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

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: Murder of Vietnamese girl draws attention of homeland media ahead of verdict

Le Anh Hao, father of nine-year-old Vietnamese girl Le Thi Nhat Linh
The death of 9-year-old Vietnamese girl Le Thi Nhat Linh in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo and the trial of the former head of a parents' association at her school charged with her murder has gained attention in her homeland.

Vu Duc Cuong, 35, the Tokyo representative office of national public broadcaster Vietnam Television (VTV) has been covering the case since it occurred in spring 2017, and has closely followed Linh's 35-year-old father Le Anh Hao and others related to the case.

"Their sadness is beyond imagination," Cuong said. "I hope the court comes to a decision that will bring them some comfort." The ruling is set for July 6, and Cuong plans to cover the Chiba District Court's ruling on that day as well.

"Part of his heart has died. It's like it disappeared along with his daughter somewhere," Cuong said he feels each time he meets Hao. In Vietnam, family ties are considered extremely important, and children in particular are culturally held dear, he says.

Linh went missing on the morning of March 24, 2017, shortly after leaving her house to attend a Matsudo municipal elementary school, where she was in the third grade. Early in the morning two days later, her body was found in a drainage canal in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture, roughly 12 kilometers northeast from her home. When Cuong met Hao then, he was already crying desperately and repeating that his heart was in pain.

When in front of the Japanese media, Hao appeared to speak calmly in Japanese, but when he expressed his feelings in his native language to Cuong, he was so filled with anger and sadness that sometimes his entire body would shake.

Cuong has also interviewed officials at the Vietnamese embassy in Japan and others, and has continued to report on the progress of the case to those in Vietnam. A special program explaining the Japanese legal system was even aired in April. This was because in Vietnam, such a high profile case would usually go to trial soon after indictment. Linh's case, however, took over a year to reach the trial's first hearing, and viewers in Vietnam wondered what was causing the delay.

In the first hearing held on June 4, 47-year-old Yasumasa Shibuya, the former head of a parents' association at Linh's elementary school, pleaded not guilty to the charges listed against him -- abducting Linh using his van for the purpose of sexually assaulting her, suffocating her and then dumping her corpse along the drainage ditch. Cuong and reporters from two other media companies in Vietnam attended Hao's press conference following the hearing, and it became the top story in Vietnam.

Cuong says that many Vietnamese aspire to a life in Japan, and, "Even though Hao was full of hope, this incident occurred. I think it will take time, but I hope the family can get back even a little bit of their previous life."

The prosecution has asked for the death penalty for Shibuya, while the man's lawyers question the DNA samples that link Shibuya to the crime.

In their closing arguments, the prosecution said that DNA in blood stains discovered in Shibuya's vehicle were a match to Linh's, and additional DNA that was a mix of Linh's and the suspect was also recovered from the girl's body, "leaving no room for doubt of the defendant's involvement." However, the defense argued that "there is a possibility that the blood from the girl was from another occasion where she rode in the vehicle" and "there is a possibility that the investigative unit intentionally mixed the defendant's DNA into the sample to create false evidence." As such, they said that there is not enough evidence to convict Shibuya.

The Supreme Court's 1983 guidelines for the death penalty weigh the number of victims heavily, and there is a trend for it not to be handed down in the case of only a single victim. However, in Linh's case, as Shibuya was in a position as the head of a school organization that was supposed to protect the children and that his abduction of the girl appears to have been premeditated, the prosecution is calling for the death penalty on the grounds that "even among incidents with single victims of the same type, the level of outrage is quite high, and these are not the circumstances to evade the death penalty."

Source: The Mainichi, Shohei Kato and Buntaro Saito, July 5, 2018

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