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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Not In My Name

A painstaking reconstruction of a real-time execution by lethal injection that highlights some of the very specific issues relating to the USA’s preferred execution method.

Over the last few years, executions have been on the decline in the US, the practice has been fraught with pragmatic, fiscal, and constitutional problems. This hasn’t stopped the country from continuing to be one of the top executing nations in the world.

#DeathPenaltyFail is a campaign to promote the facts, highlight the inefficiencies, and push for the repeal of the death penalty in the United States. Using films, visuals, and the stories of exonerees, victim’s families, and law enforcement, we are committed to educating people about the social, emotional, and financial burdens of the death penalty.

Whether you support the death penalty or not, there can be no doubt that the death penalty is riddled with problems, and when that system leads to the taking of a life, the stakes are simply too high to ignore.





Source: DeathPenaltyFail.org, August 2016

We can no longer mask the barbarity of the death penalty


Ronald B. Smith
Ronald B. Smith
(CNN)The United States is bumbling its way toward the bitter end of the death penalty. As the numbers of executions fall every year, the state-ordered deaths that we do commit become that much more unusual, freakish and unfair applications of the law. As states scramble to implement arbitrary new lethal injection protocols, the cruelty of the procedure only worsens. The way Alabama killed the convicted murderer Ronald B. Smith on Thursday is only the latest example.

According to Birmingham News reporter Kent Faulk, Smith moved his lips after receiving an injection of midazolam, the third-choice sedative that most death penalty states are using in the absence of stronger barbiturate drugs. Besides moving his lips, Faulk reported the man was gasping for breath, heaving and coughing, for 13 minutes, stating that Smith "clenched his left fist after apparently being administered the first drug in the three-drug combination."

Faulk also said Smith's left eye appeared slightly open at times during the procedure and said Smith moved his right arm and hand after a prison official poked and prodded him a second time to check whether he was still conscious.

After the midazolam, which is the same twilight-inducing benzodiazepine that many people experience in lower doses for common procedures like a colonoscopy, prison staff next injected Smith with the paralytic pancuronium bromide and finally potassium chloride (which causes the lethal cardiac arrest).

The medicalization of capital punishment began in 1982 with the first lethal injection in Texas, and for most of the time we've relied on this method, states first injected the condemned with sodium thiopental, a strong barbiturate sedative (in general, barbiturates are stronger than benzodiazepines like midazolam).

But death penalty states lost their access to sodium thiopental when the pharmaceutical company Hospira stopped making it following European pressure. The European Union even specifically blocks the export of drugs that could potentially be used in executions to the United States.

Executioners next turned to pentobarbital, another barbiturate that can induce a deep medical coma, but its Danish manufacturer Lundbeck then cut off our supply of that drug, too. Now, prison officials are relegated to partnering with local compounding pharmacies whose skills in drug synthesis aren't ready for prime time. Or, they can get creative and use a drug so common its supply can't be cut off by the EU or a single manufacturer -- a drug like midazolam.

The only problem with that is that midazolam's a lousy drug for lethal injection. Besides the fact that there are stronger sedatives that it makes more sense to use, we know it's not very soluble, meaning it can easily become a solid in the vial or IV tubing, especially the higher the dose gets. Moreover, potassium chloride only makes its solubility worse, precipitating more of the drug out of solution, enough that trying to force in the injection through the precipitate can break the vein, spilling the drugs out into the arm tissue where they're not going to have their intended effects.

We know that consciousness is a continuum, and from the descriptions of Smith's execution, he was likely in a semi-conscious state for some of his execution. He could have been more fully conscious, but we'd be unaware because the paralytic he got would have prevented him from speaking.

We can't run experiments determining what prisoners really experience with any of the cocktails. After all, the experimental subject would be dead, one way or another, following the procedure. But the evidence we've got -- a number of botched executions using midazolam with subjects moving and attempting to speak after they're supposed to have been rendered unconscious, makes it clear this method is unacceptable.

To compound matters, decent physicians aren't willing to participate. Relevant specialties like anesthesiology will kick out a member who facilitates executions. The resulting procedure is archaic. Medics are fumbling around in the middle of the night trying to place peripheral IV lines right before the execution, having difficulty finding veins, when larger central or PICC lines could have been placed beforehand with imaging guidance.

We certainly can't trust the neurological examination skills of these executioners, so they'd be better off using a more objective EEG monitoring protocol to assess the how deeply unconscious their subjects are. But setting up one of the commercially available systems would require the help of companies and vendors that probably have ethical standards that wouldn't allow them to participate in executions.

We've just elected a new president who has embraced torture in the fight against terrorism. So perhaps quibbles about how humane lethal injection procedures may or may not be as means of exiting condemned murders seem a little quaint.

But the Constitution hasn't changed. The Eighth Amendment still prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Yet lethal injection is only becoming more cruel and unusual. If we want to efficiently dispatch these murderous criminals into a deep coma and then stop their hearts, we've got a lot of work to do devising a better protocol.

