Did Texas execute an innocent man? Film revisits a haunting question.

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 SC has overturned 85pc death sentences since 2014

Pakistani flag
KARACHI: The Supreme Court has overturned a whopping 85 per cent of death sentences since December 2014, revealed data analysis by the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP).

However, it added, despite a significant drop in the death row population, Pakistan’s use of the death penalty was among the harshest in the world, accounting for 26pc of the world’s death row, 13pc of global executions and 14pc of worldwide death sentences.

In their latest report named ‘Counting the Condemned’ by the JPP — a non-governmental organisation working for prisoner’s rights — analysed Pakistan’s use of the death penalty and underscored the need for reforms.

Mostly citing faulty investigations and mistrials, a special appellate bench — formed by the apex court to adjudicate murder appeals — overturned 467 death sentences in 546 appeals, the report found.

Report reveals every fourth person on death row in the world is a Pakistani

According to the JPP, since the six-year moratorium was lifted in December 2014, Pakistan carried out 13pc of all global executions. Since 2009, at least 19,767 people have been sentenced to death globally. In that time, Pakistan’s courts have sentenced 2,705 people to death which accounts for 14pc of death sentences worldwide.

From 2015 to 2017, 3,659 executions were carried out globally and Pakistan accounted for 13pc of those, with 479 executions. In 2015 alone, Pakistan executed 20pc of the global executions, the data analysis revealed, adding that every fourth person on death row in the world is a Pakistani.

As per the report, 496 prisoners have been hanged so far in the country and that, since 2004, Pakistan has sentenced 4,500 people to death at an average of one death per day.

In another startling revelation, the report found that the official number of prisoners on death row in Pakistan had dropped to 4,688 in 2018, from 7,164 in 2012. This, it added, can be best explained by the reduction in the death row population of Punjab — from 6,604 in 2012 to 3,890 presently. Despite this, Punjab accounted for 81pc of executions from December 2014 to December 2017, and 89pc of all death sentences issued during the same period.

The JPP found that in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh, death row populations had increased at a steady rate.

The decrease in death row and the continuing rise of death sentences, the report stated, suggested a disconnect between the sentencing/trial courts and the appellate courts. However, a single bench remained inadequately equipped to address the plight of the wrongfully sentenced on death row.

The study found that on average a prisoner had to spend 11 years on death row before the commutation of death sentence or acquittal by the Supreme Court. And, it added, Pakistan continued to dispense death sentences at a rate higher than the world average. Since 2004, Pakistan has handed down at least 4,500 death sentences.

Civil disputes involving a homicide dominate the category of cases that result in death sentences.

An analysis of 150 executions from 2015 by the JPP found that disputes over land or money accounted for 36pc, and family disputes for 26pc.

This, the JPP stated, indicated that failure to resolve civil issues in a timely manner — in what often becoming expensive legal battles — motivated people to take matters into their own hands, breeding the violence that led to death sentences.

Where there is no empirical evidence present that death penalty deters crime or terrorism, a closer look at the data from the past two decades drew attention to a strong correlation between economic inequality, political violence and instability and murder rates. This strong link was evident from the fact that murder rate in Pakistan remained at 7.5 per 100,000 or higher in the years where per-capita GDP growth remained less than two per cent.

“The facts are before us. The system is imperfect,” said JPP Executive Director Sarah Belal, adding, “(it’s) mired in red tape. Too many mistakes are being made, and the Supreme Court overturning convictions at such a high rate is damning proof of that. A detailed reform of the death penalty is urgently needed, and until it is completed, a moratorium must be installed.”


The JPP called for reduction in the scope of the death penalty by excluding non-lethal crimes. It recommended that judicial academies must train newly appointed trial court judges on the use and application of the death penalty in line with “the most serious” offences standard.

Trial and sentencing proceedings must be bifurcated to determine whether the defendant had committed the crime and what was the appropriate punishment, it added.

The JPP also recommended reforms for adjudicating civil disputes to decrease the length of time it took to resolve them. It called for constituting a committee to review mercy petitions comprising representatives from respective ministries to reduce the number of wrongful executions.

Source: Dawn, Staff, October 5, 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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