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Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

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In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Prosecutors to seek death penalty for kidnapping of Chinese scholar at U. of I.

Brendt Christensen, left, is charged in the kidnapping of visiting University of Illinois Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang.
Federal prosecutors announced Friday they will seek the death penalty for a former University of Illinois graduate student accused of kidnapping, torturing and killing a visiting scholar from China in June.

In making the announcement, prosecutors alleged for the first time that Brendt Christensen “choked and sexually assaulted” another victim in 2013 in central Illinois. He also has claimed “additional victims” and expressed a “desire to be known as a killer,” according to prosecutors.

Christensen, 28, who is being held without bond, had tentatively been set to go to trial Feb. 27 in federal court in Urbana on a charge of kidnapping resulting in a death stemming from the disappearance of 26-year-old Yingying Zhang, whose body has not been found.

The decision to seek the death penalty — which required the approval of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — means that the trial will likely be delayed for months.

The death penalty was abolished in Illinois state court in 2011 after years of allegations of deep flaws in the state’s justice system. In certain cases, though, it remains a tool for federal prosecutors, but its use in federal courts is still rare. It also can take years for an execution to actually be carried out.

The last person to be sentenced to death in a federal courtroom in Illinois was Dr. Ronald Mikos, who was convicted in 2005 in Chicago of murdering a former patient to keep her from testifying against him in a Medicare fraud trial.

Mikos, 69, whose appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied nearly a decade ago, is still awaiting execution in federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., federal records show.

The announcement in Christensen’s case marks at least the third time in recent weeks that Sessions has opted to push for the death penalty. Earlier this month, it was revealed prosecutors would seek the death penalty against Billy Arnold, an alleged gang member accused of killing two rivals in Michigan. In December, Sessions greenlighted pursuit of the death penalty against Jarvis Wayne Madison, a Florida man who allegedly kidnapped and killed his estranged wife.

In their five-page motion Friday, prosecutors said the death penalty was warranted because Christensen “is likely to commit criminal acts of violence in the future that would constitute a continuing and serious threat to the lives and safety of others.”

No details of the alleged 2013 sexual assault by Christensen were provided other than the initials of the victim, “M.D.” The alleged assault occurred the year Christensen was admitted to the university’s highly competitive physics graduate program.

Four years later, Zhang's sudden disappearance rattled the U. of I. campus and sent shock waves throughout China.

Zhang, who began her research appointment last April, tried unsuccessfully to flag down a bus before walking to another stop the afternoon of June 9. Shortly after, federal authorities allege, Christensen approached Zhang in his black Saturn Astra sedan and lured her inside.

Surveillance video from a nearby parking garage captured the exchange in which Zhang could be seen speaking to the driver for several moments before getting into the front passenger seat.

The investigation focused on Christensen after police concluded his Saturn was the car seen in the video. He initially told the FBI he was home all day playing video games on the day Zhang disappeared.

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Source: Chicago Tribune, Jason Meisner, January 19, 2018


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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