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Showing posts from November, 2017

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Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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Texans will have an opportunity to revisit a question that should haunt anyone who believes in the integrity of our criminal justice system: Did our state execute an innocent man? 
The new film “Trial by Fire” tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death for setting a fire to his home in Corsicana that killed his three young daughters in 1991. The film is based on an investigative story by David Grann that appeared in the New Yorker in 2009, five years after Willingham was executed over his vociferous protestations of innocence.
In my experience of serving 8 years on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and 4 years as a state district judge in Travis County, the Willingham case stands out to me for many of the same reasons it stood out to filmmaker Edward Zwick, who calls it a veritable catalogue of everything that’s wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, the death penalty. False testimony, junk science, a jailhouse informant, and ineffe…

Bangladesh: Mass Death Sentences Confirmed

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Mutiny Trials Rife With Procedural Flaws, Torture Allegations
The Bangladesh government should agree to new trials meeting international standards for members of the former Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) accused of mutiny and murder, including 139 whose death sentences were upheld on November 27, 2017, by the High Court, Human Rights Watch said today. The court also upheld life sentences for another 146 people.
On February 25 and 26, 2009, members of the BDR mutinied against their commanding officers at the central Dhaka headquarters, killing 74 people, including 57 army officers. A number of women relatives of the officers were sexually assaulted. Human Rights Watch research has found that many of the accused were tortured in custody and most were denied access to proper representation.
"We have long said that the atrocities that took place during the mutiny need to be investigated and prosecuted, but this should not be done through unfair mass trials after the use of torture," sa…

Indonesia's fatal war on drugs

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Under President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), Indonesia's war on drugs has taken on a deadly edge. Initially, Jokowi focused on judicial executions, declaring in December 2014 that his government would empty death row of its 64 prisoners sentenced on drugs charges in order to tackle a 'drugs emergency'. 
Action followed quickly - his government executed 14 narcotics prisoners within 6 months.
Only 4 further prisoners have faced the firing squad for drugs crimes since, with no executions now for 15 months. But as judicial executions have receded, fatal shootings of narcotics suspects have surged. Indonesian human rights monitor Kontras estimates police and the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) fatally shot 106 drugs suspects between September 2016 and September 2017, with the vast majority of these shootings taking place in 2017. The shootings have continued since the release of their data, with at least a further 6 drugs suspects shot dead during October.
As with the judicial execu…

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halts state's last execution of 2017

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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stopped the state's last remaining execution of 2017, sending the San Antonio case back to court to resolve claims of false testimony at trial.
Texas’ last scheduled execution of the year has been canceled.
On Tuesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the Dec. 14 execution of Juan Castillo and sent his case back to the trial court to look into claims of false testimony.
Castillo, 36, was sentenced to death in the 2003 robbery and murder of Tommy Garcia Jr. in San Antonio, according to court records. Prosecutors said Castillo and three others planned to rob Garcia after luring him to a secluded area with the promise of sex with one of the women involved in the plan. But when Garcia tried to run, Castillo shot him, according to the accomplices.
One of the witnesses at his trial, Gerardo Gutierrez, bunked near Castillo at the Bexar County Jail and testified that Castillo had confessed to the crime in jail. But in 2013, Gutierrez signed an…

Belarus president refuses to overrule nation's decision on capital punishment

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People voted in the death penalty referendum, and I have no right to overrule this decision, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said while talking to the media, BelTA has learned.
The head of state noted that Europeans often ask the Belarusian authorities to suspend, prohibit the death penalty. "I can not overrule the decision taken by the people," Alexander Lukashenko underlined.
"Should we want to do so, then we must hold a referendum," the president said. "If we take this issue to a referendum, I don't need to tell you what the result will be. You know it yourselves," the Belarusian leader said. When meeting with the German foreign minister I said to him that if Germany takes this issue to a referendum at a time when Europe and many countries are exposed to terrorist attacks you know, what the outcome will be. People see that death penalty may be a strong disincentive for some 'hot heads'. So I tell him that maybe Europeans will soon t…

Egyptian court gives death penalty to 7 for killing Christians

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A court in Egypt today [Nov. 25] gave the death penalty to 7 people and sent 10 more to life in prison for beheading 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya and for joining a terrorist organisation affiliated to the Islamic State.
The Cairo Criminal Court also sent 3 others to 15 years in prison in the same case.
The court found that the convicts had joined the "Marsa Matrouh cell", which is affiliated to IS in Libya.
They were also found guilty of joining training camps in Libya and Syria, planning terrorist attacks in Egypt, possessing weapons, inciting violence and participating in killing of 21 Christians in Libya in 2015.
The court ordered that all convicts, except those sentenced to death, remain under police surveillance for 5 years after serving their sentences, local media reports said.
The sentencing came a day after the deadliest terrorist attack on worshippers at a mosque in Egypt's restive North Sinai region. The death toll in the attack today rose to 305.
The Egyp…

