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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…

Pakistan Braces for Violence After Execution of Governor’s Killer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The authorities in Pakistan were bracing for the possibility of violence and escalating protests on Monday after the execution of the killer of Salmaan Taseer, a governor who had campaigned for changes in the country’s blasphemy laws.

Mr. Taseer’s assassin, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, was hanged at 4:30 a.m. on Monday at the Adiala Jail, a high-security prison in Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad, the capital. Security forces were put on high alert in major cities across the country.

Supporters had begun gathering to view Mr. Qadri’s body at his home in Rawalpindi. By early afternoon, the expressway connecting Islamabad and Rawalpindi was blocked by protests.

In the eastern city of Lahore, large police contingents were deployed to thwart demonstrations. Some markets had closed in the southwestern city of Karachi, where religious groups have a sizable presence, and the police had been sent to others. Protests were also reported in smaller cities.

Mr. Qadri, a former police security guard, had confessed to assassinating Mr. Taseer, whom he accused of blasphemy, by shooting him 27 times in the back in January 2011. He was sentenced to death that year and filed an appeal. In October 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence; last week, a request for mercy he had made to President Mamnoon Hussain was rejected.

Pakistani officials’ concerns about the potential for violence grew as Mr. Hussain considered Mr. Qadri’s mercy request. In late February, security was bolstered for the president, and some members of his family were moved from his home city, Karachi, to the official presidential residence in Islamabad. Last week, two drivers in his convoy were taken into custody in Lahore after they were found to be driving slower than the standard speed, in violation of security rules.

Mr. Taseer, a secular politician who was the governor of Punjab Province at the time of his assassination, had vociferously campaigned for changes in the blasphemy laws, which he, like other critics, said had been used to persecute religious minorities. But for a large section of Pakistani society, the mere suggestion of changing the laws amounts to a capital crime.

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Source: The New York Times, Feb 29, 2016

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