Monday, November 24, 2014

Senior court official says China to continue death penalty reform

China's top court said it would study ways of further reducing the number of crimes punishable by death, in an effort to reform a segment of Chinese law widely criticised by international rights groups.

Activists say China uses capital punishment more than any other country, raising public concern of irreversible miscarriages of justice.

In October, the National People's Congress, China's parliament, began reviewing a policy to trim nine crimes from the list of offences subject to the death penalty. Those reforms have yet to be finalised.

Hu Yunteng, a senior researcher at the Supreme People's Court, told a meeting of academics on Saturday that China would deepen death penalty reform.

"[Officials] must thoroughly study how to reduce death penalty crimes, and progressively limit and reduce the scope of the use of the death penalty," the People's Court Daily on Sunday cited Hu as saying.

The use of the death penalty must be "100 percent accurate and guard against any false or unjust charges", Hu said, adding that the role of lawyers must be ensured and the human rights of defendants respected.

Officials have previously said China would review the use of the death penalty, which applies to 55 offences, including fraud and illegal money-lending.

China guards the number of people executed every year as state secrets.

The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which seeks the release of political prisoners in China, estimated that 2,400 people were executed in 2013. By comparison, 39 people were executed in 2013 in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Huugjilt, 18 at the time, was put to death a month after being sentenced, the official Xinhua news agency said. Years after his execution, another man confessed to the murder.

The ruling Communist Party, worried about rising social unrest and anger over land grabs, corruption and pollution, has vowed to carry out legal reforms.

Experts, however, have said the reduction in death penalty crimes is not expected to greatly lower the number of executions per year.

Source: Reuters, November 24, 2014

Pakistan: Christian woman given death sentence under blasphemy law appeals in SC

A Pakistani Christian woman and a mother of 5, convicted under the controversial blasphemy law in 2010, on Monday filed an appeal in the Supreme Court challenging a High Court's ruling upholding her death penalty.

"We filed an appeal today in the Supreme Court (Lahore registry) against the Lahore High Court's verdict in the Asia Bibi case," Asia's counsel advocate Saiful Malook said. He said Asia Bibi, 47, had been implicated in a false blasphemy case and she would prove this in the Supreme Court.

"Supreme Court is the highest forum and Asia Bibi has not given up hope of getting justice," he said. Malook said there had been legal defects in the judgement of the High Court in the case. Last month, a 2-member Lahore High Court bench dismissed the appeal of Asia Bibi after her lawyers failed to prove her innocence in the court.

"We have raised various points in the appeal. The FIR has been registered against Asia under blasphemy laws 5 days after the incident. While in the Ayub Masih case 2002, the Supreme Court had taken notice of a 3-hour delay in registration of FIR and given relief to the accused on this ground.

"The complainant, cleric Muhammad Salam, reported the matter to police 5 days after the incident which is itself a testimony of his being a lair," Malook said while sharing the contents of the appeal.

He said 2 Muslim women who gave statement to police against Asia did not testify in the court. Asia Bibi, a mother of 5, is a resident of Ittan Wali village district Sheikhupura, some 60 kilometers from Lahore. She was arrested in 2009 under blasphemy charges - Section 295 B and C of Pakistan Penal Code, subject to capital punishment - while working in a farm with Muslim women.

Her 2 fellow Muslim women - Asma and her sister - accused her of making drinking water unclean by touching the pot. Christians are prohibited to touch eating or drinking utensils used by Muslims in Pakistan. The Muslim women reported the matter to a local cleric Muhammad Salam who filed a blasphemy complaint against Asia with the police. Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010.

Her case shot to prominence when Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated in January 2011. Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Taseer, in his statement to police said he killed Taseer for calling blasphemy laws "black" and pursuing the case of Asia Bibi.

Saiful Malook was a prosecution lawyer in the Taseer assassination case. During the proceedings, the trial judge left the country because of threats from extremists. Asia's husband has also submitted a plea for clemency to the President Mamnoon Hussain.

Source:, November 24, 2014

Somalia: Jubaland Military Court Executes Soldier for Murder

Execution in Somalia (file picture)
November 22, 2014: Jubaland military court executed a soldier convicted of killing a 9-year-old boy in the southern port city of Kismayo, Garowe Online reports.

The convicted killer-Abdirashid Abdi-was executed by the firing squad with prosecutor-general Hassan Ishaq Yarow present.

Addressing reporters at the scene of the execution, Yarow said that soldiers who deliberately kill civilians will face death penalties.

The death sentence and the subsequent execution mark the first since the new state’s first military course was set up last week.

Meanwhile, Jubaland President Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed Islam (Madobe) has jetted off to Dubai through Kenyan capital of Nairobi at official invitation.

Jubaland forces are battling Islamist insurgents in deadly offensives on fertile hinterlands along Juba River.

Following IGAD-brokered bilateral talks in Addis Ababa, Somalia’s Federal Government recognized Jubaland in August 2013.

Source: Garowe Online, Nov. 22, 2014

Egypt rejects abolition of death penalty

CAIRO: Egypt will not approve the abolition of the death penalty or equal inheritance for men and women, two of the recommendations from the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, the Ministry of Transitional Justice stated Thursday.

Egypt has “reservations” about the two recommendations for “established constitutional and societal reasons,” the ministry said, adding that the final response to the recommendations would be issued in March.

“In principle, I do not believe the Egyptian society is ready for the abolition of the capital punishment. However, it is necessary that the government narrows down the crimes to which the death sentence applies, so only execution rulings upheld by the Islamic law are implemented,” leading member of the state-funded National Council for Human Rights Hafez Abou Se’da told The Cairo Post Saturday.

Egypt received more than 300 recommendations from 122 states in November, in an almost double rise from the 171 recommendations the country received in the 2010 UPR, of which it accepted 135.

