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

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Appeals court overturns Indiana death row inmate's conviction

A federal appeals court overturned the triple-murder conviction of an Indiana death row inmate on Friday and granted him a new trial due to key evidence that was withheld in earlier trials, the man's attorney and court documents said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago voted 6-3 to overturn the conviction of Wayne Kubsch for the 1988 murders of his wife Beth Kubsch, her ex-husband Rick Milewski and his son Aaron Milewski.

A videotaped police interview with neighbor Amanda Buck, who was then 9, could have helped challenge the prosecution's timeline of events if it had been introduced as evidence, the court said.

The tape was never shown to a jury because Buck was later unable to retell the events she described to police during the interview.

"Amanda's statement was exculpatory. If the statement were factually accurate, then Kubsch would be innocent," court documents said.

The documents added that while the state was not wrong in its decision to exclude the tape from earlier trials, a precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that it must now be entered.

The interview is "the only available information tending to corroborate Kubsch's claim of innocence," court documents said.

Alan Freedman, Kubsch's attorney, said by telephone he was relieved by the decision. Freedman said he spoke to his client earlier in the day to tell him the news.

Kubsch was tried twice for the murders. He was convicted both times and also recommended for the death penalty both times.

Beth Kubsch was found in September 1988 stabbed to death and wrapped in duct tape in the basement of a home in Mishawaka, Indiana.

Rick and Aaron Milewski were found in the same basement stabbed multiple times and shot in the mouth, according to court documents.

Wayne Kubsch was in severe debt, and two months before the murders had taken out a $575,000 life insurance policy on his wife, court documents said.

During his first trial, prosecutors argued that he killed his wife to collect the money from the policy.

Source: Reuters, Timothy Mclaughlin, September 23, 2016

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Malaysia: Ahmad Najib Aris finally hanged

Ahmad Najib Aris
Ahmad Najib Aris
The 40-year-old Ahmad Najib Aris who formerly worked as an aircraft cabin cleaner had spent 11 years on death row appealing against his death sentence without success and was hanged about 6am yesterday, after meeting his family for the last time the day before, The Star reported today.

The daily cited an unnamed Kajang Prison spokesman saying he was later buried at the Sungai Kantan Muslim cemetery in Kajang.

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla who had previously represented Ahmad Najib described the latter as a "good Muslim" while in jail to the newspaper, adding that prison officials related how he often led other inmates in prayer and taught them about religion.

"To me, at least the time he was in prison, he was a better person than many outside," Mohamed Haniff was quoted saying.

The 2003 murder case that was well-covered by the media sparked a nationwide uproar at that time due to the seemingly random violence perpetrated.

According to past reports, Ong, who was a US-based IT specialist home for a visit, was abducted from the carpark of the Bangsar Shopping Complex on June 13, 2003.

Her charred remains were found in a manhole along Old Klang Road here, several days later.

Forensic tests carried out later showed she had been raped.

Ahmad Najib was subsequently arrested and charged based on the forensic and criminal evidence. He was convicted and given the maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and 10 strokes of the rotan for Ong's rape and the mandatory death penalty for her murder.

In a separate statement, Amnesty International Malaysia which opposed the death penalty, condemned the government for the secret execution of Ahmad Najib.

Its executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu noted that Malaysia is not the only country that provides the capital punishment, but said the authorities should follow international laws and standards and provide sufficient advance notice to convicted killers on death row to enable them to seek further recourse at the national or international level.

"There is no convincing evidence to support the argument that the death penalty prevents crime more effectively than other punishments including life imprisonment. Further, statistics from countries which have abolished the death penalty show that the absence of the death penalty has not resulted in an increase in the crimes previously subject to capital punishment.

"What does hanging Ahmad Najib really achieve?" she asked.

AI Malaysia said Ahmad Najib's execution is only the 4th known to have taken place in the country and suspects there have been more executions conducted secretly.

"Amnesty International Malaysia does not downplay the seriousness of crimes committed, but we urge the authorities to consider introducing more effective crime prevention measures especially when there is overwhelming evidence that proves that the death penalty does not deter crime," Shamini added.

Source: themalaymailonline.com, September 24, 2016

Amnesty condemns execution of man convicted for Canny Ong's murder


Amnesty International condemned the quiet execution of Ahmad Najib Aris, who was hanged Friday after spending 13 years on death row for the rape and murder of Canny Ong Lay Kian.

"The death penalty is never an answer. Hanging a man for murder is not justice, it is revenge.

"We oppose the use of capital punishment regardless of the crime committed," Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said in a statement Friday.

Shamini said that while international law allows for the death penalty to be meted out for the most serious crimes, the lack of transparency on the use of the death penalty in Malaysia raises crucial concerns.

International law and standards require that in countries which have yet to abolish the death penalty, the authorities must ensure that prisoners under the sentence of death and their families are given reasonable advance notice of the scheduled date and time of the executions.

"From Amnesty International Malaysia's experience in dealing with imminent executions, families are only informed between 72 and 24 hours before.

"Also of concern is the authorities deliberately concealing or minimising public scrutiny over imminent executions," she said.

Shamini said transparency in the use of the death penalty is important to avoid aggravating mental trauma of prisoners sentenced to death and is also a critical safeguard against unlawful executions.

"International standards on the use of the death penalty also set out that condemned prisoners and their lawyers be officially informed of the date of execution in sufficient time to take any further recourse available at the national or international level.

