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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…

Thailand: Defence gets extension to appeal Koh Tao death penalties

Ko Zaw Lin (L) and Ko Wai Phyo (R)
Ko Zaw Lin (L) and Ko Wai Phyo (R): 100 points to contest
2 Myanmar men sentenced to death in Thailand for murder have been given a momentary reprieve: The court yesterday allotted an extra month for their appeal.

The defence team applied for and was granted the extension just four days before the initial court deadline.

The lawyers said they have assembled over 100 points to contest in the appeal, which will seek to overturn the death penalty verdict handed down to Ko Zaw Lin and Ko Wai Phyo. 

On December 24, Thai courts found the Rakhine State natives guilty of murdering 2 British backpackers last year on the resort island Koh Tao.

Much of the case rests on hotly contested DNA evidence. The defence team has been working with Australian DNA expert Jane Taupin to question the prosecutors' claim that forensic samples lead to a 100 % match with the defendants. 

In their ruling, the judges cite the claim as creditable, and added that the methods used to analyse the DNA evidence met international standards.

Ms Taupin told the Bangkok Post earlier this month that the DNA testing was fraught with serious doubts. She said the 100pc guarantee boasted by the prosecutors cannot technically be made, especially since DNA matches are not about certainty but a sliding probability scale. DNA profiling alone should not form the basis of a criminal conviction, she said.

According to the Migrant Worker Rights Network, which has been assisting the defence, the team has pored over nearly 4000 pages of court records, and has assembled an extensive list of appeal points. 

The extra time will be used to coordinate with Ms Taupin about the DNA evidence, U Sein Htay, chair of the MWRN, said.

"The trial and sentence revolved around these DNA results which were not handled according to international norms," he said. "Additionally, police reported at the trial that not all DNA results were tested. We have to appeal these points."

During the trial, which began last July, defence lawyers sought to draw attention to inconsistencies in the police work, including not sealing off the crime scene, and not following all potential leads. 

The defence maintains the 2 Myanmar men were tortured into making false confessions.

The death sentence sparked outrage in Myanmar, where even Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing weighed in, suggesting his Thai counterparts should "take another look". 

Protests led by nationalist monks have been scheduled every Sunday, with the demonstrators vowing to continue until the verdict is overturned.

At the beginning of the month, President U Thein Sein assigned a cast of Myanmar lawyers to observe the case and report to the embassy. The delegation, made up of members of the Myanmar's Lawyers Council, met with Ko Zaw Lin and Ko Wai Phyo in prison.

"The group will try their best to assist the appeal and report observations about the forensic data collection process," said a senior official from the President's Office.

Source: Myanmar Times, January 21, 2016

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