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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

China: Man who spent 11 years on death row compensated 1.27 million yuan

Zeng Aiyun, who spent 11 years on death row before being cleared, visits his mother in July 2015
Zeng Aiyun, who spent 11 years on death row before being cleared,
visits his mother in July 2015. (Shanghai Daily)
A Chinese man condemned to death three times for murder and who spent 11 years on death row before being cleared was awarded 1.27 million yuan ($200,000) compensation, reports said Tuesday.

Zeng Aiyun, once a graduate student at Xiangtan University in the central province of Hunan, was convicted in 2004 of murdering a fellow student and sentenced to die.

The verdict was set aside three times on appeal and new trials ordered, but on the first two retrials in 2005 and 2010 Zeng was again condemned to death.

Finally the Xiangtan Intermediate People's Court exonerated him for lack of evidence at his fourth trial in July.

It awarded him 1.27 million yuan in compensation on Monday, the Xinhua news agency reported.

The court found another student to be the sole killer, it added. 

Chen Huazhang -- previously sentenced to life as Zeng's accomplice -- poisoned the victim out of jealousy, Xinhua said, and laid a false trail to implicate Zeng.

Zeng said he was not satisfied with the compensation and would go back to court once more to seek more, the Beijing Times reported Tuesday.

The case is the latest to highlight the risks of miscarriages of justice in China, where forced confessions are widespread and virtually all criminal defendants are found guilty.

Wrongful executions are not unknown in the country.

In a high-profile case that sparked nationwide public anger, a court in the northern region of Inner Mongolia last year cleared a man named Hugjiltu, who was convicted, sentenced and executed for rape and murder in 1996 at the age of 18.

The declaration of his innocence came nine years after another man confessed to the crime.

China's courts are politically controlled and the Communist Party has pledged to ensure the "rule of law with Chinese characteristics" and said it will lessen the influence of local officials over courts.

But the country's conviction rate remains close to 100 percent, with only 778 acquittals last year and nearly 1.2 million convictions, according to official data.

Source: Agence France-Presse, December 29, 2015

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