"However, we understand that lawyers in Malaysia are not informed of impending executions of their clients as case proceedings would have concluded," she said.

Due to the lack of transparency, Shamini said there were possibility of more executions which have not been disclosed by the authorities.

Shamini added that there is no convincing evidence to support the argument that death penalty can prevent crimes more effectively compared to other punishments including life imprisonment.

"Further, statistics from countries which have abolished the death penalty show that the absence of the death penalty has not resulted in an increase in the crimes previously subject to capital punishment.

"Amnesty International Malaysia does not downplay the seriousness of crimes committed, but we urge the authorities to consider introducing more effective crime prevention measures especially when there is overwhelming evidence that proves that the death penalty does not deter crime," she said.

In 2003, then 27-year-old Ong's charred body was found in a hole, below 2 cement-filled tyres were found 4 days after her kidnap.

Forensic investigation led to the arrest of Ahmad Najib, also 27-years-old at that time, who had raped her before killing her by stabbing her twice.

Source: malaysiakini.com, September 24, 2016

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India's Supreme Court sets free death row convict

India's Supreme Court
India's Supreme Court
A death row convict was today set free by the Supreme Court saying the prosecution has not proved the charge against him of murdering his wife and five daughters on the basis of evidence on record.

Justices Ranjan Gogoi and U U Lalit acquitted the man, even as Justice P C Pant, who was also part of the bench, dissented with their view and upheld the conviction.

Justice Pant, however, commuted to life imprisonment, the death penalty awarded to the Chhattisgarh native, saying the trial court and the High Court were influenced by the brutality and the manner in which the crime was committed.

The 2:1 verdict came on the man's appeal against his conviction and sentence.

According to the prosecution, Chhattisgarh-native Dhal Singh Dewangan, killed his wife and 5 daughters on February 19, 2012.

In the majority verdict, delivered by Justice U U Lalit, the apex court held that the appellant deserved to be acquitted as the prosecution had not proved its case.

"We allow these appeals, set aside the judgments of conviction and sentence recorded by the Courts below against the appellant and acquit him of all the charges levelled against him. The appellant be set at liberty immediately unless his custody is required in any other case," the majority bench said.

The majority bench held that the circumstantial evidence, based on which the trial court had convicted the man, "did not form a complete chain of evidence."

"In our view, the circumstances mentioned do not form a complete chain of evidence as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the appellant, nor do the circumstances exclude every possible hypothesis except the guilt of the accused," they said.

Justice Pant, in his minority view, said "the State has failed to show that the appellant is a continuing threat to the society or that he is beyond reformation and rehabilitation. Both the courts below, in my opinion, appear to have been influenced by the brutality and the manner in which the crime is committed."

"But this Court cannot ignore the fact that there are no criminal antecedents of the appellant. Also, it cannot be said that he is continuing threat to the society or that he cannot be reformed or rehabilitated," he said.

Justice Pant also observed that the convict belonged to a "socially and economically disadvantaged strata of the society" and considering the facts, it found that life imprisonment would meet the ends of justice.

Source: Press Trust of India, September 26, 2016

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Singapore tells world leaders to take balanced view as it defends death penalty

Screenshot from "Apprentice" by  Jufeng Boo (2016)
Screenshot from "Apprentice" by  Jufeng Boo (2016)
Death penalty has deterred major drug syndicates from setting up in Singapore.

Singapore has come out strongly backing capital punishment for drug-related offences, telling world leaders to respect the alternative views held by other countries.

The city-state held itself up as a poster-boy for the effectiveness of the capital punishment deterrent, saying it has helped keep the nation drug-free and safe.

Speaking at a meeting taking place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, 21 September, Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan urged world leaders to take a more balanced assessment of the death penalty.

"This debate is a heated, painful and emotional one but I just ask members ... to respectfully reflect on the views expressed, the diversity of the circumstances and the impact on the ground. And to give each state its sovereign right to choose the most appropriate judicial approach so that we can adopt a more balanced perspective on this complex issue," he said.

The Straits Times noted that speakers at the panel had placards stating #EndExecutions.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his opening speech at the meeting, had called on all countries to stop meting out capital punishment. "The world reached a major turning point in 2007 when the general assembly called for a worldwide moratorium. Since then the movement against capital punishment has been growing," he said.

Not directly referring to the spate of vigilante executions of drug offenders in the Philippines following newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte's fight against illegal drugs, Ban said: "I am gravely concerned that some countries are suddenly resuming executions. Others are considering reintroducing the death penalty. We have to keep up the fight for the right to life."

Both the Philippines and Turkey are considering imposing the death penalty on certain crimes.

While not disagreeing that all human life is sacred, Balakrishnan said: "The immediate question that confronts all of us, whether within or without this room, is whether the death penalty, within the proper context, and in strictly limited circumstances, plays any role in protecting the sanctity of life."

Death penalty key in keeping Singapore safe


The minister outlined Singapore's approach to the use of the death penalty and why it continues to remain on its statute books. He said that the death penalty is applied "strictly in the context of an unwavering commitment to the rule of law ... resting on a strong and independent judiciary, there must be fair, transparent laws and due process."

He argued that the way Singapore has implemented its judicial system "has been pivotal in our efforts to foster a peaceful, safe, harmonious and inclusive society."

Balakrishnan added that capital punishment meted out to drugs-related offences and murder "has been a key element in keeping Singapore drug free and keeping Singapore safe. Singapore is probably one of the few countries in the world which has successfully fought this drug problem."