“The government cannot violate the Quran. But, for example, the death penalty for drug dealers has not and will not end bring about any positive result. Also, we are against the execution rulings on political grounds,” Abou Se’da said.

Egyptian law is principally based on Islamic Sharia, however it does not apply all Quranic teaching. Judges traditionally refer cases to the Grand Mufti for consultation on death sentences, but they are not bound to apply the Mufti’s opinion. Further, judges may, but are not obligated to, turn to the codes that stipulate executions.

The 2014 suggestions from the UPR focused on amending the 2013 Protest Law, the proposed NGOs law, and, like in 2010, called for the abolition of the death penalty.

The capital punishment issue follows serious international concern after Egyptian courts in April sentenced 683 to death in primary rulings for their alleged involvement in mass violence, killings and sabotage across Egypt following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Rulings of executions, however, go through several levels of litigation and in many cases are commuted.

With 12 cases, Egypt ranked 17th out of 82 countries that executed convicts in 2007-2012, according to an Amnesty International report. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the U.S. topped the list.

However, in June 2014 alone, Egypt executed some ten people on charges of murder, rape and robbery.

“The implementation of death sentences is a dangerous step regarding the right to life, after Egypt had applied a de facto moratorium since the end of 2011. It is also a worrying precedent in light of the current context where Egyptian courts are upholding mass death sentences against political opponents in trials that are marred by irregularities and violations of due process,” said Karim Lahidji, the president of the International Federation for Human Rights, in a statement June 25.

Some of the crimes punishable by death in Egypt are murder, rape, abduction, drug trafficking, treason, espionage and terrorism.

Execution for civilians in Egypt is implemented by hanging in a private room at prison in the presence of the executioner, a cleric and a judicial official. Minors, the mentally ill and pregnant women are exempted from the punishment.

Source: The Cairo Post, November 22, 2014

Will Texas Kill an Insane Man?

Scott Panetti
Scott Panetti
By any reasonable standard — not to mention the findings of multiple mental-health experts over the years — Mr. Panetti is mentally incompetent. But Texas, along with several other stubborn states, has a long history of finding the loopholes in Supreme Court rulings restricting the death penalty. The state has continued to argue that Mr. Panetti is exaggerating the extent of his illness, and that he understands enough to be put to death — a position a federal appeals court accepted last year, even though it agreed that he was “seriously mentally ill.”

Mr. Panetti has not had a mental-health evaluation since 2007. In a motion hastily filed this month, his volunteer lawyers requested that his execution be stayed, that a lawyer be appointed for him, and that he receive funding for a new mental-health assessment, saying his functioning has only gotten worse. For instance, he now claims that a prison dentist implanted a transmitter in his tooth.

The lawyers would have made this motion weeks earlier, immediately after a Texas judge set Mr. Panetti’s execution date. But since no one — not the judge, not the district attorney, not the attorney general — notified them (or even Mr. Panetti himself), they had no idea their client was scheduled to be killed until they read about it in a newspaper. State officials explained that the law did not require them to provide notification.

On Nov. 19, a Texas court denied the lawyers’ motion. A civilized society should not be in the business of executing anybody. But it certainly cannot pretend to be adhering to any morally acceptable standard of culpability if it kills someone like Scott Panetti.

Source: The New York Tmes, The Editorial Board, November 23, 2014

Oklahoma: Few exonerees receive payment for wrongful convictions

Few exonerees receive payment for wrongful convictions
State compensation laws differ widely

Nationwide, more than 240 people have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing. The National Exoneration Registry lists these among nearly 1,500 total cases in which people were exonerated due to new evidence of innocence. Laws to compensate people exonerated in such cases vary widely.

-- Oklahoma is one of 27 states that have a law allowing compensation for wrongful convictions.

-- The state's law provides up to $175,000 to people if their convictions were overturned due to actual innocence. The person must not have pled guilty to receive compensation.

-- 12 states cap the amount exonerees can receive, including Oklahoma. 3 states pay less to exonerees than Oklahoma.

-- 10 states provide for social services such as job training, health care and counseling. Oklahoma does not.

-- Texas is among states with the most generous compensation laws. The state pays exonerees $80,000 per year of imprisonment and provides many social services including medical treatment.

-- The Innocence Project recommends states provide exonerated people $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment, social services and health insurance as well as an "official acknowledgment" of the wrongful conviction.

What Greg Wilhoit really wanted after 5 years on death row was an apology from the state of Oklahoma.

Sure, the money would have made a huge difference in Wilhoit's life after being convicted of murdering his wife, losing his freedom and missing the chance to raise his 2 daughters.

After 12 forensic experts said Wilhoit's teeth did not match a bite mark used to convict him in 1987, an appeals court threw out his conviction. 2 years later, a judge halted Osage County prosecutors' efforts to retry him, telling Wilhoit: "You're free to go."

But after nearly 10 years of fighting to get some compensation following his release, Wilhoit had not seen a dime from the state under its 2003 law providing compensation for wrongful convictions.

A review by the Tulsa World shows Wilhoit's difficulty collecting compensation under the law is not unusual. Few Oklahomans receive any money after their convictions are overturned due to evidence indicating innocence.

Even when Oklahoma passed the law to compensate people like Wilhoit, he was doubtful he'd get any help.

"He never allowed himself to have hope because hope just destroys you," said his sister, Nancy Vollertsen, of Edmond.

The state fought Wilhoit's attempts to collect money under the law, claiming he had not received a finding of "actual innocence" as required. In 2009, the state Supreme Court ruled the law should apply retroactively to Wilhoit's case and others before 2003 because the law requiring such a finding didn't exist then.

With the help of attorney Mark Barrett, Wilhoit eventually convinced the state to pay him something in 2012.

