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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Texas: Death Penalty Reform Bill Gets Watered Down to ‘Nothing’ Before Passing Senate

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After passing the House, HB 1139, meant to reform how Texas decides whether a defendant is too intellectually disabled to execute, was significantly softened in Senate committee.
A House bill meant to reform Texas’ death penalty procedures for intellectually disabled defendants was amended in the Senate to the point that criminal justice reformers are now calling it “worthless.” With the end of the legislative session quickly approaching, the changes will likely derail one of the biggest priorities for capital punishment reformers this year.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that it’s unconstitutional to sentence intellectually disabled people to death, but it left states to create their own criteria for determining whether a defendant is intellectually disabled. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2004 adopted the “Briseno factors” to determine intellectual disability, though they are based on outdated medical standards and stereotypes, including a reference to the character Le…

Philippines: mid-terms clear way for Duterte to reinstate death penalty

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Allies of strongman president score victories in elections, leaving the Senate at his mercy
Rodrigo Duterte has won a sweeping victory in mid-term elections in the Philippines, further consolidating his power and popularity and paving the way for the introduction of controversial reforms.
The president was elected on a populist wave in 2016 and the results demonstrate how little his popularity has dipped over the past three years, despite him achieving international notoriety over a war on drugs that has resulted in thousands of deaths, and his misogynist and anti-religious public remarks.
Up for grabs in the mid-terms were 12 Senate seats, nearly 300 seats in the House of Representatives and thousands of local posts, including mayor and governor positions. Pro-Duterte candidates scored victories in significant numbers.
Most significantly, nine pro-Duterte candidates won Senate seats, meaning the 24-seat upper house is now firmly under his grip. The liberal opposition did not win a si…

Malaysian drug mule due to hang in Singapore gets last-minute stay of execution

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SINGAPORE — The Court of Appeal on Thursday (May 23) granted an eleventh-hour appeal by Pannir Selvam Pranthaman for a stay of his execution. He was supposed to be hanged in Changi Prison on Friday morning.
The 31-year-old Malaysian was convicted in 2017 of trafficking 51.84g of diamorphine, also known as heroin, into Singapore through Woodlands Checkpoint in September 2014.
Pannir, who was not represented by lawyers before Thursday, had filed the application for the stay of execution himself on Wednesday.
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who heard the case with Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Steven Chong, noted that Pannir was informed of his execution date and President Halimah Yacob’s rejection of his clemency petition only a week in advance.
This left him with little time to get legal advice on his options, and he should be given the chance to do so, they said.
Pannir’s lawyers, Mr Too Xing Ji and Mr Lee Ji En from BMS Law LLC, stepped in only a few hours before the Court of A…

China: Man sentenced to death for murder of school children

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SHANGHAI, May 23 (Xinhua) -- A man who stabbed and killed two school children outside a primary school in Shanghai last year was sentenced to death on Thursday, according to the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court.
The court handed down the death penalty to Huang Yichuan for intentional homicide. 
Huang was also deprived of political rights for life.
On June 28, 2018, Huang stabbed three children and a parent with a knife outside Shanghai World Foreign Language Primary School. 
Two students died, while another and a parent were slightly injured.
Believing that he had been insulted and hurt by others, Huang got the idea of killing innocent children to vent his anger, according to the court.
An investigation has shown that the killing had been well planned by Huang.
Although he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the court said the diagnosis cannot exempt him from punishment because the mental illness had no significant influence on his ability to identify and control his beha…

Strict secrecy for suppliers of execution drugs passes Louisiana House; bid to restart death penalty now heads to Senate

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A bid to shield potential suppliers of execution drugs to Louisiana prisons behind a wall of secrecy easily cleared the Louisiana House despite objections from some death penalty opponents.
Drug manufacturers, pharmacists, suppliers and other involved in providing the state lethal drugs for executions would be granted strict confidentiality under House Bill 258, which would exempt contracts and other documents that might identify those companies or people from public scrutiny or disclosure in court proceedings.
State representatives voted in favor of the measure, 68-31. It now moves to the state Senate.
Backers, including the bill’s author, Hammond Republican Rep. Nicholas Muscarello, framed it as a way to jumpstart Louisiana’s stalled executions and carry out punishments promised to families of victims when juries sentenced convicted murderers to death.
Louisiana has carried just three death sentences over the past two decades, with the last execution coming in 2010. State prison of…