He continued: "We do not have slums, we do not have ghettos, we do not have no-go zones for the police. The death penalty has deterred major drug syndicates from establishing themselves in Singapore, and successfully kept the drug situation under control."

"For what it is worth, I can stand here and tell you that Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world. Our residents, including women and children, can go anywhere they please, freely and without fear, at any time of the day or night."

While there was strong support from Singaporeans for the death penalty, he said: "From time to time we will continue to review our legislation and make changes, according to our circumstances."

Source: ibtimes.co.uk, September 24, 2016

Recommended reading: Once a Jolly Hangman, Singapore Justice in the Dock, July 23, 2016

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Iran: Juvenile Offender Forgiven for Murder, Saved from Execution by Victim's Family

Rauf Hasani
Rauf Hasani
Rauf Hasani was 16 years old at the time of his arrest.

Iran Human Rights (SEPT 24 2016): Rauf Hasani, a juvenile prisoner on death row in Saqqez Central Prison on murder charges, has been saved from execution after the complainants on his case file forgave him.

A source close to Rauf tells Iran Human Rights: "The Hasani family and the family of the murder victim were present in court on September 14, 2016. At the hearing the murder victim's family agreed to forgive Rauf on the condition that he moves out of Saqqez and that he can only return in the event of a funeral for one of his immediate family members. The Hasani family agreed to the condition and the presiding judge confirmed it."

According to confirmed sources, Rauf Hasani, who was born in January 1997, was arrested by Iranian authorities in August 2013 in the city of Saqqez (Kurdistan province, northwestern Iran) on murder charges. 

Rauf, 16 years old at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to death in spring 2015 by the civil court in Saqqez.

Rauf, who has only completed school up to the fifth grade, is currently still held in the juvenile offenders ward of Saqqez Central Prison where he is awaiting a retrial.

Rauf Hasani is among seven death row juvenile offenders identified in a recent report published by Iran Human Rights.

Source: Iran Human Rights, September 24, 2016

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Chinese Premier Defends Death Penalty

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canada-China extradition deal will not compromise values, says Trudeau

OTTAWA—Chinese Premier Li Keqiang defended China’s use of the death penalty when asked about an extradition treaty with Canada during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sept 22.

“If we abolish the death penalty, more innocent people will probably lose their lives. Many developed countries also maintain the death penalty,” said Li.

Li said Chinese law provides for the humane treatment of prisoners and that judicial and law enforcement personnel follow those rules strictly. Human rights groups disagree, as do many members of Parliament.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent said any extradition treaty must include an absolute guarantee no individual sent back to China would face the death penalty given “the unfortunate history that China has of extrajudicial arrests and imprisonment, torture in prison, and execution on some of the flimsiest of charges.”

One of Trudeau’s top advisers overseeing the possible extradition treaty, however, told the previous government that China’s so-called “economic fugitives” don’t belong on Canadian soil, according to files obtained by The Canadian Press.

Then-deputy minister Daniel Jean offered that advice in a 2015 briefing note to the former Conservative government prior to his appointment in May as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser.

“Canada does not want to be seen as a safe haven for fugitives and it is in Canada’s interest to have such persons removed,” said the note, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

In his new role with the Liberal government, Jean was in Beijing last week for the start of a new “high-level dialogue” between Canada and China on national security and the rule of law—talks that include breaking ground on an extradition treaty.

Word of those talks sparked opposition charges Tuesday, Sept. 20, that the Liberals were abandoning their human rights principles. Two major human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, questioned Canada’s pursuit of an extradition deal, saying it doesn’t square with China’s rights record, including its widespread use of the death penalty.

China has mounted a vigorous international campaign to hunt down alleged economic criminals on foreign soil it says have absconded with millions of dollars of assets.

In the briefing note, Jean further describes Canada’s response to China’s 2014 campaign, dubbed “Operation Fox Hunt,” an outgrowth of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign in which he “vowed to swat down both ‘tigers’ and ‘flies,’ regardless of their level, in efforts to clean up the Communist Party in China.”

The targets were “corrupt public officials and private citizens alleged to have committed economic crimes such as financial fraud against persons, businesses and banks.” The Chinese government estimated in 2014 that 208 people had fled with an estimated $1.93 million.

Even if China wants to bring back legitimate economic criminals, there are widespread human rights concerns about the Chinese legal system, said Amnesty International Secretary General Alex Neve.

“It’s impossible to imagine how you would have an extradition treaty that would line up with Canada’s obligations to not send people to face the death penalty,” Neve said in an interview.

“It’s very clear that China regularly seeks the return to China of individuals who are wanted for political reasons or religious reasons.”

Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, said it is “peculiar” for Canada to be pursing an extradition treaty with China because it is one of three countries—including the United States and Australia—that have rebuffed Beijing’s requests in the past.

“I think China’s particular interest in pushing this with Canada at the moment is to then be able to say to the U.S. and Australia, ‘They did it, why won’t you?”‘

With or without a treaty, “the standard rules of the road are that you cannot forcibly return anyone to a country where they face a well-founded fear of persecution, or ill-treatment,” she added.

Defence minister Harjit Sajjan said Canada will address China’s use of the death penalty during future negotiations.

On Tuesday, Trudeau told a news conference in New York that Canada would not be compromising its own values for the sake of diplomatic expediency.

