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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…

Philippines: Court allows Mary Jane's written testimony

Mary Jane Veloso
Mary Jane Veloso
A Sto. Domingo regional trial court granted the motion of Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina on death row in Indonesia, to "testify" through a written deposition.

Amarica Castillo-Reyes of the Sto. Domingo Regional Trial Court Branch 88, the new judge hearing Mary Jane's case, ruled at the hearing on Aug. 18 that the deposition would be taken by the prosecution through written interrogatories, which, she said, is allowed under the Rules of Court.

Indonesian authorities have allowed the prosecution to get Mary Jane's testimony on several conditions. One condition is that questions to Mary Jane shall be in writing.

This will be the 1st time that Mary Jane will be allowed to testify and officially give her side to the court, which did not happen during her trial in the Indonesian court.

"The situation at hand presents a distinct factual milieu. The private complainant Mary Jane Veloso is not sick or infirm. Although she has left the Philippines, the return to the country is not a possibility by reason of her conviction for the offense of drug trafficking in Indonesia. Her return to the country to take the witness stand does not depend on her own volition but on the decision of the Indonesian government before whom she stands to suffer penalty as death row convict," read Reyes' decision, dated Aug. 16.

Reyes said the Philippine consular office in Indonesia would conduct the deposition upon written interrogatories. This would cover the direct-and cross-examination of Mary Jane, including re-direct and re-cross, if necessary. Her answers would be sent to the handling lawyers in the Philippines.

"It must be emphasized, however, that while the right of the prosecution to due process by allowing them to present evidence through deposition is ensured, the court must equally be vigilant in safeguarding that in the process, the fundamental constitutional right of the accused to confront the prosecution witnesses is not sacrificed," the court decision read.

"We are very happy. We have long prayed for this," Maritess Laurente, Mary Jane's sister, told Bulatlat.

Mary Jane Veloso was sentenced to death 6 years ago for carrying 2.6 kilograms of heroin, hidden in a bag lent to her by her recruiters. Her scheduled execution was stayed at dawn of April 30, 2015 amid national and international outcry about her being a victim of human trafficking. Indonesian President Joko Widodo stayed the execution pending the case filed by Mary Jane's family against her recruiters.

She remains in jail in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Meanwhile, here in the Philippines, accused Maria Kristina Sergio and live-in partner Julius Lacanilao are charged with qualified human trafficking, illegal recruitment, and estafa in relation to Mary Jane's case. The 2 are also facing large scale and syndicated human trafficking case filed by 3 other women whom they also attempted to recruit.

Jenalyn Paraiso, the last of the 3 women complainants against accused Sergio and Lacanilao, took the witness stand on Aug. 18 to detail how the couple attempted to recruit her twice in 2010 and 2011.

National Union of Peoples' Lawyers assistant secretary general for legal services Ephraim Cortez told Bulatlat in an interview that the complainant had earlier filed an affidavit of desistance to supposedly withdraw from the case.

But Paraiso, in her testimony before the court, said she did not intend to withdraw her charges against Sergio and Lacanilao because these were not true, but because she was scared.

She added that it was Lacanilao's mother who accompanied her to the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) in their province where she executed and signed the affidavit. She was not informed of the adverse consequence of the affidavit and was not even given her own copy, said Cortez.

Lawyers from PAO are representing the accused.

"The affidavit of desistance has no weight now. It is no longer valid as she has already affirmed how the accused attempted to recruit her twice," Cortez said.

Apart from Paraiso, the prosecution also presented Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) regional head Paterno Juridico, who testified before the court that the accused are not registered with the said government institution.

Juridico submitted before the court a certification from the POEA that Sergio and Lacanilao are not licensed nor authorized to recruit workers for overseas employment.

Republic Act 9422 or the amended Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 provides that the POEA is tasked to "regulate private sector participation in the recruitment and overseas placement of workers by setting up a licensing and registration system."

In its Rules and Regulations on governing the recruitment and employment of land-based overseas workers, the POEA defined illegal recruitment as "any act of canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilizing, hiring or procuring workers and includes referrals, contract services, promising or advertising for employment abroad, whether for profit or not, when undertaken by a non-licensee or non-holder of authority."

In their respective testimonies, the 3 women complainants - Lorna Valino, Ana Maria Gonzales and Paraiso - who surfaced on the eve of Mary Jane's scheduled execution - said they were recruited by Sergio and Lacanilao to find work abroad and were never presented a license issued by the POEA.

Mary Jane's family members already took the witness stand before the Sto. Domingo court.

Juridico's testimony is both for the case of Mary Jane and the 3 other women complainants.

Under a new judge

The trial of Mary Jane's recruiters is now being heard under a new judge, following the voluntary inhibition of Judge Nelson Tribianna of Branch 37.

Cortez said Tribianna, in his voluntary inhibition, said he was informed of rumors being circulated by accused Sergio that he is her relative. He also said the former judge found defense lawyer Howard Areza's pronouncement that they would ask him to inhibit should he grant Mary Jane's motion for deposition by written interrogatory as a "threat" and "inappropriate."

In an interview, Laurente described Reyes as "strict, brave, and dedicated." The Veloso family expressed hopes that the proceedings of the trial against the accused will be faster.

"This time, the (delaying) tactics and tricks of defense lawyers will no longer work. The judge repeatedly said that this is not an ordinary case," Laurente said, adding that the judge will hold hearings every month.

The next hearing is set on Sept. 9.

Source: bulatlat.com, August 20, 2016

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