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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

UK Govt fights disclosure of involvement in Pakistan death penalty

A tribunal is tomorrow (Thursday 11 Feb) due to hear arguments on whether the UK Government should be allowed to withhold information which could show it has provided support for the death penalty in Pakistan.

Ministers have so far refused to publish documents assessing the risk that financial support provided to Pakistan’s Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) could lead to the handing down of death sentences to alleged drug offenders.

The ANF, which is known to have received millions of pounds’ worth of UK taxpayers’ money, has openly boasted about securing death sentences for non-violent alleged drug offenders. Despite the UK’s official policy of opposition to the death penalty, it has funded the ANF from the 1990s to the present day, but refuses to say what steps it has taken to prevent that funding from contributing to increased numbers of death sentences.

In December 2014, Pakistan lifted an unofficial moratorium on executions, and the country has made clear that it intends to execute its entire death row population – estimated at up to 8000 people, over a hundred of whom are thought to be alleged drug offenders.

International human rights organisation Reprieve is challenging the British Government in the Information Rights Tribunal (IRT) over its refusal to disclose a range of information relating to the Pakistan deal, including: assessments of the human rights and death penalty risks involved; steps taken to mitigate these risks; and whether ministerial approval was either sought or received for the programme.

Tomorrow’s hearing is expected to be the final one before the Tribunal comes to a decision. Much of the previous hearing in February 2014 took place in secret, at the request of the Government, with neither Reprieve nor its lawyers allowed to be present during the closed sessions. At the centre of the case is the Government’s Overseas Justice and Security Assistance (OSJA) guidance, which was introduced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ in order to “ensur[e] that the human rights implications of our security and justice assistance work overseas are fully considered.”

However, since the OSJA was implemented, ministers have consistently refused to disclose information regarding what assessments have been undertaken and who has signed off on them.

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve said: “The FCO is falling over itself to prevent information about how it ensures its overseas activities align with basic British human rights principles from coming to light. Yet if the measures taken were sufficient, why would there be any need to keep them secret? The British public has a right to know if their taxes are funding death sentences and executions in countries like Pakistan and Iran, where juveniles and exploited drug mules are sent to the gallows on a daily basis. Ministers need to come clean.”

Source: Reprieve, Feb. 10, 2016

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Killer at Dallas-area Subway store holdup set to die in May; Man Found Incompetent for Trial in Houston Deputy's Death

Texas Death Chamber
Texas Death Chamber
A 42-year-old man sent to death row for a fatal shooting during a Dallas-area sandwich shop robbery in 2002 has received an execution date.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said Tuesday convicted killer Terry Darnell Edwards is scheduled for lethal injection May 11. 

The U.S. Supreme Court in November refused to review his case.

Edwards was convicted of killing 26-year-old Mickell Goodwin at a Balch Springs Subway store where she worked. 

The store manager, 34-year-old Tommy Walker, also was gunned down.

Evidence showed Edwards had been fired from the sandwich store a few weeks before the July 2002 shootings. About $3,000 was taken in the holdup.

Edwards is among 10 inmates scheduled for execution in the coming months in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state.

Source: Associated Press, Feb. 9, 2016


Man Found Incompetent for Trial in Houston Deputy's Death

A Houston man accused of fatally shooting a sheriff's deputy at a gas station last summer has been ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial for capital murder.

State District Judge Susan Brown ordered 31-year-old Shannon Miles be sent to a mental hospital. 

After four months of medication and treatment, his competency will be re-evaluated.

Harris County prosecutors Tuesday didn't dispute arguments from Miles' lawyers that he's schizophrenic and doesn't understand the seriousness of the legal proceedings.

Miles is a charged in the Aug. 28 slaying of Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth. 

The deputy was shot 15 times while putting gasoline in his patrol car. If convicted, Miles could face the death penalty.

Records show Miles has been committed to mental health facilities at least twice in recent years.

Source: Associated Press, Feb. 9, 2016

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Singapore: Belgian accused of killing son to be remanded another 6 weeks pending forensics report

Philippe Marcel Guy Graffart
Philippe Marcel Guy Graffart (center)
A Belgian man accused of killing his 5-year-old son in their D'Leedon condominium home in October last year will be remanded in Changi Prison for another 6 weeks, pending the completion of a forensic investigation report.

Philippe Marcel Guy Graffart appeared in court via video-link on Wednesday.

His case will be mentioned again on March 23.

The 41-year-old was charged on Oct 7, last year, with the murder of Keryan Gabriel Cedric Graffart. 

He allegedly committed the act at his 32nd-storey home at 3 Leedon Heights, the day before he was first brought to court.

He was then remanded for 4 weeks at the medical centre in Changi Prison for a psychiatric assessment.

He was subsequently remanded at the Central Police Division to assist in investigations.

Graffart worked for the Singapore investment management arm of Nordea, a company that describes itself as the largest financial group in northern Europe.

Graffart's lawyer Ramesh Tiwary told The Straits Times that he will study the forensic report once it has been completed.

Mr Tiwary also said that he has been in touch with his client, having visited him a few times in prison.

Asked about Graffart's condition, the lawyer said: "He's naturally very depressed about what's happened."

If convicted of his charge, murder with intention, Graffart faces the mandatory death penalty.

