoners, was first tested on two kittens, who died within 15 seconds of the gas release.’

On the day of his execution, Jon was put to death by hydrocyanic acid. But his execution did not go smoothly.

Hydrocyanic acid only becomes gaseous and deadly at approximately 79°F. Nevada’s plan was to pump the gas, which had been brought to the prison in its more stable liquid form, into the chamber where a heating device was left to warm the liquid as it entered the chamber.

Unfortunately, the morning of February 8, 1924 was cold, and the heater inside the chamber malfunctioned. The gas spilled into the chamber in both liquid and gaseous form, pooling on the floor and spreading through the air.

Several minutes into the execution, Jon was still breathing. His head rolled back and fell forward a number of times before he ultimately succumbed.

Afterward, as The Washington Post notes, “No autopsy was performed out of fear that gas in Gee’s body would poison onlookers.”

Nevertheless, state officials insisted that the execution “was a success.” A headline in The Nevada State Journal read, “Nevada’s novel death law is upheld by the highest court — humanity.”

Over the course of the next few decades, other states followed Nevada’s example and adopted the gas chamber. Arizona became the first state to do so when it replaced hanging with this new technology of death, and Colorado soon did the same.

In 1935, North Carolina and Wyoming constructed their own gas chambers. 2 years later, California, Missouri, and Oregon followed suit. During the 1950s, Mississippi, Maryland, and New Mexico all carried out executions by lethal gas.

In its 100-year history, the most famous gas chamber execution took place in California in 1960 when Caryl Chessman was killed at San Quentin State Prison. Chessman had been sentenced to death for a series of crimes he committed in January 1948 in the Los Angeles area.

While in prison, he wrote four books, including his memoirs Cell 2455, Death Row, which was made into a movie in 1955.

“From Oregon to North Carolina,” The Washington Post observes, “prisons developed unique protocols such as coating a gas chamber doorway with Vaseline to keep the gas in and patting down an inmate’s hair and clothes after executions to get the gas out so no one got sick while handling the body. Some prisoners were shaved and stripped to their underwear to lower the risk.”

But despite these efforts, lethal gas, which has been used more than 600 times over its 100-year history, has not lived up to its billing as a humane execution method. In fact, more than 5% of executions by gas have been botched, making it the second most problematic execution method after lethal injection, which has a botch rate of 8%.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the constitutionality of lethal gas, in 1996 a federal appeals court unanimously held that California’s statute authorizing lethal gas violated the Eighth Amendment. As the court said, “The district court’s findings of extreme pain, the length of time this extreme pain lasts, and the substantial risk that inmates will suffer this extreme pain for several minutes require the conclusion that execution by lethal gas is cruel and unusual.”

We learned that lesson all over again earlier this year during Alabama’s botched execution of Kenneth Smith.

In fact, whatever the particular kind of gas that has been used, as law professor Deborah Denno notes, “Every gas execution involved torture of some sort…. The inmate is conscious and aware of what’s going on, and the torment is obvious.” As its 100-year history shows, death by lethal gas, as Denno rightly concludes, is “the worst method of execution we’ve ever had and the most cruel.”

(source: Commentary; Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College----verdict.justia.com)

INDIA:

Murder of 5: Tripura High Court commutes convict's death penalty to life sentence without remission

The Tripura High Court recently commuted the death penalty of a man who killed five persons in 2021 and sentenced him to life imprisonment till his last breath without any benefit of remission [The Sessions Judge Khowai Tripura Versus The State of Tripura].

The division bench of Justice T Amarnath Goud and Justice Biswajit Palit, however, ordered that convict Pradip Debroy @ Kutti be kept in solitary confinement.

“If the convict-appellant is allowed to socialize with the inmates in the jail, there is every possibility of his temporary insanity status of mind might strike back and assuming which has happened on the fateful day, again on any day and would cause a threat to the inmates. This Court feels that he should be kept in isolation, by keeping him away from other inmates and under surveillance,” the Court said.

The Court refused to set aside the conviction on the ground of temporary insanity. However, it criticized the police for not looking into the mental and physical condition of the convict.

“It is seen from the record that the police authorities have not taken proper care to investigate the matter, when … serial killings have been done on the same day which also included a police officer,” the Court remarked.

Debroy, who was convicted for murder of 5 persons including his 2 daughters and 1 brother and awarded capital punishment in 2022, had challenged his conviction and sentence.

His counsel before the High Court contended that the trial court had failed to consider his mental state and the fact that prosecution had not established any motive for the murders.

Considering the submissions as well as the evidence on record, the Court found that the prosecution had successfully proven the charge of murder.

On lack of motive in the case, the Court opined that it cannot be said a crime committed without any motive is not a crime.

“It is evident that the convict-appellant has not preplanned and committed the murders and caused injuries. But a crime committed without any mens rea does not entitle to acquittal. This Court negates the issue of meas rea against the convict appellant,” it said.

The Court also examined the mental condition of the convict. He was seen running in naked condition and shouting on the main road at the time of murder.

It found that the antecedents of the convict are clear and he has no criminal background.

On the behaviour exhibited by the convict during the commission of crime, the Court opined that the police immediately could have sent him for medical analysis to find out whether he was under the influence of any drugs or his mental stability was disturbed.

Since the police had not done so, the High Court during the adjudication of appeal had ordered a medical examination of the convict

The report submitted last month revealed that the overall behaviour and condition of the convict at present was normal.

The Court stressed that the prosecution ought to have done the medical examination of the convict on the day of the crime itself. It found the police had solely focused on proving that Debroy was guilty of the murders.

Since they succeeded in proving that, the Court said Debroy is liable to be punished under the charges as they are proved beyond reasonable doubt.

On whether to confirm the death sentence or not, the Court opined that it is only an act of God to give life to a human.

“In the absence of which, a person cannot take away someone's life. The act the convict has taken away the several lives. Though this Court is empowered to impose capital punishment, it should be exercised in the rarest of the rare case and if it feels that the accused person if released would be a threat to society,” it said.

Accordingly, the Court modified the death sentence of convict to life imprisonment “till he breathes his last in jail without any benefit of remission.”

Advocates HK Bhowmik, NG Debnath and A Acharjee represented the convict.

Public Prosecutor Raju Datta represented the prosecution.

(source: barandbench.com)

BANGLADESH:

5 get death penalty for killing Joypurhat farmer

5 people have been sentenced to death for killing a farmer in Joypurhat's Panchbibi upazila. Additional District and Sessions Judge Nazrul Islam delivered the verdict on Monday (Feb 19).

The convicts are Rabbani, Rafiul, Mozaffar Hossain, Shahida Begum and Amine Begum. Each of the convicts has also been fined Tk 50,000, Public Prosecutor Jitendranath Mondol said.

One of the convicts is absconding.

He said the prosecution is satisfied with the verdict.

According to case documents, the convicts attacked Abu Taher on the morning of March 25, 2010, at Dargapara village of Panchbibi Upazila over prior animosity. Taher's son Abu Hossain was assaulted when he tried to save his father.

Locals rescued Abu Hossain and admitted him to Panchbibi Upazila Health Complex. He was later shifted to Shaheed Zia Medical College Hospital in Bogura. But his condition worsened, prompting his family to admit him to a hospital in Dhaka where he succumbed to his injuries.

Hossain’s father Taher filed a case at Panchbibi Police Station on April 4 of that year, accusing nine people. (source: somoynews.tv)

MYANMAR:

3 Myanmar Brigadier Generals Sentenced To Death For Surrendering Town: Military Sources

Myanmar's junta has sentenced to death 3 brigadier generals who surrendered with hundreds of troops and handed over a strategic town on the Chinese border to ethnic minority fighters last month, military sources told AFP on Monday.

"Three brigadier generals including the commander of Laukkai town were given the death sentence," a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to talk to the media.

Another military source confirmed the sentencing.

Hundreds of troops surrendered in Laukkai in northern Shan state to the so-called Three Brotherhood Alliance in January following months of fighting.

The surrender, one of the biggest losses for the military in decades, sparked rare public criticism of the junta by its supporters as it struggles to crush opposition to its 2021 coup.

Following the surrender, the officers and their troops were allowed to leave the area.

The 2 sources contacted by AFP did not give details on when the verdict had been given.

A military spokesman confirmed to AFP last month that the three brigadier generals were in military custody.

Under Myanmar's military law, leaving a post without permission can be punished by the death penalty.

A junta spokesman could not be reached for comment.

(source: Agence-France Presse)

ZIMBABWE:

Nothing Can Stop Death Penalty Abolition Bill - Ziyambi

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has said the adverse report on the Death Penalty Abolition Bill by Parliament’s Legal Committee (PLC) will not stop the Bill from sailing through both Houses of Parliament.

On one hand, the PLC argued that the Constitution allows the death penalty for aggravated murder by an adult and so abolishing the death penalty requires a constitutional amendment.

On the other hand, supporters of the Bill argue that the Constitution simply allows Parliament to pass a law allowing the death penalty but does not require Parliament to do so.

In an interview with The Herald on Sunday, Ziyambi said the Cabinet had already adopted a decision to support the Bill, therefore, he did not expect the PLC’s adverse report on the Bill to affect it. Said Ziyambi:

We have noted the adverse report from the PLC in its exercise of its mandate to scrutinise all Bills and Statutory Instruments coming before Parliament.

There will be an engagement of all stakeholders so that nothing will stall its passage. There are a number of ways to deal with it; one of which includes to have the PLC to withdraw its adverse report.

But the bottom line is the Bill is on course to sail through Parliament. Remember, Cabinet has given its nod to have the Bill sail through Parliament.

The proposed law was brought to Parliament through a Private Members Bill by Dzivarasekwa legislator Edwin Mushoriwa (CCC).

In presenting the adverse report, PLC chairperson Itayi Ndudzo (ZANU PF), who is the Hwedza South MP, said they felt that its enactment contravened Section (2) and Section 48 (2) of the Constitution in that it sought to abolish what has been permitted by the Constitution. Ndudzo said:

It is inconsistent with the spirit and purpose of Section 48 (2) which is permissive to a death penalty law being enacted. Section 328 (1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe defines a Constitutional Bill as a Bill that seeks to amend the Constitution.

Subsection (2) further states that an Act of Parliament that amends the Constitution must do so in express terms. The import of the Death Penalty Abolition Bill in fact, seeks to amend the provisions of the Constitution, in particular Section 48 (2) of the Constitution. The Bill is not a Constitutional Bill as it does not expressly state that it seeks to amend the Constitution.

Therefore, the proposed Bill takes away the permissive intention of the Constitution to have a death penalty and in any case, if any amendment is to be proposed on the death penalty, it is our considered opinion that it has to be introduced as a Constitutional Amendment Bill.

However, commenting on the PLC report in the National Assembly last week, Mushoriwa said he did not agree with their observations.

Mushoriwa said Section 48 of the Constitution seeks to protect the right to life which is what his Bill seeks to achieve. He added:

The second issue is that if you read Section 48 (2), it says a law may permit the death penalty to be imposed only on a person convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances.

“The key word there is ‘may’. It is not saying a law must. What has happened, Honourable Chair, is that the death penalty is not a creation of the Constitution, but what has happened is that the framers of the 2013 Constitution gave that power to the people of Zimbabwe and to their Parliament to either make a law or not to make a law that introduces a death penalty.

This is the reason, I believe that the point of departure which I believe the Committee erred is not to remove or to temper with the provision.

The power of the Constitution is not being taken away. In fact, what this means is that this Parliament should pass this Bill and I am glad that 2 days ago, the Cabinet of Zimbabwe led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa approved the principles of this Bill having gone through the various technical support in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and the other arms of Government.

Amnesty International recently commended the move by Zimbabwe’s cabinet to back abolition of the death penalty saying capital punishment “has no place in our world.”

At independence in 1980, there were nine crimes punishable by death under Zimbabwean law. Currently, offenders cab be sentenced to death for three offences, namely treason; where the act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism results in the death of a person; for murder and for attempted murder or incitement or conspiracy to commit murder.

(source: pindula.co.zw)

**************

Death penalty abolition on course

(see: https://www.herald.co.zw/death-penalty-abolition-on-course/)

YEMEN:

UN experts call on Houthi de facto authorities to halt execution of human rights defender Fatima Al-Arwali

UN experts* today urged the Ansar Allah or Houthi movement – de facto authorities in Sana’a and much of northern Yemen – to halt the imminent execution of human rights defender Fatima Saleh Al-Arwali, saying it would constitute an arbitrary execution and a flagrant violation of international human rights law and standards.

“We urge all relevant authorities to ensure that Fatima Al-Arwali is not executed. Her execution would be a violation of the universal and inalienable right to life and an extreme form of gender-based violence,” the UN experts said.

Fatima Al-Arwali was the head of the Habitat Organization for Human Rights Development and the former head of the Yemen office of the Women’s Leadership Union. In recent years, she has documented and publicly denounced the recruitment of children and human rights violations against women captured by the Houthi movement.

Al-Arwali has been deprived of her liberty since August 2022 and held in gruesome conditions, including incommunicado detention, without access to a judicial authority and denied contact with relatives or a legal advisor of her choice. On 5 December 2023, a court set up by the Houthi de facto authorities sentenced Fatima Al-Arwali to death on vague charges of “espionage and aiding hostile parties”.

Reports indicate that Al-Arwali’s execution is scheduled to take place in Tahrir Square in Sana’a on 21 February 2024.

“We remain concerned about credible allegations of Fatima Al-Arwali’s ill-treatment in detention, including gender-based violence, and serious violations of due process guarantees and the right to a defence during her trial,” the experts said.

“Al-Arwali’s death sentence appears to violate fundamental principles and rules of international law and must not be carried out,” they said.

The experts urged de facto authorities in Sana’a to promptly review Fatima Al-Arwali’s case from the beginning in accordance with basic international principles of fair trial and without any gender discrimination.

“Sentencing a person to death and carrying out the execution on vague charges, without a credible judicial process and without access to legal representation of their choice, is contrary to the most fundamental principles of international human rights law,” they said.

The UN experts are alarmed by the arbitrary deprivation of liberty, acts amounting to enforced disappearance and ill-treatment, including gender-based violence in detention, to which Al-Arwali was subjected prior to her death sentence—all of which may have been in retaliation for her work as a human rights defender.

“Fatima Al-Arwali’s execution would violate the most basic rules of international law and international norms regarding the death penalty and the protection of the rights of women and girls. We urge relevant authorities to stop it,” the experts said. “The world is watching.”

Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial summary or arbitrary executions; Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Angkhana Neelapaijit, Grazyna Baranowska, Ana Lorena Delgadillo Perez, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

(source: ohchr.org)

FEBRUARY 18, 2024:

TEXAS:

El Paso District Attorney candidates fight to return office to Democratic leadership

For the 1st time in more than 3 decades, El Paso Democrats are fighting to take back the district attorney's office after the candidate they elected four years ago left the office in turmoil and in the hands of a prominent Republican.

Nancy Casas, Alma Trejo and James Montoya are facing off in the March Democratic primary for a chance to oust El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks, who was appointed to the office by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The 3 Democrats have competitive campaigns as the El Paso District Attorney's Office continues to deal with staff shortages, a massive case backlog and one of the most important criminal cases in the city's history hanging in the balance.

Hicks was appointed DA after Yvonne Rosales, a Democrat who won the 2020 election, resigned from office in November 2022, facing allegations of incompetency, including the mishandling of the El Paso Walmart mass shooter case.

Hicks is unopposed in the Republican Party primary.

The seat in the 34th Judicial District, which includes El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties, will be decided in the November general election.

Democrats are seeking to reclaim this top political post.

"Stability is key," Casas said. "If you want people to come back, they need to know that they are coming back to a stable office, not a chaotic office. The chaotic office under Rosales is still going on. It wasn't just a Rosales thing. It's a Rosales and a Hicks thing."

In the lead up to the 2020 elections, nearly all the Democrat candidates vying for the office tried to separate themselves from former El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza, calling for a need for new leadership after Esparza's 3 decades in office.

Now, after the fall of Rosales, the 2024 Democrat candidates are campaigning on their experience working for Esparza, who led the office for 28 years before not seeking reelection in the 2020 election.

"Under the Esparza administration, each court was assigned to prosecutors, including the misdemeanor courts," said Trejo, who resigned as El Paso County Criminal Court #1 judge to run for district attorney. "There's 8 misdemeanor courts and 12 felony courts. Ever since Yvonne Rosales took over, and it's the same thing with Bill Hicks, we had 1 prosecutor. So what that meant is that I (as a judge) had to cut my hearings in half, my jury trials in half. Everything I did, I had to cut in half because one person couldn't do the work that 2 people used to do."

All 3 candidates worked as assistant district attorneys under Esparza. Esparza, who now serves as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, has not publicly endorsed any candidates.

"Stability is the name of the game," said Montoya, a deputy public defender with the El Paso County Public Defender's Office. "Jaime Esparza was in office for a very long time. When you have stability in your criminal justice system where it becomes predictable for everyone involved, where defense lawyers can advise their clients 'this is what to expect in this particular type of case' is what you need in the criminal justice system.

"Chaos and unpredictability helps no one."

Staffing shortage plaguing DA's office

Since Rosales let go more than 25% of the previous administration's staff as soon as she took office, the district attorney's office has been short staffed and unable to retain qualified staff, the candidates said.

The staffing crisis created a backlog of thousands of cases in the district attorney's office, which continues to hinder any efforts to move forward with those cases.

The district attorney's office did not respond to a request for statistics on the current staffing numbers and the number of backlog cases.

In November, when Hicks announced his campaign to retain the district attorney seat, he said the backlog of cases was down to just over 3,000 from the 10,000 cases he inherited from Rosales. In July, Hicks told the El Paso Times he had 80 prosecutors working for him.

The Democratic candidates doubt Hicks has that many prosecutors on the payroll. Esparza had at least 90 prosecutors working for him before he left office.

"The number one issue is the staffing crisis at the DA's office right now," Montoya said. "It's hard to say exactly how many lawyers they're short. I would estimate it's somewhere between 20 and 30, just from what I can see as a defense lawyer in the courthouse every day.

"Every week I see prosecutors who are not prepared for trial, who miss filing deadlines, who mess up very basic paperwork and notices that they're supposed to be filing. The very basic tasks are not being done and you are seeing that happen every week."

Montoya said he has more than a dozen attorneys — many former prosecutors under Esparza — ready to come work for him if he is elected as district attorney.

"First day, I am going to fully staff the office as much as possible by bringing back people who previously worked there, as well as new folks from the (current) DA's office," Montoya said. "It's going to depend on where we are staffing wise in November or December of 2024 and seeing what the staffing needs are, where there are openings. As of right now, it seems like there are openings across the board."

Casas plans to evaluate how best to manage existing staff and place each member in a position to succeed.

"Absolutely not," Casas said about cutting staff. "We already saw what happened when you got rid of all the institutional knowledge. You need to go in and look at the staff that you have and recognize the talent. I think you also have to appreciate the talent that you have. You have great attorneys, you have great staff members that need to be recognized and heard, so that way we can make it more efficient."

The failure to retain staff is a "culture" problem within the district attorney's office, Casas said.

"It's changing the office culture," she said. "It's not just hiring more attorneys. Hiring more attorneys is not the only answer. We need to figure out why people are leaving and I think that's what's not being asked. What can we do better to keep you here?"

Former El Paso County Criminal Court #1 Judge Alma Trejo introduces herself at the El Paso Chamber’s debate for El Paso District Attorney candidates on Jan. 18, 2024.

Trejo said her years of experience as a judge and prosecutor will allow her to fully staff the district attorney's office.

"The most glaring issue is the fact that attorneys are leaving," Trejo said. "Attorneys were being hired, but within months, or in less than a year, they would leave. That was under the Rosales administration as well as the Hicks administration ... The good thing is that I've been around for 31 years as a prosecutor, as a trial attorney, as a supervising attorney, and as a judge. I have a good reputation among attorneys, among the legal field.

"I know there's a lot of former assistant district attorneys as well as other attorneys who are just waiting to come in to the DA's office once it's stable, once it has a good leader. Right now things are crazy. There is low morale so people are leaving. The people who are left have to handle the work of two or 3 attorneys. Right now, nobody wants to come into the DA's office."

Future of El Paso Walmart mass shooting case

The staffing shortage has caused major delays in the El Paso Walmart mass shooting case. More than four years have passed since the Aug. 3, 2019, racially motivated shooting, and no trial date has been set as Hicks and defense attorneys continue battling over evidence.

Since the shooting, Esparza, Rosales and Hicks have all sought the death penalty against the white supremacist gunman who targeted Hispanics amid the political rhetoric of an invasion at the southern border.

While the candidates agree on seeking the death penalty, they all said they will first reevaluate the case if they are elected.

In the federal case against the gunman, the U.S. Attorney's Office did not seek the death penalty. The gunman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 90 consecutive life sentences in the federal case.

What is "best for the community" regarding the Walmart case will be Trejo's priority, she said.

"Right now, without having seen anything, I would have to yes," Trejo said on seeking the death penalty. "Once I go in there and I will determine whether we have the evidence, because I also have to be cognizant of taxpayer money. If I don't have enough evidence on a case, should I pursue it? And is this case going to be tried in El Paso? I know many people have been saying that it will, but I don't think we're going to be able to find jurors who can honestly under oath say that they haven't made up their mind as to whether (the gunman) is guilty or not guilty."

"I would also talk to the US attorneys and ask why did they not seek the death penalty. I'm very interested in that."

U.S. Attorney's Office officials have declined to explain why they didn't seek the death penalty against the gunman.

Montoya, who was part of the Esparza administration when it first elected to seek the death penalty, said the gunman should be sentenced to death, but several questions remain on whether that's the best course of action.

"I personally believe that he deserves the death penalty," Montoya said. "If you kill 23 people based off of racial animus, that is a crime that deserves the death penalty. The day after it happened, we announced that we were seeking the death penalty. Things have changed since then. Obviously the case has been significantly delayed by Mrs. Rosales' personnel decisions and everything that happened where they tried to tamper with witnesses and obstruct victims from testifying in a hearing.

"The number one factor if we continue to pursue the death penalty, is the status of the case on Jan. 1, 2025. If we have a trial setting sometime in 2025, if the case appears to be heading towards trial, I intend to continue pursuing the death penalty. If it doesn't appear that we're any closer to a trial, I think we need to be giving serious consideration to resolving the case with the plea."

Casas declined to discuss the Walmart case since she is still working with the El Paso County Attorney's Office and must abide by a gag order issued by a judge in the case.

"I can't talk specifically on that case, but what I can say is that if somebody commits a crime, they should be held accountable," Casas said. "There are times that some crimes do merit after serious consideration the death penalty. After reviewing those cases, and if they go forward, then I will pursue seeking the death penalty on cases that do merit it."

(source: Aaron Martinez, El Paso Times)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Doctor explains how horrific nature of 'gruesome' electric chair execution----As lawmakers in South Carolina are contemplating restarting executions after nearly 13 years, a physician has revealed the gruesome state the human body is forced into during electrocution

An expert has shared the gruesome details of what happens when someone is executed in an electric chair. South Carolina lawmakers are considering restarting executions after nearly 13 years, and are looking at using the electric chair or a firing squad.

As the debate on the death penalty continues, a doctor has revealed the horrific state the human body goes through during electrocution. Dr Joel Zivot, a clinician and associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine, told the Mirror that "an enormous amount of electricity is used, that shocks the body in a very dramatic way. The skin ignites and catches fire and there's smoke and it's pretty horrible."

He added: "Electrocution is just theatre. The way it's done, and how [the prisoners] are positioned, and the hood over the face. It's all very theatrical in the worst kind of the 'theatre of the absurd'."

All this is being done because, as Zivot explained, "killing someone can be challenging," no matter how it's done.

The doctor said: "The body doesn't want to necessarily die. So there's no benign, gentle method to kill people. You really have to disrupt the physiology which resists being killed."

Since the death penalty is still allowed in the US, Dr. Zivot thinks that the only reason why they stopped using electric chairs and firing squads lately, and started using lethal injection instead, is because the old ways looked too scary.

He explained: "It's the visual aspect that alarms the public - no one cares seemingly about the experience of the prisoners as they die." Dr. Zivot found out that when people are given a lethal injection, it really hurts their lungs and makes this bubbly liquid fill up in their lungs while they die, and they end up drowning in their own bloody spit.

"So 8 out of 10 times you are drowning in your own blood. It's not at all like it appears visually, which is that a person seems to close their eyes, cough and move and then they're dead. So that's why lethal injection has kept on so long," he shared.

People have been talking a lot more about how we execute prisoners after Kenneth Smith in Alabama was killed by breathing in nitrogen gas, which made him suffocate.

People who saw the execution said that Smith, who had already lived through one failed attempt to kill him with a lethal injection, shook and struggled on the bed for over 20 minutes while the state was killing him, and it was really awful to watch.

States that still use the death penalty are trying to find new ways to execute people because there have been problems with lethal injections. Drug companies don't want their medicines used for executions either.

South Carolina has made a law that keeps all details about executions secret. Lawyers and people who want fair treatment say this is wrong.

Talking about the new rules in South Carolina, Zivot said: "America loves its punishment. In certain places, it's not everywhere. - it's in very specific locations."

"The places that wanna kill they really wanna kill, they really do. It's almost like some kind of 'caricature of evil' that South Carolina needs to shroud what it does in secrecy. The secrecy part of this is so absurdly comically evil."

"Some kind of bizarre childish activity to say that we need to protect the privacy of the people we kill. What is that about? We are supposed to be an open society and justice is supposed to be seen to be done. How are you supposed to mount a proper defence when you can't even know what it is that you're being punished with? It's so antithetical to any kind of reasonable justice system."

Maya Foa, joint executive director at Reprieve, shared her thoughts with The Mirror: "South Carolina has introduced the most sweeping secrecy law in the nation - why? Because it knows that the death penalty cannot withstand public scrutiny."

"Whether it's hours long botched lethal injections, electric chairs, or firing squads, none of these methods of execution are the clean, quick, painless processes the state wants us to believe."

"Knowing that public approval for capital punishment decreases when methods like the electric chair or firing squad are used, South Carolina has been searching for a way to use lethal injection again, despite the unanimous opposition of drug manufacturers at this misuse of their medicines and clear evidence of the problems with the method."

Abe Bonowitz, executive director of Death Penalty Action, also spoke to The Mirror: "Method of execution is the wrong debate. The real question should be why we are allowing executions when the capital punishment system is as broken as it is."

"'Equal Justice Under Law' are the words carved into the face of the US Supreme Court building. If that is the bedrock foundation of our legal system, we don't have it."

"The mental torture of the death penalty starts from the moment a prisoner is threatened with execution, and that cruelty goes on for every minute of the wait, regardless of the method used to kill him or her."

(source: irishstar.com)

KANSAS:

Why Kris Kobach wants Kansas to legalize hypoxia execution after Alabama used new method

Attorney General Kris Kobach wants Kansas to start using a new form of execution after Alabama used it for the 1st time last month.

With House Bill 2782, the attorney general is asking lawmakers to legalize hypoxia as a method of execution and to establish a deadline for courts to issue death warrants. He said the bill is necessary because Kansas cannot carry out an execution under the current law.

"Consequently, in a way, we are lying to the people of Kansas if we say that we have the death penalty, but we actually can't carry out an execution," said Kobach, who had a Thursday news conference ahead of a legislative hearing on the bill. "And that's why the Legislature needs to enact to House Bill 2782."

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach speaks about his death penalty bill during a news conference Thursday at the Kansas Statehouse. Why Kris Kobach wants Kansas to legalize hypoxia execution

Current Kansas law only allows 1 method of execution: lethal injection.

The problem, Kobach said, is lethal injection has become more difficult. He blamed pharmaceutical manufacturers in the United States and Europe that refuse to sell their their drugs for executions in the U.S., specifically mentioning Pfizer, which tightened its rules in 2016.

"Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve," the company said in a 2021 policy position. "Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment."

Was Alabama hypoxia execution 'swift and humane'?

Kansas law requires executions to be "swift and humane." But those terms are not specifically defined in current law or Kobach's bill.

Testimony in the House Judiciary Committee conflicted on whether hypoxia was swift and humane in the Alabama execution.

Alabama executed Kenneth Eugene Smith on Jan. 25 via hypoxia, using the forced inhalation of pure nitrogen gas. Attorney Robert Grass, who worked for the law firm that represented Smith and witnessed his execution, described what he witnessed to lawmakers and said he does not believe it was swift or humane.

The ACLU of Alabama characterized Smith's execution as "torture" and that he suffered "excruciating pain for an extended period."

Chuck Weber, of the Kansas Catholic Conference, likewise described Alabama's execution method as "barbaric and inhumane," and said the state's bishops "submit that the use of hypoxia, like all intentional methods of ending life, are attacks against the dignity of the human person."

Kobach said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has assured him that the execution was swift and humane, and he has suggested media reports were embellished.

"Even if there were a minor amount of discomfort, which it appears there was not, let's remember the intense pain and agony that the victims felt," he said. "This is the best form, the most humane, painless form of execution that we know right now."

The U.S. Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, but the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted that to not guarantee a painless execution, Kobach said.

"In my personal opinion," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, "there is nothing cruel enough that we can do to one of these individuals that have taken a life."

Kris Kobach says Kansas needs to fix death penalty law for executions

Kobach said a problem with the current law is it does not spell out how the state goes about executing a prisoner. The flaw that he said would prevent an execution is that it "does not specify how a final order of execution should be issued."

"We have a death penalty on the books, but we do not have a mechanism of employing it," said Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett. "I really don't have a way I can look families in the eye and tell them that we truly have a functional death penalty."

That has never before come up since the state hasn't executed anyone since the death penalty was reinstated in 1994. That's because none of the 15 people sentenced to death have made it to the point where an execution could legally be carried out.

Of those 15, 4 had their sentences reduced. 2 died of natural causes while on death row — which Kobach characterized as having "escaped justice." Nine people are on death row, and all are still in the appeals process.

Current law has the Supreme Court issue the death warrant, while the bill would change it to the district court and impose a 30-day deadline from when the post-conviction proceedings are resolved.

Floyd Bledsoe warned against carrying out executions once appeals are exhausted.

Bledsoe was wrongfully convicted of murder in Jefferson County in 2000 and spent 16 years in prison. He said his trial attorney told him the prosecutors had contemplated pursuing the death penalty, but they ultimately didn't.

Under the bill, had Bledsoe been sentenced to death, he could have been executed in 2009 when he exhausted his appeals.

"Had I been sentenced to death, I would have been eligible for the State to set an execution date," Bledsoe wrote. "And had this bill been enacted and provided that hypoxia could be used as a method to kill someone, I would have been executed. And I would not have lived to be exonerated 6 years later."

Kansas bill doesn't speed up appeal process

Kobach spoke at a Thursday news conference flanked by prosecutors, law enforcement officers and victim families.

A chief complaint from everyone was the lengthy amount of time that capital punishment takes.

"We're not here to relitigate the issue of whether Kansas should have a death penalty or not — we do," said Kansas Bureau of Investigation director Tony Mattivi. "But it is unfair to these families of the victims for justice to be delayed as long as it is. I credit this attorney general for his efforts to be prepared when it finally comes time to execute one of these criminals."

The bill doesn't address the primary cause of that extended timeline: the appeals process.

"There is no effort in this bill to speed up the process," Bennett said. "I don't know how you speed up due process. It takes what it takes. But we do owe those families certainty that there really is an end to it at some point."

Bennett said he now views the family of one victim as having "lucked out" by the perpetrator getting life in prison because "that case is done" and hasn't been drawn out through death penalty appeals. Some families of murder victims spoke in favor of the bill, but others opposed it.

Of the 9 people on death row in Kansas, several were convicted more than 20 years ago, and Kobach said that lengthy delay "denies justice."

But at least one could potentially finish his appeals as soon as 9 months from now, Kobach said. And while the bill doesn't speed up the appeals process, it could potentially expedite the execution once the appeals are over.

"It would be a grave injustice if the time came, all appeals were finally run, and then we had to say, 'Well, sorry, we can't carry out the execution because we didn't bother to fix the things that need to be fixed in Kansas law,'" he said.

Bill faces uncertain prospects of becoming law

While Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly didn't comment on the bill, she has previously expressed opposition to the death penalty.

During her reelection campaign in 2022, Kelly said in a debate that she would support repealing the death penalty.

"We have not executed anybody since 1994, but it costs us millions of dollars every year to keep those folks on death row," she said. "I firmly believe that we would be far better off — and it would be financially responsible — to do life without parole rather than the death penalty."

If the bill reached the governor and she vetoed it, lawmakers would need supermajorities to override her, which can be difficult to reach.

(source: Jason Alatidd is a Statehouse reporter for The Topeka Capital-Journal)

OKLAHOMA:

Why Oklahoma’s tough-on-crime lawmakers no longer trust death penalty

Inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Phillip Hancock has eaten his final meal. Fried chicken from KFC, no sides. It’s the last day of November. He’s due to be executed at 10 a.m.

Outside the prison known as Big Mac, 11 anti-death penalty protesters in puffy coats huddle in a circle to sing a hymn. Intermittent drizzle has snuffed out the early morning sun. A pair of cars pulls up near the penitentiary, which looks like a cross between a warehouse and a castle. The latecomers to the vigil are unlikely allies: two Republicans who favor tough law and order policies.

“This is a strange scenario,” says J.J. Humphrey, a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. “You’ve got two people who have been advocating for the death penalty advocating for clemency here.”

JUSTICE

Only 5 states executed people last year. Oklahoma was 1 of them – and some GOP state lawmakers worry they cannot trust their system to get it right.

His friend Justin Jackson, wearing a cowboy hat and nibbling on a toothpick, keeps checking his phone. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Mr. Hancock. But there’s no word, yet, on whether Gov. Kevin Stitt will stay the execution. Last night, Mr. Jackson went to Oklahoma City to meet in person with the Republican governor. The businessman tried to persuade Governor Stitt, who’s a friend, that the man on death row shot two men in self-defense.

“We believe in God and guns,” says Mr. Jackson. “It sends a bad message to our state and to the rest of the nation that you’re going to be vulnerable if you stand your ground and protect your life.”

Oklahoma hasn’t executed as many people as Texas has. But it has led the United States for the highest per capita rate of executions since 1976. There’s strong residual support for capital punishment here in the buckle of the Bible Belt. In 2016, the Sooner State held a referendum on whether to amend its constitution “to guarantee the state’s power to impose capital punishment and set methods of execution.” It passed, 66% to 34%.

But trust in the system has been shaken. Mr. Jackson is single-handedly responsible for starting a crusade inside the political establishment. Thirty-four Oklahoma lawmakers – including 28 Republicans – wrote to the governor in 2021 asking him to reexamine the case of a man in prison named Richard Glossip. Last year, three GOP representatives and a former member of the Parole and Pardon Board held a press conference to advocate for a state moratorium on the death penalty. That coincided with another jolt to the system.

Last May, Oklahoma’s attorney general took the unprecedented step of filing a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Mr. Glossip, asking the justices to halt his execution. On Jan. 22, in a rare move, the justices took Mr. Glossip’s case and will consider whether to overturn his conviction. The case will be heard this fall.

Also making headlines: Glynn Simmons became a free man in December after spending 48 years in prison. It was the longest wrongful imprisonment in U.S. history. He’s the 11th Oklahoman to be exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Now some Oklahomans are asking themselves, can we trust that innocent people aren’t being put to death? On the flip side, has the state been letting guilty people go free?

In Oklahoma – which Pew Research Center ranks among the top 10 most religious states, with about 80% of residents identifying as Christian – these issues have also dovetailed with three categories of shifting thought among Christians. The first is skepticism among some Christian conservatives that government institutions can function smoothly. The second is an argument, especially among Catholics and mainline Protestants, that being pro-life extends beyond the abortion issue to include opposition to the death penalty. And the third is that the death penalty shortcuts or circumvents the possibility of redemption. The concept of converting criminals was popular among Evangelicals earlier in the 20th century. It’s undergone a resurgence.

“The seeds of today’s anti-death penalty critique are there in the 1940s and ’50s,” says Aaron Griffith, author of “God’s Law and Order: The Politics of Punishment in Evangelical America.” “The difference today is there’s just so much more media exposure and coverage of the inequalities and problems in American criminal justice, in part because the system itself has gotten so big and expansive because of those kinds of law and order arguments from years past.”

Qualms grow about capital punishment

An increasingly secular America is also weighing the application of capital punishment. A 2023 Gallup poll revealed that, for the first time, fewer than half of Americans – 47% – believe that the death penalty is administered fairly.

29 states have either outright abolished the death penalty or halted it through executive action. This year, California, which has the largest death row in the country, has begun dismantling it. Others are grappling with debates over its merits and implementation.

Oklahoma Republicans aren’t the first conservative lawmakers to have qualms about capital punishment. In 2015, the Republican-dominated Nebraska state Legislature abolished the death penalty. The following year, Nebraska voters reinstated it. In North Carolina, a coalition of religious leaders and criminal justice advocates is lobbying the governor, a Democrat, to commute every single death row sentence.

Their doubts come at a time when just five states, including Oklahoma, carried out executions last year. 24 people were executed in 2023 – up from a low of 11 in 2021, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s annual report. It is still well below the high of 98 in 1999.

In Oklahoma, it’s the Richard Glossip case that’s spurring this conversation about the death penalty. “He’s had 3 last meals, and he’s been on the brink of execution 3 times,” says Mr. Jackson. “He’s had 9 execution dates.”

Mr. Jackson’s concerns stem from a 2017 documentary series, “Killing Richard Glossip.” The hotel worker was sentenced to death for allegedly soliciting the murder of his boss, Barry Van Treese. The actual murderer, Justin Sneed, pleaded guilty. But he avoided the death penalty by cutting a deal with prosecutors to testify against Mr. Glossip.

The case has been publicized by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian. Mr. Glossip’s defenders say that Mr. Sneed, the state’s star witness, lied under oath. An independent counsel found that prosecutors also destroyed security camera footage, failed to disclose pertinent information, and withheld a box of evidence from Mr. Glossip’s attorneys.

“I cannot stand behind the murder conviction and death sentence of Richard Glossip,” said Attorney General Gentner Drummond. “This is not to say I believe he is innocent. However, it is critical that Oklahomans have absolute faith that the death penalty is administered fairly and with certainty.”

Mr. Van Treese’s family believes Mr. Glossip deserves the death sentence.

“I spent over 1/2 my life waiting for justice to be served for those responsible,” Derek Van Treese, the son of the victim, told the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board last year. “This case has been pushed from being a legal matter to being a political issue.”

Mr. Jackson has been instrumental in bringing the case into the statehouse.

“I feel like the Lord led me to get involved,” says Mr. Jackson, who was raised Southern Baptist. “I am for capital punishment – but we have got to make sure we get it right. If we’re going to take on that responsibility ... it has to be without a doubt.”

The activist recalls going deer hunting with Mr. Stitt during his 1st term as governor:

“We’re sitting in a tarp blind, and I said, ‘Governor, I will send you a little clip, a segment on Richard Glossip ... because it’s going to come up eventually.’”

To date, Mr. Stitt remains unpersuaded by the arguments for a retrial. But Mr. Jackson found other receptive ears inside the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Sitting in his statehouse office, Rep. Kevin McDugle recalls Mr. Jackson imploring him to watch the documentary. The lawmaker was skeptical of a Hollywood production. But after watching the 4 episodes, he thought to himself, “If 10% of this is true, we might really have somebody [innocent] on death row.”

Representative McDugle’s 2014 memoir, “Inside the Mind of a Marine Drill Instructor,” describes how he once delighted in hurricaning through squad bay, overturning recruits’ footlockers and beds while screaming, as he puts it, “choice language.” No one would mistake Mr. McDugle for a bleeding heart liberal. Yet he’s now joined forces with state Representative Humphrey to campaign for a moratorium on the death penalty.

“If the legal system is pure and if we get it right every time, then there should be a death penalty,” says Mr. McDugle, sitting in front of a framed portrait of Ronald Reagan. “Of the people that we’ve had on death row, 10% have been exonerated. They went through the jury trials. They were convicted. ... And then DNA evidence proves that they were innocent. Now, that’s 10% of the people that we know of. How many people did we kill prior to that that were actually innocent?”

The politician, who’s been in office since 2016, believes those glaring flaws undermine faith in the criminal justice system as a whole. He worries about an uneven application of justice in which some convicted murderers are sentenced to death while others get life sentences. Plus, he’s no longer convinced that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime.

“A lot of it comes from experience. A lot of it comes from study. A lot of it comes from finding out truth,” he says.

Mr. McDugle and Mr. Humphrey have received support from various secular and religious groups, including the Oklahoma Coalition To Abolish the Death Penalty.

According to the Rev. Don Heath, the group’s chair, most people in Oklahoma believe that the end point of justice is retribution for violence. He traces it back to the Calvinistic idea that humans are wretched and deserve to suffer eternal torment unless they accept Christ.

“I think that’s an embedded theology in a lot of people, whether or not they go to church,” says Mr. Heath, a leader at Edmond Trinity Christian Church.

The progressive-leaning minister hopes Oklahoma will move beyond what he calls the “primitive levels of justice” toward restorative justice. As part of his ministry, Mr. Heath regularly visits people in prison, including those on death row.

“You have to see them as, this is a beloved child of God, too, not ‘the other,’” he says. “We have built this prison system where we can separate them from society. And as long as people still have that idea that that’s where criminals belong ... you haven’t changed the way people think about them.”

Mr. McDugle is still a proponent of holding criminals accountable. But a personal experience helped shape how he views those in the criminal justice system.

After three tours of combat, the former Marine sergeant suffered post-traumatic stress disorder for decades. He tried prescription pills. He tried psychological counseling. He’s been divorced 3 times.

Mr. McDugle says the message he was hearing from doctors was, “You’ll never be fixed. You’ll never be well.” In desperation, Mr. McDugle enrolled in a weeklong veteran recovery program by the faith-based Mighty Oaks Foundation in Texas.

“I stood in front of men that I trusted because they’d been on the same battlefields I’d been on, and all they did was point at the Word of God and said, ‘You’re not broken,’” says Mr. McDugle, his voice cracking. He pauses for 25 seconds, head bowed, struggling not to tear up. “Those five days changed my life. Because the PTSD is gone.”

His experience convinced him that people can change.

“Being a Baptist, I can say this: We are some of the most judgmental people around,” says Mr. McDugle, whose lustrous hair, curling at the nape of his neck, is a sharp contrast to when, as a Marine, he had it sheared within millimeters of the follicles. He says he’s now more empathetic and compassionate. He muses that perhaps this is how Christ wants us to look at other people.

“I know people in jail right now who’ve murdered people when they were under a drug-induced state at 17 years old, and they’re now 30-some years old and they’re extremely sorry,” he says. “If you let them out today, they’re not going to hurt another soul. ... But we have no mechanism for them to be able to rehabilitate.”

A demand for justice

3 years ago, Craig Blankenship went through an experience that shook his faith in the criminal justice system. It also led him to believe that the death penalty is entirely warranted in instances of heinous crimes.

Sitting in a hotel lobby in downtown Oklahoma City, the oil entrepreneur recounts the story of his former daughter-in-law, Andrea Blankenship.

On Feb. 12, 2021, he was driving home from work in the dark when his wife called.

“She said, ‘Craig, you’re not going to believe this.’ And I said, ‘What?’ ... And she said, ‘Andrea has been murdered.’”

As he recounts those words, he still sounds surprised.

Andrea Blankenship married Mr. Blankenship’s oldest son, Curt, on a Hawaii beach in 2004. They had two children, but the marriage foundered. Following the divorce, Mr. Blankenship paid Andrea’s rent and bills for several years. In 2021, Andrea moved to Chickasha, not far from Oklahoma City. By then, her son, John Hayden, had grown up. Her daughter, Haylee, was a freshman at Oklahoma State University. Andrea was living at her mother’s house.

In early February 2021, an attacker broke down her door.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation told the family that Andrea had been repeatedly stabbed. But they didn’t share further details other than to say her death was gruesome. In fact, the murderer had committed an act of cannibalism.

“You know how Andrea’s kids found out about it? On. The. Television. ... The OSBI didn’t even have the courtesy to call and tell them,” says Mr. Blankenship.

The details of the homicide were all over the news. Not just in Oklahoma, but around the world.

Even more horrifying details emerged. The killer, Lawrence Paul Anderson, had been visiting his older aunt and uncle, who lived across the road. After killing Andrea, he returned to their home. He attacked both of them and killed his uncle, Leon Pye. Delsie Pye survived by playing dead. But her injuries included the loss of an eye. Their 4-year-old granddaughter, Kaeos Yates, had been dropped off for a visit earlier that day. He killed the little girl, too.

Mr. Anderson pleaded guilty to all 3 murders.

“I never was against the death penalty,” says Mr. Blankenship. “My attitude was, if you know for sure that they committed an act with malice and forethought, they should die. They should pay the price. Otherwise, you know, I didn’t think a whole lot about it.”

Mr. Anderson was tried in court last March.

“The judge asked if he had any apologies to offer,” Mr. Blankenship recalls. “And [he] stared straight ahead. ... The judge said, ‘Please answer with a verbal response.’ He said, ‘Nope.’ He didn’t even apologize to the mother for killing that 4-year-old girl.”

As Mr. Blankenship stared at the impassive killer sitting 10 feet away from him, he wasn’t just mourning Andrea’s death. On July 4, 2021, he returned home from a round of golf. He had plans to smoke ribs on the barbecue. When Mr. Blankenship opened his garage door, he discovered that his son Curt had hanged himself. Mr. Blankenship rushed to help and checked his son’s pulse. But it was too late.

“Something you don’t ever want to see in your life,” he says.

It was four months after Andrea’s murder.

The victims’ relatives agreed to a plea deal that spared Mr. Anderson the death penalty. The reason? They couldn’t bear the idea of further court cases during the appeals that would inevitably follow a death row sentence. It would have entailed hearing about the horrors all over again. There would be more microphones thrust at them and cameras zooming in for close-ups.

Mr. Blankenship is sympathetic to the decision his two grandchildren made. But not in agreement with it.

“I said, ‘If that was my mother, I would go for 50 years to his appeals hearings.’”

The judge polled each of the victims’ relatives about the sentencing.

“I said, ‘He deserves death,’” Mr. Blankenship recounts.

Mr. Anderson was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It was an earlier parole that enabled him to commit the murders in the first place.

Prior to the murders, Mr. Anderson’s rap sheet had numerous counts on it, including drug possession and sales, domestic abuse, and attempted armed robbery.

In January 2019, he applied for parole, but was turned down later that year. By law, Mr. Anderson should have been ineligible to apply again for 3 years. That August, he submitted another application. During the interim period, the application form was shortened from 28 questions to 8 questions. The revised questionnaire no longer asked if petitioners committed offenses during incarceration.

“He had put 2 people in the hospital by beating them,” says Mr. Blankenship. “Caught with shanks three times. ... Well, all of that stuff was removed from his application.”

This time, the Parole and Pardon Board granted his request, 3 votes to 1. In June 2020, Governor Stitt signed off on a commutation that reduced Mr. Anderson’s sentence to nine years. That made him eligible for release in 2021. In 2022, Delsie Pye and the victims’ relatives filed a lawsuit against Mr. Stitt.

Mr. Anderson was released the year after Governor Stitt announced the largest single-day commutation in U.S. history.

“He brought the prison population down by thousands,” says Mr. Blankenship. “One of the vehicles to be able to do it was just, ‘Hey, let’s give people a second chance.’ And people that are nonviolent offenders and low-level drug users and all that, I would be the first person to say, ‘Amen.’ I have no problem with that. The problem is they didn’t do their due diligence and they didn’t know who they were letting out.”

Mr. Anderson committed his murder spree three weeks after he got out of prison.

On social media, Mr. Blankenship regularly opines about the death penalty in Oklahoma. When a group of Christian leaders announced a press conference in 2022 to call for a moratorium on the death penalty, Mr. Blankenship chronicled what his family endured following Andrea’s murder.

“They think that everybody should be given a second and a third and a fifth chance,” Mr. Blankenship says between moments of silence as his eyes suddenly well with tears and his breathing comes out as quiet gasps. “Are you willing to bet your own family members on it?”

Mr. Blankenship points to several instances of people granted early release committing murders. Last May, a convicted rapist who had been granted early release shot and killed 6 people in Oklahoma.

Mr. Blankenship is rebuilding his life. He’s been caring for his wife after a cancer diagnosis. Today, the disease is in remission, and she is relearning how to walk.

He mentions a song called “A Long December” that constantly plays on his mental jukebox. It’s by the Counting Crows and begins, “A long December and there’s reason to believe / Maybe this year will be better than the last.” That mantra swirls around his head like a lighthouse beam.

But a consequence of his experience is that he is suspicious of death penalty abolitionists. He believes they’re too credulous of those proclaiming their innocence. “They’re saying, ‘We don’t want to execute people that aren’t guilty.’ And that’s a problem, you know,” he says. But does that mean “we should say now that nobody’s guilty?”

A view from inside the death chamber

Before Justin Jones was appointed director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in 2005, he had a meeting with then-Gov. Brad Henry.

“He asked me if I believed in the death penalty,” Mr. Jones recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t believe I do.’”

He says the governor responded that he, too, had doubts. But capital punishment is the law. And the U.S. is a country of laws. So until people changed it, could Mr. Jones carry out a death sentence?

“I said yes, I guess, because if I had said no, I probably wouldn’t have got the job,” says Mr. Jones.

He recalls the governor telling him to perform executions with dignity and as much respect as possible. And to make sure there were no mistakes.

Mr. Jones went on to oversee 28 executions before retiring in 2013. He’s one of several former public employees who have called for a moratorium of the death penalty because they’ve witnessed the inner workings of the system.

Mr. Jones retired after a state official demanded he strap a person on death row to a gurney long before the court of appeals rendered a decision. The sentence was commuted.

Mr. Jones believed the command violated the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. He now runs a consulting business for cases of Eighth Amendment violations, specifically wrongful and preventable deaths in prisons, jails, and detention facilities.

Testifying before the statehouse last year, he warned lawmakers, “I’m guaranteeing you that you’re going to have other botched executions.”

He was referring to a horrific incident in 2014 and another in 2015.

When the state first changed its lethal injection cocktail mix, it resulted in excruciatingly painful deaths. Consequently, Mr. Glossip was spared the same fate. The U.S. Supreme Court accepted his case challenging the use of the drug midazolam. Oklahoma halted its executions until 2021.

Last year, Mr. Jones co-wrote a letter to Attorney General Drummond to warn that Oklahoma’s rate of executions takes a mental toll on correctional staff. A lethal injection execution has more checklists than a NASA rocket launch does. The corrections officers rehearse the timing of the entire procedure as though it’s a military drill; they even know how many steps it takes from each cell unit to the death chamber. Yet he observed mishaps.

The botched executions led to the creation of a bipartisan Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission co-chaired by Mr. Henry, the former Democratic governor, and former federal magistrate judge Andy Lester. Its 2017 report featured 46 recommendations for reforms. To date, none have been implemented. Both co-chairs favor a state moratorium.

When Mr. McDugle convened a hearing of the state House Judiciary Criminal Committee last year, Judge Lester declared, “Whether you support capital punishment or oppose it, one thing is clear: From start to finish, the Oklahoma capital punishment system is fundamentally broken.”

In one 2023 poll, a majority of Oklahomans said they favor life in prison over the death penalty, while 77% would support a moratorium so that reforms could be made. That was, however, just one poll.

At the same hearings, Adam Luck, former chair of the Oklahoma Board of Pardons, shared his own mistrust of the current system.

“In Oklahoma, we’ve exonerated 11 people off of death row – nationally, it’s over 190 people at this point,” says Mr. Luck in a phone call. “‘Is it possible to get it right every single time?’ So my answer to that question was ‘no.’ Because currently we are not. ... So then the next question for me was, ‘How many innocent people am I OK with being executed to continue killing guilty people?’”

Oklahoma County accounts for the majority of the state’s executions. Former district attorney Robert H. Macy was responsible for 54 death row sentences between 1980 and 2001, including Mr. Glossip’s. It remains a U.S. record.

Today, the late Mr. Macy is often remembered for prosecutorial misconduct. One third of his death row cases were found to be flawed. As the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals put it in 2002, “Macy’s persistent misconduct ... has without doubt harmed the reputation of Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.”

The same year that “Cowboy Bob” retired, the FBI investigated one of his allies, police chemist Joyce Gilchrist. The bureau concluded that Ms. Gilchrist often falsified DNA tests, committed perjury, and altered or destroyed evidence. Ms. Gilchrist was fired in 2001 but never charged with any crime. Before her death in 2015, she denied any wrongdoing. Ms. Gilchrist testified in 23 of Mr. Macy’s cases that resulted in a death sentence. Twelve have been carried out. Five people, two of whom were on death row, have been exonerated.

Mr. Jones, former director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, can attest that the system isn’t infallible.

Early in his career, when he was a parole officer, an incarcerated person told him that he’d been sentenced to death for a crime he wasn’t party to. He eventually received a new trial. After the jury deliberated for 45 minutes, the former prisoner walked out a free man. “He said, ‘Hey, I’m glad you believed in me,’” says Mr. Jones. Because “‘nobody else did.’”

Another turning point was when his best friend was killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He felt that the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, got off easy when he was executed.

Now a novelist, Mr. Jones says his latest book, “The Devil’s Smokehouse,” was inspired by an indelible memory of an execution. The young man was in his 20s. In the death chamber, he addressed the victim’s family on the other side of the glass. He told them how sorry he was and that he wasn’t the same person today. But he said he knew he deserved to die and, although he didn’t think his execution would help them, he hoped it would.

That ties in with another observation from Mr. Jones’ years of meeting the families of murder victims. “A lot of them were angry because their loved one had suffered and that person died rather peacefully,” he says. “Others felt like it had made no difference, and they were somewhat regretful because they didn’t feel any better. They don’t understand that that’s a chapter of your life, and it’s never going to go away.”

A friend waits, and prays

Outside the penitentiary in McAlester, Alan Knight awaits news of whether his friend will be spared the death penalty.

As police officers with bored expressions stand near a barrier on the road outside the prison, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Humphrey swap information with Mr. Knight. The execution is running behind schedule. To date, Governor Stitt has only stayed one execution: In 2021, he commuted Julius Jones’ sentence to life in prison without parole.

Mr. Knight, who seems impervious to the cold despite wearing a gray summer-weight suit, has known Mr. Hancock since childhood. He worries that the experience has led his friend of four decades – whom he describes as loving, gentle, and a sharp intellect – to abandon his faith. Mr. Knight has found himself interrogating his own position about capital punishment.

“??It’s a difficult thing because I’ve always been in favor of the death penalty,” says the truck driver. “But ... it makes me think like, you know, if there’s any chance of getting something wrong, maybe we should just stop and think about it a little bit longer.”

Mr. Knight joins the other anti-death penalty protesters in a prayer circle for the victims.

“We pray for the souls of Robert L. Jett Jr. and James V. Lynch, who were violently taken from us,” a priest, Bryan Brooks, intones.

Mr. Hancock claimed that those two men intended to kill him. The defense team argued that an argument broke out while Mr. Hancock was visiting Mr. Jett’s home. The duo tried to force him into a cage. Mr. Hancock said he got control of Mr. Jett’s gun and shot both men in self-defense. Prosecutors countered that Mr. Hancock was inconsistent in his accounts of events, and injuries to Mr. Jett’s back contradict claims of self-defense. During the 1980s, Mr. Hancock served time for killing another man, which he claimed was also in self-defense.

A woman with a crucifix hovers near the prayer group. Unlike others here, Jennifer Harmon has little sympathy for Mr. Hancock. Or Mr. Glossip. She believes that both men were correctly found guilty.

Ms. Harmon regularly comes here during executions because she says vigils on behalf of those on death row overshadow the original crimes. The people murdered and their families receive too little attention, she says.

Yet Ms. Harmon opposes the death penalty. In Oklahoma’s 2016 referendum, she was among the minority who voted no. Her reasoning: Death sentences result in appeals processes that drags on for years.

“I don’t have a theological issue with the death penalty,” says Ms. Harmon, who belongs to an ecumenical order called the Grey Robed Benedictines. “What I don’t like about it is that victims’ families have to wait sometimes 20-plus years to finally see justice adjudicated.”

Ms. Harmon also believes in the possibility of grace for those who own up to their crimes and sincerely atone for them.

At 11:15 a.m., word comes through social media that the execution is going to proceed.

The protesters gather in a circle again, this time to pray for Mr. Hancock.

After the execution, rain begins to fall. So do tears. Mr. Jackson consoles Mr. Knight. Protesters hug one another.

“We’ve had times in America where we were opposed to the death penalty,” says Representative Humphrey, sitting in his pickup truck. “And then you see something heinous that captures everybody’s attention. ... And so you see it swing back. I would encourage everybody: Let’s find a balance.”

(source: Christian Science MOnitor)

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Group calls for end to executions by painting crosses representing Oklahomans on death row----The group paints the white crosses red when a person is executed and green if their life is spared

A group of Oklahomans against the death penalty renewed their mission on Saturday.

A nonprofit called the Lazarus Community put up white crosses, which represent the Oklahomans on death row. The group paints the crosses red when a person is executed and green if their life is spared.

The national organization Death Penalty Action, which works to abolish the death penalty, helped organize the event to repaint some of the crosses with white, red and green paint.

The crosses have been in northwest Oklahoma City for almost t2 years, and the mission to end capital punishment in the state was once again on display this weekend.

Former state Sen. Connie Johnson joined the movement. She gave what the Lazarus Community's reverend called a warm message, rallying them to continue their work.

"As Christians, we believe these executions deny the redemptive power of God. Seems like we get kind of partial about life here in Oklahoma. We say all life is precious, except if they're incarcerated," said the Rev. Bo Ireland with the Lazarus Community.

Ireland said he will not stop calling for action until executions end.

There are currently 36 people on death row, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. The next execution is scheduled for Michael DeWayne Smith on April 4.

(source: KOCO news)

BANGLADESH:

Madrasa teacher gets death for rape of four boys in Chattogram----The court characterised the convict as a serial rapist, condemning him for betraying his duty to provide religious and moral guidance to the victims

A court has handed down the death penalty to a madrasa teacher for raping 4 minor boys in Chattogram.

Judge Joynal Abedin of Chattogram's Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-3 delivered the verdict in the presence of the convict on Sunday.

All charges against him were proven beyond any doubt in court, with his confessional statement further solidifying the case against him, said Special Public Prosecutor Ziko Barua.

Nasir was arrest following a complaint from the parents of the 4 victims in October 2020.

According to the case dossier, 1 of the victims, a 10-year-old boy, fled the madrasa to his home and revealed to his father that he and three others had been subjected to repeated assaults by Nasir over 2 months.

On one occasion, the boy was raped in his bedroom by Nasir, who threatened him into silence.

The court characterised Nasir as a serial rapist, condemning him for betraying his duty to provide religious and moral guidance to the victims and choosing instead to engage in the egregious crime of rape, said Ziko.

Nasir maintained a climate of fear among the victims, exploiting them regularly as part of his routine, a fact supported by his confession and the victims' statements.

The court noted that Nasir's actions merited the highest form of punishment due to the severity and repetitive nature of his crimes.

Prior to his tenure at the madrasa, Nasir had spent 5 years abroad. Following his arrest, it was revealed that his wife had left him, taking their child with her upon discovering his criminal actions.

The legal proceedings against Nasir culminated with the submission of a chargesheet on Jul 4, 2021. He was subsequently indicted on Jan 25, 2020.

The court's decision came after hearing the testimonies of 11 people.

(source: bdnews24.com)

INDIA:

Man gets death in 2014 double murder case----The FIR in the matter was lodged on April 2, 2014 on the basis of a complaint by Rajendra Kumar Chaudhary of Channipur village.

2014 double murder case, Man gets death, capital punishment, UP minor killing, property dispute, India express news

A court has sentenced a man to death in a 10-year-old double murder case – the first time capital punishment has been given in the district, a lawyer said on Saturday. The murders, which included the killing of a minor, were the fallout of a 2-decade-old property dispute with the complainant.

The court also imposed a fine of Rs 2.25 lakh on him, Assistant District Government Advocate Davendra Kumar Pandey said.

“The court of additional sessions Judge Pawan Kumar Srivastav on Friday found one Baijnath (38) guilty in murder case of 2 persons lodged in 2014 and awarded him capital punishment,” Pandey said.

The FIR in the matter was lodged on April 2, 2014 on the basis of a complaint by Rajendra Kumar Chaudhary of Channipur village. The complainant alleged that he was working in the fields when Baijnath attacked his daughter Gyanti (14) and elder brother Nirmal Chaudhary with a sharp-edged weapon and killed them.

(source: indianexpress.com)

IRAQ:

Sulaimani court sentences man to death for killing wife

A Sulaimani court on Sunday sentenced a man to death for burning his wife alive nearly 2 years ago, overturning a previous ruling which had sentenced him to life imprisonment.

The 21-year-old mother of two, Shnyar Hunar, was burnt alive by her husband in February 2022. She died after spending five days in the hospital with serious burns. The husband was arrested shortly after the incident.

The court sentenced the man to life in prison in June 2023. Dissatisfied with the verdict, Shnyar’s family decided to appeal the decision at the court of cassation, saying that the perpetrator needs to be sentenced to death instead.

“The Sulaimani criminal court authenticated and followed the court of cassation’s ruling and imposed the death penalty on Hunar Rashid, who was accused and is now convicted of killing his wife in a brutal manner by burning her,” Awder Ali, the lawyer representing the victim’s family, told reporters during a presser.

Article 406 of the Iraqi Penal Code stipulates the death sentence for any person found guilty of willfully killing another “if the offender uses brutal methods in the commission of the offence.”

Hunar’s killing sparked strong reactions across the Kurdistan Region, with President Nechirvan Barzani and Prime Minister Masrour Barzani calling for an end to the so called “honor” killings, and ensuring their commitment to hold perpetrators of femicide accountable.

The Kurdistan Region suffers from high rates of gender-based violence, including sexual violence, domestic violence, so-called honor violence, child marriages, and female genital mutilation.

At least 30 women were killed the Kurdistan Region in 2023, according to the Region’s Combatting Violence against Women Directorate. In 2022, the Region reported its highest femicide rate in years, with at least 44 women killed.

Femicides in the Region are often linked with the terms “social dispute” and “honor killings,” that perpetrators use to justify murdering their mothers, sisters, daughters, or wives.

(source: rudaw.net)

FEBRUARY 17, 2024:

TEXAS:

Woman who survived brutal attack reacts to DA’s decision to pursue death penalty against ex-husband----‘No punishment would ever be enough’; Mariah Gardner gives interview after death penalty announcement made

A woman who was brutally attacked by her ex-husband is speaking out after the District Attorney’s office announced it would be seeking the death penalty in his future trial.

Mariah Gardner has been dealing with the unimaginable for the past 10 months.

“We are probably better than expected, but not as good as we’d like to be,” Gardner said.

On April 10, 2023, Gardner was shot several times, allegedly by her ex-husband Stephen Clare.

Claire is also accused of stabbing his 2-year-old daughter Rosalie and 11-month-old daughter Willow.

Willow did not survive the attack.

Clare was later charged with capital murder, attempted capital murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

On Thursday, the District Attorney’s Office announced they would be pursuing the death penalty against Clare.

“It was important for me to know that he would be punished to the greatest extent of what the law allows, and I was very vocal with the DA’s office in terms of what I wanted,” Gardner said.

Gardner is now preparing for the long process still ahead as they await a trial date.

“This is something that my children and I have been forced to live with every single day,” Gardner said. “I will live with this trauma every single day for the rest of my life, and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that he is held accountable.”

In the meantime, Gardner is not only still grieving the loss of her daughter but dealing with PTSD and helping her children deal with their trauma as well.

“We did survive, and I think if we can find a way to honor Willow while we also celebrate our survival, I think that’ll be the key to getting through it,” Gardner said. “And just lots and lots of prayers.”

Clare’s next hearing is scheduled for March 4.

(source: KSAT news)

MARYLAND:

Bereaved Mother Calls for Death Penalty at Sentencing for 2017 Murder

Despite defense counsel’s argument to the contrary, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth allowed bereaved parties to call for the death penalty at the Feb. 15 sentencing of a 41-year-old Harford County man convicted of murder.

Daniel Greene of Pylesville, Md. was found guilty of 1st-degree murder, home invasion, firearm use in a felony violent crime and having a handgun on his person for the 2017 murder of 31-year-old Jon Hickey on June 23, 2023. Hickey was the new boyfriend of Greene’s ex-mistress, who ended their relationship a month before the murder.

After Judge Silkworth denied the defense’s motion for a new trial, the prosecutor began by calling Hickey’s murder a “well planned execution,” prefaced by “stalking behavior” and searching the internet for Hickey’s address. Surveillance footage showed Greene break into Hickey’s apartment on the 1800 block of East Pratt Street the night of Nov. 29, 2017. Hickey died of a single gunshot wound to the head.

Responding to the pre-sentencing report that Greene had become a devout Christian while in prison, the prosecutor said it was “interesting that happened after he killed someone.”

Greene’s ex-wife and the victim’s family and loved ones submitted written impact statements, which the prosecutor read to the court. Both Hickey’s mother and one of the victim’s mentors in the fire department asked the judge to reinstate the death penalty for Greene.

Hickey’s mother told the court she “was in a fog for 6 years” following his loss and that she wanted to “give up going on in life.” Hickey was her only child and was a talented photographer and baseball player.

He grew up in a family of firefighters. After wishing Greene would be put to death, she said, “I want his parents to feel the pain of losing a child.”

In her statement, Greene’s ex-wife also claimed he was manipulating his family by claiming to be religious and called him both a sociopath and a narcissist. She ended by saying, “I hope for the sake of society you never leave prison.”

The prosecutor asked Judge Silkworth to sentence Greene to life plus 45 years: life for 1st-degree murder, a consecutive 25 years for home invasion and another consecutive 20 years, the first 5 years without the possibility of parole, for firearm use in a felony violent crime.

Defense attorney Thomas Maronick, Jr. said he didn’t think his client’s newfound Christianity should be discounted. He said Greene was “very sad and empathetic” to Hickey’s family, but he would not speak at this hearing at the risk of endangering any future appeal options. He recommended a sentence of 50 years, suspending all but 25 years, to Judge Silkworth.

While it’s rare for the defendant’s family to speak at a sentencing, Greene’s father chose to address the court. He was supposed to give the judge some context as to his son’s life and personality, but he quickly veered into the family’s feeling that there had been a miscarriage of justice.

“This has been hell for my family because I know my son is innocent,” he said.

Looking at the prosecutor, he said, “You have intimidated and threatened my family” to keep them from testifying to Greene’s innocence at trial. Before walking away from the witness stand, he announced his family would be appealing Greene’s case and contacting the Innocence Project for assistance.

In her last statement to the court, the prosecutor said, “The reality is [Greene’s] a cold-blooded murderer.”

Judge Silkworth called the incident “cowardly, brutal, unjustified” before rendering his sentence. Daniel Greene will serve life plus 20 years: life for 1st-degree murder, a consecutive 10 years for home invasion and 10 years, the first 5 years without the possibility of parole, for firearm use in a felony violent crime.

(source: Baltimore Witness)

ALABAMA:

State ordered to disclose if it will seek death penalty against septuple murder suspect

The attorneys for 1 of 2 men charged in a septuple homicide in Valhermoso Springs asked for the state to disclose if it intends to seek the death penalty against him.

Frederic Rogers is charged alongside John Michael Legg. Both men are charged with 6 counts of capital murder.

Rogers’s attorneys filed a motion asking for the state to disclose the aggravating circumstances, or evidence that it intends to rely on to seek the death penalty. A judge ordered the state must disclose it within 45 days of February 13.

The attorneys also filed a motion asking the state to disclose any mitigating circumstances, or evidence in support of Rogers getting life without parole if he is found guilty and his trial heads to the sentencing phase.

Investigators say Rogers and Legg killed 7 people inside a Valhermoso Springs home after a dispute involving their motorcycle club known as ‘7 Deadly Sins.’

The victims ranged from 17 to 45 years old. It took weeks for authorities to find and capture the suspects with multiple agencies assisting in processing the crime scene and searching for those responsible.

(source: WHNT news)

KANSAS:

Kansas weighs legalizing death penalty by hypoxia after Alabama execution

Some of Kansas’ top prosecutors are pushing state lawmakers to approve a new method for carrying out the death penalty, saying the state is nearing what could be its first execution since the 1960s.

The execution method, hypoxia — wherein an inmate is deprived of oxygen until death — is only approved in three states and was used in the United States for the 1st time last month in Alabama.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said in a press conference Thursday that the only execution method permitted under state law — lethal injection — is becoming increasingly difficult to carry out as some of the state’s 9 death row inmates near the end of their appeals phases.

“In a way, we are lying to the people of Kansas if we say that we have the death penalty, but we actually can’t carry out an execution,” Kobach said.

Kobach, along with state and local law enforcement officials, later Thursday urged Kansas legislators to pass a bill allowing the state to put inmates to death by hypoxia. Flanked by loved ones of capital murder victims, they said ensuring the state can swiftly execute individuals once appeals are exhausted would allow for closure for victimized families.

“I think there is a particular injury that is done to victims’ families when they have to wait so long,” Kobach told the Kansas House Judiciary Committee.

Kobach said the legislation to approve hypoxia as a method was necessary because manufacturers have increasingly blocked their drugs from being used for lethal injection. It would be a “grave injustice,” Kobach said if inmates reached the end of their appeals and the state could not carry out executions because it did not have a means of administering lethal injection or the statutory ability to use hypoxia.

One inmate, he said, could exhaust the appeals process and be executed by the end of the year depending on how quickly the courts work.

Tearful family members of victims said they had been retraumatized as they cooperated with investigations and trials against their loved ones’ murderers. They urged lawmakers to ensure death row inmates be executed quickly to end families’ suffering.