However, no good medical professionals want to do that work. No modern, well-run company that wants any kind of international standing for itself will assist. That suggests that it's time for America to take a cue from the rest of the world. Our options just ran out. We can no longer mask the barbarity of what we are doing.

Source: CNN, Opinion, Ford Vox, December 10, 2016. Ford Vox is a physician specializing in rehabilitation medicine and a journalist. He is a medical analyst for NPR station WABE-FM 90.1 in Atlanta. He writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @FordVox.

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

1916: Eric Poole, the first British officer shot at dawn during World War I

The Shot at Dawn Memorial, Staffordshire, UK
The Shot at Dawn Memorial, Staffordshire, UK
A century ago today in the Great War, Second Lieutenant Eric Poole laid down his life at the city hall of a Belgian border town.

As it was put by the sadly defunct Shot At Dawn site (still preserved at the Wayback Machine), “The cemetery register of Poperinghe New Military Cemetery states that Lt. Eric Skeffington Poole died of wounds on 10 December 1916. Tactfully, it omits to record also that his death was caused by a British Army firing squad.”

A Canadian-born engineer, Poole had enlisted in the very first weeks of the war and been commissioned an officer by May 1915.

In July of 1916, a falling artillery shell struck so close that its concussion knocked Poole down, spattering him with earth. He was hospitalized for shellshock but returned to duty in September — still complaining of rheumatism and feeling “damned bad.”

One night in October as his unit moved up to a forward trench, Poole disappeared from it — nobody knows how or when, but he wasn’t there when it mustered at its new position at midnight. He was detained two days later, wandering well west of the trenches, a leather jacket hiding his private’s tunic … “in a very dazed condition,” an officer who interviewed him would later remember. “From conversation which I had with him I came to the conclusion he was not responsible for his actions. He was very confused indeed.”

Evidence collected in Poole’s desertion trial pointed to a man taxed beyond his capacities by command responsibility and the strain of two years at war. His division commander recommended against the court martial, for Poole was “not really accountable for his actions. He is of nervous temperament, useless in action, and dangerous as an example to the men” — but still “could [be] usefully employed at home in instructional duties or in any minor administrative work, not involving severe strain of the nerves.” Another captain in his battalion described him as “somewhat eccentric, and markedly lacking in decision” and liable under pressure to “become so mentally confused that he would not be responsible for his actions.”

By the book the man’s irresolute midnight ramble was a clear instance of abdicating duty, but Poole’s weakness was apparent enough to trouble the court that tried him for desertion — not only to solicit this and other testimony from his comrades about the lieutenant’s state of mind but even to remark from its own observation that his “mental powers [were] less than average. He appears dull under cross examination, and his perception is slow.” Perhaps this was fellow-feeling by other officers that would not have been extended to a mere grunt; if so, what was a mitigating consideration for the court made Poole’s execution a in the eyes of Field Marshal Haig: “Such a case is more serious in the case of an officer than a man, and it is also highly important that all ranks should realise the law is the same for an officer as a private.” Two years in, and somehow not one officer had suffered such a punishment; Shot At Dawn speculated that military courts’ recent shocking verdict excusing Captain John Bowen-Colthurst on grounds of insanity for an atrocity in Ireland had also raised pressure on the armed forces to show that British officers stood not above the law.*

The British army executed 306 of its own soldiers during World War I. Among them, Poole was the first of only three officers.

* The War Office’s decision not to publicize his fate (and the euphemistic reference in the cemetery register) would seem sharply at odds with any intended demonstrative effect.

Source: Executed Today, December 10, 2016

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In the aftermath of the elections

Sr. Helen Prejean
Sr. Helen Prejean
This has been an out-of-the-ball-park, stunning presidential election. Forty-two million Americans voted for Donald Trump, a man who during the campaign engaged in the most abusive, divisive, violent, and untruthful rhetoric that I have ever witnessed in American politics. He approves of waterboarding. He says we need to give police more freedom to “stop and frisk” in our cities. He wants to build a wall on the border of Mexico. He’s all for Law and Order and a staunch believer in privatizing prisons. He even threatened to prosecute and lock up his political opponent.

Here’s my question: how deeply must our citizens be hurting, and how desperately must they distrust the current political system to have chosen such an outlier candidate?

And I can’t help but ask: with Trump’s appointee as Attorney General and his nominee for the Supreme Court what will happen to our quest to abolish the death penalty – especially now that we’re closer to ending it than we’ve ever been? What will happen to our quest to end mass incarceration and disenfranchisement of so many minorities, especially African Americans?

It’s time for soul searching. It’s time for deeper listening to each other. I confess that during the 18-month presidential campaign (it felt endless) I didn’t take pro-Trump folks seriously at all. I wrote them off. I couldn’t believe that more than a few citizens would actually vote for Trump as president. Boy, was I wrong!

Now I know that I need to make a concerted effort to engage in dialogue with people whose political beliefs are very different from my own. I need to really listen when they express just what it is they hope for to “make America great again.” Or is “making America great again” what they’re really seeking anyway?