Source: straitstimes.com, Feb. 9, 2016

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Philippines: Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte wants death penalty back and public executions

Presidential hopeful Rodrigo Duterte
Presidential hopeful Rodrigo Duterte
Presidential candidate and Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's latest sound bite reinforced his iron-hand stance against crime: He not only wants the death penalty back, he also wants the execution to be opened to the public.

"I will work for the restoration of the death penalty. I will really bring it back, and make it in public, so that the people will see for themselves [how criminals are punished]," Duterte told a cheering crowd that attended a rally here on Wednesday.

Duterte first expressed his support for the restoration of the death penalty and the introduction of public execution before the campaign period in Davao City.

The 1987 Constitution abolished the death penalty, although it does not close its door to its restoration.

Section 19 of the Charter's Bill of Rights (Article III) states: "Excessive fines shall not be imposed, nor cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment inflicted. Neither shall the death penalty be imposed, unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, the Congress hereafter provides for it. Any death penalty already imposed shall be reduced to reclusion perpetua."

Duterte spoke to a crowd of about 3,000, mostly college students, inside the University of Cagayan Valley gymnasium here.

Repeating a promise he made earlier, Duterte asked voters to give him "3 to 6 months" to stamp out criminality in the country.

He said he would take "full responsibility, legal or otherwise" for any human rights or administrative charges that may be slapped against lawmen who would be accused of killing criminals.

The feisty mayor flew to this city without his vice presidential candidate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. From the airport, Duterte first met with Tuguegarao Archbishop Sergio Utleg. His convoy then drove around the city, where people who lined up the main street chanted "Duterte! Duterte!"

In his 40-minute speech, the audience laughed every time he punctuated his statements with one-liners about his penchant for executing criminals.

Source: inquirer.net, Feb. 9, 2016

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Pakistan executes three inmates

February 4, 2016: Two prisoners were executed in Pakistan, in two different prisons. 

Key facilitator of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, terrorist Bilal Ahmed alias Abu Abdullah was executed in Kohat Central Jail early in the morning. 

Bilal s/o Faiz Ahmed was arrested two years back from his native village Suraj in Sialkot. 

Bilal aka Abu Abdullah was sentenced to death by military court Kohat after he was found guilty. 

Security sources said he was key facilitator of TTP and involved in terrorist activities against Pak Army across the country. 

Another death row convict was sent to the gallows at the Central Jail Multan on early morning, Dunya News reported.

Death row prisoner Muhammad Jora alias Mittho was hanged for killing a man named Nazir in 1996 over an old enmity. Mittho’s dead body was later handed over to his relatives.

Muhammad Jora alias Mittho was awarded death sentence by Session Court Muzaffargarh which was upheld by the superior courts. 

His mercy appeal was also rejected by the President upon which Session Court Muzaffargarh issued a death warrant and he was executed at the Central Jail Multan. 

Sources: Dunya News, thenews.com.pk, Feb. 4, 2016


Inmate Executed in Bahawalpur prison

February 9, 2016: A death row prisoner was sent to the gallows at the New Central Jail Bahawalpur on early morning, Dunya News reported.

Death row convict Haider Shehzad was executed for killing a man named Muhammad Amin over a dispute. 

The dead body of Shehzad was handed over to his relative after the execution. 

Source: Dunya News, February 9, 2016

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Saudi Arabia executes Egyptian man for drug smuggling

Public execution in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Public execution in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
RIYADH - Saudi Arabia executed on Monday an Egyptian man convicted of smuggling drugs, the interior ministry said, bringing to 59 the number of convicts put to death this year.

Ibrahim Mohammed Salman was caught trying to smuggle opium which was hidden in his car, the ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

He was executed in the northern city of Tabuk, the ministry said.

Most executions in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia are done by beheading with a sword.

The kingdom on January 2 executed 47 people in a single day for "terrorism".

In 2015 the kingdom executed 153 people, mostly for drug trafficking or murder, according to an AFP tally.

Amnesty International says the number of executions in Saudi Arabia last year was the highest for two decades.

However, the tally was far behind that for China and Iran.

The kingdom practises a strict Islamic legal code under which murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape, homosexuality and apostasy are all punishable by death.

Source: Agence France-Presse, February 8, 2016

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Taliban Reportedly Execute Afghan Woman For Adultery

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says Ghor is among the provinces with the highest number of so-called Taliban "desert courts."

Afghan officials say a woman has been executed after being accused of adultery in a remote Taliban-controlled village in the western province of Ghor.

Abdul Hai Khatibi, a provincial government spokesman, said on February 8 that the execution was carried out in the remote Taliban-controlled village of Zanu on February 5.

The woman was identified by her 1st name, Zahra, but her age was unknown.

Khatibi said Zahra was detained by the Taliban along with a man, identified as Ayub. Ayub was shot while trying to flee and is currently in Taliban captivity, the spokesman said.

However, district Governor Muhammad Hussein Daneshyar told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the woman was shot dead by her husband, who accused her of having an extramarital affair.

Afghan official say the area has been under militant control for more than a year.

There was no comment from the Taliban.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says Ghor is among the provinces with the highest number of so-called Taliban "desert courts."

Source: rawa.org, Feb. 9, 2016

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Ali Mohammed al-Nimr: Saudi Arabia on verge of beheading protester 'tortured as a child into confessing'

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
A young protester who was reportedly forced to admit to crimes after being tortured when he was a teenager could be beheaded in the coming days.

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012, along with 2 others who were also minors at the time, following anti-government protests in 2011.