Misty Smith — whose daughter Kelsey was abducted from an Overland Park Target store, raped and murdered in 2007 — implored lawmakers approve use of hypoxia to execute inmates. The killer in that case pleaded guilty and did not receive the death penalty.

“This penalty is not about should there be a death penalty?” Smith told the Judiciary Committee. “There is one.”

Smith said death row inmates “are not nice people.”

“Our daughter was kidnapped in broad daylight, taken by gunpoint across state lines, raped repeatedly,” Smith said. “She was choked out with her own belt, brought back and then raped again and choked out again until he finally murdered her.”

Jennifer Aldridge’s sister, Jodi Sanderholm, was murdered 17 years ago, and still, the family is going through appeals. Aldridge said she wants death row inmates to be executed so families don’t have to “wait an entire generation.”

“The day that he was sentenced was not the end for us,” she said at Thursday’s press conference. “It was honestly just the beginning. We are still dealing with him, going to court with him, seeing his face, hearing his name. It’s not about revenge. The death penalty is about justice.”

The legislation was met with pushback from religious and anti-death penalty groups, including family members who had also lost loved ones to homicide. Defense attorneys warned the method could represent a cruel or unusual punishment, and an anesthesiologist said hypoxia is a “terrible way to die.”

Lethal injection, too, is flawed, said Joel Zivot, the anesthesiologist at Emory University in Atlanta.

“I’ve reviewed autopsies of about 250 prisoners executed by lethal injection,” Zivot said. “And about 8 out of 10 times, instead of falling off to sleep and dying, they actually are drowning in their own blood.”

Alabama last month executed Kenneth Eugene Smith by hypoxia, affixing a mask to his face to administer pure nitrogen gas and displace the oxygen in his lungs, according to the Associated Press. Hypoxia can use other gasses as well.

The Associated Press reported Smith’s execution, which took place after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to halt his execution, took just over 20 minutes. After the gas was administered, Smith “appeared to remain conscious for several minutes” and shook and writhed on the gurney, the AP reported.

Kobach cast doubt on the descriptions of Smith’s discomfort and insisted the method is a humane execution method. He said the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment, doesn’t guarantee a completely painless execution.

“Even if there were some discomfort — I don’t think there was any in the Alabama case — we need to remember the victims who suffered extraordinary pain,” he said.

Rebecca Woodman, an attorney who has represented inmates sentenced to death, said Alabama execution had been described as “nothing short of torture.” She said the committee should not authorize “this gruesome method of execution.”

“Beyond the plain horror of the lethal gas method it contemplates,” she said, “(the bill) contains numerous constitutional deficiencies that will deprive prisoners of fundamental due process and substantially increase the risk of inflicting cruel, unusual and torturous pain.”

The legislation does not specify that an execution by hypoxia be conducted using nitrogen or any other gas. Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael, of Wichita, pointed out the lack of definition of hypoxia in the bill and questioned whether it could permit the state to suffocate an inmate.

Kobach defended the legislation, saying suffocation and hypoxia are different. When Carmichael disagreed, Kobach suggested he offer an amendment to define the method.

Carmichael replied he had “no intention of trying to save this constitutionally flawed and cruel bill.”

(source: Allison Kite, Kansas Reflector)

******************

Kansas Hasn’t Executed Anyone in 60 Years. That May Soon Change.----State Attorney General Kris Kobach wants to amend state law so that death warrants may be obtained by district judges, instead of the Kansas Supreme Court, and wants the state to allow executions by hypoxia.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach is preparing for the state’s 1st execution in nearly 6 decades – a moment the Republican believes is finally approaching.

Kobach wants change in state law that would require death warrants – the formal judicial documents authorizing officials to kill a prisoner – to be issued within 30 days of a death row prisoner exhausting their appeals. His proposal would take the responsibility for issuing death warrants away from the Kansas Supreme Court and place it with district judges.

Kansas should also allow executions by hypoxia, Kobach says. The controversial execution method deprives a person of oxygen and was used in the United States for the first time last month, when Alabama executed a man using nitrogen gas. Witnesses said he writhed violently, according to the Associated Press.

At a news conference on Thursday, Kobach voiced concern that existing law would prevent an execution from taking place because it does not clearly state how an execution is ordered and lethal injection drugs are difficult to obtain.

Kobach, who was joined by the family members of crime victims, said the Legislature needs to address the situation soon as death row prisoners may soon begin exhausting their appeals. He said at least one death row prisoner could exhaust his appeals in 9 months. In a statement prior to the press conference he said Kansas was likely to execute a prisoner in the next year or 2.

“We are lying to the people of Kansas if we say that we have the death penalty but we actually can’t carry out an execution,” Kobach said.

The changes would ensure family members of victims don’t have to wait any longer than already necessary to see justice served, Kobach said.

“There is no closure,” Brian Sanderholm said of the years he’s spent waiting for his daughter’s killer, Justin Thurber, to be executed.

But critics say the bill allows executions in an inhumane manner and speeds up the execution process in a way that risks limiting a defendant’s ability to exhaust their federal and state appeals.

Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, called the proposed legislation extreme.

“We are truly disturbed by AG Kobach’s desire to not only boost the power of the state to kill in a novel, potentially painful way – but to also remove the safeguards against this most brutal kind of government overreach. Looking across the country, states that use the death penalty actively are far from safer because of it,” Kubic said.

Others say the bill contains vague language open to interpretation that would lead to litigation.

9 people are on death row in Kansas. None have exhausted their appeals.

New Death Warrant Process

Under existing law, the Kansas Supreme Court issues a death warrant once a prisoner has exhausted the appeals process. But the law imposes no required timeline.

Kobach’s bill would instead require the high court to notify the district court where the case began that appeals have been exhausted. Within 30 days that district court judge would be required to present a death warrant to the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said it seemed to him that the bill may be crafted to bypass a state Supreme Court or governor unwilling to let an execution go forward.

“I think what they’re attempting to do here is to shortcut if you will so that when the judge pronounces the sentence of death the judge can also sign the so-called warrant,” Carmichael said.

The Kansas Supreme Court has not recently considered the legality of the death penalty. Still, Justice Caleb Stegall, the court’s most conservative member, said in a concurring decision affirming a death sentence last month that he was open to considering whether the death penalty is constitutional.

And Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, has long been a vocal opponent to the death penalty, voting as a state senator to abolish the practice and reiterating that belief on the campaign trail in 2022.

In a statement this week, Kelly’s office said the governor still opposes the death penalty, but did not say how she would respond if an execution was ordered while she remained in office. Kelly has the power to offer clemency to any Kansas prisoner, eliminating or reducing their sentence.

“Governor Kelly has long supported repealing the death penalty, both as a state senator and on the campaign trail, because it is impractical, expensive, and inhumane,” Kelly spokeswoman Grace Hoge said in a statement.

She added that the office has not received any clemency applications from a defendant facing a death sentence.

“If our office were to receive one, it would first have to be reviewed by the Prisoner Review Board and then Governor Kelly would make a determination based on the details of the case.”

Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Kobach’s bill adds needed clarity to the death penalty process by making district courts responsible for ordering an execution rather than landing with the Kansas Supreme Court. He said this mirrors other types of cases where the Supreme Court decides a legal issue and sends it back to lower courts to deliver a sentence.

“When the appeals are finally over, the new law would dictate that the order of the Supreme Court would go back to the district court directing the KDOC to implement a specific schedule to implement the death sentence,” Bennett said in an email. “That clarity would seem to benefit the families of the victims.”

Use of Hypoxia

Robert Dunham, director of policy for the Death Penalty Policy Project, said Kansas’ bill was problematic for several reasons, especially in light of Alabama’s use of hypoxia.

Witnesses to the Alabama execution reported Kenneth Smith was convulsing and gasping for several minutes.

“If we go down that path, Kansas will be an international pariah,” Dunham said. “The U.S. will lose even more moral authority on issues of human rights.”

Dunham also said bills in other states specify that nitrogen gas be used in executions while Kansas’ bill says hypoxia, which is a broader term. Either way, Dunham said, using gas equates to “human experimentation.”

It also presents risks to corrections staff and spiritual advisors, who are allowed in an execution chamber during a prisoner’s last moments, Dunham said.

Heather Cessna, executive director of the Kansas State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services, said hypoxia was not clearly defined in the bill.

“We have a lot of concerns about hypoxia, both the definition of hypoxia because of its vagueness and the variety of things that could be covered underneath it,” she said. “I think it’s going to open up the doors to a whole slew of litigation.”

The language has prompted questions about specific procedures that could be used as well as worries about cruel and unusual punishment. Hypoxia is defined as the deprivation of oxygen. Alabama used nitrogen gas for its hypoxia execution, but Kobach’s bill does not specify.

“I have human concern for any of our clients that might be subjected to that sort of treatment at the hands of the state,” Cessna said.

Cessna said the proposal would almost certainly prompt a new round of litigation over the method of execution. She called Kobach’s timeline for an execution in Kansas “ambitious.”

Kobach told reporters he believed hypoxia was the most humane way to conduct an execution, but said he did not limit the form to the most common method of hypoxia via nitrogen gas, suggesting other gasses, like helium, could be used.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office, Kobach said, has said the descriptions of the Alabama execution using hypoxia were inaccurate.

“Even if there were some discomfort, which I don’t think there was in the Alabama case, we need to remember the victims who suffered extraordinary pain,” Kobach said.

‘It’s Dangerous’

The language of Kobach’s bill has prompted wide ranging concerns among opponents to the death penalty.

The measure directs district courts to send the secretary of corrections a death warrant within 30 days after a final judgment. But it doesn’t specify whether a federal or state court makes that final judgment.

Ron Wurtz, vice chair of Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, is a retired attorney who worked on capital cases. He said if final judgment refers to the Kansas Supreme Court, it causes problems because a defendant could still pursue a federal case. Thirty days is not much time to file a federal court challenge, he said.

“It’s dangerous,” he said. “There’s definitely a problem there.”

Wurtz also voiced other longstanding concerns with the death penalty that go beyond Kobach’s proposal, including the cost of litigating death penalty cases and the possibility of executing someone who is innocent. More than 130 people have been exonerated from death row, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Kobach said the final judgment would only come after a court had determined both federal and state appeals were exhausted.

The Kansas attorney general’s push for changes come as Kansas death penalty opponents have tried for years to eliminate it altogether.

Rep. Mark Schreiber, an Emporia Republican who has introduced several bills to abolish the death penalty, said he would oppose any effort to expedite executions or greenlight a new execution method.

While Kobach’s bill may open a door for amendments to abolish the death penalty, Schreiber said he didn’t believe the Legislature would ban it before a prisoner has exhausted their appeals process in the coming years.

“There’s a substantial number of my colleagues that would support abolishing the death penalty, I don’t know if we’d get to 63 in the House,” he said, referring to the number of votes needed to pass a bill through the chamber.

Kubic, with the ACLU of Kansas, urged legislators to reject the bill, which he said was “utterly antithetical to the values of this state.”

“Kansans have lost the appetite for this brand of false justice.”

(source: The Kansas City Star)

IDAHO:

Death Penalty For Convicted Sex Offenders Bill Passed By Idaho House of Representatives----Idaho House Passes Controversial Bill Proposing Death Penalty for Convicted Sex Offenders Whose Victims Are Under 12

In an unprecedented move that is stirring controversy nationwide, the Idaho House of Representatives recently approved a bill proposing the death penalty for convicted sex offenders whose victims were under 12 years old. The bill, known as House Bill 515, has now become a focal point in ongoing discussions about criminal justice, constitutional rights, and the protection of children.

House Bill 515, passed with 57 votes in favor and 11 against, with two lawmakers absent. It stipulates that the death penalty can be enforced in cases of lewd conduct with a minor child under 12.

The bill's co-sponsor, Representative Bruce Skaug (R-Idaho), stated that the bill would only be used in extreme cases, such as for repeat offenders. "There is a deep, dark, dark side in our culture. And it's our job to protect the children. There are times when things are so wicked that retribution is appropriate," Skaug asserted.

Skaug continued, “The victims forever live in fear of the release of their perpetrators, and many of these perpetrators are repeat criminals of this type of crime. I believe this is worth the fight”.

However, the bill has drawn criticism from various quarters. Rebecca De León, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Idaho, referred to the bill as “blatantly and admittedly unconstitutional”. Critics argue that House Bill 515 is designed to challenge decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent that limited death sentences to defendants who commit murder.

Despite the controversy, the bill's proponents maintain its necessity as a measure to protect children and provide justice for victims who live in fear of the release of their perpetrators.

The passage of House Bill 515 marks a significant juncture in Idaho's legislative history, and its implications will be closely watched by legal experts, child rights advocates, and the general public alike. As the debate continues, the fate of the bill now rests with the Idaho Senate.

(source: original.newsbreak.com)

USA:

Black History Month Profile Series: Jennifer Eberhardt

This month, DPIC celebrates Black History Month with weekly profiles of notable Black Americans whose work affected the modern death penalty era. The second in the series is Professor Jennifer Eberhardt.

Jennifer Eberhardt, a professor of Psychology at Stanford University and a recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant,” studies the relationship between race and sentencing. Her book, Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, uncovers implicit biases in all aspects of life, specifically in the criminal justice system. Dr. Eberhardt’s research exposes how racial perceptions and bias in death penalty sentencing disproportionally prejudice Black defendants.

Dr. Eberhardt investigates the race-crime association in capital punishment cases. In a groundbreaking 2006 study, she and her colleagues at Stanford found that Black defendants convicted of capital crimes against white victims were more likely to be sentenced to death if they had more stereotypical Black features, controlling for relevant variables. Dr. Eberhardt and colleagues concluded that stereotypical features of Black people may be a cue to “deathworthiness” for juries.

Her research on the association between Black people and apes shines a light on the dehumanization of Black people in our society. In a series of studies, Dr. Eberhardt found that the perceptions of people who implicitly link Black people to apes affect their judgment of Black defendants. Her research found that the same people support harsher consequences for Black defendants because of their perceived connection with apes, controlling for implicit anti-Black bias. Furthermore, portrayals of Black defendants in association with apes in the media were associated with jury death sentences.

Her recent research extends to racial profiling, observing the consequences of implicit bias in police stops through analysis of body camera footage. A recent study showed that escalation by police officers at the beginning of the interaction led to escalated outcomes such as arrests and detentions. Police stops that result in escalation are more likely to begin with officers using commands or refusing to inform drivers why they were pulled over. Such approaches from police officers were also found to cause negative emotions in Black men, specifically fear that officers would use excessive force.

As a co-director of SPARQ, a behavioral science research center at Stanford University, Dr. Eberhardt works with law enforcement agencies such as the Oakland Police Department to analyze their policies for racial effects and find reasonable solutions. These initiatives foster stronger relationships between the police and the community and enhance people’s awareness of their own implicit biases. SPARQ continues to use a data-driven approach to uncover and eliminate race-based disparities in the criminal justice system.

Dr. Eberhardt stresses the importance of uncovering our implicit biases. Today, implicit bias is often conflated with being racist, even though researchers like Dr. Eberhardt do not equate the terms. In her book, Dr. Eberhardt discusses how implicit biases affect us all, even herself, and how it is our responsibility to address them. Vice President Kamala Harris described her book as “critical information that can help leaders better understand how biases can impact our judgment and how we are perceived by the communities we are sworn to serve.” Author of bestseller Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, called Biased “groundbreaking” and “a work with power and craft to make us see why overcoming racial bias is so critical.”

Jennifer Eberhardt received her B.A. from the University of Cincinnati, and an A.M. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in Psychology. She currently is a professor of Psychology at Stanford University, co-director of SPARQ, and on the board of directors for the Innocence Project

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

IRELAND:

The Last Execution on the Island of Ireland: The Tragic Story of Pearl Gamble and Robert McGladdery----In 1961, the murder of Pearl Gamble and subsequent execution of Robert McGladdery marked the last hanging in Ireland. This tragic story highlights the human capacity for violence, justice, and societal progress.

In the chilling quiet of a January night in 1961, the small town of Newry was shaken to its core by a crime that would etch itself into the annals of Irish history. Nineteen-year-old Pearl Gamble left a dance at a local orange hall, her laughter with friends soon to be silenced forever. By the following morning, a grisly discovery at the end of a bloodied trail marked the end of young Pearl's life and the beginning of a saga that would conclude with the last execution on the island of Ireland. This is the story of Pearl Gamble's murder and the fate of Robert McGladdery, the man whose name would become infamously linked to hers.

The Night That Changed Everything

The evening of January 28, 1961, promised nothing out of the ordinary for Pearl Gamble as she enjoyed the dance with her friends. However, the conclusion of that night's festivities marked her last moments alive. Her partially clothed body was found the next morning, a silent witness to the brutal violence inflicted upon her. As news of the murder spread, the tranquility of Newry was shattered, replaced by a growing storm of fear and suspicion. At the heart of this storm was 25-year-old Robert McGladdery, a local man known for his questionable behavior and now, the prime suspect in Pearl's murder.

The Trial That Captivated a Nation

McGladdery's arrest and subsequent trial quickly became the focus of national attention. Evidence mounted, and the prosecution painted a damning picture of a young woman taken too soon and a man who seemed to embody the very essence of menace. Yet, McGladdery's attempts to manipulate the legal proceedings, to cast doubt and divert blame, only served to tighten the noose of evidence around his neck. In a time when capital punishment was still a grim reality, the stakes of the trial extended far beyond the confines of the courtroom.

The Final Act: A Confession and a Legacy

Despite his efforts, McGladdery was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, a sentence carried out within the grim walls of Crumlin Road prison in Belfast. On the day of his execution, McGladdery admitted to the murder of Pearl Gamble, a confession that, while providing grim closure, did little to mitigate the sorrow of a life lost nor the brutal finality of his own end. His hanging marked not only the end of his life but the end of an era; Robert McGladdery would go down in history as the last man to be hanged on the island of Ireland. His and Pearl's story, intertwined in tragedy, serves as a somber reminder of the human capacity for both violence and justice, leaving an indelible mark on the collective memory of a nation.

In the retelling of the murder of Pearl Gamble and the consequential execution of Robert McGladdery, we are reminded of the stark realities of crime and punishment. It is a narrative that transcends the specifics of one case, touching on the broader themes of justice, morality, and the inexorable march of societal progress. As we look back on this pivotal moment in Irish history, we are compelled to reflect not only on the individuals at its center but on the very nature of human justice and the paths we have taken since. This story, rooted in the darkest aspects of the human experience, challenges us to consider how far we have come and how far we still have to go in our pursuit of a just and equitable society.

(source: bnnbreaking.com)

FRANCE:

France’s lionized, and reviled, guillotine terminator

For years after men walked on the moon, France was still executing convicts in capital cases the old-fashioned way, as it had for more than two centuries: by “taking a living man and cutting him in two.” That was Robert Badinter’s intentionally shocking description of the workings of a guillotine, which remained the legal form of capital punishment in France until 1981, when, owing largely to his efforts as justice minister, it was abolished.

When Badinter died last week, aged 95, he was hailed as a hero and visionary, a model of republican enlightenment in a country where that description is the highest praise. Yet during his long struggle to end France’s trademark form of state-sponsored barbarism, he was widely reviled, frequently threatened, heavily guarded — and at least once the target of an assassination attempt, when a bomb blew up at his apartment’s doorstep.

A handful of countries had ended capital punishment earlier — including Britain, for most crimes except treason — but France’s move was a watershed. In the ensuing 4 decades, more than 90 countries, representing roughly half the world’s total, have followed suit; in dozens more, the death penalty remains on the books but is no longer used.

Yet in very few of those nations was the decision so ineluctably the result of one individual’s sheer force of will and persuasion. That’s what makes Badinter’s story extraordinary.

His client was Roger Bontems, a prison inmate who had helped a fellow convict take a guard and a nurse hostage and cut their throats in the prison infirmary. Bontems did not wield the knife, but he went to the guillotine anyway, his appeals for mercy spurned by courts and President Georges Pompidou in the face of public fury.

Badinter was a witness to Bontems’s decapitation at dawn, a morbid spectacle that transformed him from lawyer to crusader. “It’s one thing to have an intellectual belief and another thing is injustice,” he told an interviewer in 2005, later adding, “I saw a man, in the name of justice, cut in pieces. I couldn’t accept this idea of justice. It’s the opposite of justice. And from then on I became a militant.”

His militancy was principled, which he demonstrated by continuing to defend the most heinous defendants, including one convicted of murdering a 7-year-old boy. Badinter’s success in persuading a jury to spare his client’s life made him one of the most reviled public figures in France.

On becoming justice minister in the government of President François Mitterrand, in 1981, he made abolishing the death penalty his first priority.

“Tomorrow, thanks to you, there will no longer be stealthy executions at dawn, under a black canopy that shame us all,” he told French lawmakers who acceded to his will.

His efforts may have spared the life of the man responsible for having deported Badinter’s own father to a Nazi death camp during World War II. That was Klaus Barbie, “the butcher of Lyon,” a notorious SS officer whose extradition to France, from Bolivia, Badinter pursued as justice minister.

In a landmark French trial in 1987 that featured testimony from Holocaust survivors, Barbie was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 1991. Barbie was a monster, but Badinter was glad he was spared the guillotine; courts should deliver justice, he said, not vengeance.

He was also instrumental in decriminalizing homosexuality, improving prison conditions and ending state security courts, which tried terrorists and others in secret, with no right to appeal.

On Wednesday in Paris, Badinter’s flag-draped coffin was borne by an honor guard into the Place Vendôme, a magisterial square flanked by the Justice Ministry he once led. He was eulogized by President Emmanuel Macron as a man who “sought to make justice more humane and humanity more just.”

Yet the debate on capital punishment remains unsettled; right-wing leader Marine Le Pen, who leads polls ahead of France’s 2027 presidential election, favors a national referendum on restoring the death penalty. If that happens, it would be a test of whether, in Badinter’s framing, justice or revenge prevails.

(source: Opinion; By Lee Hockstader, Columnist, European Affairs, Washington Post)

INDIA:

UP: Man Gets Death Penalty for Double Murder Linked to Property Dispute

A UP court sentenced a man to death in a 10-year-old double murder case the first time capital punishment has been given in the district,

The murders, which included the killing of a minor, were the fallout of a 2-decade-old property dispute with the complainant.

The court also imposed a fine of Rs 2.25 lakh on him, Assistant District Government Advocate Davendra Kumar Pandey said.

“The court of additional sessions Judge Pawan Kumar Srivastav on Friday found one Baijnath (38) guilty in murder case of 2 persons lodged in 2014 and awarded him capital punishment,” Pandey said.<>P> The FIR in the matter was lodged on April 2, 2014 on the basis of a complaint by Rajendra Kumar Chaudhary of Channipur village.

The complainant alleged that he was working in the fields when Baijnath attacked his daughter Gyanti (14) and elder brother Nirmal Chaudhary with a sharp-edged weapon and killed them.

In its order, the judge said, “The incident shocks the collective conscience of the community. Sympathy in any form would be misplaced and it would shake the confidence of the public in the administration of the criminal justice system.”

“It would be injustice to the society at large if any punishment other than capital punishment is awarded to the accused Baijnath,” the order said.

Police found that the incident was a fallout of a over 2-decade-old land dispute.

Pandey said this was the second time that death sentence was given in Maharajganj district since its establishment in 1989. The first capital punishment was given by Additional Sessions Judge Virendra Singh Yadav, he said.

(source: lawtrend.in)

IRAN----execution

Hajar Atabaki was hanged in the Central Prison of Qazvin

On the morning of January 20, 2024, the clerical regime hanged a woman, Hajar Atabaki, in the Central Prison of Qazvin.

Hajar Atabaki was 41 years old from Tabriz. She was the only guardian of her child.

Hajar Atabaki was arrested 2 1/2 years ago on drug related charges and sentenced to death. The clerical regime executed her in silence without any media reporting.

Hajar Atabaki is the second woman reported to be executed in Iran in 2024.

The clerical regime executed at least 26 women in 2023, and 231 women since 2007.

Record holder of executions of women

The Iranian regime is the world’s top record holder of executions of women.

No government in the world has executed so many women. The list does not account for the tens of thousands of women executed in Iran on political grounds.

The NCRI Women’s Committee previously mentioned that many of the women executed by the mullahs’ regime are themselves victims of domestic violence against women and have acted in self-defense.

An average of 15 women were executed every year under the former government in Iran.

However, this year, 26 women have been executed under Raisi government which is 11 more than the previous average.

The NCRI Women’s Committee calls on the United Nations, the European Union, and other relevant international organizations to take urgent action to save the lives of those on death row and stop the use of death penalty in Iran.

(source: women.ncr-iran.org)

FEBRUARY 16, 2024:

TEXAS----impending execution

Too Much Doubt: Ivan Cantu and Maimonides on the Burden of Proof for Execution

On February 28th, Texas plans to put to death Mr. Ivan Abner Cantu, the longtime penpal of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty,” an international group of over 3,200 members that I co-founded. Mr. Cantu has been found guilty of the November 4, 2000 murders of his cousin Mr. James Mosqueda, 27, and of Ms. Amy Kitchens, 21, Zichronam Livracha – may their memories be for blessings and their neshamot/spirits loving guides for all who knew them. Texas intends to carry out this horror despite ever-mounting doubts over Ivan’s guilt. It does not take a law degree for a layperson to understand the tremendous scope of this doubt. Perusal of Mr. Cantu’s case reveals numerous glaring issues, such as fraudulent testimony during the trial, newly-uncovered evidence that has not been considered as a result of procedural bars, jurors who support Mr. Cantu’s appeal for a new trial, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and ineffective assistance of his counsel, to name but a few.

In the American justice system, it is well-known that the legal burden of proof for conviction in a criminal case calls for a suspect to be found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”. That bar should be infinitely high when it comes to the finality of execution. Jewish tradition has a great deal to say about the loftiness of this bar in the rabbinic mindset. To be sure, traditional Judaism did indeed allow a place for the death penalty, albeit with prodigious safeguards to ensure that an innocent person would never be executed. When it came to the notion of reasonable doubt, Rabbinc law forbade the execution of someone where there was any level of doubt about guilt or fairness.

Arguably the most famous comment on this subject came from the 12th century in the writings of one of our most renowned Jewish sages of all time: the Rambam (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204). Maimonides, as the Ramban is often called, was a Sephardic Jewish philosopher and physician who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. One of the most renowned pearls of wisdom among the many that Maimonides imparted to the world nearly a millennium ago states the following: “It is better to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”

The full context of this famous phrase bears consideration. As Maimonides wrote in Sefer HaMitzvot, Prohibition 290:

“The realm of the possible is very broad. Had the Torah permitted deciding capital cases based even on a conjecture so likely that it seems absolutely certain, like the example we mentioned [about the person chasing another with a sword], in the next case we would decide based on a conjecture just a little less likely, and in the next, a conjecture less likely still, until we would sometimes execute people based on nothing more than the judge’s imagination and opinion. Thus the Exalted One shut this door, and demanded that we not punish except when witnesses can testify without doubt or conjecture that they are absolutely certain the defendant did this deed. Inevitably, when we do not convict based even on very strong conjecture, we will sometimes acquit the guilty; while when we do convict by conjecture sometimes we will execute the innocent. But it would be better to acquit a thousand criminals than to kill a single innocent.”

Maimonides’ argument clearly was intended to maximize the protection of the innocent by not tolerating any doubt in capital cases. In this way, his guidance is fully aligned with the traditional Jewish understanding of financial compensation for the value of an “eye for an eye”, (Lev. 24: 19-20) which in its historical context was intended to curtail the collective bloodlust of expansive vengeful massacres that societies practiced in ancient times – and still all too often today.

Texas would do well to heed this Jewish wisdom regarding the miniscule threshold for doubt in capital cases. Indeed, the Lone Star State falsely professes to do just this. To highlight this hypocrisy, consider the words of Mr. Bill Wirskye, who is First Assistant in the Collin County District Attorney’s Office, working directly under DA Greg Willis. In 2017, Mr. Wirskye wrote an article entitled My Wrongful Conviction about the importance of Conviction Integrity Units and how they guard against errors by the state in criminal proceedings. Mr. Wirskye concluded that article by writing that “I now have a new and hard-earned humility about the potential fallibility of both the [justice] system and myself. I hope this humility makes me a better prosecutor. I think it does.” And yet, despite this conclusion, the very same Collin County District Attorney’s office that Mr. Wirskye serves has just recently denied Mr. Cantu’s lawyers from having any access to the ballistics evidence used at his trial. This action once again has blocked the scrutiny necessary for a case riddled with doubts, and has effectively paved the way for this execution.

Mr. Cantu has continually fallen through the lethal cracks of the justice system – a system whose very fallibility Mr. Wirskye allegedly recognized in his article and from which it would seem he has failed to learn any lesson, all assertions to the contrary. If this is indeed the standard of “reasonable doubt” that Texas officials such as Mr. Wirskye tolerate, then the fears that Maimonides articulated a millennium ago for a slippery slope leading to the regular killing of the innocent was indeed prophetic.

Let there be no doubt: the members of L’chaim – as has been explained at length – are against the death penalty in every single case, without exception. L’chaim members maintain that 21st-century Judaism must entirely reject the death penalty. They carry the torch of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who said of capital punishment that “Death is not the answer in a civilized society.”

And yet, even for the staunchest supporters of the death penalty, the pending execution of Ivan Cantu, a human being whose guilt is so very much in question, should give every reason for pause. Before approving of the finality of such an execution in the presence of so much doubt, it would behoove all Texans to reflect once more on the wrongful executionpandemic that plagues the United States, including the fact that since 1973, at least 196 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the U.S. have been exonerated. Maimonides certainly would not have approved of a system that produces such a record – nor should any reasonable human being.

Readers who agree should consider adding their names to the over 13,000 individuals who already have signed the petition to save Mr. Cantu’s life. They should join the call of all members of civilized humanity as they respond to the very notion of state-sponsored killings with a phrase that is as time-honored as Maimonides’ wisdom, forever chanting:

“L’chaim…to Life!”

(source: Michael Zoosman, counterpunch.org)

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Bexar County demands death penalty for dad accused of murdering his 11-month old daughter

The State of Texas announced Thursday that they'll be seeking the death penalty in this brutal case of domestic abuse.

This is the 1st time the death penalty has been on the table in Bexar County since 2021.

Investigators said Clare, 50, was arguing with his ex-wife about a gun he was carrying that belonged to his wife. According to the arrest warrant, the home surveillance video then shows Clare chasing his ex-wife around the house with a gun.

2 older boys, ages 8 and 11, escaped unharmed.

Clare was indicted on a capital murder charge.

(source: news4sanantonio.com)

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DA’s Office reveals decision on death penalty in case of man accused of viciously attacking ex-wife, daughters----Stephen Clare facing the death penalty if found guilty

The man charged with attacking his ex-wife and 2 young daughters, killing 1 of them, found out he will be facing the death penalty when he goes to trial.

Stephen Clare has been charged with capital murder, attempted capital murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

He’s accused of shooting Mariah Clare and stabbing his two daughters on April 10, 2023. Willow Clare, his 11-month-old daughter, died as a result of her injuries.

In court Thursday, the state told 437th District Court Judge Joel Perez they would be pursuing the death penalty in this case.

The last time the death penalty was applied in Bexar County was the case of Otis McKane who was convicted of the murder of SAPD Detective Benjamin Marconi.

McKane went to trial in 2021 and was found guilty and later sentenced to death.

(source: KSAT news)

PENNSYLVANIA:

Hearing set in Potter County death penalty case----Kyle Moore stands accused in Potter County, Pa., of the 2020 torture and murder of Joshua Ramos.

A hearing has been scheduled for June in Potter County Court on the 2021 pretrial motion of Kyle Moore, accused with 2 others of torturing and murdering Joshua Ramos in 2020.

Moore, 31, of Galeton, has been incarcerated without bail since his arrest in July 2020 on charges of murder of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd degrees; conspiracy to commit murder; kidnapping; and tampering with evidence. Also facing the same charges are Felicia Cary, 36, of Galeton, and Krysten Crosby, 24, of Tioga.

The death penalty is being sought in all 3 cases.

Hearings on the motion have been scheduled, continued or rescheduled 14 times, according to online court dockets. The current date for a hearing is 9 a.m. June 3.

The motion, penned by attorney Edward Rymsza of Williamsport, asked for the suppression of incriminating statements, physical evidence, prison calls and video and photos. He also asked for the right to individually question jurors and to have a supplemental juror questionnaire. The motion also challenged the legality of the death penalty.

Joshua Ramos was tortured and murdered in July 2020 in Potter County.

The suppression argument began with an overview of the allegations in the case, saying that a witness went to Coudersport-based state police on July 5, 2020, saying “he had information regarding the murder of Mr. Ramos.”

The motion went on to describe an assault in March 2020 in Galeton in which Ramos was being struck by Cary, Crosby and another person, with Moore joining in about 20 to 30 minutes after the assault began, and continuing for about an hour. After the assault, Ramos was “standing and walking on his own,” the motion read.

Cary suggested to the group that they drive Ramos out of town, and the witness who spoke to state police chose a remote, wooded area of Potter County, according to the motion. Eventually, Ramos was taken from the van into the woods by Cary, Crosby and Moore, with Crosby returning to the van once to get jumper cables.

When Crosby returned to the van, she allegedly told the witness, “He’s done.” When Moore and Cary returned to the van, they told the witness they released Ramos in the woods. However, once back at the Galeton residence, the witness overheard the three talking about Ramos being choked and left in a shallow grave, the motion stated.

On July 5, 2020, the witness took police to the scene. The next day, the body of Ramos was found. On July 6, 2020, Cary and Crosby were arrested. On July 7, 2020, Moore was arrested in New York state where he was working.

During Moore’s transport to the state police barracks in Coudersport, police read Moore his rights — known as Miranda rights — and talked to him without him waiving his rights. Police said they were taking him to the barracks to “tell his side of the story” and it would “be beneficial to him,” the motion read.

Moore asked about a lawyer, and asked for a lawyer to be present to advise him, the motion stated. He then asked troopers if he should have a lawyer, to which a trooper said, “I can’t give you legal advice.”

The motion stated that Moore made incriminating statements during the trip to the barracks. Once there, he was taken into an interrogation room and read his rights, at which time he asked about an attorney and if one could be there with him. A trooper responded, “I don’t know that, just to be a hundred percent honest with ya,” the motion stated. Another trooper said it depended on the circumstances. Moore signed a waiver of his rights, and said he was scared and said “it seems like the truth won’t matter.” In response, a trooper said, “The truth will set you free.”

Moore was interrogated for the next 3 ½ hours, and made incriminating statements, the motion read. After that, he was taken for arraignment.

All of his statements were obtained in violation of his rights and must be suppressed, the attorney wrote.

Next, the attorney challenged the warrant for Moore’s phone, saying the warrant was overbroad and had no information that the phone was used in or contained evidence of a crime, the motion read.

Regarding the prison calls, Rymsza wrote that all of the prison calls were recorded, and Moore was never advised, and did not consent to them being turned over to the prosecution. “By combing through the telephone calls, the prosecution is able to obtain information about a defendant’s defense strategy, potential witnesses and decision-making, outside the presence of counsel,” the motion stated.

He also challenged videos and photos of the crime scene and of Ramos’s body, saying they “would only serve to inflame the passions of the jury and cause him undue prejudice.”

The case is being prosecuted by District Attorney Andy Watson. Because it is a death penalty case, two attorneys were appointed to represent Moore, Rymsza and Thomas Walrath Jr.

The homicide cases against Cary and Crosby are being tried together; a trial date has yet to be set.

(source: Olean Times Herald)

FLORIDA:

Ruling: Appeals court in Daytona Beach overstepped authority in Xbox mass murder case----The Florida Supreme Court stated that it has jurisdiction in cases where a death sentence has been vacated and sent back for resentencing, such as the Deltona Xbox mass murder.

The 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach overstepped its jurisdiction when it became involved last year in a legal battle over the death penalty resentencing of 2 men convicted in the Deltona Xbox mass murder, according to a footnote in a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.

But the Florida Supreme Court stated in the ruling that the issue is now moot since the resentencing of Troy Victorino and Jerone Hunter last year is over, having ended in a mistrial.

The state Supreme Court referred in the footnote to prior decisions it has issued asserting jurisdiction “in cases in which a death sentence has been vacated and further penalty proceedings have been ordered.”

The Supreme Court stated in the ruling, filed Feb. 9, that it would be inappropriate for it to take action in the case, such as issuing a “prohibition.”

“Its purpose is to prevent the doing of something, not to compel the undoing of something already done,” the Supreme Court ruling stated.

The Supreme Court denied the request by the attorneys for Vitorino and Hunter to order the 5th DCA “to rescind its unconstitutional claim of jurisdiction over capital resentencing matter,” writing the issue is moot.

Allison Ferber Miller and Garry Wood represented Hunter and Ann Finnell and Gonzalo Andux represented Victorino. Prosecutors plan to try again to sentence Victorino and Hunter to death but a date has not yet been set.

Victorino, 47, and Jerone Hunter, 37, were convicted and initially sentenced to death in 2006 for their roles in the 2004 Deltona Xbox mass murder in which 6 people were killed.

But their death sentences were later struck down and their cases sent back to circuit court for resentencing.

Panels of potential jurors were summoned to the Volusia County Courthouse in DeLand last year. A jury panel was sworn in on April 20, the same day that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new law requiring only 8 of 12 jurors to recommend the death penalty for a judge to be able to impose that punishment.

When attorneys began jury selection the law required a unanimous vote.

Circuit Judge Randell Rowe III denied the state’s request to use the new law and instead ruled that the trial would proceed under the old law requiring a unanimous jury recommendation for death

. Prosecutors through the State Attorney Generals Office asked the 5th District Court to intervene. The 5th District Court ordered on April 27 a stop to the resentencing and on May 11 issued a ruling saying the resentencing should proceed under the new law requiring only an 8 to 4 recommendation for death.

But the delay led to scheduling conflicts with jurors and witnesses.

Rowe then declared a mistrial on May 16.

Besides Victorino and Hunter, two other men, Michael Salas and Robert Cannon, participated in the massacre in which they broke into a home on Telford Lane and used bats and knives to fatally beat and stab 6 people on Aug. 6, 2004.

Salas and Cannon were sentenced to life.

Killed in the massacre were Erin Belanger, 22; Michelle Nathan, 19; Roberto "Tito" Gonzalez, 28; Jonathan Gleason, 17; Francisco "Flaco" Ayo-Roman, 30; and Anthony Vega, 34. A dog was also killed.

(source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)

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Jury votes for death penalty for man who killed Jacksonville roommate's girlfriend, stabbed jail roommate----Markas Fishburne bound Aisha Levy's hands and stabbed, strangled and bludgeoned her. He hid her body in a closet and ran. A jury is recommending the death penalty.

The jury in the murder trial of Markas Fishburne, who pleaded guilty to the brutal murder of 25-year-old Aisha Levy, has decided to recommend the death penalty.

Fishburne was staying with Levy and her boyfriend on Dec. 20, 2019. When Levy's boyfriend returned home, he found blood "all over" the apartment, a release from the State Attorney's Office said.

Fishburne had left a note behind that said he and Levy were both dead and threatening that the boyfriend would be next.

Police found Levy's body wrapped and concealed in a plastic storage bin in a closet. They were able to locate Fishburne, who was trying to escape on a Greyhound bus, and arrest him.

An investigation uncovered that Fishburne had taped Levy with her hands bound before he killed her.

He admitted that he bludgeoned Levy with a hammer, as well as strangling and stabbing her, as she was getting out of the shower.

The jury voted 10-2 for Fishburne to receive the death penalty.

A Spencer Hearing has been tentatively scheduled for March 28. This is Fishburne's last chance to appeal to the judge before his sentence is decided.

In June 2022, Fishburne was sentenced to 5 years in prison for aggravated battery in detention facility. In that case, he cut his prison roommate's neck with a razor blade strapped to a comb.

(source: firstcoastnews.com)

ALABAMA:

First nitrogen execution was a ‘botched’ human experiment, Alabama lawsuit alleges----An Alabama death row inmate has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of nitrogen gas execution.

An Alabama death row inmate filed a lawsuit Thursday that challenges the constitutionality of nitrogen gas executions, arguing that the 1st person in the nation put to death by that method shook violently for several minutes in “a human experiment that officials botched miserably.”

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Alabama alleges the January execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith by nitrogen gas was torturous and "cannot be allowed to be repeated.” The lawsuit says descriptions from witnesses that Smith shook and convulsed contradicted the state's promises to federal judges that nitrogen would provide a quick and humane death.

“The results of the 1st human experiment are now in and they demonstrate that nitrogen gas asphyxiation is neither quick nor painless, but agonizing and painful," attorney Bernard E. Harcourt wrote in the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of death row inmate David Phillip Wilson, who was sentenced to death after he was convicted of killing a man during a 2004 burglary.

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the current nitrogen gas asphyxiation protocol violates the inmate's constitutional right to protection from cruel and unusual punishment.

Alabama last month became the 1st state to use nitrogen gas to put an inmate to death. Nitrogen gas is authorized in 3 states — Alabama, Oklahoma and Mississippi — but no state had previously attempted to use it.

During the execution, a respirator face mask — which is normally used in industrial settings to deliver life-preserving oxygen — was strapped to Smith's head. Pure nitrogen gas was then pumped into it, causing him to die from lack of oxygen.

The U.S. Supreme Court allowed Smith's execution to proceed last month. The lawsuit contends that media and witness accounts of the execution contradict the state's prediction to the courts that the nitrogen gas would render Smith unconscious “within seconds."

Smith shook in thrashing spasms and seizure-like movements for several minutes at the start of the execution. The force of his movements caused the gurney to visibly move at least once. Reporters from The Associated Press, al.com, the Montgomery Advertiser, the Alabama Reflector and WHNT attended the execution as media witnesses.

“In stark contrast to the Attorney General’s representations, the 5 media witnesses chosen by the Alabama Department of Corrections and present at Mr. Smith’s execution recounted a prolonged period of consciousness marked by shaking, struggling, and writhing by Mr. Smith for several minutes after the nitrogen gas started flowing,” the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit argues the problematic execution came in a state that already had a “bad track record of botched executions.” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in 2022 ordered an internal review of how death sentences are carried out after an unprecedented third failed lethal injection.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has maintained that the execution was “textbook” and said the state will seek to carry out more death sentences using nitrogen gas.

“As of last night, nitrogen hypoxia as a means of execution is no longer an untested method. It is a proven one,” Marshall said the morning after Smith's execution, extending an offer of help for states considering adopting the method.

Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Q. Hamm said he thought Smith might have deliberately held his breath, but also said the state expected involuntary movements and the type of breathing that occurs with lack of oxygen.

“That was all expected and was in the side effects that we’ve seen or researched on nitrogen hypoxia,” Hamm said.

(source: Associated Press)

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Alabama death row inmate files complaint over nitrogen gas executions

A new filing in Federal District Court is asking the court to stop another Alabama inmate from execution by nitrogen gas, saying that the execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith using the method was ‘botched.’

The new filing, made on behalf of death row inmate David Wilson, argues executing Wilson using the current protocol would violate his Constitutional rights.

Wilson was convicted and sentenced to death in Houston County, Alabama for the killing of Dewey Walker during a 2004 robbery and burglary at Walker’s home. Investigators said Wilson confessed to the crime, admitting that he hit Walker with a bat and put a cord around his neck while trying to get him to drop a knife. Three other people were sentenced to between 23 to 25 years in prison in connection with the case.

Thursday’s court filing asks that Wilson not be executed by nitrogen hypoxia, calling it torturous. The attorney cites published witness accounts of Smith’s execution, which differ from what representatives for the state predicted: that Smith would lose consciousness in seconds.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, prior to the execution, said it would be the most painless and humane method available; however, the filing cites claims from witnesses that Smith shook and convulsed and appeared to hold consciousness for minutes after the gas began being administered.

“What the witnesses saw was a far cry from the peaceful and dignified passing that the Attorney General represented to the Court and the public prior to the execution, whereby Mr. Smith would be rendered unconscious and unable to feel pain before he died,” the filing said.

Smith became the 1st man to be executed by nitrogen hypoxia in the country on Jan. 25 when Alabama used nitrogen gas in a novel execution method.

The document argues on the basis that Smith’s execution proved the current protocol would violate Wilson’s Eighth Amendment Rights by constituting cruel and unusual punishment.

Wilson’s attorney also claims he has “unique medical conditions” that would contribute to the likelihood he would suffer a prolonged death in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The filing goes on to name those conditions as “pulmonary issues,” “Asperger’s Syndrome,” and “light hyper-sensitivity and vision impairment.”

Wilson’s attorneys have also been in a long legal battle to get Wilson a new trial. One key point has been over discovery in his original case, particularly over the state turning over a letter supposedly written by one of Wilson’s co-defendants. In that letter, the writer, who identified themselves as co-defendant Catherine Corley, said that she hit Walker with a bat until he fell, according to court documents.

A judge ordered the letter be turned over to Wilson’s attorneys last year, but litigation regarding it and its effect on his original conviction have continued.

(source: WHNT news)

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Septuple murder suspect wants to know if state will seek death penalty----Attorneys for Frederic Allen Rogers filed documents asking the state for aggravating circumstances they intend to use should they seek the death penalty.

1 of the 2 men charged in the 2020 slaying of 7 people in Morgan County has asked to be notified if the State of Alabama intends to seek the death penalty in his case. Attorneys for Frederic Allen Rogers filed the request as part of several motions this week.

A motion to be apprised if the death penalty is being sought was granted, as was an additional motion for the state to disclose "aggravating circumstances" which it would use to argue that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment. A 3rd motion, for the state to reveal all mitigating circumstances obtained by the state. This motion was granted in part; the state has 45 days from the judge's ruling (Feb. 13) to make those disclosures, but the order will not require the state to discover any new mitigating circumstances thereafter.

Rogers and John Michael Legg are accused of shooting and killing 7 people, ranging in ages between 17 and 45, at a home in Valhermoso Springs on June 4, 2020. After more than 2 weeks, the pair were arrested following a traffic stop in Oregon.

Rogers was 23 at the time, and Legg, 19. Legal records show Legg was charged with 2nd-degree escape in July 2022.

Both men are scheduled for case status hearings on April 4. Rogers' capital murder trial is scheduled to begin in August.

(source: rocketcitynow.com)

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana lawmaker proposes adding nitrogen gas and electrocution to the state's execution methods----In Louisiana, around 60 people currently sit on death row, but an execution hasn't occurred since 2010

Louisiana's infamous electric chair — dubbed by death row inmates as “Gruesome Gertie” — was last used for an execution in 1991, when the state moved to lethal injections as the sole method to carry out capital punishment.

However, like other reliably red states that have seen executions stall, Louisiana lawmakers are looking to expand its methods to carry out the death penalty. The Deep South state is exploring adding the newest execution technique of oxygen deprivation using nitrogen gas, which was used in Alabama last month, and bringing back electrocution.

Over the past couple of decades, executions in the United States have vastly reduced — in part because of legal battles, a shortage of lethal injection drugs and declined support in capital punishment leading to a majority of states to either abolish or pause carrying out the death penalty.

In Louisiana, around 60 people currently sit on death row but an execution has not occurred since 2010. However, between a new conservative governor and the nation’s first execution using nitrogen gas, there has been a renewed push to find alternatives to lethal injection. Ahead of Louisiana’s short crime-related legislative session that begins next week, state Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, a Republican who chairs the House’s Civil Law and Procedure Committee, filed a bill that proposes adding nitrogen gas and electrocution to the list of authorized methods.

A handful of states have already sought to include additional options, such as firing squads. Most recently, Alabama used nitrogen gas to put to death a convicted killer in January — marking the 1st time a new execution method had been used in the United States since lethal injection was introduced in 1982.

The idea of using of nitrogen gas for executions is gaining traction elsewhere in the country. The state of Oklahoma already has a law authorizing the use of nitrogen gas, as does Missouri, and some others including Nebraska have introduced measures this year to add it as an option.

“States around us are finding ways and methods in order to execute those who have been tried, and convicted, and sentenced to death,” Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Jeff Landry during a press availability last month, without specifying what methods he would support.

While exploring the use of nitrogen gas has come as no shock to political experts Louisiana, reinstating electrocution has surprised some. Today, only eight states allow for electrocution — however, seven of them have lethal injection as primary method, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Likewise, lethal injection would be the preferred method in Louisiana, based on the bill.

South Carolina’s current execution law requires inmates to be sent to the electric chair unless they choose a different method.

Supreme courts in at least 2 states, Georgia and Nebraska, have ruled that the use of the electric chair violates their state constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

The exploration of additional methods on the books in Louisiana has caused many to wonder if the state will soon resume executions.

Landry says he is committed to upholding “contractual obligations” between the state and victims’ families after a death sentence has been handed down in court. The governor's favoritism for the death penalty is the opposite of his predecessor, a Democrat who wanted to see capital punishment abolished.

Louisiana's special session, which begins Monday, also included bills that include restricting parole eligibility, harsher penalties for some crimes and publicizing some juvenile court records.

(source: Associated Press)

OHIO:

Death Row Inmate Who Survived 18 Lethal Injections Ended Up Dying Of Something Completely Different----Romell Broom, the death row inmate who survived his execution after 18 attempts to administer a lethal injection, ended up dying behind bars of something completely different.

Surviving an execution sounds like something straight out of science fiction – but from time to time, it does actually happen.

But surviving a whopping 18 lethal injections is extremely unusual.

Unbelievably, there is 1 prisoner who achieved this feat.

However, he did end up dying behind bars – but of something completely different.

Broom spent more than 1/2 his life on death row following the kidnapping, r*** and murder of 14-year-old Tryna Middleton as she walked home in 1984.

Throughout his time behind bars, the inmate pleaded his innocence and in 2003, he took a DNA test which was unable to clear his name, according to the Mirror.

Broom’s execution was then scheduled for September 15, 2009, however, the plan ended up being aborted.

The inmate had been strapped to a table and attempts were made to inject him with the lethal injection.

Despite inserting the IV into 18 different areas across Broom’s legs and arms, prison personnel were unable to find a suitable vein. Reportedly, one attempt led to a bone being struck.

The inmate is believed to have tried helping them by moving his arms up and down while flexing his fingers.

But whenever they tried to access a vein, it would apparently collapse.

A different strategy was then introduced, with Broom sitting upright on the table while the execution team attempted to insert shunts into his legs.

A shunt is a small hole or passage that moves or allows movement, meaning fluid can move from one point of the body to another.

However, this reportedly caused Broom pain and after two hours, officials gave up.

The inmate’s execution date was then postponed to September 22, but there was an issue – officials were unable to find a way to kill Broom that wouldn’t amount to torture in violation of the US Constitution.

This led to Broom’s execution being put off indefinitely.

Amnesty International was campaigning to save the inmate’s life – with there even being a documentary made about the botched execution, while Broom himself co-wrote a book titled ‘Survivor on Death Row’.

Meanwhile, the inmate would also challenge the state’s authority by attempting to execute him a second time. He reportedly argued that it would violate the constitutional prohibition against twice placing a person in jeopardy of life.

However, in March 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against this argument, with Justice Judith Lanzing stating that the botched execution did not constitute a failed execution.

The courts argued that as the IV line had never been successfully connected, Broom’s life had never been in jeopardy during his execution attempt.

Broom’s new execution date was set for June 17, 2020, but was eventually postponed again due to the lack of lethal injection drugs available.

This was then rescheduled to March 16, 2022, but months beforehand the inmate passed away behind bars – and not due to execution at all.

Broom died aged 64 years old on December 28, 2020.

His actual cause of death was reported to be complications related to Covid-19, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(source: igvofficial.com)

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Ohio's Death Penalty Revival Plan Faces Ethical and Practical Challenges

In a move that could potentially reinvigorate Ohio's dormant capital punishment system, state officials have proposed legislation to introduce nitrogen hypoxia as a method for carrying out death sentences. This proposal, announced by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost alongside state Representatives Brian Stewart, Phil Plummer, and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association's Executive Director Lou Tobin, aims to address the impasse caused by the unavailability of lethal injection drugs.

Nitrogen hypoxia, which induces death by depriving the body of oxygen while breathing in nitrogen, gained attention when Alabama became the first state to employ this method. The use of nitrogen, a widely available and odorless gas, is seen as a potential solution to the logistical challenges posed by the scarcity of pharmaceuticals for lethal injections.

However, this legislative initiative has sparked a complex debate encompassing ethical, legal, and practical considerations. "There must be accountability for offenders convicted of the most heinous crimes," Yost stated, emphasizing the need for closure for victims' families. Yet, the proposed method has drawn criticism, especially in light of recent legislation signed by Governor Mike DeWine that bans the use of certain gases for euthanizing pets, raising questions about the humane application of nitrogen hypoxia for human executions.

The debate extends beyond the method itself to the broader implications of capital punishment in Ohio. A contrasting bill seeks to abolish the death penalty altogether, highlighting the state's divided stance on the issue. The execution of Kenneth Eugene Smith in Alabama, which involved nitrogen hypoxia, was reported to have caused visible distress, further fueling concerns about the method's humaneness.

Notably, Ohio's death row exonerations, often involving official misconduct, challenge the infallibility of the capital punishment system, as pointed out by research from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). This underlines the critical need for a thorough examination of the death penalty's application and the potential risks of wrongful executions.

Prominent figures like Gary Mohr, former director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, have expressed reservations about nitrogen hypoxia, citing concerns over the trauma inflicted on both the individual being executed and those witnessing the process. Governor DeWine, while refraining from commenting directly on the pending legislation, questioned the deterrent effect of the death penalty, given the lengthy duration between the commission of a crime and the execution.

As Ohio navigates this contentious issue, the outcome of the proposed legislation will not only impact the state's legal landscape but also contribute to the national conversation on the ethics and efficacy of capital punishment. With 118 inmates currently on Ohio's death row, the decisions made today will have profound implications for many, underscoring the importance of a careful, informed approach to this deeply divisive issue.

(source: Business Times)

TENNESSEE:

'I want the death penalty' | Blount Co. Sheriff promises to seek death penalty on man accused of fatally shooting deputy----Kenneth Wayne DeHart Jr. was arraigned Thursday on charges of 1st-degree murder, attempted 1st-degree murder and illegally having a gun.

A man may face the death penalty after authorities accused him of fatally shooting a Blount County deputy and wounding another, before leading law enforcement on a 5-day manhunt.

Kenneth Wayne DeHart Jr. appeared in court for the 1st time on Thursday, after authorities said he fatally shot Greg McCowan and wounded Shelby Eggers during a traffic stop. During the manhunt and after DeHart Jr. was captured, Blount County Sheriff James Berrong called for capital punishment.

According to Tennessee leaders, 45 people are currently on death row and 13 are from East Tennessee. Ultimately, whether DeHart Jr. may join them is up to District Attorney General Ryan Desmond. He would first need to file a "death penalty notice" before it is an option for courts to consider.

"Noticing a defendant, that he is going to be subject to the death penalty, and the state will be seeking that as a punishment should they get a conviction," said Don Bosch, an attorney.

Before then, the DA said he would need to first speak with McCowan's family and take into account whether they believe the death penalty is appropriate.

"First and foremost, I will explain the entire legal process to them," he said. " I would say weeks. Certainly, yes. Not months."

People convicted of first-degree murder face three possible sentences: life without parole, life with the possibility of parole or the death penalty. Bosch said a person can be on death row for years while legal teams review the case and whether the evidence presented is constitutional.

"When the state or the government is trying to take an individual's life as a punishment, we need to be sure that we get that right," he said. "There's a presumption of innocence in our country, no matter how strong the proof may be. Let the system work."

The last person sentenced to death was in 2021 after Steven Wiggins was accused of killing a Middle Tennessee deputy.

(source: WBIR news)

MISSOURI----new execution date

MO Supreme Court sets execution date for man, 2nd lethal injection scheduled this year

The Missouri Supreme Court has sent an execution date for a man convicted in a 2009 murder in Cole County. A warrant of execution for David Russell Hosier, 69, will go into effect at 6 p.m. on June 11.

He was convicted of 1st-degree murder in the shooting of Angela Gilpin. An attorney for Hosier did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Missouri has now set 2 execution dates for this year. Brian Dorsey is scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 9. In litigation filed last week, Dorsey’s attorneys argue that Missouri’s execution protocols violate protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Missouri has ramped up its use of the death penalty, executing 4 people last year. It is 1 of 6 states with executions scheduled this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. 12 people remain on Missouri’s death row, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.

That includes Marcellus “Khaliifah” Williams. Last month, prosecutors expressed support for Williams’ claim that he is innocent. His case will be heard in court but a date has not yet been set.

(source: Kansas City Star)

**************

Death row inmate asking for stay of execution

A death row inmate is asking for a stay of his April 9 execution.

Brian Dorsey, 51, was convicted of killing his cousin, Sarah, and her husband Ben Bonnie, at their home in New Bloomfield in 2006.

Dorsey’s motion claims lethal injection would violate his constitutional and religious beliefs and be unnecessarily painful.

The court has not ruled on the motion.

(source: KMZU news)

KANSAS:

Kansas lawmakers will soon make death penalty decision

Kansas lawmakers may soon have a difficult decision to make regarding the death penalty.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach is pushing for a bill that would see hypoxia added as an execution method. He says other states, like Alabama, have moved from lethal injection to hypoxia because the drugs needed for lethal injection are harder to come by.

He also says hypoxia is a more humane method, though some lawmakers disagree.

“It’s difficult, if not impossible to carry out a lethal injection execution, because of the circumstances I described,” Kobach said. “Alabama just happens to be the first of those three states that have already made the move to actually carry out an execution. But as I say other states are following the three that already have it, and it’s out of necessity.”

“This is not a humane way to execute a dog, let alone a human being,” Representative John Carmichael, (D) Wichita, said. “So, in my opinion, what the attorney general has proposed is more inhumane than the present lethal injection.”

The bill will be discussed by a committee of lawmakers before it can be voted on.

(source: KSNT news)

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Is this the year Kansas decides whether it wants to start executing people?

On Feb. 9, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach introduced a death penalty bill in the Kansas Legislature.

A key point is that it would allow the state to execute an inmate using hypoxia, or inhalation of a gas inducing suffocation. Kobach said, “Because of difficulties in acquiring the drugs, lethal injection is now limited,” and that the attorney general of Alabama told him that “the hypoxia method worked extremely well” for its execution on Jan. 25.

This recent news item reminded me of Kansas' long-standing ambivalence about the death penalty.

In my studies of Kansas history and politics, the subject seems to arise often.

“I tried a man when I was county attorney and he got the death penalty and we hung him. Hung with a rope.” That is what former Kansas Gov. John Anderson told me in 2003. He attributed his 1960 victory over Gov. George Docking in part to the issue.

“He would commute the sentences of those on death row to life in prison," Anderson said. "And during the campaign, I just hounded him and hounded him for that.”

In 2005, I was riveted when Chuck McAtee, the former Kansas penal director who oversaw the hangings of the “Clutter Killers,” Perry Smith and Dick Hickock — made famous by Truman Capote’s book “In Cold Blood” — pulled out of a box a death-row poem written by Smith and proceeded to read it aloud in the tone that Smith had used with him: “Perhaps my eyes shall never reach, The light of freedom’s skies, But forever my hopes will span the breach, To Keep my human ties.”

McAtee supported the death penalty but, visibly emotional, got choked up when talking about Smith and Hickock.

Former Kansas Gov. John Carlin told me he didn’t give the issue a lot of thought until he was faced with signing a 1979 law that would bring back the death penalty. “I got to thinking about the poor representation of a lot of poor people and the potential for error” and vetoed it. “If I lose reelection, that’s just the way things have to be.”

In 2015, then-Gov. Sam Brownback told me that he opposed the death penalty except in cases where society cannot otherwise be protected.

In 2022, former Gov. Mark Parkinson, who wrote the 1994 Kansas death penalty law, said to me: “I now know more about the history of the death penalty and its unfair utilization against people of color. That probably alone is enough that it shouldn’t be used again, probably do wish that I hadn’t done it in the first place.”

Kansas is 1 of 27 states with the death penalty but hasn’t executed anyone since 1965. One scholar calls Kansas a “de-facto abolition” state, sitting in “death penalty limbo.” Currently there are nine men on Kansas’ death row.

Another provision of Kobach’s proposed law could possibly expedite the process of bringing about a death warrant for one of those nine men, at which point only the governor could block it, like George Docking did all those years ago when he commuted sentences.

In an interview, Kobach made an interesting and relevant comment: “If Kansas is going to have a death penalty, it needs to be possible to implement.”

Excellent point. Kansas, brace yourself.

If we have a death penalty, eventually we might get an execution, no matter how ambivalent we are.

(source: Bob Beatty, The Topeka Capital-Journal)

OKLAHOMA----female to face death penalty

Death penalty recommended for woman charged with murder in death of 4-year-old girl

The district attorney is recommending the death penalty for Alysia Adams who is charged with 1st-degree murder for her role in the death of 4-year-old Athena Brownfield.

The death penalty is not being sought out in the case of Ivon Adams, Alysia's husband, who is facing child abuse charges.

The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office has released its report involving the death of 4-year-old Athena Brownfield.

Brownfield's disappearance sparked a massive search in January, after her sister was found unattended in Cyril. Athena's body was found several days later, and it was determined that Athena died on Christmas Day, 2022.

While court documents said that Athena was beaten before her death, the official cause of the 4-year-old's death was listed as acute pneumonia complicating malnutrition.

Athena also tested positive for COVID-19, rhinovirus, enterovirus, human adenovirus, and human bocavirus. Athena weighed 23 pounds at the time of her death, which has been ruled a homicide.

Athena's 2 caretakers, Ivon and Alysia Adams, have been arrested in connection to her death.

Ivon and Alysia are not Athena's biological parents.

(source: FOX News)

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Caddo County DA seeks death penalty for caretaker in Athena Brownfield case

The District Attorney in Caddo County, Jason Hicks, seeks the death penalty for Alysia Adams, one of the caretakers charged in 4-year-old Athena Brownfield's death.

Court documents said Alysia confessed that Brownfield was beaten and killed in Cyril on Christmas in 2022 by her husband, Ivon Adams, who faces 1st-degree murder and child neglect.

Brownfield was reported missing after a postal carrier found her older sister near the home, unsupervised.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said Brownfield's body was found buried near the Adams' former house in Rush Springs in Grady County.

Alysia's charges were upgraded from child neglect to 1st-degree murder at the end of 2023.

A new court document released on Wednesday by District Attorney Hicks said that based on the circumstances that Alysia "knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person" and "that the death of Athena Brownfield was especially heinous", Alysia should be punished by death.

Court documents show Brownfield's biological mother, Jasmin Brownfield, left the 2 children in the Adams' care in April 2021. She was arrested in 2023 for 2 counts of child neglect.

(source: KOKH news)

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Caddo Co. officials will pursue death penalty against caretaker accused of murdering 4-year-old from Cyril

The Caddo County District Attorney announced today, Feb. 15, that they will pursue the death penalty against Alysia Adams, one of the caretakers of Athena Brownfield, the 4-year-old from Cyril who was killed in 2022.

Adams is currently being charged with 1st degree murder in this case. Court documents state she is being accused since she was responsible for the well being of Athena, stating the child was abused while under her care, inevitably leading to her death.

Recently, Adams was moved to the Grady County jail from the Caddo County jail after an OSBI investigation was announced due to an alleged relationship between a former jailer and Adams.

(source: KSWO news)

UTAH:

Utah Court Rules Prisoner Suffering from Dementia Requires a Competency Assessment Following the State’s Request for Execution

On February 13, 2024, the 3rd District Court of Salt Lake City, Utah ruled that evidence presented by Ralph Menzies’ attorneys of his dementia and cognitive decline requires a formal assessment of his competency to face execution by firing squad. With its decision, the court also vacated a hearing scheduled for February 23, at which the state of Utah intended to request an execution warrant for Mr. Menzies. As explained in his request for a competency hearing, Mr. Menzies has been diagnosed with a major neurocognitive disorder known as vascular dementia, severely limiting his “memory, information processing, abstract reasoning, and problem solving.” Prosecutors do not agree with the assertion that Mr. Menzies is not competent for execution, however they do not object to further evaluation of his competency.

“We are relieved that the court agrees the evidence of Ralph Menzies’s dementia requires a competency hearing,” said Lindsey Layer, an attorney for Mr. Menzies. “Ralph’s cognitive functioning has severely declined, leaving him without a rational understanding of why Utah plans to kill him. We are confident the evaluators will recognize that Ralph is not competent to be executed.”

Following an assessment in January 2024, Lynette M. Abrams-Silva, PhD, ABPP, a board-certified neuropsychologist, wrote that “while Mr. Menzies may have once understood the societal reasons for the sentence of death, cognitive decline due to vascular dementia has broken the mental link between these reasons and the application of the punishment, and he himself is unaware of this disconnection.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

USA:

Death Camp USA: From Zyklon B to nitrogen hypoxia----How we choose to fight capital punishment now will shape the future of our struggle against the carceral system

“I’m being housed in a ‘death camp.’ I mean that literally … [T]here is nothing resembling ‘correction’ that goes on for most of these prisoners. Like the Nazi concentration camps, this is a death camp for sure!” – Russell Maroon Shoatz

“Many of the condemned, with constitutional error rife throughout their records, will soon be executed without meaningful review. States … now ready their machinery: generators whine, poison liquids are mixed, gases are measured and readied, silent chambers await the order to smother life.” – Mumia Abu-Jamal

On Jan. 25, Alabama marked the 1st known use of nitrogen hypoxia to execute Kenneth Eugene Smith. This new method comes years after pharmaceutical companies refused to sell certain drug cocktails to death penalty states for use in executions. The change sent authorities searching for new ways to carry out capital punishment, and Alabama’s deadly decision recalls a horrific national legacy that inspired Nazi Germany. Furthermore, it reveals how carceral structures implement policy that test and force abuses onto subjugated populations before inflicting them onto broader society. Alabama’s nitrogen gas execution may seem like a mere adjustment in how the state kills prisoners, but it’s highlighting a threat to us all. As the U.S. becomes even more draconian in its execution practices, it’s necessary to observe some of the history of gassing, ask what it’s setting the stage for, and demand the abolition of the death penalty altogether.

A grisly anniversary followed Alabama’s experimental nitrogen hypoxia execution. Jan. 28 marked the 107th anniversary of when 17-year-old Carmelita Torres, a maid from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, who cleaned houses in El Paso, Texas, refused to take a kerosene bath, and what would be known as “The Bath Riots” ensued. At the time, those entering the U.S. were subjected to humiliating procedures like poisonous baths in addition to IQ tests and puzzles, processes put in place because U.S. officials subscribed to white supremacist ideas of racial purity and eugenicist notions of cleanliness. When Torres began organizing women to refuse these violations, a protest of hundreds grew into thousands and eventually shut down the border. Civil disobedience and violent resistance intermixed in a days-long confrontation that led to imprisonment and even execution for some.

One of the more disturbing aspects of this history and what followed lies in the fact that during processing, beginning in the 1920s, those detained at the Southern border were being “deloused” with Zyklon B, a cyanide-based pesticide. And like Native reservations and other facets of U.S. white supremacist policies, those official acts would go on to inspire the Nazis. When German chemist Dr. Gerhard Peters published 2 photos of the El Paso “Disinfection Plant” in a German pest science journal, he called for the use of Zyklon B in Nazi desinfektionskammern (disinfection chambers). Peters went on to become managing director of the company that supplied the chemical to the camps, where it was used to kill millions during the Holocaust. The border is one of the world’s most explicit manifestations of carcerality, dictating who does and does not belong in a given society. Its connection to detention, prisons, and execution is made plain by the regularity of the violence carried out around it, both directly and passively.

The regular usage of Zyklon B at the U.S. border established the tone for a fascist future. That’s why Smith’s execution by nitrogen hypoxia cannot be carelessly accepted. It’s already bad enough that tear-gassing protesters with a “banned” chemical weapon of war has become normalized. Even condemning chemical weapons and invoking international law are unreliable conventions to protect masses of people from the state. Instead, those in power believe the law should be in their interests, albeit veiled to have the public believe it’s for some common good. As a result, the wealthy, police, and militaries are not held to the standards they create to punish others with. The death penalty and the U.S. prison system are great examples of this, and they warn us of what could be in store for the wider public.

As I’ve written before, what happens in prisons sets the stage for the future we’ll inherit. And what’s happening in U.S. prisons is not common throughout the world. More than 70% of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty, but the U.S. remains terribly regressive, much like it is with health care, labor rights, and incarceration rates. So, while most of the world has moved away from the practice of execution, the U.S. is further entrenching itself in the practice by seeking experimental and innovative ways to kill. When Oklahoma botched the execution of Clayton Lockett with midazolam in 2014 and this debacle of seeking new execution methods began, there was an opportunity to change. Some death penalty states halted their executions, and moratoriums were enforced.

One of the most obscene examples of this state-sanctioned chaos lies in the fact that death penalty states had stockpiled sedative and paralytic drugs, like midazolam, vecuronium bromide, rocuronium bromide, and fentanyl, that could have been used to help people suffering in this ongoing pandemic and instead used them to kill prisoners. Authorities had to be urged to save lives instead of hoarding drugs to kill people, laying the true purpose of this criminal legal system bare.

Currently, the situation is especially horrific. Before President Donald Trump left office, he went on a killing spree, executing more federal prisoners than at any time since World War II, using methods that included hiring private executioners paid cash, middle-of-the-night killings, and incomplete justifications. And at the state level, death-penalty states now have six different execution protocols at their disposal: “lethal injection, electric chair, lethal gas including cyanide, firing squad, hanging and now Alabama’s nitrogen hypoxia,” according to a report in The Guardian. In 2022, Richard Bernard Moore, imprisoned in South Carolina, was forced to choose the firing squad over other botched execution methods. It was “the year of the botched execution,” according to death penalty watchdogs, because of “executioner incompetence, failures to follow protocols, or defects in the protocols themselves.” States mismanaged a horrific 35% of executions that year, and the trend of expansion around alternative methods continued in 2023.

