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Showing posts from November, 2009

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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Video from Death Row: Bobby W. Woods, Possibly Retarded Texas Prisoner, Faces Execution

When Texas reopens its execution chamber after a Thanksgiving break, the first man set to die may be mentally retarded. A 2002 Supreme Court ruling bans the execution of mentally retarded prisoners. But after years of being represented by a discredited attorney who ruined any chance for an appeal based on his disabilities, the fate of Bobby Wayne Woods rests with the state Board of Pardons and Paroles which can recommend clemency or a reprieve to Gov. Perry. "It's a long shot at best," Woods' attorney Maurie Levin says of the clemency request, "but I think it's very important to do."

Test scores during his childhood and incarceration show Bobby Woods has an IQ that hovers at or below 70 — the cut-off point for mental retardation. He reads at a second grade level and writes childlike letters — many of which are photocopied and presented as evidence in his clemency request. Levin asked the board to grant a 60-day reprieve so that she can produce a videotap…

Death penalty in 9/11 trials may be difficult

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Legal experts say Obama was overly confident when he said that critics of the New York trial would be silenced 'when the death penalty is applied to' suspect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
After Zacarias Moussaoui -- the accused "20th hijacker" in the Sept. 11 attacks -- was sentenced to life in prison in 2006 because one juror in Virginia refused to agree to the death penalty, Moussaoui clapped his hands and called out, "America, you lost and I won." Now the Obama administration plans to seek a death sentence for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind.
Some legal experts say President Obama was overly confident when he predicted that critics of trying Mohammed in a federal courtroom in Manhattan would be silenced "when the death penalty is applied to him." The only modern-day terrorist sentenced to death in federal court was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh.
"It will be an uphill battle to get a death penalty in these c…

Death Sentence for Zeynab Jalalian Confirmed by Iranian Supreme Court

Reports coming from Iran indicate that the death sentence of Zeynab Jalalian, a female Kurdish political prisoner, has been confirmed by the Iranian Supreme Court.

Zeynab was arrested in May 2008 in Kermanshah and held by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Intelligence Office ever since. On January 2009 Zeynab was found guilty by the Kermanshah Revolutionary Court of being a member of a Kurdish opposition party, in a trial that lasted only a few minutes. She was declared an "enemy of God" and sentenced to death, despite the fact that her legal file doesn't include allegations of participating in an armed struggle against the Islamic Republic.

[see: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-zeynab-jalalian.html]

Source: KurdishRights.org, Nov. 29, 2009

Fury at Uganda proposal for gay executions

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Britain and Canada today led Commonwealth protests against a law proposed by the Ugandan parliament which would introduce the death penalty by hanging for "aggravated homosexuality".

Gordon Brown expressed Britain's concerns about the parliamentary bill when he met Yoweri Museveni, the veteran Ugandan president, at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.

The suggested legislation would apply to sex between gay men or lesbian women in which one person has HIV.

The bill also proposes the introduction of a three-year prison sentence for anyone who knows of the existence of a gay man or lesbian woman and fails to inform authorities in Uganda within 24 hours.

The British prime minister's anger was echoed by his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper. Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said: "If adopted, a bill further criminalising homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda.&quo…

Tennessee: DR inmate Cecil Johnson Jr. says 29-year delay is cruel and unusual

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The man scheduled to be executed in Nashville on Wednesday morning has asked for a stay of execution, saying to kill him by lethal injection after 29 years on death row is cruel and unusual punishment.

Cecil Johnson Jr. was convicted in 1981 for a triple killing at Bob Bell's Market the previous year and was given 3 death sentences by a jury. It wasn't until 2008 that his legal options were exhausted and an execution
date was set.

His attorney, Jim Thomas, argued in the complaint filed in federal court Wednesday that the execution should be stayed in part because "the state's manipulations and conduct" have delayed the case.

Johnson, now 53, was 23 when he was given the death sentence. Gov. Phil Bredesen denied Johnson's plea for clemency this week.

Thomas said that all the delays were caused by courts that failed to rule on Johnson's case for up to three years at a time after hearing some of the arguments, and by the state's attorneys.

"Mr. Johnson ha…

Texas sends fewer to death row - Life without parole option cited among reasons for drop

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While the debate over capital punishment rages anew in Texas, new inmates going to death row have hit a 35-year low as prosecutors push for fewer death sentences and, many believe, juries have become less willing to give them.

Various factors have contributed to a stark decline in death sentences.

The biggest game-changer appears to be the introduction of life without parole as an option for juries in 2005, according to several prosecutors and defense lawyers. The change in state law represented a huge shift for jurors, who previously were responsible for choosing either the death penalty or a life sentence in which a convicted killer could be eligible for parole in 40 years.

"With life without parole being a viable option now, (juries) feel a lot more comfortable that that person is not going to be let out back into society," Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon said.

But because of the state's growing list of exonerations via DNA evidence and other questionable con…

Ohio: Federal Court Lifts Kenneth Biros' Stay of Execution

A federal court has lifted the stay of execution in the case of Kenneth Biros, who is now due to be put to death in Ohio on 8 December under the state’s new lethal injection procedures. The Ohio parole board has voted against clemency, but this vote is not binding on the governor.
On 25 November, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit lifted the stay of execution that had been imposed on 19 October by a District Court judge in the context of ongoing litigation on Ohio’s lethal injection protocol.
On 13 November, the Ohio authorities announced that they had decided to change the execution procedure, from a three-drug process to one using a large dose of one chemical, thiopental sodium, an anesthetic. The state also revealed that it had developed a “back-up procedure” for cases when a suitable vein could not be found in a condemned inmate, as happened in the case of Romell Broom in September (see UA 245/09, and update). This back-up procedure would involve i…

Gordon Brown drawn into Commonwealth row over laws to punish homosexuals

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Gordon Brown was last night drawn into a row over laws punishing homosexuals with death that threatened to overshadow a meeting of Commonwealth leaders. The Prime Minister raised the issue of proposed new laws in Uganda with the country's president Yoweri Museveni. Mr Brown made it clear to him that he was opposed to the laws when the 2 men met in Trinidad.

