"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, March 25, 2017

Arkansas Struggles to Find Enough People to Watch Executions

Lethal Injection Chamber From Witness Room, Cummins Unit, Grady, Arkansas,
Death Chamber From Witness Area, Cummins Unit, Grady, Arkansas
The state of Arkansas, which plans to execute eight inmates over a period of 10 days next month, is struggling to overcome a logistical problem to carry that out: There are not enough people who want to watch them die.

A state law requires that at least six people witness an execution to ensure that the state’s death penalty laws are properly followed. But so far, finding that many people has proved difficult, prompting the director at the Department of Correction to take the extraordinary step of personally asking for volunteers.

A department spokesman declined to say whom the director, Wendy Kelley, has approached for help, but she has extended invitations at least to members of the Little Rock Rotary Club, according to news reports. Ms. Kelley made the request, which the members initially thought was a joke, after delivering a keynote address on Tuesday.

“You seem to be a group that does not have felony backgrounds and are over 21,” Ms. Kelley told the members, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “So if you’re interested in serving in that area, in this serious role, just call my office.”

Bill Booker, a Rotary Club member, said some people in the audience briefly laughed at her remarks. “It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding,” he told KARK-TV, an NBC affiliate in Little Rock.

The spokesman for the Department of Correction, Solomon Graves, declined to describe the response Ms. Kelley had received to her requests. “We continue to be confident in our ability to carry out these sentences on the dates set by the governor,” Mr. Graves wrote in a text message on Friday.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas last month scheduled the executions of eight men — four black and four white, and all convicted of murder — from April 17 to 27. Two men will be executed on each of four execution dates within that time.

The dates were placed so closely together because of another logistical issue: Arkansas’s supply of midazolam, a sedative used in a three-drug injection method, has an expiration date at the end of April.

Capital punishment has been suspended in Arkansas since 2005 because of legal challenges and the difficulty in acquiring lethal-injection drugs. The state tried to restart its capital punishment system in 2015 and set dates for that year, but appeals forced the postponement of the executions.

The state law requires six to 12 “respectable citizens” to be present, and Ms. Kelley told the Rotary Club that the state also struggled in 2015 to find enough witnesses for the executions before they were suspended.

Source: The New York Times, Matthew Haag, March 25, 2017


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Friday, March 24, 2017

Hosni Mubarak Is Freed, to Dismay of Many in Egypt

Hosni Mubarak waved to supporters in 2015 from the Maadi Military Hospital in Cairo.
Hosni Mubarak waves to supporters in 2015 from a military hospital in Cairo.
Mubarak faced numerous charges, some of which carried the death penalty as a potential sentence.

CAIRO — Six years after baying crowds ousted him at the peak of the Arab Spring, former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was freed on Friday from the Cairo hospital where he had been detained, capping a long and largely fruitless effort to hold him accountable for human rights abuses and endemic corruption during his three decades of rule.

Mr. Mubarak, 88, was taken from the Maadi Military Hospital in southern Cairo, where he had been living under guard in a room with a view of the Nile, to his mansion in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

“He went home at 8:30 this morning,” said his longtime lawyer, Farid el-Deeb, who stewarded Mr. Mubarak through a tangled cluster of prosecutions since 2011, speaking by telephone. “I don’t have further details, but he is home and all is well now.”

His release begins a third act for a once unassailable Arab ruler and American ally who came to power in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat during a military parade. Thirty years later, Mr. Mubarak was ousted by the multitudes that thronged Tahrir Square for 18 days in the heady, hopeful early months of the Arab Spring.

At the time, Mr. Mubarak’s fall seemed to signal an earthquake of change across the Arab world, shattering the established political order, suggesting that its most powerful leaders were no longer immune from prosecution.

His release capped the crushing of those hopes, and the enduring disappointment of the Egyptians who risked their lives to topple him — even if many now say the challenge is far bigger than a single man.

“At this point, I really don’t care,” said Ahmed Harara, an activist who lost his sight after he was shot by police, first in the right eye and then in the left eye, during the demonstrations that shook Cairo in 2011. “I realized years ago that this is not just about Mubarak and his regime — it’s an entire system that has now resurrected itself.”

Weary, apathetic or fearful of openly speaking their mind, Egyptians have grown shy of confronting power. The years of trials of Mr. Mubarak, on a wide range of charges, ultimately yielded a single conviction on a minor corruption charge. Few expect that his release from detention — an unthinkable prospect just a few years ago — will result in any significant protests.

After becoming the first Arab leader to face trial in his own country, Mr. Mubarak was initially imprisoned at the notorious Tora prison complex, and was then held at the Maadi Military Hospital. He faced numerous charges, some of which carried the death penalty as a potential sentence.