However, it was a fraction of what he could have been paid. Terms of the settlement are confidential but the amount is about 1/3 of the state's $175,000 maximum, Vollertsen said.

The years of hard living and bad luck after his release took their toll on Wilhoit. He began to drink, was diagnosed with PTSD and was partially paralyzed after a car struck him.

Wilhoit died at age 59 on Valentine's Day 2014, about a year after receiving payment from the state.

"There's just no way to come out of an experience like that undamaged, when you sit in a windowless box for 5 years. ... I always told him how much I admired him for even being able to survive it," his sister said.

The World's review shows Wilhoit is among just 6 out of 28 Oklahomans listed on the National Exoneration Registry who collected any money for their years spent in prison. They served an average of 9 years in prison, with 1/2 serving a decade or more.

The National Exoneration Registry is a project founded by the University of Michigan law school. The website tracks cases in which a person was convicted of a crime and later cleared of all charges based on new evidence of innocence.

Of those 28 cases, 11 people were freed after DNA tests showed they were innocent.

Records show 6 people have been freed from Oklahoma's death row after they were exonerated. They include Curtis McCarty, who was sentenced to death 3 times before DNA tests in 2007 showed he was innocent.

Only 1 of those 6 people, Ron Williamson, collected payment from the state.

Like most other states, Oklahoma's wrongful conviction law requires a legal finding of "actual innocence" after convictions are overturned. In practice, the process often requires exonerated people to prove their innocence again in court.

To seek compensation under the law, exonerees must file tort claims from the state or local agency involved in the case. If the agency does not pay the claim within the time allowed by law, the claimant must then file a lawsuit in state court.

The law also allows payment to people who receive a pardon from the state. However the Pardon and Parole Board told Wilhoit the state could not pardon someone considered legally innocent, Vollertsen said.

In a few cases reviewed by the World, exonerees filed federal civil rights lawsuits and won judgments that were thrown out on appeal.

Records show at least 14 of the 28 people filed either a lawsuit or a tort claim, a precursor to a lawsuit that government agencies can pay without going to court.

The World found just 1 case in which the state or a local government agency paid a tort claim without forcing the exoneree to file a lawsuit under the 2003 law. That involved Tulsan Sedrick Courtney, who served 16 years in prison for a robbery and burglary conviction.

Tulsa police told Courtney and the Innocence Project twice that hair from a ski mask and other evidence used to convict him had been destroyed.

Then in 2011, after Courtney had been paroled, the Innocence Project inquired again about the evidence. This time, Tulsa police said they found the hair evidence. A DNA test excluded Courtney as a possible donor of the hairs and in 2012, a judge ruled he had proven his innocence.

Courtney has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Tulsa, claiming the city used manufactured evidence to convict him and obstructed his efforts to prove he was innocent.

Gerald Bender, litigation manager for the city's legal department, said he could not comment on Courtney's case.

In general, Bender said the city has no policy on handling claims filed under the law and "each case is evaluated on its merits."

'The lucky ones'

The city of Tulsa was ordered to pay Arvin McGee the largest judgment to any of the 28 exonerated Oklahomans.

McGee was convicted of the 1987 rape and kidnapping of a Tulsa woman and was released from prison in 2002 after DNA evidence proved his innocence. Later that year, the DNA was matched to a man already serving time for sex crimes.

McGee sued the city of Tulsa in federal court, claiming Tulsa police failed to investigate leads to other suspects adequately, failed to present a photo lineup containing other suspects and failed to present live and voice lineups.

In 2006, a Tulsa federal jury returned a $14.5 million verdict in McGee's favor. He settled with the city and received $12.2 million.

While attending a banquet for the Oklahoma Innocence Project in September, McGee told the World he remains in Tulsa and is raising 2 young children.

"I'm still amazed about the time that some of these guys have done," McGee said. "We're the lucky ones."

Cases such as McGee's illustrate what can happen when jurors hear details of a wrongful conviction. But they are the exception, not the rule.

Out of 11 cases studied by the World in which DNA evidence led to an exoneration, 6 people collected money from the state or other government agency. Besides McGee's case, payments in only 1 other DNA case exceeded $1 million, records show.

Those figures are actually higher than the national average, according to an Innocence Project report. Nationwide, DNA exonerees win lawsuits in about 28 percent of the cases.

"I think there's a false assumption that everybody gets a big payday, because that's what gets the most attention and of course it has happened," said Barrett, Wilhoit's attorney.

Barrett has represented several Oklahoma defendants in high profile cases resulting in exoneration. His clients have included Ron Williamson, whose story was the focus of John Grisham's "The Innocent Man," and Williamson's co-defendant, Dennis Fritz.

Both were convicted in the 1988 murder of a woman in Pontotoc County and exonerated in 1999 through DNA testing. Williamson came within 5 days of being put to death before his release.

Both received undisclosed settlements from the state following their exonerations.

Barrett also represented David Bryson, 1 of 4 people whose convictions were thrown out due to false testimony given by an Oklahoma City police chemist, Joyce Gilchrist.

Even with the widespread attention given to Gilchrist's false testimony and firing, 2 of those people collected nothing from Oklahoma City or the state, records show.

Barrett said the state could improve its law by increasing the amount it pays wrongfully convicted people and reviewing the standard for proving innocence.

"You almost have to be the case - which are not the majority of exonerations - that not only has DNA but has DNA which by its location could have only been placed there by the perpetrator. ... Without solving the case for the prosecution, even the most innocent person who there is absolutely no evidence against cannot prove definitively that they were not the person who did it."

'Not even a penny'

Greg and Kathy Wilhoit had been separated a few weeks when Kathy Wilhoit was found with her throat slashed in her north Tulsa apartment, where she was living with the couple's 2 young daughters.