Florida Catholic Conference asks governor to halt execution of serial killer

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The Catholic bishops of Florida are calling on the state’s governor to spare the life of Bobby Joe Long, a convicted serial killer who is scheduled to be executed on Thursday.
“Although [Long] caused much harm, society has been safe from his aggressive acts in the decades of his incarceration. Without taking his life, society can be protected while he endures the alternative sentence of life without the possibility of parole,” said Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, in a May 20 letter to Governor Ron DeSantis.
Long has been on death row since 1985 and is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 23.
He pleaded guilty to killing eight women in and near Tampa Bay during an 8-month span in 1984. He also claimed to have raped dozens of women.
Long’s lawyer has argued that the 65 year old is mentally ill and suffers from epilepsy, which could lead to him having a seizure when the lethal injection drugs are administered. The lawyer said that Long is co…

Supreme Court Denies Review in Death-Penalty Case Where Texas Judge Rubberstamped Prosecution’s Findings

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The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a case in which the Texas courts decided a death-row prisoner’s appeal by adopting the prosecution’s fact findings and legal arguments word-for-word without providing the defendant’s lawyer any opportunity to respond. 
In a May 20, 2019 ruling, the Court without comment denied the petition for writ of certiorari filed by Ray Freeney, thereby permitting the Harris County prisoner’s conviction and death sentence to stand. 
The decision was the latest in a series of cases in which the Court has refused to take up the issue of state-court rulings that are verbatim copies of proposed orders written entirely by the prosecution. 
In June 2018, researchers at the University of Texas School of Law Capital Punishment Center exposed the systemic rubberstamping of prosecutors’ pleadings in Harris County capital cases. 
The researchers found that county judges had adopted prosecutors’ proposed findings of fact verbatim in 96% of 191 capital cases in w…

High court bickering over death cases, weeks after…

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The Supreme Court shined an unusual light Monday on its internal squabbling over the death penalty, with the justices making public more than 30 pages of arguments on issues they decided weeks ago.
The high court almost never revisits opinions after the fact, though Monday was the second time this spring that the justices returned to arguments in an already-decided death penalty case. A decision in a Missouri death penalty case in April featured the justices also tussling in writing over a prior decision involving an Alabama death row inmate.
The justices frequently get asked to step in to halt executions at the last minute, and the spats aired Monday involve cases the court ruled on in March and April. In the more recent case, Alabama asked the Supreme Court to step in and allow the execution of Christopher Lee Price, whose execution had been halted by a lower court after he raised a challenge to the state’s lethal injection procedure.
The Supreme Court fractured 5-4 along liberal-c…

Oregon Senate Passes Bill Limiting State Death Penalty

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A proposal to pare down Oregon’s death penalty law is moving forward, after being approved by the state Senate on Tuesday.
With little fanfare — and zero debate — what some regard as the most meaningful effort to curtail the death penalty in recent memory passed in an 18-9 vote that largely stuck to party lines.
If passed in the House and signed by Gov. Kate Brown, Senate Bill 1013 would redefine the crime of aggravated murder, the only offense punishable by death in Oregon. The bill would strip out many elements that currently constitute the crime, moving them to newly created classes of murder.
Moving forward, aggravated murder would be limited to homicides where 2 or more people are killed to intimidate a civilian population or influence a government — crimes that are associated with terrorist acts. Defendants who murdered children under the age of 14, or killed another inmate while serving time for a murder conviction, could also be sentenced to death.
Additionally, the bill woul…

NGO wants Putrajaya to stop Malaysian’s execution in Singapore

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Amnesty International Malaysia urged Putrajaya to intervene in a Malaysian’s scheduled execution for drug possession in Singapore this Friday.
The human rights group pointed out that during Pannir Selvam Pranthaman’s trial, he had maintained his innocence by denying knowledge that he was carrying prohibited drugs and the Singapore High Court had found that he was a drug mule.
According to Pannir’s lawyer, he had assisted Singapore authorities by providing information about a fellow Malaysian who alleged duped him into carrying the drugs to the city-state.
Under Singapore’s Misuse of Drugs Act, the court has the discretion not to impose the death penalty if the convicted offender is a courier and has been issued a certificate by the public prosecutor stating that he had cooperated with authorities, the statement added.
“Singapore authorities must immediately halt plans to kill Pannir Selvam Pranthaman and put a stop to this continuous wave of callous executions.
“The Malaysian governm…