Where the Poor Face the Death Penalty Without a Lawyer

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A budget crunch in Louisiana leads to an unusual wait list.
It has become an annual ritual in Louisiana: Nearly every winter, the state’s public defenders run out of money. Last year, 33 of the state’s 42 local indigent defense offices cut staff or placed thousands of poor defendants on a wait list. The New Orleans public defender’s office began refusing clients, leaving hundreds to sit in jail without representation.
This year, there is another wait list. At least 11 Louisiana defendants facing the death penalty — including five who have already been indicted — have no defense team and may not have one until new money becomes available in July. The list is likely to grow. In Louisiana, all first-degree murder defendants face execution unless a prosecutor explicitly decides otherwise. 
The latest crunch in Louisiana emerged from a law passed last year to try to patch up the system. The legislation, signed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in June 2016, required Louisiana’s state-lev…

Houston: Ground zero for the death penalty

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Study shows Harris County is most active in capital punishment, driven by district attorney choices
If Harris County were its own state, it would have a more active death chamber than the entire country outside of Texas.
Of the 1,465 U.S. executions in the modern death penalty era, 125 have come from Harris County, or roughly 8 percent. The next-closest executioner is Dallas County, with 55 death sentences carried out since the Supreme Court reinstated the ultimate punishment in 1976.
Houston's reputation as ground zero for the death penalty, it seems, is well-earned - even though prosecutors have been less apt to dole out capital sentences in recent years.
While the numbers are stark, the reasons behind the Bayou City's apparent zeal for capital punishment are less apparent. It's not driven by public support for the practice. It's not driven by an unusually high crime rate, or by especially heinous murders.
So what is driving it? What sets apart jurisdictions that fre…

Libyan Convicted of Terrorism in Benghazi Attacks but Acquitted of Murder

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WASHINGTON — A former militia leader from Libya was convicted on Tuesday of terrorism charges arising from the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed a United States ambassador and three other Americans. But he was acquitted of multiple counts of the most serious offense, murder.
The defendant, Ahmed Abu Khattala, 46, was the first person charged and prosecuted in the attacks, which took on broader significance as Republicans and conservative news outlets sought to use them to damage the presidential ambitions of Hillary Clinton, who was then the secretary of state. Yet the seven-week trial in federal court in Washington received relatively little attention from such quarters.
Mr. Khattala was convicted on four counts — including providing material support for terrorism, conspiracy to do so, destroying property and placing lives in jeopardy at the mission, and carrying a semiautomatic firearm during a crime of violence — but acquitted on 14 others. He faces life in prison.
The …

Study sought on cost of death penalty in Utah

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Ogden, Utah • A state lawmaker wants Utah to study the costs of capital punishment and determine whether it’s cheaper to keep an inmate in prison for life.
The proposal came as advocates prepare to make another push next year to eliminate the death penalty in the state.
State Rep. Stephen Handy, a Republican from Layton, plans a bill seeking a detailed price tag on capital punishment.
Handy told the Standard-Examiner that he’s not sure what purpose executions serve, “except for payback or from a vengeance standpoint,” and questions whether they’re worth the money.
Legislative analysts in 2012 estimated that a death sentence and decades of appeals costs $1.6 million more than a lifetime prison sentence, but Handy says that estimate wasn’t thorough enough.
Handy wants to study defense and prosecution costs, including costs to jails, prisons and courts.
An effort to eliminate the death penalty in Utah failed in 2016.
The criminal justice reform group Utah Justice Coalition said it is wo…

Iran: 3 More Executions in Tabriz

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3 prisoners were hanged at Tabriz Central Prison on murder charges while 3 other prisoners were hanged at the same prison on Wednesday November 22.
According to a report by HRANA News Agency, on the morning of Sunday November 26, 3 prisoners were executed at Tabriz Central Prison (Northwestern Iran). 
The prisoners were sentenced to death on murder charges.
One of the prisoners was identified as Taher Amini, 30, from Maragheh. The prisoner was from ward 9 of Tabriz Central Prison. 
The 2 other prisoners, who were from ward 12, have not been identified.
Three other prisoners were executed at the same prison on similar charges only 4 days before these executions, on Wednesday November 22.
The execution of these prisoners has not been announced by the state-run media so far.
According to Iran Human Rights annual report on the death penalty, 142 of the 530 execution sentences in 2016 were implemented due to murder charges. 
There is a lack of a classification of murder by degree in Iran …