The sole evidence used to convict Wilhoit in Osage County of his wife's 1985 death was a bite mark on her breast. Osage County District Attorney Larry Stuart found 2 dentists who said the bite mark matched Wilhoit's mouth.

Wilhoit's trial attorney, whose alcoholism was not a secret in the legal community, didn't ask any experts to look at the bite mark evidence. The jury handed Wilhoit a death sentence.

Wilhoit was assigned an appellate attorney, Barrett, who sent the bite mark evidence to 12 of the top forensic dental experts in North America. They weren't told whether the defense or prosecutors sought their opinions.

All 12 returned reports finding no evidence that Wilhoit's teeth matched the bite mark.

Use of bite-mark evidence in criminal cases has since been discredited. It has a 63 % rate of false identifications, the American Board of Odontology found in one study.

Still, it would take Wilhoit 4 years until the Court of Criminal Appeals examined the evidence and overturned his conviction.

During that time, the state carried out its 1st execution since the 1970s. Wilhoit's cell was about 100 feet from the death chamber. The experience led him to become a leading advocate of abolishing the death penalty, speaking across the nation about his experience.

In a 2003 interview posted on the Death Penalty Information Center's website, Wilhoit described the toll his wrongful conviction had on his life:

"I have been out more than 10 years. The toughest parts have been re-assimilating into society, and dealing with emotional and psychological damage from my experience. I lost the opportunity to raise my 2 daughters. I never received an apology. ... Every time I tell my story, it validates my experience. I tell what happened to me, how I feel, and let people draw their own conclusions."

Source: Tulsa World, November 23, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pennsylvania: Governor Corbett Signs Three New Execution Warrants

Governor Tom Corbett today signed execution warrants for 3 men: 1 convicted of murder for the shooting death of a Philadelphia County police officer; 1 convicted for murdering a Fayette County couple and their daughter; and, 1 convicted for killing his girlfriend in Lawrence County.

Christopher Roney was convicted in Philadelphia County Court of 1st-degree murder for the shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Lauretha Vaird on January 2, 1996.

Mark Duane Edwards was convicted in Fayette County Court of 3 counts of 1st-degree murder for the shooting deaths of Larry Bobish Sr., his wife Joanna Bobish, and their 17-year-old pregnant daughter Krystal Bobish on April 14, 2002.

Dennis C. Reed was convicted in Lawrence County Court of 1st-degree murder for the shooting death of Wendy Miller, his girlfriend and mother of his son, on December 16, 2001.

All 3 men are incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Greene. Roney's execution has been scheduled for January 8, 2015; Edwards' execution has been scheduled for January 13, 2015; Reed's execution has been scheduled for January 15, 2015.

The execution warrants signed today for Roney, Edwards and Reed were Governor Corbett's 41st, 42nd, and 43rd warrants signed, respectively, since taking office.

Executions in Pennsylvania are carried out by lethal injection.

Source:, Nov. 22, 2014

Activists seek compassionate release for terminally ill Texas death row inmate

Activists delivered a petition to Texas Governor Rick Perry on Friday with more than 100,000 signatures seeking the release of a death row inmate they say is terminally ill and only has weeks to live.

The governor's office was not immediately available to comment on the petition launched by religious groups and activists including the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Max Soffar, convicted in the July 1980 slaying of 3 people at a Houston bowling alley.

"This is the time for mercy - let's not let him fall through the cracks of justice; let's not let him die behind bars," the petition said. It is seeking clemency so that he can die at home.

Soffar's case has been the focus of anti-death penalty campaigners for years. They have said he is an innocent man largely convicted on the basis of a confession signed after days of "oppressive interrogation" and without clear objective evidence pointing to his guilt.

The state has maintained the confession was voluntary, lawful and implicates him as the murderer.

Soffar, 58, has been on death row for more than 30 years. He was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer in July 2014 and was told at that time that he only has months to live, according to court papers filed on his behalf.

The 3 people killed at the bowling alley were Arden Fisher, 17, her boyfriend Tommy Temple, 17, and Stephen Sims, 25. All 3 were shot execution-style with a handgun, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said.

Source: Reuters, Nov. 22, 2014

Sister of Mentally Ill Texas Man Sentenced to Die in December Pleads to Rick Perry to Spare His Life

Scott Panetti
Scott Panetti
The sister of Scott Panetti, a paranoid schizophrenic set to be executed by the state of Texas on Dec. 3 for the murder of 2 people, has pleaded with Gov. Rick Perry to commute his sentence to life in prison. Victoria Panetti has said that her brother, who believes he's being executed for preaching the Gospel, does not understand fact from fiction, and started an online petition asking Perry to spare his life.

"Having a brother on death row is like having a terminally ill family member. But there's 1 big difference: we can't stop a terminal illness, but we can stop Texas from killing a mentally ill man," Victoria Panetti wrote in a letter alongside the petition.

"I know it's hard to see beyond the fact that Scott took 2 lives, but he suffers from a severe illness that changed the way his mind works. He doesn't understand fact from fiction. He's still my big brother, the strong and handsome sailor who served in the Navy."

On Wednesday, Texas Judge Keith Williams refused to postpone Panetti's execution, which means the mentally ill convicted killer is set to be put to death by lethal injection on Dec. 3.

The 56-year-old man was found guilty of murdering his parents-in-law in 1992. His death sentence was initially scheduled to be carried out in 2004, but a federal judge stayed the order at the time.

Panetti has suffered from schizophrenia and various other mental disorders for over 30 years, and had been hospitalized 12 times due to psychotic behavior before he committed the murders. He has indicated that he believes that he's in a battle with Satan, and has attempted to subpoena the Pope, John F. Kennedy, and Jesus Christ while representing himself in trial.

