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

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…

Expanding number of Australians potentially facing execution for drug smuggling in Asian countries

Screenshot from "Return to Paradise" by Joseph Ruben, 1998
Screenshot from "Return to Paradise" by Joseph Ruben, 1998
Death by firing squad, hanging or lethal injection are the possible fates of an expanding number of Australians who could face execution for drug smuggling in Asian countries.

Last year, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said that the number of Australians on death row around the world was 17, with more than half detained in China and the others in countries including Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore.

On Wednesday, DFAT refused to reveal just how many Australians are on death row in several Asian countries.

However, last year's total of 17 is believed to have grown, following the arrest of 2 women in Vietnam allegedly with large amounts of heroin.

DFAT did reveal 36 of the 40 Australians in custody in Vietnam were on drug charges, but would only say "a number of these face the death penalty".

Vietnam applies the death penalty is cases of trafficking of 100 grams of heroin or more, replacing firing squads with lethal injection 3 years ago.

Australian Nguyen Thi Huong who was sentenced to execution has had her death penalty commuted to life, which means the 73-year-old will die in a Ho Chi Min prison.

Peter Gardner was arrested with Sydney woman, Kalynda Davis who was later released by Chinese prison authorities without charge.

But a second Australian woman aged 37, who was arrested in Vietnam in June this year, has yet to be publicly named but will face death by lethal injection if convicted.

DFAT media would only say that 77 Australians are under arrest, detention or in prison in China, and 17 of those are on drug charges.

Under China's drug laws, anyone convicted of possessing more than 50g of heroin or methamphetamines can be sentenced to death. The Chinese government uses lethal injection and the firing squad, with the latter more common for drug crimes.

Australian/New Zealand dual national Peter Gardner is expected to learn his fate in late January when a Guangzhou Court may deliver its verdict on his case.

Gardner, 27, was arrested at Guangzhou airport in November 2014 with Australian woman Kalynda Davis.

Davis was later freed without charge, but Gardner was indicted for allegedly attempting to smuggle a massive 30kg of methamphetamine from China to Australia.

Australian grandmother Nguyen Thi Huong had 2.8kg of heroin in soap bars.

At least 4 other Australians are believed to have received death sentences, or suspended death sentences in China, which may be commuted to life imprisonment.

The conditions in Chinese prisons are harsh, with 15 prisoners sharing a 6m x 3m cell, taking turns on a sleeping platform and sharing a single open toilet.

Australian woman Maria Exposto faced charges in court last month in Malaysia, which strictly imposes mandatory death by hanging for those possessing 15g of heroin or 40g of cocaine.

Malaysia has hanged three Australians for drug trafficking, Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers in 1986 and Michael McAuliffe in 1993.

Australian man Van Tuong Nguyen hanged in Singapore in 2005. Indonesia executed Bali 9 ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

China has also cracked down on people carrying drugs to be sold for profit rather than for personal use.


Charge: Attempt to smuggle 30kg methamphetamine in suitcases on Sydney flight at Guangzhou airport in November 2014

Death penalty: China/ Firing squad

Dual Australian and New Zealand citizen, Peter Gardner was arrested with his then girlfriend, Sydney promotions representative Kalynda Davis, at Guangzhou Airport in November 2014.

Gardner allegedly tried to board a Sydney flight with Davis and two suitcases full of 3kg of ice worth $20 million in bags.

Guangzhou authorities say the suitcases, which were superglued, contained the biggest haul of methamphetamine recorded at the airport.

Davis' policeman father made a mercy dash to China and his daughter was released without charge and sent home in December.

But Gardner has been languishing in a Guangzhou prison since.

Gardner told a Guangzhou court earlier this year that he thought the suitcases contained the performance enhancing sport drugs, peptides, and that this was "the biggest mistake of my life".

He reportedly faces another hearing in January 2017, at which he may learn whether he will be convicted and sentenced to death.


Charge: Smuggling 4kg heroin in suitcases onto a Sydney-bound flight

Death penalty: Vietnam/ Lethal injection

Dung was discovered with more than 4kg of heroin in 2 suitcases as he boarded a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Australia in May 2013.

