Thursday, October 2, 2014

The real cost of the death penalty in Arizona: 7 times higher than for life without parole

In Arizona, 119 inmates call death row home, and the majority of them have been locked up for several decades.

The last 10 Arizona inmates who were executed spent an average of more than 20 years in a Florence super maximum security facility within Arizona State Prison Complex Eyman called the Browning Unit.

"Our clients are in their cells for all (day), except they get out three times a week for one hour," Natman Schaye, senior capital trial counsel of the Arizona Capital Representation project, said.

Schaye helps Arizona's death row inmates with both their state and federal appeals. He said it is a lengthy process that begins once a jury sentences an inmate to death.

"You then have a direct appeal," he said. "Then there is a post-conviction (review) back in state court that is looking at whether the trial was done correctly. That gets appealed again, and then it goes to federal court. So, it goes on and on."

Debra Milke's case is a prime example of the lengthy appeals process associated with capital cases in Arizona. Milke was sentenced to death for the murder of her 4-year-old son in January of 1991. After dozens of appeals, a federal judge overturned her conviction in 2013.

The former death row inmate's co-counsel, Lori Vopel, explained Milke is now awaiting retrial and has two pending appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It can be very, very long and drawn out," Vopel said. "Even though we won in our 1st round of appeals, in Debra's case, she was on death row for 23 years."

On top of the long process, capital adjudication fees and death row housing costs eventually add up to millions of dollars in taxpayer money. When a prosecutor seeks the death penalty, a defendant is guaranteed 2 defense attorneys. That results in approximately double the cost for taxpayers.

In the Jodi Arias case, the bill has been exponentially increasing since the sentencing phase mistrial.

"She's only gotten through the guilt-innocence determination phase and her defense costs are already over $2 million," Chuck Laroue, a Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona board member, said.

Laroue said Arias' trial has certainly lightened taxpayers' wallets. Now, jury selection for her sentencing phase retrial is underway.

"And the taxpayer is the one that is shouldering the burden of the financial costs on this," he said.

The numbers are staggering when a death sentence is given. Inmates sit on Arizona's death row for an average of 23 years before execution. At $81.11 per day, the state spends an average of $680,918.45 in housing fees per death row inmate.

In total, death row housing fees cost the Arizona Department of Corrections $3,523,012.85 each year.

"It is a much higher level of security than your standard department of corrections unit - even your high-security unit," Laroue said.

The housing costs, however, do not even begin to cover capital adjudication fees, according to Death Penalty Alternatives President Dan Pietzmeyer.

"The primary costs are trial costs, litigation costs and appeals costs," Pietzmeyer said.

A sentence of life without parole guarantees savings for taxpayers.

"It is far, far more expensive to seek to execute (an inmate), whether or not you execute them," he said.

The cost of housing an inmate in general population comes in at less than $60 dollars per day and there's a limited appeals process, which trims court costs.

Laroue said he believes the state of Arizona needs to conduct a study to find out what the death penalty costs.

"There's actually been some analysis done in Arizona, but it hasn't been that comprehensive," Laroue said.

Before the state carries out another execution, Laroue said it is only fair that Arizona conduct an analysis to determine exactly how much taxpayer money is spent each year killing inmates.

"We know from other studies that if you compared the actual costs from the investigation to the time that an execution is actually carried out, it is probably 6 to 7 times higher for a death penalty case than it is for a life without parole (sentence)," he said.

Source: KTAR news, October 1, 2014

Colorado: Judge allows video of theater shooting trial

James E. Holmes and attorney
News organizations will be allowed to broadcast the Colorado theater shooting trial using a closed-circuit TV camera already in the courtroom, but they won't be allowed to have their own cameras in court, the judge said Tuesday.

Still images can be captured from the video, but still cameras will also be barred from the courtroom, Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. said in a written order.

The small camera is mounted on the courtroom ceiling and will show the witness stand, a video screen where evidence will be displayed, the judge, the defense table and part of the prosecution table. Jurors will not be visible.

It was not immediately clear whether defendant James Holmes would be in the camera's view.

Samour said the camera's view cannot be changed without his permission.

The camera is normally used for surveillance by sheriff's deputies and to show the proceedings in overflow rooms when needed. Audio from the camera will be available to the media, but it wasn't immediately known where the sound is collected.

Samour also barred video and still photography in most areas inside the courthouse and limited cameras to two areas outside the courthouse.

A group of television and radio stations, a cable channel, The Denver Post and The Associated Press had asked to have one television camera and 1 still photographer in the courtroom.

Prosecutors and the defense objected, saying video and photo coverage could intimidate witnesses, inflict emotional damage on survivors and put images from the trial on the Internet forever, outside the court's control.

Some victims' family members have also publicly objected, saying video and still pictures would give Holmes unwarranted attention.

Samour said using the closed-circuit video would not affect Holmes' right to a fair trial or disrupt the proceedings. He also said broadcasting the video would allow victims to watch the trial if they cannot be there in person.

Diego Hunt, an attorney for the broadcasters, called the order a "huge victory" despite the restrictions.

"Ultimately, the request was to gain access and public access to this important trial, so we achieved that," he said.

He said questions remain about the quality of the video image the camera would provide.

Steve Zansberg, an attorney for the Post and AP, called the order disappointing and said the judge had in effect limited the public view to "a tiny peephole covered by a fuzzy mesh."

"A high-quality miniaturized camera would allow the public a meaningful view of the witness' demeanor without creating any impact on the courtroom," Zansberg said.

Holmes is scheduled to go on trial Dec. 8 on charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the July 2012 attack on a suburban Denver movie theater. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Source: Associated Press, October 1, 2014

Oklahoma Department of Corrections releases new execution protocol

Oklahoma death chamber
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections released Tuesday the state's new execution protocol, which was revised after an April execution went awry and became a focal point in the national debate over whether or not the death penalty is cruel or unusual punishment.

The April 29 execution of Clayton Derrell Lockett lasted 43 minutes and sparked an Oklahoma Public Safety Department investigation, which included recommended changes to protocol.

Lockett was killed with a 3-drug cocktail never before used in the United States, and the new protocol allows the state to continue using the most controversial of the drugs, midazolam. It also allows the state to continue using a single IV in the femoral vein, a procedure the state Public Safety Department investigation found to be central to problems that occurred during the procedure. 

Midazolam also was used in 2 recent problematic executions, 1 in Ohio and another in Arizona. The new protocol increases the amount of the drug by 5 times. It also requires the medical professional inserting a single vein IV be trained to perform the procedure. Traditional lethal injections in Oklahoma utilize 2 IVs, 1 in each arm.

A staff member also will be responsible for watching the insertion point during the procedure to ensure no problems occur. The lethal drugs used to kill Lockett collected in his tissue near the insertion point due to a poorly placed femoral IV, the state investigation found, and the large, swollen area went unnoticed for several minutes due to a sheet covering Lockett's groin.

