Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

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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