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Why Texas’ ‘death penalty capital of the world’ stopped executing people

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Since the Supreme Court legalized capital punishment in 1976, Harris County, Texas, has executed 126 people. That's more executions than every individual state in the union, barring Texas itself.
Harris County's executions account for 23 percent of the 545 people Texas has executed. On the national level, the state alone is responsible for more than a third of the 1,465 people put to death in the United States since 1976.
In 2017, however, the county known as the "death penalty capital of the world" and the "buckle of the American death belt" executed and sentenced to death a remarkable number of people: zero.
This is the first time since 1985 that Harris County did not execute any of its death row inmates, and the third year in a row it did not sentence anyone to capital punishment either.
The remarkable statistic reflects a shift the nation is seeing as a whole.
“The practices that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is following are also signifi…

Jessica Wongso, Mirna Salihin and the fatal cyanide drink

Police officers conduct a preliminary re-enactment at Olivier Cafe.
Police officers conduct a preliminary re-enactment at Olivier Cafe.
An Indonesian Australian woman charged with the fatal cyanide ­poisoning of her friend must be ­executed if found guilty to prevent copycat murders, the dead woman’s father says.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan and Indonesian Law Minister Yasonna Laoly have confirmed Indonesia gave an undertaking in return for Australian Federal Police co-operation in the case that the death penalty would be taken off the table for Indonesian-born Australian permanent resident Jessica Wongso.

Ministerial approval is a necessary condition for Australian assistance in investigating crimes that could lead to the death penalty, after the AFP tip-off that ultimately led to the ­execution last year of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Dermawan Salihin, 64, told The Australian yesterday that this should not affect the Indonesian judges’ final sentencing decision should Ms Wongso be found guilty of his daughter’s murder. “If this girl manages to get away then the same thing can happen to other people. Somebody can just poison another person and get away with it,” the Jakarta businessman said. “This girl has to be killed as an example so nobody else follows what she has done. Everybody in Indonesia is watching this.”

Ms Salihin (left) and Ms Wongso (right)
Ms Wongso will face a Jakarta court today charged with the premeditated murder in January of former college friend Wayan Mirna Salihin, 27, at an upscale cafe in Jakarta. The women studied together at Billy Blue College of Design in Ultimo, Sydney. Ms Salihin returned to Indonesia in 2014 while Ms Wongso had been back in Jakarta just five months when she was detained on suspicion of murder.

An autopsy confirmed Ms ­Salihin died of cyanide poisoning soon after drinking a Vietnamese iced-coffee ordered for her by Ms Wongso. The case has become a tabloid staple, fuelling salacious speculation over the motives for Salihin’s killing and a ghoulish boom in business for the Olivier cafe where she was killed. “Everybody calls it Mirna’s coffee; ‘I’ll have a Mirna’s coffee, but without the cyanide’,” Mr ­Salihin said.

Police say CCTV footage shows Ms Wongso ­arriving at the cafe an hour before Salihin and a third friend, ordering drinks and waiting alone at the table.

Just before her arrest, Ms Wongso told an interviewer on Indonesian TV that she had no idea what was happening when Salihin became ill after sipping her drink. “I was thinking, ‘What is wrong with her? At that time I didn’t think anything more. I thought it might be a heart attack, but it’s not possible, she’s still so young.”

Indonesian police travelled to Australia in February, where they are understood to have interviewed former work colleagues of Ms Wongso at the NSW Ambulance Service. Potassium cyanide is a chemical commonly used in goldmining and is cheap and readily available in Indonesia.

Source: The Australian, Amanda Hodge, June 15, 2016

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