The protocol also places a one hour time limit on the placement of the IV, after which the director will be required to contact the governor's office and advise on the possibility of a stay.

The state Corrections Department released the protocol late Tuesday without statement or comment. Director Robert Patton has declined to comment on the protocol, as recently as last week's Board of Corrections meeting, due to pending litigation.

Dale Baich, an attorney representing several death row inmates currently suing the state over its protocol, said the protocol still allowed the state to use experimental execution methods and allowed for less oversight.

"The protocol calls for less, not more transparency in executions, by limiting the number of media eyewitnesses and keeping information about the source and efficacy of the drugs from the prisoner," Baich said in an emailed statement.

In a hearing earlier this month in Baich's case, a federal judge expressed concern that the Corrections Department could not implement the changes and necessary staff training in time for the Nov. 13 execution of Charles Frederick Warner.

Source: The Oklahoman, October 1, 2014

USA: The Enforcers of the Death Penalty

The walking scene from 'Monster's Ball' (2001)
by Marc Forster, with B.B. Thornton and Heath Ledger
How does capital punishment affect the prison guards and wardens tasked with carrying it out?

It was the late 70s, and Kathleen Dennehy was working at Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Concord, the oldest running men's prison in the state.

Opened in 1878, it has a vault filled with corrections records dating back to the turn of the century, both from the now-demolished state prison that preceded it and from MCI-Concord's prison cemetery. The weathered papers include death certificates, sentencing documents, and other records, including those of Sacco and Vanzetti, the famous 20s anarchists ostensibly sentenced to death for 1st-degree murder, but whose larger crime was being Italian.

But one particular document - from the early 1900s, she estimates - caught her eye. "The wording was so unusual," says Dennehy, who now works for the National Council on Crime & Delinquency. "It was for a prisoner who had died in custody at the old state prison, and next to 'cause of death', it read 'judicial homicide.'"

It's a telling turn of phrase. Sometime during the 20th century - historical sources disagree as to the exact year - the term "capital punishment" entered American legal parlance, and with it a sanitized rebranding of state-sanctioned killings. Dennehy had never heard the term "judicial homicide" used before encountering it in the vault, nor - during her 30-year career in corrections that followed - did she hear it used again. Taken separately, the words "capital" and "punishment" are both qualifiers for the condemned, but "judicial homicide" points to someone else entirely. It's the guard standing at the door to the death chamber, the strap-down team member holding the prisoner's ankles, and the physician inserting the needle. It's the people who walk into the death chamber and walk back out, and sure, their task is judicial. But just because we call it "punishment" now, does it affect their psyches any less than when we called it "homicide"?

"At job interviews we don't ask things like, 'So how do you feel about wheeling away a body?' But maybe we should."

Unlike other professions that involve death, such as the police force or the military, few corrections officers enter the field with the expectation that they'll eventually have to kill somebody. On the contrary, many view themselves as protectors.

"We are caretakers for a population of people who instantly go out of sight, out of mind for the general public," says Jennie Lancaster, a retired prison warden with the North Carolina Department of Corrections. In 1984, she oversaw the execution of Velma Barfield, the 1st woman in 35 years to be executed in the United States and the 1st to die of lethal injection.

"At job interviews we don't ask things like, 'So how do you feel about wheeling away a body?'" Lancaster says. "But maybe we should. It's not a role many of us picture ourselves playing."

And why would they? When it comes to the death penalty, much media attention has been paid to families of the victims and the condemned. Not so with corrections officers. It takes stories of executions gone wrong, such as Clayton Lockett's heart attack after a failed lethal injection in Oklahoma last April, or Joseph R. Wood III's injection of 15 times greater than the standard dosage, to shift the lens. Then, we wonder: What must it have been like to be in that room? To watch a person's body convulse, rather than calmly shut down? What is it like to wait two hours and 600 gasps of air for a man to die?

Following the media circus around Velma Barfield's execution, Lancaster was asked to appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show for a panel on capital punishment in 1988. This was the same year that Congress reinstated the federal death penalty, with then-president Reagan as a vocal supporter (though it should be noted that the Supreme Court put capital punishment back into effect several years earlier in 1976, after a 4-year moratorium). On the episode, Lancaster coined the phrase "silent actors" to describe the corrections officers who have to physically mete out executions, and whose names are protected from the press.

"There is a code of silence around execution teams, and it's used to protect people who are involved in them," says Lancaster, who was one of the first wardens to bring public awareness to corrections job stress. Still, she acknowledges that the flip side of protection is isolation, and that execution teams have few people to talk about their experiences with. "It's not necessarily something you go and bring up in church," she sighs with a North Carolinian drawl.

So how do you cope with that kind of job stress? In the American legal system, we burden a small handful of people with what is arguably the hardest part of corrections: There are only 38 execution chambers in the country, 5 of which - in New Hampshire, Kansas, Nebraska, California, and New York - are never used. When almost nobody can relate to your job, is it easier to quell your feelings about executions than express them?

A 2005 study published in Law and Human Behavior titled "The Role of Moral Disengagement in the Execution Process" sought to answer that question. Conducted by then-Stanford psychology student Michael Osofsky, social cognitive theory pioneer Albert Bandura, and Stanford prison experimenter/psychologist Philip Zimbardo, the 5-year study aimed to pinpoint the psychological strategies officers use to repeatedly perform, and cope with, executions.

"The core thesis is that individuals must morally disengage in order to perform actions and behaviors that run opposite and are counter to individual values and personal moral standards," Osofsky says. "Capital punishment is a real-world example of this type of moral dilemma where everyday people are forced to perform a legal and state-sanctioned action of ending the life of another human being, which poses an inherent moral conflict to human values."

To develop his moral disengagement metric, Osofsky studied 8 behaviors: moral justification, the use of euphemistic language, advantageous comparison (for example, "the execution prevented him from killing many more people"), displacement of responsibility, diffusion of responsibility, distortion of consequences (i.e. minimizing the execution process: "lethal injection is humane as the inmate has no pain"), attribution of blame, and dehumanization of the prisoner. During his interviews with execution teams and uninvolved correctional officers, he used the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS-1) Life Events Checklist and the Beck Depression Inventory, 2 tools psychologists use to measure trauma and depression.

One unsurprising aspect of the research was that nearly all corrections officers, whether involved or uninvolved with the execution process, rated high on the CAPS-1 Life Event Checklist, meaning that they had experienced and witnessed some pretty extreme events. But interestingly, there were almost no incidences of depression and scant evidence of PTSD among the wardens or executioners, even for those who had participated in 20 or more executions. Why?

