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Showing posts from June, 2015

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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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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.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Islamic State beheads four for sorcery in Syria, including two women

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Islamic State (IS) has beheaded two women in eastern Syria, the first time the jihadist group has decapitated female civilians, activists say.
The women were killed along with their husbands in the city of Deir al-Zour and the town of al-Mayadeen, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
All four were accused of sorcery.
IS has previously decapitated the bodies of Kurdish female fighters killed in battle. The group has also beheaded men for witchcraft in Iraq.
The group's extreme interpretation of Islamic law has also seen gay men thrown off buildings and women stoned for adultery.
Last week, IS militants in Syria hanged two youths from a beam by their wrists after accusing them of not fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
The killing of people for sorcery is not unique to IS. The authorities in Saudi Arabia have also beheaded both men and women on similar charges.
Source: BBC News, June 30, 2015
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U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Controversial Execution Procedure

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Justices Breyer and Ginsburg: 'It is highly likely' the death penalty is unconstitutional
The Supreme Court's decision on Monday to uphold a controversial lethal injection procedure used by Oklahoma was reached because the 5 justices in the majority were not swayed by arguments that a particular sedative caused executions that could be deemed cruel and unusual punishment.
But in 1 of the dissents, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said he disagreed with the decision before moving on to a much larger question: Is the death penalty itself unconstitutional?
"I believe it highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment," Breyer wrote. "At the very least, the Court should call for full briefing on the basic question."
In a 41-page dissent - longer than the majority opinion authored by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. - Breyer, who was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote that country's use of the death penalty has dramatically changed since…

Death Penalty Abolitionists Optimistic After SCOTUS Ruling

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On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of midazolam in lethal injections does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, despite its use in a spate of botched executions. But death penalty abolitionists remain hopeful in the bigger fight to end capital punishment altogether.
Handing down the majority opinion in Glossip v. Gross, Justice Samuel Alito asserted states must have access to means of execution:
"Our decisions in this area have been animated in part by the recognition that because it is settled that capital punishment is constitutional, "[i]t necessarily follows that there must be a [constitutional] means of carrying it out." And because some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution, we have held that the Constitution does not require the avoidance of all risk of pain. After all, while most humans wish to die a painless death, many do not have that good fortune. Holding that the Eighth Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all …

California: high court ruling could resume executions

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A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Monday reinforced the ability of states to rely on lethal injection to carry out executions, handing down a ruling out of Oklahoma that unlocks California's long dormant effort to revive the death penalty in this state.
The Supreme Court's decision triggers what promises to be a tangled, prolonged legal process that could ultimately lead to a resumption of executions in the Golden State -- although it could still be years before the doors reopen in San Quentin's death chamber.
Under a recent settlement with families of murder victims, California prison officials agreed to propose a new single-drug execution method within 120 days of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Oklahoma legal challenge. It would mark the 1st progress in years toward devising a new execution procedure at San Quentin, where California has not executed a condemned killer in nearly a decade.
By upholding Oklahoma's controversial 3-drug lethal injection method in a …

U.S.: Is the Death Penalty Constitutional?

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An interesting thing happened on the way to Monday morning’s predictable Supreme Court ruling upholding Oklahoma’s use of a controversial lethal-injection drug.
The 5-to-4 decision rejected a claim by three death-row inmates that use of the sedative midazolam would put them at risk of severe pain. It also ruled preposterously that in order to succeed the inmates had to show that there is an alternative manner of execution that is significantly less painful but readily available.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr., writing for the majority, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing the main dissent, battled bitterly over both of these issues.
But it was Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that stood out above the usual noise: For 46 pages, a Supreme Court justice made the case that the death penalty most likely violates the Constitution.
In 1994, Justice Harry Blackmun announced that after a quarter century on the court he had given up on capital punishment and w…

Exonerated convict Glenn Ford succumbs to lung cancer at 65

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Glenn Ford, who spent nearly 30 years on Angola's death row for a murder that prosecutors eventually conceded he did not commit, died in New Orleans early Monday (June 29), supporters announced. He was 65.
Ford learned he had lung cancer shortly after his release from Angola on March 11, 2014. A news release from Ford's supporters said he died at 2:11 a.m., having been "surrounded by friends, loved ones and family in recent days."
Ford, who was born in Shreveport on Oct. 22, 1949, was convicted of the 1983 murder of 56-year-old Isadore Rozeman, a Shreveport jeweler and watchmaker for whom Ford had done occasional yard work. Ford had always denied killing Rozeman, and on March 10, 2014, he was exonerated of the crime when the state vacated his conviction.
State District Judge Ramona Emanuel voided Ford's conviction and sentence based on new information corroborating his claim that he was not present or involved in Rozeman's death, Ford's attorneys said.
F…

U.S. Supreme Court Allows Use of Execution Drug

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Monday against three death row inmates who had sought to bar the use of an execution drug they said risked causing excruciating pain.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the majority opinion in the 5-to-4 decision. He was joined by the court’s four more conservative justices.
The drug, the sedative midazolam, played a part in three long and apparently painful executions last year. It was used in an effort to render inmates unconscious before they were injected with other, severely painful drugs.
Four condemned inmates in Oklahoma challenged the use of the drug, saying it did not reliably render the person unconscious and so violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Lower courts disagreed.
Oklahoma and several other states started to use midazolam in executions after manufacturers in Europe and the United States refused to sell them the barbiturates that were traditionally used to produce unconsciousness.
Lawyers for the…

A moment that changed me – seeing a man executed: Clive Stafford Smith

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13 November, 1996. A Wednesday, not a Friday, but still not so lucky for Larry Lonchar. He was electrocuted just after midnight. I got to watch. The very next day they were going to kill Ellis Wayne Felker. We got his case stopped, but only for 24 hours. Then they killed him too. 
Meanwhile the Feds re-arrested Clarence Smith. I’d spent years getting him exonerated and off death row in Louisiana, but the federal government had the power to charge him with the same things all over again, acquittal notwithstanding. All in all, not a great three days.
Larry’s bipolar rollercoaster had taken in several crests and troughs. When he was depressed, he would periodically drop his appeals and ask to die. Each time the good state of Georgia would cut off his antidepressants, keen that he should follow through. We had come within 40 minutes of his execution four times – once within 58 seconds – before we got a stay. Each time he had been terrified, as the electric chair loomed closer.
This was t…