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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Japan: Letters of executed cult members reflect regret, desire to live

Tokyo Detention Center
Letters sent from prison by some of the executed AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult members expressed regret for committing heinous crimes and a wish to atone.

But their letters sent to civic groups also included those calling for abolition of capital punishment and requests for amnesty, showing their continued hopes to live even well over 10 years after their death sentences were finalized.

Cult founder Shoko Asahara, who was convicted of numerous murders including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, and 6 other former senior members were executed Friday.

Among them, Kiyohide Hayakawa, 68, wrote words of remorse and showed discontent with Asahara in his letters.

Hayakawa was responsible for the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, who had been helping parents seeking to free their children of the cult's control, and his wife and 1-year-old son in 1989 and construction of nerve gas production facilities among other crimes.

"My feelings of apology toward the victims and their families have never weakened in the 23 years since everything came to light," said Hayakawa, who was arrested in 1995 and sentenced to death in 2009.

"At the time, I thought I was fighting for truth and salvation, but all I got from resorting to terrorism was pain and sorrow," he wrote in one of his letters sent to a civic group.

"We the followers of Asahara can talk about why we followed his instructions, but only he can reveal why he ordered those crimes."

"If (the executions) are carried out, 'the correct answer' will never be known. I want to hear his thoughts before I die."

Tomomitsu Niimi, 54, who was also hanged Friday for the killing of Sakamoto and the nerve gas attacks in central Japan in 1994 and Tokyo in 1995 as well as several other counts of murder, expressed a desire to atone for his crimes.

READ: Japan: Profiles of top Aum Shinrikyo members, including six still on death row

In describing his life in prison in one of his letters, Niimi said, "I am following the rules and am careful not to kill even a single bug. There is no one here to order killings, and all I think about is expiating my sins."

Niimi's testimony in court had suggested he was still a follower of the cult, in contrast to Hayakawa, who said after his arrest that he no longer believed in Asahara. Niimi had said his crimes were "acts of salvation."

"No matter how wicked a man is, living and atoning for his sins is an act full of benevolence," he had wrote in a letter seeking amnesty.

"I would like to hand down stories about what happened and live on to atone for my sins."

Source: The Japan Times, July 7, 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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