Although a record low percentage of people believe the death penalty is applied fairly and approval of the practice has been low for decades, the U.S. could be at an impasse if that lack of support doesn’t materialize into an outright rejection of the practice. Historically, when Black radical prisoners described U.S. prisons as “death camps,” it wasn’t simply hyperbole. The millions languishing in prison already constitute one of modern times’ most unacceptable societal standards imaginable. The business of policing, incarcerating, and killing fueled by the prison-industrial complex must be abolished.

Alabama prisons constitute some of the worst aspects of this as a site of so much terror that the Department of Justice was compelled to intervene and release a report in 2019. Mysterious deaths, overcrowding, and rampant abuse plague the Alabama Department of Corrections while they experiment with killing. The Free Alabama Movement has long documented these horrors and coordinated the largest prison strike in U.S. history. They plan to organize against gas executions among many other demands, but they should not be alone in their fight. It’s all of our fight because whatever we accept, from executions behind bars to public police executions outside of them, will shape the contours of the struggle we’re in. We can let these problems cement themselves further or push to obliterate them now before they’re set in stone.

(source: Opinion; William C. Anderson, prismreports.org)

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As Alabama eyes more nitrogen executions, opponents urge companies to cut off plentiful gas supply

Alabama in late January became the 1st state to use nitrogen gas in an execution, finding a new way to carry out a death sentence after drug companies refused to let their products be used in lethal injections.

Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, was put to death Jan. 25 for the 1988 murder-for-hire killing of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett. State prison officials put a mask over his face, replacing the air he breathed with nitrogen gas and depriving him of oxygen.

Alabama has said it plans to continue using this new method. Other states are considering following its lead given that nitrogen gas, the chief material in a nitrogen execution, is readily available to purchase. But at least one company has said it won’t supply nitrogen for execution, and anti-death penalty groups hope others will do the same.

Despite the availability of nitrogen gas, legal challenges may end up being a big hurdle for prison officials trying to procure it, at least for the time being.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

The refusal of drug companies to allow their products to be used in lethal injections, and ongoing litigation over that execution method, have made it hard for some states to carry out death sentences. That led them to explore alternate means of carrying out executions.

3 states — Oklahoma, Mississippi and Alabama — have authorized nitrogen gas as an execution method. In Oklahoma, nitrogen was authorized as a back-up method in case lethal injection is unavailable because of court rulings or a shortage of drugs. Alabama law gives prisoners the option to choose nitrogen as their preferred method.

WHERE DID ALABAMA GET THE NITROGEN?

Just as the state has refused to name suppliers for lethal injection drugs, the Alabama Department of Corrections won’t say where it obtained the nitrogen gas used to kill Smith. The state redacted information in federal court records that could identify the supplier. Court documents filed by the state showed the gas used was certified as 99.999% pure nitrogen.

WHERE CAN STATES OBTAIN NITROGEN?

Nitrogen gas can be purchased easily without a license from manufacturers, industrial suppliers or even online retailers. Nitrogen gas is used for a variety of purposes in manufacturing, welding, inflating tires and equipment calibration and maintenance. The plentiful supply is likely one reason that some states have expressed interest in the new method.

The air surrounding us is 78% nitrogen and generators can be purchased that produce high-purity nitrogen by isolating it from other gasses in the air. That could allow prison officials to get around suppliers’ reluctance to provide nitrogen gas for executions.

CAN COMPANIES REFUSE TO SUPPLY THE GAS?

At least one major manufacturer, AirGas, which was acquired by French-owned Air Liquide, has said it will not supply gas for executions. The stance is similar to those taken by drug companies that refuse to supply lethal injection drugs.

“Since 2019, Airgas has publicly articulated its position that supplying nitrogen for the purpose of human execution is not consistent with our company values and that position has not changed. Airgas has not and will not supply nitrogen or other inert gases to induce hypoxia for the purpose of human execution,” a company spokeswoman wrote in an email.

Bianca Tylek, the founder of Worth Rises, a criminal justice advocacy group, said she hopes other manufacturers follow the lead of Airgas and drug manufacturers.

She acknowledged it’s harder to cut off the supply of readily available high-purity nitrogen gas, but urged companies to prohibit their products from being used in executions.

Even when supplies of lethal injection drugs were cut by manufacturers, states found workarounds such as turning to compounding pharmacies.

WILL THERE BE OBSTACLES TO NITROGEN GAS EXECUTIONS?

Activists and lawyers for people on death row will continue to fight the use of nitrogen gas for executions and legal challenges could slow things down, at least for a while.

Already, critics are seizing on witness descriptions of Smith convulsing on the gurney for several minutes to demonstrate that nitrogen gas does not provide a humane and quick death, as the state promised.

WHAT ARE ALABAMA’S PLANS?

The day after Smith’s death, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall declared the execution a success and said the state will pursue more nitrogen executions in the future. He offered help to other states wishing to follow Alabama’s path.

But nitrogen hypoxia will not replace lethal injection in Alabama. Going forward, the state’s execution method will be based on “the choice of the inmate,” Marshall said.

Alabama gave inmates a brief window to select nitrogen as their preferred execution method. More than 40 people on the state’s death row have selected nitrogen as their preferred method. However, there will almost certainly be litigation, citing how Smith’s execution unfolded, the next time the state tries to set an execution date using nitrogen gas.

An Alabama death row inmate filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of nitrogen gas executions. The lawsuit, which cited witness accounts of Smith shaking and writhing on the gurney, argued that Smith’s execution was “a human experiment that officials botched miserably” and “cannot be allowed to be repeated.” A federal judge has set a March hearing on a death row inmate’s request to see the unredacted nitrogen execution protocol, the gas mask and other information that was disclosed to Smith’s attorneys.

(source: Associated Press)

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Death penalty methods drawing challenges as executions decline----Cases in states like Alabama are sparking debate over the death penalty; The debates come as public opinions about the death penalty are shifting

A shortage of lethal injection drugs and controversial executions are fueling debates surrounding the methods and justification of capital punishment.

South Carolina’s use of the death penalty is the latest example of evolving national debate over the constitutionality, humanity and efficacy of capital punishment.

Last week, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case challenging 2 of the state’s execution methods. A group of death row prisoners argued that electrocution and firing squad were unconstitutional.

A South Carolina court previously issued an injunction against those methods. The higher court hasn’t yet issued a decision.

The recent execution of Alabama death-row inmate Kenneth Smith also launched debate after 2 failed lethal injection attempts led officials to execute Smith via nitrogen gas.

The arguments come as public opinions about the death penalty are slowly shifting, earmarked by the United States’ ninth consecutive year with fewer than 30 executions nationwide.

Which states still use the death penalty?

27 states in the U.S. have the death penalty. That includes Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri, which are responsible for the most prison executions per capita since 1976, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

5 states — Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas — carried out executions last year.

As of December, the majority of states have either abolished capital punishment or executions have been temporarily halted through executive action. Arizona, California, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Tennessee each have a gubernatorial hold on executions.

Illinois, in 2000, became the 1st state in the U.S. to declare a moratorium on executions, fueled by exonerations and concerns about wrongful executions.

The public’s opinion is shifting, too. Half of Americans say the death penalty is administered unfairly, according to the findings of a November Gallup poll. That’s compared to 47% who said the practices are fair. Still, a plurality of voters say the death penalty isn’t used enough.

Lethal injection shortage, challenges to alternative methods

A shortage of lethal injection drugs hit the U.S. about a decade ago. Pharmaceutical companies overseas and within the U.S. began refusing to sell the drug for execution use. Around that time, the U.K. also banned exports of the drug for the same purpose.

“I think the problem with lethal injection drugs spurred some states to really start questioning, ‘What are we doing here?'” said Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham Law School.

After Alabama failed twice to execute death row inmate Kenneth Smith, the state opted instead to use nitrogen gas. The measure sparked nationwide debate, and Smith ultimately died by nitrogen hypoxia on January 25.

“This is what hit South Carolina, this difficulty accessing drugs, and also now this constitutional challenge to electrocution and the firing squad,” Denno said. “We’ve seen, particularly in the last 10 or 15 years, a real scramble among states in a way we hadn’t really that much before that.”

Former President Jimmy Carter spends 12 months in hospice care

Lethal injection is the most common method of execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Some states allow alternative methods, however, including electrocution, gas chambers, hanging and firing squad.

Increasingly, use of the death penalty is being challenged as a violation of the Eight Amendment. Proponents of that argument say it’s the government’s job to uphold those rights even in the face of public outrage at a criminal offense.

“Our constitution is supposed to control our really primitive, visceral emotions and instincts that we would have toward someone who inflicted such violence on our loved one,” Denno said. “The government is supposed to control our basic instincts.”

What do proponents of the death penalty say?

Arguments in favor of the death penalty are largely based on perceptions surrounding moral justification, crime deterrence and safeguards to protect against executions of innocent people.

A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that about 64% of Americans say the death penalty is morally justified for people convicted of murder.

Along those lines, proponents of the death penalty say it works as a deterrent to serious crime. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made that argument in a 2022 brief opposing challenges to Georgia’s use of the death penalty.

Paxton claimed the death penalty serves to “punish society’s vilest offenders, provide the victims of those crimes with closure, and deter” repeat offenses.

To some, the death penalty is seen as the closest alternative to justice for certain violent crimes.

“However unpopular capital punishment may be in particular circles, many States have decided that some crimes are so heinous that only the forfeiture of the offender’s life can satisfy what justice requires,” Paxton wrote.

Oklahoma State Attorney General Gentner Drummond made similar comments following the state’s January 12, 2023, execution of convicted murderer Scott Eizember.

“I understand that nothing can ever lessen the pain of a loved one’s death, but I pray that today brings closure and some measure of peace,” Drummond said in an official statement.

A family member of the victims in the case, 76-year-old A.J. Cantrell and 70-year-old Patsy Cantrell, spoke after the execution.

“I don’t know if today was justice,” the family member said, according to local NPR reporting at the time. “I don’t know if today was closure. I’m not sure it was ever about any of those things for us. Maybe today was a bookend for another day that happened almost 20 years ago, with a whole lot of stories in between. I do know that I’m glad that our enemy is dead.”

Despite changing public opinion around the death penalty, future developments are likely to continue at a slower pace, Denno said.

“(This debate) has been going on for a really long time,” she said. “I don’t foresee a turning point where a light bulb goes off in the United States, and people say, ‘Wow, we really shouldn’t have been doing this.'”

(source: newsnationnow.com)

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Discussions with DPIC Podcast: Shedding Light on Underreported Stories of Incarceration and Death Row — con­ver­sa­tion with Keri Blakinger

In this month’s episode of Discussions with DPIC, Managing Director Anne Holsinger speaks with Keri Blakinger, a journalist at the Los Angeles Times and former reporter for the Marshall Project—a nonprofit news organization focused on the U.S. criminal justice system. At the Marshall Project, Ms. Blakinger wrote stories about the human beings in the criminal justice system—a focus that is still a priority in her reporting with Los Angeles Times.

Ms. Blakinger’s personal experience with prison has given her a unique perspective. In her book, Corrections in Ink: A Memoir (2022), she powerfully tells the story of her personal journey beginning as a young competitive figure skater with an eating disorder, through addiction and incarceration, and ultimately to her transformation into journalist and advocate.

Ms. Blakinger explains how and why she tells the untold and underreported stories of those in prison and on death row. She provides details in her stories that are usually not reported in mainstream media, for example, how some women in prison are forced to exchange sexual favors for basic necessities like toilet paper, and how death row prisoners do not have access to proper dental care.

Ms. Blakinger notes that death row is not a transient stop between either exoneration or execution— but, for many, remains a persistent state. For this reason, media scrutiny can reveal frequently dysfunctional aspects of death row. Ms. Blakinger recalls reporting on the execution of a person with Parkinson’s disease, who most likely suffered from extensive tremors while being executed, but for some reason was unnoticed in official reporting. She also describes her relationship with death row prisoners, including John Henry Ramirez (executed on October 5th, 2022 in Texas), who became the inspiration for her upcoming documentary: “Warden, I am Ready.” It will premiere at the Big Sky Film Festival in Montana later this year.

In her journalism, Ms. Blakinger offers a gendered perspective of imprisonment, as she notes that “prisons are designed mostly for men,” emphasizing the unique issues for women and those who identify as women , including the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse. As Ms. Blakinger says, “many women in prisons are victims of sexual violence,” and during their confinement, they end up in a space primarily dominated by male staff, which can perpetuate or deepen trauma.

Ms. Blakinger describes her role “as outside oversight.” Her narratives present the examples of rehabilitation, redemption, and hope, for example, when she describes how incarcerated people play Dungeons and Dragons (a fantasy tabletop role-playing game) or organize their own radio shows—showcasing that even behind bars humanity can prevail and spur restorative justice.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

COUNCIL OF EUROPE:

The Council of Europe pays homage to Robert Badinter

The Council of Europe learned with great sadness the passing away of Mr Robert Badinter on 9 February 2024. The Ministers’ Deputies paid tribute to Mr Badinter during their meeting on 14 February 2024 . A book of condolences has also been opened at the Council of Europe.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe said that she is “deeply saddened by the passing of Robert Badinter, a true defender of human rights whose fight to abolish the death penalty resonates globally”. She said that “his legacy will continue to inspire generations”. The Council of Europe will contribute to carrying on his fight for the universal abolition of the death penalty, in line with the Heads of State and Government declaration in May 2023 in Reykjavik.

Mr Badinter is amongst other things recognized for his struggle in favor of the abolition of the death penalty as a lawyer and as a Minister of Justice of France. The abolition of the death penalty in France in 1981 had opened the way to the protocol n°6 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human rights and fundamental Freedoms adopted in 1983 and provided for the abolition of the death penalty in peacetime. He then obtained its ratification in France in 1986, a protection against a potential reinstatement. He was then very involved in the fight in favor of the abolition globally. He came to the Council of Europe several times, first as Minister for Justice, but also on various occasions such as the 1st World Congress against the Death penalty which took place in Strasbourg on 21-23 June 2001 or on the occasion of the 2nd European Day against the death penalty on 10 October 2008.

He also worked on other substantial steps regarding human rights and achieved significant progress from the point of view of the Council of Europe. For example, as Minister for Justice, he authorized the recognition by France of the right of individual petition before the European Court of Human Rights in 1981, he obtained from the Parliament the decriminalization of homosexuality, and took measures to improve conditions of detention. In addition, he worked a lot on strengthening the Rule of Law, including as President of the Constitutional Council in France, and fought against antisemitism.

(source: coe.int)

NIGERIA:

Nigerian Man Sentenced to Death by Hanging for Killing One-Year-Old Son in Enugu

The Enugu State High Court, under the jurisdiction of Justice C. C. Ani, has convicted and sentenced Okolie Chigozie Michael, aged 32, to death by hanging for allegedly strangling his son, Igwilo Chimereucheya, to death.

In court proceedings, Okolie Chigozie Michael, a native of Ibeme Obingwa in Abia State, faced charges for allegedly strangling his son, Igwilo Chimereucheya, to death in the bush on April 14, 2020, at Emene in Enugu.

After it was proven beyond doubt by the prosecution, the court found the accused guilty of killing his son during Wednesday’s session.

During the trial, the court concurred with the Prosecuting Counsel, Nkechi Ogbodo of the Department of Public Prosecution, Ministry of Justice, Enugu, who presented evidence, including an autopsy report, demonstrating that the deceased was indeed strangled to death.

Following the failure of his initial attempt to kill his child, the convict struck the child on the chest, leading to the child excreting hot faeces and urine, and then attempted to escape, prompting the child’s mother from Enugu to raise the alarm and attract neighbours upon discovering the child’s death.

Naija News gathered that the convict had a history of serial abuse, frequently assaulting the mother of his son, and had previously been compelled to sign an undertaking at the police station under pressure from their landlord and his wife’s employer. This action was prompted by continuous threats he made to kill both the mother and her child.

Consequently, he was cautioned at different police stations to stop his violent behaviour before the tragic incident resulting in the death of his son, Chimereucheya, occurred, with reports indicating that he caused harm to the deceased’s penis multiple times as punishment for bed-wetting.

In her ruling, Justice Ani emphasized that the culprit’s confession revealed a voluntary and premeditated act in the murder of the deceased, dismissing any claims of duress, which led to the court convicting him of murder and imposing the death penalty.

(source: naijanews.com)

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3 years after, court sentences killer of Enugu make-up artist to death

An Enugu State High Court on Wednesday sentenced the killer of Ijeoma Nweke, an Enugu-based make-up artist, to death by hanging.

The court, which was presided over by Honourable Justice Kenneth Okpe, in a 2-hour judgement, found the accused, Chiamaka Ifezue, guilty of killing the victim by forcing her to drink a poisonous substance.

DAILY POST recalls that the corpse of Ijeoma was found in Maryland within Enugu Metropolis on November 16, 2020.

Ijeoma had left home on November 11 for a job but went missing afterwards.

Her supposed client, who refused to disclose the location for the job, asked the deceased to stop at the Enugu State Broadcasting Service, ESBS, bus stop, where she would then be taken to the venue.

When she perceived foul play, Ijeoma sent the client’s phone number to her brother via text.

Her phones were later not reachable after hours leading to suspicions that she might have been kidnapped. Friends and relatives embarked on a frantic search for her, until early on Monday morning when her corpse was found at Maryland in Enugu.

Eyewitnesses stated that her corpse was mutilated with a substance suspected to be acid.

(source: dailypost.ng)

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Oluwo Seeks Capital Punishment For Fraudsters, Kidnappers

Apparently worried by incessant kidnap and endemic corruption bedevilling the country, the paramount ruler of Iwoland, Oba Abdulrasheed Adewale Akanbi, Telu 1, has advocated death sentence for those found culpable to stem the trend.

Speaking with newsmen in his palace in Iwo yesterday, the monarch insisted that until capital punishment was enforced on perpetrators of these inhuman acts, they will continue to thrive no matter the level of security measures adopted.

Oba Akanbi cited Saudi Arabia where capital punishment has made it impossible for corruption to thrive, adding that those that are killing the masses steadily cannot withstand capital punishment.

While condemning the recent killing of Yoruba monarchs, Oba Akanbi who described the act as heinous and sacrilege called on his fellow monarchs to fortify themselves with the power of Olodumare and abstain from idol worshipping.

Akanbi said, “It is not only in Nigeria that we are experiencing insecurity, There are many places in the world where they are experiencing insecurity, but what we see in the case of killing traditional rulers in Yorubaland now is sabotage.

“It is a planned sabotage. There is sabotage in the land, especially against this government. We have seen now that the people who believe in them are the ones doing it.

On the rise in the cost of living that is inflicting untoward hardship on Nigerians, Oluwo called for patients, adding that the economic policy of President Bola Tinubu administration will soon yield fruitful dividends.

(source: leadership.ng)

ZIMBABWE:

Zimbabwe Considers Abolishing Death Penalty----Parliament Should Amend Criminal Code, Protect Right to Life

Zimbabwe’s cabinet has approved a bill that, if passed by parliament, will abolish the death penalty.

Member of Parliament Edwin Mushoriwa introduced a private members bill in 2023 – the Death Penalty Abolition Bill – to amend Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law Code and the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to abolish the death penalty. Nationwide consultations across the country’s 10 provinces have shown that “the majority of our people want the death penalty to be abolished,” he said recently.

While Zimbabwe carried out its last executions in 2005, courts have continued to impose the death sentence and there are currently 63 prisoners on death row. Zimbabwe’s minister of information, publicity and broadcasting services said if Parliament votes to abolish the death penalty, the 63 death row prisoners will be returned to court for resentencing.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe protects the right to life. However, it empowers courts in limited circumstances to impose the death penalty for aggravated murder. The proposed law would prohibit any court from imposing the death penalty and from carrying out a death sentence previously handed down.

The right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment are established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights treaties to which Zimbabwe is party, and many national constitutions.

Although article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights permits the use of the death penalty in limited circumstances, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Office has stated that the use of the death penalty is not consistent with the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In 2022, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called on all member countries of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to “take steps towards abolishing the Death Penalty.”

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.

To date, some 170 countries have abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty either in law or in practice. In Southern Africa, by approving the Death Penalty Abolition Bill, Zimbabwe will join Angola, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, and Zambia to have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.

(source: Human Rights Watch)

INDIA:

PM Modi thanks Qatari Emir for release of 8 jailed Indians on death row----PM Modi held wide-ranging talks with the Qatari Emir primarily focusing on significantly expanding India-Qatar ties in areas of trade, energy, investment and new technology

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday thanked Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani for the release of 8 Indian nationals, who were sentenced to death after being arrested here in August 2022.

Modi held wide-ranging talks with the Qatari Emir primarily focusing on significantly expanding India-Qatar ties in areas of trade, energy, investment and new technology.

Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said at a media briefing that Modi thanked the Emir for his support for the welfare of the Indian community in the Gulf nation.

"The prime minister thanked the Emir for his support for the welfare of the Indian community, and in this regard, expressed his deep appreciation to the Emir for the release of eight Indian nationals of Al-Dahra company. We are extremely gratified to see them back in India," Kwatra said.

Modi arrived in this Qatari capital city last night after concluding a two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates.

The Navy veterans were on October 26 given death sentences by Qatar's Court of First Instance. The Court of Appeal in the Gulf nation on December 28 commuted the capital punishment and sentenced them to jail terms for varying durations.

In December, Prime Minister Modi met the Qatari Amir on the sidelines of the COP28 Summit in Dubai and discussed the "well-being of the Indian community" in Qatar.

The former Indian Navy personnel apparently faced charges of espionage, but neither the Qatari authorities nor New Delhi made the charges against them public.

Kwatra said the discussions between Modi and the Emir focused on a wide range of areas of bilateral cooperation including trade partnership, investment cooperation and energy ties.

The 2 leaders spoke about the need for strategic investments and strategic partnerships in the fields of energy and technology, he said.

The foreign secretary said Modi's visit to Doha laid the basis for taking India-Qatar relationship to a much higher level across various domains, the 2 sides are looking at using investment as a vehicle to build long-term strategic partnership.

India and Qatar are looking at broadbasing trade baskets to link it to regional trade, he said.

Prime Minister Modi also invited Emir Hamad Al-Thani to visit India, Kwatra added.

(source: business-standard.com)

JORDAN:

Man sentenced to death in Amman

The Grand Criminal Court in Amman has sentenced a man to death by hanging for the premeditated murder of an Arab homeowner. The victim, who resided in the apartment seasonally for tourism and treatment, was killed and robbed in his own home.

The court found the perpetrator guilty of planning the murder and theft, violating Jordanian Penal Code articles regarding premeditated murder and preparing for a felony. Details of the case reveal that the victim's son, residing in Iraq, had listed the apartment for sale online. The accused contacted the son through the victim's WhatsApp, expressing interest and visiting the apartment twice.

During one visit, while the son was on speakerphone with his father, the victim mentioned receiving a USD 17,000 transfer, potentially fueling the motive for robbery. On the third visit, the accused, armed with a silenced pistol, shot the victim in the head from behind and stole money, a car, and a phone.

The stolen phone, later found on a bus, led authorities to the victim's son, who reported him missing. Upon entering the apartment with police, the son discovered his father's body.

This case highlights the gravity of violent crimes in Jordan and the justice system's response. The death sentence, while controversial, reflects the severity of the act and seeks to deter similar offenses.

(source: en.royanews.tv)

IRAN----execution

Iraqi National Abuzar Taher Arab Executed in Qom

Abuzar Taher Arab, an Iraqi national on death row for murder, was executed in Qom Central Prison.

According to information obtained by Iran Human Rights, an Iraqi national was executed in Qom Central Prison on 12 February. His identity has been established as 38-year-old Abuzar Taher Arab from Mosul.

He was arrested for the murder of his employer around 3 years ago and sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder.

An informed source told Iran Human Rights: “Abuzar had been working for the man for 4 months but he wouldn’t pay him. He’d committed the murder during an argument.”

At the time of writing, his execution has not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

Those charged with the umbrella term of “intentional murder” are sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) regardless of intent or circumstances due to a lack of grading in law. Once a defendant has been convicted, as the plaintiffs, the victim’s family are required to choose between death as retribution, diya (blood money) or forgiveness.

(source: iranhr.net)

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Dozens of Inmates Await Execution in Iranian Prison

90 Iranians incarcerated in Zanjan Central Prison await execution on charges including drug trafficking, murder, armed robbery and rape, human rights groups have warned.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group said that the vast majority of them were sentenced to death for drug-related offenses. 4 were convicted of rape.

In recent weeks, the sharp rise in executions in the country sparked passionate calls from Iranian civil society to abolish the death penalty, with the hashtag #NoToExecution being increasingly popular among social media users.

Ten political prisoners held in Ghezelhesar prison have initiated weekly hunger strikes they dubbed "Black Tuesdays" to protest the judiciary's issuance and enforcement of death sentences.

Their protest action garnered widespread support from political prisoners nationwide.

The number of people given capital punishment across Iran reached a 12-month high in January, with at least 35 people being sentenced to death during that month, according to the activist HRANA news agency.

As many as 86 individuals were executed in January, it also said, stressing that capital punishment in Iran is “routinely imposed following trials that fall short of due process guarantees, in a judicial system that lacks transparency and impartiality, and for crimes that do not amount to the most serious crimes under international law.”

(source: iranwire.com)

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Hunger Strikes Against the Death Penalty in the Women's Ward of Evin Prison

A cohort of female political prisoners, supporting the opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), went on a hunger strike on Tuesday, February 13, 2024, within the confines of the women’s ward in Evin Prison. Their objective was to denounce the escalating frequency of executions in Iran. The hunger strikes against the death penalty, aimed at condemning the imposition of the death penalty, was first launched on Tuesday, January 30, 2024, by death-row inmates at Qezel Hesar Prison in Karaj, following the executions of detained protesters Mohammad Qobadlou and Farhad Salimi.

Hunger Strikes against the Death Penalty

This was the third round of hunger strikes against the death penalty initiated by political prisoners across several prisons, including Evin, Qezel Hesar, Mashhad, Karaj, Khorramabad, and Saqqez. The campaign vehemently denounces the executions and demands an immediate cessation of such actions.

On Tuesday, January 30, several death-row prisoners in Qezel Hesar made an announcement: “In order to amplify our voices, we will commence a hunger strike every Tuesday. We have chosen Tuesdays because this day often marks the final moments for our fellow inmates, who are usually transferred to solitary confinement a few days prior.”

The ongoing resistance of political prisoners against the clerical regime’s killing machine persists amidst a concerning escalation in the issuance of death sentences. Recent weeks have seen a surge in charges leveled against political prisoners, including accusations of “moharebeh” or waging war on God and “Bagh-ye” or armed insurgency against the clerical regime.

So far, four female political prisoners in the women’s ward of Evin Prison have been charged with “Bagh-ye.” They include Marzieh Farsi, Forough Taghipour, Nassim Gholami Fard, and Varisha Moradi.

In late January, the 26th Branch of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran convened a trial to address the charges against Marzieh Farsi and Forough Taghipour. However, the 2 political prisoners declined to attend the court, citing their refusal to acknowledge its legitimacy.

(source: women.ncr-iran.org)

FEBRUARY 15, 2024:

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana lawmaker proposes adding nitrogen gas and electrocution to the state’s execution methods

Louisiana’s infamous electric chair — dubbed by death row inmates as “Gruesome Gertie” — was last used for an execution in 1991, when the state moved to lethal injections as the sole method to carry out capital punishment. However, like other reliably red states that have seen executions stall, Louisiana lawmakers are looking to expand its methods to carry out the death penalty. The Deep South state is exploring adding the newest execution technique of oxygen deprivation using nitrogen gas, which was used in Alabama last month, and bringing back electrocution.

Over the past couple of decades, executions in the United States have vastly reduced — in part because of legal battles, a shortage of lethal injection drugs and declined support in capital punishment leading to a majority of states to either abolish or pause carrying out the death penalty.

In Louisiana, around 60 people currently sit on death row but an execution has not occurred since 2010. However, between a new conservative governor and the nation’s 1st execution using nitrogen gas, there has been a renewed push to find alternatives to lethal injection. Ahead of Louisiana’s short crime-related legislative session that begins next week, state Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, a Republican who chairs the House’s Civil Law and Procedure Committee, filed a bill that proposes adding nitrogen gas and electrocution to the list of authorized methods.

A handful of states have already sought to include additional options, such as firing squads. Most recently, Alabama used nitrogen gas to put to death a convicted killer in January — marking the first time a new execution method had been used in the United States since lethal injection was introduced in 1982.

The idea of using of nitrogen gas for executions is gaining traction elsewhere in the country. The state of Oklahoma already has a law authorizing the use of nitrogen gas, as does Missouri, and some others including Nebraska have introduced measures this year to add it as an option.

“States around us are finding ways and methods in order to execute those who have been tried, and convicted, and sentenced to death,” Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Jeff Landry during a press availability last month, without specifying what methods he would support.

While exploring the use of nitrogen gas has come as no shock to political experts Louisiana, reinstating electrocution has surprised some. Today, only eight states allow for electrocution — however, seven of them have lethal injection as primary method, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Likewise, lethal injection would be the preferred method in Louisiana, based on the bill.

South Carolina’s current execution law requires inmates to be sent to the electric chair unless they choose a different method.

Supreme courts in at least 2 states, Georgia and Nebraska, have ruled that the use of the electric chair violates their state constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.

The exploration of additional methods on the books in Louisiana has caused many to wonder if the state will soon resume executions.

Landry says he is committed to upholding “contractual obligations” between the state and victims’ families after a death sentence has been handed down in court. The governor’s favoritism for the death penalty is the opposite of his predecessor, a Democrat who wanted to see capital punishment abolished.

Louisiana’s special session, which begins Monday, also included bills that include restricting parole eligibility, harsher penalties for some crimes and publicizing some juvenile court records.

(source: Associated Press)

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Bill to add additional methods to the death penalty and to protect drug manufactures filed in special crime session

Among the legislation filed for the special session to address crime would expand the methods used to carry out the death penalty. Hammond Representative Nicholas Muscarello said there’s an ongoing shortage of the drugs used for lethal injections so House Bill 6 would offer alternatives.

“One being the electric chair and the other being nitrogen hypoxia. But I don’t foresee us using those methods it’s more of something that was added to the bill,” said Muscarello.

Because of the difficulty obtaining the drugs used for lethal injections, the bill would also offer protections for drug manufacturers. Muscarello said drug companies are often reluctant to provide the ingredients needed for an execution.

“If you’re a drug provider or a compound pharmacist or anybody in that profession, if you provide us the drugs needed to perform the lethal injection then you’ll be shielded and if you anybody exposes them, they will be subject to penalties as well,” said Muscarello.

Any legislation about the death penalty brings on the emotional debate, but Muscarello said this bill is only about expanding methods and providing protections to drug manufacturers.

“The debate about the death penalty is a totally separate debate, and that’s something that should be debated in another bill. But this bill is about performing a function that we’ve committed to victim’s families,” said Muscarello.

Muscarello’s bill is one of the 24 pieces of legislation Governor Jeff Landry wants passed in the special session that begins Monday and wraps on March 6th, just days before the regular legislative session convenes on March 11th.

(source: Louisiana Radio Network)

TENNESSEE:

‘I would not be surprised’: Lawyer explains the possibility of death penalty in DeHart case

With Kenneth DeHart, the suspect accused of fatally shooting Blount County Deputy Greg McCowan, in custody, the next phase of the legal process has been set in motion.

For DeHart, the case could go to trial, and if he is convicted, Sheriff James Berrong has shared that he wants to see the death penalty considered.

“That’s where things get really serious real quick. You actually have a trial and the consequences are life or death,” Attorney Greg Isaacs said. “Under Tennessee law, to impose the death penalty, the state has to prove at least one aggravating factor beyond a reasonable doubt,” Isaacs said. “That aggravating factor can not be outweighed by mitigating factors that the defense has to prove.”

Executions have been on pause in Tennessee since January 2023, but Isaacs pointed out that a ruling such as that will have no impact on the outcome of DeHart’s case.

“Of late, it’s because of the availability drugs relative to lethal injection but I don’t think it has anything to do with the decision or a conviction,” Isaacs said.

Isaacs listed 3 potentially aggravating factors:

DeHart’s prior felony conviction in 2004 in which he was in a violent standoff with police;

Potentially impeding or eliminating a witness;

And the killing of a law enforcement officer as reasons that the death penalty could come to fruition.

“Right from the beginning, those are three aggravating factors that it would appear from the outside looking in that the state could potentially prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Isaacs said. “The defense would have their work cut out to try to find mitigating factors to outweigh those.”

Under Tennessee law, Isaacs believes that those reasons could grant Berrong his wish.

“You look at the rawness of the emotion that will be present in that courtroom, I would not be surprised if in this case, the jury returned the ultimate verdict and a verdict of death,” Isaacs said.

DeHart was taken into custody on Tuesday on charges of 1st degree murder, attempted 1st degree murder, and felon in possession of a weapon. He is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. ET.

(source: WATE news)

ARKANSAS----female spared from death penalty

Benton County prosecutor: Cash’s troubled childhood cited in jury’s sparing her from death sentence----Law enforcement officials, others weigh in on end of Cash trial

Some jurors cited Shawna Cash's turbulent childhood as a reason for not recommending the death penalty, Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Joshua Robinson said.

Cash, 25, of Pine Bluff was sentenced Tuesday to life imprisonment without the benefit of parole for killing Pea Ridge police officer Kevin Apple.

The seven women and five men on the jury spared Cash from a death sentence.

Robinson spoke Wednesday morning at a press conference about the case.

Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren, after sentencing Cash to life imprisonment Tuesday, lifted a gag order he had issued for the case.

Robinson said the jury did a really good job, took its time and came up with a thoughtful and deliberate conclusion. He and Gabriel Stultz, deputy prosecutor, spoke with several jurors after the trial ended.

"It was a difficult decision to decide whether or not to send a 25-year-old woman to death," Robinson said. "We always knew that would be difficult."

Robinson said he had hoped for a different sentence, but he doesn't have any complaints about the jury's decision. He said he's proud of the jurors for giving an honest evaluation of the evidence and being fair to both sides.

Robinson said from his discussions with jurors, Cash's age played a big role in their decision, as did the facts of Cash's turbulent childhood. He said some jurors believed if Cash had been raised in a different environment, her life might have turned out differently.

The jury foreman declined to comment when he and another juror were leaving the building.

Robinson said the primary goal and objective was to convict Cash of capital murder and hold her accountable for Apple's murder.

"I felt very strongly that it was premeditated and deliberated murder on her part, and the jury agreed with that, and so I'm very happy that the jury was able to look at the facts and the law and come to that conclusion," Robinson said.

Robinson said Apple's family members have been incredibly gracious and understanding throughout the lengthy process. He said the family members were disappointed by the sentence but pleased with the capital murder verdict.

Robinson praised the response and work of the different law enforcement agencies involved in the case. He also wanted to recognize the people at the scene who rushed to Apple's side to help him and the two drivers who followed and chased Cash while giving dispatchers the directions to help police catch her.

"So I think also the amount of community involvement in this case speaks volumes to the kind of community we have in Bentonville, Benton County and Northwest Arkansas," Robinson said.

He said he did not know Apple, but was honored and humbled to fight for Apple.

Robinson said he never discussed with Apple's family whether they wanted to see any remorse from Cash or for her to ask them for forgiveness.

"I question how much it would mean at this point having seen the evidence, but I can't speak for them," Robinson said. "I think the lack of remorse is resounding and so no, they never specifically told me that, but in light of the evidence, I don't think they ever expected it."

Apple and Brian Stamps, then a Pea Ridge police officer, heard a dispatch about 11:30 a.m. June 26, 2021, to be on the lookout for a Jeep fleeing from Rogers police. They spotted the Jeep at the White Oak Station in Pea Ridge, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Stamps stopped his patrol vehicle behind the Jeep, and Apple stopped his car in front of the Jeep.

Cash hit Stamps' vehicle, then sped forward and hit Apple, who got caught under the vehicle. Stamps testified he fired four shots at the Jeep after seeing Apple underneath it.

Cash was later apprehended by a Bella Vista police officer after she crashed the Jeep and fled into the woods.

Elijah Andazola, 21, of Bentonville was a passenger in the Jeep with Cash. He is charged with accomplice to capital murder and fleeing. He previously pleaded not guilty, and prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

His jury trial is scheduled to begin March 5.

Robinson said he could not comment much on Andazola's case.

"The facts are going to be very similar with the distinction that he's a passenger," Robinson said.

Benton County Justice of the Peace Brian Armas attended each day of the trial, and said he's pleased the jury found Cash guilty of capital murder. He believes it probably was the hardest process for the jury; they could have found Cash guilty of first or second degree murder instead.

He said he believes justice was served.

Sheriff Shawn Holloway said he had known Apple since 1996 when both men started their law enforcement careers. Holloway said he started as a police officer for the Lincoln Police Department around the same time Apple started as an officer in the Farmington Police Department.

Holloway said he started working for the Rogers Police Department in 1997, and Apple later started working for the Lowell Police Department. He said they would both be working midnight shifts and meet at the border and talk about working for smaller departments.

"He was always such a happy guy," Holloway said.

Holloway said he was on the murder scene that day and it was something he wish he did not have to see.

"It's my job to bring justice to everyone, but especially for someone I considered a close friend," Holloway said.

Pea Ridge Police Chief Lynn Hahn said he hadn't heard much response about the jury's verdict. He said he believes people know Cash deserved the death penalty but are happy she's serving a life sentence.

Hahn said he respects the jury's verdict and understands they had to make difficult decisions.

Stamps, who no longer works in law enforcement, testified at the trial. Hahn said Stamps told him he finally received some closure.

"For him, he's glad she's put away and can't hurt another officer again," Hahn said.

Hahn said he wanted people to know the type of police officer and person Apple was. He said Cash did not know Apple would have been the first person to help her in a different situation.

"He would have bought her gas," Hahn said. "He would have joked about her purple hair, but he would have been the 1st person to help her."

Cash is being kept at the Benton County Jail while she awaits transportation to the Arkansas Department of Correction.

(source: neaonline.com)

**************

Shawna Cash, who killed Pea Ridge police officer, will spend the remainder of her life prison----PB woman silent as sentence read

A jury spared a woman who killed a Pea Ridge police officer from a death sentence on Tuesday, recommending instead that she be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The jury of 7 women and 5 men last week found Shawna Cash guilty of capital murder in the death of officer Kevin Apple.

It also found her guilty of fleeing, 2 counts of aggravated assault and obstruction of governmental operations.

The panel deliberated for almost 3 hours Tuesday before returning with the sentencing recommendations.

Cash stood with her attorneys as Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren read the jury's recommendations in a quiet courtroom.

Cash did not show any physical reaction.

Apple's family members, friends and a few police officers sat on one side of the courtroom.

Cash's brother and sister, who testified at the trial, were not present.

The jury recommended the life sentence without the benefit of parole for capital murder, 10 years and a $10,000 fine for fleeing, and 6 years and $10,000 for each of the aggravated assault convictions. The panel recommended one year in jail for the misdemeanor obstruction charge.

Karren followed the recommendations and sentenced Cash to life imprisonment, along with the other recommended sentences. He ordered the sentences to be served consecutively.

He sentenced Cash to 26 years in prison for two probation revocations while the jury was deliberating.

The judge ordered Cash not to have any contact with Apple's family members.

Cash declined the opportunity to make any statements, and she was handcuffed and led from the courtroom to be transported back to the Benton County jail by sheriff's deputies.

Katherine Streett, one of Cash's attorneys, declined to comment when she was leaving and outside the courtroom.

Pea Ridge Police Chief Lynn Hahn attended most or all of Cash's hearing. He also attended all of the trial. He said it was difficult to sit through the trial, especially the portion where prosecutors played a recording where someone was mocking Apple's death and Cash was laughing in response.

Hahn said he was on the June 2021 scene minutes after Cash ran over Apple. Hahn said he saw Apple at the scene, but he had not seen the autopsy photographs, and it was tough seeing them.

"After watching the videos of him being murdered and listening to some of the lack of remorse in Cash," Hahn said, "I prayed that the jury would come out with the right outcome."

Hahn said the sentence was three years in the making.

"I think the jury did their job very well," Hahn said. "It was a tough, tough job, and they made a decision based on the facts that they had. So I'm happy that Shawna Cash will pay the price by spending the rest of her life in prison."

Hahn said he, other Pea Ridge officers and Apple's family are grateful for the support they have received from the community.

Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Joshua Robinson said he felt honored and grateful to have been able to be involved in the case and seek justice for Apple.

Robinson said he's grateful to the jury for their diligence and attention throughout a long and difficult trial. Robinson said the jury took its responsibility seriously and thoughtfully and weighed all the evidence presented.

He said he was taken aback by the swift and certain response of so many civilians from the community that ran to Apple and chased after Cash immediately after she killed Apple.

"The murder of a police officer is not only an attack on an individual, it is an attack on our community and on law and order," Robinson said. "Officer Kevin Apple will continue to be grieved and missed by our entire community."

Apple and Brian Stamps, then a Pea Ridge police officer, heard a dispatch about 11:30 a.m. June 26, 2021, to be on the lookout for a Jeep fleeing from Rogers police. They spotted the Jeep at the White Oak Station in Pea Ridge, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Stamps stopped his patrol vehicle behind the Jeep, and Apple stopped his car in front of the Jeep.

Cash hit Stamps' vehicle, then sped forward and hit Apple, who got caught under the vehicle. Stamps testified he fired 4 shots at the Jeep after seeing Apple underneath it.

Cash was later apprehended by a Bella Vista police officer after she crashed the Jeep and fled into the woods.

Streett pleaded with jurors in her closing statements to have mercy on her client and spare her life.

The jury was presented with testimony and evidence of Cash's troubled childhood involving neglect and physical and sexual abuse, along with a nomadic lifestyle. She moved 35 times in her childhood.

"You may not have compassion for Shawna," Streett said, pointing at her. "But have compassion for that little girl."

She displayed a 2nd childhood photo of Cash and asked for compassion from the jury. "That's who Shawna is," Streett said.

Robinson urged the jury to recommend the death penalty. He told the jurors Cash did not show any mercy for Apple when she hit him and dragged his body 149 feet across a parking lot and over a curb.

Robinson told jurors Apple was fighting for his life as he was dragged.

"She doesn't care about him," Robinson said. "He's a speed bump in her life."

(source: Associated Press)

MISSOURI----new execution date

Execution date set for Jefferson City man convicted of murder

The Supreme Court of Missouri set the execution date Wednesday for a Jefferson City man convicted in the murder of a woman.

David Hosier's execution date is set for June 11, in a 24-period beginning at 6 p.m.

In 2013, a Cole County jury convicted Hosier, 69, of the 1st-degree murder of Angela Gilpin in 2009. He was also found guilty of armed criminal action, burglary, and unlawful possession of a weapon. The jury recommended the death penalty.

Hosier had a relationship with Gilpin while she was separated from her husband, who also was shot to death in her Jefferson City apartment.

Hosier has submitted multiple appeals since his conviction, all of which were overruled. He is currently being held at the Potosi Correctional Center.

(source: KOMU news)

IDAHO:

‘Check the hard drives’: Vigilante conspiracy theorists launch crusade against state reps who voted against death penalty for child abuse----Democrats are facing baselessy accusations.

The Idaho State House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow for convicted child sex abusers to receive the death penalty.

But 11 state representatives who voted against the bill are being targeted by conspiracy theorists and QAnon believers for their vote—dubbed sex offenders and secret pedophile protectors.

Idaho Democrats say they voted against the bill because they believe it is unconstitutional—not because they condone child sex abuse.

House Bill 515, also known as the “lewd contact with a minor” bill proposes that perpetrators who committed sex crimes against children under 12 years old shall be “punished by death or by imprisonment for life.”

To punish perpetrators by death, though, prosecuting attorneys must submit a “notice of intent to seek” the penalty. It passed 57-11; a majority of Republicans voted for it, and a majority of Democrats against.

When explaining his vote against the bill, Rep. John L. Gannon (D) said it was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court decided in Coker v. Georgia (1977) that the death penalty is a “grossly disproportionate” punishment for rape because the crime doesn’t involve killing another person. The Court also decided in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008) that the rape of a child cannot incur the death penalty, as it would be “cruel and unusual punishment.”

“We need to go after the people who are committing lewd crimes and spend the money there,” local outlet KIVTV reported Gannon said. “Not spend it on ideology and on something that isn’t going to work.”

Despite Democrats’ stated reasoning, they are now being accused of possessing child pornography on social media.

In recent years, the right has developed a newfound obsession with a supposed child abuse running rampant nationwide, spurred by belief in both the QAnon conspiracy theory and the misguided grooming panic directed at the LGBTQ community.

“Yesterday, Idaho voted to give pedos the death penalty,” conservative commentator Jordan Sather posted on Truth Social, alongside a photo of the vote count. “Check the hard drives of the 11 Nays.”

That same image also circulated on X and was posted by conservatives, who speculated about the Democrats who voted against the bill.

“Check the hard drives of everybody that voted nay immediately,” conservative commentator Amiri King tweeted.

“What’s wrong with the 11 pedos?” @jasonkinder tweeted.

“Seems like the 11 Nays are going to begin sweating now,” @tommassman said.

A similar law passed in Florida last year, which expanded the death penalty to be used against those who are convicted of sex crimes against children. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has said that he believes that should the Florida law be challenged in the Supreme Court, it will be upheld.

The Idaho chapter of MassResistance, a “pro-family activism” group, saw the Idaho House’s decision as a beacon of hope.

“There’s some hope for Idaho, after all,” Idaho MassResistance posted on X. “Will Idaho become the Florida of the Rocky Mountains?”

(source: Tricia Crimmins is the IRL staff writer at the Daily Dot)

USA:

Republican bill proposes death penalty or life sentences for killing police officers

Through the Fallen Law Enforcement Act introduced this week, U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and John Cornyn (R-TX) seek to strengthen penalties for attacks on law enforcement across the board.

The bill would require death penalties or life imprisonment imposed on anyone convicted of murdering federal, state or local law enforcement officers. For cases of assault resulting in serious injuries, it would mandate criminal penalties of 20 years in prison.

“Anyone who willfully injures or takes the life of a law enforcement officer should face severe consequences and the highest criminal penalties,” Blackburn said. “Our brave men and women in blue put their own safety at risk in service to our communities, and we must do all that we can to ensure their perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

In addition to the mandatory penalties, the Justice for Fallen Law Enforcement Act would require a study be conducted after 36 months to inform the House and Senate Judiciary Committees about prosecutions resulting from the legislation.

“Law enforcement officers in North Carolina and across the country are heroes who risk their lives every day to protect our communities,” said Senator Tillis. “Those who commit senseless acts of violence against law enforcement officers must be held accountable for their actions, which is why I am proud to introduce this legislation that creates harsh federal penalties for criminals who target law enforcement. They put their lives on the line to protect us, and we should do the work in Congress to protect them.”

Law enforcement deaths have been fairly consistent throughout for the last hundred years (between 100 and 250 deaths per year), according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, but figures spiked in 2020 and 2021 (to 417 and 623 deaths, respectively), before sliding back to more normal levels in 2022. However, the National Fraternal Order of Police reported that 378 officers were shot in the line of duty in 2023, of which 46 died.

(source: homelandprepnews.com)

*********************

Guess Who’s Coming to Jury Duty?: How the Failure to Collect Juror Demographic Data Contributes to Whitewashing the Jury Box----In a new report, the Death Penalty Clinic expands on “Whitewashing the Jury Box: How California Perpetuates the Exclusion of Black and Latinx Jurors,” a 2020 report which investigated the history, legacy, and ongoing practice of excluding people of color — especially African Americans — from state juries through prosecutors’ peremptory challenges.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Jury Duty?: How the Failure to Collect Juror Demographic Data Contributes to Whitewashing the Jury Box” continues the clinic’s racial justice research and advocacy by cataloging the states that gather prospective jurors’ self-identified race and ethnicity and those that do not. It examines what courts do with the information, including whether it is provided to the court and counsel for use during jury selection, and the consequences of these choices in furthering or obstructing jury representativeness and diversity. In particular, the report shows why the collection of prospective jurors’ self-identified race and ethnicity is vital to meeting state and federal fair cross-section guarantees and eliminating the discriminatory exercise of peremptory challenges.

Racial/ethnic representation and diversity matter to jury decision-making and hence justice cannot be achieved unless courts take a race-conscious approach to jury composition and selection.

The report was researched and written by Elisabeth Semel (Chancellor’s Clinical Professor of Law and co-director, Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic), Willy Ramirez, Yara Slaton, Casey Jang (students, Death Penalty Clinic, Berkeley Law Class of ’23), and Lauren Havey (Berkeley Law Clinical Program Paralegal).

Read the report, at: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Guess-Whos-Coming-to-Jury-Duty_2-14-24.pdf

The report’s findings and recommendations include:

Currently, 19 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal districts collect race and ethnicity data either from source lists or directly from prospective jurors.

While the trend is toward the collection of race and ethnicity information, the pace has been lethargic.

Every state should adopt a uniform questionnaire that obtains prospective jurors’ self-identified race/ethnicity when they respond to a summons. The form should be publicly available.

In 16 of the 19 states that collect prospective jurors’ self-identified race and ethnicity, the information is available to trial judges and counsel, either as a matter of statutory law, statewide judicial rule or policy, at the request of counsel, or at the discretion of the individual judicial districts or trial judges.

Each prospective juror’s self-identified race/ethnicity should be available to the trial court and counsel for the parties prior to the start of jury selection.

Aggregated, anonymized race/ethnicity data for each judicial district should be published annually by the courts and readily available to litigants investigating jury composition or selection challenges.

Appendix D

Due to its large size, Appendix D, a compilation of juror questionnaires across 50 states and Washington, D.C., is only available online.

see: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Guess-Whos-Coming-to-Jury-Duty-Appendix-D-2023.12.04-opt.pdf

To view the questionnaires by state, click on the 2nd icon on the left to see an alphabetical index.

(source: law.berkeley.edu)

*******************

Is the Death Penalty Too Harsh for Sex Offenders?----There seems to be a group of people intent on normalizing crimes against children.

Once upon a time, people who preyed on, hurt, or abused children were considered the worst of the worst. Not too long ago, justice was on the side of children. That is sadly not the case anymore.<> Recently, the state of Kentucky became the cause of controversy when a daycare worker who is mentally ill and pretending to be a woman sexually abused an infant. After the man hired an activist lawyer, his charges were lowered from sexual abuse of a minor to sexual misconduct. The reason? He would not have access to estrogen if he served time in prison.

As infuriating as this case is, we must understand that this won’t be the last time we see cases like this. A dark force has taken over what used to be a sane nation. If children can no longer count on adults to protect their innocence, who can they count on?

Thankfully, the children of Florida and Tennessee can still count on the adults to protect their innocence. In 2023, Florida passed legislation that extends the death penalty to individuals who commit sexual battery against children under the age of 12. Currently, Tennessee is seeking to pass similar legislation that will extend the death penalty to those charged with raping a child. This bill has made it to the Finance Committee thanks to Republican approval. Unsurprisingly, those in opposition to the bill were members of the Democrat Party.

The death penalty is controversial even among conservatives. Some believe that there are crimes that justify the death penalty, and there are those who believe we shouldn’t get to choose who lives and dies. A common conservative argument against the death penalty is: If abortion is wrong, so is the death penalty.

Frankly, this argument can be easily dismantled. The victim of an abortion, the unborn baby, has not committed a crime. The person sentenced to the death has committed a crime, often a very heinous crime.

Perhaps harsh punishments are needed to deter crimes against children since rehabilitation is unlikely. According to the Office of Justice Programs, a study finds a “30 % recidivism rate at year 10 of offender’s release from prison. By the year 25, re-offending had increased to 52 %.”

There seems to be a group of people intent on normalizing crimes against children. Pedophilia and the abuse of children must not become normal in our country. Among the many hills one can die on, the hill of protecting the children’s innocence is one many should choose. Children cannot speak or make decisions for themselves. That is why they rely on the adults to do what’s best for them. Harsh punishments for sex offenders is what is best for the children.

(source: Scarlen Valderaz, The Patriot Post)

FRANCE:

A Divided France Splits Over a National Hero----Robert Badinter, the former minister who abolished the death penalty, was honored in Paris after his death on Friday, but members of the far left and right were told they were unwelcome.

In a solemn ceremony, France paid its respects on Wednesday to Robert Badinter, the lawyer and former justice minister who came to represent the conscience of the nation, but sharp political conflicts shattered any show of unity.

The family of Mr. Badinter, a lifelong Socialist who led the campaign resulting in the 1981 abolition of capital punishment in France, demanded that neither the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen, nor the far-left France Unbowed party founded by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, be allowed to attend the ceremony. Mr. Badinter died on Friday.

Between them, the 2 parties hold about 30 % of the seats in the National Assembly, or the lower house of Parliament. A ceremony conceived to celebrate one man’s embodiment of the soul of France revealed instead a fissured country whose identity and essential values are contested.

Ms. Le Pen’s National Rally, formerly the National Front, has espoused many of the views most detested by Mr. Badinter — antisemitism, xenophobia, rejection of European unity — so the request from Mr. Badinter’s widow, Élisabeth Badinter, was perhaps predictable. The party duly respected her wishes.

But the sharp rebuke to Mr. Mélenchon, who as a fellow socialist sat with Mr. Badinter in the Senate for many years, was a stark indication of the splintering of the left in France and the eclipse of the moderate social-democrat views embraced by the former justice minister. The Socialist Party has been in sharp decline since Emmanuel Macron, a centrist, upended traditional alignments in 2017 and became president.

Mr. Mélenchon, who as a France Unbowed candidate placed 3rd in the 1st round of voting for the presidency in 2022, did not react well.

“A national homage from which a part of the French people is excluded is not a national homage,” he said on X, formerly Twitter. “The Republic is one and indivisible.”

The party insisted on sending 2 senior representatives to the ceremony against Ms. Badinter’s wishes, but Mr. Mélenchon did not attend. Sabrina Agresti-Roubache, a junior member of the centrist French government, denounced the party’s presence as displaying “an absolute lack of decency.”

Mr. Badinter’s coffin, draped in the French flag, was carried into Place Vendôme in central Paris by 6 uniformed members of the Republican Guard as President Macron looked on. The site, which had never been used for such a ceremony, was chosen because Mr. Badinter worked for 5 years on the square when he was justice minister.

“He was a soul that cried out, a force that lives and salvages life from the hands of death,” Mr. Macron said.

It was on Sept. 17, 1981, that Mr. Badinter thundered before the Parliament words that have marked French history: “I have the honor to demand, in the name of the government of the Republic, the abolition of the death penalty in France.” Executions were still carried out at the time by guillotine, as they had been since the French Revolution.

Mr. Badinter,the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and whose father was deported from Lyon, France, to a Nazi death camp in 1943 and never returned, parted company with Mr. Mélenchon over what he perceived as the extremist positions of France Unbowed.

He was particularly troubled by its flirtation with political Islam, which has drawn strong support for France Unbowed in poor suburbs with large Muslim populations of mainly North African descent.

“I never thought antisemitism would disappear, never,” Mr. Badinter told the magazine Challenges last year. “I always thought it would come back in one form or another. Political Islam is one variant, and not a new one. What troubles me is this alliance between political Islam and part of the left, a left looking for a new proletariat since most workers now vote for the National Rally and Le Pen.”

This variant of the left — Mr. Mélenchon’s — had turned away from the Enlightenment and universalism to embrace forms of identity politics, Mr. Badinter argued.

His widow, a philosopher, was blunter. Ms. Badinter told L’Express, a weekly magazine, last year that Mr. Mélenchon’s France Unbowed bears “enormous” responsibility for the rise of antisemitism. The party had encouraged “the worst in an entire sector of our youth” through its portrayal of French Muslims as “the victims par excellence of our society,” she said.

Mr. Mélenchon has denied any suggestion that he is an antisemite, an accusation leveled at his party by Élisabeth Borne, the former prime minister, after it equivocated over the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, blaming each side equally for the violence.

Mr. Mélenchon has since argued that Israel’s military response in Gaza “is not self-defense but genocide,” as he put it last year to Orient XX1, an online magazine focused on the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Mr. Macron vowed to be faithful to Mr. Badinter’s “lessons and engagement,” as he denounced antisemites, deniers of the Holocaust and “those who threaten the rule of law.” He suggested he would be favorable to Mr. Badinter’s induction into the Panthéon, the nation’s hallowed tomb of heroes.

(source: New York Times)

LIBYA:

Internal Security Agency must end abuses in name of ‘guarding virtue’

Over the past year, the Tripoli-based Internal Security Agency (ISA) has subjected dozens of men, women and children to a range of abuses, including enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture, with some facing the death penalty, under the guise of “guarding virtue,” said Amnesty International today.

Amnesty International has gathered evidence of an intensified crackdown on freedom of thought, expression and belief by ISA against the backdrop of a May 2023 decree issued by an official religious body, the General Authority for Endowments and Islamic Affairs (known as Awqaf), to combat what it called “religious, intellectual and moral deviations.” ISA’s vicious campaign, praised publicly by senior Awqaf officials, has targeted mainly Libyan youths, especially from the Amazigh community, as well as foreign nationals under the pretext of “safeguarding virtue and purifying society,” leading in some cases to investigations on charges punishable by death.

“The Libyan government’s inaction towards ISA’s well-documented crimes under international law, including torture and enforced disappearance, has emboldened them to commit further abuses and has perpetuated a vicious campaign stifling freedom of thought, expression and belief cloaked under ‘guarding virtue,’” said Bassam Al Kantar, Amnesty International’s Libya Researcher.

“The Libyan authorities must ensure the immediate release of all those detained solely for exercising their human rights and cease the persecution of individuals for expressing their beliefs. The Government of National Unity must also remove from positions of power ISA commanders and members reasonably suspected of serious human rights violations, pending independent and impartial criminal investigations and, if sufficient evidence exists, prosecutions.”

Amnesty International interviewed two former detainees, families and lawyers following up on cases of 4 individuals currently detained and appealing pretrial detention orders by prosecutors, as well as nine Libyan activists based in Libya or in exile; and reviewed 15 “confession” videos published by ISA since March 2023.

ISA’s intensified crackdown has targeted individuals perceived as rejecting the dominant Madkhali-Salafist ideology in Awqaf, which significantly restricts the rights of women and girls, religious minorities and LGBTI people.

Disturbing videos showing forced confessions

Videos published online by the ISA show at least 24 individuals under apparent duress giving “confessions”. At least 19 remain in pretrial detention following orders by the Public Prosecutor’s office in al-Ruwaimi and al-Jdeida prisons in Tripoli. They face charges of “illicit sexual intercourse”, “promoting views or principles that aim to overthrow the political, social, or economic order of the state”, “blasphemy” and “apostasy”. Some of these charges carry life imprisonment and death sentences.

On 28 December 2023, ISA published two videos on its social media channels showing 14 people, including four women and a 17-year-old girl, under apparent duress “confessing” to offences such as “spreading atheism,” “apostasy,” “embracing non-religion,” “adopting liberal ideas,” “wife swapping,” and “homosexuality”. In earlier videos ISA published in April and May 2023, 10 other people are seen “confessing” to “embracing Christianity” and “insulting Islam”.

Amnesty International’s documentation has confirmed that ISA had arrested those who appeared in the videos between March and October 2023.

“Heard screams of other detainees”

ISA agents arrested the targeted individuals from their homes or the streets without presenting a warrant. In some cases, ISA arrested their relatives to compel the “wanted” individuals to hand themselves in. Since September 2023, ISA also used the phones and chat histories of 2 other detained activists to arbitrarily arrest at least nine more individuals.

The Libyan government’s inaction towards ISA’s well-documented crimes under international law, including torture and enforced disappearance, has emboldened them to commit further abuses… Bassam Al Kantar, Amnesty International

ISA interrogators have routinely subjected detainees to torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence, beatings, electric shocks and suspension in stress positions. Those held were interrogated without a lawyer present.

A foreign national, who asked to remain anonymous, told Amnesty International that he was arrested in Tripoli by armed men in plain clothes, who took him to ISA’s headquarters without disclosing their affiliation or the reason for his arrest. He was kept incommunicado for a week and subjected to numerous interrogations, including by ISA’s head of the Central Security Committee.

He said that ISA investigators forced him to disclose the passwords to his phone and laptop, questioned him for hours and scrutinized his WhatsApp conversations and work-related calls before accusing him of “conspiracy” and “espionage”.

He told Amnesty International that he heard screams of other detainees and saw bloodstains on the floor as he walked from his cell to the bathroom. He was eventually deported.

Another human rights activist, detained for 10 months on charges of “communicating with atheists and feminists and insulting the state religion,” said that ISA’s commander Lotfi al-Harari interrogated him and was present while at least two ISA agents beat him with batons, stripped him naked and touched his genitals.

On 17 September 2023, the ISA arbitrarily arrested two Amazigh women activists and sisters, aged 22 and 27. In the video published by ISA on 28 December, the two women are heard “confessing” to “atheism” and “apostasy”. On 22 January, the Public Prosecution extended their pre-trial detention for 30 days.

Among those still arbitrarily detained is Sifaw Madi, who was arrested on 26 March 2023 and who appeared in a video ISA published on 6 April 2023, “confessing” to converting to Christianity in 2017 and proselytizing. He is facing accusations of “apostasy”, which carry the death penalty.

A direct attack on the Amazigh community

ISA’s crackdown has disproportionately affected the Amazigh community, which includes adherents of the Ibadi faith and Maliki school.

An activist, who asked to remain anonymous, said that ISA has intensified its campaign against the Amazigh community, citing leaked lists containing names of Amazigh and Ibadi activists, which suggests they might be subjected to monitoring and arrest.

Additionally, Nizar (a pseudonym) reported instances of attacks on cultural and religious sites, including the demolition of a Sufi corner in November 2023 and vandalism of archaeological sites, by the al-Hasyn Committee, which was tasked by Awqaf to combat “witchcraft and sorcery”, in October 2023. These actions targeted imams and preachers of Maliki and Ibadi followers in the northwestern city of Yefran.

“The Libyan authorities must immediately end their campaign against Amazigh and Ibadi activists, put an end to the destruction and demolition of Sufi shrines and uphold freedom of religion,” said Bassam Al Kantar.

Background

ISA in Tripoli is nominally under the Presidential Council of the Government of National Unity and receives state funding. Amnesty International has previously documented violations committed by ISA in western Libya.

On 9 January 2024, Libya’s parliament approved a new law criminalizing “witchcraft and sorcery”, with penalties ranging from imprisonment for up to 14 years to the death penalty.

Awqaf’s Decree No. 436/2023 established a central committee consisting of 17 officials, including a representative from security agencies, to enforce the “Guardians of Virtue” programme. Yehya Ben Halim, a prominent member of the committee, publicly praised ISA’s role in fighting “apostasy” and “liberal ideas”.

(source: Amnesty International)

FEBRUARY 14, 2024:

SOUTH CAROLINA:

Attorneys for Richard Moore levy human rights group in push for relief from SC death row

As the South Carolina Supreme Court mulls over the future of the state’s death penalty, attorneys representing a condemned man from Spartanburg seek a reprieve after petitioning an international human rights commission for counsel.

Attorneys representing Richard Moore, a man who was sentenced to death for the 1999 murder of a convenience store clerk, filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) to examine whether Moore’s trial and sentence violated his human rights under international law.

The IACHR promotes the protection of human rights as part of the Organization of American States (OAS), an international regional organization comprised of member states in the Americas like the United States, Mexico and Brazil. It can investigate human rights violations under international treaties established and agreed to by OAS member states, including cases involving capital punishment.

Attorneys from Columbia-based nonprofit, Justice 360, petitioned the IACHR to investigate Moore’s case based on three claims: his jury selection was corrupted with racial bias, his death sentence was excessive and disproportionate, and his prosecution was tainted with racial discrimination.

In July 2023, the commission issued a resolution granting "precautionary measures," or a request for the state to refrain from carrying out Moore’s execution until it fully investigates the claims made. Attorneys subsequently filed a petition to the SC Supreme Court requesting Moore receive a new trial using IACHR’s resolution.

The commission only grants precautionary measures in urgent cases where there is a "risk of irreparable harm."

In April 2022, Moore received an execution notice from the state and begrudgingly elected for death by firing squad. His execution would’ve been the first carried out in South Carolina since 2011, and the first ever carried out by firing squad. But the execution was stayed while the constitutionality of the firing squad and the state’s default method, the electric chair, were challenged in court.

This Aug. 17, 2018, photo provided by Justice 360 shows death row inmate Richard Moore at Kirkland Reception and Evaluation Center in Columbia, S.C. Moore was sentenced to death in the 1999 fatal shooting of James Mahoney, a convenience store clerk in Spartanburg County, S.C.

On Feb. 6 the state Supreme Court revisited arguments on the two methods. Executions could begin again following the court’s decision.

"Should the South Carolina Supreme Court rule against the death row petitioners, Mr. Moore is the first individual up for execution," the attorneys wrote in their petition.

What we know:Death penalty case of Spartanburg County's Richard Moore

When domestic options fail: What is IACHR and how do precautionary measures work?

The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights was created in 1959 as a body of the OAS to "promote the observance and defense of human rights" in member countries. The commission has the power to investigate individual petitions alleging violations of human rights and make recommendations to protect them.

The commission governs based on rights established in the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man, a declaration adopted in 1948 by member states to establish an international guiding principle to protect human rights as American laws evolve.

The petition brought by Moore’s attorneys alleges his rights to equality before the law, right to a fair trial and right to due process are among those violated under the international agreement.

While there is no mechanism where decisions by the IACHR can be enforced, the commission operates based on good faith among member states who agreed to the declaration.

"Treaties are the closest thing that you can get to binding law on an international level," Sandra Babcock, a clinical professor at Cornell Law School who specializes in human rights litigation said. "Like all international law, there's no international Marshal service or sheriff's deputies that are going to come in and enforce this. It's based on respect and reciprocity."

The commission only grants precautionary measures requesting states halt executions, as it did for Moore’s case, while it investigates claims in rare and urgent situations where there is a significant risk of "irreparable harm." The body only steps in when domestic remedies for relief are exhausted.

In 2022, the commission received 1,033 requests for precautionary measures and only 50 were granted. Of the 49 requests received from the United States, only 3 were granted.

"They only do it, I think in about 5% of cases maximum. When they do this, what they are recognizing is that this is a potentially meritorious argument, or in this case, a series of arguments that have been raised," Babcock said. "For them to rule on the merits of these claims, it's important for the person not to be executed before they can finish that process."

Decision to prosecute Moore tainted with racial bias from the start

In their petition, attorneys for Moore claimed racial bias tainted his case from the beginning and pointed to South Carolina’s history of pursuing the death penalty in a discriminatory manner. The attorneys wrote that "no factor is more determinative of whether death will be sought in a case than the race of the victim."

Death penalty challenges that show systemic patterns of racial basis are difficult to prove in the United States.

The 1987 U.S. Supreme Court case, McCleskey v. Kemp, which presented a direct challenge on whether the death penalty itself was racially biased made any future cases alleging systemic discrimination nearly impossible to fight.

The Georgia case brought by Warren McCleskey, a Black man convicted of the murder of a white police officer, argued that an empirical study of over 2,000 murder cases in Georgia found race was a significant indicator for who received the death penalty.

The high court rejected the claim 5 to 4.

"If we accepted McCleskey’s claim that racial bias has impermissibly tainted the capital sentencing decision, we could soon be faced with similar claims as to other types of penalty," former U.S. Justice Lewis Powell wrote in the decision.

Cruel, unusual or corporal?SC Supreme Court revisits using firing squad, electric chair

A previous investigation from the Greenville News interrogated the state’s use of capital punishment in historically racist and arbitrary ways. Of the 33 men on the state’s death row today, 16 are Black, 16 are white and one is Hispanic. Black people only make up about 26% of the state’s population.

The investigation noted that in capital cases post-1976, described as the modern era of the death penalty, Black defendants make up 46.9% of those sentenced to death while white defendants make up 51.9%. However, only 16.9% of defendants have been sentenced to death for killing a Black victim, while 80.9% of defendants have been sentenced for killing a white victim.

A rally protesting the planned firing squad execution of Richard Moore of Spartanburg took place at the South Carolina State House in Columbia on April 23, 2022. Moore was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of a store clerk during a robbery in Spartanburg in 1999. In the 2022 state Supreme Court opinion denying Moore relief, former court justice Kaye Hearn noted similar patterns in Spartanburg County where Moore was sentenced.

"From 1985-2001, there were 21 cases in Spartanburg County where a death notice was filed, and in all but one the victim was white," Hearn’s dissent read.

Investigation:The death penalty has a racist past. In SC, evidence shows that hasn't changed.

Former solicitor Holman Gossett record shows racial bias

In their petition, attorneys detailed how Holman Gossett, the former solicitor who selected Moore’s case for capital prosecution, had a stark history of seeking the death penalty only in cases involving white victims.

Gossett was the solicitor of the 7th judicial circuit, which serves Spartanburg and Cherokee counties, from 1985 until 2001. A former Cornell law professor, Theodore Eisenberg, examined Gossett’s tenure from 1985-1993 as part of a larger study on racial discrimination in the modern era of the death penalty. During that period Gossett sought death in 43% of cases eligible for capital punishment, but never in a case with a Black victim.

Eisenberg noted that "the odds of this racial pattern happening by chance were 3 in 5,000."

From 1993 until the end of his tenure, Gossett only sought death in one case involving a nonwhite victim. His office pursued the death penalty in the case of Theodore Kelly, a man who was convicted of killing his wife and her daughter’s fiancé in 1994.

However, the sentence was vacated in part because post-conviction proceedings revealed the effort was racially motivated. Testimony from then deputy solicitor, Anthony Mabry, stated Gossett’s office only sought death in the case because they were concerned about the Black community’s reaction to disparities in death penalty cases.

