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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…

Saudi Arabia Cuts Ties With Iran Amid Fallout From Cleric’s Execution

Protesters demanding freedom for jailed Shiite cleric Nim al-Nimr
Protesters demanding freedom for jailed Shiite cleric Nim al-Nimr
shortly before his execution in Saudi Arabia.
BAGHDAD — Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday and gave all Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the kingdom, as escalating tensions over the execution of an outspoken Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia marked a new low in relations between the two Middle Eastern powers.

The surprise move, announced in a televised news conference by Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, followed harsh criticism by Iranian leaders of the Saudis’ execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and the storming of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran by protesters in response.

Mr. Jubeir said that the kingdom would not allow Iran to undermine its security.

The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned Saturday that Saudi Arabia would face divine vengeance for the execution of Sheikh Nimr, a day after protesters ransacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Saudi Arabia, which put the cleric to death in a mass execution Saturday of 47 men accused of terrorism-related offenses, fired back, saying Iran had “revealed its true face represented in support for terrorism.”

The heated rhetoric underscored the mounting tensions between the two powers, each of which considers itself the leader of the Islamic world and supports opposing sides in conflicts across the region.

Setting off this round of recriminations was the execution of Sheikh Nimr, a Shiite cleric from eastern Saudi Arabia who often criticized the Saudi royal family and called for Shiite empowerment. Skeikh Nimr had become a leader in Shiite protests, and the government accused him of inciting violence.

Most of the reaction in the region to the execution broke cleanly along sectarian lines, with Shiite leaders in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere criticizing the Saudis for killing a man they called a peaceful dissident while Saudi Arabia’s Sunni allies applauded what they called the country’s efforts to fight terrorism.

Most of the 47 executed had been convicted of being involved with Al Qaeda in a wave of deadly attacks in the kingdom a decade ago and included prominent leaders and ideologues. Four, including Sheikh Nimr, were Shiites accused of participating in violent demonstrations in which demonstrators and police were killed.


Source: The New York Times, Ben Hubbard, Thomas Erdbrink, January 3, 2016

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