People in the Rust Belt, who’ve lost manufacturing jobs and whose wages have been stagnant for the last 15 years were the turning point in the election. A whole lot of people are not experiencing the Great American Dream, that’s for sure. I’ve been knowing that about those who live in poverty. Now I’m learning it about middle class America as well.

I welcome your thoughts. Please post a comment on my Facebook page.

Source: Ministry Against The Death Penalty, Sister Helen Prejean, December 7, 2016

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Iran Regime's Attorney General Acknowledges Blocking 13-14 Thousand Websites Each Week

NCRI - Iranian regime’s Attorney General has acknowledged blocking 13-14 thousand websites each week.

In an interview with regime’s TV on Wednesday December 7, Jafar Montazeri claimed that there are many (intellectual) currents intending to hit the independent cultures, especially the Islamic Republic, who are standing against the Western culture.

“We are faced with two extremely dangerous issues in this regard; the first is that the enemy is taking advantage of the cyberspace for blasphemy, questioning people’s beliefs and so on. The second is interfering with issues towards which the society, especially the youth, are sensitive. Actually, they’ve waged a soft war against us and our religious values“, added Montazeri.

He said that “we have no option but to block access to 13-14 thousand websites each week.”

Also the head of regime’s Cyber Police ‘Hadianfar’ has said in this regard that “the Cyber Police has investigated a total of 67 thousand cases in the past eight months, which shows a 63 percent increase compared to the same period last year.”

Earlier, head of the so-called ‘Department of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Wrong’ in Tehran, had expressed regime’s fear of the spread of social networks in Iran as well as an increased tendency among the youth towards the People's Mojahedin organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK/), saying: “internet helps occurring riots and leads to increased tendency towards PMOI (MEK), cultural deviations and corrupt content.”

“Regarding evil issues, the internet has a higher priority today compared to issues such as elections or hijab, and unfortunately, we are faced with a betrayal by some of our officials with regard to introducing the internet. So, we need to pay attention to this issue which has entered our homes and caught us”, he said on Monday December 5, according to state media.

Source: NCRI, December 10, 2016

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Indonesia’s human rights record still poor: Imparsial

The government is still failing to protect and uphold human rights in the country despite a number of laws guaranteeing the rights of all citizens, which according to Jakarta-based human rights watchdog Imparsial is rooted in a lack of focus and commitment.

Imparsial executive director Al Araf said the absence of human rights in the priority programs of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had added to the already long list of challenges to the poor performance in the country’s efforts to equally protect the rights of all people.

“It’s really important for the government to politically commit to making human rights a priority program otherwise we will not see any changes in the future,” Al Araf said in a discussion on Friday.

He said such a lack of political commitment had posed challenges, including political transactions that consequently put aside human rights, a toothless national rights body, which was supposedly a front-line protector of human rights in the country, and unfinished legal reform.

“Jokowi’s administration is no different to those of his predecessors, which failed to prioritize actions to uphold human rights,” Al Araf said, citing current rampant religious intolerance, criminalization of activists, the ongoing use of the death penalty as well as impunity as examples that showed Jokowi was not committed to human rights.

Source: The Jakarta Post, Margareth S. Aritonang, December 10, 2016

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Federal public defender says Alabama execution 'botched'

Midazolam
The director of the public defender's office that represented Alabama Death Row inmate Ronald Bert Smith, who was executed Thursday night, believes the execution was "botched" and that Smith felt pain as he died.

The Alabama Department of Corrections disagreed and said the execution went according to its protocol.

Either way, the execution is likely to become an issue in lawsuits by death row inmates who claim the first drug in Alabama's lethal injection procedure doesn't ease the pain for the two fatal drugs that follow. The inmates claim the state's lethal injection method is unconstitutional and represents cruel and unusual punishment.

During a 13-minute portion of Thursday night's execution Smith's chest heaved, he appeared to gasp for breath, and at one point his left hand clinched before he stopped moving.

"I think it was botched," said Christine Freeman, executive director of the Federal Public Defender's Office in Montgomery which represented Smith in his appeals. She was one of the execution witnesses on Thursday.

The Alabama Department of Corrections issued a statement Friday that states that throughout the execution, the department followed an established protocol upheld as constitutional. Smith had his eyes closed and did cough but at no time during the execution was there observational evidence that he suffered, according to the statement.

"We followed our protocol," Alabama Prisons Commissioner Jeff Dunn said in a press conference after the execution.

Dunn said there was no discussion among prison officials during the execution about stopping the execution once Smith started coughing and his chest heaved.

He also contradicted witnesses who said Smith reacted to consciousness tests that a corrections officer administered to determine when the first drug, midazolam, had sedated Smith enough for the administration of the two other drugs that would kill him. "From where I was seated, I didn't see any reaction to the consciousness assessment," Dunn said.

The consciousness assessment consists of a corrections officer loudly calling the inmate's name, brushing the inmate's left eyelash and pinching the inmate's upper arm. In past lethal injection executions, the inmate was given one test, but on Thursday night there were two after Smith continued to move and cough after the first one.