"I told Holman (Solicitor Gossett) that I felt like the black community would be upset though if we did not seek the death penalty because there were two black victims in this case. . . . The only mention that was ever made of race was when I said that I felt like if we did not seek the death penalty, that the community, the black community, would be upset because we are seeking the death penalty in the (Andre) Rosemond case for the murder of two white people," Mabry said.

But even with Gossett’s broader pattern of bias, Moore’s case couldn’t be successfully challenged without direct evidence race played a role in his case being chosen for a death sentence.

"Without that smoking gun, without some sort of explicit evidence of intent to prosecute someone because they are a Black defendant with a white victim, no amount of statistical evidence is going to be enough," Madalyn Wasilczuk, assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law said.

The only Black man on South Carolina’s death row convicted by an all-white jury

In addition to discrimination in Moore’s prosecution, in their petition, the attorneys claimed the selection of his jury was also tainted by racial bias.

According to the petition, state prosecutors discriminatorily struck all potential Black jurors during the selection process which ultimately made Moore the only Black man currently on the state’s death row who was tried and convicted by an all-white jury.

After the IACHR issued precautionary measures, attorneys also petitioned the state Supreme Court and requested it vacate Moore’s sentence and issue a new trial based on the jury claim. The attorneys wrote that while Moore has attempted to raise the issue regarding his jury selection for over 15 years, the high court has never reviewed it because of procedural errors throughout his trial, appeals and post-conviction process.

According to the court documents, 19 of the 96 citizens who were questioned for jury selection for Moore’s trial were Black, and only 3 of the 38 potential jurors who qualified were Black.

The attorneys claim that prosecutors used peremptory challenges, or a limited number of strikes used in trials that don’t need a specific reason, to discriminatorily eliminate the rest of the potential Black jurors.

In one instance, the prosecutors struck a 53-year-old potential Black male juror because he had a son who was previously prosecuted for murder and appeared to misunderstand a judge’s question. The state claimed the juror was struck because they struck another white juror who also had a family member prosecuted for murder. They also claimed they didn’t want a jury member who had a son incarcerated for murder because Moore "is also somebody’s son."

According to court documents, the man expressed approval over his son’s conviction stating, "I mean, he said he did it, so I felt like he had to pay the price. . . I mean, got the laws you have to abide by."

Still, the state did not strike five similarly situated jurors with family members prosecuted for various crimes, including one whose mother was also prosecuted for murder.

"The prosecutor is required to give a neutral reason, not race or another protected characteristic for striking that juror, but it's really, really easy to do that, right?" Wasilczuk said. "It's not that hard to not say the quiet part out loud."

Moore’s attorneys initially attempted to raise a Batson challenge to the strike, or a legal objection to a struck juror that appears to be made based on race, ethnicity or sex, but deserted the challenge.

Moore attempted to include his attorneys' failures to adequately raise Batson claims in his application for post-conviction relief, but the claims were ultimately abandoned both during the original trial and on post-conviction appeals.

“An all-White jury, especially one where all qualified Black prospective jurors were peremptorily struck by the State, casts serious doubt on the integrity of a capital trial and undermines the public confidence in the criminal justice system,” the attorneys wrote in their request for a new trial.

Moore’s death sentence disproportionate and excessive

In their petition to the IACHR, the attorneys claim that Moore’s death sentence was a disproportionate use of capital punishment, an issue that was also raised to the state Supreme Court in 2021.

The attorneys wrote that no significant premeditation, no possession of a firearm by Moore upon entry to the scene of the homicide and no evidence of prior intent to kill are among the reasons Moore’s sentence is excessive.

According to court records, Moore entered Nikki’s Speedy Mart in Spartanburg operated by James Mahoney without a firearm on Sept. 16, 1999. While at the store, a confrontation occurred, and Mahoney brandished his own gun which Moore wrestled away. Mahoney subsequently took out a second gun and both men shot at each other.

While both were injured, Mahoney was fatally shot during the exchange.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has signed into law a bill that forces death row inmates for now to choose between the electric chair or a newly formed firing squad in hopes the state can restart executions after an involuntary 10-year pause.

While there was no video surveillance footage of the incident, state prosecutors relied on the testimony of Terry Hadden, the only individual also at the store during the shooting. Hadden claimed to have witnessed parts of the exchange and alleged that Moore fired the first shot he heard that night.

According to the record, Moore took roughly $1,400 from the store and allegedly visited a home to buy crack cocaine following the shooting.

"The prosecutor insisted that Mr. Moore’s character and his decision to take the cash after the confrontation was over were ‘enough’ to prove his state of mind before it even began," the attorneys wrote in their petition.

But should the crime be considered among the worst of the worst? Former SC Justice Hearn didn’t think so.

Although the state Supreme Court denied Moore’s petition for relief on the basis that his sentence was disproportionate to the crime, Hearn disagreed with the decision.

"By improperly focusing on whether the crime committed by Moore meets the legal definition of armed robbery, the majority completely loses sight of the vast difference between a ‘robbery gone bad’ and a planned and premeditated murder," Hearn wrote in her dissent in 2022.

"The death penalty should be reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes in our society, and I do not believe Moore's crimes rise to that level," she continued.

While the court denied Moore’s claim, the justices noted that for a proportionality review, they’re only required to review "similar" cases where a death sentence was imposed. The review doesn't include similar cases where a death sentence was not imposed.

Shield law and accountability:SC once obtained execution drugs overseas.

"Likewise, this Court has no control over the actions of a solicitor in electing to pursue the highest penalty in a case that statutorily qualifies for a capital sentence. Whether this Court would impose a death sentence under the same circumstances is not within the permitted scope of this Court's appellate review,” the justices wrote.

"I think this is an area where the courts have just been really unwilling to second guess prosecutors and really apply robust analysis to the decisions that prosecutors make," Wasilczuk said. "One prosecutor can make a totally completely different decision than another prosecutor, and there really hasn't been a legislative or judicial check on that power for quite some time."

Did Gossett and Gowdy election influence trial?

A prior investigation by the News examined how prosecutorial discretion is often the determining factor in how death sentences are applied. The report noted that only 4 solicitors are responsible for 1/3 of the state’s death sentences since 1976.

In their petition, attorneys noted that Moore’s case fell in the middle of a 2000 election campaign for 7th Circuit Solicitor between Gossett and Trey Gowdy, who eventually succeeded him.

During the election, Gossett made Gowdy’s inconsistent views on the death penalty part of his campaign against him. According to an article in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal from June 2000, Gossett presented a letter written to him from Gowdy 15 years prior where Gowdy noted he had problems with the death penalty and "encouraged Gossett to use his creativity and sensitivity to find different ways to punish criminals."

Ultimately Gossett lost his seat to Gowdy but issued a death notice in Moore’s case during his final days in office, leaving Moore’s fate in Gowdy’s hands.

"The things that influence you are public opinion, you're elected so it's a political issue," Wasilczuk said. "In this case, you had an election going on that maybe directly contributed to this outcome."

Secrecy laws:Shield laws haven’t stopped problems with executions, but they have kept them hidden

Will South Carolina court consider the international commission’s request?

Although the IACHR has no enforcement powers, there are capital punishment cases where state leaders considered the commission’s recommendations.

In the case of Roberto Moreno Ramos in Texas and Jose Loza in Ohio, state courts delayed setting execution dates while the international body investigated petitions alleging human rights violations in both their cases.

In both cases, Ramos and Loza, both Mexican nationals, were not initially notified about their rights to consulate-sponsored representation from Mexico as required under the Vienne Convention on Consular Relations.

Ramos was ultimately executed in 2018, but Loza’s case remains in limbo.

According to Babcock, the commission’s investigations and review of human rights violations provide critical insight for clemency petitions made on behalf of individuals on death row.

"As I understand it, this is a case that raises troubling allegations of racism, and it's also a case that, from what I have heard and read, is not one of the most aggravated death penalty cases in South Carolina," Babcock said. "This is exactly the kind of case where the governor should be receiving all relevant information and taking that into account before making a decision that could end the life of a human being."

No governor in South Carolina has issued clemency in a death row case in the modern era of the death penalty or since 1976.

The fate of capital punishment in the state is still unknown as today’s justices weigh the legality of the firing squad and electric chair. If executions do soon resume, Moore is likely to receive the first notice.

His appeal to an international human rights body may be his last call for relief.

(source: Kathryn Casteel is an investigative reporter and editor with The Greenville News)

UTAH:

Is Ralph Menzies too incompetent for Utah’s death penalty? His execution is on hold until a court finds out.

Ralph Menzies has been on Utah’s death row for more than 35 years. A judge had scheduled a hearing in February to decide whether he would be executed by firing squad, but it’s now on hold over claims of mental incompetency.

3rd District Court Judge Matthew Bates ordered Menzies to appear in person for a hearing on Feb. 23 in West Jordan. However, Menzies’ attorney filed a petition to stay further hearings in the matter until a final evaluation can be undertaken.

“The Petition articulates facts, observations, and conversations that led Menzies to seek neurological and neuropsychological testing to evaluate his competency to be executed,” the order from the 3rd District Court states.

The petition includes a written evaluation from Dr. Lynette M. Abrams-Silva, who says that Menzies suffers from “vascular dementia,” and “lacks the ability to form a rational understanding of the reasons why the State seeks to execute him.”

The judge’s order states the Department of Health and Human Services will appoint two examiners not involved in Menzies’ current treatment to perform the evaluation, and all proceedings must be videoed. The examiners have been ordered by the court to address the following points:

Menzies’ awareness of the fact of the inmate’s impending execution.

Menzies’ understanding that he is to be executed for the crime of murder.

The nature of Menzies’ mental disorder, if any, and its relationship to the factors relevant to his competency.

Whether psychoactive medication is necessary to maintain or restore Menzies’ competency.

Whether Menzies has a rational understanding of why the State seeks to execute him.

Menzies was convicted in 1988 of first-degree murder in the kidnapping and killing of Maurine Hunsaker. If an execution warrant is signed, Menzies will face a firing squad.

Hunsaker, a young mother, was abducted from the Kearns gas station where she worked, and her body was later found in a Big Cottonwood Canyon picnic area. She’d been tied to a tree, her throat cut.

Last year, Menzies exhausted all the appeals available to him, state prosecutors said. Additionally, in December, a 3rd District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Menzies and four others on death row that sought to overturn Utah’s death penalty.

“Time has nearly run out for Menzies,” wrote the Utah Attorney General’s Office, in November, “and his sentence will be carried out: death by firing squad.”

Now, the court will set a competency hearing within 15 days of when it receives reports from the examiners’ clinical findings and opinions.

(source: abc4utah.com)

IDAHO:

Idaho Supreme Court Denies Stay of Execution to State’s Longest Serving Death Row Prisoner Ahead of Feb 28 Execution Date

On February 9, 2024, the Idaho Supreme Court unanimously dismissed 2 state appeals for 73-year-old Thomas Creech, thereby denying his requests for a stay of execution. Mr. Creech, who has been on death row for more than 40 years, has also requested a new clemency hearing. He is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on February 28, which would be Idaho’s first execution since 2012.

The justices upheld the district court’s denial, agreeing that both appeals were not filed in a timely manner according to Idaho law. Garth McCarty of the State Appellate Public Defender’s Office argued in one appeal that Mr. Creech had received ineffective assistance of counsel during postconviction proceedings; Jonah Horwitz of the Federal Public Defender’s Office argued in the 2nd appeal that the imposition of a death sentence solely by a judge, not a jury, violated Mr. Creech’s rights under the U.S. Constitution and Idaho Constitution. The practice has since been outlawed in the state, which now requires a unanimous jury verdict for the imposition of a death sentence.

“We are disappointed that the Idaho Supreme Court chose not to answer the question of whether it’s unconstitutional for Idaho to execute someone who was sentenced to death by a judge without a jury when it’s the last state in the country putting such people to death,” said one of Mr. Creech’s attorneys Deborah Czuba following the loss. “The court’s decision doesn’t change the fact that the country has put this practice behind it, and it doesn’t change the fact that the very judge who sentenced Tom to death now opposes his execution because it would just be an ‘act of vengeance.’”

A few weeks earlier, the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole held a clemency hearing for Mr. Creech, the third hearing of its kind in the state’s history. The 3-3 tie vote, with the seventh member of the board recusing himself for an undisclosed reason, resulted in a recommendation against Mr. Creech’s plea for a life sentence; Mr. Creech’s attorneys argue that the recusal deprived him of the opportunity to persuade another member of the board. Although the governor is not obligated to follow the board’s recommendation, Governor Brad Little stated he has “zero intention” of granting a stay. On February 7, attorneys for Mr. Creech filed a motion with the U.S. District Court of Idaho requesting a new hearing “because the Commission failed to comply with minimal due process requirements by accepting and considering the prosecution’s last-minute false statements and questionable evidence without allowing Mr. Creech a chance to investigate and demonstrate the prosecution’s misrepresentations.” The petition adds: “Likewise, Mr. Creech brings this action against the prosecution because it too violated due process through misrepresentations and the use of questionable evidence, as well as its failure to provide Mr. Creech with any notice of this evidence.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

**************

Idaho bill to extend death penalty unconstitutional, aims for US Supreme Court review

The Idaho House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow the death penalty for anyone convicted of certain sex crimes against preteen children Tuesday, even as its sponsor acknowledged that such a law would be unconstitutional.

House Bill 515 is designed to challenge decades of U.S. Supreme Court precedent that limited death sentences to defendants who commit murder, said Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Josh Tanner, R-Eagle. With the current supermajority of conservative-leaning justices on the nation’s highest court, the hope is that the U.S. Supreme Court will review the Idaho bill if it becomes law and issue a decision that expands the eligibility for the death penalty.

“There is a deep, dark, dark side in our culture, and it’s our job to protect the children,” Skaug said Tuesday. “There are times when things are so wicked that retribution is appropriate.”

The House approved the bill in a 56-12 vote. The bill next heads to the Senate for committee review.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 ruled that the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits death sentences for the rape of a child under 12 years old when the victim survived. That decision doubled down on a landmark decision in 1977 that found that a death sentence was “grossly disproportionate and excessive punishment” for the rape of an adult whose life was not also taken.

The 1977 case, Coker v. Georgia, was decided by a 7-2 vote among the justices, while the 2008 ruling in Kennedy v. Louisiana came in a 5-4 decision. Three of those justices who dissented in 2008, including Chief Justice John Roberts, remain on the court today along with 3 other conservative justices.

“I believe that was a wrong decision that took away our state’s right to decide what to do in the most heinous crimes of our community in our state,” said Skaug, a personal injury attorney. “I think there will be a very different decision with our present Supreme Court.”

The Idaho bill mirrors a law that took effect in Florida last year, when the governor sought to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s prior precedent. The first defendant to face the prospect of the new law reached a plea deal in exchange for life in prison without the chance of parole.

“Idaho needs to be like Florida and lead out in this and go, ‘We’re here to protect these kids,’” Tanner added. “At some point in time, we have to be able to say, ‘No, enough is enough,’ with … the most severe ones.”

The American Civil Liberties of Idaho, which opposes the death penalty, also opposes the newly proposed law in Idaho.

“We think the Legislature has a duty and responsibility to uphold the law and serve the people that is constitutional instead of attacking people’s constitutional rights,” Rebecca De León, spokesperson for the ACLU of Idaho, told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview. “This is a very irresponsible use of taxpayer funding.”

(source: The Idaho Statesman)

******************

Idaho House OKs expanding death penalty to child rapists

House Republicans want to let prosecutors seek the death penalty against people charged with lewd conduct with a minor under 12 years old.

“There is a deep, dark, dark side of our culture and it’s our job to protect the children,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa). “There are times when things are so wicked that retribution is appropriate.”

The proposal is unconstitutional according to current U.S. Supreme Court precedent after the 2008 case Kennedy v. Louisiana decided by a 5-4 majority.

Skaug acknowledged that precedent during Tuesday’s debate.

“All five of those justices are gone now and I think there will be a very different decision with our present supreme court, but that would require all of you to stand up today and say, ‘We’re willing to take that fight on,’” he said.

Critics said the legal fees necessary to get a case like this to the U.S. Supreme Court would be enormous.

The bill’s required budgetary analysis says it has “no known fiscal impact.”

Idaho Public Television reported prosecutors in the state filed 217 cases against an adults for lewd conduct with a child under 16 in 2022. It’s not clear how many of those involved children under 12 as the bill outlines.

Studies routinely show death penalty cases cost taxpayers significantly more money to process than if an inmate receives a sentence of life in prison.

An analysis from 2016 found legal costs associated with a death penalty case is $1.1 million higher compared to one in which prosecutors sought a life sentence. That’s due to a defendant needing multiple public defenders assigned to them and the lengthy state and federal appeals processes.

Idaho currently holds eight people on its death row, which is a separate wing from the general prison population.

Segregating those convicted under this proposed statute from other prisoners, said Rep. Chris Mathias (D-Boise), would make their lives easier in prison, which shouldn’t be the outcome.

“They live a life of constant fear, constant duress, constant threats, constant intimidation and that is the life that they should live,” Mathias said.

“I’m not concerned about the cost,” Skaug said in his closing remarks. “And as far as putting the most horrible of these perpetrators in prison forever, the victims forever live in fear of the release of their perpetrators.”

Rep. Stephanie Mickelsen (R-Idaho Falls) initially debated and voted against the bill, but she later reversed her decision after the vote had been ratified. Mickelsen didn't say why she changed her mind.

Just one other Republican joined Democrats in opposing the legislation. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

(source: Boise State Public Radio)

FRANCE:

France pays tribute to Badinter, ex-justice minister who fought to abolish death penalty

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday led a national tribute to former French justice minister Robert Badinter, who dedicated his life to the fight against capital punishment, playing a pivotal role in banning the dreaded guillotine in 1981. The French president announced that Badinter would be laid to rest in the Panthéon.

Macron presided over a national tribute to Badinter at Place Vendôme, in front of the justice ministry in Paris. The French president announced that Badinter would be laid to rest in the Panthéon, which houses the remains of some of the country's most celebrated men and women.

Badinter's family had asked the far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally) and the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) not to take part in the tribute. The National Rally agreed not to attend but the radical left decided to send 2 of its MPs.

A French lawyer, politician and author, Badinter was one of the country’s most respected intellectual figures. He died aged 95 on Friday, February 9.

The soft-spoken attorney, who said he could not abide by a "killer justice system", was widely vilified for pushing through legislation banning the death penalty at a time when most French people still supported the practice.

He said later he had "never felt so lonely" in fighting capital punishment, which in France was carried out by beheading with the guillotine, a practice dating back to the French Revolution of 1789.

But in years to come he would be hailed for his integrity and statesmanship.

The son of a Jewish fur trader who was deported to a Nazi death camp during World War II, he had built a reputation as a lawyer for defending – often successfully – notorious cases that his peers wouldn't dare touch.

"We entered the court by the front door, and once the verdict had been read and the accused's head was safe, we often had to leave by a hidden stairway," the man dubbed "the murderers' lawyer" by proponents of the death penalty, recalled.

'Militant passion'

His career took a decisive turn in 1972 after one of his clients, Roger Bontems, was beheaded for his secondary role in the murder of a nurse and a guard during a prison escape.

Badinter was haunted by his failure to win a stay on Bontem's execution in a case that changed his stance on the death penalty "from an intellectual conviction to a militant passion".

Five years later he helped convince a jury not to execute Patrick Henry for the murder of a seven-year-old boy, becoming an instant hate figure for many French people, who were baying for Henry's head.

Badinter turned the case into a trial of the death penalty, calling in experts to describe in grisly detail the workings of the guillotine.

"Guillotining is nothing less than taking a living man and cutting him in 2," he argued.

In all he saved 6 men from execution during his career, eliciting death threats in the process.

He was born in Paris on March 30, 1928 to a Jewish fur merchant who had immigrated from Bessarabia, now Moldova. When he was just 14 his father was among a group of Jews rounded up by the Gestapo in the southeastern city of Lyon and and deported to the Sobibor concentration camp in modern-day Poland, where he died.

The young Badinter developed a keen sense of justice that led him to a law degree in France followed by a Masters from New York's Columbia University, with a focus on ethical issues.

'Until last breath'

Upon his appointment as justice minister in President Francois Mitterrand's Socialist government in June 1981, Badinter made ending the death penalty an immediate priority.

France's last execution had been in 1977 with the death of Hamida Djandoubi, a Tunisian immigrant convicted of torturing and murdering a young woman.

Just four months after taking office Badinter ushered an abolition through parliament with a landmark speech denouncing the "stealthy executions at dawn" that were France's "collective shame".

Demolishing myths about the supposed deterrent effect of the death penalty, he argued: "If fear of death stopped men in their tracks we would have no great soldiers or sporting figures."

Badinter continued to make history in 1983 when he succeeded in getting Bolivia to extradite Klaus Barbie, a former chief of the Nazis' secret police, the Gestapo, to France.

Notorious during the German occupation of France as the "butcher of Lyon," Barbie was put on trial for crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment in a landmark case that saw Holocaust victims take the stand for the 1st time in France.

During his 5 years as minister Badinter also scrapped a law discriminating against gays on the age of sexual consent and worked to improve conditions in French prisons.

A towering figure in French public life, he served as president of the Constitutional Council and as a member of the French Senate from 1995 to 2011.

The death penalty remained the bane of his existence until the end. Badinter vowed he would work "until the last breath of life" to attain a global ban on the practice and continued to campaign against executions in China and the United States into his later years.

(source: france24.com)

INDIA:

High court commutes death sentence of rapist father

(see: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/107670610.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst)

IRAN:

Iranian Sunni Cleric Handed Death Sentence

The Urmia Revolutionary Court has sentenced Sunni cleric Mohammad Khezr-Nejad to death, based on coerced confessions in which the defendant allegedly admitted to "leading protests and associating with anti-regime groups."

Khezr-Nejad was convicted of "corruption on Earth," "acting against national security" and "propaganda against the Islamic Republic," according to Kurdpa news agency.

He appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeal of West Azerbaijan province.

Khezr-Nejad and his son were brutally arrested in November 2022 after the cleric delivered a speech at the funeral of Asa’ad Rahimi, a protester killed by security forces.

The cleric has faced previous arrests and convictions due to his activism.

(source: iranwire.com)

FEBRUARY 13, 2024:

TEXAS----impending execution

Last effort to save Ivan Cantu's life in Texas gains support from Martin Sheen

In less than 3 weeks, the execution of Texas death row inmate Ivan Cantu is scheduled, but not without a fight with the help of Martin Sheen and Sister Helen Prejean and the public policy advocacy group MoveOn.

Sister Prejean and Sheen held a press conference on Monday, Feb. 12, to raise public awareness and civil action to stop his execution. In recent weeks, their determination to reach out to the public and celebrities has produced 60,000 signatures, 4,000 letters and hundreds of calls to Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis for a call to hear new evidence and hold a new trial in Cantu's case.

“This execution is not signed, sealed, and delivered just yet,” Prejean said. “Even people that believe in the death penalty also believe in fairness, and that has not happened in Ivan’s case.”

Cantu was convicted in Collin County in 2001 for the murder of his cousin, James Mosqueda, and his cousin’s fiance, Amy Kitchen, in 2000. Cantu has maintained his innocence for 24 years.

Cantu is now facing his 3rd execution date on Feb 28.

“Our goal is for Collin County to utilize the resources available within their department and take a look at the case,” Prejean explains. “The Collin County District Attorney Office has an Integrity Unit within its department. I want that department to honor the new facts in this case instead of putting him to death.”

Last April, when Cantu was facing his 2nd execution date, his defense team filed a clemency petition. One of the issues the state argues is procedural in response to time limits.

In late August, the court ruled that the new evidence should have been included in Cantu’s 2004 habeas filing. However, the court would not award a new trial in his case because the new evidence did not meet the bar for a new trial and was not provided within the appropriate time frame.

However, the new evidence was unavailable in 2004.

Since 2004, one of the 2-star witnesses that led to Cantu’s conviction recanted his testimony. The other has since died and has been proven to have lied during the trial. Both witnesses, who are siblings, struggled with heavy addiction issues and have proven to have lied during testimony with critical findings on the gun used during the crime and Cantu’s bloody clothes linking him to the murder, according to private investigator Matt Duff.

Duff created a podcast, “Cousin by Blood,” diving into all the new evidence and his findings within the case. 3 jurors during the trial have gone on record stating they would not have given Cantu the death sentence if they had seen all the evidence in the case.

“While Ivan’s situation is dire in response to his approaching execution, there are also more people involved,” Prejan explains, “The three jurors now have this execution on their conscience and made a decision without all facts, and that also matters because, in essence, they feel they were lied to.”

“The thing about the death penalty is it’s literally life or death,” Sheen said. “If anyone is willing to end a life, they look death right in the face, and it's a different experience than many understand and why many veterans from war struggle as they do.”

“I don’t think many people understand the death penalty because they have not witnessed an execution first hand,” Prejean added. “What the eyes don’t see, the heart can't feel.”

The advocacy group and Sister Helen Prejean and others plan to hold a press conference on Feb. 22 at the Collin County courthouse to ask state leaders to give Cantu a fair hearing before killing him.

(source: Robin Bradshaw, Beaumont Enterprise)

PENNSYLVANIA:

1 year later: Alleged killer of fallen TUPD sergeant to be arraigned Tuesday----Nearly 1 year after the officer’s passing, Fitzgerald’s alleged killer will state his plea on Feb. 13.

On Jan. 16, the family of fallen Temple Police Sgt. Christopher Fitzgerald saw Miles Pfferer, the 19-year-old who allegedly fatally shot Fitzgerald, for the first time in court since his arrest nearly a year ago.

After the court appearance, in which Pfeffer waived his right to a preliminary hearing and enabled the case to head to trial, Fitzgerald’s family gathered outside the courthouse, urging District Attorney Larry Krasner to pursue the death penalty in the case.

“We’ll never move on,” Jennifer Griffin, vice president of public safety, told The Temple News. “We support the family and their decision and we look forward to justice being served, whatever that justice is.”

An arraignment, or a legal proceeding where Pfeffer will state his plea, will take place Tuesday, and Krasner will make a decision concerning the family’s wishes. This is the next step before a trial date is set.

The preliminary hearing was initially postponed four times by Pfeffer’s lawyers before he ultimately waived it.

Pfeffer allegedly shot Fitzgerald multiple times in the face and chest at close range on the night of Feb. 11, 2023, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. He was arrested the following morning and has remained in custody without the option for bail at Riverside Correctional Facility.

Fitzgerald was the 1st member of TUPD to be killed in the line of duty.

Pennsylvania law authorizes the Commonwealth to pursue the death penalty when 2 factors are present: evidence to support the finding of 1st-degree murder — where the defendant intended to kill the victim — and evidence of at least 1 “aggravating circumstance,” wrote Daniel Silverman, an adjunct professor at Temple’s Beasley School of Law who has handled more than 15 death penalty cases, in a message to The Temple News.

“An aggravating circumstance is some fact about the offender or the offense that makes the case more deserving of the death penalty and demonstrates that this offender can rightly be considered one of the worst of the worst homicide offenders,” Silverman wrote. “If both of these factors are present, the Commonwealth has the right to seek the death penalty.”

Pfeffer faces 1st-degree murder charges, with a prior legal ruling affirming the evidence is sufficient enough to proceed to trial.

“So the 1st factor, evidence to support a first-degree murder conviction, is present,” Silverman wrote. “Regarding the second factor, there are at least 2 aggravating factors that arguably apply here: the killing of a police officer and the offender committed the killing in the course of the felony of robbery. Because of this, Mr. Pfeffer would be considered eligible for the death penalty.”

Krasner has long opposed the death penalty and released a statement on his opposition to it 5 days after Fitzgerald’s passing.

Gov. Josh Shapiro also called for the death penalty to be abolished in Pennsylvania just 2 days before Fitzgerald was shot.

“After carefully reviewing the case, Krasner will be the one making the decision whether to seek death in this case,” Silverman wrote. “Mr. Krasner was elected twice by resounding margins after promising not to seek the death penalty in any case as is his prerogative.”

Silverman believes it is unlikely Krasner will follow the Fitzgerald family’s wishes and instead seek life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the case.

Jane Roh, spokesperson and communications director of Krasner’s office, declined to comment.

Joel Fitzgerald, Christopher Fitzgerald’s father, said he wants Krasner to make a decision before Pfeffer’s Tuesday court appearance, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Since Fitzgerald’s passing, Temple has honored his death in a number of ways, including a vigil, funeral service and community basketball game hosted by TUPD. At the funeral service, Griffin announced TUPD’s decision to posthumously promote Fitzgerald to the rank of sergeant.

The Philadelphia City Council also renamed the 1700 block of Montgomery Avenue as Christopher Fitzgerald Way in honor of his death last June, and a bill to rename the post office on Bustleton Avenue as the Sergeant Christopher David Fitzgerald Post Office Building was passed out of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability on Feb. 6.

The university will keep honoring Fitzgerald’s life in other special ways, Griffin said.

“We have a plaque dedication coming up to mark the one-year anniversary,” Griffin said. “We have this beautiful plaque that a committee put together in [our] 1801 [North 11th Street location]. In 1101 [West Montgomery Avenue], we have another picture of Christopher as well as the medallion that we received from a federal law enforcement agency in our front lobby.”

TUPD will host the plaque dedication in Shusterman Hall on Feb. 18 at 6 p.m.

“He selflessly served the community and we continue to honor him both in our day-to-day thoughts and prayers and in the actions that we take,” Griffin said. “We’re trying to continue to make sure that the family recognizes that we’re still here for them and we’re still thinking of them and Christopher on a daily basis.”

(source: The Temple (University) News)

VIRGINIA:

It Took Virginia 400 Years to End the Death Penalty. It’s Not a Switch We Can Flip On and Off.----Is our criminal justice system so infallible that it should green-light actions as irrevocable as taking another person’s life? Hardly. Very few people of means go to death row.

Of all the things policymakers can be indecisive about, the death penalty shouldn’t be one of them. It is, after all, about the most profound and irreversible thing a government can do.

Yet this year, not 3 years after Virginia banned capital punishment, Republican freshman Del. Tim Griffin submitted a bill to reinstate it. Mercifully, it was doomed from the outset in the Democratic-ruled House of Delegates. With all due allowances for naïveté, political posturing or whatever Griffin’s motivation, the death penalty isn’t a light switch you flip on and off.

It took Virginia more than 400 years to end capital punishment. When the General Assembly finally did it in 2021, there was even miniscule Republican buy-in on final votes that made Virginia the only former Confederate state to dismantle death row in favor of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for the most heinous offenses.

Virginia is among 23 states that have abolished the death penalty. Six others have halted executions by governors’ orders. Only five states executed people last year, and death sentences were imposed in just seven states, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

Things were once quite different. Until this century, Virginia was an enthusiastic death penalty backer and practitioner. Since Jamestown, Virginia has executed an estimated 1,300 people.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted capital punishment in the latter third of the 20th century after it found its disparate implementation unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual.” After the court reinstated it in 1976, Virginia executed 113 inmates, according to the DPIC. That ranks third behind Texas (586) and Oklahoma (123) — body counts that will soon grow.

A Waning Appetite

Just the suggestion that a candidate might not support killing people to prove that killing people is wrong was politically disqualifying. It was a common Republican tactic to force Democratic candidates in statewide general elections to pledge support for the death penalty, putting them at odds with many in their own base to remain viable with the broader electorate.

In this century, Republicans failed to notice that Virginia’s appetite for state-sanctioned killings was waning and had been for some time. Part of that is because of demographic changes, especially in the moderate, educated, affluent and fast-growing suburbs.

Another factor was a by-product of a hugely successful Republican initiative that George Allen brought to the governor’s office from his 1993 election landslide.

After the General Assembly overwhelmingly enacted Allen’s abolition of parole in 1994, it meant that an inmate sentenced to life in prison would actually spend the rest of his life in prison. For jurors, that assurance eased the moral crisis they felt when deciding whether to prescribe death for a person sitting steps away from them. Assured that the convict could never walk free again, jurors increasingly eschewed death sentences and the haunting knowledge that they played a role in taking someone’s life.

The numbers tell the story. After the court-ordered hiatus, it took a few years for new death penalty convictions to exhaust their federal and state appeals. Executions resumed in Virginia in 1982. For the rest of that decade, 8 people perished in the state’s death chamber. During the 1990s, however, the decade parole was abolished, the total soared to 58. From 2000 through 2009, the total was cut in half, to just 28. And from 2010 through 2017, the year William Morva became the last convict executed in Virginia, it dropped to 8.

The ’90s were also the most robust decade for executions nationally, peaking with 98 in 1999, according to the DPIC.

Death penalty politics reached a significant political flashpoint in Virginia’s 2005 gubernatorial race between Democrat Tim Kaine, the lieutenant governor at the time and now a U.S. senator, and Republican Jerry Kilgore, who had been the state’s attorney general. In a Kilgore campaign ad, the grieving father of a murder victim claimed that Kaine, a lawyer who had defended a death penalty client and a Roman Catholic with a faith-based objection to the death penalty, would have spared Adolf Hitler from execution.

The ad was widely panned as a gratuitous, tone-deaf overreach, and it boomeranged on Kilgore’s campaign as it was already imploding. Kaine quickly aired a rebuttal in which he spoke directly into the camera and said that he would “carry out death sentences imposed by Virginia juries because that’s the law.”

And he did — 11 times from the day he took office in January 2006 through the end of his term 4 years later. The last to be executed under Kaine’s watch was John Allan Muhammad, convicted as 1 of the 2 snipers who terrorized Virginia, the District of Columbia and Maryland in 2002, shooting 10 people dead and injuring 3.

Who Goes to Death Row?

Capital punishment is an emotional issue that almost evenly divides the nation. A 2023 Gallup poll showed that 50 % of those surveyed said they felt the death penalty is unfairly applied compared to 47 % who felt it was fairly applied.

Consider the obvious: Very few people of means go to death row. It’s a different story if you’re Black or poor. Of the 113 Virginia inmates executed in 1976, 52 of them — 46 percent — were Black, a ratio more than double the state’s Black population of 20 %. For defendants who can’t afford skilled, experienced death-penalty litigators, the odds are even worse.

Is our criminal justice system so infallible that it should green-light actions as irrevocable as taking another person’s life? Hardly.

According to the DPIC, 196 people sentenced to death nationally since 1973 have been exonerated, including Virginia’s Earl Washington Jr., who was poor and Black. Washington, with an IQ of 69, spent 16 years incarcerated — 9 on death row, once within days of being executed — because of false and misleading forensic evidence, woeful trial counsel and his own coerced confession. Gov. Doug Wilder commuted his sentence to life imprisonment in 1993. Gov. Jim Gilmore pardoned Washington in 2000 after DNA testing, not available at the time of his trial in 1984, exonerated him from the murder and rape for which he was convicted.

Death by Hypoxia

Griffin’s misbegotten bid to restore capital punishment foundered just before an Alabama execution underscored misgivings Americans increasingly harbor about terminal punishment more suited to despotic regimes.

Like many states unable to procure the drugs necessary to execute people by lethal injection, Alabama tested a novel way to kill: subjecting the condemned — strapped to a gurney — to pure nitrogen, depriving him of oxygen. Alabama’s attorney general called it “a textbook execution,” promised further hypoxia executions in Alabama and offered to tutor other states in its use.

Associated Press writer Kim Chandler, a witness to the execution, described something much more unnerving. For about two minutes, according to AP’s first-person account, condemned murderer Kenneth Eugene Smith shook and writhed violently, “in thrashing spasms and seizure-like movements,” the force of which “caused the gurney to visibly move at least once.”

There’s no way to inflict death on a confined, terrified human being that doesn’t horrify an ordinary person. That’s because no matter the method — an intravenous drip of lethal drugs, electrical voltage, a noose, a firing squad or nitrogen gas — the end result is a fresh corpse. Each is just as final, its victims just as eternally dead.

If those methods knot your stomach, then maybe our conversations should be about whether governments should execute people, not how.

(source: Bob Lewis covered Virginia government and politics for 20 years for the Associated Press. Now retired from a public relations career, he is a columnist for the Virginia Mercury----governing.com)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

What South Carolina’s execution dilemma says about America’s death penalty

On Feb. 6, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an unusual, triple-barreled challenge to that state’s execution protocol.

In South Carolina, the electric chair is the default execution method unless a condemned inmate chooses to die by lethal injection or the firing squad. The court’s 5 justices now have to decide whether death by electrocution and the firing squad violates the state constitutional guarantee that “cruel, nor corporal, nor unusual punishment” shall not be inflicted and “whether a 2023 law meant to allow lethal injections to restart keeps secret too many details about the new drug and protocol used to kill prisoners.”

As the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) explains, this case “arose when the state claimed that lethal injection was unavailable and set execution dates by electrocution and firing squad under the new protocol.”

South Carolina now faces the possibility that none of its authorized methods of execution will pass constitutional muster. This situation has significance beyond the state’s borders.

It raises the question of what would happen in a state that authorizes the death penalty but has no legal means of carrying it out. The state supreme court should answer that question by saying that unless the state’s methods of execution pass constitutional muster, the death penalty cannot be carried out.

The Palmetto State is one of 14 states that now have the death penalty on the books but have not executed anyone in more than a decade. Other states in that group include California, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Today there are 36 inmates South Carolina’s death row. The last execution in the state occurred in 2011, when Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was governor. That year, the state put Jeffrey Motts to death using lethal injection. At the time, lethal injection was America’s most popular execution method.

Motts was the first person in South Carolina to be put to death using a new drug combination. As the Post and Courrier reported, “The state had to switch the sedative used as the first drug in the three drug combination from sodium thiopental to pentobarbital because federal agents seized the state supply as part of a nationwide investigation into whether prisons obtained the drugs legally from England.”

South Carolina, PBS News notes, “used to be one of most prolific states in the nation when it came to putting inmates to death. But it has had an unintended moratorium on the death penalty ever since its lethal injection drugs passed their expiration date and pharmacies refused to sell the state more because they could be publicly identified.”

Problems obtaining drugs needed for lethal injections have not been limited to South Carolina. Even when death penalty states have been able to use this method of execution, it has proven to be unreliable. Botched lethal injections have proliferated.

Last year, South Carolina thought it solved its lethal injection problem when it obtained a new supply of pentobarbital and changed its protocol so that only one drug would be necessary for its executions. But, having made lethal injection an optional execution method, the state was not able to resume executions.

In September 2022, a trial court enjoined the state from carrying out executions using either the firing squad or the electric chair, putting forward what the DPIC labelled “a sweeping condemnation of the state’s 2021 method-of-execution statute.” 

Judge Jocelyn Newman criticized the state for making a decision that “turned back the clock,” “forcing a person into the electric chair if he refuses to elect how he will die.” She found that both the electric chair and the firing squad were “unconstitutional,” and that the “General Assembly (had) ignored advances in scientific research and evolving standards of humanity and decency.”

South Carolina officials appealed her decision to the state supreme court.

During last week’s oral argument, John Blume, who is representing four death row inmates who brought the suit, defended the judge’s ruling. He told the supreme court that electrocution was “cruel” and that the firing squad was both “corporal” and “unusual,” because it mutilates the body and causes “severe and prolonged suffering.”   

In response, state attorney William Grayson Lambert argued, as the DPIC says, “that the firing squad was not unusual because South Carolina and the nation had not ‘clearly moved away’ from using it.” Several justices pushed back, noting “that the firing squad is the least used execution method in American history and has also experienced a long period of disuse.” Chief Justice Donald Beatty said that the firing squad had essentially been on a “fifty-year hiatus.”   

Blume urged the court to follow the examples set by state supreme courts in Georgia and Nebraska, both of which outlawed electrocution as cruel and unusual punishment. But Lambert called those cases inapplicable, saying that they “were decided when everyone assumed lethal injection was available” and “when everyone assumed lethal injection was less painful.”  

On the lethal injection secrecy issue, Blume said that South Carolina should not be able to carry out any lethal injections under its state secrecy statute. The state, he argued, needs to provide information about the “potency, purity, and stability” of the drugs that would be used. He called on the court to require “testing and transparency policies similar to those in other states and the federal government.”

Lambert replied that “the lawsuit did not concern the secrecy statute directly.” But, if the court wanted to reach that issue, it should uphold the statute. 

Finally, the 2 sides differed as to the appropriate legal standard.

Blume told the court that it should assess South Carolina’s execution methods in light of “evolving standards of decency” and pointed out that the courts in Nebraska and Georgia both used that standard when they found that the electric chair was unconstitutional.

The state argued that the court could only strike down South Carolina’s methods of execution if the plaintiffs showed that “there is an alternative and readily feasible, feasibly implemented method of execution that will significantly reduce a severe risk of substantial pain,” which, he said, they had not done.

State’s attorney Lambert asked the court to conclude that “If capital punishment is constitutional, there must be a constitutional means of carrying out that punishment.”

But that is exactly backward.

Instead, the South Carolina Supreme Court should decide that its state constitution puts the burden on the state to prove that none of its authorized execution methods is “cruel,” “corporal” or “unusual.” It should say clearly that if there is no constitutional means of carrying out a death sentence, then capital punishment itself cannot be constitutional.

(source: Opinion; Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College----thehill.com)

ALABAMA:

Man sentenced to death for killing Ala. police officer----The jury voted 11-1 in favor of the death penalty after convicting the 24-year-old man in the death of Mobile Police Officer Sean Tuder

Marco Perez was sentenced Friday to be executed, a Mobile County jury decided on Friday, 1 day after convicting 24-year-old Perez of capital murder in the death of Mobile police officer Sean Tuder in 2019, WKRG reported.

The jury voted 11-1 in favor of the death penalty. At 24, Perez now becomes the youngest person on Alabama’s death row, by 6 years.

Multiple media reports indicated Perez’ attorneys called multiple witnesses to testify on Perez’ behalf, imploring the jury to spare his life, including several family members, according to WALA.

As he had done during the trial, Perez became emotional Friday, weeping quietly as his sister and mother testified. Perez’ father also testified, the outlet reported, saying his son had changed in the 5 years since the murder and noting Perez became a father roughly 9 months after he murdered Tuder.

Savannah Brewer testified she learned she was pregnant with Perez’ child the day after the Jan. 20, 2019 shooting.

Prosecutors, however, countered with Perez’ troubled youth, including multiple suspensions from school beginning in middle school until he was expelled from high school for fighting. More recently, Perez had caused trouble with guards and other inmates while imprisoned at Mobile County Metro Jail.

Surveillance video was shown of an incident in the jail which reportedly shows Perez assaulting another inmate. Evidence was also shown that Perez was at one point in possession of a “shank” inside the jail.

Prosecutors had already put Tuder’s widow, Krissy Tuder, on the stand Thursday afternoon following the announcement of the guilty verdict. She recalled two Mobile police officers coming to her home to tell her Sean Tuder had been killed while trying to arrest Perez’ at Peach Place Inn apartments.

Krissy Tuder said she did not work for a year after her husband’s death and remains in counseling.

“That day changed my life,” she said, according to the report. “It changed everything about me.”

Sean Tuder’s mother, Noreen Tuder, also spoke to the jury, as did Lawrence Battiste, Mobile’s chief of police at the time of the murder. John Holzer, Tuder’s National Guard platoon sergeant, also testified and said Sean Tuder’s death hit the unit harder than any he had seen in his military career.

One of Perez’ attorneys, Jason Darley, noted Perez would die in prison, either by execution or by natural causes. Executions are carried out at Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore.

“The state is coming here asking you to kill again,” Darley said, according to WALA. “At some point, the killing has to stop — you don’t have to sign your name to the death warrant.”

(source: corrections1.com)

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana bill proposes gas, electric chair for death penalty amid execution drug shortage

Could Louisiana bring back Gruesome Gertie? The electric chair was retired in 1991 when the state moved to lethal injection to carry out the death penalty. That could change again.

A bill has been filed for the special legislative session set to start Monday, Feb. 19, that could add more ways to execute prisoners. House Bill No. 6, filed by state Rep. Nicholas Muscarello Jr. (R-Baton Rouge) would add nitrogen gas hypoxia and electrocution.

The lethal injection drug shortage has been ongoing for years as companies that make the products have stopped allowing them to be used for executions. Some states, like South Carolina and Idaho, have brought back the firing squad.

The proposed legislation also sets guidelines to ensure the names of people who help carry out the execution are protected. Anyone whose name is released will have the ability to sue.

The identities of the victim’s family members who might witness the execution also would be protected under the bill as proposed.

Nitrogen hypoxia is an execution method where a gas mask replaces breathable air with nitrogen to deprive the person of oxygen. It was 1st used in Alabama. Mississippi and Oklahoma also use this method, according to the Associated Press.

The electrocution method, as described in the bill, causes a current of electricity to pass through the body with enough intensity to cause death.

The last execution in Louisiana was in 2010. According to a recent news release from the Death Penalty Information Center, the state has 57 people sentenced to death.

The Louisiana bill proposes giving the choice of method of execution to the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The secretary also will have to tell the person on death row which one they choose within seven days of receiving the warrant. Lethal injection would be the preferred option.

The bill also states buying injection drugs won’t be subject to the Louisiana Procurement Code, and it eliminates some restrictions for pharmacists and pharmacies that could provide the drugs. The exemptions for practitioners and businesses are related to:

Former Gov. John Bel Edwards pushed for clemency hearings for death row inmates near the end of his term.

Current Gov. Jeff Landry, however, said recently that failure to carry out executions means the state is failing it’s end of the contract with victims.

The bill is pending in the House Administration of Criminal Justice. The special session, meant to target issues related to crime in the state, will start Monday, Feb. 19, and can run until Wednesday, March 6.

(source: brproud.com)

ARKANSAS----female faces death penalty

Arkansas officer’s killer faces death penalty following capital murder conviction----Officer Kevin Apple was a 23-year police veteran when he was killed by Shawna Rhae Cash in 2021

An Arkansas woman was convicted by a jury in Benton County of capital murder in the killing of a local police officer in 2021 by smashing into him with a vehicle and then dragging his body about half the length of a football field, according to reports.

Shawna Rhae Cash, 25, was convicted last Thursday, Feb. 8, of killing Pea Ridge Police Officer Kevin Apple in 2021 by intentionally running him down with her vehicle and dragging him 149 feet while fleeing from police. As a result of the capital murder conviction, Cash now faces the possibility of death as the penalty phase of her trial begins, Law&Crime reported.

According to prosecutor Joshua Robinson, jurors learned that Cash had a history of fleeing officers, including leading Farmington Police in a high-speed pursuit in 2020, and months later, running from Fayetteville Police, according to KHBS.

“Cash is more experienced with high-speed chases than the officer chasing her,” Robinson declared.

On the morning of June 26, 2021, Oscar Olvera, a Rogers man, testified that his wife spotted a suspect in a blue Jeep steal mail from their mailbox. Olvera got into his car and chased after the Jeep, honking his horn until it pulled into a Walgreens parking lot, reported KHBS.

Olvera testified that Shawna Cash was the driver. Olvera said Cash returned a mailed check to him, yet he felt threatened when Cash’s passenger, Elijah Andazola, 21, reached for something.

As a result, Olvera drew a firearm and told Cash and Andazola to get out of the Jeep, while also calling police.

However, as responding police sirens approached, Cash and Andazola re-entered their vehicle and fled.

Pea Ridge Police Officer Kevin Apple and another officer located the suspects at a local convenience store.

“Camera footage obtained from the White Oak Gas Station depicts the suspect vehicle parked at the gas pumps when a Pea Ridge Patrol car, driven by Officer [Kevin] Apple, pulled up in front of the suspect vehicle (facing it directly) while another Pea Ridge Patrol car, driven by Officer [Brian] Stamps, pulled up directly behind it,” a redacted affidavit of probable cause for bond outlined.

With his weapon drawn, Apple stood in front of the Jeep and repeatedly yelled, “Don’t do it!” Nevertheless, Cash accelerated.

According to Law&Crime, the following excerpt was taken from court documents:

“The camera footage did not have audio but appeared as though Officer Apple was attempting to verbally engage with Cash and Andazola. Seven seconds after Officer Apple exited his vehicle, Shawna Cash accelerated backwards; slamming into Officer Stamps’ vehicle. It appeared Officer Apple drew his service weapon and approached the front of the suspect vehicle; standing directly in front of it. Approximately three seconds later, Shawna Cash rapidly accelerated straight forward; striking Officer Apple. Officer Apple was carried on the front of the suspect vehicle for several feet until Cash steered slightly to the right; striking the front left-side of Officer Apple’s patrol car, pinning him between the 2 vehicles. As Cash continued to accelerate, Officer Apple was dragged underneath Cash’s vehicle. The vehicle accelerated out of camera view while still dragging Officer Apple underneath.”

On Oct. 27, 2021, the Pea Ridge Police Department posted a statement to social media that was written by Officer Apple’s mother, Dalene Hart.

“To the Citizens of Pea Ridge and surrounding communities. It is with a full and humble heart that I wish to express my gratitude for the love and support my family and I have received over the last several months since my son, Officer Kevin Apple, was taken from us. As a parent, the void I have felt since Kevin’s passing is unexplainable. I think of and miss Kevin everyday as I know his fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement do. Kevin is gone and nothing can bring him back, however; I still would like to see justice served and I believe in our criminal justice system. The support from the community has been positively overwhelming to say the least. It warms my heart and soul to see all the blue lights on porches and 1212 (Officer Apple’s badge number) signs in yards and on vehicles, not only in Pea Ridge, but in surrounding communities as well. I wanted to write this note to the people of Pea Ridge to publicly thank you from the bottom of my heart for the emotional and financial support you have given me over the past several months. I know Kevin will not ever be forgotten and his memory will live on within law enforcement and the people of the community he loved and served.”

On Dec. 9, 2023, the Pea Ridge Police Department wrote, “Fallen Officer Kevin Apple, Badge #1212, is remembered by many for his great sense of humor and the delight he took in brightening someone’s day. For us, he might be remembered best for his practical jokes and the laughter that followed! Always the prankster. We miss him dearly.”

Officer Apple was a 23-year law enforcement veteran, Law Officer reported following his death in 2021.

The capital murder case against Andazola remains ongoing.

(sdource: lawofficer.com)

MISSOURI----impending execution

‘Torturous’: Lawyer questions Missouri’s lethal injection protocol ahead of April execution----Brian Dorsey was convicted of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to the death penalty.

An attorney for a man scheduled to be executed in April says Missouri’s protocols present a “substantial risk of serious, torturous, physical and psychological pain.”

Brian Dorsey is scheduled to die by lethal injection on April 9. The 51 year old was convicted in the 2006 killing of his cousin Sarah Bonnie and her husband Ben Bonnie in central Missouri. Federal Public Defender Arin Melissa Brenner raised several objections in a complaint filed Friday seeking an injunction by the Eastern District of Missouri.

In the court filing, Brenner writes that the Missouri Department of Corrections’ 2-page execution protocol is vague and that several of the guidelines violate Dorsey’s constitutional rights. Missouri has ramped up its use of the death penalty, executing 4 people last year.

It is 1 of 6 states with executions scheduled this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state uses the drug pentobarbital for its executions.

Once administered, the drug can induce pulmonary edema — where a frothy fluid leaks into lung tissue and airways — causing the sensation of drowning. It occurs “virtually immediately” and before a person given a high dose becomes unresponsive, the court filing said.

Brenner argues that the state’s protocols violate protections against cruel and unusual punishment. She also says the protocols do not include any safeguards for the pentobarbital’s manufacturing, testing or storage.

The execution team can also use a “cut down.” The procedure involves cutting into the person to set an IV line, causing “excruciating pain.” According to the complaint, an anesthetic is not administered and the policy does not limit the number of times the team can attempt to set the line.

Executions have been considered botched or even called off due to difficulties setting an IV line, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Without pain medication, Brenner says Dorsey would be prevented “from having any meaningful spiritual discussion or participation in his last religious rites with his spiritual advisor,” which would violate his right to exercise his religious beliefs.

Dorsey will have a minister with him during the execution, a right that was extended by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022.

In a statement to The Star, Brenner said she hopes Missouri sees the latest litigation as an opportunity to put more humane practices in place.

“There is simply no justification for some of its actions, which cause excruciating pain, including just moments before a person must engage in the most important spiritual and religious practices of their lives – preparing their souls for the afterlife,” she said.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office and the Missouri Department of Corrections did not respond to emailed questions.

(source: Katie Moore, Kansas City Star)

***************

St. Louis County Prosecutor Seeks to Prevent Execution of Missouri Death Row Inmate

Marcellus Williams, age 55, who has spent more than 23 years of his life on death row in Missouri, is receiving help now from Wesley Bell, a prosecuting attorney in St. Louis County, who said he intends to prove Williams is not guilty.

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) reports Williams was sentenced to death in 2001 after being convicted of 1st-degree murder for the 1998 stabbing of newspaper reporter Felicia Gayle.

In late January, Bell filed a motion to vacate Williams’ conviction with the St. Louis County Circuit Court.

Bell’s motion was enabled by a 2021 Missouri law that allows local prosecutors to step in if they have “information that the convicted person may be innocent.”

According to the Associated Press, 2 wrongful convictions have already been overturned through the process established by this law, leading to the release of Kevin Strickland and Lamar Johnson from prison.

As described in The Intercept, both Strickland and Johnson’s innocence claims were met with strident opposition from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office.

Under this law, Bell’s motion necessitates a hearing before a judge. At the hearing, which has not yet been scheduled, Bell plans to present exculpatory DNA evidence that has never been seen in court.

Writing for The Intercept, Jordan Smith explains the court denied DNA testing of crime scene evidence prior to Williams’ initial trial and sentencing, and, in 2015, the Missouri Supreme Court stayed Williams’ execution and ordered testing of the murder weapon, which revealed DNA multiple experts agreed was inconsistent with Williams’ DNA.

Upon seeing the test results, the Midwest Innocence Project, which currently represents Williams, asked former Gov. Eric Greitens to intervene. Per The Intercept, Greitens acquiesced hours before Williams was set to die, issuing a 2017 executive order that halted the execution and convened a board of judges to investigate the case.

The Associated Press reports that current Gov. Mike Parson dissolved the board in 2023 before it reported any findings and permitted the Missouri Attorney General’s Office to move forward with the execution.

Bell’s efforts are at least partially motivated by the state’s eagerness to execute Williams. In his motion, Bell notes that “this request is made all the more urgent because the Attorney General’s Office has requested an execution date for Mr. Williams.”

Building on the DNA evidence, the motion to vacate lists several facts which cast doubt on the conviction: the absence of physical evidence tying Williams to the crime scene, the contradictions in key witness testimony, the mistakes made by Williams’ trial counsel, and the racially discriminatory jury selection practices employed by the prosecution.

According to The Intercept, the Attorney General’s Office has argued that challenging the integrity of convictions decreases faith in the system.

In contrast, Bell’s motion contends, “Public confidence in the justice system is restored, not undermined, when a prosecutor is accountable for a wrongful or constitutionally infirm conviction.”

(source: Varun Noronha, The Davis Vanguard)

KANSAS:

Cruel and unusual: Kris Kobach wants Kansas to start executing people by suffocation----The attorney general wants the state to use nitrogen hypoxia on death row prisoners. It produced a gruesome result in Alabama just weeks ago.

On Jan. 25, Alabama transformed Kenneth Eugene Smith into a human guinea pig to test a method of execution never attempted before: nitrogen hypoxia. Hypoxia is a medical term describing an absence of enough oxygen in the tissues to sustain bodily functions. Hypoxia means death by suffocation.

Executioners strapped Kenneth to a gurney, then covered his face with an unfitted off-the-rack mask pumped full of nitrogen. Observers described the “most violent execution” they had ever witnessed. They saw Kenneth shaking, writhing and thrashing on the gurney for nearly 10 minutes while visibly conscious. His final words, spoken into the very mask that would kill him: “Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards. I’m leaving with love, peace and light.”

Just 2 weeks later, Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach introduced a bill in the Kansas Legislature that would enable the state secretary of corrections to use hypoxia as a method of execution. House Bill 2782 promises that death by hypoxia would be “administered in such a way to cause death in a swift and humane manner.”

However, the experimental results of Kenneth Eugene Smith’s execution demonstrate that death by suffocation is cruel, torturous and decidedly unusual.

Cynicism must not allow us to overlook the irony of a proud right-to-life institution experimenting with the machinery of death. As laboratories of democracy, states must recognize when a law or policy has failed.

In Kansas, the death penalty has failed by any objective measure of success. I should know. As a Kansas public defender specializing in the defense of death penalty cases, and as an adjunct professor at Washburn University School of Law, I have devoted my career to the rigorous study of the death penalty.

Since Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, there have been more 3,500 criminal homicides in the state, but no executions. 2 men on death row have already died of natural causes before their 1st appeal was finalized.

The 2 cases nearest to completing their appeals are still many years away from an execution date, and these 2 men are now 68 and 80 years old. Is the dubious purpose of retribution advanced by slowly suffocating elderly men to death many decades after their crimes of conviction?

Moreover, the death penalty in Kansas and throughout the United States has failed to deter violent crime. The consensus in the scientific community, including the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council’s 2012 report, is that there is no reliable evidence of a deterrent effect of the death penalty on homicide rates.

It is particularly ineffective as a deterrent in Kansas. Since 1994, homicide rates in the state have continually fluctuated. Thus, there is no statistical correlation between the availability of the death penalty as a possible punishment in Kansas and a corresponding decline in homicide rates. Recent evidence also shows that there are no differences in the murder rates in states before and after abolition of the death penalty.

Finally, the death penalty has utterly failed financially. Available data demonstrate that maintaining the death penalty in Kansas is significantly more costly then pursuing other forms of punishment and costs Kansas taxpayers millions of dollars each year. H.B. 2782 is set for a hearing before the House Committee on the Judiciary on Feb. 15.

Kansans should urge their elected officials to stop experimenting with the machinery of death and oppose this cruel and inhumane execution method. Instead, the Legislature should abolish the death penalty and end this expensive failed experiment once and for all.

(source: Opinion; Jeffrey Dazey is a senior assistant capital defender with the Kansas Death Penalty Defense Unit and an adjunct professor at Washburn University School of Law. He lives in Olathe----Kansas City Star)

NEBRASKA:

Aubrey Trail's Federal Challenge: Mental Health, Manipulation, and the Death Penalty----Aubrey Trail challenges his death sentence in federal court, claiming his severe mental illness makes it cruel and unusual punishment. The case raises questions about mental health treatment in the legal system and the implications of capital punishment.

Aubrey Trail, the man convicted for the gruesome murder and dismemberment of Sydney Loofe, has taken a bold step to challenge his death sentence in federal court. His federal public defenders have raised over two dozen claims, including the argument that Trail's severe mental illness makes his death sentence tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.

A Grisly Crime and Its Consequences

The story dates back to 2017 when Loofe, a 24-year-old Nebraska woman, went on a date with Trail's girlfriend, Bailey Boswell, and was never seen again. Trail, 54, and Boswell, 26, were later arrested and charged with Loofe's murder. Trail was found guilty in 2019, while Boswell received a life sentence in 2021.

A Plea for Justice Amidst Mental Health Concerns

Trail's federal public defenders argue that his previous legal representation was ineffective, as his mental health history was not adequately investigated before the trial. This, they claim, prevented them from raising relevant mental health defenses. Trail's mental and emotional impairments reportedly led to a mid-trial suicide attempt, which his current attorney asserts should have prompted a competency evaluation.

A System Manipulated?

In a chilling revelation, Trail has stated that he would 'manipulate the system' to avoid execution. His current attorney argues that this demonstrates Trail's lack of competency at the time of his trial. Furthermore, Trail has indicated that he would wait if Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen showed effort to address the death penalty during the current legislative session.

The complex interplay of mental health, legal representation, and the justice system is laid bare in Trail's federal challenge. As the case unfolds, it raises critical questions about the treatment of mentally ill individuals within the legal system and the implications of capital punishment.

In the coming weeks, the court will delve into the merits of Trail's claims, potentially shedding light on the intricate dynamics of mental health and justice. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications, not just for Trail, but for the broader legal landscape.

(source: bnnbreaking.com)

USA:

Advocates and experts warn against states using nitrogen for executions

The execution of a man by nitrogen gas in Alabama is raising ethical questions about whether the practice is cruel and experimental.

The Jan. 25 execution of Kenneth Smith, 58, was the 1st in the nation in which nitrogen gas was used.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall Jan. 26 described Smith's execution as "textbook" and said the process was "consistent" with what state officials had presented in arguments defending the method in court.

However, witnesses to the execution, including the Rev. Jeff Hood, Smith's spiritual adviser who was at his side, described a scene in which Smith convulsed on a gurney for several minutes before succumbing.

From the time the gas was first administered until Alabama Department of Corrections officials turned off the video to viewers in an adjacent viewing area, about 22 minutes had elapsed.

Catholic opponents of the death penalty and others concerned about its continued use in several states said the use of nitrogen gas as another form of execution opens the door for new discussions about whether capital punishment should continue.

Nationwide, capital punishment remains in place in 21 states; 23 states have abolished the practice. An executive pause is in effect in 6 states.

"I think it's extremely troubling. It's untested. Essentially Kenneth Smith was a guinea pig," Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network, said of the use of nitrogen gas to execute someone. The network advocates to end the death penalty.

Smith's execution also gained international attention. The European Union and a team of four experts at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva expressed concern about death caused by nitrogen hypoxia — depriving the body of oxygen — saying it is cruel and degrading.

Catholic Church's stance

The Catholic Church has long opposed capital punishment. In August 2018, Pope Francis approved a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledging that over time there has been "an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes."

The revision of Paragraph 2267 continues by quoting the pope, saying, "Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that 'the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,' and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide."

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since 1980 has called for the death penalty to be abolished. Its 2005 document, "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death" reiterated the bishops' opposition to capital punishment.

In Alabama, neither Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile nor Bishop Steven Raica of Birmingham commented on Smith's execution or the method employed to kill him. Spokesmen in both dioceses said their respective prelates have repeatedly called for the end of the death penalty. In 2016, the bishops of Alabama and Mississippi issued a statement calling for the end of the death penalty for support for the dignity of life following the murders of two women religious.

Nitrogen hypoxia

To carry out an execution using nitrogen gas, a respirator mask is fitted over a person's face and breathing air is replaced with pure nitrogen gas, depriving the person of oxygen. Nitrogen is harmless when mixed with the correct amount of oxygen. Earth's atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% other gases.

According to The Associated Press, "The state had predicted the nitrogen gas would cause unconsciousness within seconds and death within minutes."

Hood was particularly troubled by what he witnessed in the execution chamber, telling NCR that Smith struggled to breathe for several minutes.

"He was heaving back and forth. He looked like a fish out of water," said Hood, who was incardinated in 2022 as a priest in the Old Catholic Church, which is not in union with the Roman Catholic Church.

"Every time he raised up he was slamming his head into the mask, his face mushrooming into the mask. Spitting and mucous, perhaps even vomit coating the inside of the mask, and it was drizzling down the mask. It was an unbelievably violent moment," Hood said.

"I can tell for 22 minutes, what I saw was torture," he said.

The American Medical Association's Code of Medical Ethics acknowledges that "an individual's opinion on capital punishment is the personal moral decision of the individual."

"However," it continues, "as a member of a profession dedicated to preserving life when there is hope of doing so, a physician must not participate in a legally authorized execution."

The American Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals of 2020 says that the use of argon or nitrogen for euthanizing mammals other than pigs is "unacceptable."

Michael McCarthy, an associate professor at the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics at Loyola University Chicago, pointed to the AMA's code as well as widespread ethical standards for conducting medical or scientific research that prohibit the intentional killing or execution of a human being.

"If this is a form of trying to see if this would be a way [of execution] to use in other states, that would be some form of research that would be prohibited unless it was approved by any institutional review board under the common rule ... as to what type of research is able to conducted on prisoners. This [nitrogen gas execution] would clearly fall outside the bounds of research that would be approved by an institutional review board," McCarthy explained.

The widespread opposition to capital punishment across fields that encompass animal rights, physicians, medical research and the Catholic Church demonstrates, McCarthy said, "the broad alliance between many groups who don't often align on particular issues."

Why nitrogen?

The use of nitrogen gas has emerged as an alternate form of execution in recent years for various reasons. Pharmaceutical companies have prohibited the use of the drugs they produce for lethal injection. Experts also point to a series of botched executions as a reason that states have turned to nitrogen gas.

Deborah Denno, professor of law at Fordham University's Law School, said nitrogen gas execution is the sixth method now available to states. "I don't know of any other country that has so many different methods of execution. We just jump from one to the other when a method is getting into trouble," she said.

She questioned the "dishonesty" of Alabama officials for saying the procedure went according to plan and that Smith did not endure distress. "With Kenneth Smith, everybody around the world knew [what happened] and you have a lot of eyewitness accounts saying that it did not go well," she said.

Alabama in 2018 became the third state to authorize nitrogen gas execution, following Oklahoma in 2015 and Mississippi in 2017. Bills have been introduced in the Nebraska and Ohio legislatures to allow the method.

Citing the Constitution's Eighth Amendment prohibition of "tortuous execution or cruel and unusual punishment" and similar wording in state constitutions, the Death Penalty Information Center has echoed physicians and scientists in raising concerns about the protocols under which nitrogen gas execution would be carried out, said Robin Maher, its executive director.

"Ultimately, states are trying to find a method of execution that sits comfortable with the public," Maher told NCR.

"So, the fact that states have chosen to use the death penalty, which is their right, means that they also need to be held to the constitutional standard of assuring those executions are not tortuous and not gratuitously painful. These are very reasonable questions for taxpayers to be asking," she said.

Ohio's bill was introduced by Republican representatives Phil Plummer and Brian Stewart less than a week after Smith's execution. It received the backing of Attorney General Dave Yost, also a Republican.

The 3 political leaders said an alternate execution method was needed because no executions have been carried out in the state since 2018. In 2020, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced that lethal injection was "no longer an option" after a federal judge ruled the protocol could cause inmates "severe pain and needless suffering," according to The Associated Press.

Stewart criticized DeWine's unofficial pause in executions during a Jan. 30 news conference introducing the bill, saying it was time Ohio resumed imposing the death penalty. The bill would allow inmates to choose between lethal injection and nitrogen gas, but would require nitrogen be used when the appropriate drugs could not be obtained.

Brian Hickey, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, said the state's bishops oppose capital punishment "in its totality."

"Whether you're using a lethal injection, or unfortunately, as the attorney general said, using nitrogen hypoxia, neither is humane," Hickey told NCR.

The conference sent a letter to all state legislators in October urging that the death penalty be abolished. Hickey said bills have been introduced in both chambers of the Ohio Legislature and "we're seeing very solid bipartisan support on both bills."

Vaillancourt Murphy said her organization was hopeful that DeWine, who is Catholic, would sign an abolition law before his second term as governor ends in January 2027.

"I hope in Ohio's case," she said, "it's another reason to have an important conversation and put this to bed."

(source: National Catholic Reporter)

*****************

Opinion The death penalty is justice

I understand why some people oppose capital punishment. What I don’t get is why condemned murderers, such as Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was recently executed in Alabama, are portrayed as victims who deserve our sympathy. In his diatribe against the death penalty, “Our execution obsession just won’t die” [op-ed, Feb. 8], Robert Gebelhoff made a passing reference to Smith’s victim, Elizabeth Sennett. He said nothing about the indisputable fact that Mr. Smith beat and stabbed to death a woman he was paid $1,000 to kill. Ms. Sennett was murdered in 1988, which means Mr. Smith had 35 years of taxpayer-funded appeals before the courts finally allowed his execution.

I am an anti-MAGA Democrat who is liberal on most issues. But I’ll never understand why progressives dismiss the suffering of murder victims in defense of those who did the killing. In his final statement before being executed, Smith expressed no remorse nor asked forgiveness from the murdered woman’s family attending his execution.

Mr. Gebelhoff criticized President Biden for the Justice Department’s decision to seek the death penalty for the racist murderer who slaughtered 10 Americans in Buffalo in 2022 solely because they were Black.

Mr. Gebelhoff dismissed murder victims’ families’ pleas for justice as “vapid emotional appeals.” He sees justice as revenge. If that’s so, why not call for the abolition of life imprisonment, too?

Scott Wallace, Leesburg

(source: Letter to the Editor, Washington Post)

******************

Death penalty makes liberals sad

According to columnist Bill Newman, “Someday we will abolish state-sanctioned killing of our fellow human beings. Someday.” [“The illusion of kinder, gentler executions,” Recorder, Feb. 5.] I hope he’s wrong. The death penalty makes liberals very sad. Truth be told, I’m happy when a convicted murderer is executed because the killer will never harm anyone ever again. That’s a good thing.

David Goldstein

(source: Letter to the Editor, Greenfield (Mass.) Recorder)

FRANCE:

Robert Badinter, Former French Justice Minister, and Death Penalty Abolitionist, Dies at 95

Robert Badinter, a fierce defender of human rights, defense lawyer, and former French justice minister who led the effort to abolish the death penalty in his country, died on February 9, 2024. Mr. Badinter influenced many legal changes, including laws that decriminalized homosexuality, improved prison conditions, and advocated for his own particular concept of justice. As a defense lawyer, Mr. Badinter witnessed the execution of one of his clients, and vividly recalled the horrors involved with the use of the guillotine. In 1981, one of his first official actions as Justice Minister was to seek the abolition of the death penalty in France. “A country passionate about freedom cannot retain the death penalty as part of its laws,” he said. Following the enaction of the law abolishing capital punishment, Mr. Badinter told his colleagues that “tomorrow, thanks to you, France’s justice will no longer be a justice that kills.”

Mr. Badinter served as France’s Minister of Justice from 1981 to 1986, where he overcame public support for the death penalty and gained parliamentary support for abolition. For nearly the next decade Mr. Badinter worked as the president of France’s Constitutional Council, which reviews French law to ensure it aligns with the Constitution. Following his role as president, Mr. Badinter served in the French Senate as a representative of the Socialist party from 1995 to 2011, where “he progressively came to resemble the conscience of the republic, a fervent defender of the rule of law.”