Mr. Mubarak faced accusations of conspiring with the police to kill 239 protesters in Tahrir Square; of siphoning tens of millions of dollars from the state coffers; and of cutting off the country’s internet during the 2011 uprising, among other crimes. But what astonished Egyptians most was the sight of a man many had long feared, scowling in a courtroom cage.

Despite the severity of the charges, Mr. Mubarak remained defiant, insisting that it was he, not the Egyptian people, who had been wronged. His sons, Alaa and Gamal, joined him in the dock, accused of embezzling millions of dollars and overseeing a vast system of cronyism and corruption.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: The New York Times, Declan Walsh, March 24, 2017


Mubarak free while hundreds face death penalty - Reprieve comment


Commenting on reports that former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has been freed, Harriet McCulloch, a deputy director at human rights organisation Reprieve, said:

“As Hosni Mubarak goes free in Egypt, thousands of prisoners still languish in horrific prison conditions. Many face the death penalty on charges relating to protests, in mass trials that make a mockery of due process. Some were arrested as children – people like Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa, who has suffered terrible abuses in jail. The Sisi Government must now show that Egypt’s justice system is worthy of the name and release Ibrahim, and the hundreds like him.”

Several prisoners in Egypt are awaiting the death penalty despite having been children when they were arrested. They include Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa, who faces a death sentence in a trial alongside 493 other people, and Hatem Zaghloul, who was sentenced to death as a juvenile.

According to figures collated by Reprieve, nearly 2,000 people have received death sentences in mass trials, while nearly 900 people continue to face the death penalty. The figures are available on request.

Reprieve has discovered that the European Union is funding a €10m project that has seen a UK state-owned company provide Egypt’s justice ministry with support. The project has seen the UK company, NI-CO, provide plans and equipment for the building of courthouses – including a juvenile court in Cairo.

The UK Foreign Office’s 2016 'Human Rights Priority Country' update on Egypt said: “Egyptian courts continued to use the death penalty,” and highlighted “the mass trial of 494 individuals on charges related to a protest that took place in August 2013, which includes Irish national Ibrahim Halawa.”

Source. Reprieve, March 24, 2017

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Judicial leave application for Malaysians on Singapore death row dismissed

S. Prabagaran
S. Prabagaran
KUALA LUMPUR: The applications for leave for a judicial review by two Malaysians who are on death row in Singapore for drug trafficking have been dismissed by the High Court here.

S. Prabagaran, 30, and factory worker K. Datchinamurthy, 32, and their mothers filed the leave applications to compel the Government to refer Singapore to an international court claiming that they were denied fair trial.

Justice Hanipah Farikullah struck out the applications by Prabagaran and his mother V. Eswary, 54, and also Datchinamurthy and his mother A. Letchumi in chambers on Thursday.

Met by reporters later, counsel N. Surendran said Justice Hanipah dismissed their applications on grounds that the matter was related to foreign policy and the court has no jurisdiction to interfere.

Surendran said Prabagaran and Datchinamurthy and their mothers wanted to obtain an order for the Government to refer the island republic to International Court of Justice (ICJ) saying that they were denied fair trial.

He said their applications to refer the issue had been struck out by the court and the court made no order as to cost as the matter was public interest.

"We will definitely appeal as we think the decision is wrong.

"This is regarding the treatment of our citizens abroad. So our view is that the court could interfere and issue the necessary order," he said.

Prabagaran and Eswary are applying to the High Court in Malaysia to compel the Government here to take his case to ICJ.

They have named the Malaysian Government and its Foreign Affairs Minister as respondents.

Among others, they are seeking a declaration that the respondents are legally obliged to protect and give effect to Prabagaran’s right to a fair trial and life and liberty.

In her affidavit, Eswary said that her son was convicted in the Singapore High Court on July 22, 2014, for trafficking in 22.24g of diamorphine.

She said he was sentenced to death on Sept 22 that year under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Eswary said her son’s appeal to the Singapore Court of Appeal was dismissed on Oct 2, 2015.

She said Prabagaran then applied to the Court of Appeal to re-open his appeal and set aside his death sentence but this was dismissed on Dec 2 last year.

Eswary said she submitted a memorandum to the Malaysian High Commission in Singapore to refer the case to the ICJ on Dec 21 last year but there had been no response.

Meanwhile, Datchinamurthy and his mother Letchumi are seeking a declaration from the Malaysian Government and its Foreign Ministry that they are legally obliged to protect and give Datchinamurthy a right to a fair trial and/or right to life and liberty.

