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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…

Pakistan: 'President rejected 513 mercy petitions in 5 years'

Gallows
Pakistan is among the 5 most prolific executioners in the world with 487 executions in the last 3 years, while the president has rejected 513 mercy petitions in the last 5 years, a report launched on Wednesday has found.

The report, No Mercy: A Report on Clemency for Death Row Prisoners in Pakistan, was launched by Justice Project Pakistan.

It said that the government has executed nearly 500 people since lifting the moratorium on the death penalty in 2014.

And although the president possesses the constitutional authority under Article 45 to pardon death row defendants, in practice in such petitions have been consistently denied since December 2014, operating under a blanket policy for cases with strong evidence of humanitarian abuse and violations.

The report quoted the Ministry of Interior as stating that the president's office had rejected 513 mercy petitions by condemned prisoners - 444 of which were from the first 15 months after the resumption of executions in December 2014.

The interior ministry has also informally confirmed that the government has a de facto policy to summarily reject all mercy pleas.

The report includes case studies of death row prisoner Abdul Basit, Imdad Ali, juvenile offender Mohammad Iqbal and Zulfiqar Ali, a Pakistani citizen on death row in Indonesia. The cases illustrate the systemic problems of Pakistan's criminal justice system.

The report argues that given the procedure failings, individuals on death row should be given a fair chance to obtain clemency and introduce new and potentially exculpatory evidence.

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Speaking at the launch of the report, Nusrat Bibi, the mother of the paralysed death row prisoner Abdul Basit whose mercy petition is pending, broke into tears and asked the president: "How can you hang a man who cannot even stand?"

She said her son was sentenced to death in 2009, and contracted tubercular meningitis at the Faisalabad Central Jail due to its unhygienic conditions.

"Due to the failure of jail authorities to provide him treatment, his condition deteriorated and after remaining unconscious for one week, he wasshifted to DHQ hospital. Despite spending 13 months there, he became paralyzed from the waist down," she said.

A mercy petition filed for Basit in 2013 was rejected in 2015 without any written reason for the rejection.

Relatives of other death row prisoners were also present at the launch, and appealed to high-ups to examine mercy petitions in humanitarian grounds.

Commissioner from the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) Chaudhry Shafique said at the event that Pakistan's clemency process was deficient and improvements should be made to align it with the country’s constitutional and international human rights obligations.

"The president's power of mercy is critical for ensuring justice under Pakistan's criminal justice system," he added.

Source: dawn.com, April 12, 2018


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