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Showing posts from June, 2010

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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…

Texas: Jonathan Green's Execution Halted

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HUNTSVILLE — Condemned murderer Jonathan Green (left) has been spared from execution after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to look more closely at arguments he was delusional and too mentally ill to be put to death.
The Associate Press says the order from the state’s highest criminal appeals court came less than four hours before the 42-year-old Green could have received lethal injection Wednesday evening for the abduction, rape and strangling of a 12-year-old girl near Houston 10 years ago.
Green already had been taken to the death house in Huntsville when he received word of the reprieve.
Green was convicted in the death of Christina LeAnn Neal, who disappeared while walking home in the rural community of Dobbin on June 21, 2000. A onetime star running back for Montgomery High School, Green was accused of grabbing the girl shortly after she left a friend's house that was about 100 yards away from his residence. Neal's body was found in a gray blanket stuffed into a l…

Texas Democrats strike right tone on death penalty

By Michael Landauer/Editor
In its platform adopted last week, the Texas Democratic Party seems to have it right on capital punishment. The party does not go as far as we do. We want to abolish the death penalty in Texas. Democrats want to win elections. I get that. But the plank in the platform on Capital Punishment is a good place to start for lawmakers considering common-sense reforms that people on both sides could agree on:
Capital Punishment
- When capital punishment is imposed, Texans must be assured that it is fairly administered. Texas Democrats extend our deepest sympathies to all victims of crime and especially to the families of murder victims, and we strongly support their rights. The Texas death penalty system has been severely criticized by religious leaders, appellate courts and major newspapers that have observed that the current system cannot ensure that innocent or undeserving defendants are not sentenced to death. The Dallas Morning News has called for abolition of the…

Death penalty for Iran jail abuse

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An Iranian military court has sentenced two men to death in connection with the killings of three anti-government protesters, the state news agency said.
Prosecutors said the three died after a series of beatings in Iran's Kahrizak jail, where they were held for taking part in last year's election protests.
Nine other officials were sentenced to jail and lashes over the deaths, Irna said quoting a court statement.
Kahrizak jail (left) was shut in July over concerns about the abuse of inmates.
The officials charged in the Kahrizak case - whose names have not been released - were among 12 people facing prosecution over the inmates' deaths.
The pair were found guilty of "inflicting intentional abuse leading to the murder" of the three protesters, Irna quoted the court statement as saying.
They have 20 days to appeal against the rulings.
One person has been acquitted due to lack of evidence, Irna said.
Mass arrests
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in the June 2…

Indian President Commutes Eight Death Sentences to Life Imprisonment

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June 15, 2010: in India, eight convicts on death row in two separate cases of murder received the mercy of President Pratibha Patil (pictured), who commuted their sentence to life imprisonment.
Of the two cases, one is related to the killing of five persons, including a 10-year-old boy. Shyam Manohar along with Sheo Ram, Prakash, Suresh, Ravinder and Harish from Uttar Pradesh were given death penalty in October 1997 in this case.
Patil’s decision leaves a list of 21 more pending mercy petitions of a total of 24, three of which have been returned to the Ministry of Home Affairs on request.
The President has so far only cleared those mercy petitions wherein the Home Ministry has advised the commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment. She still has to give her decision in cases where the Home Ministry’s opinion has been to reject the mercy petition and stick to death sentence for the convicts.
Source: Indian Express, Hands Off Cain, June 28, 2010

Saudi Arabia: Man beheaded for murder

June 29, 2010: Obeid bin Saif al-Qahtani was beheaded by the sword in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for fatally shooting Mohammed bin Mejeb al-Qahtani with a pistol in a dispute, the interior ministry said in a statement carried by SPA state news agency.
Source: Agence France Presse, June 29, 2010

Campaign Intensifies in Iran to Spare a Kurdish Activist

As reports circulated Tuesday that Iran was preparing to execute a 27-year-old Kurdish activist, the campaign to save her life intensified, with a prominent opposition figure publicly urging the authorities to show compassion.
“Does she deserve her punishment or is it better to give everyone, especially women and the youth, an opportunity to find their position in life, and in political and social establishment?” said a statement released by Zahra Rahnavard, a distinguished professor and artist who is married to the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi.
The activist, Zeinab Jalalian, was arrested in May 2008 in the Kuridsh city of Kermanshah and accused of having ties to a Kurdish rebel group, PJAK, which has carried out armed attacks in Iran. She was convicted of moharebeh, meaning waging war against God, and the death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Human rights and opposition Web sites have circulated reports that her execution may be imminent. A Tehran lawyer who is bloc…