And Smith's right hand moved shortly after the second test.

Dunn declined to provide details of the execution protocol the state uses. But the protocol has been approved after examination by the medical community, prison officials and the courts, he said.

Freeman said that "since the protocol is secret I can't make any guesses about whether it was followed."

Ronald Smith
Ronald Smith
But Freeman questioned how anyone could consider the execution going as planned. "It indicated that the protocol was not adequate," she said.

"The object of the protocol is to create a painless execution and that is not what we saw last night," Freeman said.

Autopsy


The ADOC says an autopsy will determine if there were any "irregularities" with the execution.

The federal public defender's office says an autopsy may show some things. "But no autopsy can measure the extent of Ron Smith's suffering as he died," according to the public defender's statement.

Escambia County Medical Examiner Dr. Dan Raulerson said Friday that the coroner's office transported the executed inmate's body for examination by one of the doctors at the state forensics laboratory in Mobile. "Basically what they look for is any sign of inappropriate trauma ... and that the prisoner died in a humane fashion," he said.

The forensics laboratory can run toxicology tests, Raulerson said. Once completed, the forensics lab sends him a report in about six weeks to three months on the autopsy, he said. That report will be filed in his office where it will become public record, he said.

Raulerson notes that he doesn't attend the executions. "I'm very much opposed to capital punishment. As a doctor it is my job to save lives," he said.

Pending lawsuits


Smith's execution could find its way into the pending lawsuits other death row inmates have filed challenging midazolam and Alabama's three-drug lethal injection protocol, Freeman said.

Alabama changed its drug protocol a few years ago after drug manufacturers began declining to sell their drugs to it and other states for executions.

The drugs were changed, with midazolam being the first one administered.

Inmates in Alabama - including Smith - and around the country have filed lawsuits over the use of midazolam.

Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said that midazolam isn't meant to be an anesthesia that can block all pain. "One of midazolam's failures is that a person unconscious can be jolted back into consciousness by the execution drugs," he said.

Dunham said there are several examples of inmates struggling to breathe after midazolam has been administered. One of those was in 2014 in Ohio with the execution of Dennis McGuire, who gasped for air for about 25 minutes while the drugs hydromorphone and midazolam took effect. "Witnesses reported that after the drugs were injected, McGuire was struggling, with his stomach heaving and fist clenched, making 'horrible' snorting and choking sounds," according to the death penalty information website.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled in a case out of Oklahoma that involved midazolam that its use was constitutional in a multi-drug combination.

Dunham believes Smith's execution will serve as one more example for inmates seeking to have a court declare the use of midazolam in the state's lethal injection method will be ruled unconstitutional. "Midazolam should not be used in these type protocols," he said.

Raulerson, however, said he has used midazolam in procedures, such as colonoscopies. "And it works quite well ... It doesn't mean your patient won't move or could not react to pain. But I guarantee you when they wake up they have no memory at all," he said.

Source: al.com, Kent Faulk, December 9, 2016

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Friday, December 9, 2016

34 Years Ago, the First Person Died by Lethal Injection in Texas. It Was Controversial Then, Too

Texas' death house at 'The Walls' Prison
Texas' death house at 'The Walls' Prison, where the state of Texas carries
out its executions. The death chamber is located at the far end of this corridor.
It was seen as more humane and relatively painless, but that's not certain

When Charles Brooks Jr. lay down on a gurney in the execution chamber, there was no way to know exactly what would happen next.

On this day in 1982, Brooks was the first person to be executed by injecting a cocktail of drugs intended to numb his body and mind, paralyze him and stop his heart. His death, the 1st by lethal injection, sparked an ethics debate among the public and physicians about whether the procedure is humane, one that continues today.

Brooks was convicted of murdering David Gregory, an auto mechanic, wrote Dick Reavis for Texas Monthly in early 1983. Gregory rode with Brooks during a test drive at the used-car lot where he worked. That night, he was found tied up in a motel room. He had been shot in the head. In separate trials, both Brooks and partner in crime Woodie Loudres were sentenced to die for the crime. Loudres was able to reduce his sentence, but Brooks was not, although no weapon was ever found and officials never determined who shot Gregory.

Lethal injection was seen to be more humane than other execution methods, like gas, electrocution or hanging, according to an article on History.com. Because one of the drugs used was supposed to put the condemned in a state of deep sedation, it was also perceived to be painless. In spite of physician protests that lethal injection was a violation of medical ethics, wrote Robert Reinhold of The New York Times, it was seen as acceptable. But conflicting witness reports at Brooks's death led Reinhold to report that "the procedure did not seem to settle the question of whether such a death was painless."

The conviction that landed Brooks on death row wasn't his 1st. What was different this time: he knew that if the state didn't intervene in his case, he could become the 1st man on death row to be killed by a cocktail of drugs designed to numb his mind and stop his heart. "In his best mood," Reavis wrote: "Charlie thought that there was nothing to fear in death by injection. He believed that he could set it up to be like the surgery after the 1st of his bullet woundings."

