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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Thailand backpacker murders: Myanmar asks for death sentence review

Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, (R), and Zaw Lin, (L), both 22, in Dec. 2015.
Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, (R), and Zaw Lin, (L), both 22, in Dec. 2015.
Army chief calls on Thailand to review evidence against two Burmese migrant workers whose sentencing for murder of British backpackers has sparked anger in Myanmar

Myanmar’s army chief has called on Thailand to review the death sentence against two Burmese men for murdering a pair of British backpackers.

General Min Aung Hlaing asked Thailand for a “review of the evidence” against the two men, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo (also known as Win Zaw Htun) were found guilty on Thursday of killing David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, whose battered bodies were found on a beach in the southern Thai diving resort of Koh Tao in September 2014.

The defence accused the police of bungling their investigation and using the men as scapegoats – a charge authorities deny.

The verdicts have sparked anger in Myanmar with daily protests held outside the Thai embassy in Yangon and at border crossings with the country’s eastern neighbour.

The Global New Light of Myanmar said Hlaing expressed his concerns about the verdict in a New Year message to senior Thai junta leaders.

“The commander-in-chief expressed his respect for Thailand’s judicial process while stressing the need to avoid a situation in which the innocent … were wrongly punished,” the newspaper reported.

Thai prosecutors and police insist their evidence against the men – both migrant workers – was conclusive, including DNA found on Witheridge’s body.

But the defence, which has vowed to appeal the verdict, disputed the forensic evidence, saying it was improperly collected and processed.

They also accused the police of torturing their clients into signing confessions that they later retracted.

Hannah Witheridge, 23, David Miller, 24
Hannah Witheridge, 23, David Miller, 24.
Amnesty International has accused Thai authorities of failing to independently investigate those allegations.

Activists say the case reflects a wider trend of low-paid migrant workers from neighbouring countries being blamed for crimes in Thailand where the justice system is easily bent by wealth and power.

The Thai authorities have received an endorsement from Miller’s family who backed investigators after the verdict was announced, saying they believed the evidence against the two accused was “overwhelming”.

The court in Koh Samui also dismissed the defence’s torture allegations.

On Saturday Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were moved to a high security prison in Nakhon Si Thammarat on the southern Thai mainland where many death row inmates are held. Although Thailand retains capital punishment, executions are rare.

Source: The Guardian, Oliver Holmes, Peter Walker, December 27, 2015

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