Kasab conviction: Abolish the death sentence rather than hanging 'bullets'

According to the Amnesty International (AI), a worldwide movement for internationally recognised human rights, 95 countries in the world have completely abolished 'death penalty' from their laws. AI categorises 9 more as 'abolitionist for ordinary crimes' — meaning that those countries may impose death penalty only for crimes committed in exceptional circumstances and 35 others as 'abolitionists in practice' — in that they have not executed anyone in the past 10 years.
That makes 139 countries as abolitionist by law or practice (more than 2/3 of 197 countries in the world) and leaves 58 nations — including USA, China, India etc. under 'retentionist' category, which may pronounce death sentence for certain 'severe' crimes.
In terms of numbers, 18 countries are reported to have executed 714 people in the year 2009, as against 2,390 executions by 25 countries in 2008. In India, while the correct number of executions since independence is not known wi…

Australia's extradition laws stopping death penalty

Alabama's attorney-general has blamed Australia's extradition laws for his inability to seek the death penalty for a man jailed in Queensland over his wife's death.
Gabe Watson's wife Tina died during a scuba diving trip while the pair were on their honeymoon in 2003.
Under Australian law a person cannot be extradited if there is a chance they would face the death penalty.
In a letter to Queensland Attorney-General Cameron Dick, Alabama's attorney-general Troy King said United States authorities had cooperated fully with Australian investigators.
But Mr King described Queensland's position on the death penalty as "a refusal to honour your commitment to the citizens of the State of Alabama".
As a result he says he was forced to reduce the maximum penalty for any charges laid against Watson to life without parole.
Mr King says the extradition laws reflect Australia's long-standing, bipartisan opposition to the death penalty.
Watson pleaded guilty to mansla…

Kagan: Death penalty's validity has been settled

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Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan (left) is reaffirming her support for the death penalty, saying its constitutionality is "established law."
Under questioning by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin at her confirmation hearing, Kagan says she has a different outlook than her mentor, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, who dissented in every death penalty case based on moral grounds.
Kagan says she believes the death penalty is "settled precedent going forward" and generally should not be disrupted.
Source: Associated Press, June 29, 2010

Further reading: "The Generalissima Dances" on Jeff Gamso's blog "For The Defense". Excerpts:

 "Anything the Supreme Court has ever decided is, the Generalissima tells us, "precedent" and "settled law." No one has pressed her particularly hard, and she's declined to give any sort of meaningful answer, on whether or when "precedent" and "settled law" should give way - be …

Supreme Court won't hear Missouri execution case

ST. LOUIS | The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a case questioning the constitutionality of Missouri's death penalty method, and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said he would now seek an execution date for a convicted killer.
The top court's ruling was the last legal hurdle to resuming executions in Missouri, Koster said. He asked the state Supreme Court to set an execution date for Joseph Franklin, a white supremacist responsible for several killings, including the sniper shooting of a man outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977.
"Today's decision clears up any lingering ambiguities related to the constitutionality of Missouri's death penalty protocols," Koster said in a statement. "Legal hurdles have held the imposition of justice in Missouri in abeyance for 12 months. With today's ruling, these hurdles have been set aside."
Jennifer Herndon, an attorney for several death row inmates, disagreed. She said another lawsuit qu…

US Justices Extend Firearm Rights in 5-to-4 Ruling

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WASHINGTON — The Second Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.
The ruling came almost exactly two years after the court first ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own guns in District of Columbia v. Heller, another 5-to-4 decision.
But the Heller case addressed only federal laws; it left open the question of whether Second Amendment rights protect gun owners from overreaching by state and local governments.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority, said the right to self-defense protected by the Second Amendment was fundamental to the American conception of ordered liberty. Like other provisions of the Bill of Rights setting out such fundamental protections, he said, it must be applied to limit not only federal power but also that of state and local governments.
The ruling is an enormous symbolic victory for supporters of gun rights, …

California - Cut This: The Death Penalty

California's governor has proposed closing the state's $20 billion budget gap with a drastic cuts-only approach; slashing funding for vital human services without working to increase revenue. Yet one state program seems to be immune from these cuts: the death penalty.
We think the time has come to CUT THIS.
California spends vast amounts of money prosecuting death penalty cases and supporting death row. To avoid executing an innocent person, the death penalty process is long, complicated, and expensive. Each prosecution seeking death costs approximately $1.1 million more than a trial seeking permanent imprisonment, and with more than 700 inmates, California's death row is by far the largest and most costly in the nation. In total, California's death penalty system costs taxpayers $137 million per year.
Contrast that with just $11 million per year if we replace the death penalty with permanent imprisonment. Top that off with $400 million saved if we don't build a new d…

