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Showing posts from February, 2019

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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…

Billie Coble scheduled to become oldest man executed in Texas during modern era of the death penalty

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Coble, 70, was sentenced to death nearly 30 years ago in a 1989 triple murder near Waco. He is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to stop his execution.
On Thursday, Texas is scheduled to execute a 70-year-old man for killing three of his wife's family members in the Waco area nearly three decades ago.
Unless the U.S. Supreme Court or Gov. Greg Abbott stops the execution, Billie Coble will become the oldest person Texas puts to death since the modern era of the death penalty began in the 1970s, according to prison data. He is part of an aging death row population; Coble is one of nearly 30 inmates who have lived on Texas’ death row for more than 25 years.
In a late filing, Coble asked the nation’s high court to stop his execution, claiming a recent ruling that tossed out a Louisiana man’s death sentence last year should apply to his case. In that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the defendant can insist his lawyers don’t admit to guilt at trial even if they think it’s the best…

Richard Branson commends Malaysia on decision to abolish death penalty

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BRUSSELS: Business tycoon Sir Richard Branson has commended Malaysia for its plan to abolish the death penalty.
The Virgin Group founder said the government's decision was one of the positive developments seen around the world when it came to the death penalty.
"I think I speak for us all in welcoming the Malaysian government's plan to abolish the death penalty and Iran's removal of the death sentence for a number of drug-related crimes," he said in a video message played at the 7th World Death Penalty Congress in Brussels, Belgium on Tuesday (Feb 26).
He said the death penalty was often used as a political bargaining chip by politicians, especially during election season when leaders seek to boost their crime-fighting credentials.
Branson said he considered the death penalty a barbaric and inhumane practice that had no place in modern society.
He said while his opposition to the death penalty was at its heart a moral opposition, he could see other compelling re…

Pope encourages group working to end use of death penalty

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Vatican City, Feb 27, 2019 / 05:07 pm (CNA).- In a video message sent Wednesday to an international anti-death penalty group Pope Francis encouraged them in their work and deliberations.
“Human life is a gift that we have received, the most important and primary, the source of all other gifts and rights. As such it needs to be protected,” Pope Francis said Feb. 27 to the seventh World Congress Against the Death Penalty, being held in Brussels.
“The death penalty is a serious violation of the right to life of every person. While it is certain that societies and human communities often face very grave delicts which threaten the common good and the security of persons, it is no less certain that today there are other means to expiate the harm caused, and detention systems are increasingly more effective in protecting society from the evil which some persons can occasion,” the pope stated.
“On the other hand, there can never be abandoned the conviction of offering even to those culpable …

Sri Lanka: 102 applications for executioner post

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According to the Ministry of Justice and Prison Reforms, 102 applications have been received by the ministry for the post of the executioner.
Senior Assistant Secretary of the Ministry, Bandula Jayasinghe said that among the applicant, a foreign national, too, have applied for the post. 
However, the application of the foreigner will be discarded without consideration, he added.
Reportedly, consideration of rest of the applications has already commenced and applicants will be called in for interviews accordingly.
The President emphasized on several occasions that the death penalty would be imposed on those who are found guilty of drug-related offenses and the Department of Prisons called for applications for the post of the executioner.
There are 48 inmates who have been sentenced to death due to drug-related offenses; however, only 17 inmates will be receiving the death penalty for certain as the rest have appealed their cases, stated the Ministry.
Source:adaderana.lk, February 28, 2…

Iowa lawmakers push to bring the death penalty back to Iowa

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Iowa lawmakers have again introduced a bill that would bring back the death penalty for certain crimes.
Under a bill that won support from an Iowa Senate committee Wednesday, the state would allow the death penalty for someone convicted of first-degree murder if the crime also involved kidnapping and sexual abuse against a minor. The committee passed it on a 3-2 vote.
Twenty Republican senators are co-sponsoring the bill. That's less than half of the 50-member Senate, but more than the six senators who sponsored a similar measure last year.
Bills that would have reinstated the death penalty have been introduced in previous legislative sessions, but none have passed. Critics say this year's legislation is unlikely to fare better.
Iowa's last execution was in 1963 and the state outlawed the practice in 1965.
Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said Iowa law currently creates a "perverse incentive" to kill a victim who has been kidnapped and raped because the penalty f…

Fire Scientists Say the Arson Case Against Claude Garrett Was Fatally Flawed. Will Anyone Listen?