Brooks and Reavis made an agreement: if the condemned man felt pain during his execution, he would shake his head, like he was saying "no," and Reavis would understand. They repeated the agreement at each meeting.

In the end, the state didn't grant Brooks a stay of execution. "For the 1st time in American penal history," Reavis wrote, "men who were neither physicians nor sorcerers got ready to execute a prisoner with the forbidden tools of medicine and pharmacology,"

"According to 4 reporters who witnessed the execution in a tiny room at the edge of the prison's Walls unit, Mr. Brooks appeared to have suffered some pain," Reinhold wrote.

Reavis was one of those reporters. He wrote:

It was perhaps a minute, perhaps 2 minutes, before he felt death creeping in. The [sic] he slowly moved his head towards the left shoulder, and back towards the right, then upward, leftward again, as if silently saying no.
I snapped to erectness. Charlie was wagging his head: was that his signal to me?

He couldn't be sure one way or the other.

Today, those killed by lethal injection are almost as likely to be guinea pigs for the procedure as Brooks was. Supplies of known lethal-injection cocktails are running out across the United States, reports Tess Owen for Vice. Injections nationwide are at a 25-year low, she writes, partially because it's increasingly hard for corrections departments to get the drugs they need to perform them. This deficit has led to correctional departments trying untested mixes of drugs to replace the old standards they aren't able to get anymore, with grim results. Only Texas, Georgia and Missouri are using the death penalty "with any regularity," writes Mike Brantley for AL.com. But the death penalty remains legal, and those who face the prospect of death at state hands may potentially be killed using untried cocktails of drugs.

Source: smithsonianmag.com, December 8, 2016

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What happens next if Dylann Roof is sentenced to death

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
On Wednesday morning, jurors filed into a Charleston, S.C., courtroom to hear opening statements in the trial of Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old charged with federal hate crimes after the massacre last year at a historic church just a mile from the courthouse. Prosecutors outlined the shooting in brutal detail, saying Roof fired dozens of rounds, shooting the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor, "over and over again."

More than a year after the shooting, Roof is in court for the 1st of 2 trials. (He has also been charged with murder in state court, and faces trial on that next year.) Authorities say Roof confessed to the killings of 9 black parishioners at the Mother Emanuel church. His guilt in the trial is effectively unchallenged. An attorney for Roof did not argue with the facts detailed by the federal government Wednesday, and they have offered to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutors have not accepted that offer. Instead, they are still seeking a rare federal death sentence in the case, a decision that has caused unease among some families of the victims. And if Roof is convicted and sentenced to die, it is not clear whether the government would be able to carry out the punishment.

Federal death sentences are extremely rare, and executions are even less common. There are 62 inmates on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit, compared to nearly 3,000 condemned inmates in states nationwide. Since the federal death penalty statute was reinstated in 1988 and expanded in 1994, the government has put 3 inmates to death, all by lethal injection.

The last federal execution was more than a decade ago. Louis Jones Jr., a Gulf War veteran, convicted of the 1995 kidnapping, rape and murder of Tracie Joy McBride, a 19-year-old Army recruit, was put to death in 2003. 2 years before that, the government executed Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing and Juan Raul Garza for murdering 3 men.

The government has taken a little more than 200 federal death penalty cases to trial since 1988, according to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. (Attorneys general had agreed to let prosecutors seek death sentences in more cases, but many of those ended with plea deals or the government opting not to pursue the death penalty, the project's records show.) In the federal cases that actually saw juries decide on a sentence, they opted for life imprisonment about twice as often as death sentences.

Most recently, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death on federal charges last year for his role in the Boston Marathon bombing. Tsarnaev, the newest addition to the federal death row, is being held at the federal penitentiary in Florence, Colo., according to the Bureau of Prisons. If he is put to death, he will be brought to the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., where federal death sentences are carried out.

The Justice Department sought death for Tsarnaev last year and Roof this year, but it has also announced what is effectively a federal death penalty moratorium while officials review their policy; it does not look like this review will finish before President-elect Donald Trump takes office. President Obama has called the death penalty "deeply troubling," but has remained in favor of using it for particularly heinous crimes, while Trump has been a vocal supporter of the death penalty.

Nationwide, polls have shown that American support for the death penalty has declined since peaking in the 1990s, and a survey earlier this year showed that less than 1/2 of Americans supported the death penalty for the first time in decades. (A different poll, not long after, found stronger support for capital punishment.)

Republicans still strongly back the death penalty, while a majority of Democrats oppose it. White people are much more likely than black or Hispanic people to support the practice, which studies show has been disproportionately sought for black inmates. In South Carolina, a poll showed a similar racial split, with most black people saying Roof should get life in prison and most white people saying he should be sentenced to death.

But if Roof is condemned to die, it remains unclear when such a penalty could be carried out. The appeals process could stretch on for years, and whether he is actually executed could depend on the status of the death penalty nationwide at that time.