“Extradition is certainly one of the things the Chinese have indicated they wanted to talk about. But as everyone knows, Canada has very high standards in terms of extradition treaties, in accordance with our values,” he said.

Source: Epoch Times, September 22, 2016

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Singapore Appoints ‘Apprentice’ for Foreign-Language Oscar Run

Apprentice poster
Boo Junfeng’s “Apprentice” has been selected as Singapore’s contender for the foreign-language Academy Awards competition.

The film, about a young man who is asked to perhaps take over as the country’s state executioner, had its world premiere at the Cannes film festival May this year, appearing in the Un Certain Regard section. 

It had its commercial release in Singapore through Clover Films on June 30.

The selection was made by the Singapore Film Commission (SFC), which is part of the Media Development Authority of Singapore. 

“Apprentice explores complex and sensitive themes while preserving an honest insight to the characters’ internal conflict and emotions. We believe the film will resonate with international audiences following its successful world premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival,” said SFC director Joachim Ng.

The film is set for an extensive festival run with other stops including Toronto, Busan, and London. International sales, handled by France’s Luxbox, have included deals with Film Movement for North America, Arrow for the U.K., and Version Originale Condor for France.

Production was structured as a five way co-production between Singapore, Germany, France, Hong Kong and Qatar. It was produced by Akanga Film Asia, Peanut Pictures and Zhao Wei Films.

Source: Variety, Patrick Frater, September 15, 2016

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Texas: Law firm recommends system for initial capital case appeals

Polunsky Unit, Texas Death Row, Livingston, Texas
Polunsky Unit, Texas Death Row, Livingston, Texas
A law firm that's been representing Texas death row inmates for more than 2 decades is recommending the state establish a system for condemned prisoners to have better legal help during the initial appeal that follows their trial.

The Texas Defender Service this week released a report that examines what's known as direct appeals in death penalty cases. It cited "systemic weaknesses" in the way those appeals are handled, contending lawyers are overwhelmed by caseloads and underpaid for the time they spend on these cases, that some attorneys who do accept the cases are inadequately prepared and that no entity in the state is devoted to training or consulting with lawyers handling direct appeals.

"The direct appeal framework for Texas death penalty cases is fraught with structural weaknesses," the legal group concluded in its report, adding that those weaknesses heighten the likelihood that convictions and death sentences will be upheld when the appeals are reviewed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court.

In direct appeals, attorneys review the trial court record for potential errors.

The legal firm is calling on the Legislature to consider establishing a statewide capital appellate defender office to represent death row convicts in their direct appeals, a statewide appointment system with caseload controls and uniform pay rates, and appointment of 2 lawyers - rather than 1 now required - to handle direct appeals.

"Deficient representation squanders scarce criminal justice resources, undermines the integrity of the Texas criminal justice system and warrants immediate attention from stakeholders," the 56-page report said.

The group's recommendations are based on a review of documents from the 84 direct appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeals during the 7-year period ending Dec. 31, 2015.

In its study, the Defender Service said it found the direct appeal attorneys had inadequate resources, excessive caseloads, inadequate briefing and showed "routine avoidance" to filing reply briefs and applying for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Capital murder defendants in need of legal help - most of whom are indigent - already have a regional public defender for trials in most rural areas of the state. State lawmakers in 2009 created the Office of Capital Writs to handle later appeals. The Defender Service is recommending such formal legal availabilities be extended to the direct appeals process, where it argues the quality of representation has remained "unexamined."

Roe Wilson, who heads the Harris County District Attorney's Legal Services Bureau, which handles capital case writs in the county that has sent the most inmates to death row, questioned the need for 2 defense attorneys to handle a direct appeal.

"In a direct appeal, you're limited to the record itself, there's no outside investigation," Wilson said Wednesday. "It literally comes down to reading the record, identifying claims, doing the legal research and writing. I don't know why it would take 2 people to do that."

The report, however, pointed out that county prosecutors have more ready access to resources, such as auxiliary staff. Of the 84 cases in the study, 2/3 were handled by solo practicing attorneys. None of the 84 convictions was overturned by the Court of Criminal Appeals. The death sentence was overturned in 3 of them.

Wilson said defendants have better chances later in the appeals writ process because factual claims outside the trial record can be presented and investigated.

"It's very difficult to get any case, not just a capital case, overturned on direct appeal because you are limited to exactly what's in front of you," she said.

Source: Associated Press, September 22, 2016

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Iran: Public execution at sports stadium

Public hanging at the Neyriz sports stadium in Fars Province, Iran, 22 SEPT 2016
Public hanging at the Neyriz sports stadium in Fars Province, Iran, 22 Sept. 2016
NCRI - This morning, 22 September, an inmate was hanged in public at the Neyriz sports stadium in Fars Province (south Iran).

Public Relations of the Fars province’s Department of Justice announced: “Thursday morning September22 an inmate called Saeed T. was executed after due process of law.

Also Thursday morning September 22, more than 10 prisoners on death row in Gohardasht (Rajai-Shahr) Prison in Karaj, north-west of Tehran, have been transferred to solitary confinement.

Names of some of the prisoners from Ward 2, called the Daralqran are as follows:

Hatem Karim

Ali Hatami Zadh

(...)

In addition, Hossein Karami and Mohammad Jafari also have been moved to solitary confinement in Ward 6 of Gohardasht Prison.

One of the prisoners called F. Hatami who has been already more than 13 years in prison is also among death row inmates.

