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Showing posts from August, 2010

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Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

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Update: Robert Pruett was executed by lethal injection on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas Thursday. He has never had a chance to live outside a prison as an adult. Taking his life is a senseless wrong that shows how badly the justice system fails juveniles.
Mr. Pruett was 15 years old when he last saw the outside world, after being arrested as an accomplice to a murder committed by his own father. Now 38, having been convicted of a murder while incarcerated, he will be put to death. At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognize excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett’s case shows how young lives can be destroyed by a justice system that refuses to give second chances.
Mr. Pruett’s father, Sam Pruett, spent much of Mr. Pruett’s early childhood in prison. Mr. Pruett and his three siblings were raised in various trailer parks by his mother, who he has said used drugs heavily and often struggled to feed the children. Wh…

Yong Vui Kong gets to see his next birthday

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In a court ruling on 31 Aug, Yong Vui Kong (left) gets another stay of execution from the High Court when it ruled that the date for appeal of the High Court's judgement on judicial review will be on the week commencing from 17 Jan 2011.
Vui Kong, who will be 23 in January next year, will have spent almost 4 years in prison after his incarceration.
The average waiting time for convicts in death row in recent years have reduced dramatically as the court processes become more efficient.
The judges seem to have a compassionate streak to give Vui Kong's lawyer another 4 months to prepare and Vui Kong another 4 months to continue his daily ritual of prayers and maintain a tiny sliver of hope that one day, the Singapore President can grant him clemency.
Before passing the judgement, trial judge Justice Choo Han Teck summoned both the defence and prosecution into chamber and asked the prosecution if they would consider reducing the charge given the relatively young age of the drug offend…

Iran Foreign Minister: 'No one is executed in Iran for political reasons'

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In a SPIEGEL interview, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki (left), 57, discusses the consequences of Western sanctions against Iran and the risk of a military strike against his country.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Foreign Minister, you are the senior diplomat of the Islamic Republic of Iran. You represent a nation that prides itself on a cultural history stretching back more than 2,500 years. Don't you find it shameful that people are stoned to death in your country?
Manouchehr Mottaki: You come from a country that murdered millions of people during a tyrannical war, and you want to talk to me about human rights? OK, we can certainly discuss the laws in various countries and naturally we can, in a friendly atmosphere, debate the different legal principles.
SPIEGEL: It isn't a matter of legal subtleties. Stoning is a glaring violation of universal human rights. It's barbaric.
Mottaki: There is a certain framework for punishments in Islam. In Iran, we treat crimes that are punished w…

Illegal Organ Harvesting Worse Under Chinese Reforms

SYDNEY—Illegal organ harvesting has become worse under reforms put in place by the Chinese leadership to stop it, says a Canadian human rights lawyer.
David Matas is in Australia to present a paper on the issue at a United Nations conference for non-government organisations (NGOs) involved with health in developing countries.
He says Chinese authorities have developed liver and kidney registries, an organ donor programme, restricted the number of hospitals permitted to perform organ transplants in China to 650 and shut down websites advertising the speedy sourcing of organs in an apparent effort to halt the trade.
However, while the reforms had reduced “transplant tourism” from Westerners seeking organ transplants, they had neither stopped the illegal organ trade nor increased transparency.
“The cover-up is worse,” he told The Epoch Times.
Mr Matas said entries into the organ registries were sporadic, hospital restrictions did not account for military hospitals where many of the transplant…

California DR inmate hangs self days after death sentence lifted

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (AP) — A 70-year-old California inmate who had just had his death sentence lifted has hanged himself in his cell less than a week after the reprieve.
San Quentin State Prison spokesman Lt. Sam Robinson said that a guard found George Smithey on Saturday hanging from a noose made from bed sheets tied around his cell bars.
A Calaveras County judge overturned Smithey's death sentence Aug. 23, more than 20 years after he was convicted of killing a woman there during a 1988 break-in.
The judge ruled that Smithey was mentally retarded under state standards set years after his trial and therefore ineligible for the death penalty. His sentence was commuted to life without parole.
Robinson said he did not know whether Smithey had learned his death sentence had been overturned. Authorities found no note.
Source: Indiana Gazette.com, August 31, 2010

Texas Warden Was Last Voice Heard By 140 Inmates

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For about 140 people over the past six years, the soft Texas drawl of Charles Thomas O'Reilly was the last voice they heard before they died.
O'Reilly — who retired Monday from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit, where he presided over more lethal injections than any other warden — leaves with no reservations, no nightmares.
"I don't have any intentions of changing my mind, reflecting on how could I have ever done this stuff," he said of the execution duty, which began for him in September 2004 when he took over the more than century-and-a-half-old 1,700-inmate penitentiary in downtown Huntsville. "If you think it's a terrible thing, you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. You don't do 140 executions and then all of a sudden think this was a bad thing."
O'Reilly, who turns 60 Wednesday, retired after more than 33 years with the Texas prison agency. On his last day, he looked like a warden from a Hollywood casting…