Born in Paris to Jewish immigrants from Bessarabia in March 1928, Mr. Badinter “was raised to respect the liberal values and tolerance of the French republic.” In 1943, during the height of World War II, Mr. Badinter’s father was deported from France and sent to a Nazi death camp, from which he never returned.

After the announcement of his death, French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that Mr. Badinter “is a touchstone for many generations” and that he is a “figure of the century” who “never ceased to advocate for the ideas of the Enlightenment.” France’s current Minister of Justice and former defense lawyer Éric Dupond-Moretti said on social media that as someone who was “deeply committed to justice, an advocate of abolition, a man of law and passion, [Mr. Badinter] leaves a void that matches his legacy: immeasurable.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

MALDIVES:

Death penalty implementation only after ensuring confidence in system: Ihusan----Minister Ihusan said that the current government will implement the death penalty in the Maldives only after ensuring full confidence in the justice system.

Minister of Homeland Security and Technology Ali Ihusan stated yesterday that the current government will implement the death penalty in the Maldives only after ensuring full confidence in the justice system.

The current government's stance is to implement the death penalty.

The Minister stated that he will commence implementation after completing all required preparatory work and conducting careful examination of the matter. He assured that he will proceed with the implementation within the framework of the country's laws and regulations.

In response to concerns raised by both local and international agencies, Minister Ihusan stated in a press conference yesterday that the 1st step before implementing the death penalty is to ensure that the sentenced convict is afforded all the rights they are granted within the justice system.

The Minister stated that the government would proceed with this initiative in collaboration with both local and international agencies.

"Has the integrity of the entire system been ensured? And does everyone have full confidence in the system? The first thing we will do is to ensure that," Minister Ihusan said.

The Minister stated that further proceedings would be carried out only after gaining that assurance.

The Supreme Court has upheld the death sentences of 4 individuals.

Former President Abdulla Yameen's administration had also attempted to implement three of these sentences, but it was not carried through. The government at the time even tried to implement the death penalty by lethal injection instead of through hanging, as first suggested. However, death penalty remained unimplemented by the end of his term in office.

Former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's government did not make attempts to implement the death penalty.

The last time the death penalty was implemented in the Maldives was in 1953, with this year marking 71 years of a moratorium of the death penalty in the country.

Although the Penal Code in the Maldives stipulates the death penalty as a punishment for intentional killings, there is considerable external pressure against the use of this punishment.

(source: edition.mv)

MALAYSIA:

Kemaman teen escapes death penalty, pleads guilty to infanticide

A Kemaman teen pleaded guilty to the infanticide of her newborn son 2 years ago, escaping the death sentence under a previous murder charge against her.

The 17-year-old made the plea to the alternative charge under Section 309A of the Penal Code, which was read out to her before the Kemaman Magistrates’ Court today.

(source: malaysiakini.com)

INDIA:

Cameron vows to help Scot facing death penalty in India

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has vowed to review the UK Government's involvement in the case of a Scot who has been held in an Indian prison for more than 6 years to "make sure we are doing the right thing".

On his 1st visit to Scotland since becoming Foreign Secretary, he met the family of Jagtar Singh Johal.

Mr Johal, from Dumbarton, Scotland, was in Punjab in northern India for his wedding in 2017 when his family said he was arrested and bundled into an unmarked car.

He is said to have been tortured, including with electric shocks, and faces the death penalty as a result of his campaigning for Sikh rights.

When Lord Cameron returned to politics last November, after being appointed Foreign Secretary, Mr Johal's family said they were hopeful he could make a difference.

His brother, Gurpreet Singh Johal, said at the time: "We're hopeful that the sixth foreign secretary after six years might do something that the other foreign secretaries have failed to do."

After a "very important meeting" with the family on Monday, Lord Cameron stressed he was taking the case "incredibly seriously".

Speaking as he visited the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office building in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, he said he would review the action taken so far, but stopped short of calling for Mr Johal to be released.

Lord Cameron said: "As Foreign Secretary I have looked at the case, examined all the paperwork.

"I wanted to meet there with the family and hear from them what they think. And I want to really stress, as an incoming foreign secretary, you don't just accept what the Government has said up to now, you really look at it, really ask the questions.

"And meeting with the family today is going to help me to go back and ask those questions all over again to make sure we're doing the right thing for this British citizen."

While not calling for Mr Johal to be released, Lord Cameron said: "The Indian government has got to speed up this case."

He added: "What I have said to the family is I am going to go back to my office and look at the paperwork all over again.

"I am going to take into account what they have said and see whether there is a different approach we should be taking.

"I've made absolutely no promises that it will be different, but what I have said is I take these cases very seriously.

"I am going to re-examine everything and make sure we are doing the right thing.

"That's what you should always do, whether it is someone who has been taken hostage, whether it is someone who is in prison."

Dabinderjit Singh, principal adviser at the Sikh Federation (UK), however, claimed that UK foreign secretaries had so far "failed" to take the "tough action" needed in this case, adding that the "jury is out" on whether Lord Cameron will have an impact.

Commenting after the meeting, Mr Singh said: "Jagtar's family not only deserve answers from David Cameron to justify the UK Government approach to a British national being tortured and arbitrarily detained for over 6 years in an Indian jail, they also need a new strategy to secure his speedy release and return to Scotland to be with his family.

"Jagtar's MP, Martin Docherty-Hughes has been doing a fantastic job to raise his case at every opportunity, but the UK Government has failed for over 6 years to take the tough action the Foreign Minister promised in the UK Parliament within weeks of his abduction and torture.

"The British Sikh community and the wider British public expect better from the UK Government to protect British nationals.

"The jury is out if David Cameron can do the decent thing by using his experience to secure Jagtar's release where other Foreign Secretaries and PMs have failed."

(source: heraldscotland.com)

*************

Punjab & Haryana High Court Commutes Death Sentence Of Man Who Raped His Minor Daughter, Cites His Marginalised Background --The Punjab and Haryana High Court has commuted the death sentence imposed on a man convicted for raping his own minor daughter, considering that he belonged to a marginalised part of the society.

(see: https://www.livelaw.in/high-court/punjab-and-haryana-high-court/punjab-haryana-high-court-commute-death-sentence-father-rape-daughter-pocso-act-life-imprisonment-249313)

TANZANIA:

Man sentenced to death over murder

THE High Court Kigoma registry has on Thursday sentenced Kigoma Ujiji municipal resident Peter Mwandelema to be hanged to death after being found guilty of intentionally killing seven people of the same family in 2022.

The 34-year-old man from Mlole village was convicted of cold-blooded murdering the victims; six of them died on the material evening, while the other one passed away three days later while being transported to Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) for further treatment.

Justice Augustine Rwizile delivered the judgment after the court convicted the victim of murder.

The judge ruled that the prosecution proved the charge beyond reasonable doubt as required in criminal cases.

Regarding the prosecution’s evidence, he accepted the testimony of witnesses in line with Section 26 of the Criminal Procedure Act after examining the series of exhibits, including the tested blood samples (to extract DNA) discovered in the defendant’s clothes as well as a machete that was used in the murder.

Judge Rwizile further remarked that the defendant’s confession to committing the crime and the accuracy of the details provided by the prosecution satisfied the court.

Additionally, he claimed the prosecution proved beyond reasonable doubt that the phone the accused was found with after being arrested belonged to one of the deceased.

“These are direct evidence that the defendant was involved in the murder, and the Court finds him guilty and sentences him to death by hanging,” the Justice concluded.

The prosecution claimed that on July 3, 2022, in Kigoma Ujiji municipality, the accused person murdered seven people and was charged with murder, contrary to sections 196 and 197 of the Penal Code, CAP 16 R.E. 2019.

It is alleged that on the aforementioned date and place, the convict killed Tilifera Toyi (70), January Mussa (34), Sara Dunia (28), Joel Mussa (40), Christina Razalo (9), James Joel (7), and James January (3), who passed away 3 days later while being transported to MNH for further treatments.

The court also heard that, on a material day, the convict left a 6-month-old infant alive. The convict is said to have committed the crime out of sexual envy after learning that one of the family members was having an extramarital affair with his wife.

Therefore, on the incident day, the convict planned to kill his target man.

However, as the victims woke up and began screaming, he thought he should kill all members of the family to destroy the evidence.

(source: dailynews.co.tz)

IRAN----execution

Unnamed Man Executed in Tabriz

State media reported the execution of an unnamed man for murder charges in Tabriz Central Prison.

According to Rokna, a man was executed in Tabriz Central Prison. The report does not specify the exact date and identity of the man.

He was accused of killing another man with a firearm in November 2019 and sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) for murder.

Those charged with the umbrella term of “intentional murder” are sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind) regardless of intent or circumstances due to a lack of grading in law. Once a defendant has been convicted, as the plaintiffs, the victim’s family are required to choose between death as retribution, diya (blood money) or forgiveness.

(source: iranhr.net)

******************

Man Sentenced to Death Over of Killing Iranian Filmmaker Mehrjui

An Iranian court has sentenced a man to capital punishment and 3 others to long-term imprisonment over the killing of renowned filmmaker Dariush Mehrjui and his wife.

Mehrjui, an 83-year-old director associated with the Iranian new wave of cinema, was stabbed to death along with his wife Vahideh Mohammadifar in October 2023 at their home near Tehran.

The judiciary's Mizan Online website said on February 12 that the main suspect in the case was found guilty of "premeditated murder” and sentenced to death in accordance with the Islamic law of retribution, known as the "qisas" law.

Mizan quoted the chief justice of Alborz province as saying that the application of the retribution law came at the request of Mehrjui's family.

The convicted killer, who was arrested days after the attack, was a former employee of Mehrjui who "had a grudge against the deceased due to financial issues," the judiciary has said.

The three other defendants charged over their roles in planning and assisting the murder received sentences ranging from 8 to 36 years in prison, Mizan reported, adding that the verdicts can be appealed before the Supreme Court.

(source: iranwire.com)

*******************

Call to save political prisoner Mohammad Javad Vafaei Thani

The life of Mohammad Javad Vafaei Sani, a 28-year-old supporter of the PMOI and a prisoner of the 2019 uprising, is in danger after being previously sentenced to death by the regime’s revolutionary court in Mashhad. He was tortured for several months and detained in Mashhad’s Vakil Abad prison. He was eventually handed down an execution sentence for “corruption on Earth” by Branch Four of the Mashhad Revolutionary Court.

?Iran Human Rights Monitor (Iran HRM), human rights experts, activists, legislators, and politicians from across the world are calling on the international community to intervene and stop the imminent execution of Mohammad Javad Vafaei-Thani.

(source: iran-hrm.com)

FEBRUARY 12, 2024:

FLORIDA:

State Attorney Files Death Penalty Notice in Murder of Central Florida Mother

An Orange County grand jury has formally indicted 51-year-old Cory Hill for 1st Degree Murder. Hill is charged in the shooting death of his estranged wife 37-year-old Shakeira Rucker. The State has also filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Hill for Rucker’s murder.

Rucker was reported missing out of Winter Springs, Florida by her family in November 2023. Orange County sheriff’s deputies discovered her body a week later in a storage unit in Apopka. The missing mother was found dead inside the Apopka storage unit from apparent gunshot wounds.

Hill became a suspect in the murder of the Central Florida mother and was subsequently charged with her homicide.

The State presented sufficient evidence to a grand jury to secure a 1st Degree Murder indictment against Hill.

The decision to seek the death penalty in this case is based on 2 statutory aggravators including the cold, calculating method of the homicide and Hill’s prior violent conviction for 2nd degree murder.

State Attorney Bain said he is committed to working with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to get justice for Shakeira Rucker and her loved ones.

(source: West Orlando News)

KANSAS:

Kansas attorney general sponsors bill adding hypoxia option for executing capital murderers

Attorney General Kris Kobach introduced a bill in the Kansas Legislature allowing the state corrections secretary to decide between intravenous injection of drugs or inhalation of a gas inducing suffocation when executing individuals sentenced to death in state courts. Kobach has joined other state attorneys general encouraging reliance on hypoxia for executions since Alabama in January became the 1st state to put to death a convicted murderer by subjecting a man to inhalation of pure nitrogen until dead.

“If Kansas is going to have a death penalty, it needs to be possible to implement,” Kobach said. “Because of difficulties in acquiring the drugs, lethal injection is now limited. I have spoken directly with the attorney general of Alabama, and he confirmed that the hypoxia method worked extremely well.” Kansas law authorized use of capital punishment for convictions of 1st-degree murder when certain aggravating circumstances were proven. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1965. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in Kansas in 1994, lethal injection has been the only permitted method of executing a person incarcerated by the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Under House Bill 2782, introduced formally by Dan Burrows, chief deputy attorney general, the state’s corrections secretary would be required to choose inhalation hypoxia or intravenous injection when carrying out a death sentence.

The legislation would require the option chosen to be administered in a way causing death in a “swift and humane manner” in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. By Dec. 31, 2024, according to the bill, the corrections secretary would establish rules and regulations for carrying out a sentence by hypoxia.

Another provision of the bill would mandate the Kansas Supreme Court to notify the district court where the conviction was rendered when all appellate proceedings were resolved. At that point, the district court would be responsible for sending the Department of Corrections a warrant directing the sentence of death to be carried out within 30 days.

Donna Schneweis, chair of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said the method of execution relied upon in Kansas wasn’t the central question.

“The existence of the Kansas death penalty itself is the issue,” Schneweis said. “Kansas continues to waste taxpayer dollars, harm victim families and prison staff, risk the lives of the innocent and violate the morals of many Kansans for a public policy built on vengeance. The time to end the Kansas death penalty is now.”

Kansas courts have found 15 men guilty of capital offenses during the past 4 decades. Of those, 9 remain under a sentence of death. In terms of those 9, capital sentences were imposed between 2002 and 2016. 4 of the men placed under a death sentence had their punishment converted to life in prison. 2 death row inmates died in prison while their cases were under appeal.

In mid-January, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the capital murder conviction and sentence of Kyle Flack, who killed three adults and an infant during 2013 in Franklin County.

That appellate decision included a statement by Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall that he was open to considering the constitutionality of the Kansas death penalty in terms of whether it was “reasonably related to the furtherance of the common good.”

Alabama executed Kenneth Smith using nitrogen hypoxia, which subjected him to inhalation of the gas through a mask until deceased. The execution was controversial because witnesses said Smith convulsed and gasped for minutes before pronounced dead. In 2022, the Alabama Department of Corrections failed in an attempt to execute Smith by lethal injection because staff couldn’t find a viable vein to insert a needle.

(source: The North Platte Telegraph)

USA:

SOMEBODY’S CHILD----Amid the Lingering Trauma of Trump’s Executions, a New Project Brings Families to Federal Death Row

DONALD NEWSON ENTERED the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, with a mix of nerves and excitement. He had not seen his father, Nasih Khalil Ra’id, in almost 20 years. Born Odell Corley, Ra’id was sent to federal death row when Newson was just a teenager. Although he insisted he’d been wrongfully convicted, his hope of freedom faded over time, and he fell out of contact with his son. Now 35, Newson wondered if his father would even recognize him. The last time they were together, Newson was just a skinny kid. “I definitely didn’t have a beard.”

Growing up, Newson did not know the details of his father’s case. Ra’id was simply the dad with a playful sense of humor who loved Prince and kung fu movies and teaching his son to weightlift. Although his parents separated when Newson was young, he’d seen Ra’id frequently; the year before his father’s arrest, Newson traveled from his home in Atlanta to spend the summer in Michigan City, Indiana, where Ra’id ran a car wash and spent nights working security at the zoo. “We would look at all the animals and basically get like a backstage pass,” Newson recalled.

In 2002, Ra’id was arrested alongside several other suspects following a botched bank robbery that left 2 people dead and another paralyzed. His co-defendants pointed to him as the mastermind, which Ra’id adamantly denied. “I did not take part in that atrocity,” he told the court following his trial. “I did not shoot and kill anyone.”

Newson attended his father’s sentencing hearing, along with his mother, Jeannie Gipson-Newson. A death sentence would be “devastating to my child,” she remembered testifying. But it felt futile. The jurors seemed to have made up their minds. In 2004, Ra’id was sentenced to die.

Like many parents, Ra’id didn’t show his children he was struggling. “He never really liked to be a burden to anyone,” Newson recalled. After his first several years on death row, Ra’id stopped reaching out to Newson. When he later learned about his grandchildren, he was reluctant to form a relationship with them. “Even if they meet me, it will be behind glass,” Newson remembered him saying. “I couldn’t touch them. I couldn’t hug them.”

In the spring of 2020, however, the Federal Bureau of Prisons began allotting hundreds of free phone minutes to people in federal custody under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Ra’id began calling his son. Soon, they were talking multiple times a week. Ra’id’s grandchildren eventually “won him over,” Newson said. Before long, Ra’id was sending portraits of the kids drawn in his death row cell.

Later that year, the Trump administration began carrying out the first federal executions in 17 years. One by one, Ra’id saw longtime neighbors taken to die. “It definitely was nerve-wracking for him,” Newson said. “He’s like, ‘People that I’ve been in here with for the last 10, 15 years … you see them get called and never come back.’” Like all his neighbors, Ra’id feared getting an execution date himself. In the end, he survived.

In 2022, Ra’id’s legal team told Newson about a new program to help families visit loved ones on federal death row. The initiative was started by anti-death penalty activists who raised money to provide financial support for travel, lodging, and meals. Ra’id, who had always been firm that Newson should not spend money on him that could be spent on his kids, seemed enthusiastic. A self-described procrastinator, Newson did not fill out the paperwork right away. But last May, he flew from Atlanta to Indianapolis, where he was picked up by volunteers, then driven straight to the penitentiary.

Things did not go according to plan. At security, Newson was told he was in violation of the dress code and would not be allowed inside. He called his ride and went to a nearby Walmart. By the time he returned in new clothes, there was only an hour left of visitation.

Newson’s agitation dissipated when he spotted his dad. “It was a flood of emotions coming over me,” he said. The last time they’d seen one another, Ra’id was in the best shape of his life. Now Newson stared at his gray beard, overwhelmed by the years they had lost. He wanted badly to reach out but was stopped by the thick plexiglass. He struggled to understand the rationale. “I’m his son. What is he going to do to me?”

The hour went quickly. By the end of Newson’s second visit that weekend, they had talked about virtually everything. Ra’id was eager to share what he was reading; he had recently finished “King Leopold’s Ghost,” about Belgium’s violent exploitation of Congo. He urged his son to pay attention to the state of politics in the U.S. “There are some things out there that should terrify you,” he said. “And you just gotta be ready for whatever’s coming.”

Saying goodbye was “gut-wrenching,” Newson said. He resolved to apply for another visit, this time with his wife and kids.

On the Monday after Thanksgiving, Ra’id turned 59 years old. When Newson wished him a happy birthday, he replied, “Ain’t nothing happy about this,” then changed the subject to his grandson, who was about to turn 10. He kept his son company on the phone the next day as Newson rushed to get his kids ready for school.

On Thursday, Ra’id called early in the morning. Newson was in the middle of a serious conversation with his wife, so Ra’id said he would call back. He never did. The next day, during a break at work, Newson retrieved his cellphone from his locker and saw a flurry of messages from family members. Ra’id had been found unresponsive at the prison that morning. He was declared dead shortly afterward. The cause, Newson later learned, was suicide.

“We Have to Do Something”

The Death Row Visitation Project was an attempt to make something good out of something horrific.

Even for veteran abolitionists, the execution spree that began in Terre Haute in 2020 was an unprecedented nightmare: 12 men and 1 woman killed in the federal death chamber over the course of 6 months. The killings were carried out amid a deadly pandemic, and the virus spread among those who traveled to Terre Haute. By the last executions in January 2021, prison staff, death penalty lawyers, reporters, and the condemned men themselves had gotten sick with Covid-19, while the Supreme Court did nothing to intervene.

Among those scarred by the executions was Bill Breeden, a longtime pacifist and Universalist minister who served as spiritual adviser to Corey Johnson, the 12th person put to death. Inside the execution chamber, officials refused to let Breeden deliver the statement he’d written with Johnson, words filled with love for Johnson’s family and remorse for his crimes. Breeden was especially haunted by the fact that Johnson had spent 29 years in solitary confinement without a visit from relatives. In the run-up to the execution, Breeden raised money from his congregation to bring Johnson’s family to Terre Haute. But Johnson’s legal team offered to cover the costs, leaving Breeden with unexpected funds.

It’s not unusual for people on death row to become estranged from their families. The stigma of a death sentence compounds the practical challenges of staying in touch. Phone calls, stamps, and emails get expensive quickly — and visits are often prohibitive. While studies have consistently shownOpens in a new tab the importance of maintaining close ties to loved ones while in prison, they tend to be framed around reducing recidivism, which does not apply to people the government intends to kill. And though the BOP boastsOpens in a new tab a “policy to place individuals within 500 miles of their release residence, as available and appropriate,” the policy is irrelevant to people on federal death row.

“No matter where that person’s from, they are housed here in Terre Haute,” said Barbara Battista, an activist and Catholic sister with the local Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, which has a longstanding relationship with the penitentiary. “That’s a real burden for persons with minimal resources, not just financial but emotional, psychological.” Like Breeden, Battista served as a spiritual adviser during the federal executions, accompanying 2 men, including Keith Nelson, who was among the first to die. “Keith was the one who said to me, ‘I want you to tell the world what goes on in here,’” she recalled. To her, this meant not only the chillingly sanitized ritual of lethal injection, but also the brutal isolation that generated so much suffering for the condemned and their loved ones. In conversations with Breeden, “we were like, ‘We have to do something about this,’” Battista said.

“So many local people would visit if they could. The system is set up to fail human beings.”

Helping families visit death row seemed like an ideal use of the leftover funds. Breeden and Battista teamed up with veteran death penalty lawyer Margaret O’Donnell, who had joined the execution vigils in Terre Haute and was well acquainted with the BOP’s myriad rules, some of which she had never been able to comprehend. Men on federal death row, for example, are prohibited from receiving visits from anyone who did not know them prior to their convictions, a policy that stifles new relationships. “So many local people would visit if they could,” O’Donnell said. “The system is set up to fail human beings.”

The group formed a committee to review applications and approve spending decisions. In June 2022, they sent a letter to everyone on federal death row announcing the Terre Haute Death Row Visitation Project. Battista’s name and email address were on the bottom of the form. She was soon inundated with responses.

Today, the burgeoning program has funded at least 18 visits for a quarter of the 40 men on federal death row. Applications are processed four times a year, with a small network of volunteers providing everything from airport rides to gift cards at local restaurants. With a shoestring budget sustained by small donations, the program has limited capacity. “Each guy can have one funded visit a year,” O’Donnell explained. Eventually, they hope to provide more.

To O’Donnell, the project is about “inserting a little bit of humanity into an inhumane system.” While it cannot undo the psychic toll of living under a death sentence, the visitation program provides a critical lifeline. In the wake of the execution spree, Ra’id’s suicide underscored the unseen trauma among those who survived. For families who lived through the executions, the visits are a chance to reunite with relatives whose future remains uncertain. With Donald Trump vying to return to office, many fear that their loved ones may not survive a new administration.

Yet the looming specter of executions is only one reason the visits feel so urgent. Families I spoke to expressed deep concern over the day-to-day conditions on federal death row, especially the impact of long-term solitary confinement on their loved ones’ mental health. After his father’s death, Newson has returned to this again and again. “We can’t even begin to imagine what the last 20 years for him has been like,” he said.

I went to Terre Haute a few weeks before Ra’id’s suicide, in November 2023. It was the first time I’d been back since the execution spree. Outside the Dollar General across from the penitentiary, anti-death penalty signs had been left by activists passing through town, one of which read, “Execution is not the solution.”

The presence of protesters was often the only hint of the killings being carried out at the sprawling prison complex. News coverage was relatively sparse, eclipsed by the coronavirus pandemic, national upheaval over the killing of George Floyd, and the chaos of the 2020 presidential race.

Through it all, the Dollar General became a gathering spot for demonstrators, reporters, and occasionally family members of the condemned, who were otherwise rendered invisible. Unlike victims’ loved ones, who received a range of support from the BOP and had a chance to address the press after executions, relatives of the condemned were not allowed in the media room at all.

This erasure was part of a larger experience known as disenfranchised grief, in which pain and loss are not socially validated. For many death row families, a loved one’s sentence is something they do not share with their employers, classmates, or neighbors. Executions become something to process in private. As the sister of Dustin Higgs, the last man put to death by the Trump administration, told me, “It’s hard to explain how you feel to people because this is not a normal grief.”

Many activists and family members felt a glimmer of hope after the executions ended. Although Trump’s killing spree had been mostly ignored during the presidential race, Joe Biden vowed to “pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level” and encourage states to do the same. In a letter written on behalf of 45 members of Congress, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., urged then-Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland to stop seeking new death sentences and “direct the Bureau of Prisons to dismantle the federal death chamber.”

That didn’t happen. The execution chamber remains intact. And while the Biden Justice Department took the death penalty off the table in a number of cases inherited from the Trump administration, it has continued to seek new death sentences. Last year, a federal jury voted in favor of the death penalty for Robert Bowers, the man who killed 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. Last month, the Biden administration announced it would seek the death penalty against the 18-year-old mass shooter who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket in 2022.

“It’s hard to explain how you feel to people because this is not a normal grief.”

Today, many death row families feel forgotten by Biden. Despite a new BOP director who promised reform of the notoriously dysfunctional federal prison system, conditions have not improved for the men in Terre Haute. In October, the population of the Special Confinement Unit had to be moved to a different part of the prison due to an electrical malfunction that was impacting the opening and closing of cell doors. Staff shortages often have prison guards working mandated overtime — 16-hour shifts that lead to burnout and frustration too easily taken out on the men in their custody.

I met Mark Issac Snarr’s family in a quiet corner of the Drury Inn and Suites on Route 41. Snarr’s younger brother, Zach, had just left the prison with his wife, Kelsey. The brothers’ father had died in August, just 1 month after being diagnosed with cancer, and the pain of the loss was written on Zach’s face. With blue eyes and a long, shaggy beard, he bore a strong resemblance to his brother and dad alike.

The Snarrs had spent the past three days visiting Mark. The days were long; they arrived around 8 a.m., went through security, and waited to be escorted to the top floor of the building, where visitation lasted until 3 p.m. Yet the time went fast — “too fast,” Zach said. He looked forward to buying his brother snacks and microwaveable sandwiches from the vending machine. “I got him a chicken cordon bleu today,” Zach said with a slight smile. “He liked it.”

Snarr was already incarcerated when he was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a man at a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas. He arrived in Terre Haute in 2010. Even by the standards of the Special Confinement Unit, Snarr has almost no freedom of movement, spending 23 hours a day in his cell. Zach calculates that he has spent almost 25 years in segregated housing, which is unheard of in the rest of the world.

Snarr’s survival is almost certainly rooted in strong ties to his family. He and his brother talk once a week, and he calls his mother every day. “She kind of reports back to the family,” Kelsey said. Through his relatives, Snarr receives reminders that he has not been entirely forgotten. “People from when he was a kid, 10 years old, you know, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, please tell him I love him. I’m thinking about him,’” Kelsey said.

Kelsey was one of the first people to apply for the visitation program. After the family’s first application was declined for lack of funds, they were approved to visit in 2023 but canceled due to Zach’s father’s illness. As Kelsey recalled, the woman she spoke to reassured her that they would hold their spot. “She’s like, ‘Just contact us whenever the time is right.’ And that was very kind of them.”

Willingness to adapt to families’ changing circumstances is important for those who don’t have much flexibility in their lives. Although Zach and Kelsey would likely have found a way to visit Snarr on their own, many people are not in a position to do the same. “Most of these families are indigent,” Zach said. “Or health-wise, they’re not good.” The journey to Terre Haute is especially daunting for families who live as far away as they do. From their home in northern Utah, the drive takes some 22 hours, or about 3 days on a Greyhound bus. “Then you go visit 4 or 5 days,” Zach said. “It’s really exhausting.”

Zach was thankful that the program had allowed his father to come to Terre Haute before he died. Although he and Snarr’s mother split up when he was young, the two remained close; they visited their son together, staying at a lakeside cabin on the lush, leafy grounds of St. Mary-of-the-Woods. The cabins are secluded and designed for quiet contemplation, a welcome oasis after a day spent inside a prison. There was even an equestrian center nearby, which delighted his father, who raised horses. “It was paradise for him, honestly,” Zach said. “Couldn’t have asked for a better place for him to be for his last visit.”

From death row, Snarr sent the Catholic sisters a gift: a framed oil painting of two birds against a brilliant orange sunset. “I want to thank you all for making it possible to see my family,” he wrote. “I am forever grateful.”

A few days later, I met Mariette Mendez, the sister of Daniel Troya, who has been on death row since 2009. She had managed to make the trip to Terre Haute only one other time since his conviction. She drove with her parents and brother from South Florida, where she lived at the time. It took nearly 18 hours.

Troya and a co-defendant were sent to death row for killing a family of 4 in a drug-related shooting on a Florida highway. His sentencing judge lamented that despite growing up in a “wonderful family,” Troya had no regard for human life. But this didn’t capture the brother Mendez knew. And it was certainly not true of the man he’d become. Now 40, he had matured, she said, describing him as “an old soul in a young body.”

Mendez was being hosted by volunteers with the program. The basement guest area was spacious, with a large bed and sofa bed covered with quilts. There was a kitchenette with Zebra Cakes on the counter, along with microwavable macaroni and cheese. Mendez wore a weary smile, her long black hair pulled back in a bun. On her forearm, she had a tattoo that read “resilient.”

“I’m still not settled, you know?”

Mendez was drained after a long day at the prison. She had flown from Houston the night before with her two teenage sons and her 2-year-old, Jasai, then got up early to be at the prison. It was a lot for Jasai — “my little monster” — but Mendez was determined to make the most of the trip. “When I got that email, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening,’” she said. “If it wasn’t for this, I don’t know when I’d be able to come and see him.”

Like other families who lived through the execution spree, Mendez had been gripped by the fear that her brother could be next. “I was terrified.” Any time Troya called, she would brace herself for the possibility that his time was up. It was on her mind “all day, every day,” she said. “I’m still not settled, you know?”

Mendez became emotional describing the moment she saw her brother. “It was pure, like, ‘Oh my God!’” she said. “You just want to reach out and touch, but you can’t.” His whole face lit up when he saw her youngest son, whom he’d never met. “It took my breath away to see his smile.”

For Troya, the opportunity to have a relationship with his nephews gave him a sense of purpose and pride. He recalled how his sister used to tell her boys to turn off the TV when he called. “I thought to myself, ‘These kids might think I’m important. I’m sure there’s not much of that from anyone else.’” The realization motivated him to improve himself, to learn how to “handle the responsibilities of being a loving and caring uncle.” He has tried to be a good influence, warning them to stay out of trouble and cautioning them about interactions with police. “I can’t claim to be an angel, but I know one thing. I am a great fucking uncle. … And the visiting project allows me to do that in person.”

“One Long Death”

A few weeks after my visit to Indiana, I got a press release from the Bureau of Prisons. It was titled “Death at USP Terre Haute.” At 9:25 a.m. on December 1, it read, “Odell Corley was found unresponsive” and pronounced dead. Ra’id’s biography was distilled into 78 words, listing his age, the crimes for which he was convicted, and the date he arrived on death row.

O’Donnell, the death penalty lawyer, heard about Ra’id’s death from his legal team, who asked if the visitation fund might be able to help Newson and his family attend the funeral in Michigan City. The committee approved it unanimously. Although O’Donnell was saddened by Ra’id’s death — there had not been another suicide on federal death row in her nearly 40 years of practice — it didn’t entirely surprise her. “Our clients live difficult, difficult lives,” she said. She was heartened that Newson had been able to see his father before losing him. “To have spent time with him even as limited as it was. … That’s why I wanted this program to exist.”

“You’re not living when you’re in solitary confinement. You’re dying.”

Ra’id’s death came as a gut punch to Breeden, the minister, who had spent time with Newson in Terre Haute. Breeden got the news from a close friend on death row, who himself had attempted suicide three times. “I think the general population can’t understand what solitary confinement is like,” Breeden said. “People need to understand that death row is really just one long death. You’re not living when you’re in solitary confinement. You’re dying.” For his friend, the temporary unit where they have spent the past few months has a silver lining. Unlike the regular Special Confinement Unit, which only affords a partial view of the cell across the way, “they can see each other.”

2 weeks after Christmas, I met Rose Holomn at her home in Atlanta. Her chihuahua, Goldie, was curled up on the couch while Holomn showed me photos of her son, Julius Robinson. Once a year for the past several years, Goldie has made the trip to Terre Haute alongside Holomn, usually in August — Robinson’s birthday month. In a set of recent pictures, he wore khaki pants, a brown jacket, and white sneakers. On the back of one photo, he’d written his age: 47. On another: “Lookin good and feeling good!”

Holomn had not heard much about the suicide in Terre Haute. Although she was in frequent contact with her son, he tried to shield her from things like that. She knew Robinson had been affected by the killing spree. “I could hear it in his voice. As a mother, you know when your child is hurting.” The executions had been traumatic enough watching from the outside. “Every month … it was like, God, Jesus,” she said. “That’s somebody’s child.”

Robinson was disturbed by the killing of Corey Johnson, who was intellectually disabled. “He didn’t even know why he was getting executed,” Holomn remembered her son telling her. And he was especially wounded by the execution of Christopher Vialva, who was an integral part of Robinson’s faith community and admired for his talent at crochet — a popular pastime on death row. For Holomn’s birthday last year, Robinson sent a large blue blanket displaying their family tree, the names of his relatives neatly crocheted with bright orange yarn.

Robinson was sentenced to die in 2002 for a series of murders tied to a drug ring in North Texas. He was 25 years old. For most of his first decade on death row, Holomn was living in Dayton, Ohio, which meant Terre Haute was relatively close. She tried to visit every weekend, sometimes driving out and back in a day. The no-contact visits were painful at first, but she got used to it. “I can’t touch my son, but at least I can go and see him,” she said. She kept going even when others could not keep up, like Robinson’s older brother. “When he did go, he would take it so hard. He just stopped going for a while.”

“Every month … it was like, God, Jesus. That’s somebody’s child.”

After 9 years in Ohio, however, Holomn moved back to her hometown in rural Arkansas, just over the Mississippi border. Her visits dwindled to once a year. As she got older and moved to Atlanta, health and financial challenges made the trips even harder. But she stays in touch with Robinson via email and phone calls. When I visited, she was teasing him over her beloved Dallas Cowboys’ thumping of the Washington Commanders.

Holomn lit up talking about her son. She felt optimistic about his ongoing appeals, which she discussed with Robinson’s legal team the last time she was in Terre Haute. But there was sadness just beneath the surface. She felt betrayed by Biden. “He didn’t keep his promise,” she said. “As a mother, having a son on death row, it’s a hard, aching experience.”

Holomn was filled with gratitude for the visitation program. The drive from Atlanta takes about eight hours, and she could usually only stay for a weekend. Now she can stay a whole week. The program has also helped other family members visit, most recently Robinson’s 70-year-old father, Jimmie, who had not seen his son in 4 years. Holomn went with him; she laughed recalling a fevered argument father and son had over religion. “I could’ve stayed at home,” she said. “They had a marvelous time.”

Jimmie died of a heart attack a few weeks later. It was painful to break the news to Robinson, who was stunned. But Holomn was certain he would get through the loss the way he has survived everything else. “My baby has been so strong,” she said. “And if he hasn’t, he’s doing a good job of hiding it.”

A few days after visiting Holomn, I met Newson at his home south of Atlanta. “Welcome to our comfortable happy sometimes loud usually messy full of love home,” a wall decoration read.

To my surprise, Newson had only recently learned about the circumstances of his father’s death. No one from the prison had ever reached out to him, he said. He read the details in a news story, which pained and confused him. The article said his father had discussed his plans with loved ones beforehand, but he’d never said anything to Newson. He was still grappling with what to believe. “Parents put on masks for their kids no matter what’s going on,” Newson reasoned. “But I genuinely can’t remember a time that I saw him sad.”

There are signs in Ra’id’s case files that he struggled with his mental health. In a petition challenging his death sentence in 2010, Ra’id’s attorneys highlighted bouts of depression and jail records that suggested he’d attempted suicide once before. The petition also described a childhood marked by trauma, abuse, and racism, including at the hands of a grade school art teacher who told him he’d never amount to anything.

In fact, Ra’id’s artistic talent remains a point of pride for Newson, whose home is filled with lovingly rendered portraits of his family, including the grandchildren Ra’id never got to meet but reproduced from photographs. When Ra’id heard that his grandson had been accepted into a local elementary school for the arts, “he was ecstatic,” Newson recalled. He wished he could be there to nurture his grandson’s talent. Instead, he sent his pencils, erasers, and sketchbooks from death row.

In one of their last phone calls, Ra’id admitted that he wasn’t in the best headspace. “He didn’t call it a depression,” Newson said. “He said, ‘I’m kind of in this funk that I can’t seem to shake.’” He thought he might snap out of it if he tackled a new drawing he’d been planning. “But I don’t think he ever got around to it.” Ra’id’s final portrait, of his granddaughter and her cousin, came in the mail a few days after he died.

“I don’t want to say the word ‘closure,’” Newson said about seeing his father one last time. But he treasured the time they got together. He wanted people to understand that men on death row have families who love them. “And this is impacting them too.” Newson’s wife came home as our visit was wrapping up. For years, she had watched as Ra’id’s relationship with his son had blossomed. “His presence was felt,” she said. “I’m so happy that I got to witness it. It was a beautiful thing.”

(source: Liliana Segura, theintercept.com)

INDIA:

28% drop in death sentences by trial courts in 2023: Project 39A report on Death Penalty in India----There was only one confirmation of a death sentence by a High Court in 2023, while the Supreme Court did not uphold any death penalty last year.

The number of death sentences imposed by trial courts across India in 2023 dropped by 28% as compared to the previous year, a statistical report on the death penalty by National Law University Delhi's Project 39A reveals.

The report underscores the details of how death penalty is administered in India, besides highlighting important legal developments on the issue.

Among other findings, the report states that with 561 prisoners, 2023 saw the highest population on death row in nearly two decades. A total of 488 prisoners from the total death row population are awaiting judgment from the High Courts.

The year 2023 marked the lowest rate of death sentence confirmations by the appellate courts since 2000.

Trial courts

In 2022, sessions courts in the country had awarded 167 death sentences, whereas the numbers dropped to 120 capital punishments in 2023, indicating a 28% drop at the trial court level.

With 33 death sentences, trial courts in Uttar Pradesh imposed the highest number of capital punishments in the country in 2023.

Jharkhand’s sessions courts handed out 12 such sentences and the trial courts in Gujarat, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh ordered 10 capital punishments each. Courts in Delhi sentenced three persons to the gallows in 2023.

Trial courts in Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand did not award a single death penalty.

Of the 120 death sentences in 2023, 64 cases related to murders involving sexual offences.

While commuting capital punishments in Manoj & Ors v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court had laid emphasis on the consideration of mitigating circumstances at the trial stage. It had accordingly issued guidelines and asked for uniform implementation in such matters.

The trial courts were directed to proactively elicit materials on mitigating circumstances before handing out sentences, besides being instructed to collect such information.

“The jail authorities must also include a fresh psychiatric and psychological report which will further evidence the reformative progress, and reveal post-conviction mental illness, if any,” the apex court had said.

Despite these directions, the report reveals that 84 death sentences in 60 cases were passed without seeking any evidence on mitigating circumstances in the form of a jail conduct report.

High Courts

Significantly, there was only one confirmation of a death sentence by a High Court in 2023, whereas 36 death penalties were commuted to life sentences.

Additionally, High Courts acquitted 36 persons who were facing capital punishment.

The report also indicates a 23% drop in the number of prisoners whose cases were disposed of in 2023, compared to the previous year. While 101 prisoners saw their cases being disposed of in 2022, the number stood at 78 in 2023.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of India did not confirm a single death penalty in 2023. On the other hand, it acquitted 6 prisoners in 5 appeals; remanded 2 death penalty cases to the trial court and the High Court; and commuted the death sentences of 3 death row prisoners to life in prison.

In addition, the Supreme Court released two prisoners in two death penalty cases upon finding that they were children in conflict with the law at the time of the offences.

One such case was of murder convict Narayan Chetanram Chaudhary, whom the Supreme Court declared a juvenile at the time of committing the crime he was jailed for.

Hanging as a method of execution

In Rishi Malhotra v. Union of India, the Supreme Court considered the challenge to the constitutionality of hanging as a method of execution. The Court issued orders in this petition, directing the Union to set up a committee of experts in the domain of medical sciences and the law to examine alternative methods of execution which could cause death in a quicker, less painful manner.

Previously, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of hanging in Deena v. Union of India in 1983.

New criminal laws

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita retains the offences punishable with death under the Indian Penal Code and expands the number of offences punishable with death from 12 (under the IPC) to 18.

For example, the offence of mob lynching was made punishable by death penalty under same provision as murder — Section 101.

Notably, unlike murder, which can be punished with life or death sentence, the newly created offence of mob lynching is punishable with 7 years imprisonment or life imprisonment or the death penalty.

Parliamentary Committee’s recommendation on retention of death penalty

In the light of the expansion of the scope of the death penalty under BNS, domain experts raised the pitch to abolish death penalty before the Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs.

In its 246th report on BNS, 2023, the committee said,

“The Committee after considering the submissions regarding the death penalty has understood that the reason for a passionate argument against death penalty is that the judicial system can be fallible and to prevent an innocent person from being wrongly sentenced to death. In this regard, the Committee recommends that the matter may be left for the Government to consider.”

(source: barandbench.com)

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Qatar frees 8 Indian Navy veterans jailed on 'espionage' charges----Of the 8 former Navy officers, seven have already returned to India, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) informed through an official statement on Monday

In a major diplomatic triumph for India, 8 veterans of the Indian Navy who were sentenced to death in Qatar, were released by Doha on Monday.

The capital punishment was commuted to an extended prison term earlier following diplomatic intervention by New Delhi.

Amid desperate pleas by the anxious kin of the Navy veterans to secure their release and safe passage back to their homeland, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had assured that it would mobilise all diplomatic channels and arrange legal assistance to bring them back.

Of the 8 former Navy officers, 7 have already returned to India, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) informed through an official statement on Monday.

The Union government released an official statement welcoming the decision to set the veteran officers free, saying, "The Government of India welcomes the release of 8 Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar. 7 out of the 8 of them have returned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals."

The 8 Indian nationals were imprisoned in Qatar since October 2022 and were accused of allegedly spying on a submarine programme. The retired naval personnel were sentenced to death by a Qatar court on charges that have not yet been made public officially.

Earlier, the Qatari Court commuted the death penalty sentence of 8 ex-Indian naval officers it had arrested last year in the Dahra Global case, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a press statement. The sentence has now been reduced to jail terms.

Describing the judgement, the Ministry of External Affairs had said, "We have noted the verdict today of the Court of Appeal of Qatar in the Dahra Global case, in which the sentences have been reduced.

"The MEA also said that the detailed judgement in the case is awaited and are in close touch with the legal team in Qatar.

MEA added, "The detailed judgement is awaited. We are in close touch with the legal team as well as the family members to decide on the next steps. Our Ambassador to Qatar and other officials were present in the Court of Appeal today, along with the family members. We have stood by them since the beginning of the matter and we will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also continue to take up the matter with the Qatari authorities."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai and discussed bilateral partnership and the "well-being of the Indian community" living in Qatar.

Earlier, the newly appointed spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, Jaiswal, emphasised the temporal significance of this period, stating, "As far as the issue is concerned, there is a time of 60 days when this issue can be appealed in the Court of Cassation, which is the highest court in Qatar." The MEA's legal team possesses the confidential court order detailing the commutation of the death sentences to imprisonment terms, a move revealed in a press release following the court of appeal's judgement on December 28.

"We issued a press release in which we informed you that the death sentence, which was originally a death penalty, has been changed to imprisonment sentences. Now our legal team has that court order, and I can confirm that all of them have received sentences of different durations, and the death penalty has been abolished," Jaiswal said.

Moreover, the Court of First Instance of Qatar had also passed the judgement against them, according to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs.

The MEA spokesperson also highlighted the recent meeting that took place between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad and said that they have had a good conversation on the overall bilateral relationship.

(source: Business Standard)

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Qatar frees eight ex-Indian navy officers previously on death row----The 8 former Indian naval officers were previously sentenced to death on unspecified charges

A Qatari court has released 8 former Indian naval officers previously on death row for unspecified charges.

7 of the men have already returned to India, Delhi's foreign ministry said on Monday.

In January, authorities said their death penalty had been converted into prison sentences of "varying" lengths.

Neither Qatar nor India revealed the charges against the men, who were working for Dahra Global, a private firm in Qatar.

But Financial Times and Reuters have reported that the men were charged with spying for Israel.

"We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals," Delhi's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The arrest of the men had made front-page headlines in India in 2022.

India said in October last year that it was "deeply shocked" after the Court of First Instance in Qatar sentenced the men to death.

The Indian foreign ministry subsequently filed an appeal against the sentence.

India and Qatar are close allies. Delhi recently signed a $78bn (£62bn) deal to import liquefied natural gas from Doha until the end of 2048.

The conviction of the men briefly disturbed ties between the two countries but experts say sustained diplomatic efforts have resulted in the release of the men.

In December, India's foreign ministry said its ambassador to Qatar had met the men in prison.

Later that month, the ministry said the Court of Appeal in Qatar had commuted their death sentences.

In January, a ministry spokesperson confirmed the death penalty had been converted into varying prison sentences but did not reveal the quantum of the jail terms.

(source: BBC News)

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Qatar frees 8 ex-Navy veterans, 7 back in India: MEA

(see: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/qatar-frees-eight-ex-navy-veterans-seven-back-in-india-mea/articleshow/107608431.cms)

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Journalist Soumya Vishwanathan Murder: Delhi HC Allows Suspension Of Sentence Of 4 Convicts

The Delhi High Court on Monday allowed the suspension of life sentence of the 4 convicts in the murder case of TV journalist Soumya Vishwanathan. The court allowed their plea for suspension of sentence — bail till pendency of the appeal.

The lawyers of the convicts — Baljeet Malik, Ravi Kapoor, Amit Shukla and Ajay Kumar — argued that they have been behind the bars for more than 14 years.

These 4 of the 5 convicts in Vishwanathan’s murder case were sentenced to life in prison in November last year, while the f5th convict — Ajay Sethi — was given 3 years in jail. The court of Additional Sessions judge Ravindra Kumar Pandey also imposed a fine of Rs 1.25 lakh on all the convicts. The court had also ordered that of the total fine amount imposed on the convicts, Rs 12 lakh will be paid to the victim’s family.

Addressing the demand for death penalty to the accused, the Court had noted that their offence does not fall in the category of rarest of rare cases.

SOUMYA VISHWANATHAN’S MURDER

Journalist Soumya Vishwanathan, working with a leading English news channel, was shot dead in the early hours of September 30, 2008, on south Delhi’s Nelson Mandela Marg while she was returning home from work.

Police had claimed that the motive behind the murder was a robbery. On October 18, 2023, the court convicted the four accused under Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 302 (murder) and Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) provisions.

Ajay Sethi, the 5th accused, was convicted under IPC section 411 (dishonestly receiving stolen property and MCOCA provisions.

(source: news18.com)

NIGERIA/ENGLAND:

University of Essex graduate awarded for overturning death sentence----Kola Alapinni was awarded the International Religious Award by the US State Department

A University of Essex graduate who helped overturn a singer's death sentence has been given an award.

Kola Alapinni said he defied the threat of mob violence when he provided pro bono legal defence in a number of blasphemy cases in Kano, Nigeria.

His counsel helped singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, who was sentenced to death in 2020, to avoid the penalty.

"The work we do can spell the difference between life and death," Mr Alapinni said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken granted the lawyer an International Religious Award for taking on a number of high-profile cases.

'Dogged and relentless fight'

Mr Alapinni, who studied LLM International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex in 2006, had also overturned a "lengthy" prison sentence for a 13-year-old boy.

"Receiving the award is a culmination and validation of a dogged and relentless fight which commenced 4 years ago," he said.

The case of Sharif-Aminu has reached Nigeria's Supreme Court and Mr Alapinni said he was working to free him entirely.

Pro bono work in Kano has ensured its poorest people, who have been found to have breached the Sharia penal code, have access to legal aid they would otherwise be unable to afford.

Mr Alapinni studied LLM International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex in 2006

Mr Alapinni said there was a "constant fear of reprisal attacks from mobs" when it came to representing defendants in Nigeria.

"Representing individuals appealing sentences delivered under the Sharia penal code is a calling and it isn't made for every lawyer," he added.

"We have had an instance in 2015 where a mob had gone ahead to burn down a police station and a court room during a trial of alleged blasphemers. "Nigeria is going through a very critical time.

"Our country is facing a battle for its soul and one of the fundamental ways to restore the rule of law and order is to ensure and guarantee our religious freedom, as clearly spelt out and enshrined in our constitution."

(source: BBC News)

ZIMBABWE:

Zim commended for dropping death penalty

(see: https://www.herald.co.zw/zim-commended-for-dropping-death-penalty/)

DR CONGO:

DR Congo Set To Restore Death Sentence For Army Treason

The DR Congo government intends to end a 20-year moratorium on capital punishment for soldiers guilty of treason in the conflict against M23 rebels, according to a cabinet report.

Death sentences are regularly handed down by courts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but they have been systematically commuted to life in jail since a 2003 moratorium on capital punishment.

The justice minister on Friday submitted a note to cabinet about "lifting the moratorium on the death sentence" for the military, government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said.

At a CSD defence council meeting in Kinshasa on Monday, discussion centred on treason in the military and security services, Muyaya noted.

"With the aim of ending it (treason), the CSD requested the head of state "to lift the moratorium ... at a time when the country is facing aggression from Rwanda" which denies accusations of backing the M23.

After years of dormancy, the M23 (March 23 Movement) took up arms again in late 2021 and has since seized vast swathes of Nord Kivu province.

After a lull around the December 20 election, which returned President Felix Tshisekedi for a second term, fighting has resumed leaving dozens dead and displacing thousands.

"Given the absolute need ... to rid the army of traitors by carrying out the capital punishments they deserve after an irreversible sentence for treason," the justice ministry asked government "to recognise the intention to lift the moratorium", the spokesman said.

(source: Agence-France Presse)

BANGLADESH:

Cop gets death sentence for killing wife, 2 others in Kushtia----The condemned convict Soumen Roy, 34, was also fined Tk 1 lakh.

A Kushtia court on Sunday sentenced a suspended assistant sub-inspector of Phultala Police Station in Khulna to death for killing his wife, step son and a man who reportedly had an affair with the wife in 2021.

The condemned convict Soumen Roy, 34, was also fined Tk1 lakh.

Kushtia District and Session Judge Ruhul Amin handed down the punishment with Soumen absconding after securing bail in 2022.

According to the prosecution, Soumen, son of Sunil Roy of Magura's sadar upazila, shot his wife Asma Khatun, 25, step son Robin, 5, and Shakil, 28, in front of Naz Mansion Market in Kushtia district town over an extramarital affair between Asma and Shakil on June 13, 2021.

Police arrested him with his service revolver, bullets and a magazine from the spot.

Hasina Begum, mother of Asma, filed a case in this connection.

Soumen later testified before Kushtia Senior Judicial Magistrate Enamul Haque.

Investigating officer of the case, Nishikanta Sarkar, submitted a chargesheet against Soumen.

On November 6, 2022, Soumen secured bail from the High Court in the case. Since then he has been absconding. On February 2, 2023, the court issued a warrant for the arrest of Soumen as he did not surrender before the court.

Soumen met Asma while serving as an Assistant Sub-inspector of Kumarkhali Police Station. Later, they got married. She was Soumen's third wife. Asma too was married twice before.

After their marriage, they used to live at a rented house in Aruapara in Kushtia. Soumen was later transferred to Khulna and in his absence, Asma developed an affair with Shakil.

Robin was Asma's son from her 2nd marriage.

(source: tbsnews.net)

IRAN:

Iran sentences Kurdish cleric to death over protest support

A Kurdish cleric from the Kurdish city of Bukan in western Iran (Rojhelat) was sentenced to death on charges related to his support for the antigovernment protests that engulfed Iran in 2022 following the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini.

Mohammed Khezrnejad, 45, received the death penalty after being charged with “corruption on earth,” Hengaw Organization for Human Rights reported on Saturday. The verdict was announced by the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Urmia, West Azerbaijan province.

22-year-old Kurdish woman Amini died while in police custody on September 16, 2022. She had been arrested for allegedly wearing a lax hijab. Her death sparked nationwide protests that posed the biggest threat to the Iranian regime in 40 years. Protesters chanting “Jin Jiyan Azadi” (Woman Life Freedom) began by calling for greater freedoms, the movement grew into an anti-government revolution as the authorities responded with violence. Hundreds of people were killed and thousands arrested.

The movement originated in Rojhelat and was quick to spread to the rest of the country. At the peak of the protests in November 2022, Khezrnejad, along with 452 other clerics, released a statement in support of the demonstrations.

The cleric was arrested the same month after attending the funeral of Asad Rahimi, a 30-year-old man killed at the hands of Iranian security forces during the protests. There, Khezrnejad delivered a speech criticizing the heavy-handed treatment of protesters by authorities.

In a video obtained by Rudaw, the cleric can be heard supporting the protesters.

"Martyrs do not belong to one family," Khezrnejad can be heard telling the crowd, "Those who sacrifice their lives for the freedom and dignity of their people and nation, they are the sons of the nation, they hold their heads high and it is God's promise that martyrs will not die."

He was also handed a 15 year prison sentence for “harming the territorial integrity and independence of the country,” according to Hengaw, as well as an additional year for “propaganda against the regime.”

The watchdog added that he was denied the right to legal representation during the trial.

Iran is consistently one of the countries with the highest rate of known executions around the world. Many of those who are executed in Iran are convicted based on confessions condemned by rights groups as often obtained under duress.

(source: rudaw.net)

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International Call for Action to Secure Freedom of Political Prisoners in Iran----Shahab Nadali, a PMOI supporter, and Mamoosta Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Sunni cleric, were sentenced to death; International call for action to secure freedom of political prisoners and save those sentenced to execution, urging international fact-finding missions to inspect prisons

Branch 26 of the revolutionary court in Tehran of Ali Khamenei’s regime sentenced Shahab Nadaali Jozani to death on charges of “membership in opposition groups” and “collaboration and armed cooperation with the PMOI (People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran).” Shahab Nadaali, a 42-year-old worker from Hamedan and father of a 12-year-old daughter, was arrested in June 2023 in the same city and later transferred to Evin Prison.

On the other hand, the life of Mohammad Javad Vafaei Sani, a 28-year-old supporter of the PMOI and a prisoner of the 2019 uprising, is in danger after being previously sentenced to death by the regime’s revolutionary court in Mashhad.

In another criminal verdict, the regime’s judiciary in Urmia sentenced Mamoosta Mohammad Khezrnejad, a Sunni cleric who was arrested during the 2022 uprising, to execution on charges of “corruption on earth” and “propaganda against the system,” along with 16 years in prison. He was arrested in November 2022 after delivering a speech at the funeral of the uprising martyr As’ad Rahimi along with his son in Bukan. Mamoosta Khezrnejad had previously been interrogated and harassed by the repressive organs repeatedly.

On the other hand, the regime’s court in Khorramabad sentenced two brothers named Mohammad Khodakarami, 32 years old, and Mehdi Khodakarami, 42 years old, to 8 and 4 years in prison on charges of “membership in the PMOI” and “conspiracy and collusion to commit crimes against national security.” They were arrested in Tehran in March 2023 and subjected to severe torture in Evin, causing fractures and injuries to Mohammad, who was later transferred to the hospital in a state of coma. They were subsequently transferred to Khorramabad Prison, where they were also tortured. The prison guards moved Mohammad and Mehdi to the ordinary prisoners’ section and assigned a hired prisoner to beat and abuse them. Due to brutal torture, they suffer from various illnesses and are deprived of the minimum medical and pharmaceutical facilities. Even the medications purchased by their families have been stolen, and they are not provided to them.

Once again, the Iranian Resistance calls on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, and other relevant UN bodies, as well as the European Union and its member states, to take immediate action to free political prisoners and save the lives of those sentenced to execution. The necessity of international fact-finding missions to visit Iranian prisons and meet with prisoners is emphasized.

(source: Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) )

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Mamosta Mohammad KhezrNejad’s death sentence was issued

According to the Iranian Human Rights Society, Mamosta Mohammad KhezrNejad, also known as Mamosta Bukani,sentenced to death. He was a prominent cleric and a supporter of the nationwide protests in 2022.

Absentee trial of Mamosta Mohammad KhezrNejad by Videocall

In the days ending on February 9, 2024, the trial of Mamosta Mohammad KhezrNejad held by the third branch of the Revolutionary Court of Urmia, presided over by Judge Reza Najafzadeh. He is accused of “corrupting the land” and “damaging the integrity or independence of the country”. During interrogation and trial, teacher Bokani was denied the right to choose a lawyer. His court also held in absentia and by video conference. He detained in Bukan prison in the last 15 months ago.

At the end of the court verdict, he sentenced to death for the charge of “corruption in the land” and to 15 years in prison for the charge of “damaging the integrity or independence of the country” and to 1 year in prison for “propaganda against the regime”.

Arrested for protesting the killing

This Kurdish cleric has been under mental and physical torture for more than a year. This action of the Ministry of Information agents was to obtain forced confessions.

Mamosta Mohammad KhezrNejad arrested after his participation in the live memorial service of Asad Rahimi, one of the victims of the nationwide protests of 2022. In this ceremony, he gave a speech at the Bukan Honorary Mosque and also condemned the killing of protesting people and criticized the government leaders.

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Shahab Nadali, a political prisoner, sentenced to death----Political prisoner Shahab Nadali was accused of "treason" and sentenced to death

According to the Iranian Human Rights Society, on Saturday, February 10, 2024, political prisoner Shahab Nadali sentenced to death in Branch 26 of Tehran Revolutionary Court on the charge of “treason”. According to Dadban website, this sentence issued on January 8, 2024 by Judge Iman Afshari.

The court order issued by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, Shahab Nadali charged with treason and sentenced to death on charges of “membership in opposition groups of the country”. And also connection with the People’s Mojahedin and armed cooperation with them. There is no information about the details of his case.

According to this report, this is the verdict of the court of first instance, and Shahab Nadali and his lawyer objected to this verdict and also submitted an appeal request to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court has not yet given an answer.

Shahab Nadali, born in 1983, a native of Hamedan, is a worker, married and the father of a 12-year-old daughter. He arrested on June 7, 2023 in Hamadan. He then transferred to Evin prison. On Tuesday, September 18, 2023, Mr. Nadali started a hunger strike in Evin prison to protest his indecision.

It should be noted that a number of political and ideological prisoners in Iran’s prisons are at risk of execution.

Execution is a tool of government repression to intimidate the society

Government leaders use execution as the most important tool for suppressing and intimidating society. They try to prevent the resurgence of uprisings by increasing the number of executions. The government leaders also strongly suppress any gathering related to condemning executions and even prevent the gathering of the families of those condemned to execution.

(source for both: en.iranhrs.org)

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4 Iranian Baluch Men Handed Death Penalty on Security Charges

The Iranian authorities have sentenced 4 Baluch men to death on the charge of "armed rebellion" through involvement in "anti-revolution terrorist groups,” the Dadban legal group reported.

The sentences were issued by Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, which was presided over by Judge Mohammadreza Amozad Khalili.

The defendants included Eido Shahbakhsh, Abdul Ghani Shahbakhsh, Abdul Rahim Qanbarzehi Gorgij and Soliman Shahbakhsh.

Dadban said that Soliman Shahbakhsh, 27, was 12 years old at the time of the purported offense.

Eido Shahbakhsh and Abdul Ghani Shahbakhsh had previously been acquitted and released by the First Branch of the Zahedan Revolutionary Court in 2016.

The number of people given capital punishment across Iran reached a 12-month high in January, with at least 35 people being sentenced to death during that month, the activist HRANA news agency reported last week.

(source: iranwire.com)

FEBRUARY 11, 2024:

TEXAS----impending execution

The people fighting to stop the next US execution----'At least give the guy a hearing before you kill him,' says private investigator and podcaster Matt Duff, who is calling for a retrial

America’s next execution is scheduled for the end of the month, but a private investigator and relatives are fighting hard to stop it, claiming the death-row inmate due to be put to death in Texas was wrongly convicted.

Ivan Cantu, 50, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2001 for the murder of his cousin James Mosqueda and his cousin’s fiancée Amy Kitchen, in November 2000.

Police found Mosqueda’s car outside Cantu’s apartment the day after the bodies were discovered, and bloodstained trousers matching the victim’s DNA in Cantu’s bin, according to court filings seen by the Texas Tribune.

Cantu has always maintained his innocence – he claims Mosqueda was a local drug dealer and was killed by a rival dealer to whom he owed money, and that this dealer then framed Cantu.

In 2022, Cantu’s execution was scheduled for 26 April, 2023. But the date was withdrawn by a Collin County judge after Gena Bunn, the defendant’s lawyer, filed an appeal outlining new evidence from a private, years-long investigation involving podcaster and investigator Matt Duff, 44.

On 23 August, however, a judge dismissed the new evidence on the grounds it was procedurally barred.

Mr Duff told i that the testimony of Amy Boettcher, the state’s star witness and Cantu’s fiancee at the time, had been cast into doubt after it emerged that she apparently lied on the stand.

Ms Boettcher’s brother, Jeff, had also claimed that Cantu had told him of plans to kill his cousin, but recanted his testimony in 2018, saying “he ‘lied’ and was not a credible witness due to his history of drug abuse”, court filings seen by the Texas Observer show.

Mr Duff, who exposed Cantu’s case in his Cousins by Blood podcast, said an independent ballistic examination had found issues with authorities’ claim that a firearm with Cantu’s fingerprints on its magazine was the one used to commit the murders.

While noting how he can’t have absolute certainty that Cantu is innocent, Mr Duff said there is enough new evidence to warrant at least a hearing as a “fact-finding mission” to see whether the case should go to retrial.

“At least give the guy a hearing before you kill him,” the private investigator said.

Cantu’s lawyer filed a new request with the court for the ballistic evidence to be reviewed, but this was denied, Mr Duff said, dealing a heavy blow to their case.

As noted by Amnesty International, two of the jurors signed affidavits in 2023 saying they wished for the new evidence to be considered by a court.

One of the jurors expressed “dismay” at “much of the testimony and evidence which I and the other jurors relied upon at the time of trial” now being in doubt.

He said: “I am now concerned that the state may be wrongfully putting a man to death based on my verdict.”

Cantu’s mother, Sylvia, 71, told i it has been an “emotional rollercoaster” since her son, then 28, was charged with capital murder after being arrested by Dallas Police 23 years ago.

“There was no evidence when Ivan was arrested… he was in my car, we were on our way to go see the late detective so Ivan could share the information that he knew,” Ms Cantu said.

“But as soon as he was arrested he was deemed guilty and so it’s been very difficult to see him in that situation and very painful.”

Mr Duff said his investigation into the case has also given him reason to suspect the police allegedly inserted facts into the star witness’s testimony. He also alleged they may have planted a bullet to frame Cantu as guilty. Dallas Police declined to comment.

i has contacted Collin County’s district attorney office for comment, including over Mr Duff’s claims that the prosecution essentially sought to stop Mr Boettcher from recanting his testimony.

i has also contacted the attorney general of texas for comment from the Criminal Appeals Division, as well as state governor Greg Abbott.

Kim Kardashian in January appealed to her followers to help Cantu get a hearing, saying she was “really moved” by his case.

Mr Duff claims the court ruling that the new evidence is procedurally barred reflects a “system seems set up to protect the conviction as opposed to, you know, serve justice”.

Burke Butler, executive director of the Texas Defender Service – a non-profit fighting to end the use of the death penalty in the state, criticised Cantu’s trial lawyers.

“The failure to call witnesses and generally to launch any concerted effort to investigate his actual innocence was incredibly negligent,” he was quoted saying in the Texas Observer: “These are really grave and serious failures.”

Mr Duff pointed to how in many cases, defendants who don’t have the means to pay for a private defence will get “stuck” with court-appointed lawyers giving “subpar” performances throughout, as in Cantu’s case.

“There’s problems with the justice system at every level,” he said, adding that by the time Cantu got a “good” lawyer who “actually wants to fight for him”, the evidence was ruled procedurally barred.

America’s death row came into the spotlight again last month when a convicted murderer in Alabama became the first inmate in the world to be executed with nitrogen gas. Human rights groups, United Nations torture experts and lawyers for Kenneth Eugene Smith had sought to prevent his execution, saying the method was risky, experimental and could lead to an agonising death or non-fatal injury.

Only three states – Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma – have authorised nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method, but other states were watching closely as lethal injection drugs are becoming harder to obtain due to the controversy around the death penalty.

Ms Cantu described the struggle for death-row inmates and their families trying to navigate the judicial system.

“The average person, you, me, Joe next door, you don’t know what to do, you don’t know how to navigate this system, it’s diabolical and it’s crazy.

“What would you do? You’ve been arrested, you’ve been charged with capital murder, now start talking. What do you start with? Who is going to listen to you?”

Ms Cantu said she was “horrified” by the thought of her son’s execution date being round the corner.

But she is keeping up the hope that Cantu will be saved by the new evidence.

“My birthday is on the 23rd of February, they want to execute Ivan on the 28th, that will not happen,” she said.

(source: inews.co.uk)

ALABAMA----new death sentence

Jury recommends death sentence for convicted cop killer Marco Perez

A jury Friday recommended a death sentence for Marco Perez. 11 of the 12 jurors voted for the death sentence.

Sentencing by the judge has been set for April 11 2024.

A jury found Marco Perez guilty of capital murder of a police officer Thursday.

Perez was convicted of shooting and killing Officer Sean Tuder in 2019.

(source: WPMI news)

***************

1st execution using nitrogen turns grisly in Alabama prison

The 1st-ever execution by nitrogen gas suffocation was carried out Jan. 25 when Kenneth Eugene Smith writhed in pain as he was put to death in Alabama’s Holman prison.

“When they turned the nitrogen on he began to convulse,” Rev. Jeff Hood, Smith’s spiritual advisor, told CNN. Smith “popped up on the gurney over and over again. He shook the whole gurney.” He gasped, heaved and had saliva or tears in the mask that covered his face, Hood said. It was “the most horrible thing I think I’ve ever seen.” Corrections officers “were very surprised that this didn’t go smoother.”

Smith wore a full-face mask, with plastic tubing running though the death chamber’s concrete wall. His body and arms were strapped to the gurney. Nitrogen suffocation occurs when the gas supplants all oxygen in the body.

“Tonight Alabama caused humanity to take a step backwards,” Smith said in his last words to witnesses. “Thank you for supporting me. Love all of you.”

Spokespeople for Alabama’s attorney general, Steve Marshall, had argued that the procedure would “cause unconsciousness within seconds, and cause death within minutes.”

“There is no doubt what I saw last night, and that’s not what happened,” Hood said. The execution began at 7:53 p.m. and Smith wasn’t declared dead until 32 minutes later.

“What occurred tonight was textbook,” Marshall proclaimed after the execution. “I now suspect many states will follow. Alabama has done it, and so can you.”

Oklahoma and Mississippi have authorized the procedure, and legislatures in Nebraska and Ohio are considering it. 27 states still have the death penalty. According to Gallup polls, support for capital punishment has plummeted from 80% in 1994 to 53% in 2023.

In November 2022 prison authorities had botched an execution of Smith by lethal injection. They stopped after stabbing him repeatedly with needles in the arms and hands for nearly four hours, and then were unable to set an intravenous line near his heart.

Smith, who was 58, was first convicted of capital murder at the age of 23 and spent the majority of his life on death row. He denied killing Elizabeth Sennett, and the state presented no physical evidence against him. He was convicted of “aiding and abetting the murder.”

Smith’s conviction was overturned on appeal. At his retrial in 1996 he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. But Circuit Court Judge N. Pride Tompkins overruled the jury, sentencing Smith to death.

Sennett’s family happened to be staying at the same hotel as Smith’s. In an expression of working-class solidarity, Steven Tiggleman, Smith’s son, hugged one of Sennett’s sons, Mike. “It’s kind of a bittersweet day. We are not going to be jumping around, whooping and hollering hooray and all that. That’s not us,” Sennett told reporters.

“The death penalty is a weapon in the hands of the capitalist rulers to terrorize and intimidate working people,” Lea Sherman, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Congress from New Jersey, told the Militant. “The SWP calls for its abolition.”

(source: The Militant)

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana lawmaker's bill would allow nitrogen gas executions

A Louisiana lawmaker is proposing a bill that would allow for nitrogen gas to be used in executions in the event lethal injection is unavailable, making it the latest state to consider adopting the practice after Alabama put a man to death last month through the 1st-of-its-kind method.

Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, a Republican who chairs the House's Civil Law and Procedure Committee, said Friday that he drafted the bill primarily as a way to ensure the identities of individuals and companies that help to administer the death penalty in the state remain confidential. In recent years, manufacturers and suppliers known to have their drugs used in lethal injections have declined participation, which has made the process increasingly difficult in states such as Louisiana.

Muscarello said he still believes lethal injection can be used the vast majority of the time, but the state should have other options.

"The state of Louisiana will do everything within its power to make sure this process is done efficiently and humanely and we will not cut any corners in order to make sure we are doing this the right way," he said. "But at the end of the day, we made a commitment to the families of victims with the verdicts that were reached, and we need to proceed forward."

He added that he would help in the design of a nitrogen hypoxia protocol in conjunction with the governor's office "to make sure it's done correctly and above board."

The bill, which was prefiled on Thursday, is expected to be discussed in a special legislative session focusing on the state's criminal justice system beginning Feb. 19. If passed, it would give the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections the "discretion" to select a process of either lethal injection, electrocution or nitrogen hypoxia, in which a person breathes only nitrogen and dies from a lack of oxygen.