Both mental health professionals and over 50 Evangelical leaders have opposed his execution, arguing that he does not understand why he's being put to death.

"If his execution date is not withdrawn, he will go to the execution chamber convinced that he's being put to death for preaching the Gospels, not for the murder of his wife's parents, and the retributive goal of capital punishment will not be served," the Texas Defender Service group warned.

Evangelical leaders who also wrote to Perry stated: "As Christians, we are called to protect the most vulnerable, and we count Mr. Panetti - a man who has suffered from severe mental illness for over 30 years - to be among them. If ever there was a clear case of an individual suffering from mental illness, this is it."

The case has attracted attention overseas as well, with the European Union asking Texas to grant Panetti clemency.

"The execution of persons suffering from a mental disorder is contrary to widely accepted human rights norms and is in contradiction to the minimum standards of human rights set forth in several international human rights instruments," the EU wrote in a separate letter.

In her online petition, Victoria Panetti argued that her brother is not a "cold-blooded killer," but a "very sick person."

"The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Constitution forbids the execution of severely mentally ill individuals who do not understand the reason for their punishment. Scott is not mentally competent: he would go to the execution chamber believing his fixed delusion that he's being put to death for preaching the Gospels, not for the murder of his wife's parents," she continued.

"It's not right for our country to use capital punishment on a severely mentally ill person like my brother Scott."

The petition has so far been signed by over 26,000 people.

Source: Christian Post, November 22, 2014

Arizona: Attorneys ask judge to hold off on execution suit

A lawsuit challenging the secrecy of execution protocols in Arizona will likely be put on hold pending the investigation of the nearly 2-hour execution of Joseph Rudolph Wood last summer.

Both the state and defense attorneys have agreed to request that the lawsuit be halted temporarily until the review of an investigation by an independent agency is released. That report, by a group of former prison directors, was expected to be released in mid-November but it so far has not come out.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Wood and other death-row inmates says they and the public have a right to know about specific execution protocols such as the types of drugs used in lethal injections and the companies that supply them.

The July 23 execution of Wood, convicted of murdering his estranged girlfriend and her father, called into question the efficacy of the drugs used after it took nearly two hours for Wood to die. He gasped repeatedly before taking his final breath.

Wood's attorney, Dale Baich, says the execution was botched, a claim Arizona Department of Corrections officials adamantly deny. A spokesman for the agency could not be reached for comment late Friday evening.

State officials have agreed to not seek any death warrants while the case is pending. The mutual agreement also states that Arizona officials will consider changing execution protocols. If they do change them, they will make the new protocols public, according to the joint agreement.

"The whole purpose of this is to put the litigation on hold so the facts and issues could be better developed," Baich said.

The secrecy that surrounds executions in Arizona and other states has been a source of contention since they stopped making public details such as the drug manufacturers and drug combinations in 2010. That's when states that have the death penalty began having trouble accessing the necessary drugs because European drugmakers stopped supplying them.

A group of media organizations including The Associated Press has filed a lawsuit also contending that the information is of public interest and the public has a right to know.

Wood was given 15 doses of the sedative midazolam and a painkiller before he died.

Source: Associated Press, November 22, 2014

Judge in Colorado cinema rampage case allows 2nd sanity exam at trial

James Holmes and lawyer
A judge overseeing the Colorado theater massacre case rejected a defense motion on Friday to have a 2nd sanity examination administered to accused gunman James Holmes barred from his upcoming murder trial, court records show.

Holmes, 26, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to opening fire inside a Denver-area theater during a midnight screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" in July of 2012, killing 12 moviegoers and wounding dozens more.

Prosecutors have charged Holmes with multiple counts of 1st-degree murder and attempted murder, and say they will seek the death penalty for the onetime neuroscience graduate student if he is convicted.

Holmes underwent a mandatory psychiatric examination last year after invoking the insanity defense, but Arapahoe County District Court Judge Carlos Samour ordered a 2nd round of testing, agreeing with prosecutors who argued the 1st one was flawed.

Public defenders sought to have the 2nd evaluation excluded or to limit testimony about it, arguing that it should have not been conducted in the 1st place, and that it overlaps the findings of the 1st examiner.

Results of the 2 mental examinations have not been made public, but in his ruling Samour noted that it was "patently obvious" that the 2 evaluations reached differing conclusions about Holmes' sanity.

"The disparate reactions by the defendant to the two examinations speak volumes about the differences between the 2 reports," Samour wrote.

The judge denied the bulk of the motion, but did order that the 2nd evaluator could not testify at trial about the 1st evaluation's deficiencies.

Samour said 9,000 jury summonses will be sent to county residents next month, and lawyers for both sides will start paring down the list in January.

The judge said he wants opening statements to begin on June 3, but said that date could be moved up if jury selection concludes sooner than he anticipates.

Source: Reuters, November 22, 2014

Oklahoma: Richard Glossip 'ready' for his execution

Richard Glossip
Richard Glossip
Richard Glossip has come to terms with his death.

"I've thought about it so long, I got to a point, if it gets to that stage, I'm ready for it," said Glossip, 51, in a rare, in-person interview near his cell on death row. "You've got to be prepared. If you're not, it's not going to go well for you."

Friday marked the first day the Department of Corrections has allowed media access to death row inmates since the clumsy execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29. It took Lockett 40 minutes to die after medical personnel missed his vein with the intravenous needle that was supposed to deliver the deadly drugs.

Glossip said he hopes his death won't come soon, but he didn't sound particularly optimistic that he'll live beyond Jan. 29, when he's scheduled to die by lethal injection for his role in a 1997 murder-for-hire plot. He's the 2nd inmate scheduled to die in the renovated execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, under the state's new execution procedures.