Death sentences and executions alike have plummeted nationwide in recent years, while states seeking to execute inmates have struggled to obtain lethal injection drugs amid an ongoing shortage. Some states do have alternative methods on the books, but lethal injection remains the primary method of execution nationwide. (In a minor coincidence, opening statements on Wednesday occurred on the 34th anniversary of the country's 1st lethal injection, which was carried out by officials in Texas.)

Federal officials said last year that the government did not have any lethal injection drugs, which are increasingly difficult for officials to obtain, due to the shortage sparked, in part, by European objections to capital punishment interrupting the supply of drugs. When asked last month if the Bureau of Prisons had any drugs or planned to try to obtain any, a spokesman said the agency was "currently in the process of revising its execution protocol."

The current federal lethal injection protocol involves 3 drugs - an anesthetic, paralytic and a drug to stop the heart - a combination commonly used in executions across the country until the drug shortage began. As a result, states have turned to a number of other drugs and combinations, some of which were used in executions that went awry. Some states have sought to hide the identity of drug suppliers, while others have turned to older, largely abandoned methods of execution, like the electric chair or a firing squad.

Questions about Roof's sentence will not end with this case. Roof also faces a potential death sentence in his state trial, on charges of murder and attempted murder, set to begin next year.

If he is convicted and sentenced on the state charges, Roof would become the 39th person on South Carolina's death row, which last sent an inmate to the death chamber in 2011. South Carolina does not have any lethal injection drugs, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections said Wednesday, and it does not appear likely it will obtain any in the near future.

Source: Washington Post, December 8, 2016

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Philippines: Hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection pondered as execution methods

Police officers, Philippines
Lawmakers are up for more discussions when it comes to passing the proposed death penalty bill in Congress.

One part of that bill is the mode of execution to the person convicted of a heinous crime.

Under the bill, death penalty may be executed either by hanging, firing squad, or lethal injection.

It also states that the death penalty shall be carried out from 1 year to 1 1/2 years after the judgment has become final and executory.

Lawmakers want capital punishment for a number of drug offenses.

Under the proposed bill reviving the death penalty, selling, trading, distributing, and transporting of dangerous drugs, regardless of quantity and purity, and manufacturing dangerous drugs may be punishable by death.

Any person who possesses at least 10 grams of any dangerous drugs or 500 grams of marijuana may be punished by death.

Any person - including foreigners - who brings in illegal drugs into the country, regardless of quantity and purity, may also be executed.

Lawmakers also want death for other non-drug related crimes such as kidnapping, and murder.

Any person who kills because of a price or a reward, kills during calamities, or kills with cruelty are also candidates for the execution chamber.

Rape may also be punished by death - but it still depends on how and when it happened.

Even public officials are not spared from the death penalty.

A public officer proven to have committed plunder or amassing ill-gotten wealth amounting to 50P million or more may be punished with death.

Qualified bribery or refusing to arrest or prosecute an offender after being given or receiving a gift may also be punishable by death.

Limiting death penalty to drug-related offenses, a weak law


Majority Leader Rudy Farinas said some lawmakers want to limit the death penalty to drug-related cases.

Anti-crime group Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC), however, do not agree to proposed limitations to the bill.

"Hindi maganda yan. That will be tantamount to selective masyado," VACC President Dante Jimenez said. "Kung illegal drugs lang iyan, ay napakalambot at napaka-mababaw masyado sa amin." [That's not good. That will be tantamount to becoming so selective. If it's limited to illegal drugs, then it's so weak and shallow for us.]

Amnesty International, however, is all against the revival of death penalty.

The group said the re-introduction of the death penalty would be a major setback in the promotion of human rights.

"Regardless of the crime hindi kami naniniwala na ang death penalty ay tumutugon sa obligasyon ng pamahalaan na i-respeto, protektahan, at i-fulfill ang mga karapatang pantao," Amnesty International Philippines Chairman Ritzlee Santos said. "Hindi kami naniniwala na death penalty will deter crime"

[Translation: Regardless of the crime, we don't believe that death penalty would respond to the government's obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights. We don't think that death penalty would deter crime.]

The group also said that criminal justice systems are vulnerable to error - which could mean executing even those who are wrongly convicted but actually innocent.

Source: cnnphilippines.com, December 8, 2016


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Alabama executes Ronald Smith

Ronald Smith
Ronald Smith
Ronald Smith executed for 1994 capital murder

Ronald Smith was executed Thursday night for committing capital murder in 1994. He was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m.

Media witnesses said Smith gasped and coughed for 13 minutes of execution, which began at 10:25 and ended at 11:05.

He was twice administered a consciousness check, and gave a level of reaction media witnesses who have covered several executions say they have never seen.

It is the Alabama Department of Corrections' protocol to give a consciousness check after the 1st drug in the 3-drug lethal injection is given. The 1st drug is meant to anesthetize inmate's beyond consciousness. The 2nd drug is a paralytic and the third stops the heart.