U.S. Supreme Court overturns death sentence of Billy Joe Magwood

June 24, 2010: The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Billy Joe Magwood, ruling that Magwood can argue that Alabama retroactively changed its laws to make his crime qualify for the death penalty.
Magwood, 59, black, was convicted for the murder of then 51-year-old Sheriff C.F. “Neil” Grantham, whom Magwood targeted after he served time on drug charges. Magwood became convinced that Grantham jailed him without cause and vowed revenge.
On the morning of March 1, 1979, he parked outside the jail and waited for the sheriff to arrive. When Grantham got out of his car, Magwood shot him and fled the scene.
Magwood was sentenced to death June 2, 1981. The conviction and death sentence were upheld by the state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1985, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama also upheld the conviction, but required a new sentencing hearing for the consideration of additional mitigating circumstances.
Magwood was again sentenced to death in 1986…

Iran: Female Political Prisoner at Risk of Imminent Execution

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The Iranian Judiciary should immediately suspend all execution sentences of political prisoners and initiate a thorough and independent review of these cases, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.
Kurdish political prisoner Zeynab Jalalian, 27, faces imminent execution, as her case has reached the final implementation stage. In addition to Jalalian, at least 15 other Kurdish political prisoners are on the death row.
"We are appealing to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to intervene in this case, and to do all in her power to halt Zeynab's execution," said Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign's spokesperson.
"We are calling upon the Iranian authorities to bring to a halt what appears to be the systematic extermination of Kurdish political prisoners in Iran," he said.
The office of the High Commissioner is one of the only international actors engaged with Iranian government officials over the situation of human rights. The Campaign…

20 Death Penalty Sentences Issued in Kurdistan

The head of the Social Prevention & Protection of Citizens at the Justice Department in Kurdistan said: "To date, 20 death sentences have been issued against citizens charged with "drug trafficking" in this province."
In an interview given on the occasion of "No to Drugs" week in the province of Kurdistan, Hassan Babai stated: "The Justice Department in Kurdistan will deal with drug offenders with the maximum penalty as determined under the law." According to reports by ISNA Babai added: "Most drug dealers and distributors in the province of Kurdistan, have already been arrested."
Babai pointed out that 52% percent of prisoners in Kurdistan have been arrested in relation to narcotic charges and said: "Currently 635 individuals are incarcerated on charges ranging from the use, transportation, storage, distribution, transit and other narcotic related crimes in the province of Kurdistan."
While referencing the 20 death penalty …

US Supreme Court upholds Texas death convictions

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld death sentences for 2 Texas inmates, including a man accused of leading a gang responsible for several murders, and refused to reconsider the case of a British grandmother condemned for killing a woman and kidnapping her newborn son.
Dexter Darnell Johnson, 22, was convicted of the June 2006 shooting deaths of a young couple during a carjacking. Investigators said the Houston man was the ringleader of a group responsible for dozens of robberies and at least four homicides.
The justices also upheld the conviction of Max Soffar, 54, for a shooting rampage at a bowling alley that killed 3 people in 1980.
The court also refused to rehear its rejection of an appeal from Linda Carty, a 51-year-old British grandmother convicted of murdering her neighbor and taking the victim's 4-day-old son in 2001. Carty maintains her innocence, but prosecutors said she was desperate to have child after a miscarriage. The infant was found unharmed.
Carty is among 10 w…

Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani – a mother of two children - is to be stoned to death by the Islamic Republic of Iran

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Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani – a 43-year-old mother of two children - is to be stoned to death by the Islamic Republic of Iran. She has already been convicted of having an ‘illicit relationship’ and been sentenced to 99 lashes. In another trial, she was sentenced to death by stoning.
Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani was interrogated in 2006 for the murder of her husband. In the interrogation session, Sakineh confessed to committing adultery with Nasser and Seyyed Ali, the two men responsible for her late husband’s murder. In May 2006, branch 101 of the Criminal Court of Oskoo in the province of Eastern Azerbaijan (in northwestern Iran) sentenced Sakineh to 99 lashes for committing adultery. After serving her sentence, she was released. Four months later, branch 6 of the Criminal Court of Azerbaijan sentenced her to death by stoning for adultery while married*.
In the past few years, Sakineh has requested a pardon twice. Her requests were turned down by the Amnesty and Pardon Commission of Azerb…