In 2013, aged just 17, he was sentenced to death by beheading and crucifixion.

He is the nephew of the outspoken Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed on 2 January without warning, along with 46 other prisoners.

His mother, Umm Bakr, told The Times she fears her son was used "as a card against his uncle", and says after he was arrested he was tortured into signing confessions for a number of false charges including carrying a weapon.

Mohammed al-Nimr, his father and the brother of Sheikh Nimr, believes his son was "just like any other youth," he said: "When the movement started, he joined, believing he would take on the burden for the people."

However, he claims police knocked Mr al-Nimr off his motorcycle and arrested him, informing his family he would only be released if "his uncle stops talking".

The mass execution sparked widespread protests around the world and lead to a sharp decline in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Following the mass killing of 46 prisoners earlier this year, the largest mass execution in Saudi Arabia since 1980, the British government maintains it doesn't expect the Mr al-Nimr's sentence to go ahead.

But his father doubts he will be released: "Perhaps before 2 January, I might have believed that. Now unless I see him back home again, none of these assurances can give me any comfort."

Source: The Independent, Feb. 9, 2016

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The most common countries locking up Australians

Welcome to Bali
Welcome to Bali
Australian travellers have continued to flock to Bali in record numbers despite the highly-publicised and controversial executions of two Australians last year and the melodrama surrounding Schapelle Corby.

Travel data from Hotels.com ranked the Indonesian island as the top destination for Aussie tourists in 2015.

Its popularity did not fall despite the high-profile criminal cases, including the execution of two members of the Bali Nine, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, in April last year, and convicted drug-smuggler Corby’s nine-year struggle for freedom, which culminated in her release on February 10, 2014.

In the latter years of Corby’s sentence, deteriorating mental health saw lawyers argue for clemency. Wednesday marks two years since her release on the condition she remained in Indonesia until July 2017.

As of February this year, 14 Australians, including seven members of the Bali Nine, remained in Indonesian prisons.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) dealt with 371 cases of Australians in prisons across the world in 2014-15. Topping the list was China, followed by the United States and Vietnam.

Despite clear warnings of illegal drug use overseas, more and more Australians were caught for illicit substance offences, making up 41 per cent of prisoner offences in 2014-15, compared to 39 per cent the year before.

Foreign Prisoner Support Service human rights lawyer Stephen Kenny, who previously represented David Hicks, told The New Daily there seemed to be a common misconception among Australians that “the odds of a fair trial are pretty good” abroad.

“The truth is they are not,” he said.

“Our justice system is pretty much a Rolls-Royce system and many countries simply cant afford that, so the procedural fairness that may be available to Australians in Australia simply doesn’t exist in other countries.”

The cases of Chan, Sukumaran and Corby seemingly managed to capture exclusive attention of local media outlets, but Indonesia was actually ranked quite low in the number of Australians detained.

As of this month, DFAT was offering assistance to 547 citizens arrested, sentenced, imprisoned and granted bail across the world. Nearly 40 of them were in China, while 29 were in Vietnam, 28 in the United States, 19 in Thailand, 17 in New Zealand and 14 in Indonesia.

Danger zones: places Australian travellers should fear to tread

Click here to read the full article

Source: The New Daily, Emma Manser, Feb. 9, 2016

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Spaniard Pablo Ibar on death row in Florida for 15 years granted new trial

Pablo Ibar in 2009
Pablo Ibar in 2009
Pablo Ibar has always maintained his innocence over 1994 triple murder

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new trial for a Spaniard who had been on death row for over 15 years after being convicted of the 1994 murders of three people.

Lawyers for Pablo Ibar, 44, the son of Basque immigrants who holds dual Spanish-US citizenship, had fought for a new trial during a hearing before the state Supreme Court on April 8, 2014, arguing that mistakes were made by his defense attorney during his first trial in 2000.

The key piece of evidence in the prosecution’s case was a grainy, soundless home security video that showed a group of men attacking nightclub owner Casimir “Butch Casey” Sucharski, and two models, Sharon Anderson and Marie Rogers, whom he had brought to his home in Miramar, Florida.

The three were shot and killed during the botched robbery attempt.

One of the suspects in the video appears to be Ibar but, according to his lawyers, no DNA evidence was found at the scene to connect their client with the crime.

Ibar, the only Spaniard facing the death penalty in the United States, has never confessed to the crime in the almost 22 years he has spent incarcerated in Florida’s state penitentiary system.

“Ibar has established prejudice, given the relatively weak case against him with no physical evidence linking him to the crime, the critical role of his identification derived from the video, and the errors we previously identified in Ibar’s direct appeal,” the justices wrote in the opinion.

“Simply put, we cannot and do not have confidence in the outcome of this trial. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s denial of postconviction relief and remand for a new trial.”

The Ibar family had been waging public campaigns against his death sentence both in Spain and in the United States.

It is not clear when Ibar’s new trial date will be set. State prosecutors have a month to ask the Supreme Court for a review of the sentence, according to news reports.

Cándido Ibar, his father, told Spanish state broadcaster RNE on Friday that he was convinced that prosecutors would appeal the decision but insisted that his son’s defense team would present new evidence in his upcoming trial.

“The past is the past, and we have to look toward the future,” he said.

The Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of another man, Seth Penalver, who was sentenced with Ibar and testified that he was not sure that the Spaniard was at the crime scene. Penalver, who was also sentenced to death, was acquitted during his retrial in 2012.

