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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Japan executes two death row inmates

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
TOKYO — Japan on Friday executed two death row prisoners, local media reported, as the government—backed by public opinion—continued to ignore calls by international rights groups to end capital punishment.

Media identified the two inmates as Junko Yoshida, 56, a former nurse convicted of two murders for insurance in 1998 and 1999 in Fukuoka Prefecture, and Yasutoshi Kamata, 75, who was sentenced to death for killing a 9-year-old girl in Osaka and four women between 1985 and 1994.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said a press conference would be held later Friday.

The number of inmates on death row now stands at 124.

Japan and the United States are the only major advanced industrial nations with capital punishment.

Campaign group Amnesty International criticised the executions.

“The execution of two death-row inmates is extremely deplorable, and goes against the global trend for abolishing capital punishment,” said Hideki Wakabayashi, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan.

“Despite the fact that about 140 countries in the world have already abandoned or have stopped executions for more than a decade, the Japanese government is turning its back on the trend,” he told AFP.

Surveys have shown that the death penalty has overwhelming public support in Japan, despite repeated protests from European governments and human rights groups.

International advocacy groups say Japan’s system is cruel because inmates can wait for their executions for many years in solitary confinement and are only told of their impending death a few hours ahead of time.

In December, Japan executed two death row prisoners, including for the first time someone sentenced to death by jurors.

Japan in 2009 launched a jury system in which citizens deliberate with professional judges in a bid to boost the role of the citizenry in the judicial process.

Amnesty’s Wakabayashi also said Tokyo should be “severely criticised” for the timing of Friday’s executions ahead of Japan’s hosting of the Group of Seven summit of wealthy democracies in late May.

Source: Agence France-Presse, March 25, 2016


Two hanged as chilling executions continue

The Japanese authorities' reprehensible execution of 2 people today, continues to place the country on the wrong side of history, Amnesty International said.

Yasutoshi Kamata, a 75-year-old-man, was hanged in Osaka Detention Centre on Friday morning. Junko Yoshida, 56, was hanged in the early hours of Friday morning at Fukuoka Detention Centre, in southern Japan. Yoshida is the first woman to be executed in Japan since 2012.

"These disgraceful executions demonstrate a failure of leadership by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe," said Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

"It is long overdue for Japan to abolish this ultimate cruel and inhumane punishment."

The executions are the 1st to be carried out in Japan in 2016, and takes the total number of executions under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's current government to 16.

Junko Yoshida was sentenced to death in 2010 for the murder of two people, in 1998 and 1999. Yasutoshi Kamata's death sentence was confirmed in 2005, after he was convicted of the murders of five people between 1985 and 1994.

Japan is among a small, shrinking minority of countries around the world that continue to execute people. As of today, 102 countries - more than 1/2 of the world's countries have fully abolished thedeath penalty, and 140 countries globally have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

The Japanese government maintains that the continued use of executions is supported by public opinion and acts as deterrent for serious crimes.

"The Japanese authorities' willingness to continue with executions means the country is out of step with the majority of the world, as more and more countries abandon this cruel punishment," said Hiroka Shoji.

"There is no evidence that the death penalty is any more of a deterrent to violent crime than imprisonment."

Amnesty International has called on Japan to immediately introduce a moratorium on executions, as a 1st step towards abolition of the death penalty.

Background
Executions in Japan are shrouded in secrecy with prisoners typically given only a few hours' notice, but some may be given no warning at all. Their families, lawyers and the public are usually notified about the execution only after it has taken place.

Secret executions are in contravention of international standards on the use of the death penalty. This and the lack of other adequate legal safeguards for those facing the death penalty in Japan has been widely criticized by UN experts.

This includes defendants being denied adequate legal counsel and a lack of a mandatory appeal process for capital cases. Several prisoners with mental and intellectual disabilities are also known to have been executed or remain on death row.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. The death penalty violates the right to life and is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

Source: Amnesty International, March 25, 2016

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