About 60 people are on death row in Louisiana, but the state has not put anyone to death since 2010, last using lethal injection. The method has stalled due to the shortage of the necessary drugs and litigation challenging the state's lethal injection protocol.

Electrocution had been the sole method of execution in the 1980s, but was no longer viable after the electric chair at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola was retired in 1990.

Muscarello's bill includes penalties for anyone who discloses the names of people, businesses and organizations involved in the execution process, similar to a shield law in South Carolina.

Anyone who violates the law in Louisiana "shall be imprisoned for not more than two years and fined not more than $50,000," and could also face civil action, according to the bill.

"We don't want to reinvent the wheel, and we want to follow the other Southern states," Muscarello said.

The office of Gov. Jeff Landry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the first-term Republican, who campaigned on being tough on crime, has been vocal about finding alternate methods in order to restart executions. When he served as state attorney general, he publicly supported the use of death by firing squad, hanging or electrocution.

"States around us are finding ways and methods in order to execute those that have been tried and convicted and sentenced to death,” Landry told reporters last week.

He added that he and the state Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, "are going to fulfill our commitments."

"Families deserve their day of justice," Landry said.

The governor did not specifically mention Alabama, but the state drew attention for administering the first execution using nitrogen hypoxia in January. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall hailed the outcome as "textbook" and said his state would continue to use nitrogen gas, despite concerns by human rights and religious groups around the world. According to witnesses, the inmate who was put to death did not become unconscious as quickly as expected and thrashed on the gurney.

"Rather than inventing new ways to implement capital punishment, we urge all states to put in place a moratorium on its use, as a step towards universal abolition," Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights Office, said last month.

Kenneth Eugene Smith, who was 58 and on Alabama's death row for over 3 decades for a 1988 murder-for-hire slaying, was strapped down and fed nitrogen gas through a mask attached to his face. The execution lasted about 20 minutes.

Smith's lawyers had tried to block the practice, arguing the use of an untested method only heightened concerns over cruel and unusual punishment amid fears he might vomit into the mask and choke or suffer a seizure. Alabama's nitrogen hypoxia protocol also drew scrutiny over how heavily redacted the document has been in public filings.

The state had said in court filings that "the experts agree that nitrogen hypoxia is painless because it causes unconsciousness in seconds" and death within minutes. But media witnesses in Smith's execution said it appeared to take longer than the state had suggested for him to become unconscious and die.

Nonetheless, Marshall has offered to help other states that want to develop nitrogen hypoxia protocols.

King Alexander, president of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said criminal justice practices that allow the state to routinely hold the highest incarceration rate in the nation isn't helping the economy or instilling confidence in elected officials.

"Like many of my fellow Republicans, one of my core goals for our great state is seeing companies and investors build new projects that create opportunities for individuals and economic growth for everyone. For that to happen, Louisiana must look to the future, not the past," Alexander said. "Some lawmakers propose we jump-start and expand the death penalty by returning to outdated methods like gassing our citizens and the electric chair, and allowing for expanded and troubling new levels of state secrecy. We know these potential measures can only move our state backwards."

But Louisiana is not alone. Republican lawmakers in Ohio introduced a bill last week to make nitrogen hypoxia an alternative to lethal injection and require a nitrogen execution if lethal injection drugs are not available. Ohio has not put an inmate to death since 2018, and attempts to do so have been delayed over the inability to procure the right drugs. Still, 4 executions are slated for this year in the state.

2 states, Mississippi and Oklahoma, have approved nitrogen hypoxia in executions in addition to other methods, although neither has a protocol in place like Alabama.

At the start of the year, even before Alabama carried out its nitrogen execution, a Nebraska lawmaker introduced a bill to make nitrogen hypoxia another option for death row inmates besides lethal injection. Like Ohio, Nebraska has been unable to carry out an execution since 2018.

(source: NBC News)

ILLINOIS:

John Wayne Gacy definitely had additional victims: Former attorney

Serial killer John Wayne Gacy, infamous for the brutal murders of at least 33 young men and boys in the 1970s, continues to intrigue the public psyche.

Karen Conti, the attorney who represented Gacy, has released a book titled “Killing Time with John Wayne Gacy,” offering insight into her years-long interaction with the convicted killer.

“Sitting with John Gacy was like sitting with your favorite uncle or a bus driver or somebody who you knew and saw every day. He did not appear evil,” Conti said attributing his affable and engaging nature to his ability to evade capture for so long.

“If there’s anyone who deserves the death penalty, it would be someone like John Gacy. I don’t believe in the death penalty. I never did. And I never will,” Conti said in an interview on “NewsNation Prime,” discussing her motivations and experiences while representing one of America’s most notorious murderers.

“I took on this representation, not to get him out of prison, but just to save his life.” Conti said despite acknowledging the vile nature of Gacy’s crimes, maintained her opposition to the death penalty throughout her representation.

She saw her efforts as part of a broader cause, standing up for the principles of justice and fair representation, especially for those on death row who may have legitimate claims of innocence or injustice.

When asked about the possibility of additional victims beyond the confirmed 33, Conti expressed certainty, citing Gacy’s extensive travels for construction work and his meticulous record-keeping.

She suggested that investigators should scrutinize Gacy’s business records, particularly in regions where he operated but was less known, such as the Pacific Northwest, Florida, and Wisconsin.

Gacy’s modus operandi involved luring victims to his Chicago-area home under false pretenses, promising construction work or demonstrating magic tricks. He then subjected them to sexual assault, torture, and eventual murder, burying most of the bodies in the crawlspace beneath his house or on his property.

Gacy’s public persona as a clown earned him the moniker “the killer clown,” adding a chilling layer to his already terrifying persona.

(source: newsnationnow.com)

SOUTH DAKOTA:

Joseph Hoek pleads not guilty to murder for death of Moody County chief deputy

Joseph Gene Hoek has pleaded not guilty during his 1st court appearance for his role in the death of Moody County Chief Deputy Kenneth Prorok.

The hearing happened 11 a.m. Friday at the Moody County Courthouse in Flandreau, South Dakota.

The Sioux Falls man, represented by Defense Attorney Manuel De Castro in the case, has been charged with 1st degree murder and aggravated eluding for his involvement in a police chase Feb. 2, which ended Prorok’s life after Hoek allegedly struck him with a vehicle.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who is representing the state’s side in the case along with Attorney Brent Kempema, requested for the arraignment hearing to be postponed until 11 a.m. March 13 in Brookings County to fit the judge’s and attorneys’ schedules. The defendant will have the opportunity to formally enter the not guilty plea once again at the formal arraignment hearing next month.

“This morning, a grand jury in Moody County has issued an indictment charging Joseph Hoek with 1st degree premeditated murder, which carries a sentence of either capital punishment for life as well as aggravated felony eluding,” Jackley said while addressing the media with Moody County Sheriff Troy Wellman after the hearing. “The indictment lists (that) two witnesses have testified a grand jury of one law enforcement officer and one good Samaritan witness at the request of the state.”

The 1st degree murder charge is a Class A felony, which has “a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or death and a fine of $50,000,” which may be imposed, said Judge Dawn Elshere. If the defendant is convicted of this felony, he will have the right to have a jury decide whether to impose the death penalty, and a unanimous jury would be needed for the death sentence, she said.

The aggravated eluding charge is a Class 6 felony which has a maximum of two years at the state penitentiary or a $4,000 fine or both, the judge said. Aside from the 2 felonies, Hoek has been convicted of 8 more aggravating factors in total, out of which involvement of a law officer and avoiding arrest are 2 of them, Jackley said.

“Part of my responsibility in determining whether or not the intent is appropriate to complete an investigation on mitigation and aggravating circumstances that is occurring right now, to talk to Sheriff Wellman and his department and to talk to the victims’ family,” said Jackley.

Jackley said as Attorney General, the speedy trial act for this case is 180 days, and due to this, he asked court during the hearing Friday that the jury trial date be set at the next hearing. The effort is to be mindful and not rush the case when someone’s incarcerated and make the best-informed decision after reviewing all the facts on mitigating and aggravating circumstances.

The defendant’s mental health and its role in case investigations was not spoken about by Jackley while he addressed the media, since he said the “grand jury is a secretive process” and he can only speak to what is on public record right now.

“This last week has sucked. It has been the longest six-month week that I’ve ever lived through, and I don’t want to live through any more,” said Wellman. “When the crap gets (real), we all step in and start helping pitch it up so that we can move forward. And that’s what we’re doing, trying to take 1 day, 1 second, 1 minute at a time.”

Jackley said it was impactful to witness the outpouring of support at Chief Deputy Prorok’s funeral Thursday afternoon in Madison, where he saw young children and elderly residents in the cold with their hands over their hearts in a show of support for the family and sheriff’s department.

(source: argusleader.com)

IDAHO----impending execution

Idaho Supreme Court denies Creech’s appeals; execution planned Feb. 28----Unanimous decision by high court means death sentence is still planned for convicted murder

Idaho’s 1st execution in nearly 12 years will continue as scheduled later this month after the state’s highest court Friday denied a stay of execution for Thomas Creech and dismissed 2 of the longtime death row prisoner’s state appeals.

Attorneys for Creech argued Monday before the Idaho Supreme Court requesting the stay. They said the constitutional rights issues raised in their client’s 2 appeals, the complexities of the cases and a plain reading of state law provided for the stay.

The court’s 5 justices unanimously disagreed, siding with the state district court that previously ruled against Creech in both cases.

In one case, the lower court ruled Creech was not entitled to claim he had received ineffective legal counsel during a prior sentencing, when he was handed the death penalty, on account of his attorneys at the time not presenting his history of childhood physical and sexual abuse and traumatic head injuries to the judge. Creech also did not file the appeal in a timely manner, according to Idaho law, wrote Richard Bevan, Idaho’s chief justice.

In the 2nd case, Creech’s attorneys argued that their client’s death sentence should be thrown out because it was handed down by a judge, rather than a jury, and was therefore unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that only juries could impose a death sentence. Creech’s appeal was denied for not having been filed in a timely manner, according to Idaho law.

The Idaho attorney general’s office, which argued against Creech’s appeals, and Creech’s attorneys with the nonprofit Federal Defender Services of Idaho did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon from the Idaho Statesman.

Creech, 73, has been incarcerated in Idaho for nearly 50 years, the majority of that time on death row. He has been convicted of 5 murders, including 3 in Idaho.

He first was convicted in Idaho of the November 1974 double-murder of Edward Thomas Arnold, 34, and John Wayne Bradford, 40, in Valley County. Creech was handed the death penalty, but his sentence was later dropped to life in prison after a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against automatic death sentences.

Creech was later convicted of the May 1981 murder of fellow prisoner David Dale Jensen, 23, while the 2 were serving in the Idaho maximum security prison. Creech pleaded guilty to Jensen’s murder and was again sentenced to death.

The Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole granted Creech a clemency hearing last month to consider whether to drop his sentence to life in prison, as he requested. The commissioners deadlocked in a 3-3 vote, which functioned as a denial of his clemency.

Creech’s attorneys sued the parole board and the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office, which argued against clemency for Creech, in federal court following the parole board’s decision. That federal appeal remains active.

In another federal appeal, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded elements of a legal challenge to the lethal injection drugs intended for use in Creech’s execution. Creech’s attorneys were invited by the appellate court to refile their petition with the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.

Creech is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Feb. 28. Idaho has not executed a prisoner since June 2012.

(source: Lewiston Tribune)

***************

Attorneys Of Idaho Death Row Inmate Request Sourcing Info About Drugs To Be Used In Execution

The attorneys of death row inmate Thomas Creech have requested the state of Idaho to provide information regarding the source of the drugs to be used in his execution.

Knewz.com has learned that Creech, the longest-serving death row inmate in Idaho, is scheduled to be put to death on February 28 using lethal injection.

Mistakes made during lethal injection can be extremely painful for the inmate.

On Monday, February 5, the attorneys of the death row inmate filed a memo that said that the state had refused to answer questions regarding where it obtained the drugs to be used in the death sentence.

The attorneys said the state could not shed light on whether "the drugs were provided by a veterinarian, were obtained from another country or if they came from a now-defunct pharmaceutical company that recalled all its drugs," according to the Boise State Public Radio.

It is worth noting that the state of Idaho passed a law in 2022 that allowed suppliers who provided the drugs to be used in lethal injections to maintain their anonymity. The legislation was passed after the state significantly struggled in trying to procure drugs for execution as providers feared public backlash.

However, the clause of anonymity led to an alleged lack of oversight in the field of execution in Idaho, as was revealed in the court documents that came to light in 2012.

According to Idaho Capital Sun, the documents revealed that the Idaho Department of Corrections bought the drugs for the execution of Richard Leavitt in 2012, from a Walmart parking lot in Tacoma, Washington, using "a suitcase full of cash."

"[IDOC Director Josh] Tewalt, then an IDOC deputy chief of prisons, and [former IDOC Director Kevin] Kempf brought with them as much as $15,000 in cash to buy the execution drugs from a Tacoma pharmacist, public records, and court depositions from the Cover lawsuit show," the report from the Idaho Capital Sun read.

"Tewalt and Kempf carried the money aboard the flight in a suitcase and made the evening exchange in a Walmart parking lot," the report further mentioned.

Adderall pills

The attorneys said the state could not shed light on whether "the drugs were provided by a veterinarian, were obtained from another country or if they came from a now-defunct pharmaceutical company that recalled all its drugs."

Deborah Czuba, one of Creech's attorneys, alleged the same lack of oversight in response to the unsatisfactory responses from the state of Idaho regarding the source of the drugs to be used in his execution.

She said that the state should not carry out an execution quote “until these basic questions are answered,” and added that the state "is hiding behind a broad and vague interpretation of its new secrecy law."

Creech was given the death penalty for the murder of a fellow inmate in 1981 while he was in prison serving a sentence for a double murder he committed in 1974. While he has been convicted of 3 murders in Idaho and several others in other states, Creech has admitted to a total of 26 killings.

It is worth noting that Creech was last sentenced in 1995 by a single judge. The law that states that a jury must unanimously agree that a crime is worthy of the death penalty is a legal change that was brought about after Creech was sentenced.

Creech’s defense attorney Jonah Horwitz of the Federal Defenders Office brought this up in a recent appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court.

"[Horwitz] stressed that if Creech’s case moves forward, Idaho will be the last state in the country to execute a person sentenced to death solely by a judge... The Idaho Supreme Court justices also heard arguments from Garth McCarty of the State Appellate Public Defender’s Office, regarding Creech receiving ineffective counsel assistance in postconviction cases," wrote the news outlet Idaho Reports.

However, the Supreme Court ultimately decided to go ahead with the death sentence, and Creech is set to be executed on February 28 as originally decided.

(source: knewz.com)

****************

Bryan Kohberger's 'Premature' Legal Move Blasted by Prosecutor

The prosecutor of the man accused of murdering 4 University of Idaho students has hit back against what he called a "premature" bid to change the trial venue.

Bryan Kohberger, 29, is charged with 4 counts of murder and 1 count of burglary in connection with the deaths of Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20. The 4 University of Idaho students were found fatally stabbed in an off-campus rental home in Moscow, Idaho, on November 13, 2022.

At the time of the slayings, Kohberger was a graduate student studying criminology at Washington State University in nearby Pullman. He was arrested at his parents' home in Pennsylvania in December 2022 after investigators pieced together DNA evidence, cellphone data and surveillance video that they say linked him to the crime.

The judge entered not-guilty pleas on Kohberger's behalf last year. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

The Latah County Prosecuting Attorney's Office has asked a judge to schedule a jury trial for this summer. A date has yet to be set, but Kohberger's attorney Anne Taylor filed a motion on January 31 requesting to move the trial out of Latah County.

Taylor argued that a fair and impartial jury cannot be found in Latah County due to the "extensive, inflammatory pretrial publicity, allegations made about Mr. Kohberger to the public by media that will be inadmissible at his trial, the small size of the community, the salacious nature of the alleged crimes, and the severity of the charges."

She wrote in the motion that enlarging the jury pool "will not do anything to overcome that pervasive prejudicial publicity because Latah County does not have a large enough population center to avoid the bias in the community."

Latah County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Thompson responded in a motion filed on Thursday, saying the request is "premature and without sufficient basis."

The defense "has not provided the court with adequate information to conclude that a Latah County jury could not fairly and impartially decide defendant's case," Thompson wrote in his motion.

"In Idaho, a motion for change of venue is within the discretion of the trial court."

The motion noted that Idaho's appellate courts look at several factors when determining whether a trial court exercised its discretion in deciding a motion to change venue, including "affidavits indicating prejudice or an absence of prejudice in the community."

Other factors that are considered, Thompson wrote, are whether a defendant "challenged for cause any individual jurors, the nature of pretrial publicity about the case, and the duration of time between the publicity and the trial itself."

Thompson wrote that "because publicity is not a stand-alone reason for a court to change venue, this court should decline to decide defendant's motion until a trial date is set and the court has heard adequate facts to enable the court to make a determination."

Thompson asked the court to set a trial date, a date for a hearing on Kohberger's motion to change his trial venue, issue deadlines for supporting documents and affidavits and a deadline for witness disclosures ahead of the hearing.

The response comes after Judge John Judge rejected Kohberger's latest attempt to get his grand jury indictment thrown out.

A gag order imposed in the case bars the prosecution, defense attorneys and law enforcement officials from discussing it.

(source: newsweek.com)

CALIFORNIA:

‘Such an evil thing’: Man who killed 4 young people in senseless, bloody, execution-style shooting rampage sentenced to death for the 2nd time in emotional hearing

A California man was sentenced to death on Friday in an ultimately futile gesture by a judge overseeing his case after he was convicted of murdering four people in Palm Springs 5 years ago.

Jose Vladimir Larin-Garcia, 24, was originally sentenced to death in February 2023 by a jury of his peers in Riverside County.

That sentence was upheld on Friday by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos, according to a press release issued by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.

“The death penalty is reserved for those who have truly proven themselves to be without remorse for actions that are among the most egregious imaginable,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “The decision made today is not one made lightly, but reflects the heinous nature of these crimes, committed by a man who took so much away from so many people, for something so inconsequential.”

On Feb. 3, 2019, Larin-Garcia killed Carlos Campos-Rivera, 25, Yuliana Garcia, 17, Jacob Montgomery, 19, and Juan Duarte-Raya, 18.

That night, the since-condemned man was in a car with 3 of the victims. The quartet eventually met with Campos-Rivera near his apartment complex on Canon Drive. There, Larin-Garcia shot Campos-River twice, once in the head, and killed him.

As the car sped away, the other passengers in the car could be heard screaming in terror, a witness testified during trial. Next, multiple gunshots rang out, and the car crashed alongside Sunny Dunes Road.

Investigators found all the victims with gunshot wounds to their heads. Yuliana Garcia also had a defensive wound on one of her hands.

2 blocks away from the crash, Larin-Garcia was discovered hiding under a truck. His shoes and jacket were off, and he was covered in the victims’ blood. After being taken to a hospital for treatment of minor wounds — identified as abrasions — the convicted killer would eventually flee wearing his hospital gown. He was arrested the next day, attempting to flee the state for Florida on a Greyhound bus — under an assumed name, with a shaved head and a new outfit. After being charged with the murders, a mistrial was declared in March 2022. After his second trial, on Feb. 6, 2023, he was found guilty of 4 counts of murder in the 1st degree. Jurors also determined he used a firearm to commit the crime and assessed special circumstances — the Golden State equivalent of a sentencing enhancement — of lying in wait and killing multiple victims. The special circumstances are what landed Larin-Garcia on death row.

California, however, has not executed a death row inmate since 2006, when “Kindergarten Cop” star Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor.

The judge affirmed the sentence during a grief-stricken hearing rife with longing for the slain and condemnations of their killer, according to a courtroom report by the Desert Sun.

“This is one of the most difficult cases I’ve sat on,” Villalobos said before sentencing Larin-Garcia to the possibility, sometime in the far-flung future, of death at the hands of a public executioner. “No one here is walking away unscathed. There is no way to make this right. The only thing I can do is what the law provides.”

Numerous victim impact statements were made during the hearing.

Deputy DA Samantha Paixao read a letter penned by the son of Campos Rivera — who was 10 when his father was murdered.

“There are no words to describe how this has impacted me,” the prosecutor reportedly read. “How am I supposed to articulate something that has turned my life completely upside down? I had everything in the world at that point until I lost my best friend in the world, my dad. I still can’t understand why you would do such an evil thing.”

(source: lawandcrime.com)

FRANCE:

A Jewish voice demanding liberty, equality and fraternity — in France and in Texas — has been silenced----Robert Badinter, the eloquent public servant who oversaw the abolition of the death penalty, has died at 95

In 2022, a frail but fierce Frenchman threw down a gauntlet before the state of Texas. In a video produced by Ensemble contre la peine de mort, a French organization opposed to the death penalty, the man demanded that Texas authorities save the life of Melissa Lucio, who despite several glaring irregularities in her trial, had been condemned to death in 2008 by a Texas jury for the death of her 2-year old child. Failure to do so, he declared, “would be a sacrilege and, I must say at the end of my own life, a revolting injustice that would dishonor the state of Texas.”

Melissa Lucio still waits on death row for the Texas courts to decide her fate. Last Friday, however, Robert Badinter, the speaker in the video, died in Paris at the age of 95. I suspect that few of my fellow Texans heard his words 2 years ago, much less news of his death two days ago. But if they did listen to the short clip, they would have been struck by the way Badinter utters, with scarcely suppressed indignation, “déshonorait.”

Yet, the particular emphasis Badinter gives the word “honor” would not surprise the millions of French whose country has been shaped for the better by one of their country’s most consequential and admirable public servants. Whether as the minister of justice in the 1980s who oversaw the abolition of the death penalty, or as the president of the country’s Supreme Court in the 1990s, who established the court as a true equal to the other branches of government, or as the advocate of the Enlightenment ideals and adversary of state-sanctioned murder, Badinter’s fidelity to revolutionary France’s trio of values — liberty, equality, and fraternity — never faltered.

This deep emotional and intellectual attachment came naturally to the son of Simon Badinter who, in 1919, fled the antisemitic violence of his native Bessarabia (present-day Moldova) for France. Where else could he find a safer haven? Badinter often quoted the father of the French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas who, during the Dreyfus Affair, concluded that “a country tearing itself apart over a single Jewish officer is the country where I need to live.”

Yet France was also the country from which Simon Badinter, 2 decades later, was deported and murdered at Sobibor in 1942. The adolescent son was, as one obituary suggested, forever marked by his father’s love of the French Republic, but no doubt also by the shock of the persecution of French Jews by the collaborationist and antisemitic Vichy regime. For these reasons, perhaps, Badinter insisted that France was not the “homeland of the rights of man, but instead was “the homeland of the Declaration of the Rights of Man.” That extra word is crucial. It is never enough to declare these universal rights, in short, but instead it is always necessary to also defend and extend those rights.

This was the ethical and historical imperative that led Badinter, upon taking office as the garde des sceaux, the Keeper of the Seals or Minister of Justice under President François Mitterrand, to fight for the abolition of the death penalty in France. When still a practicing lawyer, Badinter took the case of Patrick Henry, guilty of killing a child he had kidnapped. Badinter did so for the most obvious and most difficult of reasons: the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” must apply to one and all no matter what they have done and no matter what the state’s justifications are. “Do not believe you are defending society by this bloody means,” he told the jurors in his reference to the guillotine. “If you cut that man in two, you will dissuade no one.”

A few years later, when Badinter made his case in front of the National Assembly for the practice’s abolition, he spoke for nearly 2 hours. He knew that a substantial majority of the French still supported the death penalty, just as he knew there would be attacks and insults from the opposition parties. And yet, in videos of the event, he appears less a government minister and more a biblical prophet. At a key moment, Badinter looks up from lectern and looks directly at the gathered representatives of the nation: “The question that we face, as we all know, is political and especially moral.” With these words, the chamber fell silent.

Whereas abolition is the rule nearly everywhere among free countries, Badinter observed, in dictatorial countries the death penalty is everywhere practiced. “This is not a simple coincidence, but instead a correlation. The death penalty’s true significance comes from the idea that the state has the right to dispose of a citizen, even to the point of taking their life. This is why this penalty is part and parcel of totalitarian systems.” (Or for that matter, part and parcel of democratic states in our country where Republicans, and not republicans, hold super-majorities as they do in Texas.) Badinter concluded his speech by declaring “Tomorrow, thanks to each of you, we will no longer share the shame of furtive executions at dawn in French prisons. Tomorrow, the bloody pages of our history will have been turned.”

So many other pages of French and European history, from the abolition of the crime of homosexuality to the founding of the International Criminal Court, have also been written in large part by Badinter. Above and beyond these accomplishments, however, was Badinter’s greatest achievement: to live a public life that resisted the cruelty and coarsening of our era and reflected the moral values of a man who always proudly identified himself as “republican, secular, and Jewish.”

(source: forward.com)

POLAND:

‘A Short Film About Killing’: The movie that brought an end to the Polish death penalty

As far as European cinema goes, there are few figures quite admired in critical circles as the inimitable Krzysztof Kieslowski. Known for his Dekalog series of 1989, as well as The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colours trilogy, Kieslowski embodied everything so extraordinary about the power of European cinema and that of his native Poland in turn.

In fact, one of Kieslowski’s films possessed an extraordinary facet of actually changing Polish law, the ever-controversial death penalty. His 1988 work A Short Film About Killing is a haunting yet fascinating examination of the human condition and the kind of moral ambiguity that surrounds its titular act.

The film ended up being expanded to become the 5th part of his television series Dekalog and focuses on the lives of 3 individuals, the drifter Jacek, the lawyer Piotr and the taxi driver Waldemar, whose paths cross in a moment of tragic fate, with the former brutally murdering the latter in an act of sheer violence.

What follows is a harrowing exploration of the consequences of such an act, with Piotr being appointed as Jacek’s defence and thus grappling with the moral implications of what his client has done. Kieslowski invites his audience to challenge their opinions of what justice and retribution ought to be while painting an admittedly bleak picture of the human experience.

He asks whether an act of violence ought to be met with yet further violence and whether such a vicious cycle of justice is morally right. There’s a banality to the film that makes it all the more sickening, but such emotional responses only seek to further prompt the audience to question their preconceived facets of morality.

As the stark realism of the film begins to hit home, A Short Film About Killing delivers a condemning indictment on the death penalty and the immoralism of state-ordered violence. Through the internal battle of Piotr and the affectless portrayal of Jacek, Kieslowski exposes the kind of contradictions present in the Polish legal system that allow violent acts to be undertaken in the name of justice.

The premiere of the film in Poland was followed by a nationwide debate about the morality of capital punishment, and it was perceived as something of a moral statement despite never explicitly addressing such issues within the narrative. The public’s view was that a murder by an individual and a murder by the state are not equal in terms of their moral value, and A Short Film About Killing was seen as pivotal in the abolition of the death penalty in Poland.

Kieslowski’s film is, therefore, a vital piece of European cinema, one that comments on the fragility of our morality and exposes the possibility of both good and evil within all of us. As with all the best films, A Short Film About Killing asks its audience difficult questions and dives into the true complexities of human life.

(source: faroutmagazine.co.uk)

INDIA:

Capital punishment in one, no trial in others: The story of 3 political murders in Kerala----TNM takes a look at three murder cases in Kerala where religion and politics intertwined and why 1 case moved at a much faster pace than the others.

On the night of December 18, 2021, KS Shan, a Muslim man and a state office bearer of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), was killed in Kerala’s Alappuzha, allegedly by supporters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The next morning, seven hours after Shan breathed his last, Ranjith Sreenivasan, a Hindu man associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was hacked to death by SDPI members.

Both of them were lawyers and the murders occurred in the same district. In 2 years, the back-to-back incidents, considered acts of political revenge, have taken different trajectories. 14 men associated with SDPI and the banned Popular Front of India (PFI) were sentenced to death for Ranjith’s murder, a verdict welcomed by his kin. But Shan’s family is still waiting for the trial to start though the charge sheet in the case was the 1st to be filed.

There are allegations that Shan’s murder was in retaliation to the murder of an RSS worker, Nandu R Krishna, that happened in the same district in February 2021. The chargesheet in the case was filed in February 2022, and the trial is yet to commence.

So how did the 3 cases where religion and politics are intertwined proceed, and why has one moved at a much faster pace than the others? Were the delays caused during investigation or prosecution, or is there some other reason behind it? Those following the case of the three political murders in Kerala have many questions but few answers.

Shan’s murder — and the immediate aftermath

Fansila received a call from her husband, advocate KS Shan, on the evening of December 18, 2021. The state general secretary of the SDPI and a businessman, Shan told her he would be late getting home because one of his workers had not returned to the shop selling curtains that he owned. That was the last conversation Fansila had with Shan. An hour later, she got a call from the police who wanted to know her identity. “I told them I was Shan’s wife, and suddenly their tone changed. They said Shan had met with an accident, and immediately cut the call,” said Fansila.

Shan was attacked allegedly by RSS workers in Mannanchery in Alappuzha. CCTV footage from a nearby building showed Shan, who was on a two-wheeler, being hit by a car from behind and then assaulted by a gang as he fell. He was first rushed to a hospital nearby, where his wounds were dressed. Later, he was taken to the Medical Trust Hospital in Ernakulam, where he passed away around 11.30 pm. Shan’s father said the postmortem report showed he had 40 injuries.

Shan was 36 years old when he died and had 2 daughters—11-year-old Iba Fathima and 5-year-old Liya Fathima. He owned a curtain shop in Mannancherry near his house, and even though he was a trained advocate, he didn’t practice law.

2 hours after his death, Shan’s relative Shaji filed a complaint with the Mannancherry police. The very next day, the district police chief appointed a 34-member police force to investigate the case. Within 86 days, on March 16, 2022, the crime branch Deputy Superintendent of Police (DYSP) KV Benny submitted a chargesheet.

Ranjith’s murder and the aftermath

On December 19, 2021, around 6.30 am, hours after Shan was killed, attackers belonging to SDPI and PFI entered Ranjith Sreenivasan’s home in Alappuzha and hacked him to death in front of his mother Vinodhini, wife Lisha, and their child Hridya. CCTV footage showed the 12-member gang arriving in six two-wheelers at Ranjith’s house.

Three days later, on December 22, a special Investigation team (SIT) was formed under the leadership of Alappuzha DySP NR Jayaraj. After 86 days, on March 18, 2022, the police filed a chargesheet and arrested all 15 suspects in the murder.

In 2022, Public Prosecutors were assigned to both cases — Kottayam-based advocate Ajayan for Shan and Kayamkulam-based Prathap G Padickal for Ranjith. It was at this point the timelines of the trial process began to diverge.

Lawyer unrest

Ranjith’s murder had caused a furore among the lawyers in the Alappuzha Bar Council as he was a practising lawyer They held protests on December 20, 2021, and declared that none of them would appear for the accused in the case who belonged to the PFI and SDPI. When this happened, the 15 accused approached the Kerala High Court and asked for the case to be transferred to another district. The High Court refused but did move the case from the Alappuzha Additional District and Sessions Court to the Mavelikara Additional District Sessions Court-1, which is in the same district but 44 km away from the former. Mavelikkara has another bar association.

In Shan’s case, the Public Prosecutor (PP) Ajayan resigned within a month of his appointment citing personal reasons. A second PP — advocate Suresh Babu Thomas, also from Kottayam — was assigned the case. However, the police officers investigating the case allegedly refused to work with this lawyer since he was also representing the accused in the Ranjith murder case.

“There is no rule against the lawyer for the accused in one case appearing as a PP in another case,” says SDPI Alappuzha district president K Riyas. The SDPI and Shan’s family did not want to lose a senior advocate like Suresh Babu Thomas, a former Additional Director of Prosecution and Additional State Public Prosecutor. They refused to agree with the police. Jaidev, who was the Alappuzha Superintendent of Police (SP) at that time, refused to budge as well.

It was only in January 2024, when the Ranjith trial had almost reached its end that Shan’s case got a new PP — advocate PP Harris from Thrissur. Harris was also representing the accused in the Ranjith murder case, however, the police did not have any objection this time, says Riyas.

The trial in Ranjith’s case was completed and on January 20, 2023, the court found the convicts guilty.

Allegations of delayed justice and bail denial

When the court rejected the several bail applications of the accused in the Ranjith murder case, the accused of Shan’s murder case were able to get bail 8 months after getting arrested. SDPI alleges that this is an instance of double justice reflected during the trial process.

In December 2022, when 3 people who were accused in the Shan murder case sought bail, the PP did not oppose the application. The delay in trial was also cited as a reason for the bail.

Shan’s family alleges that, from the beginning, they have been treated unfairly. “None of the accused in the Ranjith murder case were granted bail, but all the accused in this case were granted bail. I felt it was so unfair,” Fansila said. Among those who received bail, Sreenath, the accused number nine, was also convicted of the murder of SFI leader Ajayaprasad in 2007.

Trial in murder that allegedly triggered Shan’s killing delayed

Nandu R Krishna, a native of Vayalar in Alappuzha, was murdered, allegedly, by SDPI-PFI activists on February 24, 2021. Three days before, on February 21, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had arrived in Kerala to inaugurate the Vijaya Yatra by BJP state president K Surendran. This sparked protest rallies by the SDPI-PFI activists across the state, including in Vayalar. Reports said Nandu’s murder was the result of a provocation in the backdrop of the volatile atmosphere during the time.

The trial of Nandu Krishna too, has not moved forward, and the chargesheet in the case was submitted only in February 2022. There was also a delay in arresting the accused.

(source: thenewsminute.com)

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Nearly 45.71% surge in number of prisoners sentenced to death since 2015: NLU report----The report said that in 2023, trial courts across the country awarded 120 death sentences. Among the death sentences, the highest of 33 was awarded in Uttar Pradesh. The state was followed by 12 in Jharkhand and 11 each in Haryana, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh, while 10 death sentences have been reported from West Bengal.

Nearly 45.71% surge in number of prisoners sentenced to death since 2015: NLU report

A total of 561 prisoners have been sent to death row in the last 20 years across the country. Apart from this, there has been a surge of 45.71 % increase in number of prisoners sent to death row since 2015, a report by Delhi’s National Law University has said.

2 prisoners sentenced to death last year

As per the report, ‘Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics Report’, only two death sentences were confirmed last year, which was the lowest death sentence confirmed since the year 2000. “This marks the largest death row population in nearly two decades. Only one death sentence was confirmed in 2023, making it the year with the lowest rate of death sentence confirmations by the appellate courts since 2000. The year 2023 also witnesses a 45.71% increase in the death row population since 2015,” the report said.

The report further said that in 2023, trial courts across the country awarded 120 death sentences. Among the death sentences, the highest of 33 was awarded in Uttar Pradesh. The state was followed by 12 in Jharkhand and 11 each in Haryana, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh, while 10 death sentences have been reported from West Bengal.

Largest number of death sentences in Uttar Pradesh

“Uttar Pradesh had the largest death row population at 119 prisoners. The highest number of trial courts death sentences in 2023 was imposed in murder cases involving sexual offenses, which is 64 (53.33%) out of 120 death sentences. This has been a rising trend in trial courts since our first annual statistics report in 2016,” the report added further.

According to the report, the Supreme Court also did not confirm any death sentences last year. In 2023 it took decisions in 10 cases which involved 11 prisoners and acquitted 6 prisoners who were earlier sentenced to death. The report further pointed out that the President of India rejected one mercy plea in March 2023 in a case related to the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a minor in 2008.

(source: news9live.com)

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India 561 inmates on death row, highest in 2 decades----561 inmates on death row, highest in 2 decades The report said the President of India rejected 1 mercy petition in March 2023 in a case of kidnapping, rape and murder of a minor in 2008. There are a total of 488 death row prisoners awaiting judgment from the high courts

(see: deccanherald.com/india/561-inmates-on-death-row-highest-in-two-decades-report-2889377)

BANGLADESH:

Cop gets death sentence for killing wife, two others in Kushtia----The condemned convict Soumen Roy, 34, was also fined Tk 1 lakh.

A Kushtia court on Sunday sentenced a suspended assistant sub-inspector of Phultala Police Station in Khulna to death for killing his wife, step son and a man who reportedly had an affair with the wife in 2021.

The condemned convict Soumen Roy, 34, was also fined Tk1 lakh.

Kushtia District and Session Judge Ruhul Amin handed down the punishment with Soumen absconding after securing bail in 2022.

According to the prosecution, Soumen, son of Sunil Roy of Magura's sadar upazila, shot his wife Asma Khatun, 25, step son Robin, 5, and Shakil, 28, in front of Naz Mansion Market in Kushtia district town over an extramarital affair between Asma and Shakil on June 13, 2021.

Police arrested him with his service revolver, bullets and a magazine from the spot.

Hasina Begum, mother of Asma, filed a case in this connection.

Soumen later testified before Kushtia Senior Judicial Magistrate Enamul Haque.

Investigating officer of the case, Nishikanta Sarkar, submitted a chargesheet against Soumen.

On November 6, 2022, Soumen secured bail from the High Court in the case. Since then he has been absconding. On February 2, 2023, the court issued a warrant for the arrest of Soumen as he did not surrender before the court.

Soumen met Asma while serving as an Assistant Sub-inspector of Kumarkhali Police Station. Later, they got married. She was Soumen's third wife. Asma too was married twice before.

After their marriage, they used to live at a rented house in Aruapara in Kushtia. Soumen was later transferred to Khulna and in his absence, Asma developed an affair with Shakil.

Robin was Asma's son from her 2nd marriage.

(source: tbsnews.net)

ZIMBABWE:

Reactions Mixed After Zimbabwe Moves to Abolish Death Penalty

Zimbabwe's Cabinet decision to abolish the death penalty, announced on Wednesday, is being hailed by human rights advocates, but not all Zimbabweans are in favor of the move.

Amnesty International — one of the rights groups which has pushed for the abolition of capital punishment in Zimbabwe — welcomed the announcement this week by Harare.

"Zimbabwe has taken the right step towards ending this abhorrent and inhuman form of punishment that has no place in today's justice system," said Roselina Muzerengi, campaigns coordinator at Amnesty International in Zimbabwe. "Now that the Cabinet has given its nod, Parliament must ensure the death penalty is truly abolished by voting to pass legislation that will make this a reality. We are happy that the abolition debate is gaining momentum. So, as an organization, we are waiting to see the response by the Parliament of Zimbabwe."

In a message via WhatsApp, U.N. Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor, who reports and advises on the situation of human rights advocates, also expressed her support for the move.

"I am delighted that Zimbabwe has decided to abolish the death penalty. The death penalty is always wrong. It has never been shown to be a deterrent and many innocent people around the world have been executed," Lawlor said.

But not everyone is happy with the decision, given that Zimbabwe's crime rate is rising as the economy continues to decline.

A senator for the ruling Zanu-PF party, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing her position, said she is against abolition of the death penalty.

"As a people, as a nation, and are we not perpetuating wanton killing? Life is precious. Life imprisonment in itself is torture," she said. "We have a parole system, which is there in place, that can review some of these judgments [life imprisonment]. Peace and closure to the affected families can only be achieved if they know that the perpetrator is made the same fate as their relatives."

Zimbabwe's information minister, Jenfan Muswere, this week told reporters that the move to abolish the death penalty was made after countrywide consultations.

"The circumstances attracting death penalty options include where murder has been committed against a prison officer, police officer, a minor or a pregnant woman, or it is committed in the commission of other serious crimes. Or where there is pre-meditation," Muswere said. "In view of the need to retain the deterrent element in sentencing murderers, it is expected that the new law will impose lengthy sentences without violating the right to life."

Some Zimbabweans, such as Tinei Mukuri, want the death sentence to remain in the statute books.

"There are circumstances when it is really aggravated, it's gruesome, it's pure cruelty when someone kills someone. ... And then we say that person needs to be rehabilitated, spending the rest of his time in jail surviving on taxpayers' money, when the best would be just to also to face the same death that would have been inflicted on other people," Mukuri said.

Vincent Mazilankatha holds a similar view.

"It's very sad that our government decided to abolish death penalty when there is a rise of premeditated murder cases here in Zimbabwe," Mazilankatha said. "People are killing each other, people are killing some other people with impunity. Some of them are walking scot free.

Parliament is expected to take up legislation soon that officially bans the death penalty. The bill is expected to sail to approval, as the ruling Zanu-PF party now has a 2/3 majority, and President Emmerson Mnangawa supports abolishment.

(source: voazimbabwe.com)

SAUDI ARABIA:

David Cameron urged to intervene to prevent execution of 2 teenagers in Saudi Arabia

David Cameron has been urged to intervene to save the lives of 2 teenagers in Saudi Arabia who are facing “imminent execution” for attending a protest aged 15. In a letter penned by Sir Peter Bottomley, and co-signed by 8 cross-party MPs and peers, the Foreign Secretary has been asked to make a public call for the executions to be halted and to “leverage” Britain’s “close and vital relationship” with Saudi Arabia.

The 2 young men, Abdullah Al Derazi and Youssef Al Manasif, were both arrested when they turned 18. However, their alleged crimes relate to attending anti-government protests over the treatment of the Shia minority which dates back to when they were 15.

Multiple rights groups have said that their sentences were upheld following “grossly unfair” trials and “torture-tainted confessions”.

“Recent developments in the prison where they are held indicate they may be executed at any moment,” the letter, seen exclusively by The Telegraph, read.

“We respectfully request that you make a public call for their executions to be halted, and for their death sentences to be overturned in line with the Saudi Government’s legal obligations and its promises to stop executing child defendants.”

Preparing inmates for execution

As prime minister in 2015, Lord Cameron said that he would personally intervene against the imminent execution of another child protester on Saudi’s secretive death row, Ali Al Nimr, who was set to imminently be beheaded. When his sentence was commuted, the foreign secretary at the time, Philip Hammond, suggested it was a victory of British diplomacy.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly declared in recent years that it has abolished the death penalty for child defendants. All of the charges against the young men are non-lethal and do not meet the “most serious crimes” threshold for the death penalty to be applied.

Abdallah, whose death sentence has been upheld by the Supreme Court, spent two weeks in a coma following the torture he faced during his arrest in 2014, his court records show. His charges include “burning tyres” and attending a funeral when he was 17.

According to the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR), which monitors and investigates Saudi’s opaque death row, Dammam Investigations Prison, which holds both Abdullah and Youssef, is preparing inmates for execution.

A relative of Youssef, whose identity has been hidden due to fear of reprisal, described the family as “desperate”.

Last week, an inmate in Dammam, who was accused of similar crimes to the two young men, was executed without warning, prompting campaigners to raise the alarm over the 2 child defendants.

Witnesses have told ESOHR that death row detainees in Dammam have also been photographed recently, which they believe to be an indicator of imminent execution.

(source: msn.com)

IRAN:

Shahab Nadali, a political prisoner, sentenced to death

According to the Iranian Human Rights Society, on Saturday, February 10, 2024, political prisoner Shahab Nadali sentenced to death in Branch 26 of Tehran Revolutionary Court on the charge of “treason”. According to Dadban website, this sentence issued on January 8, 2024 by Judge Iman Afshari.

The court order issued by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, Shahab Nadali charged with treason and sentenced to death on charges of “membership in opposition groups of the country”,. And also connection with the People’s Mojahedin and armed cooperation with them. There is no information about the details of his case.

According to this report, this is the verdict of the court of first instance, and Shahab Nadali and his lawyer objected to this verdict and also submitted an appeal request to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court has not yet given an answer.

Shahab Nadali, born in 1983, a native of Hamedan, is a worker, married and the father of a 12-year-old daughter. He arrested on June 7, 2023 in Hamadan. He then transferred to Evin prison. On Tuesday, September 18, 2023, Mr. Nadali started a hunger strike in Evin prison to protest his indecision.

It should be noted that a number of political and ideological prisoners in Iran’s prisons are at risk of execution.

Execution is a tool of government repression to intimidate the society

Government leaders use execution as the most important tool for suppressing and intimidating society. They try to prevent the resurgence of uprisings by increasing the number of executions. The government leaders also strongly suppress any gathering related to condemning executions and even prevent the gathering of the families of those condemned to execution.

(source: en.iranhrs.org)

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Blue Blazer: Examining Political-Security Prisoners Facing Death Sentences on the Anniversary of Iran’s Revolution

HRANA News Agency – In February 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, traveling in a blue Blazer to Behesht Zahra in Tehran, delivered his famous speech. In his speech, he made numerous promises regarding the economy, justice, and political freedoms. Forty-five years after the 1979 Revolution and that famous speech, and the promises therein, the realization of fundamental political freedoms and social justice in Iran, are still far from reality. The proof lies in the numerous death sentences and numerous international condemnations regarding the situation of human rights within the country.

This report, published on the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, presents a comprehensive list of political and security prisoners sentenced to death, their latest status a symbol of the empty promises made that day.

The execution crisis in Iran goes far beyond the population of political prisoners. HRANA recently published a report on a decade of executions in Iran (from 2013 to 2023), presenting statistics on the execution of 4,829 citizens over a decade. However, political and security prisoners, as symbols of dissatisfaction and protest, are followed with more sensitivity by public opinion despite constituting a small percentage of this number.

HRANA, has prepared a list of political and security prisoners sentenced to death in Iran on the occasion of the anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, as a symbol of the revolution’s empty promises of establishing a justice-based system and improving human rights conditions.

According to the latest reviews by HRANA, there are currently at least 35 prisoners with political or security charges in various parts of the country sentenced to death.

This report introduces and reviews the latest status of Abbas (Mojahed) KoorKoori, Reza Rassayi, Anvar Khezri, Kamran Sheikhe, Khosro Besharat, Farshid Hassan Zehi, Mansour Dehmardeh, Jamshid Sharmahd, Mohammad Zeynoddini, Adham Naroui, Mohammad Javad Vafaie Thani, Abbas Deris, Ahmadreza Jalali, Yousef Ahmadi, Mansour Rasouli, Naib Askari, Mehran Bahramian, Fazl Bahramian, Ali Majdam, Mohammadreza Moghadam, Moein Khanfari, Habib Deris, Adnan Ghabishawi, Salem Mousavi, Farhad Shakeri, Eisa EidMohammadi, Abdolrahman Gorgij, Abdolhakim Azim Gorgij, Taj Mohammad Khormali, Malek Ali Fadaei Nasab, Amir Rahim Pour, Malek Davarshan and Ali Obeidavi.

These death row inmates, charged with political and security offenses, are imprisoned in Shiban Ahvaz, Diesel Abad Kermanshah, Ghezel Hesar Karaj, Zahedan, Vakil Abad Mashhad, Mahshahr, Evin, Sanandaj, Urmia, and Dastgerd Isfahan prisons.

Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Mohammad Moghiseh, Branch 4 of the Mashhad Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Ahmadian Salami, and the Ahvaz Revolutionary Court, with the issuance of death sentences for a total of 16 defendants in 4 separate cases, have played the most significant role in issuing death sentences for political and security defendants.

Charges leading to the issuance of death sentences for these individuals include Moharebeh (waging war against God), Ifsad fil-Arz (corruption on Earth), Baghy (rebellion), and espionage.

In the following list, names and key details about the latest status of the 35 prisoners sentenced to death on political and security charges are provided:

for thie list, see: https://www.en-hrana.org/blue-blazer-and-the-anniversary-of-the-1979-revolution-a-comprehensive-list-of-political-security-prisoners-sentenced-to-death-in-iran/

It is important to emphasize that the execution crisis in Iran extends far beyond the population of political prisoners. Spreading Justice (HRA’s database of human rights violators) recently published a report based on data from its statistics unit covering a decade of executions in Iran (from 2013 to 2023), documenting the execution of 4,829 citizens over this period.

(source: en-hrana.org)

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1979 anti-monarchy revolution: the Unbreakable Spirit of Iranian Women----Commemorating the valiant contributions of women imprisoned and tortured by the Shah’s regime

The 1979 Anti-Monarchy Revolution of February 11, 1979, was a defining moment in Iran’s history. It marked the end of decades of dictatorship under the Shah and the beginning of a new era of hope for freedom, democracy, and social justice. Women played a critical role in the revolution, influenced by the progressive ideals of the Mojahedin and Fedayeen movements.

Despite the brutal oppression of Shah’s secret police, SAVAK, these women fought tirelessly for a better future for themselves and their country. They endured torture, imprisonment, and even death in their pursuit of freedom. These brave women were symbols of resistance, inspiring generations to come.

Fatemeh Amini, Ashraf Rajavi, Asharf Ahmadi, Zahra Nowruzi, Massoumeh Shademani, and Jaleh Daii were among the many political prisoners under the Shah who suffered at the hands of SAVAK.

These women and their sacrifices serve as a reminder of the power of the human spirit and the importance of fighting for justice. Their legacy continues to inspire the women of Iran and the world today.

Jaleh Daii, a former political prisoner under the Shah

Jaleh Daii, now a member of the opposition MEK, was imprisoned by Shah’s secret police at age 15 and witnessed the horrific treatment of prisoners.

Jaleh was arrested in 1976. Her head was covered, and she was taken to one of the notorious detention centers of the secret police known as Komiteh Shahrbani.

She said, “I remember walking up the stairs and passing through the corridors. Although my head was covered, I could see the floor. I could see the legs of the prisoners who were sitting on the floor and waiting in the corridor. All of them had been flogged and their feet and legs were bloody and inflamed. Some of the legs had been infected up to the knee.”

Jaleh spent a few months in this dreadful place and was subsequently transferred to the women’s ward in Qasr Prison, where at least 100 female political prisoners of all ages were detained.

Jaleh says, “All prisoners without exception had been tortured and lashed. I saw many under-age students like myself.”

Fatemeh Amini

Fatemeh Amini became a symbol of women’s struggle for freedom and died under torture. Fatemeh Amini started her political activities as a freedom-loving intellectual in the School of Literature at the University of Mashhad and soon formed the Association of Progressive Women.

After graduating in 1964, she started teaching in girls’ high schools.

In 1970, she traveled to Tehran, where she was acquainted with the underground opposition MEK and soon became a member.

The Shah’s secret police arrested Fatemeh Amini in 1974 and took her under torture.

Fatemeh was flogged and tortured for months. Her back was burned with an electric broiler for long hours. Although she became paralyzed under torture but did not even give her name to the interrogators. She finally died under torture on August 16, 1975.

Her resistance to torture set an unforgettable role model for freedom-loving girls in Iran, and after the 1979 anti-monarchy revolution, dozens of high schools were named after her.

Ashraf Rajavi

Ashraf Rajavi lost her hearing due to savage torture but continued to fight for freedom until the mullahs killed her in 1982.

Ashraf Rajavi received her Bachelor of Science in Physics from Tehran University. But her heart went out to the deprived people who suffered in a country sitting on a sea of oil.

Despite having the opportunity to lead a good life, she chose to help the underprivileged.

In this process, she got to know the People’s Mojahedin or the MEK, a newly formed underground anti-Shah organization and joined it in 1971.

She was arrested twice from 1972-1974 and in 1976 and endured savage tortures because she lost hearing in one ear.

Jaleh Daii explains that the first time she saw the scars of torture on the body of Ashraf Rajavi, she couldn’t bear watching and fainted.

The shah’s regime sentenced Ashraf to life in prison, but the Iranian people freed her with the last group of political prisoners on January 20, 1979.

Ashraf continued her struggle for freedom. For this reason, the mullahs finished the unfinished job of the Shah. They killed Ashraf Rajavi on February 8, 1982.

Thus Ashraf’s life and death became the tradition of a generation of PMOI women in Iran who lead the Iranian Resistance today.

Massoumeh Shademani

Massoumeh Shademani, known as Mother Kabiri, was a high-spirited woman who inspired her fellow prisoners despite being subjected to brutal torture.

Massoumeh Shademani, or Mother Kabiri, was among the last political prisoners released from Shah’s jails some ten days before the 1979 anti-monarchy Revolution.

Massoumeh Shademani was 40 years old with five children when she joined the PMOI. She was arrested in 1974 and taken under brutal torture. Her interrogators knew everything about her activities, but she did not say a word under torture.

Jaleh says Mother Kabiri’s legs had been deformed under torture, and she could hardly walk.

But Mother Kabiri was always high-spirited and inspired her fellow inmates. The court of first instance sentenced her to death, a verdict that was later commuted to life in prison.

She had spent 5 years in prison when the Iranian people released her during the 1979 anti-monarchy Revolution.

2 years later, Mother Kabiri was executed by the Khomeini regime.

Ashraf Ahmadi

Another brave Iranian woman tortured by Shah’s secret police was Ashraf Ahmadi. She had four children and was detained for three years under Shah’s regime.

Ashraf Ahmadi began her activities with the MEK in 1971. Her elder brother was a political prisoner. The first time she was arrested in 1975, she was pregnant and suffered from a heart condition. However, the secret police, SAVAK, ruthlessly tortured her to extract her information.

Ashraf remained strong and resistant under torture and did not give any of her vast information about the MEK activities. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released three years later, just before Shah’s overthrow.

Ashraf Ahmadi was arrested again under the mullahs. She was among the 30,000 political prisoners massacred in 1988.

Another example of heroic resistance under torture in Shah’s prisons is Zahra Nowruzi or Mother Rezaii. She has lost 8 children and in-laws under both dictatorships.

In 1975, she and her daughters were arrested by SAVAK, Shah’s secret police.

Mother Rezaii once explained: “Initially, they tortured me a lot like my children. They lashed the soles of my feet such that my flesh broke open. My left foot was worse than the right one. The last time they whipped me, I had no more energy left. They stopped, but one of the interrogators continued flogging me on the head and neck.

“Another night, they called me and started flogging me again. My feet started bleeding. I fell on the floor, and the interrogator pushed his foot against my back. Then they hung me from the window by my wrists and pulled the chair from under my feet.

“Then they untied one of my wrists and let me hang by one wrist. My arm and wrist had inflated, so they brought me down and threw me into my cell. My feet had been badly infected.

“I spent several months in a solitary cell and another year in Evin Prison without having any news on my young children. Then they tried me and handed me a 3-year sentence.”

***

These were just a handful of examples out of many more injustices done by Shah’s regime. The bravery of these women serves as a testament to the impact of Iranian women on the 1979 Anti-Monarchy Revolution. They are symbols of resistance and continue to inspire generations to fight for freedom, democracy, and social justice.

In the mid-1970s, the mothers and families of political prisoners and those whose sons and daughters had been executed by the Shah formed the very early core of resistance groups.

The final months preceding the 1979 Anti-Monarchy Revolution saw vast participation of young women and girls in all cities across the country.

Women emerged as a serious new force in the 1979 Revolution, playing a remarkable role. They could not be stopped and were everywhere in step with men.

The scope of women’s participation in the 1979 Revolution that toppled the Shah was unprecedented in Iranian history. This was a major stride forward for Iranian women who continued their selfless struggle against a more brutal dictatorship under the mullahs.

Iranian women moved forward to the extent that they have been leading the main opposition force, the MEK, for more than three decades and inspiring women’s leadership of the Iran Revolution today.

Iranian women and the people of Iran generally say no to all forms of dictatorship. We have heard them chant at every opportunity in Iran and abroad, “No to the oppressor, be it the shah or the mullahs’ leader.”

Iran women look to the future, not to the past. They want a democratic, modern, free republic with the separation of religion and state, gender equality, no torture, no executions, no secret police, and no IRGC.

(source: women.ncr-iran.org)

FEBRUARY 10, 2024:

TEXAS----impending execution

Texas Gives Ivan Cantu New Execution Date of February 28, 2024

Ivan Cantu is scheduled to be executed at 6 pm local time on Wednesday, April 26, 2023, inside the Walls Unit execution chamber at the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Texas. 49-year-old Ivan is convicted of murdering 27-year-old James Mosqueda and 21-year-old Amy Kitchens on November 4, 2000, in Dallas, Texas. For the last 21 years, Ivan has resided on death row in Texas.

Ivan Abner Cantu graduated from high school and did not have any prior convictions. Ivan had previously worked as a laborer. In 1998 or 1999, Ivan was hired by his cousin, James Mosqueda to work in James’ mortgage banking business in Dallas, Texas. James eventually fired Ivan in mid-2000.

Ivan Cantu moved into an apartment with his girlfriend and her brother on October 15, 2000. The apartment was located about one mile from where James lived. In late October, Cantu informed one of his roommates that he was going to kill his cousin James. Cantu alleged that James was a part-time drug dealer of cocaine and marijuana. Cantu also planned to steal James’ money.

On November 4, 2000, Cantu left his apartment around 11:30 pm in his vehicle. Shortly before leaving, Cantu told his girlfriend he was going to kill James. Cantu returned to the apartment about 2 hours later covered in blood. His face was also swollen.

James lived with his fiancé, Amy Kitchen. On November 4, 2000, at the request of Amy’s mother, the Dallas Fire Department forcibly entered James and Amy’s home. James and Amy were found deceased in the bedroom, with no sign of struggle. They had been killed by multiple gunshot wounds.

Police quickly narrowed in on Cantu as a suspect. A search of his apartment a few days later revealed that he had a key to James’ home. He also had in his possession keys to Amy’s vehicle. Further, police found clothes in the garbage that had blood on them. DNA testing revealed that the blood matched James and Amy. Eventually, police also located the murder weapon at Cantu’s ex-girlfriend’s apartment.

Cantu was arrested, charged, and convicted of the robbery and murder of James and Amy. Cantu alleged that rival drug dealers were responsible for the couple’s murder. He previously had an execution date in 2011. That date was stayed to allow additional DNA testing.

Judicial District Court Judge Benjamin A. Smith in Collins County, Texas, withdrew the execution date for Ivan Cantu. Attorneys for Ivan previously requested his execution date be withdrawn to all time to review new revelations in the case. Specifically, Ivan’s girlfriend at the time gave testimony against him saying Ivan had shown her the crime scene and given her some items from the deceased. At least 1 of these items was later found to be in the possession of the family of the deceased. The girlfriend is now deceased. Another person who testified against Ivan has also come forward saying he wanted to recant his testimony and that he was using drugs at that time.

Please pray for peace for the families of James Mosqueda and Amy Kitchen. Pray for strength for the family of Ivan Cantu. Please pray that if Ivan is innocent, lacks the competency to be executed, or should not be executed for any other reason, that evidence will be provided before his execution. Pray that Ivan may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

(source: theforgivenessfoundation.org)

NORTH CAROLINA:

Judge: Man accused of killing girlfriend, unborn child can face death penalty

A Pitt County man accused of beating his 38-week pregnant girlfriend to death last July was deemed eligible for capital punishment at a hearing on Thursday where a prosecutor shared details from the killing.

Kayshaun Lontell Williams, 30, of 1018 Elmer Lane, Winterville, appeared during an administrative murder status hearing at the Pitt County Detention Center. Williams is charged with murder and murder of an unborn child in the July 9 killing of Jasmine Cooper, 27, and the couple’s unborn child. Under state law, a hearing is mandatory in all capital murder cases to determine if the state intends to seek the death penalty.

Valerie Pearce, Pitt County assistant district attorney, laid the basis for the prosecution’s case and said that Williams assaulted Cooper at The Heritage at Arlington Apartments, 2744 W. Arlington Blvd., slamming her head into a wall, strangling and beating her. She said about 3 a.m. he called one of Cooper’s friends and told her he suspected she was cheating on him.

Pearce said that the woman could hear Cooper scream in the background as Williams asked her who Cooper had been with. The friend reported Williams told Cooper to get up off of the floor before the line went dead.

A Facetime video showed Cooper gurgling and beaten on the ground, Pearce said. Williams left the apartment to visit his sister in a motel where he told her that he “messed up,” before returning to the apartment between 8-9 a.m.

Law enforcement was contacted about that time, and Cooper was transported to ECU Health Medical Center where she was pronounced dead, Pearce said. An emergency caesarean section was performed and medical staff attempted to resuscitate the baby for about an hour to no avail.

Pearce said that Cooper’s family told the state that there was a history of domestic violence in the household. Her mother and sister were present at the hearing. Pearce also said that in an interview Williams admitted to assaulting Cooper.

Pitt County Superior Court Judge Marvin Blount ruled that the state could proceed with capital case. Williams’ next hearing will be at a June 6 administrative hearing at the Pitt County Detention Center.

New lawyer requested

A man accused of shooting and killing a young mother at her home in early 2021 offered a motion at Thursday’s hearing that he was no longer satisfied with his legal counsel.

Shaquille Ali Pittman, 23, told Blount that he no longer trusts his attorney, Aden Wilkie of Onslow County, who has represented him for about 3 years.

Pittman, along with Tyquavious Charod Cummings, 21, and Jakeis Spencer Wiggins, 22, is charged with first-degree murder and other crimes in the Jan. 12 death of Marshayla Pasley, 20, at her Bell’s Fork home on Long Drive.

On Oct. 13, 2021, Mackenzie Jaqualia Andrews, 21, of Greensboro also was arrested as an accessory to the murder. At the time authorities reported she was Pittman’s girlfriend and that she was accused of disposing of evidence from Pasley’s killing after the fact.

Pittman, who has since grown out his hair, stood alongside Wilkie, who told Blount that he feels Pittman may not be able to assist in his legal defense without trust. A letter was presented to Blount, and Wilkie said a similar letter had been sent to the Capital Defender’s Office in Durham.

Pittman said that he does not feel Wilkie is trying to “fight” for him, though the attorney maintained that he has done all he can over the past 3 years.

Blount questioned how a change of counsel could impact the aging case and offered for Pittman and Wilkie to meet with Ken Crow, a former prosecutor and District Court Judge turned defense attorney. Crow said he could review the case and see where the conversation leads. He did not outright withdraw Wilkie from the case but left the motion open for the time being.

“I hate to start this from scratch,” Blount told the court.

According to prosecutor Anthony Futrell, Pittman, Cummings and Wiggins intended to fire into a neighboring home on the night of Pasley’s killing but picked the wrong house. The shooting killed Pasley and injured her then 2-year-old son. Another resident, Raeshon Peoples, 22, was inside at the time of the shooting but uninjured.

Futrell said the state’s only outstanding piece of evidence is a vehicle GPS being analyzed at the FBI Crime Lab in Quantico. He added that a plea deal is still being weighed by Pittman’s counsel, which would see the charge drop to second-degree murder and discharging a weapon into occupied property.

Futrell assumed prosecution of the case last year after a fellow prosecutor retired in December 2022.

Pittman’s next appearance in court is on April 4.

(source: The Daily Reflector)

ALABAMA:

Marco Perez to face the death penalty after 11 to 1 vote by jury

A Mobile County jury voted 11 to 1 in favor of the death penalty just one day after Marco Perez was found guilty of capital murder in the 2019 incident that left Mobile police officer Sean Tuder dead. The decision comes just 1 day after Perez was found guilty on Thursday. The hearing for Perez’s sentence began Thursday afternoon right after he was found guilty of capital murder.

The prosecution argued for the jury to vote in favor of the death penalty, which requires 10 of the 12 jurors to vote in favor.

Meanwhile, the defense pushed the jury to vote in favor of life in prison because he would ultimately still die in custody.

Perez, 24, was 19 when he killed Tuder at Peach Place Inn.

Defense witnesses

The defense brought 6 people to the stand to push for Perez to not be sentenced to death.

The 1st person was Francisco Perez, Marco’s father. He explained to the jury how he found out his son was accused of murdering a police officer. He showed pictures of his children when they were young and pleaded for his son’s life.

Francisco said he has seen his son grow since he was incarcerated 5 years ago.

“This kid is not who they’ve painted him to be,” he said.

Prosecutor Ashley Rich intervened and discussed Marco Perez faking his kidnapping and brought up his disciplinary record in school and his suspensions.

The defense then brought child psychologist Stephen Zieman, of Pensacola, to the stand via Zoom. He has seen and evaluated Marco Perez, spending 12.5 hours with him face-to-face issuing tests and getting to know him.

Zieman said Perez has ADHD, which can impact his judgment, and below-average verbal comprehension. He said it takes 25 years for the brain to fully develop, and Perez is only 24 and was 19 at the time of the incident.

The mother of Perez’s child, Savannah Brewer, also took the stand. Their son will be 5 years old in September.

“I look at my son, and I know his father deserves to be here,” she said.

Brewer said Perez is smart and has maintained a relationship with his son and his own family. She said she would visit him every day in prison regardless of his punishment.

Marco’s younger sister was brought to the stand, and she discussed her relationship with Marco.

She was cross-examined by prosecutor Ashley Rich. Marco’s younger sister, who was 12 at the time of the incident, said she didn’t remember how her parents were trying to get Marco to come home, and she didn’t remember much of the situation.

“My parents have worked very hard their whole life to give us everything we have,” she said.

Marco’s mother, Tiffany Perez, then came to the stand. She discussed what Marco was like as a child.

Tiffany Perez also said he struggled in school and was diagnosed with ADHD, but he worked very hard to get his GED. She said he got his first job when he was 17 or 18 years old but hasn’t been able to work since he was incarcerated.

Prosecutor Ashley Rich cross-examined Tiffany Perez.

“You did everything you could to get Marco to come home,” Rich said.

“I take blame!” Tiffany Perez said.

“I’m not trying to say you’re a bad mother; you’re a good mother,” Rich said.

Marco Perez’s grandmother, Paula Gushard, was the final person the defense called to the stand.

Gushard said she has a strong relationship with Marco and his child’s mother, Savannah Brewer.

The state’s rebuttal witness

The state’s loan rebuttal witness was Dr. Jessia Kirk of Infirmary Health at Thomas Hospital. She is a full-time hospital pediatrician.

Prosecutor Ashley Rich asked Dr. Kirk how the 19-year-old brain functions. She said they look at motor development and cognitive function.

She said children develop an internal conscious by age 6. And by age 12-15, children are able to think more maturely and make their own decisions.

“Children develop on a general timeline,” she said.

Criminal Defense Attorney Dennis Knizley cross-examined Dr. Kirk and said your brain doesn’t fully develop until your mid-20s.

(source: WKRG news)

*****************

Commentary: Death penalty persists despite proven cruelty and injustice

Guy Trammell Jr. and Amy Miller

This column appears every other week in Foster’s Daily Democrat and the Tuskegee News. This week, Guy Trammell, an African American man from Tuskegee, Ala., and Amy Miller, a white woman from South Berwick, Maine, write about the death penalty and a recent Alabama execution.

By Guy Trammell

Of the 31 states permitting execution, Alabama began issuing what would become the most death sentences in 1812, when Eli Norman was hung for murder. In 1927, electrocution replaced hanging. About two-thirds of Alabama’s executions happened since 2002, when lethal injection became the primary method.

80 % of Alabama’s 146 death row inmates either didn’t get a majority jury decision, or a judge overruled the jury - which occurred mainly during election years. Juries had given life sentences to 11 of the 72 people executed since 1983. Those executed were 56% white and 44% Black, despite Blacks being about 20% of Alabama’s population.

In November 2022, Gov. Kay Ivey halted all executions after three consecutive botched attempts to find a vein for lethal injections. In one case, Joe Nathan James received extensive cuts and punctures during his 3-hour 2022 execution, the longest in United States history. Ivey insisted the state didn’t fail, but that “legal tactics and criminals hijacking the system are at play here.”

In 2011, Jason Williams was executed with a secret combination of illegally purchased drugs after the federal Drug Enforcement Administration had seized Alabama’s illegal supply of sodium thiopental, used for lethal injection. In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit required that Alabama reveal to the public the components of its lethal injection formula.

In 1989, Kenneth Eugene Smith was convicted of the 1988 murder-for-hire death of Elizabeth Sennett. In his 1996 appeal, 11 of 12 jurors voted for life in prison but an Alabama judge ruled for execution, citing a law allowing judges to override jury decisions on a death sentence. In 2016, that law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. (Alabama was the last state to abolish the law.) Smith’s 2022 lethal injection was stayed after executioners exeeded the legal time limit to hook him up for a lethal injection.

In executing Smith on Jan. 25, 2024, Alabama became the 1st state to deliver death by nitrogen hypoxia. In 2020, the American Veterinary Association advised against using nitrogen for euthanasia in mammals because of pain, panic and severe physical distress, while state attorneys assured courts it produces “unconsciousness in seconds.”

However, witnesses reported that on Jan. 25 Smith appeared awake and “shook and writhed” from 7:53 p.m. until 8:25 p.m. Prison officials were visibly shaken. A witness to 4 previous Alabama executions said, “I have never seen such a violent reaction to an execution.”

In 2018, Governor Ivey, concerned about the lack of lethal injection drug supplies, signed legislation allowing executions by nitrogen hypoxia. The United Nations warned that use of nitrogen hypoxia might amount to torture. In 2023, Alabama announced the near completion of a nitrogen hypoxia death chamber without providing details, nor any information about how these executions worked.(…wait…why am I getting thoughts of the Nuremburg trials??...)

- Blaming others for lethal injection mutilations and suffering while searching for a vein!- Overruling and ignoring juries so judges can increase their executions record for reelection!- Ignoring human rights in order to KILL people! It’s really time to focus on what is going on!!

By Amy Miller

It’s the little things that get me.

Kenneth Smith held his breath as long as he could, trying to get every last minute of life on Jan. 25 before he died after the state of Alabama replaced oxygen with nitrogen in the air he was allowed to breath.

Phillip Hancock asked for Kentucky Fried chicken - dark meat - for his last meal before being killed by lethal injection, but the officials in Oklahoma in November mistakenly, I guess, brought him light meat instead.

I’m surprised anyone wants to eat at all when facing imminent death. I am heartened, but pained, by Smith’s desperate desire to hold onto life. I am less surprised that, despite rumors of everyone turning to God in the foxhole, Smith apparently gave up on such an all-loving, all-knowing being in the face of his execution.

I have talked about this before. You can’t know what you will feel till you are there. Whether “there” means being on death row or whether it means suffering the loss of a loved one to murder.

I take it as truth that if my loved one had been murdered by Smith or Hancock or any of the other 8,500 people who have been on death row in the United States since the 1970s, my feelings about whether they should live or die would be far more emotional. But this is why we have laws, judges and juries.