As of October 2015, there were 2,959 inmates on death row in the United States.

Source: EL PAÍS, Luis Barbero, February 5, 2016. English version by Martín Delfín.


Florida revoca la sentencia de muerte contra el español Pablo Ibar

El Supremo ordena que se repita el juicio oral de Pablo Ibar, que lleva más de 20 años encarcelado

Pablo Ibar, el español que lleva más de 20 años encarcelado en Florida acusado del asesinato de tres personas en 1994 y que fue condenado a pena de muerte, ha conseguido al fin una victoria legal. El Tribunal Supremo de Florida ha ordenado que se celebre un nuevo juicio sobre el caso después de los recursos presentados por la defensa de Ibar que siempre ha negado su participación en el triple crimen.

Los hechos se remontan a enero de 1994, cuando Casimir Sucharski, propietario de un club de alterne, y Sharon Anderson y Marie Rogers, dos jóvenes modelos de 25 años, fueron acribillados a tiros en casa del primero en la localidad de Mirarmar, una localidad al norte de Miami. Una cámara que Sucharski tenía en su vivienda grabó todo lo ocurrido. Dos personas entraron a su vivienda con la cara cubierta, robaron al dueño del local nocturno el dinero que tenía y mataron a las tres personas. Hubo un momento, en el que uno de los criminales se quitó una camiseta y fue grabado por la cámara, de baja resolución.

En la casa, la policía halló casquillos, pisadas, huellas y pelos de los que extrajo ADN que no pertenecían a Ibar. En cualquier caso, el vídeo era la principal prueba de la investigación. Semanas después del crimen, un agente creyó reconocer a Ibar, que había sido detenido como sospechoso de un robo, en el vídeo. Ibar lo negó y aseguró que el día de los asesinatos estaba en casa con su esposa. La policía asegura que algunos testigos identificaron a Ibar en el vídeo, aunque luego dijeron que simplemente dijeron que se parecía.

Pablo Ibar y otro hombre, Seth Peñalver, fueron condenados a muerte por el triple crimen. Posteriormente, el juicio de Peñalver fue anulado al considerar la justicia que había habido irregularidades, pero el caso de Ibar siguió adelante.

El primer juicio contra Ibar, en 1997, fue declarado nulo al no ponerse de acuerdo el jurado. En 2000, fue declarado culpable y condenado a pena de muerte. Ibar recurrió al Supremo de Florida, argumentando que el jurado había tomado decisiones erróneas basadas en pruebas circunstanciales y pidió celebrar un nuevo juicio, petición que fue desestimada en 2006.

Ibar ha seguido litigando y en abril de 2014 se celebró una apelación contra esta decisión. El abogado defensor alegó que, durante el proceso, se habían vulnerado los derechos constitucionales de Ibar. Presentó testimonios de expertos que aseguraban que el vídeo grabado no es una prueba sólida para identificar a las personas que perpetraron el triple crimen y que la complexión de la persona que se quitó la camiseta no corresponde con la de Ibar.

En esta ocasión, los jueces sí han valorado las alegaciones de Ibar, que lleva 15 años en el corredor de la muerte, y a las que se opuso la Fiscalía. Tras meses de deliberación, el Supremo de Florida ha tomado la decisión de repetir el juicio por cuatro votos a favor y tres en contra.

La Asociación contra la Pena de Muerte de Pablo Ibar ha celebrado la decisión de los jueces, aunque sabe que aún queda un largo camino por delante y es consciente de que habrá más y más recursos. Para Pablo Ibar, pese a sus 22 años en prisión, es una nueva oportunidad, quizá la última de demostrar su inocencia.

Fuente: EL PAÍS, Luis Barbero, 4 Feb 2016

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Colorado bill would allow death sentence without unanimous vote

James E. Holmes (L) was sentenced to serve life in prison + 3318 years for the Aurora mass shooting. "Not enough," Colorado lawmakers say.
James E. Holmes (L) was sentenced to serve life in prison + 3318 years for
the Aurora mass shooting. "Not enough," some Colorado lawmakers say.
Lawmakers are considering legislation that would make Colorado one of just 3 states that do not require unanimous verdicts

Five months after two of Colorado's most notorious mass murderers received life sentences, lawmakers are considering legislation that would toss the requirement that death sentences be unanimous.

The bill would allow a death sentence if at least nine of the 12 jurors vote for it. Removing the requirement would put Colorado in the minority of states — there are only three — that allow for non-unanimous verdicts in capital cases.

A unanimous vote would still be required to convict someone of a crime.

Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said he is sponsoring the bill because he "wants to save lives" and have a penalty "that will cause the bad guy to think twice before they pull the trigger."

"Colorado has a death penalty sentence on the books. But in reality, I think we have set the bar so high through the process that it's impossible to actually garner a conviction in cases where it is so obviously deserving of the death penalty."

But critics peg the legislation — which could still be amended — as an effort to make it easier to obtain a death sentence.

"We require the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all criminal charges to a unanimous jury," said Colorado public defender Doug Wilson. "So (under the proposed bill) someone charged with shoplifting would get a unanimous jury, and yet when we decide we want to execute one of our citizens, we would leave it to a jury of less than 12."

Rarely used in Colorado, the death penalty was center stage last summer as prosecutors sought the punishment for two men convicted of two devastating crimes. The trials of James Holmes and Dexter Lewis stretched on for weeks and months but ultimately ended in life sentences for each.