More photos of the public execution:


Public hanging at the Neyriz sports stadium in Fars Province, Iran, 22 Sept. 2016
Iran: Medieval and barbaric punishments

Public hanging at the Neyriz sports stadium in Fars Province, Iran, 22 Sept. 2016

Public hanging at the Neyriz sports stadium in Fars Province, Iran, 22 Sept. 2016


Source: NCRI, September 22, 2016

Iran: Prisoner Hanged in Public at Football Stadium


Photos of this public hanging show that at least one child was present and watching the execution
Photos show that at least one child was present and watching the execution.
Iran Human Rights (SEPT 22 2016): A prisoner sentenced to public execution for rape and murder was hanged in public at a sports stadium in the city of Neyriz (Fars province, southern Iran) on the morning of Thursday September 22.

According to Iranian state run news agency Mehr, quoting the press department of the Judiciary in Fars, a prisoner identified as "Saeed T." was hanged in public on the morning of Thursday September 22 at a sports stadium in the city of Neyriz. Photos of this public hanging show that at least one child was present and watching the execution.

This is not the first time that Iranian authorities have used a sports stadium to carry out an execution. In 2013, after learning about a public execution carried out in a sports stadium in northeastern Iran, FIFA issued a warning to Iranian officials and called on them to ensure that the act is not repeated.

"We call on the international community and the international sports organizations, including FIFA, to condemn the latest barbaric act. The Islamic Republic of Iran and territories controlled by ISIS are the only places where we are aware of sports arenas being used for public executions," says Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesperson of Iran Human Rights.

"According to the Iranian law, all public punishments must be approved by the local representatives of government, currently led by Hassan Rouhani. President Rouhani must be held accountable for public executions in Iran, which are meant to terrorize Iranian society," says Amiry-Moghaddam.

Iran Human Rights urges the international community to confront the Iranian government representatives, who are currently taking part in the UNGA, with their role in implementing public executions in Iran.

Iranian official sources say the prisoner was sentenced to death by Branch 1 of the Fars criminal court. The following is a breakdown of the charges and sentencing: sentenced to public execution for rape, sentenced to death for murder, sentenced to 15 years in prison for kidnapping, sentenced to 10 years in prison and 74 lashes for robbery.

Source: Iran Human Rights, Sept. 23, 2016

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How Mexico Saves Its Citizens From U.S. Executions

The Mexican government runs a fund to train poorly resourced American defense lawyers.

This piece was reported through The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that covers the U.S. criminal-justice system.

When the body of 25-year old Lesley Hope Plott was found lying in a ditch in Russellville, Alabama, in February of 2013, police had little trouble zeroing in on a suspect: hours earlier, a nearby church's security camera had recorded her being beaten and stabbed by her estranged husband, Angel Campos Nava.

Born in Mexico, Nava, 36, had come to the United States years earlier. He had already been convicted of assaulting Plott on 2 earlier occasions. A murder conviction could result in the death penalty. It was up to Rebecca Thomason, Nava's lawyer, to convince the Franklin County district attorney to instead seek a life sentence, or, failing that, to convince a jury to spare his life. It didn't help that Nava was undocumented, and they were in Alabama, a state with some of the harshest anti-immigration laws in the country.

Then, Thomason received a call offering her something few lawyers in death penalty cases get: money, training, and advice, courtesy of the Mexican government. Nava's case had caught the attention of the Mexican Capital Legal Assistance Program, created by Mexican officials in 2000 to save the country's citizens from execution in the United States.

One of the program's chief purposes is to help defense attorneys construct a biography of the accused - to humanize them. Poverty, family dysfunction, and developmental disability, are frequent themes in their clients' lives. When presented as part of a defense, such themes can encourage mercy among jurors and dissuade them from handing down a death sentence.

To that end, the program arranges for lawyers to go to Mexico to track down school and hospital records and stories about their clients' lives, either paying for their travel costs or advising them on how to request money from local courts. Under the program, Mexico pays American lawyers up to $220 an hour to track potential death penalty cases around the country - watching court decisions and news stories from the moment of arrest, all the way through the last minute scramble before an execution - and advise court-appointed lawyers like Thomason.

Since 2008, the program has provided these attorneys with an average annual budget of around $4 million to track as many as 135 cases at a time, according to the program's filings with the Department of Justice. That comes out to roughly $29,000 per case, per year. By contrast, the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents numerous inmates on Alabama's death row, has reported that many of them were sentenced to death after their attorneys' fees were capped at $1,000 for out-of-court trial preparation.

More resources and training translates into more compelling stories, as defenders plead for mercy for their clients. Monica Foster, a lawyer in Indianapolis who worked with the program for several years, explained that she would connect defense attorneys with officials in Mexico, who would help them travel to their clients' hometowns, many of which were often inaccessible by paved roads. "We'd help them understand...how you take that story and meld it into a complete package of 'How did this person end up in [the United States] and why should a jury feel compelled to extend mercy to them?'"

Houston-based attorney James Stafford was appointed to represent Mexican immigrant Francisco Castellano in 2005 for the murder of Castellano's niece. "When you're court-appointed you have limited resources in terms of what the court will give you to develop a defense," Stafford said. "It creates a team approach, where you have people at your disposal who can do research, talk to witnesses, etc., instead of it being a 1-man shop."

