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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…

Japan: Efforts continue to achieve hanged killer's final wish

Death chamber at Tokyo Detention Center
Death chamber at Tokyo Detention Center 
Efforts to achieve the final wish of a serial killer continue even 20 years after his execution, with around 200 people gathering for a charity event on Saturday in Tokyo to raise money for underprivileged children.

The main speaker of the event commemorating Norio Nagayama, who was hanged on Aug. 1, 1997, for the murder of four people in 1968 at the age of 19, was Yoshihiro Ishikawa, a psychiatrist.

Based on his experience of performing mental evaluations on Nagayama, Ishikawa said, "He could not develop his personality in the face of multiple posttraumatic stress disorders."

Born into an extremely poor family, Nagayama was abandoned by his mother at age 5, left in a bleak house in the middle of winter. He also had to overcome both an abusive brother and the death of his gambling-addict father whose life ended in destitution.

Despite a patchy school record, he completed his junior high school studies in a rural northeastern town and in 1965 moved to Tokyo at a time when Japan was experiencing an era of high economic growth.

"Nagayama worked hard to change from a miserable boy into someone else," Ishikawa said. "But he could not make friends and fell into loneliness, while his PTSD left him exhausted."

Following his arrest for the serial murders, Nagayama published several books, including a best-selling autobiography "Tears of Ignorance" and an award-winning novel.

He donated his book royalties to some of his victims' bereaved families, and he asked before his death that the royalties would also be used to support poor children around the world.

Responding to the request, his lawyers and volunteers established the Nagayama Children Fund to manage the money and organize a charity event every year around the anniversary of his execution to raise even more money. The first charity event was held in 2004.

Up to 2016, the group had collected more than 21 million yen and distributed it mainly to fund scholarships for children in Peru.

"Nagayama wanted to know why he had been driven to commit the crime through a psychiatric examination so similar crimes would not be repeated, and he was aware of the necessity of providing sufficient education to children," Ishikawa said at the 14th edition of the event. "His last words reflect this wish."

Nagayama was initially sentenced to death, but the Tokyo High Court commuted the ruling to a life sentence, arguing the government should also take some blame for its failure to rescue him from his desperate situation.

Kyoko Otani, his defense lawyer who heads the Nagayama Children Fund, told the event, "I think the high court decision depended on the findings of the psychiatric evaluation by Mr. Ishikawa."

The Supreme Court, however, ordered a retrial, which eventually led the high court to reverse the life imprisonment decision and reinstate the death sentence which was finalized in 1990.

The event was held at a time when debates over Japan's use of the death penalty has drawn public attention, with the hanging of two death-row inmates on July 13 bringing further focus.

One inmate was seeking a retrial while the other withdrew an appeal, filed by his defense lawyers following the first trial.

On the latest executions, Yoshihiro Yasuda, a lawyer leading the campaign against the death penalty, said that the hanging of an inmate seeking a retrial breaches Article 32 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right of access to the court.

"Some former death row inmates were exonerated in postwar Japan after their pleas for retrial had been rejected several times," Yasuda told a recent public gathering in Tokyo. "Executions terminate such a development."

He also emphasized the need to introduce a system under which capital cases are automatically and thoroughly examined at three levels -- lower, high and top courts -- even if the accused no longer wants to fight.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has called for the abolition of capital punishment by 2020, given that more than two-thirds of the world's nations have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice.

Source: Japan Today, July 31, 2017

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