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Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

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In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Iran: Man Hanged for Drug Offenses

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A man who was sentenced to death for drug charges, hanged on Monday morning at Dastgerd Prison in the Iranian city of Isfahan. 
According to IHR sources, prisoner Abdollah Ghanbarzehi, 29, was executed on April 15, 2019. He was from the Iranian southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan. 
A well-informed source told IHR, “Ablollah was arrested with 9 kilograms of drugs in the city of Isfahan.” Baluchi Activists’ Campaign published Abdollah’s photos (See below) and mentioned that he was arrested on September 28, 2017. 
The new amendment to Iranian Anti-drug law which was enforced on November 14, 2017, includes a mechanism to limit the use of the death penalty and reduce the sentences of those sentenced to death or life imprisonment. The law was retroactive and could potentially save many prisoners’ lives after their case-review process. 
The amendment specifies that the death penalty should be limited to those who have been carrying or have used weapons while traffickin…

Texas: John King Set to Die for James Byrd Lynching

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Last-minute appeal seeks new trial as King maintains his innocence
Only 2 of 2019's 5 (so far) scheduled executions have taken place; the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Mark Robertson a stay on April 8 – 3 days before his execution date – "pending further order." 
Robertson's last appeal alleges his trial counsel purposely excluded black jurors for fear they wouldn't be sympathetic to the white defendant. 
And John King, sentenced to die for the infamous murder of James Byrd Jr.* in 1998, now hopes to be the next inmate spared – if only temporarily – by the courts.
Byrd's modern-day lynching led to Texas' James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, signed into law in 2001 by Gov. Rick Perry, which controversially (at the time) included not only race but "sexual preference" in its protected classes. 
And in 2009, Barack Obama signed the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
King's friend Lawrence Brewer was execu…

Texas: Rare estate sale find shows how capital punishment was once carried out in Harris County

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A striking piece of Houston history sold earlier this week on eBay, a reminder of how criminal justice was once meted out in Harris County.
The medal, about the size of a quarter, depicts a hooded, suit-wearing figure hanging from the gallows. Inscribed on the front is the name Henry McGee, his ethnicity is described as "colored" and the date of his execution is provided: Aug. 12, 1892.
Also inscribed is the name of McGee's victim, Houston police officer James Fenn. We then learn the time it took for McGee to die on the gallows, 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
The back of the medal reads, "Presented to R.E. Sutton by J. Warfel." A city directory from that period lists a Robert E. Sutton as deputy sheriff and assistant jailer. There are 2 Warfels listed in the directory, one of whom was a watchmaker.
The medal, which came from a Houston-area estate sale, baffled some Texas historians.
"I never came across anything like that," said Mitchel P. Roth, professor of…

Iran: Four hanged for murder

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Iran Human Rights (IHR); April 19, 2019: Three prisoners were executed for murder at Iranian western city of Ilam’s Central Prison yesterday.
According to Rokna, on the morning of Thursday, April 18, three prisoners were executed at Ilam prison. 
All were sentenced to death on murder charges. 
More details have not been revealed by Iranian authorities or media so far.
Prisoner hanged at Zanjan prison
According to IHR sources, Hedayat Mehrabi, 37, was hanged for murder on the morning of April 19. 
A well-informed source told IHR, “Hedayat was arrested around five years ago in the city of Kermanshah for murder a person. 
He was sentenced to death and the verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court around two years ago.”
The aforementioned execution has not been reported by Iranian media so far.
According to the Iran Human Rights statistic department, the majority of executions in 2017 and 2018 in Iran was on murder charges. 
At least 188 prisoners were executed for murder charges in 2018. 

Sister Helen Prejean: Holy Week should inspire Louisiana residents to end the death penalty

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In the early morning of April 5, 1984, a prison vehicle brought me from the execution chamber to the front gates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where I promptly bent over in the dark and threw up. I had just witnessed a man electrocuted to death at the hands of my state. His killing was a legal act, declared so by the U.S. Supreme Court. About 80 percent of Louisiana citizens supported it, and few church leaders publicly protested it.
I was soon to learn it was not that our citizens' inherent vengefulness that led to popular support for the death penalty. The truth was that in the late 1970s, violent crime was on the rise, fear was palpable, and “tough on crime” politicians misled us into thinking that some criminals were so evil that only death was a fitting punishment. And surely, with the “best system of justice in the world,” the chances of condemning an innocent seemed negligible.
Today, with 30-plus years of state executions and a whole lot of mistakes under…