Stafford says the program's help finding mitigation evidence led to his success getting a district attorney to drop the death penalty and allow a plea for a life sentence. Such a scenario is not uncommon. In a 2008 Hofstra Law Journal article, Greg Kuykendall, the Tucson, Arizona-based director of the program, claimed that it had a 95 % success rate in keeping roughly 300 Mexican nationals from being executed. Such numbers are difficult to verify, however, because the program tends not to share much about its work publicly; Kuykendall was not granted clearance by the Mexican government to be interviewed for this story. Mexican Embassy spokesman Ricardo Alday told The Atlantic, "Mexico in no way condones or sympathizes with any criminal behavior for which some of its citizens have been accused," but the country's government "opposes the death penalty as a matter of principle and has a strong policy of protecting its nationals abroad including in the United States."

The program reflects how widespread international opposition to the death penalty is having an impact in the United States. It also highlights a complaint routinely made by defense attorneys - that they are not given enough resources to do their jobs effectively - by showing what often happens when they do have those resources: they avoid the death penalty.

The United States and Mexico have a long, contentious history when it comes to the death penalty. In the 1920s, American journalist Alma Reed campaigned to save the life of a 17-year-old Mexican on death row in California, earning herself an audience with the country's president, Alvaro Obregon. Writing on the current defense program in the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law, lawyer Michael Fleishman has noted that, since then, Mexico's largely Catholic population has come to consider American executions of their citizens a "tool of the bully to the north" and a sign of "Yankee imperialism."

In the 1970s, as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down and then revived the death penalty, the United States saw a lull in executions. But when they resumed, some invariably involved Mexican nationals, and the country's government began giving money and advice to defense lawyers in the United States - a precursor to the current program. This, inevitably, sparked the occasional flare-up. In 1994, a Mexican migrant worker named Aurelio Barajas was sentenced to death for the murder of a convenience store clerk in Idaho. Mexico helped fund his appeals, which eventually led prosecutors to negotiate down to a life sentence once his lawyer produced evidence that suggested he was mentally incompetent to stand trial, and showed that the psychologist who examined him did not speak Spanish.

At times, capital punishment has joined a broader set of tensions over U.S. immigration policy towards Mexicans.

"Imagine an American in a small town in Mexico accused of killing someone ...We are going to use the same force the United States would in such a case to help one of our own," Laura Espinosa, a deputy consul in Salt Lake City, told The Los Angeles Times at the time. In response, Idaho solicitor-general Lynn Thomas complained about "foreign governments bankrolling the opposition with unlimited resources."

At times, capital punishment has joined a broader set of tensions over U.S. immigration policy towards Mexicans. In 1997, a mariachi band played "Beautiful and Beloved Mexico" at a bridge over the Rio Grande river to greet the returning body of Irineo Tristan Montoya, a Mexican national who had been executed in Texas for stabbing to death a driver while hitchhiking. "Steel walls along parts of the border, increasingly restrictive immigration laws, violence and discrimination faced by many immigrants in the United States - Montoya has come to represent all such insults," the Associated Press reported at the time. 5 years later, shortly after the 2002 execution of Mexican citizen Javier Suarez Medina in Texas for the murder of a police officer, Mexican president Vicente Fox refused an invitation to George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Sandra Babcock, the American lawyer who in 2000 became the first director of Mexico's formal program to help capital defendants, saw the country's involvement in capital defense as proof that her own country was falling down on its obligations to defendants. "I think it's shameful," she told The Texas Observer. "There's extreme poverty and here we have the wealthiest country in the world that cannot provide adequate resources and competent legal counsel to people who are facing the loss of their lives." The help didn't always lead to success: 10 Mexican nationals have been executed in the United States since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (in addition to 22 citizens of other countries).

In some cases, foreign consulates have not been informed that citizens of their nations were were facing the death penalty in the United States. Mexico, the United Kingdom, Paraguay, and Germany have all argued that they might have been able to help their citizens avoid a death sentence had they been informed. These complaints came to a head in 2004, when Mexican lawyers convinced the International Court of Justice in The Hague to rule that, in more than 50 death penalty cases, the United States had violated the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations by failing to notify Mexico when its citizens had been arrested. That ruling led to Medellin v. Texas, a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the state, represented by then-Solicitor General Ted Cruz, argued that the international court's ruling had no power over the states. The court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of Texas, noting there was no federal law making that treaty binding on the states.

Since then, the Mexican government has lobbied Congress to pass a law requiring states to notify Mexican consulates when their citizens are arrested. In a 2014 letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora wrote, "I respectfully submit that the United States would not countenance the same treatment of U.S. citizens by another signatory" to the Vienna Convention.

Shortly after Rebecca Thomason was appointed to defend Nava in 2013, the program flew her to Texas and California for training. At one session in Houston, she met Charlie Goff, an anthropologist who runs a language and culture school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Goff flew to Alabama and discovered that a court-appointed interpreter had been using a Spanish dialect unfamiliar to the defendant, who spoke little English. "Nobody else could talk to him," Goff said. He convinced Nava to share details about his background. He said he was from El Terrero, a tiny village in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero.

So Thomason and Goff planned a trip (El Terrero is on the U.S. State Department's travel warning list. Before Thomason left, the local district attorney, Joey Rushing, joked darkly that he would create a GoFundMe page to raise money if she was kidnapped). There are no hotels in El Terrero, so the defense team stayed with Nava's extended family. "I think she had probably never seen poverty like that ... Open sewage, dirt streets," Goff said of Thomason. She learned about Nava's upbringing - "the drunken father, the angry mother taking a piece of firewood and hitting the kids." It became clear to her why her client would have been desperate to leave.