Dung told a Ho Chi Minh City court that he had been living in Australia with his partner and 2 sons and was made an offer he couldn't refuse.

An unidentified man paid him $40,000 to transport the drugs back to Australia and deliver them to an acquaintance.

Sentenced to death in June 2014, Dung may appeal but faces lethal injection.

Death by hanging could be the fate of Maria Exposto for trafficking 1.1kg of ice if a Malaysian court convicts the Melbourne woman.


Charge: 1.1kg methamphetamine in 2014

Death penalty: Malaysia/ Hanging

Sydney grandmother Maria Exposto was stopped at the Kuala Lumpur airport customs desk on December 7, 2014.

Exposto was in transit from Shanghai and about to catch a Malaysian Airlines flight to Melbourne.

Customs officer Mohd Noor Nashariq scanned her bag and allegedly found 1.1kg of methamphetamine secreted in a hand stitched compartment.

In Malaysia, death by hanging is mandatory for anyone convicted of carrying more than 50g of drugs.

Exposto has maintained her innocence since her arrest, claiming she travelled to Shanghai for romance with a man claiming to be a US serviceman, but who turned out to be a scammer.

She says a stranger duped her into carrying a backpack, which she believed was full of clothes, not drugs, to Melbourne.

Customs officers found the ice stitched into the pack.

Exposto faced hearings at the Shah Alam High Court last month but no decision has been made as to her verdict or fate.


Charge: Boarding a December 2014 flight for Sydney with 2.8kg of heroin hidden in 36 bars of soap

Death penalty: Vietnam/ Lethal injection

Sentenced to death by lethal injection in June this year after the Ho Chi Minh City People???s Court found her guilty of attempting to smuggle 2.8kg of heroin in bars of soap 2 years ago.

Huong said a woman gave her the soap and she planned to take them back to Australia as gifts for family.

She said she did not know it contained heroin, but the Ho Chi Minh City court rejected her defence in a half day trial.

Late last month, the People's High Court reduced the great grandmother???s death sentence to life in prison, which means she will die in Chi Hoa prison, which is infamous for its harsh and squalid conditions.


Charge: Trafficking 4.8kg of heroin in her luggage.

Death penalty: Vietnam/Lethal injection

Arrested in June this year, the 37-year-old Australian of Vietnamese origin was detained at Tan Son Nhut Airport in the southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City.

Officials claim they found nearly 5kg of heroin hidden in picture frames in her luggage.

The woman allegedly told officers she was paid $33,500 to transport the heroin to Australia.

She has yet to face trial, but Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws and trafficking even small amounts of heroin is punishable by death.

Queensland man Ibrahim Jalloh is reportedly awaiting trial in China on drug charges.


Charge: in June 2014

Death penalty: China/ Firing squad

Chinese officials arrested the 2 young men from Queensland at Guangzhou airport in June 2014 in possession of methamphetamine.

Sherrif has received a "suspended" death sentence, but the outcome is uncertain.

Jalloh, who has an intellectual disability, has received a suspended death sentence, which may be commuted to life in prison.


Charge: concealing 270g of methamphetamine in computer equipment in May 2004/ 700g of meth in furniture in 2014

Death penalty: China/ Firing squad

Shanghai police intercepted 270g of ice concealed in computer equipment which they alleged Chhin tried to send from China to Australia in 2005.

Chhin was sentenced to death and his sentence was suspended for 2 years.

But Shenzen police uncovered a further 700g of meth in cabinets at Chhin's residence, and his fate is currently unclear.


Charge: Attempt to smuggle 3kg of methamphetamine to Australia

Death penalty: China/ Firing squad

Former Adelaide jockey Bannister was arrested at Guangzhou International Airport in March 2014.

Customs officers claim they found 3kg of methamphetamine in envelopes inside 8 handbags in his luggage.

Bannister claims he was set up by online conmen who convinced him he could obtain a lucrative divorce settlement from his former wife.

Bannister's lawyer told a court that he was given a suitcase containing women's handbags to take back to Australia as a favour.

Given a suspended death sentence, he may end up with life in a Chinese prison, but is appealing his conviction.

Source: abs.com.au, December 16, 2016

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