Perhaps because moral disengagement does a good job of protecting the psyche. In fact, Osofsky made another striking discovery: an inverse relationship between levels of moral disengagement and how close to death each team member was. In other words: Carry out your execution day task in the next room (sitting with the victim's family, for example), and your moral disengagement stays low; touch the condemned while they die, and your moral disengagement soars. This is, of course, keeping in mind that it's incredibly difficult to quantify these types of psychological effects: Everyone processes death in their own unique way, which is why Osofsky's study makes ample use of storytelling and interviews. A quote from his research, this one from a death-chamber door guard at Louisiana's Angola State Prison, aptly illustrates the moral disengagement/proximity-to-death pattern: "After it is over, you get to thinking about him," the guard said. "You try to block it out, but you can't - his death is there."

"I always ask myself, would I have agreed to participate in executions if I knew then what I do now?"

It's a dimension of capital punishment that is rarely discussed. We frequently debate whether it's moral to make human beings die for their actions. But should we also be asking how moral it is to appoint other human beings to be their killers?

It's not a question with any neat answers. But no matter what retired corrections officials think about the morality or justness of capital punishment, many seem to have one thing in common: When asked to join executions, they were hesitant to take the job.

"I always ask myself, would I have agreed to participate in executions if I knew then what I do now?" says Steve J. Martin, who began his corrections career on death row at age 23 at Ellis Unit, part of Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. After leaving to earn his law degree, he eventually returned as executive assistant to the director and general counsel of the Texas Department of Corrections. During that time, he was asked to sit inside the death chamber while each execution happened, keeping the phone line open in case the Attorney General called at the last minute with a reprieve.

"I wasn't conflicted at that point about it, and I agreed without giving it a lot of thought," Martin says. "After each execution, I signed the death warrant too, until the thought occurred to me that I didn't really know much about these men. So I started pulling the file each afternoon before someone was assigned to die and reviewing it, just to get to know them better."

Things changed after the 1985 execution of Doyle Skillern, a co-defendant in a homicide case that gave Martin pause. As a lawyer, he knew that murder co-defendants often avoid the death penalty - but Martin had gotten to know Skillern, too, as part of an experiment in the 80s in which Ellis' death row inmates were mixed into the unit's general prison population, where they interacted with prison staff as well as fellow inmates. Though the experiment was eventually cut short, it afforded Martin and Skillern some 1-on-1 conversations - including one in Skillern's cell on the day of his execution, when he looked Martin and his boss, the Director of the Texas Department of Corrections, in the eye and thanked them before being taken away.

"The whole thing made me step out of my role professionally, and touched me on an emotional level," Martin says. "I began to realize that this is how these things happen, executions. We do these things that personally you would normally never be involved in, because they're sanctioned by the government. And then we start walking through them in a mechanical fashion. We become detached. We lose our humanity."

Should we also be asking how moral it is to appoint other human beings to be killers?

A few years later, there would be another corrections officer at Huntsville who was equally hesitant to join executions. Like Martin, Jim Willett spent his youth working in corrections, starting at the Huntsville penitentiary as a college student in 1971. As is the case with reliable wardens, Willett was tapped often for promotions, until he was made an offer that he initially turned down: the position of head warden, where he'd be overseeing executions.

"I had some personal feelings about it," Willett says. "But I made the mistake of telling my supervisor that if they couldn't find anyone else, I would do it."

Willett ended up becoming Huntsville's head warden during Texas' three busiest years for executions, 1998-2001, when he oversaw a staggering 89 of them. "I'd tell the inmate to lie down on the gurney, and I'd stand by his right shoulder, with the chaplain at his right foot. And there is some emotion that runs through all of that, through the whole experience," say Willett. "You'd have to be crazy for it not to be. I don't know how anybody could totally disassociate."

Still, one gets the sense Willett would score low on the Beck Depression Inventory, just like the prison workers in Osofsky's study. When asked if those 89 executions affect him at all today, his response is either a stunning testament to the durability of the human spirit or a haunting confirmation of Osofsky's research. Or both.

"To be honest with you," Willett says, "They rarely cross my mind. They rarely cross my mind at all."

Source: The Atlantic, October 1, 2014

USA: Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

"Today, at 6pm, the State of Florida is scheduled to kill my brother, Thomas Provenzano, despite clear evidence that he is mentally ill.... By no means do I suggest my brother go free. By all means justice should be done. But I have to wonder: Where is the justice in killing a sick human being?" -- Sister of death row inmate, June 2000

Thomas Provenzano was executed by lethal injection by the state of Florida on June 21, 2000. He had a history of mental illness and paranoid schizophrenia predating his crime, yet his family could not afford hospitalization for his illness. Moreover, he believed he was Jesus Christ, and believed he was being killed because he was Jesus Christ. Provenzano's sister wrote a letter to then-Governor Jeb Bush saying "as you know, Thomas is severely mentally ill. He believes he is Jesus Christ and that he is going to be executed because people hate Jesus". Similarly, Provenzano's lawyers requested additional time before his execution date so he could be examined by psychiatrists. A trial judge even came to the conclusion that Provenzano believed he faced execution because he was Jesus. Despite the evidence that Provenzano was mentally ill, he was executed by the State of Florida and with the approval of Governor Jeb Bush.

Cases such as Provenzano's are all too common: Mental Health America (MHA) estimates that 5-10% of all death row inmates suffer from a severe mental illness. MHA has taken a policy stance against the death penalty, explaining that "mental health conditions can influence an individual's mental state at the time he or she commits a crime, can affect how "voluntary" and reliable an individual's statements might be, can compromise a person's competence to stand trial and to waive his or her rights, and may have an effect upon a person's knowledge of the criminal justice system." The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also has stood against capital punishment. NAMI calls the death penalty "inappropriate and unwarranted" for those with severe mental disorders and a "distraction from the problems within the mental health system that contributed or even directly lead to tragic violence". For these reasons, MHA has called upon states to suspend using the death penalty, and NAMI has called for a ban on the death penalty for those with severe mental illnesses.

How Mental Illness Affects Capital Punishment

1.Police Interrogation: Mentally ill defendants are more likely to give false confessions and are more vulnerable to police pressure. Mentally ill defendants are also likely to have difficulty understanding their Miranda rights, often waiving their right to an attorney.

2.Competency to Stand Trial: The US Constitution states that a defendant must be competent to stand trial, meaning the defendant must have a "rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings" (ACLU). However, defendants with schizophrenia and / or severe delusions generally do not understand the proceedings, and should therefore not be declared competent enough to stand trial. Still, many schizophrenic defendants, like Thomas Provenzano, go to trial, rather than a state mental hospital to improve the defendant's mental state. Similarly, mentally ill defendants often fire their lawyers or choose to represent themselves because they (wrongfully) believe they are capable to defend themselves. For example, Pernell Ford, who was executed in Alabama in 2000, represented himself at trial. Ford spent much of his childhood in mental health institutions, attempted suicide several times, and had little formal education. He fired his lawyers, dropped his appeals, and wore a bedsheet to the penalty phase of his execution, saying he wanted the victims' bodies brought to court so God could resurrect him. Previously, Ford's lawyer had won him a stay of execution by questioning Ford's sanity, yet a federal appeals court ruled that Ford was competent enough to fire his attorney and drop the appeals.