When Thomason returned to Alabama, she met with Rushing, the district attorney, and was candid about the mitigation evidence she would bring before the jury. "I told him how many people lived in one little bedroom, how when he was a child he was beaten," Thomason said. "He tried to pretend like it didn't get to him, but it got to him."

Rushing - who, like other district attorneys interviewed for this story, expressed no qualms about Mexico's involvement - shared this information with the victim's family. They agreed to support his decision, in June 2015, to let Nava plead guilty and avoid the death penalty.

Nava is currently serving a life sentence. He will be up for parole in 2028. If let out, he will immediately be deported to Mexico.

Source: The Atlantic, Maurice Chammah, Sept. 22, 2016. Maurice Chammah is a staff writer at The Marshall Project.

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Lawyers to campaign for abolition of capital punishment in Japan

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations will launch a campaign next month for the abolition of capital punishment, arguing that even the worst offenders stand a chance of reintegration in society.

It will ask its members to approve the move at a meeting on Oct. 7.

The JFBA has recently conducted a flurry of research into the death penalty, including hearing from a wide range of people and comparing Japan's system with that in other countries.

Japan stands out among developed nations in clinging to the punishment, as more than two-thirds of nations have either abolished the death penalty or uphold a de facto moratorium on its use. The United States is the only other advanced nation that executes prisoners, although campaigners say it is tending toward abolition.

There have also been serious concerns about wrongful conviction resulting in execution in Japan, underscored by the exoneration of four death row inmates in the 1980s in retrials and the freeing of another in 2014 after he spent 48 years behind bars.

"If an innocent person or an offender who does not deserve to be sentenced to death is executed, it is an irrevocable human rights violation," said Yuji Ogawara, a Tokyo-based lawyer who serves as secretary general of a JFBA panel on the death penalty.

The proposal will be submitted to the federation's annual human rights meeting in the city of Fukui for formal adoption.

The federation is targeting abolition of the death penalty by 2020, when the U.N. Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice will be held in Japan.

In its 2011 declaration, the federation urged the government to initiate a public debate on the death penalty, but stopped short of clearly calling for its abolition.

Since then, the federation has explored the matter by organizing symposiums and hearing from lawmakers, Justice Ministry officials, journalists, diplomats and faith representatives.

It has also sent delegations overseas to research foreign penal systems, including in Britain, South Korea, Spain and the United States.

"There are still lawyers who support the death penalty, but I think we have developed an environment that enables us to seek its abolition," said Ogawara, who was involved in drafting the proposal.

The federation wants the death penalty to be replaced with other options such as life without parole.

But it argues that even life without parole needs to include the possibility of release in cases when prisoners achieve rehabilitation. Failure to offer that possibility would be inhumane, the group says.

Ogawara said those who commit crimes are often the socially disadvantaged who stand a good chance of rehabilitation with the right approach.

"The penal system should contribute to promoting social reintegration of offenders, rather than satisfying the desire for retribution," he said.

It is also important to give victims of crime and their families better support, the JFBA says in its proposal, adding that continued assistance is a "primary responsibility of society as a whole."

In 2014, the U.N. Human Rights Committee urged Japan to "give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty."

The government justifies its policy by citing a survey that found more than 80 % of people in Japan support executions.

Critics say the questionnaire was flawed.

Moreover, critics have assailed the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan, with neither death-row inmates nor their lawyers and families given advance notice of hangings.

It also remains unclear what criteria authorities use in deciding when inmates are to die.

Japan hanged 2 death-row inmates in March, bringing to 16 the total number of people executed since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December 2012.

Source: The Japan Times, September 22, 2016

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Black Lives In the Line of Fire

Two more senseless killings of Black people by the police
Two more senseless killings of Black people by the police

Terence Crutcher was killed with no justification by a Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer. Keith Lamont Scott was shot in Charlotte, North Carolina while the police were there to serve a warrant to someone else. We’re forced to ask the same question over and over: how many Black people have to die before we reassess policing in America?

Too many.

Terence Crutcher. Keith Lamont Scott. Korryn Gaines. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. The truth is so many tragic killings at the hands of police are preventable. We’re just not doing enough to prevent them.

There’s a bill in Congress right now, the Preventing Tragedies Between Police and Communities Act of 2016, that aims to change policing practices to be about safety and police accountability.

If passed, the Preventing Tragedies bill would require officers to use non-lethal and de-escalation tactics and use the lowest level of force possible – the safest means – to deal with an identified threat. The bill also outlines accountability mechanisms to enable states and localities to make sure police officers use these tactics whenever possible.

The police left Terence, a father, to bleed to death on the street. Keith Lamont Scott was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We must transform our broken policing practices. We cannot afford another life lost to injustice and racism. 






Source: ACLU, Sept. 21, 2016

Terence Crutcher was left by the police to bleed and die. It happens a lot.


There are many disturbing moments in the video recordings of Terence Crutcher’s death at the hands of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby. But officers’ conduct immediately after Shelby shot the 40-year-old stands out as particularly heartbreaking.

Three officers standing shoulder to shoulder retreat from the unarmed and dying man, weapons still leveled in his direction. Thirty seconds after Crutcher falls, the trio has moved off-screen. Officers can be seen walking back and forth to their cars over the following moments.