Glossip said he's already planned his last meal - an Arby's ham-and-cheese sandwich, a brisket sandwich, fries and a Coke. Other than his freedom, he's missed Arby's the most since arriving on death row in 1998.

Glossip first was convicted in a plot to kill motel owner Barry Van Treese a year earlier. The convicted hit man, Justin Sneed, is serving a life sentence.

Glossip maintains his innocence. He said Sneed acted alone in killing Van Treese, then pointed to him to avoid the death penalty. Glossip admits his actions afterwards look bad; he tried to help hide his 54-year-old employer's murder.

Despite that, Glossip said he doubts Gov. Mary Fallin will intervene "because of what happened with Lockett and the way she handled that whole thing."

"Anybody that says we need to get back to business as normal and calling executions business, that's a scary, scary thing to say," he said.

Contacted earlier this year, the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office, which has handled all appeals related to Glossip's case, issued a statement saying justice would be served by his execution.

A spokesperson noted a 27-page ruling by the state Court of Criminal Appeals that outlined the facts of the case and rejected Glossip's appeals.

Glossip was convicted twice - the verdict of his 1st trial was thrown out on appeal - and he twice was sentenced to death.

Earlier this fall, Glossip's execution date was fast approaching when Department of Corrections officials said they needed more time to prepare for his execution and that of Charles Warner, who is scheduled to die before him.

Glossip said in preparation for his execution, prison officials had moved him to a special cell, designed to hold inmates for the final 35 days.

A new policy requires the cell's florescent lights to stay lit 24 hours a day for all 35 days, he said. Glossip said he wrapped a sheet around his eyes to sleep. Warner, in the cell next door, pulled a blanket over his head.

All Glossip was allowed to bring with him was a single book. He said the rock music that helped calm him for more than two decades was taken away, as was television.

Glossip said his stomach couldn't tolerate the food - he'd always purchased food from the canteen, but new regulations say a prisoner can't buy food within 35 days of his death - and he lost 14 pounds in 4 days.

A security camera watched his every move.

When his execution was delayed until January, Glossip was returned to his old cell on death row, located beneath the death chamber, and all his privileges were restored.

Glossip said inmates are angry at Lockett for his decision to make his execution difficult by resisting officers and using a razor to slice his arms. Those choices affected everyone on death row, Glossip said, because Lockett's bungled execution led to the state's new procedures.

"Lockett really did a number on us all," he said. "When they do this type of thing, they don't think about who it is going to affect. There are people not happy at all, but he's dead, so what are you going to say?"

Asked if he believes in an after-life and fears what it might hold, Glossip hesitated briefly. He admitted he had doubts until recently, when he saw a TV report in which a woman described her miraculous return from 3 1/2 hours of being dead.

"There's something out there," he said.

4 men already are scheduled to die in the 1st 3 months of 2015 - Warner on Jan. 15; Glossip, Jan. 29; John Marion Grant, Feb. 19; and Benjamin Robert Cole Jr., March 5.

Source: Enid News, November 22, 2014

UN vote boosts support for a global moratorium on the death penalty

114 of the UN's 193 member states today voted in favour of the UN resolution to establish a moratorium on executions.

The vast majority of the world's countries today threw their weight behind a UN General Assembly resolution to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty globally, Amnesty International said.

114 of the UN's 193 member states today voted in favour of the resolution which will go before the General Assembly Plenary for final adoption in December.

"Today's vote confirms that more and more countries around the world are coming around to the fact that the death penalty is a human rights violation and must end. It is also a clear message to the minority of states that still execute - you are on the wrong side of history," said Chiara Sangiorgio, Death Penalty expert at Amnesty International.

Since 2007 there have been 4 resolutions calling for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty, with support increasing each time. Overall, the votes in favour of this resolution increased by 3 since the last time a similar vote took place in 2012.

114 states voted in favour, 36 voted against and 34 abstained compared to 111 votes in favour, 41 against and 34 abstentions in December 2012. The draft resolution was co-sponsored by 94 UN Member States from all regions of the world, the highest number yet.

New votes in favour came from Eritrea, Fiji, Niger and Suriname. As a further positive sign, Bahrain, Myanmar and Uganda moved from opposition to abstention. Regrettably, Papua New Guinea went from abstention to a vote against the resolution.

Today's vote in the UNGA's Third Committee, which addresses social, humanitarian and human rights issues, is an important indicator for the main vote on the resolution in the General Assembly Plenary next month, when the resolution is expected to be endorsed. Although not legally binding, UN General Assembly resolutions carry considerable moral and political weight.

"Governments around the world should seize the opportunity of today's vote to renew their dialogue to make this moratorium call a reality - we hope we will see even stronger support come the final vote in December," said Chiara Sangiorgio.

Amnesty International urges all UN Member States to support the resolution when it comes for adoption at the plenary session. Those countries still retaining the death penalty should immediately establish a moratorium on executions as a first step towards full abolition. Background

When the UN was founded in 1945 only 8 of the then 51 UN Member States had abolished the death penalty. Today, 95 Member States have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and in total 137 out of the 193 have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The adoption of these ground-breaking resolutions on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty since 2007 has generated momentum to renew the commitment to the abolition of the death penalty.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.

Source: Amnesty International, Nov. 22, 2014

Human Rights: Four men lashed in public for “mischief” in Iran

Man being lashed in public in Iran, August 7, 2014
NCRI – The Iranian regime henchmen lashed four men for “mischief” on Saturday in public in a southern city.

The commander of the State Security Forces (police) in the city of Charam was quoted by a local website as saying: “The four individuals were each sentenced to 74 lashes for the destruction of public property, thievery and using drugs.”

“With carrying out such sentences the outlaws and violators… would understand that the judiciary would not be negligent at all in dealing with them.”