Holmes, who was convicted of killing 12 people and wounding 70 inside an Aurora movie theater in July 2012, was sentenced to life during the final phase of sentencing, in which three jurors did not vote for a death sentence.

Shortly after, during the second phase of Lewis' death penalty hearing, at least one member of a Denver jury found that the details of his life suggested mercy outweighed the details of the crime that suggested death. Lewis, who was convicted of stabbing five people to death in a bar in 2012, also was sentenced to life in prison.


Source: The Denver Post, Jordan Steffen, Feb. 9, 2016

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Texas: Disbarment of Former District Attorney Upheld

Anthony Graves
Anthony Graves
Former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta Jr. will remain disbarred for his conduct in winning the wrongful capital murder conviction of Anthony Graves.

The Texas Board of Disciplinary Appeals Monday upheld Sebesta's disbarment for "professional misconduct" in the case.

Graves was sentenced to death for the 1992 killings of a Somerville family.

His co-defendant, Robert Carter, originally testified that Graves was involved, but later said only he was responsible for killing the family. 

The State Bar of Texas disbarred the former district attorney for several mistakes in the case, including not correcting Carter's testimony.

Carter was executed in 2000. A federal appeals court overturned Graves' conviction and ordered a new trial in 2006, and Graves was released in 2010 after 18 years behind bars — 16 of which were on death row.

After the bar's decision, Sebesta appealed to the board, arguing that changes in disciplinary procedures warranted overturning his disbarment.

Source: Texas Tribune, Jonathan Silver, Feb. 8, 2016

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Sri Lanka Death Row Inmates Get Sentences Commuted To Life

Following a set of recommendations made by a committee appointed to look into the death sentence issued on several convicts, it has been decided to convert the death sentence imposed on 34 of those convicts into life imprisonment.

President Maithripala Sirisena had taken the decision after considering the reports on the 34 convicts submitted by the committee which was appointed by the former President.

The committee has also finalized reports on another 60 convicts on death row and these reports will also be handed over to the President for his consideration, a committee member told The Sunday Leader.

Since the death sentence is not implemented in Sri Lanka an issue has arisen on the convicts who are on death row.

Human rights groups have urged the Sri Lankan government not to implement the death sentence despite pressure from some groups and individuals following a spate of gruesome murders in the country.

Source: The Sunday Leader, Feb. 8, 2016

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Hamas executes fighter for spying for Israel

Hamas militants prepare to execute a person suspected of collaborating with Israel in Gaza City on Aug. 22, 2014.
Hamas militants prepare to execute a Palestinian suspected of
collaborating with Israel in Gaza City on Aug. 22, 2014.
Occupied Jerusalem: Human Rights Watch has condemned Hamas’ execution of one of its own fighters after the Palestinian militant group’s military wing said the killing was carried out at the weekend.

The Al Qassam Brigades — the armed wing of Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip — said it had executed one of its members on Sunday, with sources familiar with the case calling him a senior official accused of spying for Israel.

“The Al Qassam Brigades announce that the death penalty pronounced against its member Mahmoud Eshtawi has been applied today,” the Brigades said in a statement.

Responding to the announcement, Sari Bashi, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, called it “another extrajudicial killing by forces linked to Hamas”.

“If Hamas really cares about defending the rights of Palestinian people, it will act to punish and prevent the killing of any Palestinian in rogue procedures outside the semblance of law and justice,” said Bashi.

Hamas has long carried out executions against those accused of spying in the Gaza Strip, including in public squares in the Palestinian territory and often without transparent trials.

However, this killing appeared to be the first time Al Qassam itself had sentenced one of its own through a court martial and executed him.

Al Qassam did not provide details on the accusations against him, other than to say that “the Brigades’ military and Islamic judicial committee issued the sentence because he violated rules and ethics.”

Eshtawi’s duties included overseeing tunnels that have previously been used to store weapons and carry out attacks against Israel, sources said.

According to the sources, he was in charge of a large unit and was previously a close associate of Mohammad Deif, the Al Qassam chief who has been a frequent target of Israeli assassination attempts.

Since the start of 2016, four Gazans have been handed death sentences after being accused of spying for Israel.

The Gaza Strip has seen three wars with Israel since 2008.

Source: Agence France-Presse, February 8, 2016

Related article: 

Indonesia: Grandma Caught With 1,500 Ecstasy Tablets, Crystal Meth at Kualanamu Airport

Indonesian police drug bust (file photo)
Indonesian police drug bust (file photo)
Jakarta. Security officers at Kualanamu International Airport in North Sumatra have handed a 54-year-old woman over to police after finding 1,500 ecstasy tablets and nearly 30 grams of crystal methamphetamine in her possession on Sunday (07/02).

The woman, who has been identified as Hajjah Isdiani, is reportedly from Kalimantan Island. 

The drugs were found hidden inside her underwear during a routine check by airport security personnel.

During a subsequent interrogation, Hajjah told the officers that the drugs originated from a drug dealer in Lubuk Pakam, a town in North Sumatra province. 

She confessed that she had been offered Rp 15 million ($1,100) to smuggle the drugs.

"The evidence was seized from inside the bra worn by the suspect. She was a passenger on Lion Air flight JT 913 traveling from Kualanamu to Balikpapan. She was handed over to the police," said Kuswadi, the chief of security at Kualanamu airport.