Source: The Star Online, March 24, 2017

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Pakistani among two drug dealers executed by Saudi Arabia

Medieval and barbaric: public beheading in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Medieval and barbaric: public beheading in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia executed two convicted drug traffickers on Thursday, bringing the number of prisoners killed in the kingdom to 20 so far this year.

The state-run SPA news agency named the two men as Saudi Arabian national Nasser Harshan and Pakistani national Namtallah Khasta Qul.

Both were put to death on Thursday after being convicted of drug trafficking in the kingdom.

SPA said Harshan was a repeat offender found guilty of dealing hashish. Qul was found guilty of dealing heroin.

More than 150 people were executed last year in Saudi Arabia, according to London-based rights group Amnesty International.

Saudi Arabia has a strict Islamic legal code (Sharia) under which murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape, homosexuality and apostasy are all punishable by death.

Amnesty reported 158 death penalties in the country for 2015, the highest annual rate in the past two decades.

Among those executed last year was Shia cleric Nimr al Nimr, a high-profile figure behind a string of Shia protests in 2011 demanding reform in the kingdom.

Source: Agence France-Presse, March 23, 2017

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Bahrain: Three get death penalty on terror charges

A Bahrain court sentenced three people to death and 14 others to lengthy prison terms on charges they established a terrorist cell with the intent of killing policemen.

In addition to the three people sentenced to death Thursday, Bahrain's criminal court sentenced four others to life in prison in the same case.

Eight more defendants in the case were handed 15-year sentences and two were sentenced to 10 years. 

The group was charged with forming a cell that made explosives used against security forces.

Bahrain was rocked by Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011 led by the country's Shiite majority. 

The Sunni monarchy crushed the uprising with the aid of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The tiny Gulf nation is home to the US Navy's 5th Fleet and an under-construction British naval base.

Source: Associated Press, March 24, 2017

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Nigeria: Cynthia Osokogu's Killers Get Death Penalty

Lagos, Nigeria
Lagos, Nigeria
A Lagos State High Court in Igbosere on Thursday ordered the hanging of Okwumo Nwabufo and Olisaeloka Ezike who were charged with the murder of a post-graduate student of Nasarawa State University, Ms. Cynthia Osokogu.

The judge said the convicts should be hung by the neck until they are dead.

Osokogu had been lured from Abuja to Lagos on July 21, 2012 by Nwabufo, whom she had met and befriended on Facebook.

Nwabufo had paid for the deceased's flight ticket from Abuja and lodged her in Room C1 at Cosmilla Hotel, Lake View Estate, Festac Town, Lagos, where he later, in collusion with Ezike, murdered her on July 22, 2012.

In the hotel room, the convicts had drugged Cynthia, who was 25 years old, by putting Rohypnol in her Ribena drink after which they chained her hands to her back and secured same with a padlock.

Rohypnol is legally prescribed for medical use in more than 50 foreign countries for the treatment of insomnia and as a pre-anesthetic. It may cause drowsiness, confusion, impaired motor skills, dizziness, disorientation, dis-inhibition, impaired judgment, and reduced levels of consciousness.

The deceased's legs were also chained while her mouth was stuffed with a handkerchief and part of the weave-on that she had on her head.

A tape was thereafter fastened across her mouth to secure the materials stuffed in her mouth.

The convicts then made away with her two Blackberry mobile phones, jewelry, a sex toy vibrator, her international passport, and a pair of shoes.

After the murder and their apprehension, the Lagos State Government on February 8, 2013 arraigned Nwabufo and Ezike on six counts of conspiracy, murder and stealing, contrary to Sections 231, 221 and 409 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011.

Arraigned along with them was a pharmacist, Orji Osita, who was accused of dispensing Rohypnol to the convicts without a doctor's prescription.

Also arraigned was the second defendant's brother, Nonso, who was accused of being in possession of the two stolen Blackberry mobile phones.

In a judgment delivered on Thursday, almost five years after the crime, Justice Olabisi Akinlade convicted Nwabufo and Ezike as charged by the state.

She, however, discharged and acquitted Osita and Nonso on the grounds that the state did not prove the charges of recklessness and negligence pressed against them beyond reasonable doubt.

In convicting Nwabufo and Ezike, the judge relied on the oral evidence of 10 witnesses and the 17 exhibits tendered by the prosecution, as well as the confessional statements of the accused persons.

Among the witnesses were two receptionists at Cosmilla Hotel, who booked the convicts into the hotel on the night of July 21, 2012. Also called was the hotel manager and a pathologist, who gave the cause of Cynthia's death as asphyxia, and the policemen who investigated the case.

