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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Shock in South Africa over 6 year sentence for Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee who dazzled the world by running in the 2012 Olympics on blade-like prosthetic legs, was sentenced to 6 years in prison for the 2013 murder of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp.

Fifteen years is the minimum sentence for murder under South African law unless the judge finds mitigating circumstances justifying a lesser penalty. Judge Thokozile Masipa said she had indeed found reason for a lighter sentence, in particular, remorse.

Pistorius was originally convicted of manslaughter, called “culpable homicide” in South Africa, in September 2014, and handed a five-year sentence after a long televised trial that riveted audiences across the globe. An appeals court overruled Masipa, the trial judge, and determined that Pistorius was guilty of murder, exposing Pistorius to the stiffer sentence. Many observers expected a sentence of between 10 and 15 years, with credit for time already served.

Some were reported to be shocked by the fact that after the appeals court declared his crime a murder, effectively repudiating Masipa, she then increased his sentence by only a single year. Masipa, apparently anticipating the reaction, said as she read her decision that “public opinion may be loud and persistent but it can play no role in this case.”

Among the mitigating factors cited by Masipa were that Pistorius was vulnerable at the time of the shooting, walking on his stumps rather than his prosthesis; that he believed the person in the bathroom was an intruder and that he had taken genuine steps to save her life after realizing what he had done.

In addition, she said, he had demonstrated remorse, apologizing to Steenkamp’s parents in the courtroom, after they had refused to see him and accept his apology in person.

He remains, she said, “a good candidate” for rehabilitation. In addition, she said, “he has already spent some time,” 12 months, serving his original sentence. And, she added, he is not a violent person.

Early reaction in the media was harsh. “Six years is not long enough when you consider that he hasn’t even been honest about his motive for killing her,” Ellesandro Soares Chaves commented on thee BBC’s Facebook page. “He is a murderer and a liar who can’t even own up to what he did and that behaviour should add years to his sentence and automatically disqualify him for any leniency.”

“Disgusting. It’s almost as if Oscar Pistorius is a privileged white man in a deeply racist country,” added Kenny Martin.


Source: Washington Post, July 6, 2016

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