The country's plans have caused a backlash from other Commonwealth nations and condemnation from gay rights groups who want Uganda thrown out of the Commonwealth unless they back down.

Uganda's parliament is proposing an Anti-Homosexuality Bill which requires the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality" defined as any sexual act between gays or lesbians in which one person has the HIV virus.

Life sentences would be imposed on those who touch another with the intention to have homosexual relations.

The bill would even apply to Ugandans who commit homosexual offences, but who live overseas.

A series of other offe…

China executes two men for child abduction

Two men have been executed for abducting and selling children in China in a sign of the determination of officials to try to eradicate a practice that has aroused widespread public anger.

Hu Minghua, 55, and Su Binde, 27, were executed on Thursday morning, the Supreme People's Court said.

The crime carries the death penalty in China, but kidnappers are rarely sentenced to capital punishment even though child trafficking has become more frequent in recent years. China has accelerated the implementation of criminal sentences that had been on hold until after celebrations for the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule on October 1.

Mr Hu had been convicted of kidnapping and selling nine children from April 1999 to Oct. 2005. He was detained in January 2006. Five of the children, all boys now aged from 3 to 6, have been returned to their families, while the parents of the remaining ones have not been found.

Mr Su had abducted six children between September 2005 to July 2006. Five have b…

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission: End executions for Sodomy Charges in Iran

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From the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission:

Join the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), Iranian Queers Organization (IRQO) and COC Netherlands in calling on Iranian authorities to stop the numerous executions of minors and adults accused of sodomy. Also join us in calling on Western countries with significant diplomatic and economic ties to Iran, including Germany, France, Canada, as well as the European Union, to pursue diplomatic efforts to cease these executions.

Use our electronic system below* to send a letter in English to the foreign officials and another letter in Persian to Iranian officials.

The Issue

The Courts in Iran have sentenced a number of men to death after they were accused and convicted of sodomy. Under Iranian law, sodomy includes sexual intercourse between members of the same sex, and is illegal. The punishment for same-sex intercourse between 2 men (Lavaat) is death and between 2 women (Mosaheghe) is 100 lashes for th…

Afghan citizen executed in a prison in northern Iran

One man was hanged in the prison of Amol in northern Iran.

According to the official Iranian news agency IRNA, Mohammad S. (also known as Fattah) was hanged in the prison of Amol earlier this week. He was convicted of keeping 472 grams of heroin and was hanged earlier this week according to the report.

The report did not mention Mohammad's age and exact date of execution.

Source: Iran Human Rights, November 26, 2009

“What is justice?” Inside a death penalty trial

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Just after 11:00 yesterday morning, on the fifth floor of the Rene C. Davidson courthouse in downtown Oakland, a double murderer named Christopher Evans walked in through the side door of the courtroom of Alameda County Superior Court judge Vernon Nakahara. He sat down at the defense table. A short man with a low hairline and hangdog expression, Evans was dressed in the same cream-colored pullover shirt he had worn nearly every day of the trial. He had already been convicted. He already knew he would die behind bars. He was about to find out how.
The courtroom was silent. Evans, Nakahara, the two defense attorneys, the prosecuting deputy district attorney, and the spectators, many of them relatives of Evans’ victims, waited for the jury members to enter with their verdict. They came in one by one, shuffling their feet. They crossed the room single file. They took their seats in the box.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated and come to order,” said a uniformed bailiff. “Department…

Kentucky’s Highest Court Halts Executions in State

The Supreme Court of Kentucky suspended executions in the state Wednesday, ruling that officials did not follow state law in adopting its procedures for killing inmates.

The decision did not address whether it is inhumane to use a three-drug cocktail in lethal injections, as critics have argued.

The Kentucky case concerned three inmates slated for execution: Brian Keith Moore, Ralph Baze and Thomas C. Bowling.

Mr. Baze’s case made its way to the United States Supreme Court, which stopped lethal injections across the country until last year, when it issued an opinion declaring Kentucky’s death penalty method — using the three-drug cocktail — to be constitutional.

The Kentucky justices said the Department of Corrections must follow the rules of the state’s administrative procedures act in the protocol for lethal injection, which include publication of the details of the procedure and public hearings on the matter.

“The Department of Corrections is required by Kentucky law to promulgate a reg…

Remarks on Uganda's anti-homosexuality law

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Remarks by Stephen Lewis, Co-Director of AIDS-Free World delivered at the Commonwealth People's Forum on the Eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)

This is a moment of truth for the Commonwealth. The anti-homosexuality Private Member's Bill introduced into the parliament of Uganda, and now proceeding through the normal legislative process, puts the Commonwealth's legitimacy and integrity to the test.

In a fashion unmistakable in both clarity and intent, the putative legislation declares war on homosexuality. There are deeply offensive sodomy laws and homophobic statutes on the books of many other Commonwealth countries, particularly here in the Caribbean. But nothing is as stark, punitive and redolent of hate as the Bill in Uganda; nothing comes close to such an omnibus violation of the human rights of sexual  minorities. For some time now, Uganda has had offensive anti-homosexual legislation on the books, but this variant, this inflammatory redesign mak…