3.Insanity: The ACLU reports that juries "frequently reject insanity defenses in capital cases despite strong evidence that the defendants are suffering from serious mental illnesses at the time of the crime". This results in guilty verdicts, which later turn into death penalty sentences.

4.Ability to form a criminal intent: States must prove that defendants specifically intended to kill the victim in most capital murder cases. Yet mentally ill individuals usually lack the ability to form the specific intent to kill, but are still found guilty in criminal cases.

The Legality of Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

The legality of executing a mentally ill person should be clear. In 1986, in Ford v. Wainright, the United States Supreme Court upheld that insane individuals cannot be executed. Justice Marshall's opinion discussed the "evolving standards of the Eighth Amendment" to prohibit states from inflicting the death penalty on someone who is insane, not aware of his execution and the reasons for it. Next, in 2002, in Atkins v. Virginia, the US Supreme Court ruled that executing mentally retarded individuals also violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court found that the Eighth Amendment should be interpreted with "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society". In Panetti v. Quarterman, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that an individual cannot be executed if he is incompetent at the time of his execution, arguing that a defendant must have a "rational understanding of the reason for the execution".

Past Executions

Yet despite these cases, states have executed mentally ill prisoners, using legal loopholes surround the definitions of an "insane" person or using unscientific standards to define an intellectual disability. Below are definitions from NAMI of 2 of the major mental illnesses defendants on death row have, and 4 cases in which people suffering from these illnesses were executed.

Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder that affects approximately 2.2 million adults in the USA. It interferes with a person's ability to think clearly, to distinguish reality from fantasy, to manage emotions, to make decisions and to relate to others. The 1st signs of schizophrenia typically emerge in the teenage years or early 20s. Most people with schizophrenia suffer chronically or episodically throughout their lives, and are often stigmatized by a lack of public understanding about the disease. A person with schizophrenia does not have a "split personality", and almost all people with schizophrenia are not dangerous or violent towards others when they are receiving treatment. The World Health Organization has identified schizophrenia as 1 of the 10 most debilitating diseases affecting humans.

Symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations - hearing voices when no one has spoken or seeing things that are not there - and delusions such as believing that people are reading their mind, controlling their thoughts or plotting against them.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event that caused intense fear, helplessness, or horror. The traumatic events can include war, childhood abuse, rape, natural disasters, accidents and captivity. Symptoms include re-experiencing (e.g. nightmares, flashbacks, hallucinations); avoidance (e.g. lack of recall of the traumatic event, limited range of emotion, feelings of detachment from others, feelings of hopelessness about the future); and increased arousal (e.g. inability to sleep, irritability, outbursts of anger, inability to concentrate, watchfulness, jumpiness).

1.John Errol Ferguson was convicted of murders occurring in 1977 and sentenced to death in 1983. Yet as far back as 1965, before his crime, Ferguson suffered from "visual hallucinations" and was sent to state mental institutions throughout the 1970s. In these institutions, a doctor diagnosed him as "grossly psychotic", and Ferguson was found to be a paranoid schizophrenic, delusional, and aggressive. In 1975, a doctor wrote that Ferguson was "dangerous and cannot be released under any circumstances". Still, he was released a year later, and soon after committed the crimes that left eight people dead. Ferguson believed that he was the "Prince of God" and could "control the sun". His attorney maintained that he was "insane and incompetent for execution". Yet the Florida Supreme Court found that he was competent enough to die, despite using a test for mental illness that the US Supreme Court has rejected. After decades of legal hurdles and appeals, John Errol Ferguson was executed by lethal injection on August 5, 2013 in Florida.

2.Charles Singleton was convicted of stabbing Mary Lou York to death in Arkansas. After his imprisonment, a prison psychiatrist diagnosed Singleton as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and a panel ordered him to take antipsychotic drugs. His lawyers filed a lawsuit saying the state could not force him to take medication in order to make him mentally competent enough to execute him. Despite the Ford v. Wainright case which prohibited the use of the death penalty against an incompetent individual, Charles Singleton was executed on January 6, 2004.

3.Jay D. Scott was convicted for the 1983 murder of Vinnie Prince. Since the age of 13, he spent all but 28 months in prison. He was a diagnosed schizophrenic, had a low IQ, and suffered from an abusive childhood. According to Amnesty International, five jurors from his trial signed declarations under oath saying they may have decided differently if mitigating evidence of mental disorders and his abusive childhood had been presented by Scott's attorneys, and 2 jurors said they definitely would have voted differently had the mitigating evidence been presented. Despite this, Jay D. Scott was executed by lethal injection on June 14, 2001 in Ohio.

4.Manny Babbitt, a U.S. marine veteran of the Vietnam War, was convicted of murdering Leah Schendel in 1980. Babbit's lawyers argued he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from his time in Vietnam. He had previously spent 2 years in mental institutions and was found to be a paranoid schizophrenic. Mental health experts and Babbit's lawyers argued that Babbitt attacked Ms. Schendel in a flashback, as evidenced by the fact that Babbitt wrapped a leather strap around Ms. Schendel's ankle - the same way the soldiers did to the dead in the Vietnam War. They argued he not be executed as a result. Babbitt never denied murdering Ms. Schendel, but rather argued that he did not remember doing it. Manny Babbit was executed by lethal injection on May 4, 1999 in California.

October 2014 executions

These are just a few of the many cases in which states moved forward to execute individuals despite evidence that they were mentally ill, incompetent, or unfit. Currently, there are 2 mentally ill inmates who have or had execution dates set for October 2014.

Billy Irick has been on death row since 1986. In May of 1965, when Irick was 6, a clinical psychologist concluded that he was suffering from "a severe neurotic anxiety reaction with a possibility of mild organic brain damage". The following year, he was hospitalized and treated with anti-psychotic mediations; he remained hospitalized for 10 months. Years after Irick's case closed, key witnesses were interviewed by Irick's new attorneys saying he suffered from abuse and psychotic symptoms. The doctor that testified at the trial saying there was no evidence of mental illness has since said, "I am concerned that in light of this new evidence, my previous evaluation and the resulting opinion were incomplete and therefore not accurate ... It is my professional opinion to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that without further testing and evaluation, no confidence should be placed in Mr. Irick's 1985 evaluations of competency to stand trial and mental condition at the time of the alleged defense".

Billy Irick's execution has been stayed - but not because of Irick's mental state. In Tennessee, Irick and 10 other death row inmates have filed a lawsuit challenging the secrecy of the states lethal injection laws, and the legality of the use of the electric chair as a backup if lethal injection drugs cannot be obtained. The court has not set a new execution date.

