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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.
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Singapore looks to end mandatory death penalty for drug crimes

With international human rights groups and local activists calling for an end to the death penalty for drug-related crimes, Singapore may be on the verge of amending its mandatory sentencing for drug criminals.

It comes after massive pressure has been put on the city-state, the only developed country in the world who puts to death drug-trafficking criminals.

The move could be made as early as this week, officials confirmed to Bikyamasr.com on Monday.

In July 2011, the Singapore government suspended all executions as part of a review of the law.

Draft amendments were announced in parliament this July and final changes are expected this week.

In Singapore, drug crime penalties are among the most strict in the world. Anyone caught bringing 15g of heroin, 30g of cocaine or 500g of cannabis are automatically given a death sentence. With the new amendments, judges should have more discretion, and be allowed to push life sentences instead of the death penalty.

There are strict conditions. It only applies to those considered a courier - rather than a criminal mastermind, the mentally disabled, or those cooperate substantially with the law.

Activists in Singapore who have long called on the government to end the death penalty have praised a new government report that will give discretion to use capital punishment to the court, removing mandatory death sentences for a number of crimes.

"We are all pleased," began National University of Singapore student Thomas Fuek, who told Bikyamasr.com that he is "excited" by the changes.

"It doesn't end the death penalty, unfortunately, but it is a step in the right direction, because it means a court will have to look someone in the eye and make the decision themselves to kill the person."

But it doesn't end the death penalty altogether. Either way, the optimism among activists who said they will continue to push for an end to capital punishment is not missed on the moment.

"It is the beginning of the end of the death penalty. We want to be a leader on all aspects of economy and society, so the death penalty must go," added Fuek.

Source: Bikyamasr.com, November 13, 2012

Singapore to amend death penalty for drug-trafficking

Known for its tough stance on drug-trafficking Singapore is one of the few developed countries with a mandatory death penalty. Now the country is the verge of easing its stance.

Every Monday morning Kah Pin Cheong wakes up at 2am, to begin his journey from his home in Malaysia to Singapore. He visits his son Chun Yin, who is in Changi prison facing death row. "Even if it's rains, I still come to see him... Of course I'll help my son, he's all I have," says Cheong.

In 2008 Chun Yin Cheong was convicted of trafficking 2.7 kilograms of heroin into Singapore. Cheong's family claims he was tricked into transporting the drugs and that he was convinced he was only taking gold bars. "He's very trusting and likes to help people, and because of that he was taken advantage of. I'm hoping the Singaporean government to give him a chance," says Mr Cheong.

Cheong's prayers may soon be answered. The Singaporean government is about to change the death penalty law relating to trafficking drugs. It means that Chun Yin's life, and the lives of several others, could be saved.

Since July 2011 the Singaporean government has suspended all executions as part of the law's review. Draft amendments were announced in parliament this July and final changes are expected this week.

Singapore drug trafficking penalties are among the harshest in the world. Anyone caught bringing 15g of heroin, 30g of cocaine or 500g of cannabis are automatically given a death sentence. With the amendments, judges will have more discretion, and be able to impose life imprisonment instead of the death penalty. But there are strict conditions. It only applies to those considered a courier - rather than a criminal mastermind, the mentally disabled, or those cooperate substantially with the law.

The lawyer representing Chun Yin Cheong, M Ravi, says the changes are ground-breaking, and long overdue. "It is cruel, archaic, an abuse, it's called judicial murder and it's also in breach of international humanitarian law - in denying and depriving the condemned man from his opportunity to have his plea in mitigation presented," said M Ravi.

Australian Van Nguyen was convicted of drug-trafficking in October 2004. Throughout his trial, he claimed that he was trying to pay off the legal debts of his twin brother Khoa. The case amassed national support. A government plea for clemency was rejected, and on the 2nd of December 2005, the 25-year-old was hanged. SBS has commissioned a miniseries about his life, to be broadcast next year.

M Ravi believes efforts to save the Australian contributed to the changes. "It taught the Singaporean government the value of human life, the meaning compassion, regardless of race, language culture. Australian people as a whole campaigning for this. Really heart-warming, a wonderful expression for humanity around the world," said M Ravi.

Former attorney general Walter Woon, says compassion has nothing to do with it. "It apparently seems to be the intention to encourage drug mules to give information that can be used by drug authorities around the region...There is zero tolerance amongst the population for drug offences, I haven't been able to detect any sympathy for drug traffickers," said Woon.

A contributor to discussions on the proposed amendments, Zheng Xi says there's no evidence Singapore's death penalty deters crime. "Abolishing the death penalty is not softening, it's wisening up...We should be considering whether or not encouraging a culture of state-sponsored hanging is really the solution to violence in society, or, as some would argue, the cause of violence in society," said Xi.

Zheng Xi hopes Singapore will abolish the death penalty completely. The government is already under pressure from the United Nations, Human Rights agencies and foreign governments, but Walter Woon believes their impact is overstated. "As long as major countries like the US, Japan, India, China retain the death penalty, it's hard to accept that there's an international consensus as some people pretend there is. The pressure from abroad is often seen as a minority trying to bludgeon other people into accepting their views," said Woon.

Organisation 'We Believe in Second Chances' says mindsets are changing. The youth-lead group runs internet campaigns supporting those facing death row. Organiser Damien Chng says mindsets in Singapore are changing, but slowly. "It is because it is tough, because no one stands up for these people that makes it even more important for us to do it....Because we believe in a just and fair society that we push on no matter what," says Chng."

Pushing on, no matter what, are the family and supporters of Chun Yin. Last year they collected almost 9,000 signatures, begging for the 29-year-old's life. The government was silent.

Last month a third and final clemency plea by M Ravi was dismissed by the Court of appeal. Changes to the death penalty law are the last legal opportunity to save Chun-Yin Cheong's life.

Kah Pin Cheong remains positive. "He isn't a criminal he's truly a good kid. If you were to meet him, you'd realise he is a cheerful, good person."

He says the end of any visit to Changi prison is never easy, but he hopes - for his son's sake - there will be many more journeys to make.

Source: SBS.com, November 13, 2012

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