FEATURED POST

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

Image
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…

Behnoud Shojaee, aged 21, was executed in Evin prison, Tehran, at dawn on 11 October 2009

Iranian male juvenile Behnoud Shojaee (pictured left), aged 21, was executed in Evin prison, Tehran, at dawn on 11 October. He had been convicted of murder, and the family of his victim refused to pardon him. Another male juvenile, 20-year-old Safar Angooti, also convicted of murder, is due to be executed some time between 19 and 21 October.

Behnoud Shojaee was sentenced to qesas (retribution) by Branch 74 of the Criminal Court in Tehran on 2 October 2006, after he was found guilty of killing a boy thought to be called Ehsan the previous year, when he was 17. Behnoud Shojaee had no legal representation at his initial trial. His execution had previously been postponed some six times. According to his lawyer, about 200 people gathered outside Evin prison before the execution in an attempt to plead with the victim’s family to spare Behnoud Shojaee's life. They included the mother of Sohrab Arabi, a 19-year-old man killed during the unrest in Iran which followed the disputed presidential election. However, the family refused to pardon Behnoud Shojaee, and his lawyer stated that the victim's mother and father pushed the stool from under Behnoud Shojaee's feet after the noose had been placed around his neck.

In the Iranian Penal Code murder is punishable by qesas-e nafs, or death. Murder by someone with diminished responsibility may be punishable by the payment of diyeh, a form of compensation. In cases of premeditated murder, the family of the victim has the right to ask for their relative’s killer to be put to death. The family can also choose to forgive the culprit and accept payment of diyeh instead.

Also in the Iranian legal system, there is a distinction between cases where the penalty is "execution" (hokm-e 'edam) and qesas, although people sentenced to qesas are often reported in the media to have been sentenced to death. There is no such distinction in international law.

In Iranian law, murder is treated as a private dispute between two civil parties – the state's role is to facilitate the resolution of the dispute through the judicial process. In this sense, the death penalty is regarded as being imposed by the state, whereas qesas is imposed by the family of the victim. As a result, sentences of qesas are not open to pardon or amnesty by the Supreme Leader, whereas most other death sentences can be reversed by the Supreme Leader. This is in contravention of Article 6 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party, and under Iran's international obligations, the Iranian authorities remains fully responsible for respecting and protecting the rights of those under its jurisdiction, irrespective of the role that private parties may play in the administration of justice.

Safar Angooti was convicted of murder when he was 17. According to Iranian newspaper E'temad, in April 2008 he stabbed a rival suitor who was talking to a girl he liked and was sentenced to death. Safar Angooti claimed that he had killed the man but not intentionally. He was previously due to be executed on 4 May 2009 but this was halted at the last minute. The authorities have told Safar Angooti's lawyer that he will be executed on 21 October. However, E'temad reports that Safar Angooti may be executed on 19 October. Executions of those under 18 at the time of their offense are strictly prohibited under international law.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

In Iran a person convicted of murder has no right to seek pardon or commutation from the state, in violation of Article 6(4) of the ICCPR. The family of a murder victim has the right either to insist on execution, or to pardon the killer and receive financial compensation (diyeh).

The execution of juvenile offenders is prohibited under international law, as stated in Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Iran is a state party to both treaties and so has undertaken not to execute anyone for crimes committed when they were under 18.

In a letter to the Head of the Judiciary calling for a stay of execution for both Behnoud Shojaee and Safar Angooti, their lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei pointed out that when Iran ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Council of Guardian clarified that it regarded certain articles to be in contravention of Shari'a law and would not therefore be binding under the general reservation to the Convention entered by Iran. However, the Council of Guardians did not include Article 37 in its list, which states "No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age." In practice, this article has been ignored by Iranian judges.

Iran has executed at least 45 alleged juvenile offenders since 1990, eight of them in 2008 and at least four in 2009, including Behnoud Shojaee.


Mohannad Mostafaei, Behnood Shojaee's Attorney, witnessed the last minutes of his client's life:

"I waited all day for the time to come to go to Evin. I met Koohyar and we went to Evin at about 2.30 AM. By the time we arrived, a crowd of almost 200 people (photos) had already gathered in front of the gate. Many activists and mourning mothers were among the crowd. We all waited for the family of the victim to arrive. An hour passed and then we saw the parents of the victim (Ehsan) arrive accompanied by their daughter and their son. The crowd went to them and everybody begged them to give their consent to stop the execution. After a while, the parents said that they would forgive Behnoud. The atmosphere was heavy. Then the gates opened and Mr. Oliyifar, the victim’s parents and I went inside and waited in the waiting room. We thought that the parents would give their consent and Behnoud would be spared. We could hear the crowd outside praying. A few minutes later we were taken to another room, where we saw Behnoud and a few prison. When the victim’s parents entered the room, Behnoud genuflected at their feet and begged them not to kill him. The mother said, “I cannot think right now. I have to put the rope around his neck.” Then we heard the call for prayer (Azan). Behnoud went to another room for his Last Prayer. He went to ask forgiveness from God. After the prayer, we all went to the site of the execution had to take place. I was terrified and my body was shaking. I did not know what would happen to this motherless boy. When he was begging the parents, Behnoud told the mother of the victim, “I don’t have a mother. For God’s sake be my mother and don’t execute me.” We all went inside a room, and there was an iron stool and a plastic blue noose hanging over it. Behnoud who had always dreamed to see the blue sky at the last moment of his life could only see a blue rope. The parents went in and Behnoud was taken inside a short while later. This was the room reserved for hangings. I had never seen or heard of a case where only one person was executed. I was wondering why Behnoud was being hanged alone. Perhaps it was his bad luck that he had to raise to heaven alone. People who were present in the room again begged the parents for forgiveness. The mother said, “Put the rope around his neck.” Behnoud went on the stool and the rope was placed around his neck. A few moments later, the victim’s parents walked over and removed the stool from under his feet. Behnoud went to heaven." Source: stopchildexecution.com

Source: Amnesty International, October 13, 2009

Most Viewed (Last 7 Days)

New Mexico Supreme Court Vacates Death Sentences Of The Last Inmates On Death Row

Sweden rejects asylum for gay teen who fears execution in Iran

Where El Chapo Could End Up: A Prison ‘Not Designed for Humanity’

South Carolina moves death row to new prison for 2nd time in 2 years

Sri Lankan president stands firm on death penalty

Iran: Man Hanged in Public in Khandab City, Four People Hanged in One Day at Urmia Prison

Man in NW China executed after decades-long blood feud

US: Man ruled ineligible for execution after mental disability diagnosis

90th woman executed in Iran during Rouhani’s term in office since 2013

He killed a man & shot another ‘because they were gay.’ He won’t be charged with a hate crime.