In her judgment, Justice Akinlade held that though there was no direct eyewitness, the circumstantial evidence placed before the court by the state were "cogent, complete, unequivocal, compelling and leads to the irresistible conclusion that the accused persons and no one else committed the crime".

"The first and second defendants were positioned at the scene of the crime at Cosmilla Hotel. The circumstantial evidence against the first and second defendants is compelling and cogent and leaves no doubt in anyone's mind that they killed the deceased.

"It is on record that the first and second defendants made a confessional statement describing how they caused the death of the deceased," the judge held.

After pronouncing them guilty, she sentenced them to 14 years imprisonment for conspiracy, three years imprisonment for stealing, and imposed the death sentence by hanging for the offence of murder.

Before handing down the sentences, the judge asked the defendants if they had anything to say.

Counsel for the convicts, Mr. Victor Opara and S. Eze, urged the judge to temper justice with mercy.

Opara said Nwabufo was a first-time offender, adding that the convict was a young man who had "tremendous energy to do something worthwhile with his life".

"I urge this court to grant him a reformative sentence," Opara pleaded.

But in her response, Justice Akinlade said: "I have listened passionately to the allocutus of counsel. Section 221 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State says clearly that a person who commits murder shall be sentenced to death.

"In judgment, justice is required not only for the victim, but also for the society.

"In their attempt to steal Cynthia's property, they stole her life. They were not even remorseful.

"But for the efforts of the police and the Ministry of Justice, we wouldn't have been able to do anything. This court cannot change the law."

Concluding her ruling, the judge said: "I pronounce the judgment of this court upon you, Okwumo Nwabufo and Olisaeloka Ezike, that both of you be hung by the neck, until you are dead. May God have mercy on you."

Source: AllAfrica, Davidson Iriekpen, March 24, 2017

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Pakistan: Three accused of blasphemy handed over to FIA on physical remand

Blasphemy is a criminal offense in Pakistan and can carry the death penalty.

ISLAMABAD (Dunya News) – An anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Friday handed over three accused to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on a seven-day remand for allegedly posting blasphemous contents on social media websites.

ATC Judge Kausar Abbas Zaidi has directed the authorities to present complete investigation report in the next hearing.

During the case hearing, FIA officials informed court that computers confiscated from the accused have been sent for forensic report.

Blasphemy is a criminal offense in Pakistan and can carry the death penalty.


He instructed foreign ministry to contact international foreign social media firms and demand the blocking of blasphemous posts.

He did not mention any company by name, but social networks such as Facebook Inc, its Instagram unit and rival Twitter Inc are popular in Pakistan.

Source: dunyanews.tv, March 24, 2017

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The Life and Death Issue Ignored at Judge Gorsuch’s Confirmation Hearings

AS DONALD TRUMP stood in the East Room of the White House on January 31, congratulating himself for delivering “the very best judge in the country” for the U.S. Supreme Court, a man in Missouri was lying on a gurney, with lethal injection drugs entering his veins. The man, 37-year-old Mark Christeson, was declared dead minutes later, at 7:05 Central time. In Washington, Trump continued to speak, with Judge Neil Gorsuch and his wife now standing behind him. With much of the country tuned in to watch Trump’s much-hyped announcement that night, the execution in Missouri flew under the radar.

Convicted of a brutal rape and triple murder committed in 1998, Christeson was not someone likely to inspire widespread concern on any given evening. Yet his execution was a reminder of the kinds of cases Gorsuch would review if confirmed to the Supreme Court. Christeson — a lifelong victim of sexual abuse whose IQ hovered as low as 74 — was abandoned by his own post-conviction attorneys, who missed a crucial deadline to file his federal habeas appeal in 2005. When outside lawyers tried to step in to correct their gross neglect, courts blocked them at every turn. As Christeson’s execution approached, a group of former state and federal judges raised alarm about his case, filing multiple amicus briefs to his petitions before the Supreme Court. They warned that Christeson had received no “meaningful federal review” of his sentence. “When the stakes are this high, such failures unacceptably threaten the legitimacy of the judicial process,” the judges wrote. Christeson won a last-minute stay of execution in 2014, with the justices remanding his case back to the lower court. But the reprieve was fleeting. As with many on death row who turn to the Supreme Court for relief, Christeson was ultimately executed, the deep flaws with his case barely addressed, let alone corrected.

Over two long days before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, Gorsuch was never asked his views on the death penalty. More time was spent discussing fly-fishing and rodeos, along with more serious (if redundant) questioning on life and death issues like abortion and euthanasia. This was not particularly surprising; confirmation hearings are mostly political theater — and Gorsuch’s record on criminal justice has stirred little controversy compared to other hot-button issues. Many lawyers and experts expressed a measure of relief when Trump announced Gorsuch as his Supreme Court pick. “I don’t think he’s a fire-breathing, law and order, pro-prosecutor guy,” said Tejinder Singh, the appellate and Supreme Court litigator who won a stay of execution for Mark Christeson in 2014.