Malaysian Minister: "An Eye for An Eye Leads to Blindness"

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A senior Malaysian minister on Sunday reportedly urged the government to abolish the death penalty amid outrage from rights groups.
The call came during a debate over executions — carried out in Malaysia by hanging — after Kuala Lumpur last month sought clemency from Singapore for a young Malaysian drug trafficker who is facing the gallows in the city-state.
Both Malaysia and Singapore have tough anti-drug laws and rarely seek clemency for nationals facing drug charges in other countries.
“If it is wrong to take someone’s life, then the government should not do it either,” Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz told the Sunday Star newspaper.
“No criminal justice system is perfect. You take a man’s life and years later, you find out that another person did the crime. What can you do?” said the senior minister.
Local rights groups have long campaigned against the death penalty, which is mandatory for murder, drug trafficking and possession of firearms among other crimes in t…

Death penalty opponents cite North Carolina forensic lab concerns

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Supporters of a man on North Carolina's death row want a new look at the case after revelations that the state's top crime lab was plagued by overstated or falsely reported evidence.
On Monday, attorneys and four men freed from prison because of faulty evidence presented at their trials will urge a review of Melvin White's death sentence. Two of the released inmates also were on death row.
White was sentenced to death in 1996 for the slayings of an elderly Craven County woman and her boyfriend. He's always proclaimed his innocence.
The only forensic evidence linking him to the murders is the bullet-tracing work of a State Bureau of Investigation analyst who didn't describe why he concluded the casings all came from the same gun.
Source: The Associated Press, August 30, 2010

Will Ohio Execute An Innocent Man?

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Here we go again, this time in Ohio.
There, death row inmate Kevin Keith is scheduled to be executed on September 15, despite strong new evidence of his innocence. Keith was convicted in 1994 for a shooting spree that killed three people and wounded three others.
Eyewitness testimony was the primary evidence used to convict Keith. Along with the fact that eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable, the new evidence discredits the eyewitness identification in this case. The evidence also identifies an alternative suspect, Rodney Melton, who may have actually committed the crime for which Keith was convicted. Keith has an alibi for the time of the crime, supported by four witnesses.
No court has considered the entirety of the evidence in this case. Therefore, it appears that there is reasonable doubt as to Keith's guilt. And there is no excuse to execute someone when there is reasonable doubt that you've got the right guy.
Nevertheless, on August 19, the Ohio Parole Board reject…

Switzerland: Death penalty initiative not quite dead

Just days after it was withdrawn, the initiative to reinstate the death penalty in Switzerland is making news again.
Marcel Graf, the initiative committee’s spokesman, has called on Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf to ensure that capital criminals are tried and sentenced within a year.
In an interview with the Aarau-based Sonntag newspaper, Graf said that he would pass the initiative on to others if the justice minister was unable to promise speedier punishment.
Graf said that a huge lobby was interested in reviving the initiative and that he had received hundreds of emails. Many people mailed in petition forms full of signatures.
Widmer-Schlumpf is against the death penalty, but has said that she can understand the frustration of the committee members, who are related to a victim.
Switzerland struck capital punishment from its criminal statutes in 1942.
Source: swissinfo.ch, August 30, 2010

Virginia: Death row visits

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THE VIRGINIA Department of Corrections has had a welcome change of heart on its death row visitation policy.
For the past three years, those sentenced to death have been allowed face-to-face visits with relatives, although they have not been allowed physical contact. The department said this month that it planned to toughen this already restrictive policy. Come Sept. 1, the dozen or so death row inmates in Virginia would have had to rely on video cameras to pipe in the sights and sounds of loved ones. No more eye contact, no more pressing hands against glass.
Virginia was poised to join Kansas as the only two of the 35 states in the nation that execute prisoners to prohibit in-person family visits, according to the Associated Press. The commonwealth said that efficiency and security drove the decision. For example, security personnel would no longer have to be taken off other duties to escort inmates and family members to visiting rooms.
But on Friday the department engaged in an about-f…

Iran: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani refused prison visits

A lawyer and the family of a Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning, have been denied visits to the prison where she is lodged, her son told the Guardian.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has been detained in Tabriz jail since 2006 and was sentenced to death on charges of adultery. She was acquitted of murdering her husband, but Iranian authorities have since accused her of being an accomplice.
Arriving for a prison visit yesterday, her son Sajad, 22 and daughter Saeedeh, 17, were told she was unwilling to see them.
Later, when she was allowed to phone her son, it emerged she had been told by guards that no one had come to visit and that her children had abandoned her, Sajad told the Guardian.
"The officials have become obstinate - they are seeking just different ways to mistreat my mother and us as her children," he said.
Mohammadi Ashtiani''s government-appointed lawyer, Houtan Kian, has been unable to visit her since she appeared on TV this month and confessed to involv…

