Arizona: Execution witnesses have First Amendment right to hear entire process, 9th Circuit rules

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that witnesses to Arizona executions have a First Amendment right to hear the entire execution process to help determine if executions are done “in a humane and lawful manner.”
The ruling comes 5 years after the last execution in Arizona ended up with the condemned inmate, Joseph Wood, gasping for almost two hours and in apparent agony behind soundproof glass.
A 3-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the claim, by seven death-row inmates and the First Amendment Coalition of Arizona, that the ability to hear what’s happening in the execution room will foster a heightened level of transparency around the death penalty.

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“People might say, ‘That sounds so gory, why do you want to hear what’s happening in there?'” said Morgan Loew, an investigative reporter with CBS 5 in Arizona and the president of the First Amendment Coalition. “What we’re doing is fighting for more access to probably the most …

URGENT ACTION: Florida death-row inmate seeks clemency

The case of Charles Finney, a 60-year-old man on death row in Florida, is now before the clemency authorities. He maintains that he did not commit the murder for which he was sentenced to death. In Florida, an execution date is set if and when clemency is denied.

On the afternoon of 16 January 1991, the body of Sandra Sutherland was found in her home in Tampa, Florida. She was bound and gagged and had been stabbed in the back 13 times. Charles Finney, who lived in the same apartment complex, was arrested on 30 January 1991 after he was found to have pawned the victim's video recorder on 16 January. He was charged with capital murder and brought to trial in September 1992. Charles Finney testified that he did not kill Sandra Sutherland, but that he knew her as a neighbor and had been in her home several times when he did maintenance work at the complex (2 fingerprints of his were found in her apartment). He testified that he found the video recorder in a bag near the rubbish bins and decided to pawn it. The pawn shop owner confirmed that Charles Finney had also pawned a television (neither stolen nor belonging to Sandra Sutherland) on 15 January 1991, and that on both occasions he had provided his correct local address even though the driving license he used for identification still had a Georgia address on it.

A witness testified that the day before the murder, he saw "a white male, a big guy" and Sandra Sutherland "cussing and screaming at each other" outside her apartment. Charles Finney is African American. The witness testified that he told the police about this incident soon after the murder but that they had never followed up with him in trying to establish the man's identify. The police never located the white male in question.

2 further witnesses testified that on the morning of the murder they saw another person, known as "Bill", a white male acquaintance working at the apartment complex, standing in Sandra Sutherland's doorway with the door open. One testified that "as soon as [Bill] saw me, he acted like he was going to go back in, and then he came out real quick, locked the door and walked around the corner". The other witness corroborated this. Bill denied being in the apartment that day, however the defense presented a detective who indicated that he gave the police inconsistent accounts of his whereabouts. In closing arguments, the trial prosecutor said that "this is a circumstantial evidence case, no doubt about it" as there was no confession or eyewitness testimony. There is also evidence that the prosecution failed to disclose certain evidence to the defense. Charles Finney was found guilty, and on 18 September 1992, after some 8 hours of deliberation, the jurors voted 9 to 3 for the death penalty.

Please write immediately in English or your own language:

* Calling for Charles Finney to be granted clemency;

* Noting that the case against Charles Finney is circumstantial and the jury was divided on the sentence;

* Expressing concern that the prosecution failed to disclose certain information to the defense;

* Expressing your understanding of the seriousness of the crime and its consequences.




In 2000, a landmark study conducted at Columbia Law School in New York concluded that US death sentences are "persistently and systematically fraught with error". The study revealed that appeal courts had found serious errors - those requiring a judicial remedy - in 68 % of cases. It pointed to prosecutorial and police misconduct and inadequate defense representation as the principal causes of error. The study expressed "grave doubt" as to whether the courts catch all such errors. 

Name: Charles Finney (m)

Issues: Death penalty, Imminent execution

UA: 124/14

Issue Date: 13 May 2014

Country: USA



Governor Rick Scott
Office of the Governor, The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Email: Rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com
Salutation: Dear Governor

Office of Executive Clemency
Florida Parole Commission,
4070 Esplanade Way
Tallahassee, FL 32399-2450
Email: ClemencyWeb@fpc.state.fl.us
Fax: 1 850 414-6031 or 1 850 488-0695
Salutation: Dear Members of the Clemency Board

Also send copies to your local representative in Congress.

Please check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after the above date.

Please share this urgent action with your networks using this link:


UA Network Office AIUSA 600 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington DC 20003

T. 202.509.8193 -- F. 202.509.8193 --E. uan@aiusa.org --amnestyusa.org/urgent

Source: Amnesty International USA, May 2014

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