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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…

Amnesty accuses Japan of breaching int'l rules on death penalty

Gallows trapdoor, Tokyo Detention Center
LONDON - Amnesty International accused the Japanese government of flouting international norms Thursday by executing death row inmates who were seeking retrials.

The human rights organization noted that for the first time since 1999, Japan last year executed people who had their appeals for retrial pending before the courts. This was the case in three of the four executions in the country in 2017.

Speaking at the release of the group's annual death penalty report, Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty International's adviser on the death penalty, told Kyodo News, "What was noticeable last year was that the government breached some of its own practices as we saw people who were applying for a retrial being executed."

"We also saw someone executed in December even though he qualified under Japanese law as a minor at the time of the crime.

"It feels as if things are not improving and we see a sort of cruelty in which the death penalty is being used with the government going back on some of its own practices."

Amnesty claims these actions represent a breach of protections recognized under Japanese and international laws and signal a "departure from the practice observed for 20 years."

Sangiorgio also expressed concern about the fate of the 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult on death row for carrying out the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 13 people and left over 6,000 people ill.

Death sentences have been finalized for the cult members while some of those convicted are reported to be seeking retrials.

"We believe the death penalty does not deter crime and these executions will do little to improve security in the country," the Amnesty adviser said.

"We think that if the cult members are applying for a retrial, then the grounds for doing so must be considered given previous cases of unsound convictions," she said, adding that the group is "also concerned about several death row prisoners who are displaying symptoms of mental and intellectual disability."

In Japan in 2017, Amnesty recorded four executions and three death sentences issued. By the end of the year, 123 people had their death sentences finalized by the courts.

The organization expressed "concern" that the 2017 figures represented a small increase on the numbers recorded for each of the years between 2014 and 2016.

While Japan's capital punishment has drawn international criticism, a majority of the Japanese public supports it. A 2014 government survey showed that 80.3 percent of Japanese people aged 20 or older favored capital punishment, down from a record 85.6 percent in the previous survey in 2009.

Amnesty International recorded at least 993 executions in 23 countries in 2017, down by 4 percent from 2016. Most executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan. China remains the world's top executioner but the data is classified as a state secret. Amnesty estimates "thousands" are executed in China.

Source: Japan Today, April 12, 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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