Nevada Democrats fail to move forward on death penalty ban

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Opponents of capital punishment began the Nevada legislative session bolstered by the governor's general disapproval of the death penalty.
But two bills that would have banned the punishment didn't receive hearings and failed last week due to a legislative deadline.
Political observers say Democratic leadership wanted to avoid a divisive debate this session over the death penalty - an issue they say moderate Democrats have a hard time fully embracing in a state with a history of law-and-order politics.
"There's this symbolic belief that the death penalty gives us justice," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor the University of Nevada, Reno.
Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, said Democratic leadership is trying to steer away from certain issues that could serve as a rallying cry for Republicans in the 2020 election.
Democrats don't want to move too far to the left and risk losi…

Washington state: Abolition of death penalty won’t happen in 2019

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House Democrats cite other priorities
Olympia -- A bill to eliminate the death penalty from Washington’s statutes won’t reach the governor’s desk to become law this year.
The Senate passed a death-penalty abolition bill on Feb. 15 by a 28-19 margin, but the House did not vote on it by Wednesday’s deadline for non-budget bills to pass from the opposite chamber.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who requested that legislators pass the bill, said Thursday the House had enough votes for approval.
“Simply put, the votes are there. We provided House leadership with a bipartisan list of 54 members committed to voting to abolish Washington’s death penalty. There’s no other way to put it — I’m extremely disappointed,” said Ferguson, a Democrat who is exploring a possible run for governor if Jay Inslee does not seek a third term.
Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said the bill did have “considerable support” in the Democratic-controlled chamber,” but she noted that the “death penalty is illegal at…

Georgia: Woman representing self in death penalty case barely speaks during trial

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Tiffany Moss is accused of starving her stepdaughter and burning her body.
"No questions, your honor."
Tiffany Moss uttered that phrase twelve times today as she represented herself in a death penalty case. She’s the Gwinnett woman accused of starving her 10-year-old stepdaughter, Emani Moss, and burning her body and throwing it in a dumpster in 2013.
For a woman acting as her own lawyer, Moss has had remarkably little to say during the first 3 days of her trial.
Moss, wearing dark slacks and a navy shirt with a yellow pattern, barely spoke during the morning proceedings. When the judge read the list of charges she's facing to prospective jurors, Moss occasionally looked at jurors but showed no emotion. She declined to question any jurors but she did, for the first time since this trial began, confer with her standby attorneys.

RELATEDGeorgia: Stepmom accused of starving daughter will represent herself in death-penalty case
24 jurors have been qualified and moved on to…

Iraqi court sentences IS member to death for involvement in sniper attacks

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An Iraqi court has sentenced an Islamic State militant to death by hanging over his involvement in several sniper attacks in the country.
The Central Criminal Court in Baghdad handed the Islamic State militant the death penalty for shooting dead several security forces and members of the Popular Mobilization Forces in sniper attacks in Nineveh province, Baghdad Today website quoted the Supreme Judicial Council media center as saying in a press statement on Thursday.
The Islamic State “terrorist admitted belonging to the Islamic State group and standing behind the killing of several security personnel,” said the statement.
Iraqi courts have sentenced many of Islamic State members, including a big number of female members, to death over joining the militant group.
The exact number of detained militants is still unknown, however, it’s estimated to be at thousands. 
It’s also unclear how many members are likely to face death sentences.
Iraqi authorities regularly announce the capture of …

Torture, threats and trumped-up charges: The story of an Egyptian on death row

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The first time Nusela Harun saw her son after his arrest, he had cigarette burns all down his neck in geometric patterns.
“It was as if they enjoyed drawing on his neck," she told Middle East Eye.
The nerves in his hands were damaged because of how he was hanged from his wrists during interrogations - Nusela Harun, mother of Ahmed el-Shal
Harun, a lawyer, has already lost one son. Her eldest, Khaled el-Shal, was killed by Egyptian security forces along with nearly 1,000 others during the Rabaa massacre in 2013.
Now she’s worried she’s about to lose another son, Ahmed el-Shal, who has been condemned to death on the back of an apparently false confession extracted from the 30-year-old through torture.
He would join the 15 young men executed in Egypt since the beginning of 2019, convicted in trials the United Nations has poured doubts on and in a process described by one rights group as a “human rights crisis”.
Alongside Shal, nearly 50 others face imminent execution.
Ahmed disappe…