In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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…

China's SC orders retrial of Nie Shubin, convicted of rape & murder and executed 21 years ago

Nie Shubin (file photo)
Nie Shubin (file photo)
The Supreme People's Court has ordered a retrial of a man executed 21 years ago, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Nie Shubin, a worker in Shijiazhuang, northern China's Hebei Province, was put to death in April 1995 when he was 20 years old for allegedly raping and killing a woman in a cornfield.

Nie was convicted of intentional rape and murder on March 15, 1995 by the intermediate people’s court in Shijiazhuang. In addition to having all of his political rights taken away for both crimes he was given a death sentence.

In December 2014, the Supreme People’s Court, in accordance with a request from the Higher People's Court of Hebei Province and in the spirit of related laws, appointed the Higher People's Court of Shandong Province to conduct a review of the case.

Accordingly a panel of five judges conducted in depth document review with other parties along with proper verification of the autopsy of the victim to see whether or not there were bone fractures. 

Several trips were made to Hebei etc. to conduct investigations and talk with the appellee and their lawyer.

The new panel decided that there was not enough evidence to prove Nie Shubin was guilty, with many doubts in the aspects of time and tools used in the crime as well as causes of death. It is not possible to rule out that perhaps another person did the crime. Accordingly, they suggested a re-trial with affiliated parties.

The Supreme People's Court agreed with their opinion and in compliance with article 242 and 243 of the People’s Republic of China criminal procedural law the case is to be brought into reconsideration.

The Supreme People's Court will organize a collegiate bench and maintain a just attitude and conduct a hearing based on the facts and criterion of law, and a verification letter of the re-hearing was presented to Nie Shubin’s mother. Results will be presented to the public in a timely manner.

Source: People's Daily Online, June 8, 2016

China orders retrial of murder case of man executed 21 years ago

More than 2 decades after a young Chinese man's execution, the country's supreme court on Wednesday informed his mother of a new trial, shining a spotlight on an old murder case viewed by many as a symbol of the fatal flaws in China's criminal justice system.

Calling the evidence for the conviction and sentencing in 1995 of 20-year-old Nie Shubin "unreliable and incomplete," the Supreme People's Court ordered the case to be retried "openly and fairly" - but did not give a trial date.

The court statement alluded to the biggest twist in the case: Another man later confessed to the crimes -- raping and killing a woman -- that Nie was executed for.

"Major questions exist in terms of when and how the defendant allegedly committed the crimes as well as how the victim died," it said. "The possibility that another person may have committed the crimes cannot be ruled out."

A mother's fight for her son

Nie Shubin’s mother visits his grave and makes offerings
Nie Shubin’s mother visits his grave and makes offerings.
"I'm very excited about the development," Zhang Huanzhi, Nie's 72-year-old mother, told CNN by phone Thursday. "I'll visit his grave soon to tell him that Mom's efforts all these years weren't in vain -- and justice will prevail in your case."

When CNN last met Zhang in her small village in 2011, the farmer from Hebei Province was still fighting in earnest to exonerate her son, making countless journeys to the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang -- some 320 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of Beijing.

"I bike to the closest bus stop and then take a 2-hour ride to the provincial high court," said Zhang back then. "As long as I can still move, I'm not giving up."

Zhang goes to court whenever she catches a break between tending the cornfield and feeding her livestock.

Zhang hopes the government would do whatever it takes to protect other families from the kind of anguish she has suffered.

Nie Shubin was executed in 1995 for raping and killing a woman. A decade later, another man confessed to the same crimes.

Zhang hopes the government would do whatever it takes to protect other families from the kind of anguish she has suffered.

Many have viewed Zhang's plight -- and the case involving her only son -- as an egregious example of widespread police torture, deficient due process and lax review of death sentences.

For years, Zhang kept hitting a wall and even the People's Daily -- the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party -- ran a scathing commentary in September 2011 that asked: "In a case where someone was clearly wronged, why has it been so difficult to make it right?"

"Rehabilitation means little to the dead, but it means a lot to his surviving family and all other citizens," it said. "We can no longer afford to let Nie's case drag on."

Zhang was dealt with a blow in 2013 when the Hebei high court ruled that, despite his confession, a man named Wang Shujin was not the perpetrator in the Nie case.

Hopes were rekindled when the supreme court the following year ordered the high court in another province to review the case.

Zhang's lawyers were allowed to examine the case files last year, and said they discovered multiple forged signatures, and evidence of provincial authorities in Hebei pressuring Wang to recant his confession through mental and physical abuses.

China has long insisted it is ruled by law, stressing that its judicial system bans evidence obtained through torture and increasingly limits the death penalty.

Still, it executes more people than all other countries of the world combined. Human rights group Amnesty International estimates the figure -- considered a state secret -- to be in the thousands every year.

Many experts also argue that, with the ruling Communist leadership more concerned about maintaining social stability, ordinary citizens and lawyers alike face a repressive legal environment in which criminal suspects do not enjoy the right to silence.

Persistence pays off

Zhang's refusal to stay quiet, fortunately, has finally made a difference in Nie's case.

She now seals her most treasured possessions in a plastic bag: 2 old photos and several legal documents.

"He was about 19 and it was taken right here in our courtyard," she told CNN 5 years ago, pointing to the fading color prints of her shy stuttering son beaming for the camera.

Nie was taken into custody not long after the photos were taken and would never see his mother again.

Zhang said local police, during their several visits to question the family and search the house, never told her why they had detained her son. Court documents cited "tips from local residents" but did not elaborate.

Authorities tried Nie behind closed doors and barred the parents from the courtroom, but Nie told a lawyer hired by his family that he was beaten into a confession on his 6th day in jail.

Lone quest for justice

7 months after he was first detained, the government executed Nie -- without notifying his parents.

After the initial shock, Zhang had to endure more agony to locate her son's remains and deal with a failed suicide attempt and subsequent half-paralysis of her husband, who was devastated by Nie's execution.

Living off her husband's meager monthly pension, Zhang has learned to take care of the family by herself.

Carefully laying the contents from her plastic bag on a table, Zhang described in 2011 each legal document as she recounted her 6-year lone quest for justice: a copy of the verdict against Nie that detailed his "crimes;" a 2007 letter from the Supreme People's Court in Beijing instructing the Hebei high court to "process" her appeal; and most importantly, a printout of a written statement by Wang's lawyer on his client's confession.

"The cold reality doesn't offer us ordinary people much hope -- so why do I keep pursuing?" Zhang asked back then.

"I don't want to hold anyone responsible, I don't want government compensation, and I don't want the judge to bring back my son alive -- but one thing I must have is his innocence."

Source: CNN, June 9, 2016

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