Yet Gorsuch seeks to join the Supreme Court at a time when the death penalty is in a state of chaos and decline. The issue has sparked some of the most contentious public moments on the bench in recent memory, and with good reason. For all the layers of legal precedent enveloping capital punishment, it is a tradition that has become increasingly hard to uphold, at least in any intellectually honest way. The Supreme Court’s most recent ruling on lethal injection, Glossip v. Gross, was simply embarrassing: After a heated oral argument in which the Oklahoma brazenly misled the justices, the 5-4 decision upheld an execution protocol that is the sloppiest of inventions, rooted in junk science, and peddled by a state notorious at the time for having recently carried out a dramatically botched execution. Glossip’s legacy has been short but grim. Oklahoma’s incompetence and deceit has been further exposed. Botched executions have continued apace. More surreal, the ruling has put people challenging their upcoming execution by lethal injection in the perverse position of having to propose better ways for the state to kill them, from the firing squad to the gas chamber. Add to this the fact that the named plaintiff in the case, Richard Glossip, is almost certainly an innocent man, and the result is a perfectly hideous portrait of our modern-day death penalty system. It was Glossip that inspired Justice Stephen Breyer’s extraordinary dissent listing the myriad reasons the death penalty itself is constitutionally intolerable. More recently, Justice Sonia Sotomayor has questioned whether lethal injection is “our most cruel experiment yet.”

Glossip came up just once during Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, in a brief question from Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Does Glossip deserve the respect of precedent, he asked? “It does,” Gorsuch said, and that was it. That no senator thought to probe any further was a missed opportunity. In his 10 years serving on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch presided over cases that embodied the pitfalls of capital punishment, and even helped pave the way for Glossip. A recent report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund highlighted two particular areas of concern. One is his complicity in upholding Oklahoma’s disastrous lethal injection regimen, which became the law of the land in Glossip. And the other is complicity in a more systemic problem throughout the criminal justice system: a pattern of favoring finality over fairness. Gorsuch, the LDF warns, has proven all too willing to apply the most rigid barriers for those seeking to challenge unfair sentences, including in capital cases. “Winning federal habeas relief from any judge is a challenge,” the LDF report notes. “Winning federal habeas relief from Judge Gorsuch is a near impossibility.”


Source: The Intercept, Liliana Segura, March 23, 2017

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Malaysia to scrap mandatory death sentence for drug offences

Government agrees to give courts discretion in imposing death penalty for narcotics offences.

The Malaysian government has agreed to do away with the mandatory death sentence imposed for drug offences.

Azalina Othman Said, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, told Parliament that the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 will be amended to allow judges to exercise discretion when deciding on the appropriate sentence.

The decision was taken by the Cabinet after considering a report on the review of the act and the death penalty. The Attorney-General, Mohamed Apandi Ali, had also presented a case in favour of granting judges discretionary powers to the cabinet on 1 March.

Malay Mail said that Apandi, a former judge himself, had previously stated that he had sought discretionary powers for judges, especially in marginal cases where offenders could instead be handed jail sentences. This was aimed at cases where convicts were coerced or duped into becoming drug mules.

"The cabinet agreed to include additional provisions to empower the court when sentencing other than the mandatory death penalty under certain situations in drug trafficking under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act," she told Parliament on Thursday (23 March).

Malaysia is still maintaining the death penalty for other serious offences like murder and firearms offences.

"Other countries, including the United States, China, India, Singapore and Thailand still maintain the death penalty as the punishment for serious offences," she said.

The solicitor-general has been directed to speed up the draft amendments to be tabled for approval in Parliament, Azalina added.

When asked whether the government would place a moratorium on pending drug cases until the act was amended, the minister said the issue was still at an early stage and that there were still several processes to go through.

According to the Prison Department statistics, there are almost 800 prisoners on death row for drug trafficking offences under Section 39 (B) of the Act.

Source: IBT, Rachel Middleton, March 24, 2017

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cruel & Unusual? The Death Penalty’s Trials in Mississippi

Mississippi's death chamber
Mississippi's death chamber
Mississippi's lethal-injection litigation nightmares are coming mainly from the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans where attorney James Craig, who represents several Mississippi inmates on death row, works. In September 2015, three inmates on death row, including Richard Jordan, filed a federal complaint against the state for violating their rights to due process and "to be free from cruel and unusual punishment" under the U.S. Constitution.