Teresa Lewis: Unfit for execution

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For 6 years, I regularly spent an hour talking and listening through a small slot in a metal door. On the other side was the only woman on death row in Virginia, an inmate who pleaded guilty to hiring 2 men to kill her husband and stepson, allegedly in exchange for a cut of the insurance money. Sometimes I was allowed to sit in a chair as I stooped down to hear her, give her communion, or just hold her hand; usually I alternated between half-squatting or kneeling on the concrete floor. As chaplain at Virginia's only maximum-security prison for women, I expected to minister under challenging circumstances. These visits were unbearable, however, and not because of the physical conditions. It was my feeling—at first fleeting, now certain—that this woman doesn't deserve to die.
On Sept. 23, barring the governor's unlikely pardon or the Supreme Court taking her case, Teresa Lewis will die in the electric chair or by lethal injection (she hasn't chosen). She lost a federal ap…

Pennsylvania's death penalty exists in name only

Last week Gov. Ed Rendell signed 3 more death warrants, but don't expect the inmates to be executed any time soon.
Rendell, a death penalty supporter, has signed 113 execution warrants during his 2 terms. But it appears highly likely he will leave office in a little over 4 months without seeing any of them carried out.
Since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in the 1970s, only 3 men have been put to death, and all had given up their appeals. The state's last contested execution occurred in 1962, even though the commonwealth currently has about 215 men and 5 women awaiting execution, including 50 who were sentenced back in the 1980s.
Despite the lack of executions and the continual flow of inmates sentenced to death by county courts, the number of inmates awaiting capital punishment is on a gradual decline.
At one point the Corrections Department housed nearly 250 condemned inmates, but their ranks have been thinned by appeals court and trial court reversals, resentencings …

Malaysia: Weighing the death penalty

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Malaysia's efforts to seek clemency for Yong Vui Kong, who is on death row in Singapore for a drug trafficking offence, have raised questions about maintaining capital punishment in the country.
SINCE he was arrested for drug trafficking in Singapore 3 years ago, Yong Vui Kong has turned over a new leaf. He has taken to Buddhism and is always meditating, says his lawyer M. Ravi. He has shaved his head and is also teaching his fellow prisoners the precepts of Buddhism.
"The guards say they have never seen anyone as caring as Yong," adds Ravi. Yong, now 22, was sentenced to death on Jan 7 last year for the crime he committed when he was 18. He is now on death row. Last week, the Singapore Prisons Department extended the deadline for him to file a plea for presidential clemency. The deadline was initially set for last Wednesday.
Yong's case has attracted a lot of attention and there is a Save Vui Kong campaign to petition for his life to be spared. Even the Malaysian gover…

Ohio DR inmate Romell Broom "can fight second execution attempt"

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A death row inmate who underwent a botched execution attempt can continue to argue that a 2nd try would be an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost denied a motion by the state to dismiss the challenge against another lethal injection attempt on Romell Broom. The inmate also can continue arguing that he should have access to attorneys during any future execution attempt that might go awry, the judge ruled.
Broom's execution last year was stopped by Gov. Ted Strickland after an execution team tried for 2 hours to find a suitable vein. Broom has said he was stuck with needles at least 18 times, with pain so intense that he cried and screamed.
Broom was sentenced to die for the 1984 rape and slaying of 14-year-old Tryna Middleton after abducting her in Cleveland as she walked home from a Friday night football game with 2 friends.
Broom's attorney, Adele Shank, said she was pleased with the decision and h…

U.S.: National Shortage of Drug for Lethal Injections Leads to Stays of Execution

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Kentucky Governor Steven Beshear recently held off signing death warrants for two inmates because of a shortage of the drug sodium thiopental, a key component of the state’s lethal injection protocol.
Kentucky’s stock of the lethal injection drug expires October 1, and the Department of Corrections does not expect a new supply until early 2011 because the only supplier of this drug in the country, Hospira, is unable to obtain the active ingredient for the drug. Even when a new supplier for the active ingredient is found, FDA approval will be needed. 
The governor did set a September 16 date for the execution of Gregory Wilson, which could occur before the state's supply of the drug expires. 
In Oklahoma, the state’s Department of Corrections recently tried to substitute another drug for sodium thiopental for the execution of Jeffrey Matthews because of concerns about the purity of the supply on hand.
A federal judge stayed the execution of Matthews in order to provide time to study t…

Japan opens up death chamber to media

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TOKYO — Japan threw open the doors to its mystery-shrouded execution chamber for the first time on Friday, as part of a crusade by the justice minister to stoke debate about the death penalty.
The move came a month after Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, an opponent of capital punishment, announced a review of the practice after she witnessed the first executions since her centre-left government took power almost a year ago.
At the minister's urging, Japanese media were allowed on a 30-minute visit inside the glass-walled execution room in the Tokyo Detention House, where convicts, usually multiple murderers, are put to death by hanging.
A red square with a cross on the white floor marks the spot in the windowless room where convicts stand with the noose around their neck, before a trap-door opens below them and they plunge to their deaths.
The mechanism is triggered by one of three wall-mounted push buttons in an adjacent room, pressed simultaneously by three officers, although none of t…