Larry Hatten has been on death row since 1996. Originally, he was scheduled to die on October 16, 2013, but the execution was stayed due to concern over Hatten's sanity and to allow time to determine his mental competency. His new execution date is set for October 15, 2014 after Hatten told his lawyer to drop all appeals and speed up the execution date (something that often occurs with mentally ill patients). Hatten's lawyer had said that he has suffered from mental illness for over a decade and has been forcibly medicated in jail several times. The issue is whether Larry Hatten is competent enough to be executed. His execution date is still set for October 15.

The death penalty, though always unacceptable, is especially intolerable in cases where the defendant is mentally ill. These defendants often were mentally ill at the time of their crime, or later become so mentally incompetent that they cannot understand why the reasons for their execution. Now is the time to abolish the death penalty, especially before states continue to execute mentally ill inmates.

The NCADP has created the 90 Million Strong campaign to unite the voices of those who believe the death penalty is wrong. We need to demonstrate that the broad public support to end this practice is already here in America, and 90 million people speaking up can make a difference.

The 90 million people who oppose the death penalty are organized, energized, and ready to end capital punishment. Join us today.

Source:, October 1, 2014

Trust Iran? It Just Hanged a Man Who Doubted 'Jonah and the Whale'

Mohsen Amir Aslani, hanged for 'heresy' 
Iranian President Rouhani speaks reasonably about nuclear negotiations and stabilizing the Middle East, but at home the "hanging judges" are still at work.

When Iranian President Hassan Rouhani answered questions from media leaders at the United Nations General Assembly about the Iranian nuclear program and ISIS last week, there were only occasional brief references to the human rights situation back in Iran. When there were inquiries about 3 U.S. citizens being held there - a former Marine, Amir Hekmati; Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian; and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini - President Rouhani said the arrests should not be blown out of proportion and the judicial process must run its course.

Yet on that same day in Iran, Mohsen Amir Aslani, a prisoner of conscience, was executed in the last act of a truly Kafkaesque legal process. Aslani, 37, was hanged in Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj at dawn on Wednesday September 24 for committing heresy and allegedly insulting the Prophet Jonah (Yunus in the Qur'an) - the one swallowed by a "big fish"; the one that God used to teach the lesson of compassion.

On the previous day, a prison official contacted Aslani's parents and asked them to come and visit their son one final time. Prior to this, no information about his arrest or trial was made public because his family was led to believe that by keeping quiet about his arrest, he would eventually be released. News broke about his fate only hours before the sentence was carried out, when a neighbor's relative posted the news on Facebook and then shortly afterwards the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that Amir Aslani was being kept in solitary confinement and was awaiting his execution. This was almost 8 years after his arrest, and yet was the first time word of his situation became public.

Before his imprisonment, Amir Aslani was a family man who worked as a psychologist but was interested in theology and gave religious classes that looked at different interpretations of the Qur'an. This was the cause for his arrest and nine months in solitary confinement in Cell Block 209 of Evin Prison in 2006. His original sentence was 4 years but was initially reduced to 28 months by the appeals court until Judge Abolghasem Salavati, an infamous "hanging judge," handed down the death penalty on new, unfounded charges.

"His family was led to believe that by keeping quiet about his arrest, he would eventually be released."

An informed source told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran the day before Aslani's execution that Aslani merely "gave classes on reading and interpreting the Qur'an and would give out his comments as booklets." According to this source, "Many young people participated in his classes that did not meet the approval of the Intelligence Ministry, which is why he was arrested so suddenly."

"The last time he saw his family, he told them how he was subjected to continuous physical and mental torture and was repeatedly moved between the common ward and the quarantine ward to make him believe his execution was imminent," according to this source. "He would stay awake until 5 in the morning, wait for the cell door to open so they could execute him, but then several hours later they would transfer him back to the common ward. He said that each time he was tortured by the fear of his own death."

In one of Aslani's religious classes, he told his audience that Jonah could not have emerged from the whale's belly and it was this statement that led to his charge of insulting the Prophet Jonah. A person close to the family told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that he was initially arrested for heresy.

Although the appeals court reduced Aslani's sentence to 2 years and 4 months, new charges were also added including a so-called "forbidden act," which was unspecified. Having been condemned to death by Judge Salavati, Amir Aslani argued that the Revolutionary Court had no jurisdiction over his case and so it was sent onto the Criminal Court in Tehran where 3 of the 5 judges considering his case upheld the death sentence. Following this, it was taken to the Supreme Court, which annulled the sentence because there was a lack of evidence and legal merit, but it was then taken back to the Criminal Court, which reinstated it.

Aslani's lawyer objected once more and the case was sent back to the Supreme Court, which this time upheld the sentence. According to Iranian law, if the Chief Justice endorses the Supreme Court's decision, the verdict is final, and so it was.

That is the way the judicial system in Iran runs its course.

Source: The Daily Beast, October 1, 2014

Somalia: Four executed for 'spying'

Execution by firing squad in Somalia
(file photo)
September 29, 2014: the militant group Al-Shabaab executed four young men in the town of Barawe after alleging them to be spying for the Federal Government of Somalia and security agencies.

“These men have admitted that they were spies working for the Intelligence unit of the apostate government,” an unnamed Al-Shabaab judge said through voice speaker.

The four young men – Hassan Haji Awoow, 27, Mahdi Hassan Isse, 26, Iidle Mohamed Hassan, 18, and Ahmed Mohamed Adan, 42 – were all executed by a masked firing squad of Al-Shabaab fighters.

The execution occurred at an open field where hundreds of residents including children and women were called to watch as the execution was taking place. According to sources in Barawe who spoke with RBC Radio, the four men were arrested in Barawe in August. 

Source: Radio Mustaqbal/Radio RBC/Somalimemo Online, September 30, 2014

Tennessee has to turn over identities of executioners

Tennessee Death Chamber
September 29, 2014: Tennessee has to turn over the identities of executioners to attorneys representing 11 death row inmates challenging the state's death penalty, according to an appeals ruling.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals on Monday ruled that state secrecy laws surrounding lethal injection procedures don't apply to court cases, which are instead guided by discovery rules. Its ruling requires the state to turn over the identities of its execution team to attorneys for the inmates, under seal.

Kelley Henry, a federal public defender who represents some of the death row inmates, lauded the ruling and said it would protect both the inmates and the state. "This approach is measured and reasonable," she said. "It protects the rights of my clients as well as those of the defendants."

The 11 inmates filed suit in November in Davidson County Chancery Court challenging the secrecy surrounding Tennessee's lethal injection procedures and the constitutionality of its backup plan, the electric chair. They argued that there's no way to ensure the state's death penalty is constitutional if they don't have access to where the state obtains its lethal injection drugs, the makeup of the chemical cocktail used to execute inmates and the makeup of the execution team. The other issues have yet to be decided by the lower court.