Lawyers amended this complaint just months after the Mississippi Department of Corrections changed its lethal-injection protocol that July to substitute a drug called midazolam as one of the three drugs in the series that creates the lethal injection. Midazolam, Craig and other attorneys allege, could create a substantial risk of harm to those on death row.

The State denies that midazolam creates a risk and but does admit in court documents that "MDOC intends to use midazolam as the first drug in Plaintiffs' executions and that midazolam is classified as a benzodiazepine."

The legal challenge against midazolam relies on the question of whether or not it is really "a similar drug" to the increasingly hard-to-get barbiturates, which Mississippi law currently allows. Midazolam is a sedative considered a "benzodiazepine" drug class—not a "barbiturate." Lawyers and advocates against the death penalty—and against the use of midazolam—argue that midazolam is not a true anesthetic, therefore not guaranteeing that it will render a person unconscious, which is its purpose.

Oklahoma state employees used midazolam in the botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett in 2014; the procedure took 40 minutes before he finally died of a heart attack.

Arizona and Ohio officials also used midazolam in two executions where prisoners "showed visible signs of pain before dying," as Newsweek reported.

The U.S. Supreme Court did not deem midazolam unconstitutional in a case from Oklahoma, leaving the potential for future litigation about the drug open, since its ruling only applied to the evidence that Oklahoma inmates presented. In its 2015 Glossip v. Gross ruling, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the prisoners failed to identify known and available alternative methods of executions that "entail(s) a lesser risk of pain." The 5-4 decision on June 29, 2015, came down just a month before MDOC announced that it would change its death-penalty protocols to include midazolam.

If House Bill 638 becomes law, this legal question will be moot—because the new wording broadens the language, allowing the state to legally use midazolam. Attorney General Hood sent a statement to the Jackson Free Press about the current bill to change the state's death-penalty law.

"Because we cannot obtain the first drug in the three-drug protocol and now are experiencing difficulty obtaining the second and third drugs, we have requested a change in the language on the types of drugs to be utilized, as well as alternative means," the statement said.

Advocates oppose the use of midazolam as well as the broad language in the bill, however. The ACLU of Mississippi, which opposes the death penalty generally, also opposes House Bill 638. Blake Feldman, one of the advocacy coordinators there, said midazolam is to blame for several botched executions—and that it is disturbing that state officials would want to use a drug that has been the root of problems elsewhere.

"We can't ignore that what this bill does is it very seriously increases the chances of a botched execution. ... The death penalty is a gross injustice, but a botched execution by the State paid for with tax dollars in our name is as bad as you can get," Feldman told the Jackson Free Press.

While Richard Jordan, Ricky Chase and Thomas Loden's midazolam complaint will be moot if House Bill 638 passes, the three death-row inmates will continue to challenge the use of a three-drug lethal-injection procedure as unconstitutional.

That is, the state's legal problems over the death penalty are far from over.

The 'Alternative Methods'

Mississippi would be the second state in the country to enact a method called nitrogen hypoxia if House Bill 638 becomes law. Rep. Foster, aware that the lethal-injection litigation is stalling the death penalty, added several other measures the State could carry out in lieu of the lethal injection. Originally his bill added nitrogen hypoxia (lethal gas), firing squad and electrocution in that order as alternatives to lethal injection—if that method is deemed unconstitutional.

Most states with the death penalty use lethal injection to execute people. Oklahoma, after all its negative lethal-injection headlines seems to be moving forward with a new method: nitrogen gas.

In 2015, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill to allow the state to use the method to execute its prisoners on death row, and last September, the attorney general there suggested that the state needs to develop a protocol for the new method, the Tulsa World reported.

The only hang-up for nitrogen hypoxia is that there are no reports of it ever being used to legally execute a human, the Associated Press reported in 2015. In May 2016, a grand jury in Oklahoma issued a report about what went wrong in another botched lethal-injection execution, and in that report, suggested that nitrogen gas could be a better alternative for the state to use, The Oklahoman reported.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: Jackson Free Press, Arielle Dreher, March 22, 2017

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Bangladesh: Mufti Hannan to seek presidential clemency

Mufti Hannan
Mufti Abdul Hannan
Convicted of killing in terrorist attack, the chief of Bangladeshi chapter of Harkat ul Islam, Abdul Hannan, will seek presidential clemency after the apex court dismissed his plea to review death sentence, prison authorities said on Wednesday.

Hannan, also known as Mufti Hannan, expressed his willingness to seek the pardon after officials read out the death warrant to the convict after the Supreme Court rejected his review against the conviction.