The 1st conscious check was at 10:37, the 2nd was at 10:46, ADOC spokesman Bob Horton said. Kent Faulk, an al.com reporter who witnessed Smith's execution along with 2 other lethal injection executions said this was the 1st time he has seen a consciousness check given twice.

Smith's family did not attend the execution. One member of the victim's family who wished to not be identified was present.

His was the 2nd execution in Alabama this year; Christopher Brooks was executed in January for a 1992 rape and murder.

Shortly after his arrest, Smith confessed to killing and attempting to rob Wilson, a convenience store clerk and new father.

A Madison County jury found 24-year-old Smith guilty of capital murder. They voted 7-5 to sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

2 months later, the judge overrode their decision and gave him death. He cited the "particularly heinous" nature of the crime, pointing to evidence that indicated Smith killed Wilson "execution style."

Alabama is the last state in the country that allows a judge to override a jury's recommended sentence.

In January, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Hurst v. Florida that Florida's sentencing scheme, which also allowed judicial override, was unconstitutional.

Following Hurst, The Delaware Supreme Court found that its sentencing scheme that also let judges override juries was also unconstitutional.

Smith's attorneys petitioned SCOTUS to stay the execution in light of Hurst. Despite issuing two temporary stays in the hours leading up to Smith's execution, the high court ultimately denied his appeal in a 4-4 split.

They filed another appeal asking the court to stay the execution that would have challenged the state's lethal injection protocol. The U.S. Supreme Court denied that petition as well.

Less than a month ago, SCOTUS issued a stay of execution for Thomas Arthur, who had also challenged the death penalty protocol in a complaint separate from Smith's.

The justices were again split 4-4 on whether to issue a stay, but Chief Justice John Roberts then cast a courtesy vote, allowing Arthur's execution to be delayed.

It was the 7th time Arthur avoided execution.

Both suits alleged that Alabama's death penalty process would cause cruel and unusual pain because the 1st drug administered does not properly anesthetize the condemned before injecting the 2nd and 3rd drugs. Without proper anesthetization, condemned inmates would feel burning and paralyzing sensations caused by the 2nd and 3rd drugs.

U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins ultimately ruled against Smith.

Smith's attorneys appealed his decision to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but that court upheld Watkins' decision.

Prior to his execution, Smith met with his mother, father, son and 4 friends. He was served a last meal at 2:34 p.m. He declined breakfast.

A practicing Methodist, 45-year-old Smith asked to receive Holy Communion at 3:30 p.m. Department of Corrections Spokesman Bob Horton said his request was granted.

Smith becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Alabama and the 58th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983. Smith becomes the 20th and last person to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1442nd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Montgomery Advertiser, Rick Halperin, December 8, 2016

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

UN: Philippines will violate international pact if it restores death penalty

Al Hussein pointed out that the Philippines passed Republic Act 9346 in 2006, abolishing capital punishment. It also ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which aims to abolish the death penalty.

"When a State ratifies the Second Option Protocol to ICCPR, it guarantees that no one can be executed within its jurisdiction," he said.

"International law does not permit a State that has ratified or acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to denounce it or withdraw from it," the commissioner added.

"The Philippines would violate its obligations under international human rights law if it reintroduced the death penalty, I appeal to you and all members of Congress to uphold the international human rights obligations of the Philippines and maintain the abolition of the death penalty," Al Hussein said.

He said that there is no "denunciation clause" in the protocol "thereby guaranteeing the permanent non-reintroduction of the death penalty by States that ratified the Protocol."

Al Hussein also said that the ICCPR, which the Philippines is a party to, only allows States with capital punishment to apply the death sentence for the most serious crimes.

"On various occasions, the Human Rights Committee has determined that drug-related offenses did not meet the threshold of 'most serious crimes,'" he said.

He also said that the International Narcotics Control Board, which monitors State compliance with drug control treaties, "considers that the use of the death penalty for drug crimes is incompatible under international law."

Innocent people killed


Al Hussein said that "decades of research" have proven that there is "no reliable evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime."

"What we do know is that executions have led to the wrongful killing of many innocent people across the world," he said. "The use of the death penalty leaves no room for human error, with the gravest of consequences."

He pointed out that statistics also show that death penalty "disproportionately discriminates against the poor and most marginalized individuals and subsequently results in social injustice."

Stronger rule of law, an effective justice system and a strong public health approach are most effective in addressing drug-related offenses, Al Hussein said.

Source: inquirer.net, December 8, 2016

Congress should block effort to reintroduce death penalty


Statement signed by 70 organizations and individuals

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, express serious concern over the rapid efforts by members of the House of Representatives of the Philippines to adopt a bill restoring the death penalty in the country.

On 29 November 2016, the Sub-Committee on Judicial Reforms of the House Committee on Justice, which is chaired by Congressman Marcelino "Ching" Veloso, approved a bill restoring the death penalty in the Philippines by railroading the proceedings in the committee and ignoring important questions from other lawmakers questioning the need for the legislation or its urgent passage.