The state argued that they shouldn't have to turn over the identities of the execution team because of a law passed in 2013 making all details of its lethal injection procedures secret.

Chancery Court Judge Claudia Bonnyman previously ruled that the state had to turn over details about the execution team, which the state appealed. The Tennessee attorney general's office couldn't be reached for comment. It's unclear if the office will appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The ruling doesn't mean that the public will get a look at the state's execution team.

Henry said the execution team, along with the physician and pharmacist, will only be given to the death row inmates' lawyers and experts. She said the attorneys won't even be allowed to reveal that information to the inmates.

The ongoing lawsuit has delayed at least 1 execution, that of Billy Ray Irick, who was scheduled to die Oct. 7.

On Sept. 25, the execution of Irick has been stayed by the state supreme court to allow more time for appeal regarding lethal injection protocol. He has not yet been given a new execution date. 10 other death row inmates have been scheduled to die through 2016.

Source: The Tennessean, Sept. 29, 2014

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

MEPs Call To Save Young Iranian Female Prisoner From Execution

Following information about the transfer of Ms Reyhaneh Jabbari to Gohardasht notorious prison for her execution, the Friends of a Free Iran in European Parliament issued an urgent press release calling for urgent action to save her life.

The release says: "According to reports received from inside Iran today, Ms Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, a survivor of a sexual assault, is to be hanged imminently.

Reyhaneh Jabbari was sentenced to death in 2009 after a deeply flawed investigation and trial for having stabbed in self-defence an agent of Iran's notorious ministry of Intelligence, when he tried to sexually assault her."

FoFI's press release indicates that Ms Jabbari has been transferred to be hanged. Her mother said today that Reyhaneh had called her from Evin prison in the last minute before being transferred to Rajayi-Shahr prison for execution. The prison authorities said she would have to go and "collect the body" tomorrow.

"Amnesty International and many other international organisations have once again raised alarms today and called on Iran to halt this execution.

The Friends of a Free Iran in the European Parliament (FOFI) is outraged over the report of Reyhaneh Jabbari's imminent execution and the massive use of death penalty against the Iranian people under the so called moderate Rouhani.

"Last week, while the world powers were busy with nuclear talks with Iran in New York, Mohsen Amir-Aslani, 37, a prisoner of conscience was hanged in Iran for having made a different interpretation of the Quran.

Speaking from Brussels, Gerard Deprez, the chair of FOFI said "Hassan Rouhani's government has been hanging more than 1000 people, many of the in public squares in Iranian cities. This is the worst record by any Iranian president for the past 25 years."

The European Parliament informal group, referring to the talks between P5+1 and the Iranian regime warned, "If human rights are not improving in Iran, continued talks will only be seen as a green light for further aggression by the regime against its people as well as spreading its terror to other countries of the region."

"It is time the west imposes sanctions on Iran's human rights violations with no further delay."

Friends of a Free Iran (FoFI) is an informal group in the European Parliament which was formed in 2003 and enjoys the active support of many MEPs from various political groups.

Source: NCR-Iran, Sept. 30, 2014

Thailand: Thai Man Gets Death Penalty for Train Rape, Murder

A former railway worker in Thailand was sentenced to death Tuesday for raping a 13-year-old girl on an overnight train, then killing her and throwing her body out the window, an attack that sparked outrage in the Southeast Asian nation and prompted calls for the execution of rapists.

The case also raised questions about the safety of Thailand's long-distance trains, which are popular with tourists who visit the country's southern beaches and enjoy jungle treks in the north. As a result of the July attack, the State Railway of Thailand introduced special carriages for women and children for overnight trains on main routes.

The attacker, 22-year-old Wanchai Saengkhao, was a temporary train employee whose job it was to make beds in the sleeper cars. He confessed to drinking beer with his colleagues and taking drugs during his shift on the night of the attack and then raping the girl, who was sleeping in a lower bunk during a trip to Bangkok.

The Hua Hin provincial court on Tuesday convicted Wanchai of murder, raping a minor, concealing the body to hide the cause of death and other charges. It said Wanchai's crimes were "outrageous," "inhumane" and "could have an impact on society's order."

Capital punishment is the maximum penalty for murder in Thailand, and rape is punishable by four to 20 years in prison.

The court also sentenced a 19-year-old train employee to 4 years in jail for aiding Wanchai with the rape.

Family members of the victim attended the ruling, wearing black shirts that called for capital punishment for rapists.

"Those who committed the crime must be punished for what they did. The court has given us justice," said Pattanachai Thaninpong, 35, a cousin of the victim.

The military junta that took power from a civilian government in a May 22 coup dismissed the governor of the State Railway of Thailand after the attack.

Source: Associated Press, Sept. 30, 2014

Reprieved from the death penalty, Yong Vui Kong hopes to take up graduate studies in prison

Yong Vui Kong: A second chance
Yong Vui Kong, the Malaysian who received a reprieve on his death sentence for drug trafficking in Singapore is not content with merely escaping death.

His lawyer M. Ravi said that Yong wanted to take up studies in prison although that will be up to the discretion of the Changi prison.

"Singaporeans have the option to study in prison but in the case of foreigners it is up to the prison authorities," he told the Star Online.

Ravi said that Yong, 26, was willing to explore any opportunity to study but he believed that Yong was inclined towards languages as he was interested in English and Mandarin.

Ravi was however concerned about Yong's mental health as he was still confined to a solitary cell in prison.

"I am writing to the prisons about this. It has been almost a year that he was given the life in prison sentence," Ravi said adding that Yong looked very weak and had lost a lot of weight.

Yong, who is from Sabah, was initially sentenced to death in 2009 for trafficking 47gm of a controlled drug diamorphine in 2007. He was 18 when he was arrested.

In November last year however, the Singapore High Court re-sentenced Yong to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane.

This came after the Singapore Government last year announced changes to the mandatory death penalty, allowing death row inmates to be given a lighter sentence if they met certain conditions.

If the Attorney-General finds that they meet these conditions, it will issue a Certificate of Co-operation (CoC) allowing the inmate to apply to the courts for the death sentence to be set aside and to be re-sentenced.

Yong was found to have met the conditions, which resulted in the High Court re-sentencing him.

Ravi has appealed against the caning sentence by challenging its constitutionality, but the Court of Appeal judgement is not out yet.

Since being imprisoned, Yong has turned over a new leaf, finding solace in his Buddhist faith and spending a lot of time on prayer and meditation. He has also become a vegetarian and taken a new name, Nan Di Li, from the Buddhist Dharma. He is believed to be a victim of circumstances, having dropped out of school when he was only 11, subsequently falling into bad company.

Source: The Star, Sept. 30, 2014

The death penalty in Japan -- Hanging tough

Execution chamber at Tokyo Detention Center
It is one of the anomalies of Japan's approach to the death penalty that a stricken conscience can bring the system grinding to a halt. At least 2 Japanese justice ministers have refused to sign execution orders, most recently Seiken Sugiura, a devout Buddhist who oversaw a 15-month moratorium from 2005 to 2006. But Japan's new justice minister, Midori Matsushima, seems unburdened by such doubts.