Mohammad Mousavi said: “The lashing sentence for the four individuals was carried out in public in the main square in the city of Charam.”

Charam, a city with some 7,000 families according to a 2006 census, is located in Kohgiluyeh and Boyerahmad province.

A video obtained as recently as November shows the Iranian regime’s masked State Security Forces publicly beating and abusing a group of young men while parading them through the streets, handcuffed in the back of an open truck.

The surge in humiliating punishments and executions, among other violations of human rights in Iran since Hassan Rouhani has become president, is aimed at spreading fear and intimidation among the public, particularly among the youth and women.

Source: NCRI, Nov. 23, 2014

Saudi Arabia: Two men beheaded for raping two girls

Saudi authorities beheaded two local men convicted of raping two girls, stealing cars and taking drugs, the Saudi Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

Sami bin Yehya Gazwani and Talal bin Mousa Gazwani were executed in the Saudi capital in Riyadh on Friday after they were sentenced to death by the higher court.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry said the two had confessed to the crimes they committed nearly seven months ago.

Source: Emirates24/7, November 22, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saudi Arabia beheads Turkish man for drug trafficking

His execution brings to 70 the number of beheadings in the kingdom this year

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia on Thursday beheaded a Turkish man convicted of drug trafficking, the interior ministry said, in the latest execution in the conservative Gulf kingdom.

Ali Agridas had been convicted of receiving a “large amount of drugs” and was executed in the Saudi capital Riyadh, the ministry said in a statement.

His execution brings to 70 the number of Saudis and foreigners beheaded in the kingdom this year, according to an AFP count, despite international concern.

Rape, murder, apostasy, drug trafficking, homosexuality and armed robbery are all punishable by death under the kingdom’s strict version of Sharia.

Source: Agence France-Presse, November 21, 2014

Federal judge overturns sentence of Wyoming's death row inmate

A federal judge on Thursday overturned the death sentence of the lone inmate on Wyoming's death row, saying his trial lawyers had failed to give jurors sufficient reason to spare his life.

Lawyers handling the federal appeal of Dale Wayne Eaton, 69, didn't dispute that he had killed Lisa Marie Kimmell, 18, of Billings, Montana.

Instead, they argued that his previous attorneys from the Wyoming Public Defender's Office failed to present factors that might have given jurors a reason to consider sparing his life, such his low intelligence and abuse he suffered as a child.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson in Cheyenne gave Wyoming a choice of either granting a new sentencing hearing for Eaton within 120 days in Natrona County or keeping him locked up for life without parole.

Casper District Attorney Michael Blonigen, who initially prosecuted Eaton in state court, said Thursday he's ready to argue again that Eaton deserves the death penalty, although he hopes the attorney general appeals the judge's ruling.

"It's very important that Wyoming make a decision here whether we have the death penalty or whether we have the death sentence," Blonigen said. "To sit here ten years later and undertake a 20-20 hindsight review of what an attorney did 10 years ago ? OK, that's the challenge that faces us."

Eaton was sentenced to death in 2004 for the 1988 rape and murder of Kimmell. She had disappeared in 1988 while driving across Wyoming, and her body was found in the North Platte River.

Authorities say Eaton kept Kimmell captive in a rundown compound in Moneta, west of Casper, before killing her and burying her car on the property.

The investigation stalled until 2002, when DNA evidence linked Eaton to the case while he was in prison on unrelated charges. Investigators then unearthed the missing car on his property.

Eaton was convicted in state court and sentenced to death. His new lawyers appealed the sentence to Johnson after the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the sentence.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that defendants facing a possible death sentence have a constitutional right to undergo a full investigation into their life circumstances so jurors will have that information as they decide a penalty.

Johnson held a two-week evidentiary hearing last year that featured testimony from relatives and mental health professionals about Eaton. Eaton's lawyers said the material could have been developed and presented to the state jury by Eaton's original defense team -- but it wasn't.

Johnson ruled Thursday that Eaton's state defense was deficient, falling below standards set by the American Bar Association and failing to satisfy constitutional requirements.

For example, Eaton didn't have two experienced death-penalty lawyers on his team, as the ABA recommends. While the association recommends separate investigators and mitigation experts, his team had one person handling both jobs.

If Wyoming chooses to hold a new sentencing hearing for Eaton, Johnson specified that the state must appoint experienced death-penalty lawyers not associated with the Wyoming Public Defender's Office to represent him.

An appeal would go to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Attorney General Peter Michael issued a statement Thursday that although he holds the court in the highest regard, he was disappointed by Johnson's order.

"Wyoming prosecutors recognize the seriousness of capital punishment and seek it in only the most egregious cases," Michael stated. "Mr. Eaton's kidnapping, rape and murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell is one such case."

Eaton was represented in his federal appeal mainly by Cheyenne lawyer Terry Harris and Sean O'Brien, a Missouri lawyer who specializes in death-penalty cases. Attempts to reach Harris and O'Brien were not immediately successful on Thursday.

In 2009, Harris and O'Brien succeeded in persuading a judge to overturn the death sentence of prison inmate James Harlow in the stabbing death of a correctional officer at the state penitentiary in Rawlins. That decision left Eaton as the only man on Wyoming's death row.

Harris and O'Brien raised similar issues in Harlow's case as they did in the appeal involving Eaton, saying the state public defender's office did an inadequate job and failed to put up enough money to investigate Harlow's case and background.

Wyoming last carried out the death penalty in 1992, when it executed convicted murderer Mark Hopkinson. Several other death sentences have been overturned on appeal since then.