What astonishes me is that decent people carry out these executions. I know it is possible. I just don’t understand how they can sleep at night.

What truly astounds me is that most Americans favor the death penalty in at least some cases.

This, despite the fact that more Blacks than whites are executed, a statistic that does not reflect the ratio of murders committed, let alone the population.

This, despite the dozens of people who have been exonerated after being on death row and in some cases executed. A stunning 82% of retried death row inmates turned out not to have committed crimes that legally called for the death penalty and 7% were not guilty at all.

This, despite that only 55 countries worldwide and almost none in the West have capital punishment.

This, despite that the United States is in the top five countries when it came to the capital punishments, joining the ranks of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

This, despite the number of botched executions – in 2022, 7 out of 22 executions went wrong.

This, despite biblical commandment “thou shalt not kill.”

This, despite the fact that death penalty appeals cost taxpayers many times that of imprisoning someone for life.

And despite the fact that executing a murderer will never bring anyone back to life, more than 1/2 of Americans think we should knowingly, willingly kill someone – someone who may turn out to be innocent - rather than imprison them for life.

(source: Commentary, Foster's Daily Democrat)

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry seeks sweeping changes to crack down on crime: Here's how

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry is asking lawmakers to expand methods to carry out the death penalty, shrink opportunities for parole, increase the list of crimes for which juveniles can be jailed and stiffen punishment for carjacking in a Special Session call that could dramatically change the state's justice system.

Landry, a Republican who was elected last year on a tough-on-crime platform, listed a sweeping order that includes 24 items, among them a call to expand gun rights for law-abiding citizens who want to carry handguns without permits or training as is required now.

Among Landry's other priorities listed in his call: allowing electronic access to criminal records and certain juvenile records; restricting the rate of "good time" prisoners can earn; and creating a state public defender's office under his authority or that of future governors.

He also would expand immunity for police and the governments they represent.

Many of the items would roll back criminal justice laws supported by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' and passed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in 2017 that expanded opportunities for relief for prisoners and juvenile offenders.

“This Special Session begins to fulfill the campaign promises we made to the people of Louisiana to make our state safe again," Landry said in a statement. "No one, regardless of their neighborhood or ZIP code, should feel unsafe. We all want safer communities. We will defend and uplift our law enforcement officials and deliver true justice to crime victims who have been overlooked for far too long. I am eager to enact real change that makes Louisiana a safer state for all.”

The Special Session will begin Feb. 19 and must end March 6.

Landry's promise to crack down on crime was a centerpiece of his campaign.

"I understand Louisiana and understand what's at stake," he said last fall. "Enough is enough. Crime knows no party, no race."

2 2023 studies ranked Louisiana as the most dangerous state in America, noting the state is first for most murders per capita and fifth or most assaults per capita.

3 Louisiana cities — Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport — recently have ranked in the top 10 worst U.S. cities for crime.

Last spring, Louisiana residents listed crime as their top concern in the annual survey conducted by the LSU Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs for the 1st time in 20 years.

Last week Landry signaled his desire to resume executions of prisoners sentenced to the death penalty by expanding methods to carry out the ultimate punishment.

"There are a lot of families that live a nightmare each and every day over the tragic and senseless violence that has occurred to their loved ones," Landry said. "Families deserve their day of justice."

Louisiana is one of 27 states where the death penalty still exists, though it's been 13 years since a prisoner was executed.

The state last carried out an execution on January 7, 2010, putting Gerald Bordelon to death by lethal injection after he waved his appeals. His execution was the 28th in Louisiana in the modern era of the death penalty.

Landry, who while he was attorney general called for executions by hangings, firing squads and electrocution if lethal injection isn't available, has said justice is being denied as long as death row inmates continue "to live and breathe" in Louisiana.

(source: Shreveport Times)

KANSAS:

Attorney general in Kansas sponsors bill adding hypoxia option for executing capital murderers----Lethal injection only permitted method since death penalty reinstated in 1994

Attorney General Kris Kobach introduced a bill in the Kansas Legislature allowing the state corrections secretary to decide between intravenous injection of drugs or inhalation of a gas inducing suffocation when executing individuals sentenced to death in state courts.

Kobach has joined other state attorneys general encouraging reliance on hypoxia for executions since Alabama in January became the first state to put to death a convicted murderer by subjecting a man to inhalation of pure nitrogen until dead.

“If Kansas is going to have a death penalty, it needs to be possible to implement,” Kobach said. “Because of difficulties in acquiring the drugs, lethal injection is now limited. I have spoken directly with the attorney general of Alabama, and he confirmed that the hypoxia method worked extremely well.”

Kansas law authorized use of capital punishment for convictions of 1st-degree murder when certain aggravating circumstances were proven. The state hasn’t executed anyone since 1965. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in Kansas in 1994, lethal injection has been the only permitted method of executing a person incarcerated by the Kansas Department of Corrections.

Under House Bill 2782 introduced formally at the Statehouse by Dan Burrows, chief deputy attorney general to Kobach, the state’s corrections secretary would be required to choose inhalation hypoxia or intravenous injection when carrying out a death sentence.

The legislation would require the option chosen to be administered in a way causing death in a “swift and humane manner” in accordance with the U.S. Constitution. By Dec. 31, 2024, according to the bill, the corrections secretary would establish rules and regulations for carrying out a sentence by hypoxia.

Another provision of the bill would mandate the Kansas Supreme Court notify the district court where the conviction was rendered when all appellate proceedings were resolved. At that point, the district court would be responsible for sending the Department of Corrections a warrant directing the sentence of death to be carried out within 30 days.

Donna Schneweis, chair of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said the method of execution relied upon in Kansas wasn’t the central question.

“The existence of the Kansas death penalty itself is the issue,” Schneweis said. “Kansas continues to waste taxpayer dollars, harm victim families and prison staff, risk the lives of the innocent and violate the morals of many Kansans for a public policy built on vengeance. The time to end the Kansas death penalty is now.”

Kansas courts have found 15 men guilty of capital offenses during the past 3 decades, but nine remain under a sentence of death. In terms of those nine, capital sentences were imposed between 2002 and 2016. Four of the men placed under a death sentence had their punishment converted to life in prison. Two death row inmates died in prison while their cases were under appeal.

In mid-January, the Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the capital murder conviction and sentence of Kyle Flack, who killed three adults and an infant during 2013 in Franklin County.

That appellate decision included a statement by Supreme Court Justice Caleb Stegall that he was open to considering constitutionality of the Kansas death penalty in terms of whether it was “reasonably related to the furtherance of the common good.”

Alabama executed Kenneth Smith using nitrogen hypoxia, which subjected him to inhalation of the gas through a mask until deceased. The execution was controversial because witnesses said Smith convulsed and gasped for minutes before pronounced dead. In 2022, the Alabama Department of Corrections failed in an attempt to execute Smith by lethal injection because staff couldn’t find a viable vein to insert a needle.

(source: Kansas Reflector)

*****************

Execution method for death penalty in Kansas could be changed soon

Kansas lawmakers are discussing possible changes to how the state of Kansas carries out executions.

Dan Burrows with the Office of the Kansas Attorney General introduced House Bill 2782 to the Legislature on Thursday, Feb. 8. The bill was referred to the Committee on Judiciary with a hearing set for 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15.

In a nutshell, the bill aims to give the secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC) the authorization to use hypoxia when carrying out sentences of death. It also requires the district court to issue a warrant to the secretary to carry out a sentence of death.

Language in the bill leaves the door open to the secretary to select between lethal injection or hypoxia when carrying out an execution in Kansas. An execution using nitrogen hypoxia was recently carried out in the state of Alabama in a 1st-of-its-kind performance of this form of capital punishment.

Nitrogen hypoxia was used to end the life of Kenneth Eugene Smith for his part in the 1988 killing of Elizabeth Sennett. Death by nitrogen hypoxia received criticism when it was used to execute Smith earlier this year from witnesses of the event.

Kansas has not seen capital punishment carried out since 1965, according to the KDOC website. Current state law dictates the death penalty must be carried out by lethal injection. This is a sentencing option for offenders who are over the age of 18. However, those convicted of capital murder can instead be sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 25 years to parole eligibility.

(source: KSNT news)

NEBRASKA:

Black History Month Profile Series: Ernie Chambers

This month, DPIC celebrates Black History Month with weekly profiles of notable Black Americans whose work affected the modern death penalty era. The first in the series is retired Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers.

As a trailblazing figure in Nebraska politics, Ernest “Ernie” Chambers is best known for his unwavering commitment to justice and equality. Elected in 1970, Chambers served in the Nebraska state legislature for 46 years. Throughout his career, Chambers championed a variety of causes, including equal pensions for women, the cessation of corporal punishment in schools, and the elimination of sales tax on groceries. Across 36 legislative sessions, he sponsored bills to abolish the death penalty, including the 2015 bill that temporarily repealed capital punishment in Nebraska. Sen. Chambers said his mission was to serve “the least, the last, and the lost,” a testament to his dedication to the marginalized and underserved.

When the legislature debated whether to override Governor Pete Ricketts’ veto of the 2015 death penalty abolition bill, Sen. Chambers said, “This will be the shining moment of the Nebraska Legislature. The world, by anybody’s reckoning, is a place filled with darkness, contention, violence. We today can move to lift part of that cloud of darkness that has been hovering over this state for all these years.” The bipartisan 30-19 vote made Nebraska the 19th state to abolish the death penalty. Gov. Ricketts later personally funded and led an effort to reinstate the death penalty via voter referendum, and in 2016, Nebraska voters overturned the state legislature’s decision.

Sen. Chamber’s effort to end the death penalty began in 1971 when he visited a penitentiary: “I don’t see how anybody comes out of prison without being filled with an unreasoning, bitter hatred.” In his own words, “Since I was first conscious of the difference between right and wrong, I have been opposed to the death penalty. My argument is simple: Nobody should kill anybody. And killing someone as punishment is the most barbaric act of all.”

Sen. Chambers’ journey into the world of activism and politics began with a moment that shaped his understanding of the power of words. As a young Black man working in a local post office, he spoke out against workplace discrimination, only to be fired in retaliation.

Sen. Chambers retired from the legislature in 2021 when he reached the state’s term limit. His goddaughter and fellow legislator, Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, gave a speech honoring him at his retirement. She described Sen. Chambers as a man who stands as a beacon of resilience: “Senator Chambers is also a Nebraska legend, whose voice rose and pierced our hearts at times when we failed to live up to our best ideals.” Brooks emphasized that to honor Sen. Chamber’s legacy, “[we must] do everything we can to change things so that they do not remain the same…We must vote and believe we can help to change the world for good.”

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

UTAH:

Death row inmate: Utah Supreme Court considering whether excommunication testimony at trial means ineffective attorneys----Utah Supreme Court considers effectiveness of death row inmate's attorneys

Douglas Lovell, an inmate on death row in Utah, is hoping to prove his trial attorneys were ineffective.

His new attorney has filed an appeal because his former attorneys failed to object to questioning about his church excommunication and then membership status.

Colleen Coebergh, who represents Lovell on the appeal, argued in favor of another trial for Lovell before the Utah Supreme Court on Friday. The court is now considering the case.

Lovell, 66, killed Joyce Yost in 1985, to prevent her from testifying after he had been charged with raping her, according to court documents. Authorities said he tried to hire 2 other people to kill Yost before deciding to carry out the murder himself. Her body was never found.

He admitted his guilt in 1993, but was allowed to withdraw that guilty plea in 2011, which led to the trial and, ultimately, to Lovell being sentenced to death a 2nd time, in 2015.

Utah Supreme Court Justice John Pearce said a reasonable attorney would not have allowed evidence at trial pertaining to church leadership needing to approve re-admittance into the church after their client's excommunication. He said the jury was being asked to see if Lovell had changed in the 30 years since the crime for which he was being tried, and prosecutors brought up the fact that church leadership would have to concur.

Coebergh said it means something to the jury when a defendant is not welcome in a church.

"The whole policy, policy discussion, doctrine — this court should rule absolutely inadmissible," she said.

She said that evidence invited the jury to make a decision on something other than the law, as an appeal to a higher power than the court, and the Supreme Court judges cannot assume that comment did not have an effect on the jury. She said using a handbook from the church is "a corrupt practice" that cannot be tolerated in the courts.

"There is a separation of church and state for a reason," she said, adding "that not only blurred the lines — the prosecutor catapulted himself over that line. And the infirmary of that notion is that it invited the jury to resort in their mind to a higher power than that court."

Mark Field, assistant solicitor general, argued that Lovell's trial attorneys may not have objected to the comments on his membership status because they had a witness the next day who would share religious testimony they wanted to ensure was allowed. The witness testified Lovell had been working on indexing for the church, which is transcribing documents for use in family history, and spoke about remorse and forgiveness.

Field said Lovell and his attorneys made the choice to not allow the jury an option of life in prison without the possibility of parole; instead, they were making a decision between the death penalty and life with the possibility of parole. He said this was what undermined his case, where evidence against Lovell was "virtually insurmountable" and the jury did not have an option to sentence him to life without parole.

Coebergh discussed multiple other reasons Lovell's attorneys were not effective. She said they had a responsibility to show evidence supporting his eligibility to be released on parole.

She said the attorneys' billing practices were unethical and said defendants have a right to have 2 attorneys on a case where the death penalty is a possibility, and those attorneys should both have skin in the game — and not be billing against each other.

Coebergh said the attorneys had a cap on what they could spend on their investigation and did not ask for more funds, did not perform individual interviews with witnesses and the junior attorney did not call witnesses as the senior attorney instructed and expected.

(source: KSL news)

IDAHO:

Idaho Supreme Court denies motion to stay Thomas Creech's execution----Creech's execution is scheduled for Feb. 28.

The Idaho Supreme Court denied a motion to stay Thomas Creech's Feb. 28 execution early Friday evening.

Creech, 73, is Idaho's longest-serving death row inmate. It is still unknown at what time or how he will be executed.

"We see no need to stay the execution date set forth in the death warrant," the court stated.

Creech's lawyers filed the motion in late January. They argued Creech's death sentence, imposed by a judge in 1995 without the participation of a jury, was unlawful "based on the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution."

KTVB reached out to the Attorney General's Office but has not heard back. The Federal Defender Services of Idaho called the decision "disappointing."

"We will continue to fight to keep the government from killing a harmless, deeply remorseful old man who is beloved by the prison staff that will have to carry out his execution," a supervising attorney said in a statement to KTVB.

Originally from Ohio, Creech's 5 murder convictions span Idaho, Oregon and California. His 1st conviction was in 1975 after killing Edward Arnold and John Bradford in Valley County, Idaho, the year before.

A 1st-degree murder charge was a mandatory death sentence under Idaho law at the time. In 1979, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that decision unconstitutional. So, Creech's sentence was reduced to life.

While in prison, he was convicted of 2 other murders also committed in '74 — William Dean of Oregon and Vivian Robinson of California. Those convictions came in 1979 and 1980.

A year later, in '81, Creech murdered fellow inmate David Dale Jensen inside an Idaho State maximum-security prison. Authorities say he beat Jensen to death with a sock full of batteries and stomped on his head and neck.

Once again, a judge put Jensen on death row in 1982. After more than a decade of appeals and a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in '91 reversing that decision, Creech was sentenced to death for the 3rd and final time in 1995.

"If I'm eventually executed, that's part of the price, also," he told KTVB in 1998. "I'll walk out there with my head held up."

Creech has been linked to other murders. Most recently, a California cold case from nearly 50 years.

Even though specifics have not been released about February's execution, the Idaho Department of Corrections said in an October news release it has the chemicals necessary to carry out an execution by lethal injection.

Creech's team can appeal Friday's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(source: KTVB news)

CALIFORNIA:

Judge hands down death penalty for man who murdered four people in Palm Springs

A man who murdered 4 people in Palm Springs just over 5 years ago was sentenced to death Friday. A judge upheld the jury's death penalty recommendation for Jose Larin-Garcia, now 24.

He was convicted of 4 counts of murder last year for the 2019 shooting. In February 2023, a jury voted to sentence him to death for the 4 killings, including of 1 juvenile, during what is arguably among the most violent nights in Palm Springs' history.

Palm Springs police were dispatched to reports of shots fired just after midnight on Feb. 3, 2019, at the 3700 block of East Sunny Dunes Road, where a car had crashed into a wall in front of a residence. Found inside were the bodies of Yuliana Garcia, 17; Jacob Montgomery, 19; and Juan Duarte Raya, 18. Blocks away Carlos Campos Rivera, 25, was found dead on Canon Drive. All of them had been fatally shot.

The killings set off a manhunt that resulted in Larin-Garcia's arrest at a bus station in Indio the next day. Police say a friend had purchased him a ticket to Florida under a fake name.

Larin-Garcia's attorney, John Dolan, filed motions in advance of Friday's hearing at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, for a new trial and to exempt his client from the death penalty.

Prosecutors presented evidence during 2 trials that Larin-Garcia had ridden with the three in the car to the home of Campos Rivera, who had arranged to purchase pills from one of the passengers. Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao presented evidence that Larin-Garcia shot and killed Campos Rivera during the interaction. The driver of the vehicle sped off and blocks later, she said, Larin-Garcia shot and killed all 3 of the people with him in the car before jumping out of the vehicle.

Larin-Garcia was found by police hiding under a truck near the crashed car, where he had removed some articles of clothing. He was taken to the hospital, which he left that night and was at large until his arrest at the bus stop.

"Jose Vladimir Larin-Garcia, on February 3, 2019, executed 4 people. For no reason. He deserves the greater punishment of death," said Paixao before the jury voted on what sentence to recommend.

Larin-Garcia's attorney, John Dolan, had said he believed the jury got it wrong and vowed to appeal the decision. Dolan had seized on holes in the police investigation, like that the murder weapon had never been recovered, to claim that the actual shooter remained at large. Those claims were among the issues that led to the 1st jury announcing they couldn't agree on a verdict. Villalobos declared a mistrial in the first trial in March 2022. He was re-tried and convicted in 2023.

Riverside County sentenced 1 man to death last year, and has sentenced 5 between 2022 and 2018. California has not executed a person since 2006, while 665 people were on death row in the state last year.

(source: Desert Sun)

**************

24-Year-Old Coachella Valley Man Sentenced To Death For 4 Killings----The sentence was imposed Friday by a judge who said it was one of the most difficult cases he has presided over.

A 24-year-old man who killed 4 people in Palm Springs, including a 17-year-old girl, was sentenced Friday to death.

Jose Vladimir Larin-Garcia of Cathedral City was convicted Feb. 6, 2023, of murder for carrying out the Feb. 3, 2019, killings of Jacob Montgomery, 19; Juan Duarte Raya, 18; Yuliana Garcia, 17; and Carlos Campos Rivera, 25.

Jurors also found true a special-circumstance allegation of lying in wait and multiple murders as well as sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations. Jurors returned a unanimous verdict on Feb. 24, 2023, recommending a death sentence for the defendant.

Search for an expert

Before the sentence was imposed Friday morning at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Anthony Villalobos denied the defense's motions, one each for a new trial and to modify the death penalty verdict. Rivera's son, Yuliana Garcia's mom Maria Morales, and Larin-Garcia's mom Yudis Garcia shared statements during the hearing.

Deputy District Attorney Samantha Paixao first read the statement from Rivera's son, who was 10 years old when his father was killed.

"Larin-Garcia, did you know that he was supposed to pick me up the next day to take me to the park? It was his day with me. That day never came. It destroyed me," Paixao said in tears before the court went on a brief break, and then continued "you took that day away from me. You monster. I'm angry. Ten and a half years was not enough time for me."

Morales spoke about how hard it has been for her to lose her daughter, saying she has cried every day since the shooting.

Yudis Garcia said that as a mother, she understands the pain that was inflicted on the victims and their families, but she asked that they also understand the pain she's going through, because the defendant is her son.

"This decision that has been taken in regards to him I don't believe is fair. I don't believe there's enough proof for my son to be accused in this way," Yudis Garcia said. "Please sir, do not cause an injustice like the jury did. ... This is not a game, it's someone else's life. ... I understand the lady's pain, but he also should not be judged without complete certainty because I know my son didn't do this."

Villalobos said it was one of the most difficult cases he has presided over, noting how tragic it has been for the victims' and defendant's families. He said he understands the pain from everyone involved in the case.

He imposed the sentence immediately after.

Prosecutors said Larin-Garcia was sitting in a stopped car with Montgomery, Raya and Garcia on the night of the killings, and first fatally shot Rivera, who was leaning against the stopped vehicle.

After that shooting, the driver of the car sped off, but Larin-Garcia — who was in the back seat -— then fatally shot the trio inside the vehicle and jumped from the moving car before it crashed into a parked Jeep at Sunny Dunes and El Placer roads.

Montgomery, Raya and Garcia were found in the crashed Toyota Corolla around 11:40 p.m., while Rivera was found on a street about a half-mile away, according to prosecutors.

Larin-Garcia was found near the scene of the crime and taken to a hospital, but he left after being questioned by Palm Springs police, going to a friend's house. Detective Steve Grissom testified that the friend went to Larin-Garcia's mother's home to retrieve fresh clothing and an ID card for the defendant.

Later in the day, the friend also bought bandages for Larin-Garcia, along with a Greyhound bus ticket to Florida under the name "Joseph Browning," Grissom testified.

At some point that day, Larin-Garcia shaved his head to change his appearance, then the friend drove him to the bus station in Indio, where Larin-Garcia was arrested, Grissom testified.

(source: patch.com)

OREGON:

Readers respond: Alabama execution was torture

Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility believes that state-sanctioned execution is immoral. The death penalty is arbitrarily imposed since race, geography and the quality of counsel disproportionately determine who is sentenced to death. 23 states have abolished the death penalty, but in January, Alabama executed Kenneth Smith by an untried method involving nitrogen gas, (“Following nation’s 1st nitrogen gas execution in Alabama, Ohio looks to follow suit,” Jan. 31).

Witnesses reported that Smith appeared to be awake and in pain for several minutes after nitrogen was administered. They reported violent shaking and writhing and “thrashing against the straps” on the gurney. Any killing of another person is inhumane, but suffocation by replacing oxygen with nitrogen amounts to torture. According to a CNN report, the European Union described this new method of execution as “a particularly cruel and unusual punishment” and called for universal abolition of the death penalty.

Although Oregon has not abolished the death penalty, in 2019 the Oregon Legislature passed SB 1013 to restrict use of capital punishment. Since then, no death penalty cases have been filed in the state. Gov. Kate Brown commuted all Oregon death row sentences in December 2022, and also had the state execution chamber dismantled.

Capital punishment sends a message that murder is acceptable in some circumstances. Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility opposes the taking of any human life when other forms of punishment, such as life imprisonment without parole, exist for the most egregious crimes.

Andy Harris, Portland

(soruce: Letter to the Editor; Harris is a member of the advisory board for Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility----The Oregonian)

USA:

Past to Present: 100 Years Since the United States’ First Lethal Gas Execution, a Recently Renewed Practice

Today, February 8, marks the 100-year anniversary of the first lethal gas execution in the United States, exactly two weeks after Alabama carried out the first execution using nitrogen gas.

On February 8, 1924, Nevada executed Gee Jon, a Chinese immigrant convicted of killing the owner of a laundromat, using cyanide gas. A fellow prisoner, Thomas Russell, was also scheduled to be executed the same day but was resentenced to life by the Board of Pardons and Parole the previous evening. The gas chamber, which was built by prisoners, was first tested on 2 kittens, who died within 15 seconds of the gas’ release. During the test, a small leak was identified and subsequently fixed so it would not pose any danger to witnesses, 30 of whom attended Mr. Gee’s execution. According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, 4 Carson City prison guards resigned 2 days prior to the execution to avoid taking part. 4 physicians, at the request of the prison warden, were present for the execution and, from outside the gas chamber, determined that Mr. Gee had no signs of life after 6 minutes. Due to the level of gas present in the chamber, prison staff waited two and a half hours before opening the chamber; an autopsy was not permitted.

The execution, which was Nevada’s first execution since 1916, was widely reported as a success by Prison Warden D. S. Dickerson and supported by physicians as painless and humane. “The execution was a success, but the method of application is dangerous,” said Prison Warden Dickerson, who preferred another method, like firing squad, that was safer for witnesses and staff. When the body of Mr. Gee was removed from the gas chamber, one of the physicians present, medical reserve officer for the U.S. Army Maj D. A. Turner, claimed to be able to resuscitate him, though his request was denied; a month later, the Nevada State Journal reported that Dr. Turner repeated these claims when addressing the Reno Lions Club, adding that “Gee Jon died of cold and exposure.”

After the execution, reporter Arthur Brisbane wrote, “If government insists on killing it should kill as savages usually do, choking with a rope, cutting off the head, or in some other savage fashion. Science and scientists should not be disgraced in the operation.” His article, published in the Nevada State Journal, continued “While ‘civilization’ was killing” Mr. Gee, 5 others were electrocuted in Texas, resulting in one warden’s resignation and another stating: “‘Pulling the switch of an electric chair means nothing to me.’” Countering this apathy, Mr. Brisbane wrote, “It means something to civilization. Ten thousand years hence this will be spoken of as an age that used to hang, shoot, asphyxiate, kill with electricity, and then foolishly expect criminals, with the undeveloped mind of children, NOT to imitate a murderous example set by government itself.”

On January 25, 2024, Alabama executed Kenneth Eugene Smith using the experimental method of nitrogen hypoxia. Mr. Smith inhaled the nitrogen gas through a mask, rather than a gas chamber, and witnesses reported he initially “shook and writhed.” Witnesses were not allowed to take phones or watches with them and had to rely on a clock with no second hand, resulting in a complicated execution timeline. Although it took 32 minutes from the curtains being opened to Mr. Smith being declared dead, the execution was deemed a “success” by state officials.

Since 1976, there have been 12 lethal gas executions conducted by 6 states (Alabama (1), Arizona (2), California (2), Mississippi (4), Nevada (1), and North Carolina (2)). Mr. Smith’s execution was the 1st lethal gas execution since 1999. Execution witnesses of previous lethal gas executions have similarly observed signs of distress to lengthy executions. Attorney Jim Belanger wrote of his client Donald Harding’s 1992 execution in Arizona: “It took 10 minutes and 31 seconds for Don Harding to die. For at least 8 of those minutes, he was writhing in agony.” Dan Morain, one of 18 journalists among a total of 48 official witnesses, described the 1992 execution of Robert Alton Harris as a “macabre and surreal scene” and concluded that he would never attend another execution. The international community has criticized past executions as they did with Mr. Smith’s: the German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, called the 1999 execution of German national Walter LaGrande, which took 18 minutes, “barbaric.”

Currently 2 other states, Mississippi and Oklahoma, have authorized nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative execution method. The head of Oklahoma’s prison system, Steven Harpe, and his chief of staff, Justin Farris, have said they’re also exploring using the method as an option. But Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has stated that his opposition to switching to nitrogen gas. “I know exactly how it works. I know exactly what they’re doing. I don’t want to change a process that’s working,” he said. Legislation to introduce nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method is under review in the Nebraska and Ohio legislatures, both states that have allegedly had difficulty obtaining the chemicals required for lethal injection executions. Airgas, a private industrial gas distributor, has already announced its opposition to supplying nitrogen gas for executions.

(source: Death Penalty Information Center)

******************

The Road to Death Penalty Abolition Runs Through Alabama and Oklahoma

Countless cases lay bare the raw injustice of the death penalty in the United States. The case of Richard Glossip is certainly one of them. He’s been on Oklahoma’s death row since 1998, facing nine separate execution dates. He’s been given his final meal three times, and, in 2015, was saved from death just hours before his execution only after prison officials admitted they had ordered the wrong drug for their lethal cocktail. Richard Glossip has always maintained his innocence in the 1997 murder of Barry Van Treese, who employed him as a motel manager in Oklahoma City. The flawed prosecution had no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Only the testimony of the actual killer, Justin Sneed, another motel employee who had already confessed to the crime, implicated Glossip. In exchange, Sneed was able to avoid the death penalty.

Richard Glossip was recently granted what might be his last lifeline: The U.S. Supreme Court, after issuing a stay of execution last May, announced it will hear his appeal. Even Oklahoma’s elected Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond is supporting Glossip’s appeal.

In agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court expects the parties to answer several questions, including “[w]hether due process of law requires reversal, where a capital conviction is so infected with errors that the State no longer seeks to defend it.”

In addition to Attorney General Drummond, a bipartisan group of Oklahoma state legislators is also advocating for Glossip. After Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board failed to act on the group’s clemency recommendation, the legislators recruited the ReedSmith law firm to conduct a pro-bono independent inquiry. Between June and September 2022, the law firm released four reports detailing flaws in the prosecution’s case and Justin Sneed’s attempts to recant his testimony against Glossip and the prosecution’s efforts to stop him from recanting.

In their 343-page final report, ReedSmith attorneys detailed the cases many problems: “The State’s destruction and loss of key evidence before Glossip’s retrial deprived the defense from using the evidence at trial (and has deprived the defense today of the ability to perform forensic testing using DNA and technology advancements), the tunnel-vision and deficient police investigation, the prosecution’s failure to vet evidence and further distortion of it to fit its flawed narrative, and a cascade of errors and missed opportunities by defense attorneys, fundamentally call into question the fairness of the proceedings and the ultimate reliability of the guilty verdict against Glossip for murder.”

Since the Supreme Court stayed Glossip’s execution last May, a Republican-led group of Oklahoma legislators formed a committee, seeking a moratorium on the state’s death penalty overall. The likelihood that Richard Glossip, an innocent man, could be executed was the primary motivation behind the effort. Oklahoma already imposed a brief execution moratorium, after a botched execution in 2014 called into question the state’s lethal injection protocol. Oklahoma lawmakers then passed a law that would allow the state to kill using an experimental technique referred to as “nitrogen hypoxia” or “nitrogen asphyxiation,” which had never been used. Scores of workers have died in industrial accidents from nitrogen gas leaks and spilled liquid nitrogen, including six people who died at a poultry plant in Gainesville, Georgia in 2021. Accidents like this have led those who devise execution methods to look to nitrogen as the latest, fool-proof method to kill.

Alabama became the 1st state to use nitrogen gas with its execution of Kenneth Smith on Thursday night. Smith survived Alabama’s first attempt to kill him, by lethal injection in November, 2022. The executioners frantically sought a vein to deliver the deadly cocktail, resorting at one point to subjecting Smith, strapped to a gurney, to an “inverted crucifixion position” as one person on the team repeatedly and painfully jabbed a needle under his collarbone. Even Alabama’s ultraconservative Republican Governor Kay Ivey saw the need to explore alternative means of execution, hence this new foray into gassing people to death.

Grotesque abuses of state power as in Oklahoma and Alabama are what led the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Henry Blackmun to conclude, in a dissenting opinion in a 1994 case, “the death penalty remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice, and mistake.” Blackmun, a conservative when appointed by President Nixon in 1970, rendered increasingly liberal opinions during his tenure on the bench (he wrote the Roe v. Wade opinion, for example). In his 1994 death penalty dissent, Blackmun pledged, “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

According to The Death Penalty Information Center, there are over 2,300 prisoners on death row in the United States.

(source: By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan / Democracy Now!----scheerpost.com)

FRANCE:

Robert Badinter, who abolished death penalty in France, dies at 95

Former French justice minister Robert Badinter, who abolished capital punishment in France in 1981, has died at the age of 95, one of his aides told local media on Friday.

Badinter, who served as justice minister from 1981 to 1986, died overnight, the aide said.

“Lawyer, Minister of Justice, and the man who abolished the death penalty, Robert Badinter never stopped pleading for the Enlightenment. He was a person of the century,” French president Emmanuel Macron wrote on the social media platform X.

Shortly after assuming office under President Francois Mitterrand, Badinter introduced legislation to the parliament banning the death penalty, which he deemed “inhumane and ineffective.”

Following his tenure in government, Badinter was appointed as the head of France’s Constitutional Council in 1986, a position he held for 9 years.

Upon concluding his term at the Constitutional Council, he successfully ran for Senate and retained his seat for 9 years.

Badinter was born in Paris to a Jewish family from Romania in 1928. His father was arrested by the Gestapo in Lyon in 1943 during World War II, when Badinter was just 14 years old, and subsequently deported to the Sobibor extermination camp, where he was killed.

During the latter part of the war, Badinter, his mother, and brother sought refuge in the Savoy region of France under false identities due to security reasons.

After the war, he pursued his education in law, ultimately completing his studies in the United States.

From 1950 to 1980, he worked as a criminal defense lawyer, handling several high-profile cases that often brought him in conflict with the death penalty, a subject on which he authored a book ‘L’Execution’, published in 1973.

In September 1981, upon assuming the role of Justice Minister, he presented a bill before the parliament to abolish the death penalty, despite knowing that public opinion was overwhelmingly against the legislation.

However, he managed to secure support from the left-wing majority government at the time, as well as some from the right, to successfully abolish capital punishment in France.

(source: LA Prensa Latina)

NIGERIA:

Corrupt Politicians, Individuals Should Be Given Capital Punishment – Oluwo

The Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdulrasheed Adewale Akanbi, has called for capital punishment for corrupt politicians and individuals in Nigeria.

According to Oba Akanbi, corruption among politicians is responsible for the lingering economic hardship in Nigeria.

Oba Akanbi, who spoke with journalists on Wednesday, said there should be capital punishment for anyone found culpable of corruption, adding that Nigeria should emulate Saudi Arabia and China in curbing corruption.

The monarch urged President Bola Tinubu to hold Governors and National Assembly lawmakers responsible for the hardship being faced by Nigerians.

He said Nigerians ought not to be suffering with the huge amount being shared to states by the Federal Government.

Oluwo said Governors, Senators, and House of Representatives members should be able to account for how the huge allocations they are getting from the federal government are being spent.

He noted that Nigerians should not be crying of hunger with the increment in allocation that the federal government gives out monthly to states.

Oba Akanbi noted that the hardship facing the country is temporary, urging Nigerians not to lose hope in the current administration.

He said: “What is going on in Nigeria now is temporary. Economists will tell you that the step that the federal government is taking is the right one.

“There is no way residents can get money except through the Governors, Senators, House of Representatives members, and Council Chairmen. The allocation being given to the states now is much and no government has given such before.

“The subsidy money is being given out by the federal government. So, why are Nigerians still hungry? It means something is wrong with those getting the funds. It seems that they are protecting themselves, if not, the President ought to have asked them what they are putting the money into. This is the time for the President to demand accountability.

“And any corrupt politician or individual should be given capital punishment. We should emulate Saudi Arabia and China in curbing corruption. Someone who steals a goat in Nigeria gets heavy judgment while the politicians who stole billions got the option of fines. If the federal government is serious, there must be capital punishment for some crime.”

(source: osundefender.com)

VIETNAM:

Critics dismiss Vietnam’s clemency for death row inmates as ‘progress’----They say the government applies the death penalty to keep people in line and commutes it to appear ‘humane.’

Vietnam’s President Vo Van Thuong recently commuted the sentences of several inmates on death row to life in prison as part of a general amnesty, but rights campaigners and legal experts said the move should not be seen as a sign that the country is improving its rights record.

Instead, they said, Vietnam’s liberal use of the death sentence is part of a bid by the government to keep its citizens in line and burnish its international image through regularly announced acts of clemency.

On Dec. 27, Thuong granted amnesty to 18 death row inmates, commuting their sentences to life in prison. More than a month later, five other death row inmates had their sentences similarly reduced after they filed a petition to Thuong.

California-based activist Nguyen Ba Tung of the Vietnam Human Rights Network told RFA Vietnamese that the amnesty was simply part of a bid by the government to “beautify Vietnam’s image on the world stage.”

“The government retains the death penalty as a way to menace the people,” he said in a phone interview. “At the end of the year, or on special holidays, they let the president grant an amnesty to show that they are ‘humane.’ But international human rights groups can see through this act.”

Vietnam’s judiciary is notorious for its application of the death sentence. Eighteen criminal charges in the country’s penal code carry maximum sentences of execution – most of which are related to drug crimes.

Amnesty International’s latest annual report on death sentences and executions, released in May 2023, ranked Vietnam as eighth among nations with the most recorded death sentences in 2022, with at least 102.

Just weeks prior to Thuong’s decision to grant amnesty to the 5 death row inmates, a court in Nghe An province handed down nine death sentences to convicted traffickers from a busted drug ring.

Amnesty ‘not a progressive act’

Nguyen Van Dai, a veteran lawyer in the capital Hanoi, told RFA that the application and commutation of the death sentence is all part of a strategy by the government to threaten its citizens at home and avoid criticism abroad.

“Every year, Vietnam hands out hundreds of death sentences to drug traffickers and murderers,” he said. “If all the death inmates were executed, the international community would pillory Vietnam. So they find inmates who were sentenced to death for less heinous criminal acts and grant them amnesty.”

Dai dismissed the idea of amnesty for death row inmates as progress or a sign of judicial reform.

“Progress means that clemency should be granted to all prisoners, both political or criminal, but it is never applied in cases of national security,” he said. “This is a form of discrimination and I don’t consider amnesty a progressive act.”

In 2022, Vietnam granted clemency to 31 death row inmates, four of whom were foreign nationals.

In September 2023, Vietnam executed death row inmate Le Van Manh, despite claims by Amnesty International that his case was “mired in serious irregularities and violations of the right to a fair trial,” and calls by the international community to stay his sentence.

Manh was sentenced to death in 2005, when he was 23 years old, for allegedly raping and killing a female student from his village earlier that year. He had pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintained his innocence until his execution.

(source: rfa.org)

MALAYSIA:

Former death row convict celebrates CNY as a free man

This Chinese New Year, former death row convict Chong Yun Fak has lots to be grateful for, despite suffering from cancer.

Having been granted a royal pardon by His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim, King of Malaysia, he returned to the loving arms of his family last year after 37 long years in prison.

The 64-year-old, who was released 11 months ago, shed tears of joy during the customary reunion dinner yesterday.

“I missed out so much because of a mistake. Since my release, I have been doing my best to care for my mother and helping out at my brother’s shop in Senai,” said Chong, who has stage four nose and throat cancer.

He said his sisters cooked some special vegetable with abalone dishes for him.

“I am forever indebted to Sultan Ibrahim for looking into my case and giving me a 2nd chance in life,” he said, adding that he was able to make amends with his 3 children and 6 siblings.

He said his children, aged 38, 41 and 43, kept in touch with him throughout his imprisonment.

Chong paid special tribute to his 86-year-old mother, describing her as his pillar of strength.

“She never failed to visit me every Chinese New Year while I was locked up,” he said, revealing that he served time under remand in the Ayer Molek detention centre and on death row in the Kajang and Simpang Renggam prisons.

Chong, who confessed to wanting to make a quick buck peddling drugs, was caught red-handed with 220g of heroin in 1987 as a 26-year-old then. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1992.

He was released from the Simpang Renggam prison last March 23 after Sultan Ibrahim, who was Johor Ruler then, approved his clemency appeal on the prisoner’s 8th attempt.

While in prison, Chong said his wife left him, taking along the children.

Asked how he celebrated Chinese New Year in prison, he said for the first 5 years, he was allowed to eat with the other inmates.

“But on death row, I was in a cell all by myself, waiting to be hung. Every Chinese New Year, I was given one meal of briyani and chicken or some lontong (rice cake) with fruits,” he said.

Chong also expressed gratitude to the Geha Bodhi Care Centre and to Skudai assemblyman Marina Ibrahim for their assistance.

(source: thestar.com.my)

INDIA:

Highest Death Row Population in India - 561 Prisoners

(see: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/highest-death-row-population-in-india-561-prisoners/articleshow/107567100.cms) ************

Only 1 death sentence confirmed by High Court in 2023, lowest since 2000----With 120 death sentences imposed by trial courts and 561 prisoners under the sentence of death, 2023 marked the highest number of prisoners on death row in nearly 2 decades

Only 1 death sentence was confirmed by a High Court in 2023, marking the lowest rate by the appellate courts since 2000, according to a report. The Karnataka High Court confirmed a death sentence in a murder simpliciter case. This year also saw the Supreme Court not confirming any death sentences, the 2nd time since 2021.

(source: thehindu.com)

CHINA:

Writer's Suspended Death Sentence Is a Reminder of China's Awful Record on Human Rights----Yang Hengjun's punishment will be commuted to life in prison if he passes a probationary period. But the espionage accusations against him are highly spurious.

A Chinese-Australian writer was given a suspended death sentence this week by a Chinese court in another reminder of the regime's hostility toward those who speak out against its human rights abuses.

Yang Hengjun, a writer and blogger who was born in China and became an Australian citizen in 2000, had been vocal about his reformist opinions about the Chinese government. Not long after entering the country in 2019, he disappeared from public view and ultimately underwent a closed-door trial in May 2021 on dubious espionage charges during which he was reportedly not permitted to call witnesses. The death sentence comes with a 2-year reprieve: If Yang is not accused of committing any more crimes during that probationary period, then his sentence will be commuted to life in prison.

"He is punished by the Chinese government for his criticism of human rights abuses in China and his advocacy for universal values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law," Feng Chongyi, a professor at the University of Technology Sydney and a friend of Yang's, told the BBC.

The arrest appears to have soured the relationship between China and Australia, whose rapport in recent years had improved.

"Despite repeated requests by Australian officials, Chinese authorities have not provided any explanation or evidence for the charges facing Dr Yang," Marise Payne, then the minister for foreign affairs, said in a May 2021 statement. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has urged Yang's release.

Yang has alleged torture at the hands of authorities, along with grotesque living conditions, which have reportedly caused his health to decline rapidly. He expressed pessimism from the outset about any hopes of being cleared, despite the flimsy charges, due to the high conviction rate in the Chinese judicial system. In 2014, The Washington Post reported that only 825 of the 1.16 million accused on trial were acquitted.

Yang's suspended death sentence is reserved for crimes deemed as having a "serious negative social impact," according to Ryan Mitchell, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong.

But it is far more likely that Yang's crime has little to do with spying and more to do with his criticism of the Chinese government. "The Internet is the one check on China's local officials," he wrote in The Diplomat in 2015. "No wonder they're determined to squash it." The charges against him, his severe punishment, and the opaque proceedings underscore concerns over the country's extremely questionable record on human rights.

On January 5, 2021, Hong Kong police arrested 53 activists and former legislators for organizing to protest a vague national security law. Businessman Jimmy Lai, a prominent critic of the Chinese Communist Party, was also arrested in August 2020 after covering Chinese government abuses in his Hong Kong news outlet, the Apple Daily, which ceased publication in 2021. In January, he pleaded not guilty to charges of sedition and collusion with foreign forces, for which he will be tried without a jury.

(source: reason.com)

YEMEN:

Huthis must stop executions and release dozens facing LGBTI charges

The Huthi de facto authorities must urgently halt planned executions and end the persecution of people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, said Amnesty International, after 2 Huthi-run courts in Yemen sentenced more than 40 individuals either to death, flogging or prison over charges related to same-sex conduct.

On 23 January, the criminal court in Dhamar in northern Yemen sentenced 9 individuals to death – with 7 sentenced to be executed by stoning, and 2 by crucifixion – while 23 others were handed prison sentences between 6 months and 10 years on charges including “homosexuality”, “spreading immorality”, and “immoral acts”. On 1 February, the court of first instance in Ibb in southern Yemen handed death sentences to 13 students and flogging to three others on charges of ‘spreading homosexuality’.

“The reports that the Huthi de facto authorities have sentenced nine people to death on charges related to same-sex conduct, in gruesome public spectacles aimed at spreading fear in the population, are deeply distressing. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel inhuman and degrading punishment, its use is abhorrent regardless of the method of execution and must be condemned in all circumstances,” said Grazia Careccia, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all individuals who are held solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. All forms of violence, harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression must stop.----Grazia Careccia, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa

“The Huthi de facto authorities must immediately quash the death sentences against these individuals and drop all charges related to their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.”

Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab analyzed 3 videos, first appearing on social media on 24 and 25 January 2024 showing at least two individuals being flogged in public by an individual in security uniform. The videos are believed to have been shot in front of the men’s homes and in the presence of Huthi officials.

“Public flogging is a cruel and inhuman punishment which violates the absolute prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment under international law and should not be carried out under any circumstances. It is appalling and unacceptable that the Huthi-controlled judiciary continues to gravely violate human rights by interfering in people’s private lives by prosecuting individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Grazia Careccia.

“The authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all individuals who are held solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. All forms of violence, harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression must stop.”

Amnesty International is also calling on the government of Yemen to also align with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including by repealing legislation criminalizing same-sex intimacy and removing any forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

All parties to the conflict in Yemen continue to prosecute and target LGBTI people with arbitrary arrest; torture, including rape and other forms of sexual violence; threats; and harassment.

Amnesty International has documented how the security forces of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), the Huthi de facto authorities, and the Internationally Recognized Government (IRG) in Yemen, targeted 17 people with non-conforming sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics with arbitrary arrest, torture, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, threats, and harassment between 2020 and 2022.

(source: Amnesty International)

IRAQ:

UN ‘alarmed’ by Iraq’s draft law introducing death penalty for same-sex relations

The United Nations Human Rights Office on Friday expressed concerns over a draft law in Iraq that suggests imposing the death penalty and life imprisonment for individuals engaging in same-sex relations in the country.

“We are troubled by proposed amendments to legislation in Iraq which, if approved, would impose the death penalty or life imprisonment for engaging in consensual same-sex relations, as well as for certain forms of adultery,” UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Marta Hurtado said in a statement.

“We call on the members of Parliament to ensure that any legislation is fully in line with Iraq’s human rights obligations,” she added.

The spokesperson expressed concerns that the proposed amendments are “even more alarming” given the “widening use” of the death penalty by the Iraqi government in recent months.

According to Hurtado, Iraq executed “more than a dozen” convicted people by the end of 2023 and has reportedly “authorized” the execution of “hundreds” of other prisoners.

“We call on the government to halt all planned executions and establish a moratorium on any imposition of capital punishment, with a view to its abolition,” Hurtado stressed.

For countries that have not abolished capital punishment, Hurtado noted that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iraq in 1971, strictly “limits” the death penalty to “the most serious crimes,” such as intentional killing.

“This was among the issues raised, with deep concern, by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk with Iraqi authorities during his mission to Iraq in August last year,” she added.

(source: laprensalatina.com)

IRAN----executions

Ali Feizi and Rahmat Bigham Executed in Zanjan

2 men named Ali Feizi and Rahmat Bigham who were on death row for drug-related charges, were executed in Zanjan Central Prison.

According to information obtained by Iran Human Rights, 2 men were executed in Zanjan Central Prison on 7 February. Their identities have been established as 35-year-old Ali Feizi and Rahmat Bigham who were sentenced to death for drug-related charges by the Revolutionary Court.

Ali was arrested 3 years ago and Rahmat was arrested 2 years ago.

At the time of writing, their executions have not been reported by domestic media or officials in Iran.

3 other men are reported to have been executed at the prison on 30 January. IHRNGO has been unable to confirm their executions at the time of writing and continues to investigate

Drug-related executions have continuously risen every year for the past 3 years. At least 305 people were executed for drug-related charges between 1 January-10 October 2023, a 69% increase compared to the same period in 2022, and the number of drug-related executions in 2023 were close to 20 times higher than 2020.

The number of drug executions dramatically dropped in 2018 following a 2017 Amendment to the Anti-Narcotics Laws. Consequently, drug executions ranged between 24-30 per annum between 2018-2020. The Amendment was reversed in practice in 2021 when executions increased 10-fold to 126 in 2021 and doubled again in 2022 with 256 drug-related executions. On 13 September 2023, IHRNGO reported a 94% rise in the number of drug-related executions in the year following the start of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement in September 2022.

(source: iranhr.net)

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Iran’s Judiciary Issued 35 Death Sentences in One Month, Human Rights Activists Warn

Human rights activists in Iran state that in January, the Iranian regime’s judiciary set a new record for issuing death sentences in the past year with 35 death sentences. The regime also executed 86 individuals in the same month.

On February 8, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that the examination of the issuance and execution of death sentences from January 2023 to January 2024 indicates a continuous increase in the number of executions compared to the number of newly issued death sentences.

The recent intensification of issuing and executing death sentences in Iran has been met with strong reactions. In this context, the European Parliament passed a resolution on Friday, February 8, calling for the immediate release of all those sentenced to death and political prisoners in Iran.

Earlier on January 15, Abram Paley, the Deputy of the Special Representative of the United States for Iranian Affairs, strongly condemned the Iranian regime’s use of the death penalty, one day after the execution of 13 Iranian citizens.

Human rights activists in Iran also published a report on October 9, 2023, simultaneous with the “World Day Against the Death Penalty,” detailing the extent of executions from October 9, 2022, to October 7, 2023, to draw public attention to the situation of “thousands awaiting the execution of their sentences.”

According to this report, at least “659 individuals” in various regions of Iran have been executed by “hanging” during this period, representing an approximately 24% increase compared to the same period in the previous year.

Also according to a report by the Iran Human Rights Monitor (Iran HRM) in January 2024, the statistics of executions in Iran have seen a significant increase, with the Iranian judiciary executing 88 individuals. This marks a 39% growth compared to January 2023 when the Iran regime executed 63 people, and a staggering 91% growth compared to January 2022 when 46 individuals were executed. These calculations indicate a disturbing upward trend in the number of executions in Iran, and the Iranian judiciary has employed a ruthless approach in carrying out these executions, which is highly concerning.

The Hengaw Human Rights Organization also stated in a report on the human rights situation in Iran in the year 2023 that the Islamic Republic had detained at least 2,342 citizens and handed over a minimum of 823 prisoners to execution squads during the year.

(source: iranfocus.com)

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European Parliament Condemns Escalating Executions in Iran, Calls for International Sanctions and IRGC Designation

The European Parliament convened in Strasbourg on February 7 and 8, passing a joint resolution condemning the escalating executions in Iran, particularly the execution of political prisoner Mohammad Ghobadlou on January 23.

The resolution, supported by various groups within the European Parliament, called for international investigations into serious human rights violations committed by Iranian authorities and the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

Highlighting the alarming rate of executions, with 800 reported in 2023 and 54 in January 2024 alone, the resolution strongly criticized the unfair trials leading to the condemnation of individuals, including Ghobadlou.

Furthermore, the European Parliament demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all death row inmates and prisoners of conscience, notably European citizens Ahmadreza Djalali and Johan Floderus. It urged for a bold and new strategy from the European Union towards the Iranian regime, emphasizing measures to counter its hostage diplomacy.

The resolution urged the European Council to push for the IRGC’s designation as a terrorist entity and to impose further sanctions against individuals and entities involved in severe human rights abuses, including the Supreme Leader, President, and Attorney General of the regime. Member states were urged to monitor trials according to EU guidelines on human rights defenders and to organize visits to prisons holding political prisoners, including EU nationals.

Additionally, member states were called upon to initiate criminal investigations into individuals responsible for serious human rights violations, including those covered by international jurisdiction. The resolution also supported the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran and the establishment of an independent international fact-finding mission at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The speeches from some MEPs are provided below:

MEP Guy Verhofstadt (former Belgian Prime Minister):

Today, I think, in all the debates that I have followed, is the only item where there is consensus on all groups here in the Parliament. That is our policy towards Iran is a complete failure. A complete failure. You see it every day. Executions. Iran is behind Hamas, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and the attacks against the military facilities of the US. The delivery of weapons continues, and they are ready today to make bombs, atomic bombs, and Iran. So, we absolutely need a new strategy and a new strategy based on three things. First, more massive sanctions until all hostages are released. That would be an approach. Secondly, recognition of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Tomorrow if possible. And lastly, recognize the opposition and the Resistance as the real representatives of the Iranian people and no longer the Mullahs.

MEP Stanislav Polcák:

At least 360 prisoners have been executed since 7 October 2023 – the start of the war, which is clearly sponsored by the Iranian regime. The head of the snake, which is in Tehran, needs to create an external crisis because they cannot face the Iranian people’s uprising against the regime. Executions are their tactic to silence.

Maryam Rajavi, leader of the Iranian opposition, has come here to the European Parliament many times and said we must condition any relations with the Iranian regime. After all these executions, is it not time? Every day we hear the names of many people who have been executed by the regime. While the regime keeps on killing, is the EU going to decide to take strong action? When will it designate IRGC as a terrorist entity?

MEP Antonio López-Istúriz White, on behalf of the PPE Group:

First of all, thank you to the authors for this very timely resolution. Today we address yet the death of another, the assassination of another young man, an Iranian man who died at the hands of the tyranny of the regime of the Ayatollahs. It’s 3 every day that die in Iran, women, and children. It is also important to know that this is not only happening in Iran but also in the streets of Europe for people, against people that are fighting for democracy in Iran. A former member of the European Parliament and vice president of this house, Alejo Vidal Quadras, was shot in his face on the 9th of November in Madrid, Spain, Europe. This is happening here. The regime is trying to silence all those who speak the truth, those who denounce the atrocities and fight for a democratic future in Iran. Mr. Borrell, European governments no longer steady deals with the regime.

MEP Dorien Rookmaker, on behalf of the ECR Group:

Political prisoners in Evin Prison in Iran are on hunger strike against the death penalty every Tuesday. They hear our message from the European Parliament. And what is this message? The regime in Iran constantly violates human rights and democracy. And the Iranian people have the right to seek change through any legitimate form of resistance. The EU needs to support its resistance. How? By blacklisting the IRGC, the regime’s instrument of oppression. The regime executed recently Mohammad Ghobadlou, a courageous Iranian young man. And let’s not forget Mariam Akbari Monfared, a mother of 3, who has been serving 15 years in prison and recently has been charged for three more years. I have to stop here because the list is too long. We all know the Iranian regime is the worst in the world. Over 870 executions were carried out in 2023 to silence the opposition. When is the EU speaking up?

MEP Francisco Guerreiro, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group:

The 23-year-old Mohammad Gobadloo was the ninth protester executed by the Iranian regime. At no time in the past three decades has the human rights situation been as grave as it is today under the presidency of Ebrahim Raisi, notoriously known for his role as a member of the Tehran Death Commission, which sent thousands of prisoners of conscience to the gallows for their support for democratic opposition. The current situation in Iran underscores the moral imperative for the international community to support the Iranian people in their struggle against tyranny. It is crucial to recognize and uphold their right to seek freedom, justice, and democratic government as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So, EU diplomacy must not foster a culture of impunity. A firm policy is needed, focusing on accountability through international courts and universal jurisdiction before we see another massacre in Iranian prisons. To conclude, may the future bring a free, democratic, and secular Iran.

MEP Susanna Ceccardi:

The hanging of Mohammad, a mentally disabled regime opponent, is another step in the Ayatollah’s infamy. But, with great honesty and deep sorrow, we must acknowledge that the ongoing death sentences handed down by the Iranian regime against young women and men, guilty only of demanding democracy, no longer make headlines in Europe. Likewise, the extermination of minorities, such as the Baluchis and Kurds, happening these days, goes unnoticed. European media systematically bury these news stories, covering them with pages and pages of alleged human rights violations in Hungary, Slovakia, and so on, because they are inconvenient for the globalist deep state.

On the other hand, despite our repeated calls for serious action, the European Union has chosen to pretend to sanction Iran, but it has not done so. We know that the Revolutionary Guard Corps, around which all the regime’s illegal businesses revolve and which is very active in Europe, has nearly 200,000 active members, yet the European Union has sanctioned only 216 of them. Isn’t it outrageous for the victims of those murderers and for our intelligence?

The only silver lining in this sad situation is that we must commend all those courageous men like Mohammad, who protest for women’s rights—they are the frontline of our values and they are still risking their lives.

EU Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli denounced the recent execution of Mohammad Goubadlou. She highlighted that this execution is part of a disturbing pattern in Iran, signaling a sharp increase compared to previous years and targeting individuals from specific ethnic minorities.

Dalli emphasized that the use of the death penalty as a means to quell dissent underscores the alarming state of human rights in Iran. She stressed that fundamental rights, such as freedom of belief and expression, must be safeguarded at all times, both in private and in public spheres. Dalli reiterated the European Union’s call for Iran to uphold its international commitments under established international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The European Commissioner for Equality underscored the imperative for the Iranian regime to ensure the full spectrum of human rights for all its citizens.

(source: ncr-iran.org)

FEBRUARY 9, 2024:

FLORIDA:

Attorneys, judges split over which death penalty cases need 8-4 vote by jury

On Tuesday, a Polk County jury spent most of the day deciding if Marcelle Waldon would spend life in prison for murdering former Lakeland City Commissioner Edie Henderson and her husband David, or if he would be sentenced to death.

That jury ultimately voted 11-1 in favor of recommending death.

But this may not be the end of the road for Waldon.

His attorney, Daniel Hernandez, is eyeing a deeper issue with the current structure of deciding between life or death in Florida.

"There's a lot to appeal. Obviously, the number one issue is the fact that the original when this case started, that requirement was for the death penalty, it had to be. It had to be unanimous," Hernandez said.

That all changed April 20, 2023. Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill allowing a yes from only 8 of the 12 jurors to recommend death, instead of making it a unanimous decision.

Tony Montalto pushed for that change.

"My family in particular and several others from Parkland, we fought to change that law," he said.

The legislation came as a response to Nickolas Cruz, the Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School shooter. Despite parents and loved ones pushing for Cruz to get death for murdering 17 in his killing spree, he was sentenced to life after jurors failed to come to a unanimous agreement.

"One of the worst things was finding that the jury in Broward County found some way to justify the troubled existence of the shooter, while not taking into account that he gave my daughter Gina and the other victims no such right," he added.

Hernandez believes that only cases that were opened after the new statute should be allowed to have a divided jury.

He said anything else violates the ex post facto law: a law that imposes a new or increased punishment on a crime that occurred before the law took effect, ultimately causing a shift in the judicial process.

"The entire issue is being litigated with the appellate courts. This case is not the only one," he said.

ABC Action News looked into just how many people this could impact.

On the Florida Department of Corrections website, it shows the Department of Corrections has officially received five inmates on death row since April of 2023. That doesn't include Waldon since he hasn't been officially sentenced by a judge.

Litigation attorney Melanie Kalmanson explained this could impact much more than just those 5.

"You have cases that were pending resentencing from Hurst v. Florida in 2016 that could be affected," she said.

To Kalmanson, this confusion is very similar to Hurst v. Florida. That's the case that sparked her interest in the death penalty.

"I clerked at the Florida Supreme Court from 2016 to 2019, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided Hurst v. Florida, and said that the way Florida had sentenced people to death up until that point violated capital defendants' right to jury trial for the sixth amendment," she said.

Kalmanson operates a blog surrounding the death penalty. She also teaches a course about it at Florida State University.

She said what we need now is a determination from the higher courts.

"We have seen some indication from courts across the state that there's definitely a split on how courts feel about this statute," she added.

Meantime, those who fight against the death penalty see it as another flaw in the design.

Abraham Bonowitz, the Executive Director for Death Penalty Action, points to how this new change could mean many more death sentences.

"The system is broken. Florida leads the nation in wrongful convictions. People have been exonerated from crimes that sent them to death row and freed because it turns out there was no evidence against them in the first place," he said.

But until we get an answer on how the law is to be interpreted, it's all up to individual judges and how they instruct their juries.

(source: abcactionnews.com)

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Markeith Loyd’s rehearing request denied by Florida Supreme Court----Loyd was sentenced to death for police officer’s murder in 2022

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a request for a rehearing by a man who shot and killed an Orlando police officer in 2017.

Justices did not explain their reasons for denying a rehearing motion filed in November by attorneys for Markeith Loyd.

The motion came after the Supreme Court upheld Loyd’s conviction and death sentence in the murder of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton. Loyd shot Clayton after she spotted him in a Walmart store while he faced an arrest warrant in the murder of Sade Dixon, who had been pregnant with his child. The motion asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling and send the case back to a circuit court for a new sentencing hearing.

The motion focused on music that played while jurors saw a montage of photos of Clayton during a sentencing proceeding.

The motion said the music was improperly aimed at appealing to the emotions of jurors.

“Given the uniquely subjective nature of penalty-phase decision making, erroneous admission of evidence which appeals solely to emotion should be treated as per se reversible error,” the motion said. “This is so because there is no way to calculate to what extent any individual juror’s decision was affected by that evidence.”

Chief Justice Carlos Muniz and Justices Charles Canady, Jorge Labarga, John Couriel and Renatha Francis voted to reject the rehearing motion. Justice Jamie Grosshans, a former Orange County circuit judge, was recused from the case, while Justice Meredith Sasso, who was appointed to the court in May, did not take part.

(source: clickorlando.com)

ALABAMA:

100 years of US experimentation with lethal gas executions

“We didn’t see somebody go unconscious in 30 seconds. What we saw was minutes of someone struggling for their life." The 1st use of gas for execution in the US was on Feb. 8, 1924.

In 1924, the US saw its 1st use of lethal gas in the execution of Gee Jon, a member of the Hip Sing Tong criminal society who was convicted of killing an elderly member of a rival gang in Nevada. The 1st attempt at executing Jon with gas was an utter failure that only served to show the state’s ignorance on the use of gas, as well as its tendency to experiment on prisoners. They tried to use the gas on Jon while he slept in his prison cell, in open air. The gas, however, only dissipated and had no effect.

It was a failure of foresight, as the executioners did not even seem to know how to use lethal gas. It was a failure of due process, as the condemned was not even aware that his execution was taking place. Furthermore, it was a failure of the state to protect the consciences of prison staff, for which four guards reportedly resigned so as to not take part in a lethal experiment on a human being.

This failed experiment led the state of Nevada to develop a gas chamber, but rather than building a new facility to ensure efficiency and safety, they rushed to convert the prison’s butcher shop into a makeshift chamber. After testing it on a cat, Gee Jon was strapped to a chair and four pounds of hydrocyanic acid were pumped into the chamber. Jon lost consciousness in a matter of seconds, but his head nodded up and down for several minutes, finally falling still 10 minutes after the gas was administered.

While Jon did die, and the execution could be considered a success in that regard, there were many failures in this attempt as well. An electric heater that would keep the temperature at 75 degrees, the proper temperature to allow the liquid to evaporate into gas, failed and left the room at a chilly 52 degrees. This caused a puddle on the floor that made the room unable to be entered until it dissipated. The observation room also had to be evacuated for fear that the gas was leaking from the chamber.

100 years later, almost to the day

Nearly 100 years to the day, the US has shown that it continues to employ experimental means of execution with lethal gas. On January 26, 2024, just 2 weeks shy of the 100-year-anniversary, convicted killer-for-hire Kenneth Eugene Smith became the first person in the US to be executed by nitrogen gas. While the execution was safer for those who bore witness, its description paints a ghastly picture that makes the 1924 cyanide gas execution pale in comparison.

In what could be construed as another failure, the Associated Press tells that Smith’s execution took approximately 22 minutes to complete – more than twice that of Gee Jon’s – and for at least 2 of those minutes, Smith convulsed in “seizure-like spasms.” The force of these jerking movements was enough to make the gurney he was strapped to visibly shake, followed by several minutes of heavy breathing before he finally went still.

While the Alabama Attorney General, Steve Marshall, has called the execution “textbook,” the arduous execution of Smith has raised alarm with anti death penalty groups and Death Row inmates who have already signed up for nitrogen executions, as it was pitched to them as a painless alternative to lethal injection. John Palombi, who represents some of these inmates who are reconsidering, said in a statement:

“The State promised the world the most humane method of execution known to man. Instead, Mr. Smith writhed and thrashed before he died. No further executions should take place by this method until the events of this evening are examined by an independent body.”

Palombi’s assessment was agreed upon by Smith’s spiritual adviser, the Rev. Jeff Hood, who was present at Smith’s execution. He brought attention to the failure of the gas to make Smith lose consciousness within seconds of the execution:

“We didn’t see somebody go unconscious in 30 seconds. What we saw was minutes of someone struggling for their life,” said Hood.

As for why the nitrogen gas execution went the way it did, Dr. Philip Nitschke, who developed the nitrogen gas chamber used in Smith’s execution, noted that the process requires some cooperation on the part of the condemned for it to work most efficiently. He said that Smith’s reaction was similar to someone who was only taking the slightest breaths of the gas, while trying to hold onto their lives. Dr. Nitschke suggested that this would most likely be the norm for executions by nitrogen gas.

“I think this outcome is inevitable if the nitrogen gas is to be used in execution where people do not want to die and will not cooperate,” Nitschke said.

It is unclear if the calls for an independent investigation into nitrogen gas’ efficacy for use in executions will be heeded. AG Steve Marshall’s final word on the matter was that the execution was successful and is “no longer an untested method,” but a “proven one.”

It is the view of the Catholic Church that all employment of capital punishment is “inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

(source: aleteia.org)

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Trial for man facing death penalty gets underway in Shelby County----Capital murder trial for Randall Gargone begins

A murder trial is underway in Shelby County. Prosecutors call it a brutal killing, but the defendant is claiming self-defense.

Back in March 2018, 68-year-old Randall Gargone was arrested for the murder of Tracy Austin. Gargone was on probation at the time of his arrest back in 2018.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

On Thursday, opening statements were made by the state and the defense as well as testimonies from 5 witnesses, including the victim’s brother.

Starting out with those opening statements, prosecutors gave a play-by-play of the events they claim took place on March 5, 2018.

The state says Mr. Gargone was hired by Austin’s mother as a handyman to fix their back door.

The victim lived with his mother and brother, but they were not at the home at the time of his death.

The state claims after Gargone finished the work he was hired to do, he was paid and then left, but that’s not the last time this family would see him.

The state claims there were several instances where Gargone showed up at their home unannounced looking for more work - each time he was turned away.

Until the morning of March 5, 2018, when the state says Gargone showed up at the victim’s home, entered the home and found Mr. Austin sitting in his recliner.

Mr. Austin suffered from many health conditions during his time in the military that impacted his ability to walk.

According to the state, Mr. Gargone attacked Mr. Austin with a knife and a hammer multiple time.

They claim Mr. Austin tried to fight back, but couldn’t. They say it took less than 13 minutes for Mr. Gargone to brutality kill Mr. Austin.

Whereas the defense claims Mr. Gargone was attacked first by Mr. Austin and was defending himself.

Five witnesses were brought to the stand by the state on Thursday, including the 911 dispatcher that answered the 911 call from Mr. Austin’s mother, the Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy that arrived on scene, two witnesses that travel on the roads near the victim’s home, and the victim’s brother.

During the testimony, one of the witnesses claims to have seen Mr. Gargone quickly backing out of the victim’s home almost hitting them in the morning on March 5, and that witness identified Mr. Gargone in court. Mr. Austin’s brother was the last witness to take the stand.

The trial will resume Friday with more testimonies from other witnesses. Mr. Gargone is set to take the stand on Tuesday next week.

(source: WBRC news)

******************

‘That day changed my life,’ Mobile officer’s widow testifies as prosecutors seek death sentence----Jury decide between death penalty and life in prison without parole for Marco Perez

The jury that found Marco Antonio Perez guilty of capital murder in the fatal shooting of a police officer now must decide whether he should be executed for it.

Prosecutors on Thursday afternoon began making that case, showing jurors surveillance footage of an assault Perez committed against another inmate in 2022 at Mobile County Metro Jail and presented evidence form a separate incident when the defendant had a homemade metal “shank” in jail.

A number of Tuder’s friends and family took the stand to describe the impact. That included his widow, mother and police chief.

“That day changed my life,” his wife, Krissy Tuder, testified. “It changed everything about me.”

Tuder recalled two officers coming to her home in Daphne to report that her husband had been killed while trying to make an arrest at the Peach Place Inn apartment in west Mobile on Jan. 20, 2019.

“I obviously started screaming and crying,” she testified.

Tuder said she could not work for a year afterward and remains in counseling 5 years later. She said losing her husband left her with nightmares and trouble sleeping. She said she remains anxious, worried something might happen to a loved one.

Testimony will continue Friday. The same 9 women and 3 men who found Perez guilty earlier Friday will decide whether he will be sentenced to death or life in prison without possibility of parole.

To get a death sentence, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the reason Perez killed Tuder was to avoid arrest or effect an escape. If the jurors agree, they will then decide whether that outweighs any mitigating factors, such as Perez’s age – 19 at the time.

“It is a decision that you make individually,” prosecutor Ashley Rich told the jury during opening statements of the penalty phase. “It does not have to be unanimous.”

It will take at least 10 of 12 jurors to opt for death for the death penalty to be imposed. Seven is the minimum threshold for life in prison.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Jason Darley called this the hardest case he has had in 19 years of practicing law.

“The human reckoning in this case is astronomical,” he said.

Darley said the human brain is not fully formed at age 19. Whatever his mistakes, Darley said, Perez is a son and father whose parents love him.

Regardless of the verdict, Darley said, Perez will die in prison – either by execution or natural causes. He said there is so much senseless killing in America.

“The state is coming here asking you to kill again,” he said. “At some point, the killing has to stop. … You don’t have to sign your name to the death warrant.”

Prosecutors argued that Perez is a future danger and presented evidence of conduct after the murder to make their point. Jurors saw surveillance video from Mobile County Metro Jail showing him assault another inmate in 2022 during a dispute over a cell phone. Prosecutors presented evidence of a separate incident in which Perez had a metal shank.

Tuder’s mother, Noreen Tuder, recalled getting a phone call from her daughter telling her about the shooting. She said she didn’t process it at first, thinking her daughter – who was pregnant – was telling her she was having a baby boy. When she comprehended what had happened, she said, she started “screaming, falling to the ground. I remember bits and pieces.”

John Holzer, who was Tuder’s platoon sergeant in the National Guard. He said he does not recall any death affecting an entire unit to the same extend Tuder’s has.

Lawrence Battiste, who was Mobile police chief at the time, testified that Tuder’s death was an extremely emotional time for the entire department.

“I’ve never been a man who’s been quick to tears,” he said. “But on the date of the funeral, during the procession, I burst into tears to where my wife had to take the wheel.”