Hamas warns Palestinians against collaborating with Israel

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Gaza campaign includes posters, murals, radio broadcasts and religious speeches, and runs alongside amnesty for informants.
Hamas has launched a campaign warning Palestinians in Gaza against collaborating with Israel following the execution of two alleged informants in April.
Posters and murals have appeared across Gaza City, graphically depicting the consequences of providing information to Israeli intelligence. Some include images of nooses, while others warn that "your people's blood will be on your hands".
The Campaign Against Collaborating with the Enemy, which also includes speeches by religious clerics, radio programmes and advertisements and newspaper articles, is running alongside an amnesty for informants which ends on 10 July.
"We are educating people with the aim of reducing or eliminating collaboration," said Abu Abdullah Lafi, who is in charge of the campaign for the de facto Hamas government's interior ministry.
The problem, he said, was not wides…

Retired New Hampshire judge takes the stand to testify against death penalty

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It has been my good fortune to serve as a judge in New Hampshire for 37 years. For 13 of those years I was presiding justice of the Durham District Court.
I served as a justice of the Superior Court for 18 years, 9 of which I spent as chief justice. And I sat on the Supreme Court for 6 years before retiring in December of 2005.
I am proud of our judicial system and the effort of judges in all our courts to treat people fairly and equally, and to protect their individual rights.
While serving as a judge, I rarely expressed my opinion on capital punishment privately, and until now I never expressed my opinion publicly. Nor did I let my personal opinions influence my judicial decisions.
In fact, in 1998 I presided over the capital murder case of Gordon Perry, and on every motion filed on his behalf challenging New Hampshire’s capital punishment statute, I ruled he had not established that the law violated our constitution.
Last week, I appeared before the New Hampshire Commission to Study the…

Linda Carty: 'someone is trying to take my life for someone else's crime'

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Linda Carty (left), a British woman on death row in America, says that her last hope may be an appeal for clemency by David Cameron.
Gatesville is a tiny town miles from anywhere, deep in the heart of Texas, four hours drive north of Houston. There is little to it but a Wal-Mart, a drive-in movie theatre and two enormous prisons. One of the jails looming out of the flat landscape is called Mountain View. But there is no mountain, and from the prison's death row, there is no view.
This is where, in all probability, Linda Carty, the only British woman on death row in America, is living out her last weeks and months. Carty has been on death row in Texas for the past nine years, accused of murdering a young mother in order to steal her baby. Any day now, without warning, her execution date will be handed down by the authorities, following a decision by the US supreme court last month to reject her final appeal.
Sitting behind bulletproof glass inside one of Mountain View's characterl…

Japan: Scrap death penalty, bereaved families say

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Murder victims' kin want debate on capital punishment, arguing it brings no closure.
Bud Welch (left) lost his only daughter, Julie, in the Oklahoma City bombing that claimed the lives of 168 people on April 19, 1995. His 23-year-old daughter was working as a Spanish translator at the Social Security Administration in the federal building targeted.
Until the tragedy, Welch, who had operated a Texaco gas station for 37 years, had opposed the death penalty all his life. But the incident affected him so deeply that he wanted the two bombers executed.
"I was so full of anger, so full of revenge. I wanted the death penalty both for Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nicols," Welch said in a recent interview in Tokyo, revealing that after his daughter's death he had self-medicated with alcohol to such an extent that his body ached from alcohol poisoning. He was also smoking four packs of cigarettes a day, he said.
Amid his grief and anger, however, Welch said he began to question how h…

Stevens leaving legacy of judicial care: "Innocence Matters"

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As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens approaches retirement, observers are beginning to assess the legacy of his almost 35 years on the bench.
One issue with which Justice Stevens may be closely associated is the death penalty. In 1976, he voted with the majority to reinstate the death penalty, ending a four-year period during which capital punishment resided in constitutional limbo.
Justice Stevens’ views of the death penalty and public opinion about it have evolved since 1976. In a 2007 case upholding the constitutionality of lethal injection procedures, Justice Stevens, while feeling compelled as a matter of precedent to vote with the majority, nonetheless expressed grave doubts about the death penalty, calling it “anachronistic.”
But one of Justice Stevens’ last acts involving the death penalty could be the most meaningful.
Last August, the Supreme Court considered the case of Troy Davis (pictured). Davis, who is on death row in Georgia for the 1989 murder of Savannah police Offi…