The airport is situated 39 kilometers from the provincial capital Medan.

Kuswadi said the police are conducting further investigations.

Source: Jakarta Globe, Arnold H Sianturi, February 08, 2016

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Missouri: Execution Drug Supplier Won't Say If It Alerted Financial Crimes Unit

The Apothecary Shoppe
The Apothecary Shoppe
Missouri paid a family-run pharmacy in Oklahoma more than $30,000 in cash for execution drugs. Federal law requires recipients of large amounts of cash alert a federal financial crimes unit - but the pharmacy isn't saying whether it did.

Over the past 2 1/2 years, the state of Missouri has handed out $250,000 in cash to members of an execution team in an effort to keep their identities hidden. Its methods have raised questions about whether the state has followed federal law - but also whether at least 1 of the recipients of the cash payments complied with the law.

Most of the execution team payments were in increments of several thousand dollars. But one recipient, a pharmacy in Oklahoma that provided drugs for several executions, received payments of $11,091.

As BuzzFeed News revealed last week, the state has not been alerting the Internal Revenue Service to the payments. Experts said the state's methods raise the risk that the recipients could be evading taxes, and is likely in violation of federal tax law.

Further investigation of the "confidential execution team member receipts" reveals another potential legal issue. Anytime more than $10,000 in cash changes hands, the recipient is obligated to inform the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which investigates money laundering.

The Apothecary Shoppe, the pharmacy that received 2 cash payments of $11,091, apparently would have been subject to the law, an expert who spoke with BuzzFeed News explained, and therefore required to alert the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the payments.

"If any one of the payments was more than $10,000, then they should have made the filing with FinCEN," said Bryan Camp, a former IRS employee who is now a law professor at Texas Tech.

Attorneys have sometimes balked at the requirement of alerting the financial crimes unit of large cash payments, arguing it violates attorney-client privilege and their code of ethics. But a federal appeals court disagreed in a 1992 case, holding that an attorney had to disclose the information to the unit.

The penalties for not alerting the unit would be the same penalties the state could face for not disclosing the payments to the IRS. The penalties are relatively modest, starting at $100. But the penalties can add up, and increases if the violation was intentional.

The Apothecary Shoppe is currently under a court-ordered receivership. The receiver did not answer when asked if he would look into whether the pharmacy had alerted the financial crimes unit, or paid taxes on the large amount of cash it received. Since Missouri did not issue 1099s, the IRS would have no way of knowing to check for tax payments on the payments.

The pharmacy began supplying for executions in November 2013. In the 1st execution, the pharmacy was first paid $8,000. The state then increased its payments to the pharmacy to $11,091 per execution for another 2 executions. A corrections official testified that the extra cost was to pay for testing of the drug before it would be used.

In total, the Apothecary Shoppe received $30,182 for 3 executions.

The other members of the state's execution team did not meet that threshold in a single transaction. But other members cumulatively received well over $10,000 in cash. The law requires alerting the financial crimes unit if the payments are more than $10,000 in one "or more related transactions." A tax expert BuzzFeed News spoke with said it's unclear if the payments counted as "related transactions" for separate executions - meaning it's unclear if they would also need to alert the financial crimes unit.

In late 2013, St. Louis Public Radio discovered the pharmacy was selling drugs to Missouri despite not being licensed to do so in the state. Shortly thereafter, the pharmacy was sued by a death row inmate facing execution. He claimed the drugs that the Apothecary Shoppe was making would likely put him through severe pain.

The case was settled out of court. The terms were confidential, but the pharmacy agreed to not sell drugs for any more executions. The Apothecary Shoppe has refused to discuss its involvement in Missouri's executions, and the state found a new drug supplier.

Since then, the Apothecary Shoppe has defaulted on loans from the bank and their board resigned en masse. The bank sued the pharmacy, and put in place David Rhoades, a receiver who specializes in fraud.

Rhoades initially declined to comment on if the pharmacy paid taxes on the cash, and if it alerted the financial crimes division, since it took place well before his tenure. But when BuzzFeed News pointed out that the IRS could collect on the taxes, or could penalize the pharmacy if it did not alert the financial crimes division, Rhoades offered a brief statement.

"Regardless of what form revenue takes, it would be typical that it is recorded as income and therefore included in the tax preparation," Rhoades said.

Although he added, "I do not believe that it is a current issue for the pharmacies," Rhoades would not specifically answer questions as to whether the pharmacy paid taxes on the payments or alerted the financial crimes division.

The Department of Corrections did not respond when asked for comment. However, the director of the Department of Corrections, George Lombardi, was asked to explain the cash payments before the state legislature this week.

Lombardi could not point to an exemption that allowed the department to not issue 1099s, but defended its practice nonetheless.

"Is it your understanding that there is some sort of exemption for the department of corrections to skirt that federal requirement?" Rep. Jeremy LaFaver asked.

"It is my understanding that giving 1099s to these individuals would reveal who they were, and would mean the end of the death penalty, because these individuals wouldn't do it," Lombardi said.

Gov. Jay Nixon, who oversees the department of corrections, declined to comment.

Source: BuzzFeedNews, Chris McDaniel, February 3, 2016

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Don't mess with Texas, where law is hard, mistakes common

Harris County Precinct 4, Texas
Harris County Precinct 4, Texas
Among the 3,000 counties that make up the United States, there is 1 in Texas where it's best not to mess with the law, because justice is hard and mistakes are common.