But for more than two minutes, no one attends to Crutcher’s wound. About 100 seconds after Shelby shot the unarmed man, another officer who arrived after the shooting puts on gloves and appears to check Crutcher’s pockets.

Nearly two-and-a-half minutes after Shelby’s “shots fired” radio call, another officer is heard saying “Hey we need a lane open so EMT can get in.” At about that same time, the gloved officer appears to begin unwrapping and applying bandages or gauze to Crutcher’s body.

The lack of immediate medical attention from officers on the scene attracted particular attention from local activist Marq Lewis, who noted that officer Shelby [the officer who shot Crutcher in the first place] is certified in basic emergency medical services.

“Betty Shelby is a trained EMS Basic,” said Lewis, a lead organizer with police accountability group We The People Oklahoma. “She’s trained. She did not render aid at all. She also has a trauma bag issued in her trunk. They let him lay there two-plus minutes. She did not even render aid at all.”

Such scenes are likely familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention as videos of violent, deadly police encounters with black people became more prevalent and available over the past few years. Officers commonly decline to render first aid, even after removing a wounded citizen’s weapon — or discovering they never had one at all.

Click here to read the full article

Source: Think Progress, Alan Pyke, Sept. 21, 2016

September 22-23 Updates

First-degree manslaughter charges filed against Tulsa police officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher


Prosecutors in Tulsa, Okla., charged a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man on a city street with first-degree manslaughter Thursday.

Tulsa County Dist. Atty. Steve Kunzweiler filed the charges against officer Betty Shelby, who shot and killed 40-year-old Terence Crutcher on Friday. Dashcam and aerial footage of the shooting and its aftermath showed Crutcher walking away from Shelby with his arms in the air.

The footage does not offer a clear view of when Shelby fired the single shot that killed Crutcher. Her attorney has said Crutcher was not following police commands and that Shelby opened fire when the man began to reach into his SUV window.

But Crutcher's family immediately discounted that claim, saying the father of four posed no threat to the officers. Police said Crutcher did not have gun on him or in his vehicle.

Shelby, who joined the Tulsa Police Department in December 2011, was en route to a domestic violence call when she encountered Crutcher's vehicle abandoned on a city street, straddling the center line. Shelby did not activate her patrol car's dashboard camera, so no footage exists of what first happened between the two before other officers arrived.

The police footage shows Crutcher approaching the driver's side of the SUV, then more officers walk up and Crutcher appears to lower his hands and place them on the vehicle. A man inside a police helicopter overhead says: "That looks like a bad dude, too. Probably on something."

The officers surround Crutcher and he suddenly drops to the ground. A voice heard on police radio says: "Shots fired!" The officers back away and Crutcher is left unattended on the street for about two minutes before an officer puts on medical gloves and begins to attend to him.

Earlier this year, a former volunteer deputy with the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office was sentenced to four years in prison after he was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Eric Harris.

Source: The Associated Press, Sept. 22, 2016

Tulsa officer Betty Shelby booked, released on bond


(CNN)Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby was booked at the local county jail early Friday and released shortly after on $50,000 bond.

Shelby has been charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher, 40, after his SUV broke down last week.

The criminal complaint against Shelby said her "fear resulted in her unreasonable actions which led her to shooting" Crutcher. She is accused of "unlawfully and unnecessarily" shooting him after he did not comply with her "lawful orders."

Source: CNN, Sept. 23, 2016

Tulsa Officer Betty Shelby opened fire in 'heat of passion'


Cartoon by Mike Luckovich, September 2016
Cartoon by Mike Luckovich, September 2016
An Oklahoma police officer has been charged with first-degree manslaughter "in the heat of passion" over the fatal shooting of a black motorist.

Tulsa officer Betty Shelby was booked into the county jail early on Friday and released minutes later on bail.

Prosecutors say she "reacted unreasonably" when she killed 40-year-old Terence Crutcher on 16 September.

The Tulsa County affidavit, filed with the charge against Officer Shelby, accuses her of "escalating the situation from a confrontation with Mr Crutcher".

She is charged with "becoming emotionally involved to the point that she over reacted", according to Thursday's court document.

Oklahoma law defines "heat of passion" in manslaughter cases as a strong emotion "that would naturally affect the ability to reason and render the mind incapable of cool reflection".

If convicted, she faces a minimum of four years in prison.

Officer Shelby posted a $50,000 (£38,000) bond and was released at 01:31 (05:31 GMT) on Friday, minutes after arriving for a booking photo, according to jail records.

The affidavit says she told homicide investigators "she was in fear for her life and thought Mr Crutcher was going to kill her".

"When she began following Mr Crutcher to the vehicle with her duty weapon drawn, she was yelling for him to stop and get on his knees repeatedly," it says.

The affidavit says Mr Crutcher was not responding to Officer Shelby's verbal commands and was walking away from her with his hands held up.

Prosecutors say Officer Shelby either killed the father-of-four impulsively in a fit of anger, or that she wrongly killed him as she sought to detain him.

Police acknowledge that Mr Crutcher did not have a gun on him or in his vehicle.

The affidavit also indicates that Officer Shelby "cleared the driver's side front" of Mr Crutcher's vehicle before she began interacting with him.

This would indicate she had checked whether there was a gun on the driver's side of the vehicle.

Her lawyer has said she opened fire when Mr Crutcher began to reach into his vehicle window.

But the Crutcher family lawyers say enhanced video from a police helicopter shows the vehicle's window was closed.

Source: BBC News, Sept. 23, 2016

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