Ms Matsushima, who took office this month, has swatted away demands to review the system. Japan is one of 22 nations and the only developed country - apart from America, where it is falling out of favour - that retains capital punishment. "I don't think it deserves any immediate reform," she said last week: in her view the gallows are needed "to punish certain very serious crimes".

Calls for a review have grown since the release earlier this year of Iwao Hakamada, a 78-year-old who spent 45 years of his life in a toilet-sized cell awaiting execution. A Japanese court said the police evidence that put him behind bars in 1966 was probably fabricated. Mr Hakamada, dubbed the world's longest-serving death-row prisoner, is awaiting a fresh verdict later this year. Prosecutors have lodged an appeal against his retrial.

Opponents are hoping that the state's stubborn fight to wheel another elderly man back to the gallows (he is severely ill and suffers from advanced dementia) may trigger debate and a backlash. But critics face an uphill struggle. Japan's media largely steers clear of the topic. Ms Matsushima points to public support of over 85% on carefully-worded surveys put out by the cabinet: respondents reply to whether execution is "unavoidable if the circumstance demands it".

Mr Hakamada would not be the 1st elderly or infirm inmate to be hanged in Japan. On Christmas day in 2006, Fujinami Yoshio, aged 75, was brought to the gallows in the Tokyo Detention Centre in a wheelchair. Even the openly abolitionist Keiko Chiba, who was justice minister from 2009 to 2010, failed to make a dent in the system. In July 2010 she signed and attended 2 executions in a bid, she said, to start a public discussion that quickly petered out.

With the odds so highly stacked against them, some critics have tried to reframe the debate on the death penalty using soft power. For the last decade, a group of abolitionists has staged art exhibitions by death-row inmates, funded by a wealthy donor whose son is awaiting execution. Since the fund was set up a decade ago, 34 inmates have contributed hundreds of drawings, some of which are on display at a Tokyo gallery next month. 6 of the incarcerated artists have already been executed.

The fund's managers have announced, ahead of World Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10th, that they are extending it beyond the 10 years initially planned. They enlisted new donors after the death of the fund's original benefactor. Lamenting the latest double execution on August 29th, one of the managers told Kyodo News that the fund had "expected the death penalty to be abolished in Japan" within the decade of its activism. "But we cannot foresee abolition at present."

Source: The Economist, Sept. 30, 2014

Pakistan: The cost of the death penalty

ISLAMABAD: Any move by the government to lift the moratorium on the death penalty is not likely to adversely affect Pakistan’s nine-month-old duty free access to European markets, as the Generalised System of Preference plus (GSP plus) is not conditioned on capital punishment.

The ban on death penalty is not legally binding on Pakistan, according to those involved in negotiations on GSP plus and officials close to European Union diplomats. But its lifting will be treated as a major setback to Pakistan’s relations with the bloc of 27 nations, they added.

From January this year, the EU granted duty-free access to Pakistan for a period of 10 years, but this is subject to periodic reviews that will determine whether Pakistan is making progress on 27 conventions of the United Nations pertaining to human, labour and gender rights and freedom of expression.

The major review will take place after three years and will determine whether the status can be continued for seven more years. “The EU may discuss the resumption of capital punishment in the review but legally Pakistan is not bound to maintain the status quo,” said Mirza Ikhtiar Beg, former textile adviser to prime minister during the PPP’s tenure.

Beg, who himself is a textile tycoon, played a key role in the extension of the moratorium on death penalty after the PML-N government showed its intentions to lift it in August last year. At that time, the EU was considering Pakistan’s request for the GSP plus status.

After approval of the GSP plus status in December last year, both the EU and the Ministry of Commerce maintained that the continuation of duty-free access was in no way linked with the death penalty.

Former secretary Commerce Qasim Niaz said at the time that there was no mention of the death penalty in 27 international conventions that the country signed or in the GSP plus documents. However, the EU will gauge the country’s performance and prepare a baseline and track improvement on human rights, women’s rights, labour rights, and freedom of expression through international non-governmental organisations.

The EU’s Ambassador to Pakistan Lars Wigemark had also said the moratorium on the death penalty was not directly linked with the GSP plus status. At the same time, he described the moratorium on the death penalty as “a very positive achievement”. European Union officials indicated last year that if Pakistan resumed executions, it could jeopardise a highly prized trade deal with the bloc. An EU rights delegation warned it would be seen as a “major setback” if Pakistan restarted hangings.

Source: The Express Tribune, Sept. 30, 2014

Nurse's death sentence reignites abortion debate in Kenya

Nurse Jackson Namunya Tali was not the first person Christine Atieno approached when she sought help to end an unwanted pregnancy in Kenya.

Tali says that Atieno asked for assistance after undergoing a botched abortion, in a country where the procedure is illegal.

Last week, the high court in Nairobi sentenced 41-year-old Tali to death for murder, after the death of both mother and foetus.

In the ruling, Judge Nicholas Ombija said the nurse, who had been working at Kihara Sub District Hospital and operating a private clinic in Kiambu, had been found guilty of murdering Atieno.

“He has killed two people, a foetus and her mother, and the only sentence available in law is the maximum death penalty, which I have handed to him,” said the judge.

The court heard that Atieno died in Tali’s vehicle as he drove her from a clinic to another hospital for advanced treatment, the BBC reported.

The ruling has reignited the debate over abortion, which is only legal in Kenya if the pregnancy is deemed by a medical professional to be endangering the mother’s health.

The law had previously stated that abortion could only be performed if a woman’s life was endangered, and whereas three doctors were previously needed to approve the procedure, rules have been relaxed so that only one doctor’s consent is needed.

However, in most communities, abortion is regarded as a taboo and individuals involved in the act can be branded murderers. South Africa, Tunisia and Cape Verde are the only African countries to allow abortion without restriction on the reasons for it.

Source: The Guardian, Joab Apollo, Sept. 30, 2014

New Jodi Arias trial set to determine life or death for convicted killer

Jodi Arias
Jodi Arias’ guilt has been determined. The only thing that remains to be decided is whether she dies for killing her ex-boyfriend.

More than six years after the death of Travis Alexander, and more than a year after Arias was convicted of murder, a second penalty phase to determine her punishment gets under way on Monday with jury selection.

Arias acknowledged that she killed Alexander in 2008 at his suburban Phoenix home, but claimed it was self-defence. He suffered nearly 30 knife wounds, had his throat slit and was shot in the head. Prosecutors argued it was premeditated murder carried out in a jealous rage when Alexander wanted to end their affair.