Harris County has executed a record 125 people since the US Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in 1976.

"The best answer I know is that it's a huge county -- 4 million people -- that's very conservative, in an active death penalty state, and for a long time had a notoriously blood thirsty DA," Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan law school told AFP.

Home to the sprawling city of Houston, Harris County accounts for 9 % of all modern US executions.

It has executed more people than that any of the 31 states which administer the death penalty, except for the state of Texas as a whole.

"There are 4 major reasons why Harris County has put so many people on death row: overzealous prosecutors, poor legal representation, racial bias, and the absence of a life without parole sentencing option until 2005," said Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty information Center.

Studies have shown that Harris County prosecutors were three times more likely to seek the death penalty against African Americans than against white defendants between 1992 and 1999. Juries there were more than twice as likely to impose death sentences on African Americans during the same period.

Lawyers for Duane Buck, sentenced to die in Harris County in 1997, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court Thursday because an expert witness told jurors he posed a higher risk of recidivism because he was black.

- Pleading guilty, even if innocent -

Harris County also accounted for 1/3 of the nation's exoneration cases in 2015, according to a study Gross published Wednesday.

Many of those who spent years behind bars until they could prove their innocence are African Americans like Alfred Brown, who was arrested in 2003 at the age of 21 for a double homicide and sentenced to death in 2005.

Prosecutors suppressed phone records showing Brown was at his girlfriend's home at the time of the crime and jailed his girlfriend on perjury charges until she agreed to testify against him, according to a series of columns which netted Houston Chronicle reporter Lisa Falkenberg a Pulitzer Prize.

Brown was released in June after 12 years behind bars.

The vast majority of exonerations are in drug cases where people caught up in the system are pressured to plead guilty because they have little hope of clearing their names.

"It's shocking but it is very common," said Jim Cohen, a professor at Fordham Law School.

"They are pushed by the prosecutor and they are pushed by the defense attorney because the defense attorney is saying, 'if you don't plead guilty and you are convicted after trial, you're going to get a much bigger sentence'."

But the evidence which pushed them to confess was often flawed or even inadmissible.

The field tests used by police in Harris County and elsewhere in the nation are "notoriously unreliable," and "routinely misidentify everything from Jolly Ranchers (candies) to chalk to motor oil as illegal drugs," the University of Michigan report said.

"They are inadmissible as evidence in court but sufficient to justify an arrest and they may convince an innocent defendant that she is bound to be convicted at trial."

Some of those who plead guilty might have thought the pills or powders they were carrying contained illegal drugs when they did not, the study concluded.

Others, especially those with previous convictions who could not afford to post bail, agreed to "attractive plea bargains" rather than risking years in prison.

Source: Yahoo News, February 6, 2016

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The problem with Hillary Clinton's stance on the death penalty

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate included one brief exchange that showed some overlap but also a sharp philosophical difference between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on a persistently fractious issue: the death penalty.

The exchange came in response to a question by co-moderator Rachel Maddow, who asked Clinton whether she still stood by an earlier statement in which she "reluctantly" endorsed capital punishment.

"Yes, I do. And - you know, what I hope the Supreme Court will do is make it absolutely clear that any state that continues capital punishment either must meet the highest standards of evidentiary proof of effective assistance of counsel or they cannot continue it because that, to me, is the real dividing line.

"I have much more confidence in the federal system, and I do reserve it for particularly heinous crimes in the federal system, like terrorism. I have strong feelings about that. I thought it was appropriate after a very thorough trial that Timothy McVeigh received the death penalty for blowing up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children in a day-care center.

"I do for very limited, particularly heinous crimes believe it is an appropriate punishment, but I deeply disagree with the way that too many states are still implementing it. If it were possible to separate the federal from the state system by the Supreme Court, that would, I think, be an appropriate outcome."

Sanders staked out the opposite turf from Clinton, arguing that the death penalty is too prone to error to be trusted but also said more broadly that "of course there are barbaric acts out there. But in a world of so much violence and killing, I just don't believe that government itself should be part of the killing."

To her credit, Clinton has said she "would breathe a sigh of relief" if the Supreme Court were to ban the practice. But there are 2 underlying problems with her position as staked out Thursday night. First is the implication that effective counsel is all it takes to guarantee a fair trial, when many of the death penalty exonerations we've seen in recent years have hinged on prosecutorial or investigative misconduct (including hiding potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense) and lying witnesses. Even the best defense lawyers will have trouble overcoming such practices.

Second is Clinton's suggestion that somehow the federal system has got it right on how to get a clean conviction and a method of execution that is not unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. She cited the case of McVeigh, whose atrocious act of anti-government terrorism killed 168 people, including children at a day-care center, in the federal Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. That was a heinous act of terrorism, and she called his execution "appropriate."

But it's only appropriate if you view vengeance as the purview of the state. McVeigh was irredeemable and caused unimaginable pain and loss, but that doesn't mean it was just for the government to kill him in return. If killing is wrong, then it's inconsistent to vest that power in the state. That's the moral argument against the death penalty. The pragmatic one - expensive, indiscriminate, prone to manipulation - doesn't inherently give the federal system a pass. In an adversarial judicial system, the goal is to win as much as it is to reach truth and justice.

Since McVeigh's execution, the federal government has put to death 2 more men: Juan Raul Garza just 8 days after McVeigh in 2001, and Louis Jones Jr. in 2003. Neither involved terrorism.