Krissy Tuder, the officer’s widow, testified about seeing her husband’s body in a medical gown at the funeral home.

“That moment was probably the one that traumatized me the most,” she said.

(source: WALA news)

LOUISIANA:

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry calls for special session, focused on tough-on-crime policies

Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry on Thursday officially called for a highly anticipated crime-focused special legislative session that could overhaul the state’s current criminal justice system, reversing hard-fought and historic reforms that happened under Landry’s Democratic predecessor.

Among the 2 dozen tough-on-crime-related items on Landry’s broad agenda are expanding methods to carry out death row executions, restricting parole eligibility, harsher penalties for carjackings, “immunity from liability” for law enforcement based upon certain criteria and publicizing some juvenile court records.

“We will defend and uplift our law enforcement officials and deliver true justice to crime victims who have been overlooked for far too long. I am eager to enact real change that makes Louisiana a safer state for all,” Landry said in a statement.

The special session is scheduled to begin Feb. 19 and must conclude by the evening of March 6.

The Republican Landry has long vowed to crack down on crime in Louisiana — a state that in recent years has had one of the highest homicide rates in the country. The issue became a pivotal part of his gubernatorial platform, with him often pointing at New Orleans, which has been in the national spotlight for violent crime and will be the site of the 2025 Super Bowl.

However, up until this point, Landry had evaded discussing specifics about crime-related policies — multiple times equating it to a “battle plan” that he wanted to withhold from criminals. The release of the special session call, which was published on the Louisiana House of Representatives’ website Thursday afternoon, is the first and most detailed look at Landry’s plan of action to tackle crime in the state.

Some of the items on Landry’s proposed agenda could reverse a package of criminal justice reform bills passed in 2017 — which expanded probation and parole opportunities and reduced sentences, mainly for nonviolent offenders. In addition, most of the savings from the prison population reduction instead paid for programs aimed at keeping exiting inmates from returning to crime. Since the changes were enacted, Louisiana relinquished its title as the nation’s top jailer, dropping to the state with the second-highest incarceration rate per capita.

The criminal justice redesign was a bipartisan effort modeled after similar work in other Southern states, with support across a wide ideological spectrum, from Christian conservatives, business leaders and liberal organizations. Landry, who served as the state’s attorney general for eight years until he became governor, has repeatedly slammed Louisiana’s 2017 criminal justice overhaul.

This past election season, violent crime became a top concern among voters.

As in numerous other parts of the country, violence surged in Louisiana following the onset of COVID-19. And while data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows that crime has steadily decreased in Louisiana over the past decade, New Orleans has continued to struggle with a surge of killings.

This will be Louisiana’s second special session since Landry took office last month. During the first legislative gathering, under the direction of Landry, the GOP-dominated Legislature approved a congressional map with a second majority-Black district and passed a bill that reshapes the primary system for congressional elections.

(source: Associated Press)

TENNESSEE:

TN House Leader Seeks Death Penalty for Child Rapists----"If you rape a child, you should die.”

“If you rape a child in the state of Tennessee, you will die. Period.”

This is the hope of state House Majority Leader Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown). If his legislation passes, adults over the age of 18 could face the death penalty if they rape a child under the age of 12, he told the House Criminal Justice Committee last week. He described his legislation before the Tennessee General Assembly as “the gravest type of bill we would possibly consider.”

“If [the legislation] saves even one child from going through that, because the fear of [the death penalty] gets into the head of some monster out there — that’s even thinking about this — then it’s worth saving that child,” Lamberth said. “I will tell you life in prison for these evil people is simply too good. They should not be able to live out their days with the rest of us, including their victim — paying for their food, and housing, and care, and medical as they age and everything else. If you rape a child, you should die.”

The bill moved quickly through the House committee system. It is now placed behind the budget for consideration by the full House. The Senate bill was only introduced in mid-January and awaits a review by the Senate Judiciary Committee, its first hearing by lawmakers in that house. Its sponsor there is Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Senate Majority Leader.

So far, the only votes cast against the bill are from Democratic House members Rep. Ronnie Glynn (D-Clarksville), Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis), Rep. Joe Towns Jr. (D-Memphis), and Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville).

Johnson said the penalty of child rape in Tennessee is life in prison, a sentence that must be served fully. She argued this already holds the guilty accountable. She worried a death penalty sentence would have a “chilling effect” on victims reporting the crime.

“If a child was raped by an uncle, say,” Johnson said. “The uncle’s going to say, ‘Don’t tell because I’ll be killed, I’ll get the death penalty.’ Then, the mother of the child, who is the sister of the [alleged perpetrator], maybe won’t want to testify against her brother, if it means the death penalty.

“If the victims fear, it will create a chilling effect on reporting.”

Johnson also argued the move could further “re-victimize the victim.”

“Not only is [the child in the scenario] a victim, she will be victimized every day by the state that’s going to require her to carry that pregnancy [to term]. Then, they’re going to require her to show up for appeal after appeal.”

“It’s a heinous crime and I hate to think about it, but life in prison also takes care of the situation.”

Lamberth read an email from a young, female victim, asking committee members to support the legislation. It spoke the high hurdles for criminal charges and soft sentences for defendants accused of child rape. It described their sexual desires like “they were at an all-you-could-eat buffet with the appetite of a bear coming out of hibernation and only having access to a single plate.”

“The ones that actually get convicted should face real consequences,” the letter read. “Perhaps if that happened, there would be less people in our community forever changed.”

If the legislation passes, Lamberth vowed to fight for its implementation in court. A 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said the death penalty is not proportional punishment for the crime of child rape. Lamberth countered this, however, noting that the court’s ruling came because “not enough states had this type of penalty on the books.”

“We’re seen other decisions by the Supreme Court overturned,” Lamberth said. “I believe this particular makeup of the court, it leans more towards state’s rights.”

Death penalty executions remain on hold in Tennessee, after a scathing report in December 2022 found numerous problems with the state’s execution protocols.

2 death penalty bills failed in the legislature last year. One would have added firing squads to the state’s options for executions. Another would have brought more transparency to the execution process.

One death penalty bill passed last year. It gave the Attorney General control over post-conviction proceedings in capital cases, rather than the local District Attorneys. That bill was ruled unconstitutional in July by Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan.

(source: memphisflyer.com)

ARKANSAS----female faces death penalty

Jury finds Shawna Cash guilty of capital murder in Pea Ridge officer’s death

After several hours of deliberation Thursday morning, a jury found Shawna Cash guilty on all counts for the death of Pea Ridge police officer Kevin Apple.

She was found guilty of capital murder, fleeing, aggravated assault against Apple, aggravated assault against former Pea Ridge officer Brian Stamps and obstructing government operations.

The jury got the case just after noon on Wednesday and spent the rest of the day discussing the case. The jury asked to go home for the night and come back Thursday to continue. The jury resumed deliberations around 8:40 a.m. and came back with a verdict at 11 a.m.

In total, it took about 7 hours for the jury to come to a decision.

As Judge Brad Karren read the verdict, specifically the capital murder charge, there was a palpable sigh of relief from many in the courtroom. One woman held on to her cross necklace in the moments leading up to the verdict being read.

Several put their heads in their hands, others appeared to be visibly emotional, including Apple’s mother, who has attended the entire trial.

Cash had no reaction to the decision.

Immediately after the verdict was read, Karren read the jury their instructions for the sentencing hearing.

Defense attorney Katherine Streett gave a brief opening statement to the jury.

She began by acknowledging this would be a tough decision moving forward. The death penalty is the maximum sentence for someone found guilty of capital murder and the prosecution has made it clear that it will be pursuing this.

One juror dabbed her eyes with a tissue, clearly emotional from the verdict reading. Streett said she did not take issue with the jury coming to the conclusion that it did. She made sure to tell the jurors she appreciated their work and the amount of time they put into deliberating this big decision.

She said over the next few days, they will mostly be hearing from witnesses called by the defense to give more context into Cash’s life.

She said they would see documents about the instability and negligence Cash dealt with in her life along with her struggles with addiction.

The state began by calling two witnesses to the stand. The first was Lt. Richard Fordham, who has “1212” tattooed on his arm. 1212 was Apple’s badge number and has since inspired December 12 to be named “Officer Kevin Apple Day” in Benton County.

They played the End of Watch Call which is ceremonially played anytime a law enforcement officer is lost in the line of duty. You hear the dispatcher come on the line and call “Pea Ridge 1212” several times. They acknowledge there is no response. The dispatcher says “We love and miss you” to Apple.

This phone call caused a lot of emotion in the courtroom. Several people in the gallery grabbed tissues to wipe their eyes and tried to stifle their sniffling. About 8 members of the jury could also be seen wiping their eyes with a tissue.

Next, Sgt. Kenneth Cogdill took the stand. He works in the detention center at the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.

He said they take mug shots the same day that someone is arrested and brought to the jail. The prosecution admitted both of Cash’s mugshots as evidence.

He said he is responsible for the preservation of records of the people who are inmates in the jail

. While he was on the stand, the prosecution played 2 recorded phone calls from Cash as she was held in the jail.

In the first one, she is talking to a man and says, “I can’t believe I went worldwide,” with a laugh. She exclaims about being on the news, on Facebook, on the walls of Walmart and going “worldwide.”

“Your sis went from being a pimp to a nationwide…” she said.

“Criminal,” the man on the other end of the line finishes her sentence.

She is heard laughing back at this.

In the second recorded phone call, the phone call begins by hearing the operator messaging saying the call may be monitored or recorded.

She refers to the man on the other end as “Fish.”

Fish tells Cash about the memorial that was put up by the community where Apple died in Pea Ridge. He joked that he should place a can of applesauce there.

Cash laughs at this.

“My girl made applesauce on that motherf***er,” he said and Cash laughs back again.

Cash brings up how she heard on the news about the dedication of Officer Kevin Apple Day. She sounds matter-of-fact as she says this. Fish replied that he hadn’t heard about that.

The state rested its case. Karren sent the jury to lunch.

During the lunch break, KNWA/FOX24 caught up with Pea Ridge Police Chief Lynn Hahn, Benton County Justice of the Peace Brian Armas, who represents Pea Ridge, and former Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree.

All 3 were in the courtroom on Thursday. All 3 said they would prefer not to give any comment right now out of respect for the proceedings still going on.

(source: KARK news)

USA:

Tillis, Blackburn, Cornyn Introduce Bill to Strengthen Penalty for Killing Law Enforcement Officers

Today, Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced legislation that would create a criminal penalty of the death penalty or life imprisonment for the murder of a federal, state, and local enforcement officer. In addition, the Justice for Fallen Law Enforcement Act would create a criminal penalty of 20 years in prison for assault resulting in serious injury to a federal, state, and local law enforcement officer.

This legislation comes as Greensboro Police Sergeant Philip Dale Nix was tragically killed late last year while off-duty after approaching suspects who were stealing from a store. The National Fraternal Order of Police reports as of midnight of December 31, 2023, there were 378 officers shot in the line of duty in 2023. Of those officers shot, 46 of them were killed by gunfire. There were 115 ambush-style attacks on law enforcement officers last year. These ambush-style attacks resulted in 138 officers shot, 20 of whom were killed by gunfire.

“Law enforcement officers in North Carolina and across the country are heroes who risk their lives every day to protect our communities,” said Senator Tillis. “Those who commit senseless acts of violence against law enforcement officers must be held accountable for their actions, which is why I am proud to introduce this legislation that creates harsh federal penalties for criminals who target law enforcement. They put their lives on the line to protect us, and we should do the work in Congress to protect them.”

“Anyone who willfully injures or takes the life of a law enforcement officer should face severe consequences and the highest criminal penalties,” said Senator Blackburn. “Our brave men and women in blue put their own safety at risk in service to our communities, and we must do all that we can to ensure their perpetrators are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I will always stand with our law enforcement officers.”

“Criminals who target our brave men and women in uniform should face the toughest possible consequences,” said Senator Cornyn. “By enhancing penalties for murdering or assaulting a law enforcement officer, this legislation would help protect those who put their lives on the line every day to keep Texans safe.”

The Justice for Fallen Law Enforcement Act would also require a study after 36 months to report to House and Senate Judiciary Committees about prosecutions as the result of the act.

Read text of legislation at: https://www.tillis.senate.gov/services/files/D13EBCD5-61D0-4D5A-9A34-F5C1B8BA7ABD

(source: tillis.senate.gov)

IRAN:

Family of Swede imprisoned in Iran fear death penalty verdict is imminent----EU Diplomat Johan Floderus’s sister calls on Sweden to start speaking up loudly to demand his release

The family of a Swedish EU diplomat imprisoned in Iran for more than 663 days fear he will be given a death sentence or life imprisonment within the coming days after prosecutors sought the maximum sentence in his case.

“I ask how can this be happening? He is my brother and I’m like: they want to kill my younger brother? That is very hard to take in. I also feel so sad for him being there alone, you know, when I see the pictures of him I just want to be there for him,” said Johan Floderus’s sister, Ingrid.

Floderus, an Oxford, Soas University of London and University of Uppsala graduate, worked on the Afghanistan desk of the EU’s external services department before he was detained on 17 April 2022 at Tehran airport after visiting a friend working for the Swedish embassy in Iran. He had been in the country several times on joint EU-Iran programmes to support Afghan adults and children fleeing the Taliban.

“We have been very clear from the beginning: Mr Floderus is innocent. There are absolutely no grounds for keeping Johan Floderus in detention. The EU continues to call for Johan Floderus to be freed immediately,” said a spokesperson for Josep Borrell, the EU high representative for foreign affairs with whom Floderus worked.

His identity only came to light in September after his family conceded their “silent diplomacy” was not working.

Ingrid Floderus, in Brussels for a campaign event for her brother, urged Sweden to start speaking up loudly to get him released.

In December, Johan Floderus was charged with “very extensive intelligence cooperation with the Zionist occupation regime” and “corruption on Earth”. The family learned last month that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty in the case and believe a sentence could be handed down as early as Sunday.

“We know that Johan is completely innocent and he is being used as a pawn in some political game,” Ingrid said. “We have not had the verdict yet, but they want the death penalty. I would not be surprised if the verdict says death penalty or at least lifetime imprisonment, that is what I am expecting. Obviously, I hope it will be different and they will say: ‘We took the wrong guy, sorry, we’re releasing you.’ But I cannot see that happening.”

She said the family had been rocked by the discovery prosecutors were seeking the death penalty. “It was like the Earth was trembling. All along, I’ve expected a life penalty, but then you hear this – it was really hard, especially for Mum. She could hardly stand. It is very hard for her; Johan is her youngest son.”

Ingrid’s view that Sweden needs to change tack is supported by the experiences of 2 former prisoners who attended the campaign event in Brussels, the Irish travel consultant Bernard Phelan and the Belgian humanitarian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele.

“We have to be shouting about Johan, we can’t be quiet. Staying silent is not going to solve the problem,” Bernard Phelan told supporters in Brussels.

Floderus’s family worry about his physical and mental health after almost 2 years in a cell lit up 24/7, with blankets on the floor as bedding, and after going on hunger strike at least seven times to get calls home.

Ingrid last spoke to her brother before Christmas. She said he was sharing his extra food with his cellmates. They worry about his health and want him, at the very least, to be moved to a public prison where he can take more exercise outdoors.

She said the family had been pushing for a doctor and a full consular or government visit to Tehran, arguing that Iranian officials would respond if they felt they were dealing with people at a high level in the Swedish government.

She is also concerned that the increasing tensions between Iran and the US will imperil her brother. “It is very frightening, the situation right now does not feel very stable.”

Ingrid said it was “not very Swedish” to protest and demonstrate, but the two former prisoners said visible support back home helped keep them “mentally sane” in a situation in which “you are isolated, you cannot exercise, everything is taken away from you”.

“We want the foreign ministry to do what it takes, to use all the tools in the toolbox,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Swedish ministry of foreign affairs said it was “working very intensively” to secure Floderus’s release, which it wanted to take place immediately, and added it had made it “abundantly clearly” there were “no grounds whatsoever to detain Johan Floderus, let alone put him on trial”.

“We will not give up on them until Johan Floderus has been released and returned home,” the spokesperson said, adding it would “complicate the handling” of the case were it to “publicly discuss its actions”.

Borrell’s spokesperson said: “The high representative persistently raises the case at every occasion and contact with the Iranian authorities, since his detention, requesting his liberation. Consular support is provided by the Swedish authorities, with whom we coordinate closely.”

(source: The Guardian)

*****************

In the Shadows of Tyranny: Iran’s Regime and the Death Penalty Dilemma

The Hrana website has reported a troubling surge in death sentences issued by the Iranian regime, with January 2024 setting a grim record compared to the same period in 2023, witnessing a staggering 35 death sentences. Shockingly, within the span of a single month, a total of 86 individuals faced execution.

Even more alarming is the comparison with January 2023, where at least 63 people were executed in Iran, with 23 death sentences handed down. This represents a significant increase, with January 2024 witnessing 23 more executions and 12 additional death sentences compared to the previous year.

A closer examination of the data reveals a disturbing trend: the number of executions consistently exceeds the number of new death sentences issued. This stark contrast suggests either a more aggressive stance by the judicial system or a systematic effort to purge dissenting voices.

Despite mounting international pressure to abolish the death penalty, particularly for non-violent offenses, the Iranian regime persists in using capital punishment as a tool to suppress opposition voices. This was tragically illustrated by the execution of Mohammad Ghobadlou, one of the participants in the 2022 uprising, in January 2024.

In 2023 alone, at least 864 individuals, including 25 women and two juvenile offenders, were executed—a 33% increase compared to the previous year. The scale of these executions is staggering, with Amnesty International reporting over 5,000 executions, including at least 57 juveniles, between January 1, 2012, and July 31, 2023.

Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, underscored the alarming trend of increasing death sentences in his November 2023 report to the General Assembly, highlighting the urgent need for action.

Furthermore, human rights organizations such as Hengaw have documented the extrajudicial killings of at least 41 porters by the Iranian regime, with 293 individuals injured in the past year—over 85% of whom were targeted by regime security forces.

The gruesome practice of amputating fingers as punishment, exemplified by the recent case of ‘Yousef T’, a 34-year-old construction worker falsely accused of stealing sheep, epitomizes the regime’s disregard for basic human rights and dignity. Despite maintaining his innocence throughout his 13-month imprisonment, ‘Yousef T’ endured the barbaric sentence in Qom’s central prison.

This cruel and archaic punishment stands as a stark reminder of the regime’s brutality and corruption, with regime officials implicated in embezzlement scandals while callously inflicting suffering on innocent citizens.

It is imperative that the international community holds Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, regime officials, and judiciary accountable for these egregious human rights abuses. The persistence of such atrocities underscores the urgent need for concerted global action to demand justice and uphold the dignity of all individuals, regardless of their circumstances.

(source: irannewsupdate.com)

IRAQ:

UN Human Rights alarmed by draft law with death penalty for same-sex relations

Remarks by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the Ministerial-level Meeting on Ending Violence and Discrimination against LGBT Individuals We are troubled by proposed amendments to legislation in Iraq which, if approved, would impose the death penalty or life imprisonment for engaging in consensual same-sex relations, as well as for certain forms of adultery. We call on the members of Parliament to ensure that any legislation is fully in line with Iraq’s human rights obligations.

This was among the issues raised, with deep concern, by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk with Iraqi authorities during his mission to Iraq in August last year.

For countries which have not abolished the death penalty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iraq ratified in 1971, strictly limits the death penalty to “the most serious crimes”, which entails crimes of extreme gravity involving intentional killing.

The proposed amendments are all the more alarming in the context of Iraq, given its widening use of the death penalty. More than a dozen prisoners were executed at the end of 2023, and reports have been received indicating that the execution of hundreds of prisoners has been recently authorised.

We call on the Government to halt all planned executions and establish a moratorium on any imposition of capital punishment, with a view to its abolition.

(source: ohchr.org)

YEMEN:

Houthi rebels sentence 13 to death on homosexuality charges in Yemen

A Houthi-run court in Yemen has sentenced 13 people to executed, on charges relating to homosexuality, a judicial court confirmed this week.

The Houthi movement, officially known as Ansar Allah, is a Shia Islamist political and military organisation that emerged in Yemen during the 1990s. Houthi militants control vast swathes of the country, and the group’s recent attacks on Red Sea shipping has prompted retaliation from both the US and the UK.

The death sentences were handed down in Ibb, an area controlled by the Houthis rebels. According to reports in AFP, quoting an anonymous source, 3 others were jailed on similar charges and another 35 people were detained in the province, also for alleged homosexuality-related offences.

The court findings are open to appeal and it is not clear when any of the public executions are due to be carried out, but, according to a report by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor in 2022, the Houthis have sentenced 350 people to death – 11 of who have been executed – since they seized Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa in 2014.

“The Houthis are ramping up their abuses at home while the world is busy watching their attacks in the Red Sea,” Niku Jafarnia, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

“If they really cared about the human rights they purport to be standing up for in Palestine, they wouldn’t be flogging and stoning Yemenis to death.”

According to Amnesty International, the rebels continue to target LGBTQ+ people with arbitrary arrest and torture, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. In 2022, the Southern Transitional Council, a secessionist organisation in South Yemen, and the Houthis arrested at least five people on the basis of either their refusal to conform to “masculine” and “feminine” presentation or their LGBTQ+ activism.

On one occasion, a queer man was pulled off the street and accused of being a “sexual deviant.” He was detained in a military vehicle and only released on the condition that he agreed to help the Houthis capture people who did not conform to gender norms. However, after he was released he refused, and was told by security forces that he was wanted for arrest once again.

In addition, the Houthis’ “mahram agreement” continues to ban women from travelling without a male guardian or written evidence of their consent. Meanwhile, increased restrictions on travel have affected women’s ability to work, resulting in many being unable to access healthcare, with Yemeni female humanitarian workers unable to reach them.

(source: thepinknews.com)

FRANCE:

Robert Badinter, Who Won Fight to End Death Penalty in France, Dies at 95----He spent decades as an esteemed defense lawyer but was best known as the justice minister who enacted a 1981 law abolishing capital punishment.

Robert Badinter, a French lawyer and former justice minister who led the fight to abolish the death penalty in France and became one of the country’s most respected intellectual figures, died early Friday. He was 95.

His death was confirmed by Aude Napoli, his spokeswoman.

“Robert Badinter never ceased to advocate the Enlightenment,” President Emmanuel Macron wrote on social media, hailing him as a “figure of the century” who incarnated the “French spirit.”

Mr. Badinter spent decades as an esteemed defense lawyer but was best known for enacting the 1981 law that abolished capital punishment in France, one of his very first acts as justice minister in the Socialist government of President François Mitterrand.

“Tomorrow, thanks to you, France’s justice will no longer be a justice that kills,” Mr. Badinter told lawmakers in 1981, in a fiery, hourslong speech defending the law.

He achieved this in the face of wide public support for the death penalty at the time. The fight against capital punishment stood at the core of his lifelong defense of human rights against oppression and cruelty.

In “The Execution,” a 1973 book, he vividly recalled “the sharp snap” of the guillotine blade as he witnessed the execution of one of his clients, a traumatizing experience that he said led him to campaign against the death penalty. Decades later, in a 2010 interview with The New York Times, he still referred to the guillotine as “my old enemy.” Mr. Badinter was justice minister from 1981 to 1986, and then became the president of France’s Constitutional Council, a position he held for nine years. The council is the institution that reviews laws to ensure that they conform with the Constitution. He also served in the Senate as a Socialist lawmaker from 1995 to 2011, and progressively came to resemble the conscience of the republic, a fervent defender of the rule of law.

“Deeply committed to justice, an advocate of abolition, a man of law and passion, he leaves a void that matches his legacy: immeasurable,” Éric Dupond-Moretti, France’s justice minister — and a longtime defense lawyer himself — said on social media.

Born in Paris, the son of Jewish immigrants from Bessarabia, a region in Eastern Europe that now straddles Moldova and Ukraine, Mr. Badinter was raised to respect the liberal values and tolerance of the French republic.

But in 1943, when he was 15, his father, Simon, was deported from Lyon and never returned from the Nazi death camps. Several other members of his family, including one of his grandmothers, were also killed by the Nazis.

The lesson for Mr. Badinter was not that the promises of the republic were empty but that constant vigilance was needed to honor and defend them. The wartime Vichy government in France that collaborated with the Nazis in the deportation of Jews constituted the ultimate betrayal of the republic.

Defining himself as “republican, secular and Jewish,” he carried within him for the rest of his long life the mark of his family’s loss in a moment of French betrayal.

“I am French, a French Jew — the two cannot be disassociated,” he said in 2018. “These are not just words, this is the lived reality.”

Mr. Badinter was particularly close to Mr. Mitterrand, and worked with him on the refashioning of the Socialist Party as a center-left movement that abandoned the wholesale nationalization of industries.

It was to Mr. Badinter that Mr. Mitterrand turned in 1984 to countersign, in strict secrecy, the document in which the president recognized Mazarine Pingeot, his daughter from an adulterous relationship.

(source: New York TImes)

******************

Robert Badinter, French ex-minister who fought to abolish death penalty, dies at 95----Former French justice minister Robert Badinter, who has died aged 95, saved many lives by dedicating his own to the fight against capital punishment, playing a pivotal role in banning the dreaded guillotine in 1981.

The soft-spoken attorney, who said he could not abide by a "killer justice system", was widely vilified for pushing through legislation banning the death penalty at a time when most French people still supported the practice. He said later he had "never felt so lonely" in fighting capital punishment, which in France was carried out by beheading with the guillotine, a practice dating back to the French Revolution of 1789. But in years to come he would be hailed for his integrity and statesmanship. The son of a Jewish fur trader who was deported to a Nazi death camp during World War II, he had built a reputation as a lawyer for defending – often successfully – notorious cases that his peers wouldn't dare touch. "We entered the court by the front door, and once the verdict had been read and the accused's head was safe, we often had to leave by a hidden stairway," the man dubbed "the murderers' lawyer" by proponents of the death penalty, recalled. 'Militant passion'

His career took a decisive turn in 1972 after one of his clients, Roger Bontems, was beheaded for his secondary role in the murder of a nurse and a guard during a prison escape.

Badinter was haunted by his failure to win a stay on Bontem's execution in a case that changed his stance on the death penalty "from an intellectual conviction to a militant passion".

5 years later he helped convince a jury not to execute Patrick Henry for the murder of a seven-year-old boy, becoming an instant hate figure for many French people, who were baying for Henry's head.

Badinter turned the case into a trial of the death penalty, calling in experts to describe in grisly detail the workings of the guillotine.

"Guillotining is nothing less than taking a living man and cutting him in two," he argued.

In all he saved six men from execution during his career, eliciting death threats in the process.

He was born in Paris on March 30, 1928 to a Jewish fur merchant who had immigrated from Bessarabia, now Moldova.

When he was just 14 his father was among a group of Jews rounded up by the Gestapo in the southeastern city of Lyon and and deported to the Sobibor concentration camp in modern-day Poland, where he died.

The young Badinter developed a keen sense of justice that led him to a law degree in France followed by a Masters from New York's Columbia University, with a focus on ethical issues.

'Until last breath'

Upon his appointment as justice minister in President Francois Mitterrand's Socialist government in June 1981, Badinter made ending the death penalty an immediate priority.

France's last execution had been in 1977 with the death of Hamida Djandoubi, a Tunisian immigrant convicted of torturing and murdering a young woman.

Just 4 months after taking office Badinter ushered an abolition through parliament with a landmark speech denouncing the "stealthy executions at dawn" that were France's "collective shame".

Demolishing myths about the supposed deterrent effect of the death penalty, he argued: "If fear of death stopped men in their tracks we would have no great soldiers or sporting figures."

Badinter continued to make history in 1983 when he succeeded in getting Bolivia to extradite Klaus Barbie, a former chief of the Nazis' secret police, the Gestapo, to France.

Notorious during the German occupation of France as the "butcher of Lyon," Barbie was put on trial for crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment in a landmark case that saw Holocaust victims take the stand for the 1st time in France.

During his 5 years as minister Badinter also scrapped a law discriminating against gays on the age of sexual consent and worked to improve conditions in French prisons.

A towering figure in French public life, he served as president of the Constitutional Council and as a member of the French Senate from 1995 to 2011.

The death penalty remained the bane of his existence until the end.

Badinter vowed he would work "until the last breath of life" to attain a global ban on the practice and continued to campaign against executions in China and the United States into his later years.

(soruce: france24.com)

ZIMBABWE:

CCC MP hails Cabinet over death penalty----Mushoriwa had called on Parliament to amend section 47 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and repeal of sections 337 to 342 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to facilitate the abolition of the death penalty in Zimbabwe.

The Citizens Coalition for Change legislator for Dzivarasekwa Edwin Mushoriwa has applauded Cabinet for approving the abolition of the death penalty after he successfully raised a motion for the scrapping of capital punishment in Parliament last year.

Mushoriwa had called on Parliament to amend section 47 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and repeal of sections 337 to 342 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to facilitate the abolition of the death penalty in Zimbabwe.

In an interview this week, Mushoriwa told NewsDay that the decision was a step in the right direction.

“The decision by the Cabinet is a step in the right direction and I am glad that the Executive is in agreement with the Parliament position that gave the nod for the introduction of the Death Penalty Abolishment Bill.

“The way forward is that the Bill will be going for a second reading stage in the National Assembly very soon. Currently we are engaging the Parliamentary Legal Committee to iron out some issues they raised in their report,” he said.

Mushoriwa commended Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi for steering the discussion in Cabinet, while applauding President Emmerson Mnangagwa as an advocate for death penalty abolishment.

Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services minister Jenfan Muswere announced during post-Cabinet media briefing on Tuesday this week that Cabinet had approved the abolition of the death penalty.

According to the media briefing, Muswere said Cabinet had considered and approved the memorandum on the Private Member’s Death Penalty Abolition Bill, which was presented by the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi as the chairperson of the Cabinet committee on Legislation.

“The Cabinet also considered and approved the abolition of the death penalty and agreed that the circumstances attracting death penalty options include where the murder is committed against a prison or police officer, or minor or pregnant woman; or it is committed in the course of other serious crimes or where there was premeditation.

“In view of the need to retain the deterrent element in sentencing murderers, it is expected that the new law will impose lengthy sentences without violating the right to life,” Muswere said.

Speaking during an Amnesty International media workshop on the death penalty this week, Mushoriwa said there were other ways that could be adopted such as life sentence.

“Prior to 2016 there was no law. So, basically what we are doing is that we are going back to 2016, we are just moving to ensure that there is no law and try to ensure that those people on death row can be in a position to have their sentences changed to, either, life imprisonment or other minimal sentences,” he said.

“Our hope and our belief is that this bill passes through even though it means there are going to be some amendments to certain words.”

He said the death penalty tended to have psychological effects on prisoners.

“Most of the inmates who have spent, for example, more than 3 years on the death row are psychologically damaged. I know there are some people who wish for the death sentence to remain but the question is if the death penalty is a deterrent why are the murders continuing to happen?”

Mushoriwa called on the government to work on other mechanisms and processes that will deter people from committing crimes of that nature.

He said poor communities were more susceptible to the harsh penalty as they did not have access to legal representation.

Cabinet’s move to abolish the death penalty has been applauded by Amnesty International which said Zimbabwe has “taken the right step towards ending this abhorrent and inhuman form of punishment that has no place in our world”.

“Now that the cabinet has given its nod, Parliament must ensure the death penalty is truly abolished by voting to pass legislation that will make this a reality,” said Khanyo Farise, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception because it violates the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Mnangagwa has publicly denounced the death penalty after surviving the hangman’s noose on a technicality following his arrest during the liberation struggle.

Zimbabwe has been on a de facto moratorium on executions for about 17 years with the last having been conducted in 2005.

The Constitution maintains the death sentence but excludes women, men under the age of 21 and men over the age of 70 from being sent to the gallows.

Zimbabwe has 62 convicted prisoners facing the death penalty.

Meanwhile, legal think-tank Veritas has proposed the retrial of all inmates sentenced to death in a model law presented as part of its latest push for the abolishment of the death sentence in Zimbabwe.

(source: newsday.co.zw)

FEBRUARY 8, 2024:

TEXAS----impending execution

Despite mounting doubts about his guilt, Ivan Cantu running out of time to avoid Texas’ death chamber----Convicted of killing his cousin and his cousin’s fiancée, the death row inmate hopes recanted testimony and other new details spur a review of his case.

In 20 days, state authorities are scheduled to drive death row inmate Ivan Cantu from the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, past freshly built vacation homes on Lake Livingston, along wooded East Texas roads, to the notorious, red-bricked Huntsville Unit, where Texas will execute him. That is if Cantu’s third execution date isn’t canceled like the two before.

Less than a year ago, a last-minute appeal describing false testimony during Cantu’s 2001 trial proved compelling enough for a Republican judge to pause his April 2023 execution date.

The 50-year-old who was sentenced to death for the 2000 murder of his cousin and his cousin’s fiancée, James Mosqueda and Amy Kitchen, claims that an accumulation of post-trial evidence — including a key witness who admitted he lied while testifying and the discovery of a watch Cantu was accused of stealing — is enough to overturn his conviction.

Cantu’s legal team and private investigators in recent years have unearthed these details, among others, but no state or federal court has reviewed the merits of the growing body of information questioning his guilt. But after last year’s scheduled execution was paused, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed his request for an evidentiary hearing without offering an explanation for the rejection.

“You made the touchdown, but you’re out of bounds,” Cantu told The Texas Tribune during an interview from death row last week.

Cantu’s legal team has argued in court filings that numerous abnormalities in his case are sufficient to warrant a new trial. Multiple jurors from Cantu’s original trial have said they don’t support execution. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, notoriously unfavorable to inmates, does not inspire hope for Cantu’s recently filed clemency application. And the criminal appeals court’s dismissal last year hinders Cantu’s ability to seek relief in federal courts, his lawyer said.

So for now, his execution is still scheduled for Feb. 28.

“Isn’t that crazy? I’m on death row, I have an attorney, a wonderful attorney, who knows what needs to be done to fix these problems with the court, and the rules and the laws are saying that her hands, basically her hands are tied behind her back,” Cantu said.

Cantu was convicted in 2001 for the Dallas murders of Mosqueda and Kitchen. During the trial, prosecutors pointed to bloody jeans found in Cantu’s kitchen and an allegedly stolen Rolex watch as proof that he murdered his cousin and his cousin's fiancée, a nursing student at the time.

The Collin County district attorney’s office also relied heavily on the testimony of Amy Boettcher who pinned the murders on Cantu, her fiancée, after the two returned from a trip to Arkansas to visit her mother and stepfather. Boettcher testified that Cantu committed the murders, and took her to the crime scene, before the trip.

Police found Mosqueda’s car outside Cantu’s apartment the day after the bodies were discovered, according to court filings. Additionally, police found the bloody pants, matching the victims’ DNA, in Cantu’s trash can.

Cantu has maintained his innocence since he was arrested over 20 years ago. In his filings, Cantu argued that Mosqueda was a local drug dealer and that a rival dealer to whom he owed a lot of money killed him.

Boettcher, a crucial witness in the state’s case, said she disposed of Cantu’s bloody jeans in a trash can inside his kitchen shortly after the murders. She also testified that Cantu threw a Rolex watch belonging to Mosqueda out of a car window as the couple was driving to downtown Dallas to a club shortly after the murders.

But new details that cast doubt over Boettcher’s testimony have emerged.

A signed affidavit from the officer who performed a wellness check on Cantu, requested by Cantu’s mother after she learned his cousin was killed, stated that she did not see bloody clothes in the trash can. Cantu and Boettcher were out of state, on a trip to Arkansas, at the time of the wellness check. Cantu argues that this affidavit, which the officer provided in 2020, is proof that someone placed the clothes in his home to frame him for the murders.

Additionally, Cantu’s legal team discovered in 2019 that officers recovered the Rolex watch after finding it in Mosqueda's home and returned it to his family shortly after the murder.

At the time of the trial, Amy Boettcher’s brother, Jeff Boettcher, also testified against Cantu. He told the jury that Cantu told him about the murders in advance and recruited him to clean up afterward. He also said that protecting his sister was paramount, because they “were in it together.”

But when Amy Boettcher died in 2021, her brother called Collin County investigators to recant his testimony.

A 2022 video of his conversation with an investigator and an attorney who traveled from Texas to Minnesota to meet with him, shows a distressed Boettcher saying that he lied during his testimony. He admitted that at the time of the trial, he was in a difficult point in his life and his testimony wasn’t reliable given he was out of the state at the time of the murders and was a frequent drug user. Boettcher expressed remorse that his testimony had helped land Cantu on death row.

“When does it become a house of cards?” Gena Bunn, Cantu’s attorney, said. “What is holding this conviction up?”

Bunn previously worked as the chief of the postconviction and capital litigation divisions of the state attorney general’s office when both U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Gov. Greg Abbott led the agency. She is hoping to appeal to the Collin County district attorney’s office and request another look at Cantu’s case in light of the recent developments.

“Let's put on the brakes, let's stay the execution date and look at this a little more closely,” she said.

Family members of Mosqueda and Kitchen could not be reached for comment, but there is still support for Cantu’s execution.

“Let's hope justice is finally carried out for Amy and James, and that the execution goes forward,” read a Feb. 2 social media post from Amy Kitchen Emergency Fund, a fundraising group launched in the victims’ memory.

Rejection without explanation

Last April, Cantu filed a subsequent writ of habeas corpus claiming he was wrongfully convicted with false testimony from the Boettchers. One day after the appeal was filed, Republican state district Judge Benjamin Smith withdrew his court order for Cantu’s execution — scheduled for the following week — saying the new arguments required further review. Cantu’s first execution date in 2012 was rescheduled because he was in the middle of federal litigation over his case.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, dismissed Cantu’s appeal without considering its merits four months after Smith paused the 2023 execution date. The court’s dismissal said that Cantu’s request for a hearing failed to meet the requirements necessary for a review but did not expand on why the Boettchers’ testimony should not be reconsidered.

“They didn’t give us a whole lot of information as to why we didn’t meet the standard,” Bunn said.

Texas has strict parameters for which subsequent appeals can be considered and the Court of Criminal Appeals interpreted that statute narrowly, Bunn said. Because federal courts only consider federal issues, and the state's highest criminal court dismissed Cantu’s appeal on state law, last year’s rejection has made it difficult for the defendant to evade execution through federal litigation, she said.

Regardless, Cantu intends to pursue relief in federal courts as well. Additionally, he has until Feb. 14 to file further litigation with the highest criminal court in the state. His legal team filed a clemency application on Tuesday.

Cantu has also requested evidence and notes from the state’s ballistic expert who testified at trial that a bullet found in his apartment wall came from the same gun used in the murders. Along with a group of concerned experts, private investigator Matt Duff, who launched a podcast about Cantu’s case in 2020, recreated Cantu’s exterior wall where police found a bullet from the same gun they said was used to kill Mosqueda and Kitchen. Amy Boettcher testified that Ivan shot at her the night before the murders and a bullet had been lodged in the wall of his apartment.

The group carried out the re-creation to highlight discrepancies in a test bullet and the bullet submitted as evidence in Cantu’s trial, in an effort to highlight issues with the original investigation.

Stewart Fillmore, a former special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, noted in court filings that there were inconsistencies between the two bullets, including deformities caused by the impact and the size of the bullet hole in the wall.

The Collin County district court dismissed requests to release notes from the ballistic expert and related evidence.

Bunn, who spent over a decade working on capital cases on behalf of the state, also argues that Cantu’s former attorneys failed their client in numerous ways.

“They did not have a defense investigator,” Bunn said. “Even considering how capital representation was 20 years ago, still that blows my mind.”

Compared to the state’s medical examiner, ballistics, DNA, fingerprint and blood spatter experts, Cantu’s defense didn’t call on a single expert to refute prosecutors' case, Bunn said.

Cantu’s trial took place before the passage of the Michael Morton Act, a Texas law which requires prosecutors to turn over evidence to defendants accused of crimes, beyond the constitutional requirement of providing what is “material either to guilt or to punishment.” Bunn noted that the Collins County district attorney’s office did not turn over all offense reports or witness statements until those individuals took the stand at trial. Other powerful voices in Cantu’s corner are some of the jurors who put him on death row over 2 decades ago. At least three of the jurors in the capital case have pushed to halt his execution after hearing new details of his innocence claims presented in his appeals. Jeff Calhoun, the jury foreman in Cantu’s 2001 trial, wrote to the state after Duff, the private investigator, presented post trial evidence that convinced him Cantu’s case should be reconsidered.

“I believe that as jurors, we collectively decided fairly based on the evidence brought forth by the prosecutors,” wrote Calhoun in a declaration last month. “The unfortunate outcome, though is that the trial itself was not fair as perjury was committed. I don’t know where else the truth was fabricated, if anywhere, but this alone leaves me apprehensive that we were presented with the total truth.”

Cantu said his heart goes out to Mosqueda and Kitchen’s families, but he said the Collin County district attorney’s office has a responsibility to find the person who committed these murders.

“The worst thing is that I know that we can disprove the case and present the evidence and everything that supports me and secures a new trial so that I can get home,” Cantu said, considering the possibility of a successful appeal. “But yet is the court gonna do the right thing and grant me relief and allow me to go to an evidentiary hearing in the courtroom?”

(source: Texas Tribune)

*****************

Celebrities Rally Around Ivan Cantu Who Is Scheduled to Be Executed in Texas on Feb. 28, 2024

According to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the "State of Texas has executed 586 people since 1982," and put 8 people to death in 2023 alone. As of the time of this writing, 2 people are scheduled to be executed in 2024. One of those people, Ivan Cantu, is desperately trying to get his Feb. 28 date delayed in order to secure an evidentiary hearing, per a MoveOn petition filed on his behalf.

Cantu's case has reached far beyond the Texas border and has caught the attention of celebrities. Both Jane Fonda and Martin Sheen have taken to social media in order to ask people for help. Since his conviction, new evidence has to come to light that lay the groundwork for a retrial. Unfortunately, time is running out for Cantu. Here are the latest updates regarding his legal situation.

Ivan Cantu has maintained his innocence for over 2 decades. Now he's getting help from celebrities.

Actor Jane shared a video to Instagram made by her friend and former Grace and Frankie costar Martin. In it, he shares that Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, reached out to him in order to signal boost Cantu's story. Martin goes on to say that Cantu was wrongfully convicted and has never backed down when it came to his innocence. Despite new and alarming evidence regarding issues with the prosecutors at his trial as well as the investigation, Texas courts will not revisit Cantu's case.

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis is also refusing to "utilize the conviction integrity unit in his office to delay the execution and open an urgent inquiry that could exonerate Cantu and save his life," said Martin. He then urges people to sign the MoveOn petition that could bring more awareness to Cantu's plight.

Why is Ivan Cantu in prison?

In November 2000, police discovered the bodies of James Mosqueda, 27, and Amy Kitchen, 22. Both were shot multiple times but authorities were unable to locate a gun at the crime scene, reported the Texas Observer. The couple had gotten engaged a few months before they were killed. Kitchen as a nurse but Mosqueda was a known drug dealer, which is what police focused on. What didn't make sense was nothing missing apart from "Mosqueda’s Rolex watch and Kitchen’s diamond engagement ring."

A day or two later, law enforcement discovered Mosqueda's Corvette in the parking lot of Cantu's apartment building after his mother requested they do a welfare check on her son. At the time, Cantu and his fiancee were in Arkansas but that didn't stop police from searching their apartment. On Nov. 7, authorities found "bloody clothing in the trash can, as well as a box of bullets and Amy Kitchen’s car keys."

While this was going on, Cantu was getting multiple calls from family and friends about the murders. He decided to share details of a story that pointed to a possible motive for the killings. Two days before the murders, "Cantu said a man dressed as a pizza delivery person had shown up to his apartment to intimidate him, claiming Mosqueda owed him a huge sum of money." Apparently this man fired into the wall as a warning. Police did take note of a bullet hole by Cantu's front door.

Cantu and his fiancee, Amy Boettcher, returned to Dallas on Nov. 10 so Cantu could speak with detectives. Terrified, the couple stayed with Cantu's ex-girlfriend. When Cantu left her home in order to speak with police, his fiancee stayed behind. Hours later, Cantu was arrested and after letting Boettcher know, she flew back to Arkansas where she "told her parents that Cantu had committed the murders, and with the help of her stepfather, a former law enforcement officer, she made several statements to police."

This was the beginning of the end for Cantu, who said Boettcher lied about everything. Many wonder why she would do that but for context, they had only met a few months prior to the murders. Matt Duff, a private investigator, was intrigued by this story and looked into it. It led to a podcast titled Cousins by Blood. He is the catalyst behind the new evidence that could help Cantu. Hopefully it's not too late.

(source: distractify.com)

*************

18-year-old could face death penalty after 2 found dead in vehicle, Texas cops say

An 18-year-old was charged with capital murder in the shooting of 2 teens, Texas cops say. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Jose Plata was arrested and charged with capital murder Feb. 6 in connection with the shooting of 16-year-old Edgar Campos-Bonilla and 18-year-old David Caballero in Spring, according to court documents. The victims were found dead in a car Jan. 31, according to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez. They had gunshot wounds, Gonzalez said.

Sheriff’s deputies initially received a call about a crash, KHOU reported.

“Pretty young and pretty sad situation seeing young people lose their lives to violence, whatever it is. That will be part of our investigation,” the sheriff told KHOU.

Plata is currently held without bail in Harris County Jail. Attorney information for Plata was not listed.

A capital murder charge in Texas is more serious than any murder charge because it is punishable by the death penalty or life in prison without parole, according to Varghese Summersett law firm. Murder charges are punishable by life in prison with the possibility of parole, according to the law firm.

Texas has executed 586 people and is responsible for more executions than any other state since 1976 when the Supreme Court lifted the moratorium on the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Spring is about 25 miles north of Houston.

(source: star-telegram.com)

*************

Death sentence in College Station murder upheld

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has again upheld the conviction and death sentence of 30-year-old Gabriel Paul Hall, of College Station, for the 2011 capital murder of Edwin Shaar in his College Station home.

The Brazos County District Attorney’s Office says Hall also attacked Shaar’s wife, Linda, as she sat in her wheelchair.

Wednesday’s ruling denied Hall’s request for the Court to grant a new jury trial for alleged errors related to the effectiveness of the defense counsel’s representation and alleged violations of the defendant’s rights. The D.A.’s Office says this ruling affirms the trial work and legal arguments of District Attorney Jarvis Parsons, First Assistant District Attorney Brian Baker and Appellate Division Chief Doug Howell, who represented the Brazos County District Attorney’s Office at trial and during the appellate process.

According to the D.A.’s Office, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals originally denied rehearing in the appeal in the State of Texas v. Gabriel Hall in spring 2022. The Court of Criminal Appeals’ ruling ended the appeals at the state level.

The D.A.’s Office says general jury selection in the trial started in July 2015. Hall was convicted of Capital Murder on September 11, 2015, with the punishment phase starting on September 14. The 272nd jury sentenced Hall to the death penalty on October 7, 2015.

(source: FOX news)

SOUTH CAROLINA:

S.C. wants to restart executions with firing squad, electric chair and lethal injection----South Carolina’s current execution law requires inmates to be sent to the electric chair unless they choose a different method

Lawyers for 4 death row inmates who have run out of appeals argued to the South Carolina Supreme Court on Tuesday that the state’s old electric chair and new firing squad are cruel and unusual punishments.

They also argued that a 2023 law meant to allow lethal injections to restart keeps secret too many details about the new drug and protocol used to kill prisoners.

In the balance are the death sentences of 33 inmates who are on South Carolina’s death row. While there hasn’t been a formal moratorium, the state hasn’t performed an execution in nearly 13 years after the drugs it used for lethal injection expired and companies refused to sell more to prison officials unless they could hide their identities from the public.

South Carolina says all 3 methods fit existing protocols. “Courts have never held the death has to be instantaneous or painless,” wrote Grayson Lambert, a lawyer for Gov. Henry McMaster’s office.

During a lively 90-minute hearing, the justices meticulously questioned both sides, emphasizing whether the firing squad should be considered a banned unusual punishment because it has only been used three times in the past 50 years, all in Utah.

They questioned the electric conductivity of the human skull and asked if modern science has found the electric chair is more painful and cruel than a century ago.

And they got a lawyer for the inmates to say if the Supreme Court bans electrocution and the firing squad and the state can show the drugs used for lethal injection are the right potency and purity and the method matches what other states and the federal government use, then they don’t have a basis to stop an execution.

“I want to make sure it is humane as possible,” attorney John Blume said.

If the Supreme Court justices allow executions to restart and any additional appeals are unsuccessful, South Carolina’s death chamber, unused since May 2011, could suddenly get quite busy.

4 inmates are suing, but four more have also run out of appeals, although two of them face a competency hearing before they could be executed, according to Justice 360, a group that describes itself as fighting for the inmates and for fairness and transparency in death penalty and other major criminal cases.

The state asked the Supreme Court to toss out a lower court ruling after a 2022 trial that the electric chair and the firing squad are cruel and unusual punishments. The justices added questions about last year’s shield law to the appeal and Tuesday’s arguments.

Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman sided with the inmates whose experts testified prisoners would feel terrible pain whether their bodies were “cooking” by 2,000 volts of electricity in the chair, built in 1912, or if their hearts were stopped by bullets — assuming the 3 shooters were on target — from the yet-to-be used firing squad.

South Carolina’s current execution law requires inmates to be sent to the electric chair unless they choose a different method.

Lawmakers allowed a firing squad to be added in 2021. No legislation has been proposed in South Carolina to add nitrogen gas, which was used for the first time to kill an inmate last month in Alabama.

On the shield law, attorneys for the inmates argue South Carolina’s law is more secretive than any other state. They said prison officials should not be allowed to hide the identities of drug companies, the names of anyone helping with an execution and the exact procedure followed.

In September, prison officials announced they now have the sedative pentobarbital and changed the method of lethal injection execution from using three drugs to just one. They released few other details other than saying South Carolina’s method is similar to the protocol followed by the federal government and 6 other states.

Lawyers for the prisoners said most states release at least some information about the potency, purity and stabilization of lethal injection drugs.

The inmates argue pentobarbital, compounded and mixed, has a shelf life of about 45 days. They want to know if there is a regular supplier for the drug and what guidelines are in place to test the drug and make sure it is what the seller claims.

Too weak, and inmates may suffer without dying. Too strong, and the drug molecules can form tiny clumps that would cause intense pain when injected, according to court papers.

“No inmate in the country has ever been put to death with such little transparency about how he or she would be executed,” Justice 360 lawyer Lindsey Vann wrote.

Lawyers for the state said the inmates want the information so they can piece together who is supplying the drugs and put them under public pressure to stop.

“Each additional piece of information is a puzzle piece, and with enough of them, Respondents (or anyone else) may put them together to identify an individual or entity protected by the Shield Statute,” Lambert wrote.

The justices questioned seemed to think the shield law was too narrow. Several suggested requiring the prisons director to at least release a statement saying detailing why he thinks the drugs are OK to use, whether it is through independent testing or in-house action at the prison.

South Carolina used to carry out an average of 3 executions a year and had more than 60 inmates on death row when the last execution was carried out in 2011. Since then, successful appeals and deaths have lowered the number to 33.

Prosecutors have sent only three new prisoners to death row in the past 13 years. Facing rising costs, the lack of lethal injection drugs and more vigorous defenses, they are choosing to accept guilty pleas and life in prison without parole.

(source: Associated Press)

MISSISSIPPI:

A man on death row is fighting for his life. MS attorney general says he's out of options

One of Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch's arguments for her cause in setting an execution date for a man on death row is a recent state Supreme Court decision that says ineffective assistance-of-post-conviction-counsel is not an accepted means for legal relief.

The court ruled 5-3 in January in another death-row case to partially overturn a previous ruling that made ineffective counsel a remedy as provided in the Mississippi Uniform Post-Conviction Collateral Relief Act. The prisoner, Timothy Ronk, plans to file a motion for a rehearing.

The dissenting justices said the ruling took away one legal remedy without putting another in its place.

"Today’s partial reversal of Grayson leaves death-penalty petitioners with a right to 'competent and conscientious' post-conviction counsel but with no mechanism for petitioning for redress of a viable claim that post-conviction counsel was ineffective," Justice James Kitchens wrote in his dissent. "This nonsensical outcome violates the maxim that there 'is no right without a remedy,' for ‘whensoever the law giveth any right, . . . it also giveth a remedy.’”

Krissy Nobile with the Mississippi Office of Capital Post-Conviction Counsel who represents Robert Simon Jr., one of two men for whom Fitch is asking the court to set an execution date, said the ruling does not apply to Simon's case since it was filed before the Ronk decision.

"This Court’s recent decision in Ronk v. State purports to create more barriers to petitions for post-conviction relief," Nobile said. "Simon’s successive petition was pending when the Ronk decision was issued. And counsel for Simon has an affirmative duty to show Simon’s claims are not statutorily barred."

Nobile said Fitch's office is using the ruling to proceed with the execution without addressing the issues in Simon's petition for relief.

"Instead of also addressing the law, the State yet again just seeks to strike Simon’s properly filed and required briefing," Nobile said. "Plainly put, the State’s continued non-response reveals only that it has no response. The Court should deny the State’s motion to strike and consider Simon’s brief on statutory bars after the decision in Ronk v. State."

Nobile presented other issues with the state's position, including Simon's lack of access to his own records. The attorneys who previously were assigned to Simon's case had issues of their own, including one who was disbarred.

Nobile was officially appointed to represent Simon just 3 weeks before Fitch made her request to set an execution date. Regardless, Nobile has worked quickly to get Simon evaluated by experts who say he is not mentally competent and should not be executed.

"It has become glaringly apparent that the State is ready to execute Robert Simon without substantively addressing any of his legal claims," Nobile wrote. "In its most recent motion, the State faults Simon for his continued supplementation to his successive petition for post-conviction relief and his response to the motion to set his execution date. But it is the State that is solely responsible for this procedural morass."

In December, the attorney general's office said regardless of how long he has had his current attorney assigned to his case, he has exhausted all legal remedies.

"Robert Simon has exhausted all federal and state court avenues of appeal and there is no impediment to his lawful execution," Fitch's response said. "Simon has completed his constitutionally required direct appeal and was denied relief."

In addition, Fitch said the Supreme Court should strike a supplemental response filed on behalf of Simon that goes into further detail on why Simon should not be executed because his attorneys allegedly did not follow court guidelines when filing the supplement.

"Simon was obligated to seek leave of this Court before amending or supplementing his response," the attorney general's office wrote. "He did not. Simon cites no authority that authorizes his supplemental response. That Simon objects to this Court overruling its precedent is not a basis for unlimited filings both out of time and without leave of court."

This was after Simon's attorneys filed a supplement to his initial motion for relief that outlined what the experts reported in their examinations of Simon.

Nobile has been working with experts to evaluate Simon's mental competence, which also was called into question in 2011, when the state first sought to execute Simon.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Bhushan Agharkar recently determined Simon "is not competent to be executed under federal standards and Mississippi’s state statute."

Agharkar said in his report that while Simon understands execution as punishment in the hypothetical, he does not understand how it applies to him.

Simon, along with Anthony Carr, who is also on death row at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, was convicted at trial for murder, sexual battery, kidnapping and burglary in connection with the deaths of 2 family members in Quitman County, including 2 children.

(source: Clarion Ledger)

OHIO:

Weighing the ethics of nitrogen hypoxia executions

Some Republican lawmakers in the statehouse are proposing an alternative method of enforcing death sentences in Ohio, and the suggestion is raising some concerns about its ethical implications.

Some lawmakers are proposing using nitrogen gas as an alternative to lethal injection after Alabama carried out the first death sentence in the United States through nitrogen hypoxia

Last week, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined lawmakers and members of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association to propose a new law that would make nitrogen hypoxia an approved way to execute inmates on death row.

Gov. Mike DeWine's office said threats from drug companies vowing to stop selling any products in Ohio if they suspected their materials were used in executions put the process on pause after the state's last execution in 2018. At this time, 118 people are sitting on the state's death row.

The proposal follows the state of Alabama’s use of the gas to execute a convicted murder.

But last year, DeWine signed into law an animal cruelty bill banning euthanizing pets with any gas not used as an anesthesia, like nitrogen. That prompted opponents of the newly proposed bill to question its use on humans.

“That in and of itself does not make that execution inhumane or unconstitutional,” said Michael Benza, Case Western Reserve University School of Law Professor. “In fact, the court has repeatedly pointed out that an amount of suffering, even a significant amount of suffering, is not what is prohibited by the constitution.”

A different proposed bill is also routing through the statehouse that would abolish the death penalty altogether.

(source: spectrumnews1.com)

IDAHO:

Idaho inmate nearing execution wants a new clemency hearing. The last one was a tie

An Idaho man scheduled to be executed at the end of the month is asking a federal court to put his lethal injection on hold and order a new clemency hearing after the previous one resulted in a tie vote.

Thomas Eugene Creech is Idaho's longest-serving death row inmate. He was already serving time after being convicted of killing two people in Valley County in 1974 when he was sentenced to die for beating a fellow inmate to death with a sock full of batteries in 1981.

Last month, the state's parole board voted 3-3 on Creech's request to have his sentence changed to life without parole after one of its members recused himself from the case. Under state rules, a majority of the board must vote in favor of clemency for that recommendation to be sent to the governor.

But even that is no guarantee. The state also allows the governor to overrule clemency recommendations, and Gov. Brad Little said last week that he has “zero intention of taking any action that would halt or delay Creech's execution.”

“Thomas Creech is a convicted serial killer responsible for acts of extreme violence," Little said in a statement, later continuing, “His lawful and just sentence must be carried out as ordered by the court. Justice has been delayed long enough.”

During his clemency hearing, Ada County deputy prosecutor Jill Longhurst characterized Creech as a sociopath with no regard for human life. She noted his long criminal record, which also includes murder convictions in Oregon and in California. Yet another murder indictment in Oregon was dropped by prosecutors because he had already been given four life sentences there.

At times, Creech has claimed to have killed several more.

“The facts underlying this case could not be more chilling,” then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in a 1993 opinion, upholding an Idaho law about when defendants can be sentenced to death. The ruling came after Creech appealed his sentence, arguing that the statute was unconstitutionally vague.

“Thomas Creech has admitted to killing or participating in the killing of at least 26 people," O'Connor continued. "The bodies of 11 of his victims — who were shot, stabbed, beaten, or strangled to death — have been recovered in seven states.”

Creech's defense attorneys say that the number of killings tied to him is highly exaggerated and that Creech, 73, has changed during his decades behind bars.

Creech has had a positive influence on younger inmates and went 28 years without a single disciplinary offense before being written up once in 2022 for a “misunderstanding over a card game,” lawyer Jonah Horwitz with the Idaho Federal Defenders Office said during his clemency hearing.

Creech has drawn support in his commutation request from some seemingly unlikely sources, including a former prison nurse, a former prosecutor and the judge who sentenced him to death.

Judge Robert Newhouse told a clemency board last year that no purpose would be served by executing Creech after 40 years on death row. Doing so now would just be an act of vengeance, he said in a petition.

In their federal appeal seeking a new clemency hearing, Creech's defense attorneys say having one board member absent from the decision put their client at an unfair disadvantage. Normally an inmate would have to convince a simple majority to get a clemency recommendation, but with one person missing, that became two-thirds of the board, his attorneys noted.

Either another board member should have stepped aside to avoid a tie vote or someone else should have been appointed to fill the seventh seat, they said.

Creech also has 2 appeals on other issues pending before the Idaho Supreme Court and has appealed another case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

(source: Associated Press)

USA:

The Unconscionable Nazi Legacies of Executions by Gas and Lethal Injection ---- The author, a Jewish cantor and death penalty abolitionist, argues that Alabama's recent execution by nitrogen hypoxia harkens back to the traumatic legacy of the Nazi mass killings of the Holocaust...

Alabama’s experimental use of gas to torture to death Kenneth Smith on January 25th — like all executions by lethal injection — has perpetuated a horrific Nazi legacy in the United States and is a traumatizing affront to many in the Jewish community. The fact that this torment was blindly carried out just ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day is nothing less than a shameless slap in the face of people like myself and many of the nearly 3,200 members of “L’chaim! Jews Against the Death Penalty” who are direct descendants of Holocaust survivors and victims. The Alabama Holocaust Education Center — a highly reputable organization that at this dangerously fraught moment for world Jewry is more essential than ever before — was absolutely right to release a statement ahead of the gassing differentiating the issue of capital punishment from the singular calamity of the Holocaust. Indeed, L’chaim members who, like me, still painfully reside under the incomparable shadow of the Holocaust/Shoah know this truth all too well. Members also know that the lessons of that unparalleled conflagration must be heeded if the phrase “Never Again!” is to have a fully impactful and abiding meaning for all of humanity. This assuredly applies to never again employing executions by gas and lethal injections, which are forever singed into the annals of human history with the Nazi imprimatur.

Let there be no doubt: the Nazis were not the first to gas the incarcerated to death. That enduring badge of shame belongs to the United States, specifically Nevada, which employed cyanide gas to kill Gee Jon in 1924. However, the Third Reich’s notorious use of gas as part of the Final Solution’s mass genocide against Jews and other “undesirables” unquestionably damns any society that wields any form of gassing — whether via a gas chamber, a gas mask or otherwise — in the killing of imprisoned human beings against their will. It is undeniable that gassing to death is now inextricably bound to these unspeakable events in the Jewish and general collective consciousness. This includes Arizona’s use of Zyklon B — of Auschwitz infamy — in its execution protocol, which quite appropriately triggered a lawsuit from the Jewish community in that state. It certainly also includes Alabama’s macabre inaugural execution by nitrogen hypoxia, which Ohio, Nebraska, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Mississippi are now considering utilizing for state killings, and by which Alabama intends to put to death at least 43 more of its condemned human beings.

The Nazi legacy of experimentation to find the most expeditious way for the state to kill prisoners is a barbaric undercurrent for anyone who is aware of this history. It comes as no surprise that a great many Jewish individuals have contacted L’chaim to describe how the nightmarish scene that played out in Alabama’s death chamber triggered deeply painful cultural memories and reignited a palpable intergenerational Jewish trauma, a subject about which Rabbi Tirzah Firestone has so powerfully written. I myself have experienced a visceral, nauseating response to this gassing, which has inevitably conjured images of my family members and my fellow Jews being gassed to death. These pictures are emblazoned onto the souls of the Jewish people as indelibly as the numbers that the Nazis tattooed on the arms of our ancestors at the Auschwitz concentration camp. As I write this, Death Penalty Action has just created a new petition for all Jewish leaders who feel similarly, adding to the nearly 20,000 individuals who already have signed their names against gassing executions.

This monstrous development should also awaken all Americans to the reality that lethal injection — the primary method of execution used in the United States — is itself a direct Nazi legacy. As with killings by gas, the Nazis did not invent lethal injection. American doctor Julius Mount Bleyer, who served as a member of a commission to study capital punishment, first proposed the novel method in the Jan. 17, 1888 issue of The Medico-Legal Journal, where he indicated it would be cheaper than hanging. Yet, it was none other than the Third Reich that was the first to actually cross the Rubicon of using this idea and implementing lethal injection on human beings.

In the current era of so-called “fake news,” many individuals with whom I have shared this Nazi legacy of lethal injection have refused to believe it. It merits repeating, then, that one can locate irrefutable proof of this fact just down the street from where I live in College Park, Maryland — at the National Archives and Records Administration. Housed inside that building is Adolf Hitler’s signed authorization for the euthanasia program known to the world as Aktion/Operation T4. This protocol was directed by Dr. Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician, as a method to dispose of Lebensunwertes Leben, those deemed to be “life unworthy of life.”

In his medical journal article “Lethal injection: a stain on the face of medicine,” which can be found on the website of the National Library of Medicine in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), trauma medical director Dr. Jonathan Groner described this new medical protocol:

“In 1939, Adolf Hitler started the national “euthanasia” programme—code named “T-4”—with the purpose of killing physically and mentally handicapped patients. The killing facilities were designed on a medical model. A doctor examined new “patients,” and their vital signs were recorded…The killing—whether by lethal injection, poisoning, or gassing with carbon monoxide—was always supervised by a doctor.”

Mark Eliott, the former director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, wrote poignantly about his direct experience with this history when he encountered members of the Jewish community as they protested in front of the death chamber during Florida’s inaugural lethal injection in 2000. The execution victim in that “novel” experiment for the Sunshine State was a Jewish man by the name of Terry Sims. As Mr. Eliott recalled:

“Among the protestors and those keeping vigil was a rabbi with members of his congregation. They were facing toward the death chamber, intently praying while wearing prayer shawls and yarmulkes…We discussed how lethal injection was first developed in Nazi Germany by Dr. Karl Brandt, personal physician to Adolph Hitler. It was used in the infamous T4 program to legally murder disabled children and adults along with Jews and others the state deemed undesirable or “unworthy of life.” I was deeply shocked that the State of Florida had chosen to revive this horrific legacy by choosing a Jewish prisoner to be the 1st killed by lethal injection. I felt a sudden spark in the core of my being that later became a fire.”

As with gassing executions, this Nazi legacy of lethal injection should in and of itself give soulful pause to even the staunchest of death penalty supporters, of which I myself was one before learning of this incriminating truth. Alabama used this lethal injection method to torture the very same Kenneth Smith for hours on the gurney less than a year ago, when it failed in its first attempt to kill him, leading to his fateful choice of execution by gas instead. Lethal injection also was the method that Alabama employed to inadvertently “commemorate” International Holocaust Remembrance Day just two years ago, when it put to death Matthew Reeves, 1 of 2 Americans with severe, documented cognitive impairment executed in that manner that very day.

To put an end to these grotesque Nazi killing traditions and the collective bloodlust that any method of execution inherently conjures, L’chaim’s thousands of members carry the torch of Holocaust survivor and staunch death penalty abolitionist Elie Wiesel. Of capital punishment, Wiesel famously stated, “Death should never be the answer in a civilized society.” He added in an interview, in 1988: “With every cell of my being and with every fiber of my memory I oppose the death penalty in all forms. I do not believe any civilized society should be at the service of death. I don’t think it’s human to become an agent of the angel of death.” To be sure, Wiesel is on record having referred to Israel’s 1962 execution of Nazi perpetrator and Final Solution engineer Adolph Eichmann as “an example not to be followed.” Jewish opponents to Eichmann’s execution included renowned Hebrew University philosophers Samuel Hugo Bergmann and Nathan Rotenstreich, scholar of Kabbalah Gershom Scholem, and Jewish theologian and philosopher Martin Buber, who called the execution a great “mistake.” Other Holocaust survivors themselves, such as Nobel-prize winning author, Nelly Sachs voiced their strident opposition to Eichmann’s execution.

Given this Nazi legacy — not to mention the death penalty’s undeniable outgrowth from lynching and its demonstrably racist application — L’chaim members maintain that 21st century Judaism must firmly reject the death penalty in all cases — from Kenneth Smith to the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooter. Like Zimbabwe — which has abolished the death penalty as I write these very words — more than 70 percent of world nations that have discontinued executions agree: there is no “humane” way to put prisoners to death against their will, and capital punishment is not a deterrence to crime. On the contrary, state-sponsored killing condemns the society that allows it infinitely more than any of the individuals it condemns to death. It condemned the Third Reich, it condemns the soul of America, and it will continue to condemn any civilization that elects to wield its inherent cruelty — until it is finally abolished from this world.

(source: Ccommentary; Cantor Michael J. Zoosman, MSM, is a board-certified Chaplain (Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains), co-founder of “L’chaim: Jews Against the Death Penalty” and a member of the advisory committee of Death Penalty Action---- jurist.org)

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Pursuit of death penalty in Tops case ‘disturbing’

To the editor:

The recent decision by the U.S. Justice Department to pursue the death penalty for Payton Gendron, who killed 10 Black people in a Tops Supermarket in 2022, is disturbing. Although the department has the option of pursuing the death penalty in hate-crime cases, it has been hesitant to choose this option. The present administration had campaigned for its elimination. Attorney General Merrick Garland had called for a moratorium on its use, pending a review after several botched executions, but federal prosecutors were permitted to seek death sentences.

Gendron is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His attorney has offered an alternative to his execution that should be considered. The efforts of the federal government would be better spent on combatting the forces that facilitated the terrible crime, including easy access to deadly weapons and the inability of social media companies to moderate hateful online rhetoric and images.

(source: Letter to the Editor, Father Kevin E. McKenna, Gates; Catholic Courier)

NIGERIA:

Enugu court sentences lady to death by hanging for murder----The deceased was said to have left her house on 11 November 2020 for a job but went missing until her corpse was found on 16 November 2020 in a refuse dump.

The Enugu State High Court, in Enugu, the state capital, on Wednesday, sentenced one Chiamaka Ifezue to death by hanging for killing Ijeoma Nweke, a make-up artist, on 11 November 2020

The court, presided over by Kenneth Okpe, in a 2-hour judgement, found the accused guilty of killing the deceased by forcing her to drink poisonous substance, which led to her death.

“The defendant was in Count 2, charged under Section 274(1) of the Criminal Code Law of Enugu State Cap. 30 Revised Laws of Enugu State, 2004, which prescribes death sentence as punishment,” the judge said.

He said Ms Ifezue, the defendant, though having a gentle mien, had the heart of steel.

According to the judge, the defendant carried on throughout the trial with a sense of fulfilment that the mission was accomplished and that her freedom was a matter of time.

“There was no remorse shown from the beginning of trial to judgment day.

“I hereby sentence the defendant, Ifezue Chiamaka, to death by hanging until she is dead.

“May God have mercy on her,” Mr Okpe said.

READ ALSO: Placing Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State in court of justice, posterity, By Louis Amoke The deceased, Miss Nweke, was said to have left her house on 11 November 2020 for a job but went missing until her corpse was found on 16 November 2020 in a refuse dump at Maryland area of Enugu.

The Enugu State Director of Public Prosecution, C C Chigbo, described the judgment as victory for justice.

(source: premiumtimesng.com)

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