"Hannan told us that he would file mercy petition to the president," senior jail superintendent Mizanur Rahman said as the authorities were preparing for execution of the terrorist.

Inspector General of Prisons Brigadier General Syed Iftekhar Uddin told reporters that all preparations were taken to hang the militants.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday released full verdict that upheld its order confirming his death penalty for the 2004 grenade attack on then British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury.

Attorney General Mahbube Alam said that the execution of the convicted militant was a matter of time as the Supreme Court dismissed the review petitions of 3 death-row convicts, including Hannan.

A court in Sylhet on December 23, 2008 sentenced Hannan and 2 of his associates - Bipul and Ripon - to death for carrying out grenade attack on the British envoy at a shrine in the north-eastern city.

Choudhury escaped, but 3 people, including 2 security officials were killed in the attack on May 21, 2004.

2 other members of the banned militant group - Muhibullah alias Muhibur Rahman alias Ovi and Mufti Main Uddin alias Abu Zandal - were sentenced to life in prison.

The High Court confirmed the death penalty on February 11, 2016. The convicts however filed appeal with the Appellate Division, which rejected the militant's plea upholding the punishment on December 7, 2016.

Their reviews were dismissed on February 23 this year.

Source: newsnextbd.com, March 23, 2017

Related content: Bangladesh: Mufti Hannan’s death penalty upheld, March 19, 2017

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Texas: List of available death-qualified attorneys needs to be broadened

'The Walls' Unit, Huntsville, Texas
'The Walls' Unit, Huntsville, Texas
The shrinking list of lawyers qualified to handle the growing list of capital murder defendants in Bexar County does not bode well for the criminal justice system.

With 68 capital murder cases pending and only 11 lawyers living in the county who meet the minimum requirement to represent indigent defendants who might end up on death row, the likelihood is high that many of those cases will not be resolved soon.

Most defendants charged with capital murder are at the mercy of the criminal justice system for their legal defense. They generally lack the financial means to hire legal counsel or post bond.

That means those accused of capital murder in Bexar County will spend a long time in the local lockup awaiting their day in court. It also means a long wait for resolution by the families of the victims in those cases.

Usually, two lawyers are assigned to each capital murder case. Texas law requires those assigned as lead lawyers in capital murder cases to have spent five years doing criminal law work; have experience challenging mental health or forensics experts in court; and be skilled at presenting mitigating evidence to a jury.

The rules are well intentioned given the growing number of death row inmates across the country who have been exonerated. In Texas alone, 12 people have been released from death row since 1973.

The problems with the strict appointment guidelines is that they do not allow the assignment of former prosecutors who may have tried capital murder cases or former judges who may have presided over such cases.

Lawyers on the list of candidates qualified to handle capital murder cases in Bexar County are vetted by a local selection committee, but the group of veteran lawyers and jurists serving on it are strictly bound by the state regulations.

Attempts by the Bexar County judiciary to broaden the rules to allow former prosecutors and judges to qualify for the appointments have met with stiff opposition at the state level.

The issue needs to be addressed.

Burdening a small group with the defense of the most serious of felonies is a disservice to the lawyers and their clients.

The cases can be emotionally and physically grueling on the defense team. The sheer number of cases each lawyer is handling makes a strong case for an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

The shortage of lawyers to handle capital murder defense work is not unique to Bexar County. Express-News Staff Writer Bruce Selcraig reports that other jurisdictions are experiencing the same situation.

Establishing a public defenders office that would include lawyers who are experienced in capital murder defense is an expensive proposition. The same can be said for hiring defense lawyers from out of town to tackle the caseload.

The fee paid to court-appointed lawyers in capital murder cases is only $150 an hour for actual trial work, but the costs add up quickly for taxpayers footing the bill. If lawyers are brought in from out of town, there is the added cost for travel, lodging and meals.

The number of death sentences in Texas has been steadily declining since life without parole became a sentencing option. It has gone from 48 people sent to death row in 1999 to only four in 2016.

Lack of eligible lawyers to handle capital murders defense work could bring those numbers down further.

If that was the intent behind the strict rules on the criminal defense appointments, then let’s be upfront about it and start a serious discussion on the future of the death penalty in Texas.

If not, the stressful workload piled on the few attorneys qualified to represent capital murder defendants needs to addressed.

It is simply unacceptable that defendants without financial means have limited access to defense lawyers in capital cases. The list of available attorneys needs to be broadened.

Source: mySA, Express-News Editorial Board, March 21, 2017

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USA: Can Mentally Ill Americans Be Executed? It's Complicated

Several states are considering a ban on capital punishment for people with mental illnesses or brain injuries.

