“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. …

Japan: Hakamada fends off prosecutors

Iwao Hakamada eats breakfast at a
Tokyo hotel on Friday
The Tokyo High Court on Friday rejected an appeal by Shizuoka prosecutors seeking to overturn a district court’s decision to release Iwao Hakamada, who until Thursday had been the world’s longest-serving death row prisoner.

The Shizuoka District Court had also decided to suspend Hakamada’s death penalty and reopen the 1966 murder case.

Hakamada, 78, who was released from the Tokyo Detention House on Thursday after spending more than 40 years on death row after he was convicted of killing a family of four, was hospitalized Friday in Tokyo after a health check indicated he might have diabetes, according to his lawyers.

On Thursday, the lawyers issued a statement asking prosecutors not to file an appeal and asked the Tokyo High Court to reject any that are filed.

Hakamada was convicted of murdering the family of four in Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, now part of the city of Shizuoka, in June 1966.

He was sentenced to death in 1968 and the sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

“It was a strange feeling to see my brother sleeping next to me,” Hideko Hakamada, Iwao Hakamada’s 81-year-old sister, said Friday morning after assisting her brother overnight at a hotel in Tokyo. “I felt as if I was dreaming.”

Source: The Japan Times, March 29, 2014

Secrecy plagues Japanese executions: Amnesty

TOKYO — Human rights group Amnesty International said Thursday that Japan’s use of capital punishment was “shrouded in secrecy” and criticized its treatment of death row prisoners who are kept in solitary confinement for years.

Launching its annual review of the death penalty around the world, Amnesty said the United Nation’s Committee Against Torture has signaled its concerns about the Japanese criminal justice system.

The report came as a Japanese court granted a retrial to a death-row inmate who has been confined since 1966 for a quadruple murder, decades after doubts emerged about his guilt and as the judge said key evidence may have been planted.

“The use of the death penalty in Japan continued to be shrouded in secrecy,” Amnesty said in its latest report, which showed the world’s third largest economy executed eight people in 2013. The tally was the ninth largest, the group said.

China topped the list, but Amnesty said it was difficult to know the full extent of the practice there. The organization said it could not confirm reliable figures for Malaysia or North Korea.

Japan and the United States are the only major industrialised democracies to carry out capital punishment, a practice that has led to repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups.

International advocacy groups say the Japanese system is cruel because death row inmates can wait for their executions for many years in solitary confinement and are only told of their impending death a few hours ahead of time.

Japan executes elderly inmates and those who are preparing to apply for retrials “in contravention of international standards on the use of the death penalty,” Amnesty said.

The UN commission has pointed to the “unnecessary secrecy and uncertainty surrounding the execution of prisoners; the use of solitary confinement for prisoners sentenced to death, some exceeding 30 years,” Amnesty said.

The report came as Shizuoka District Court decided to “start the retrial over the case” of Iwao Hakamada, 78, who was convicted for the grisly murder of his boss and the man’s family nearly five decades ago.

Source: Agence France-Presse, March 29, 2014

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