The 34-year-old former waitress was found guilty last year, but jurors could not agree on a sentence. While Arias’ murder conviction stands, prosecutors are putting on the second penalty phase with a new jury in another effort to secure the death penalty. If the new jury fails to reach a unanimous decision, the judge will then sentence Arias to spend the rest of her life behind bars or to be eligible for release after 25 years.

At least 300 prospective jurors will be called in the effort to seat an impartial panel, not an easy task in the case that has attracted so much attention.

One key difference in the second penalty phase is that there will be no live television coverage. Judge Sherry Stephens ruled that video cameras can record the proceedings, but nothing can be broadcast until after the verdict.

Arias’ five-month trial began in January 2013 and was broadcast live, providing endless cable TV and tabloid fodder, including a recorded phone sex call between Arias and the victim, nude photos, bloody crime-scene pictures and a defendant who described her life story in intimate detail over 18 days on the witness stand.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Guardian, Sept. 30, 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pakistan: Blasphemy laws are deadly serious – we must stand up for Mohammed Asghar

A 70-year-old Briton suffering from paranoid schizophrenia is facing a death sentence in Pakistan. This is no joke

It is part of my job description to be offensive. I can, if I wish, make a joke hoping that Alex Salmond, now he is at the end of his political life, lays 20,000 fish eggs and dies. I can make a joke pointing out that David Cameron told off Sri Lanka for human rights abuses committed with weapons Britain sold it – like Ronald McDonald calling you a fat bastard.

The most I risk from saying such things is alienating a stranger. The same cannot be said of Mohammed Asghar. He is 70, and suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Edinburgh. When they discharged him he went to Pakistan, perhaps to escape what he thought were the undue restrictions on his liberty. Before he had been there long – four years ago now, in 2010 – he was facing a death sentence for blasphemy.

Apparently Asghar claimed to be a prophet sent by God. As his Scottish doctor reports, if he said that it was definitely his psychosis talking. I cannot believe that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Pakistan, Scotland or anywhere else think that he should be executed for this.

Yet a small minority of vocal people do, and one of them – a police officer at the maximum security prison where he was being held – tried to murder Asghar last Thursday. The guard burst into his cell with a pistol and shot him in the back. He shot again, but missed, before being partially restrained by others. Then, as Asghar was being taken to hospital, the guard managed to get a last kick in, crying out that he wanted to “kill the blasphemer”.

Source: The Guardian, Frankie Boyle, Sept. 29, 2014

India: Death without the right to appeal

September 26, 2014: In its report, “India: Death Without the Right to Appeal”, Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) stated that India was not complying with the “United Nations safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty” which provide that “Anyone sentenced to death shall have the right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction, and steps should be taken to ensure that such appeals shall become mandatory.”

Many death row convicts are being denied the right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction with the Supreme Court setting aside acquittal by the High Courts and restoring death penalty imposed by the trial courts, and enhancing lesser sentences of life imprisonment awarded by the High Courts to death penalty.

Further, with respect to offences under the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), the Supreme Court being the appellate court against the orders of the designated TADA courts, the convicts under the TADA are denied the right to appeal before the High Courts as available to those convicted under the Indian Penal Code offences.

The Supreme Court also directs for fresh consideration by the High Courts in some cases where death penalty was not imposed. This is nothing but the apex court influencing the decisions of the lower courts in favour of death penalty.

ACHR stated that the Review Petition which can be filed against the orders of the Supreme Court cannot be considered as an appeal “to a court of higher jurisdiction” as provided in the United Nations safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. A review petition is filed to the same Bench of Judges which delivered the judgment or order sought to be reviewed.

Even a Curative Petition filed before the Supreme Court after dismissal of a Review Petition cannot be considered as an appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction as provided under "the United Nations safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty" because of its very restrictive scope. A curative petition is an exception and can be filed only if a Senior Advocate certifies that it meets the requirements of filing curative petition stipulated by the Supreme Court. 

Source: ACHR, Sept. 26, 2014

Pennsylvania not ready to abandon lethal injections

Pennsylvania can't find the drugs necessary to execute a convicted murderer who's ready to die, but officials in Pennsylvania aren't ready to look at alternatives to lethal injection for the 184 inmates who sit on death row.

Some states have proposed returning to methods such as firing squads as European drug manufacturers make it difficult to obtain the execution drugs after three botched attempts this year with them.

“When you look at other states, I think they're much more invested in the death penalty than we are,” said Kathleen Lucas, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, which advocates life in prison without parole.

Gov. Tom Corbett on Sept. 16 signed a temporary reprieve for death row inmate Hubert Michael Jr. in part because manufacturers stopped selling their drugs to states that used them in executions. Michael was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of Trista Eng, 16, in York County. He voluntarily gave up his appeals, clearing a key path to his execution.

Joshua Maus, spokesman for the governor's Office of General Counsel, said Corbett will sign a death warrant if the state gets the drugs. By law, the execution must be within 60 days of his signing.

Corbett, who has signed 35 death warrants since taking office in 2011 — all of which courts have stayed — has said he is “committed” to putting Michael to death. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf said he would put a moratorium on the death penalty until concerns are addressed about putting innocent people to death.

Source: triblive, Adam Brandolph, Sept. 28, 2014

Singapore: First convicted murderer to have bid for re-sentencing rejected by Court of Appeal since new law

A 39-year-old man who has been on death row for 5 years for knifing an elderly housewife more than 110 times in 2005 was on Monday denied the chance to escape the gallows.

Muhammad Kadar is the 1st convicted murderer to have his bid for re-sentencing rejected by the Court of Appeal since laws were changed last year giving judges the discretion to impose a life sentence instead of the death penalty for certain categories of murder.

Muhammad and his older brother Ismil 1st went on trial in 2006 for murdering their neighbour, Madam Tham Weng Kuen, 69, at her Boon Lay flat while robbing her.

The long-running trial, which lasted 3 years, saw many twists and turns, including Muhammad's stunning confession in court that he was the sole assailant although he had told police earlier that Mr Ismil was the main culprit.

Both were found guilty of murder by the High Court. Their appeal against convictions ended in a dramatic twist in 2011 when Mr Ismil was freed after the Court of Appeal cleared him of murder.

Earlier this month, Muhammad applied to the High Court for his case to be sent back to the High Court for re-sentencing. His lawyer Amarick Gill argued that the case fell within the category of murder with the intention of causing injury, which would have given him a chance to be re-sentenced to a life term.

But on Monday, the Court of Appeal dismissed Muhammad's bid, ruling that his crime amounted to murder with the intention to cause death which still carries the mandatory death penalty.

Previously cases of convicted murderers who were re-sentenced to life imprisonment include that of Malaysian Fabian Adiu Edwin, who killed a security guard, Chinese national Wang Wenfeng who killed a taxi driver and Bangladeshi Kamrul Hasan Abdul Quddus who killed his girlfriend.

Source: The Straits Times, Sept. 29, 2014