“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Cheong Chun Yin, a Malaysian citizen sentenced to death in Singapore for a drug related offence.

Cheong Chun Yin
Cheong Chun Yin is a Malaysian citizen sentenced to death in Singapore for a drug related offence.

Chun Yin claimed that he was asked to bring gold bars into Singapore, and that he genuinely believed that that was so. He had no knowledge that the supposed gold bars were in fact drugs. It never occured to him that the gold bars had turned into drugs as he had been told over and over again that he was to bring in gold bars. Nothing happened along the way to suggest otherwise.

In his statement to the police investigating officer as well as his testimony in court, Chun Yin maintained his version of the story and he even provided all the information pertaining to the person who had convinced him and arranged for everything. His name is Lau De. Chun Yin gave the mobile number which Chun Yin used to call to the police, as well as his description and a chronology of all that happened.

However, the police “did not make adequate efforts to trace Lau De or check on his cell-phones”, as admitted by the Learned Trial Judge in his judgment.

Instead, the Learned Trial Judge convicted and sentenced him to death on the ground that: “ I did not find his testimony convincing and I was of the view that his evidence did not create any reasonable doubt that he might not have known that he was carrying heroin. It was immaterial that the CNB did not made adequate efforts to trace Lau De or check on his cell-phones. The absence of any trace of Lau De or Teng Mor was not taken as evidence in favour of or against either accused”.

We find the lack of effort by the relevant authority in tracing and tracking down Lau De very disturbing. We are even more disturbed by the fact that the Learned Trial Judge had acknowledged this lack of effort and think it “immaterial”.

Should the relevant authority have made such efforts, they would probably have traced the drug barons.

Should the relevant authority have made such efforts, they would have known that what Chun Yin testified in court was the truth.

The Court of Appeal, who dismissed Chun Yin’s appeal on 20.10.2010, did not, even till today, produce its grounds of judgment. Chun Yin will die without knowing the reason why.

In view of the irreversible nature of the death sentence, the Court must exercise the highest standard of care and proof in convicting the accused. With due respect, we do not see this standard in Chun Yin’s judgement.

Bearing in mind that a miscarriage of justice occurs even with the most careful and thorough investigation as to human is to err, what more with such a loose attitude demonstrated by the relevant authority as affirmed by the Judge.

This case illustrates exactly why the death penalty should not be imposed on such offences. A moratorium on execution must be imposed.

We, the undersign, urge and demand that the imminent execution of Chun Yin be stayed while the prosecution should re-open the case and all efforts be made to trace and track down the drug barons.

We also call for members of the public to write to the President of the Republic of Singapore to raise their concern with regards to Chun Yin’s case. The address is as follows:-

The Principal Private Secretary
To the President of the Republic of Singapore
The Istana,

Sources: Save Vui Kong Campaign Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall – Civil Rights Committee, Amnesty International- Malaysia, April 8, 2011
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