The decision to approve such a bill by the sub-committee was done with so much haste that there was not even a report presented, as is the normal practice, on the discussions and information presented in the previous hearings.

The Philippines is a State Party to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which means that it is obliged not to carry out executions within its jurisdiction and not to reintroduce the death penalty.

The Philippines has always been viewed as a regional and global leader on the drive to abolish the death penalty around the world. Bringing back the death penalty into its laws would be an enormous step backward for the country, signaling a comprehensive degradation of respect for the right to life and other international legal obligations.

The UN General Assembly has repeatedly adopted resolutions by overwhelming majorities, calling on all States that retain the death penalty to impose a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing it.

We categorically and absolutely oppose the death penalty in any and all circumstances and consider its use to be a violation of the right to life and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.

It cannot be emphasized enough that significant and overwhelming evidence shows that the death penalty is not effective at deterring crime at a greater rate than alternative forms of punishment.

We call on the Government of the Philippines to instead invest in improved detection and investigation techniques and capacity, and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the justice system. These measures are more likely to achieve real results in reducing crime.

We strongly urge members of the House of Representatives of the Philippines to ensure their discussions in the next few days on this bill restoring the death penalty are based on evidence and facts.

We strongly urge members of the House of Representatives of the Philippines not to view this as a purely political exercise and instead seriously consider not only what the impact of the passage of this bill will have on the international obligations of the Philippines, but also on how it would affect the notions of justice and human rights in the country.

We appeal to members of the House of Representatives of the Philippines to stop further attempts to reintroduce the death penalty and to block any legislation that subverts human rights.

Source: fidh.org, December 8, 2016

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Turkey: A scary scenario in the Ankara political backstage

Reinstating the death penalty was imposed on the political agenda by the Turkish leadership after the bloody coup attempt of July 15.

The slogan "We want executions back" was first chanted by a group among the people who rushed to the Istanbul airport on that night to welcome and defend President Tayyip Erdogan, following his call via the private broadcaster CNN Turk.

Erdogan channeled the feelings of the furious masses with that slogan. Later, using the justification that "my people want it so," he vowed that if parliament voted for it, he would approve it. His Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) dominates in parliament, and it is not only the AK Parti, but also its partner in the new constitution, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), that is in favor of bringing back capital punishment.

The death penalty was abolished in 2000 as part of the framework of harmonizing Turkish legislation with that of the EU after the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), in 1999, who was later sentenced to death. Ironically, the MHP and its leader, Devlet Bahceli, were part of the ruling coalition back when it was abolished. But the abolition of the death penalty became official in 2004 under AK Parti rule after Erdogan became the prime minister.

Reinstating the death penalty has always been a popular issue for Turkish politicians of both Islamist and nationalist roots, as it is seen as both a deterrent method of punishment and exists in the Quran.

Bringing it back would not be something difficult for the AK Parti-MHP collaboration in parliament now, but its political and economic consequences could make life difficult for Turkey and Turkish citizens.

The first consequence could be the cutting of all ties with Brussels, which could be followed by the possible freezing of the Customs Union between the two sides. With or without economic sanctions, it is possible that economic relations between the pair (half of all Turkish exports go to EU countries) could be expected to decline.

But the consequences would not be limited to that. If the psychological barrier of bringing back the death penalty is broken, it is possible that the state of human rights and democratic freedoms in Turkey in other areas would experience a further decline. Considered along with the executive presidential system that is currently being prepared, the same thing could be speculated for judicial independence, which could also have an impact on foreign investments.

This might seem a pessimistic picture for many. But for a few people in Ankara, this is the game plan that President Erdogan should follow.

According to some unconfirmed information doing the rounds, a group of people with close access to Erdogan have been promoting the following elaborate plan to him: Bring back the death penalty, get rid of the limits of EU legislation when the EU cuts all relations, let the stock exchange collapse (i.e., get rid of the pressure from big companies and foreign capital, which are not "from us" anyway), meet the military needs of NATO in a bargain with "our own needs" to get rid of the excessive political pressure from the West, press for and get the executive presidency, start to give back some rights according to "our needs" (including on the Kurdish issue, out of democratic generosity), and then witness the recovery of a more "native" economy.

It may sound scary, but a handful of people have been trying to make variations of this scenario the official line of President Erdogan.

There is no preparation yet - either in the presidential compound in Bestepe in Ankara or in the Justice Ministry - to reinstate the death penalty. There is strong rhetoric but little legal action so far, which indicates that Erdogan has not yet adopted this scenario as his final policy.

That is good, because such a scenario might not only cause Turkey to drift away from the democratic and economic values of the modern world, but could lead to unexpected new fault lines in Turkish society.

Regarding the "my people want it so" rhetoric, Erdogan is experienced enough to know that the best leaders do not follow the masses, but themselves lead through steps forward. The path for a better future for Turkey certainly does not pass through the reinstitution of the death penalty, which has become the most crucial of all debates in the country after the July 15 coup attempt.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News, Opinion, December 7, 2016

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