Source: AP, November 20, 2014

Bryan Stevenson on Executions and Civil Rights: "Lynching Stopped But the Mindset Didn't"

Watch our extended interview with Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He discusses pending executions, the history of lynching, and how Rosa Parks and others inspired him to "stand with the condemned and incarcerated." His new book is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We continue with our guest, Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Equal Justice initiative. His new book is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

I want to turn to a case right now. A Texas judge on Wednesday refused to postpone the scheduled execution of a convicted killer who suffers from mental illness and is set to face lethal injection December 3rd. Scott Panetti has had schizophrenia for decades. He won support for his case from groups like Mental Health America, psychiatrists, former judges, prosecutors and evangelical Christians. At the trial, Panetti acted as his own attorney. He wore a cowboy outfit and tried to call his witnesses, the pope, John F. Kennedy and Jesus.

Well, you write about many cases. Talk about what this case represents.

BRYAN STEVENSON: We have in our prisons about 2.3 million people, half of whom are believed to have mental illness. About 20 percent have severe mental illness. The criminal justice system, the prisons have become the repository for people with disability that have no place else to go. And that is part of the story behind this case.

The other part of the story is that we've created a system that is much more concerned about finality than fairness. The reason why no one's prepared to look carefully at the clear evidence of mental illness that should block the state from carrying out this execution is that we seem like we're in this rush, that if we don't execute people fast, it's almost as if it loses its potency, its value, its virtue. But my view is that if we execute people unfairly or wrongly, then we do a great deal of injustice to our whole system. And so, I think it's tragic that we get caught up in this finality kind of focus. And you see that playing out in this case.

The Supreme Court has banned the execution of people with intellectual disability, people with mental retardation. And obviously, if you recognize that there are disabilities that can make you someone who should not be executed, you have to look more carefully at a case like this. And I think there are actually hundreds of people who have been sentenced to death when they are clearly very severely mentally ill. And a just society wouldn't want to execute people for their disability, because that's cruel. That's not a decent thing to do. It's not what a just community should do. But we're going to do that in Texas, if we don't take the time to think more carefully about what that case represents.

And too often, unfortunately, we don't learn the details of these tragedies until very close to the execution time, because it's very hard to get anyone's attention in the death penalty space until there's a crisis, until there's an execution date. And that undermines the fair consideration that we often need in these cases. And sadly, it doesn't happen at trial, because we have a criminal justice system that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth prevents many poor people and disabled people from getting their story presented in a way that might allow us to get to a just outcome. And so then we have years of appeals and litigation where maybe that story might unfold, and that's what you're seeing in Texas today.

Source: Democracy Now, November 20, 2014

Iran: Man hanged in public a day after UN condemns regime's "high frequency of executions"

Photo of the execution
A day after the United Nations General Assembly's 3rd committee adopted the UN's 61st resolution condemning human rights abuses in Iran and urged the regime to stop the executions, a man was hanged in public in a northern city.

The prisoner identified as H. Mirjani, 32, was hanged in Velayat Square in the city of Qaemshahr.

The execution that comes after the adoption of the resolution that expressed its "deep concern at serious ongoing and recurring human rights violations" in Iran, notably the "alarming high frequency of executions and increase of the carrying-out of the death penalty in the absence of internationally recognized safeguards, including public executions," demonstrates the Iranian regime's disregard for international concerns.

Since the start of Hassan Rouhani's presidency a year ago, the executions in Iran have taken on an unprecedented scale with over 1000 executions.

Source: NCR-Iran, November 20, 2014

Judge Refuses To Dismiss Lawsuit Challenging Tennessee’s Use Of The Electric Chair

A judge on Friday blocked the state’s attempt to derail a lawsuit filed by death row inmates attacking Tennessee’s use of the electric chair.

In August, attorneys representing ten death row inmates sued the state alleging the electric chair is “cruel and unusual punishment.” The suit contends that electrocution inflicts agonizing pain and that its use should be considered torture.

The state replied by filing a motion to dismiss, a matter that was taken up during Friday’s hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Linda Kirklen argued, in part, that “this court lacks jurisdiction.” In other words, she said questioning the sentence of a criminal case should not be litigated in civil court. She noted the inmates have brought challenges to their cases in criminal court already, which have not been successful. “They have already had their day in court,” Kirklen said.

Kelley Henry, a federal public defender representing the inmates, responded that an attack on the method of execution is not the same at an attack on the conviction.

In addition, Henry pointed out that last spring’s law establishing the electric chair as the official backup has no formal time schedule. That is, if an inmate’s method of execution is changed due to the scarcity of lethal injection drugs, the inmate might not have time to appeal.

After two-hours of deliberations, Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman took a short break before coming back with a decision: the lawsuit is aiming at the protocol of execution, not the criminal conviction, so it does fall under the state’s civil court.

After the hearing, defense attorney Henry said Bonnyman’s decision keeps the lawsuit on track, and that the substance of the suit – whether the electric chair is in fact constitutional – will be dealt with during the trial.

“Tennessee is an outlier amongst any government in the world to impose the electric chair on one of its citizens. We’re the only one that does that,” Henry said. “Our experts say that the inmate actually feels that searing, burning pain prior to death and for a substantial period of time prior to death.”

The state attorney general’s office has not responded to the heart of argument in legal filings. Instead, they have countered with procedural maneuvers.

A trial date in Davidson County Chancery Court determining whether the electric chair will continue to be an optional form of execution in Tennessee is on hold. It will be set once a case pending before the state’s supreme court is settled. This one over whether the identities of those involved in a state-sanctioned lethal injection — including the pharmacist who provides the drugs — must be publicly revealed.

For now, both methods of execution are unavailable until the lawsuits are resolved.

The last execution in Tennessee occurred in 2009. And although no executions have occurred while Gov. Bill Haslam has been in office, the attorney general’s office requested execution dates for 10 death row inmates, the highest number of sought at once in state history.

Source: Nashville Public Radio, November 21, 2014