There is a difference between mental illness - which encompasses a wide range of diagnoses, including serious ones like schizophrenia and paranoia - and insanity, a condition that is much more narrowly defined and more difficult to prove.

Insanity can shield you from being put on trial, found guilty or executed. But serious mental illness can't.

Dylann S. Roof, who killed 9 African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, has been sentenced to death despite some evidence of mental illness.

Here is a primer on mental illness and the death penalty.

Yes. The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to shield mentally ill people from the death penalty, saying only that people who are insane cannot be executed.

But "the insane" is narrowly defined as "those who are unaware of the punishment they are about to suffer and why they are to suffer it" - a definition that excludes most people with severe mental illness.

Georgia executed Andrew H. Brannan, a decorated Vietnam War veteran with post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder, in 2015. Florida executed John E. Ferguson, who believed that he was the "Prince of God" and that his death would save the world, in 2013.

7 states are likely to introduce legislation this year that would bar execution for people with severe mental illness, according to the 8th Amendment Project, an anti-death-penalty group. The bills do not agree on a common definition of severe mental illness, but it would typically include schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

If enough states exempt people with such illnesses, the Supreme Court may decide that national standards of decency have evolved and follow suit.

Critics of executing people with serious mental illnesses, including the American Bar Association, say these people are more vulnerable to wrongful convictions. Among other things, they may be more likely to make false confessions.

Are other categories of people exempt from execution?

Yes. The Supreme Court has held in recent years that juveniles and people with intellectual disabilities should not be put to death because they are less culpable.

But the limits can seem arbitrary: Someone who is a day under 18 when they commit a crime cannot be executed, but someone who is a day past their 18th birthday can. And because intellectual disability is legally defined as a disorder that manifests before age 18, people with brain damage do not necessarily qualify. Someone who suffered a brain injury as an adult would not be exempt from capital punishment even if their cognitive function is similar to that of an intellectually disabled person.

Insane is different from mentally ill. The legal definition of insanity centers on the inability to comprehend the nature of one's actions, a lack of understanding of right and wrong, or, in some states, a lack of capacity to control one's actions.

The insanity defense is rarely used and even more rarely successful. For example, Andrea Yates was deeply psychotic when she drowned her 5 children in 2001, believing she was saving them from damnation. But that did not mean she did not understand the consequences of her actions or know they were wrong. At her first trial, the jury rejected her insanity defense.

And when it comes to execution, it is the person's mental state at the time of punishment that matters. No one argued that Alvin Bernard Ford was insane when he killed a police officer in 1974. But he later became obsessed with the Ku Klux Klan and came to believe that family members and prominent politicians were the victims of a prolonged hostage crisis. His case, Ford v. Wainwright, reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1986 that an insane person could not be executed.

3 years later, though, a federal judge ruled that Mr. Ford was not insane. He died on death row, of natural causes, in 1991.

Sanity can fluctuate. Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, argued that one of his former clients, Gary M. Heidnik, was incompetent to be executed (that is, insane) because he believed that the death warrant against him was fake. During a hearing, it was explained that the warrant had been signed by the real governor of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Heidnik accepted that it was legitimate.

"While on the stand, he became competent to be executed," Mr. Dunham recalled. "He was executed despite the fact that he was stone-cold nuts."

The Supreme Court and many state laws say that mental illness - along with things like childhood abuse, trauma and the lack of a previous criminal record - can be presented as a mitigating factor for jurors to consider during the punishment phase of capital cases. Mitigating factors weigh against the death penalty; aggravating factors, like torturing a victim, weigh in favor of death.

A jury declined to give a death sentence to James E. Holmes, who killed 12 people at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in 2012, because of his long-term mental illness. There is, however, a risk that jurors will view severe mental illness as inherently dangerous.

Dylann S. Roof represented himself during the sentencing phase of his trial and refused to allow the jury to hear evidence of mental illness. He wrote in a journal that psychology was "a Jewish invention." Court papers unsealed after the trial indicated that he had "social anxiety disorder, a mixed substance abuse disorder, a schizoid personality disorder, depression by history and a possible autistic spectrum disorder."

The judge in Mr. Roof's case had to determine not whether he was mentally ill, but whether he was competent to stand trial - in other words, to understand the proceedings and assist in his defense - and able to represent himself.

Mr. Dunham argues that if Mr. Roof had the delusional belief that mental illness did not exist, it was a mistake to deem him capable of making rational decisions on whether to present evidence of his condition, "because his views about mental illness were themselves a product of his mental illness."

Source: New York Times, March 22, 2017

⏩ Related content: Severe mental illness and the death penalty, March 21, 2017

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