In the 1st case, the government executed Garza despite international protests that the courts had allowed the prosecutor to tell the jury that Garza, a major drug-trafficker convicted of ordering the murders of 2 people and killing a 3rd himself, was a suspect in more murders in Mexico - crimes for which he had never been charged and for which he could not mount a defense during the sentencing hearing. Would the jury have voted for death without that information? Who knows, but insinuation should not be evidence in determining whether someone lives or dies.

The execution of Jones was even more problematic. A highly decorated Gulf War vet with diagnosed psychiatric problems from his service, Jones' life fell apart after the war, propelled largely by his exposure to chemical agents. He was convicted of the 1995 rape and murder of a 19-year-old female Army recruit on a military base. A horrific crime, yes, but it seems to fall outside Clinton's endorsement of capital punishment "for particularly heinous crimes in the federal system, like terrorism."

And there's nothing to suggest that the federal system can't fall victim to the same sorts of manipulations that dog the state courts. And the federal death row includes people convicted of the same kinds of murders for which state courts invoke the death penalty. In fact, the only person on federal death row convicted of terrorism killings is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston bomber.

Minorities also make up a disproportionate number of federal sentences (44% black, 39% white, 13% Latino and 2% Native American). It's hard to see much daylight between the federal and state capital punishment systems, other than a matter of scale. The 60 people currently under a federal death sentence (these are the eligible crimes) are dwarfed by the estimated 2,950 people on state death rows.

The death penalty isn't likely to be a pivotal issue in the nominating contests for either major party, nor in the general election. That's unfortunate. It's among the most pressing ethical issues of the day, and challenges to it could well bring more cases to the Supreme Court in the relatively near future.

As it is, Florida and Delaware are struggling to reconfigure their systems after a recent Supreme Court decision that juries and not a judge must determine death sentences. And here in California, voters may have a choice of 2 death-penalty initiatives, 1 to ban it and the other to speed up the execution calendar.

More candidates ought to be talking about it, and more voters should be bringing it up. And I hope Clinton will re-think her stance on it.

Source: Los Angeles Times, Opinion, Scott Martelle, February 6, 2016

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Death Penalty Vacated for Arizona Inmate with Low IQ

Holding cell, Arizona Death House
Holding cell, Arizona Death House
A man who once scored 62 on an intelligence test - where an IQ of 65 or below qualifies as mental retardation - cannot be executed for a 1980 rape and murder, the Ninth Circuit ruled Thursday, converting the sentence to life in prison.

"There can be no doubt that the crime in this case was truly horrific," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote a divided 3-judge panel. "The Constitution, however, regards intellectually disabled defendants as less morally culpable for their crimes, and for this reason, prohibits their execution."

Robert Douglas Smith was sentenced to death in 1982 for the rape and murder of Sandy Owen in Tucson.

At the time of Owen's abduction in 1980, Smith had 5 failed marriages under his belt. He had been on a cross-country road trip with a couple, and was frustrated that they had intercourse in front of him, while he had no one with whom to be intimate.

The ruling describes in horrific detail Owen's rape and murder, in which both he and his friends on the road trip participated, saying the trio celebrated the killing afterward by playing "We Are the Champions" as they drove off.

In earlier years, Smith had been held back in every grade and sent to a special school for children for children unable to learn. He was only in the 8th grade when he turned 16 and dropped out.

Arizona did not outlaw the execution of people with intellectual disabilities until 2001, however, and Smith's trial occurred more than 20 years after the state created a framework to evaluate capital defendants for intellectual disability.

State courts that eventually evaluated whether Smith was intellectually disabled at the time of the crime concluded he was not, denying Smith's claim in 2012 under a landmark precedent. In the 2002 decision Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the execution of intellectually disabled criminals amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.

The Ninth Circuit converted Smith's sentence 2-1 Thursday to life in prison, saying Smith's IQ may have improved while in prison, but that he was clearly intellectually disabled at the time in 1980.

"Considering Smith's intellectual functioning test scores and his history of significantly impaired adaptive behavior," Reinhardt said Smith "demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning."

The dissent by Judge Consuelo Callahan meanwhile blasts the majority for "expressing supreme confidence in its own ability to detect past intellectual disability despite substantial conflicting evidence and the fact that Smith is not now intellectually disabled."

Callahan said Smith's testing in 2005, which revealed an IQ between 87 and 93, is "undeniable" evidence that Smith failed to meet his burden.

The dissent also emphasizes Smith's ability to live independently and support himself for 15 years after dropping out of school, before the murder.

The doctors who examined Smith in 1980 also "determine his competency to be tried found no signs of intellectual disability," according to the dissent.

Reinhardt, who authored the lead opinion, included a specially concurring opinion as well.

This lengthy addition complains about how Atkins has been applied in Arizona, which has 124 inmates on death row, the 8th highest number of any state, with 15 executions since Atkins.

"The constitutional infirmity of Arizona's statute creates a recurring problem with potentially far-reaching consequences," Reinhardt wrote, saying the court should have held that both aspects of Arizona's intellectual-disability statute "violate the Eighth Amendment because they permit the execution of individuals whom Atkins deems categorically ineligible for capital punishment."

Judge Mary Schroeder concurred in all but one 11-page section of the 55-page lead opinion.

Source: Courthouse News, Feb. 6, 2016

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