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In a tense, crowded room inside Nashville’s Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, Claude Garrett sat before a large TV monitor and stared at the screen. Behind him, a crowd of people gathered before a long conference table. Garrett wore prison-issued blue jeans, glasses, and a serious expression. Looking back at him on the screen was Richard Montgomery, chair of the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole. Soon he would say whether Garrett should be released or remain in prison.
It was a Monday in October 2018. The hearing had started at 10:30 a.m. “Mr. Garrett, what is your inmate number, sir?” Montgomery asked. Garrett recited it: #225779. “You were born on November 17, 1956, and you’re 61 years old?” Yes, Garrett said. Montgomery thanked everyone in attendance. “The more testimony we hear, the more facts we hear from each and every one of you, the better decision we can make,” he said.
Montgomery summarized Garrett’s record dating back to the 1970s: a handful of misdemeanors, fo…

Junk Science Sends the Wrong People to Prison

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There are five reasons and even more causes that lead to wrongful convictions.
What causes wrongful convictions? As I posted recently, it comes down to about five reasons (although as the National Registry of Exonerations points out, many cases have multiple causes):
Highest in adult sexual assault cases (31%) and homicide (23%), false or misleading forensic evidence can be just as vexing an issue as false confessions, due primarily to the CSI Effect. Documented as far back as 2004, the phenomenon can cause issues for prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, by giving juries unrealistic expectations as to the capabilities of crime labs.
What are we talking about when we say the evidence is false or misleading? It could be a number of things. There have been cases where evidence was planted by investigators. Those are presumably rare, and I’m not certain how NRE considers planted evidence. Does it fall under this category or Official Misconduct? Examples such as the 1993 New York State…

Colorado Governor expected to sign bill abolishing death penalty

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A bill banning capital punishment in the State of Colorado is expected to pass in early 2019, an effort that Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has supported, and that Colorado Governor Jared Polis said he would sign should the legislature present it to him.
In his speech during the March for Life Jan. 12, Archbishop Aquila assured that disagreements with politicians on life issues would not prevent him from collaborating with them on the abolishment of this measure.
“During this legislative session, we hope to see an effort to repeal the death penalty in Colorado, a measure that the Church has long advocated for, since our prison system can ensure these criminals pose no danger to the public once they are incarcerated. We also know that men who have been condemned to death have converted and have changed. They have opened their hearts to the one who can give them light.
“All life has dignity and worth, even the lives of those who have killed others. The State should not participate in the …

'Do not do stupid things': Australian convicted of drug offences in Indonesia avoids death penalty

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Denpasar: An Australian man has been sentenced by a Bali court to five years and four months in jail, more than six months after being arrested while in possession of nearly 12 grams of cocaine.
Brendon Luke Johnsson, 43, from Brisbane, and his partner Remi Purwanti, 43, an Indonesian national, had initially faced a possible death sentence if convicted on more serious charges under Indonesia's strict drug laws.
But the chief judge in the case, I Ketut Kamiasa, said on Wednesday evening that the couple had been found "convincingly guilty of ownership, possession, keeping and providing narcotics".
The lesser charge the couple were found guilty of carried a minimum penalty of five years' jail and a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
"We sentence the defendants Brendon Luke Johnsson and Remi Purwanti to five years and four months prison time and fine them 800 million Rupiah ($A80,000) or two months [more] prison time [if the couple can't pay their fines],&q…

Supreme Court Extends Eighth Amendment Protections to Prisoners with Dementia

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The United States Supreme Court today ruled in favor of EJI client Vernon Madison, a 68-year-old man suffering from severe vascular dementia following multiple life-threatening strokes. 
The Court held that Mr. Madison, who is legally blind, incontinent, cannot walk without a walker, speaks with slurred speech, and has no memory of the crime or the circumstances that brought him to death row, is entitled to an assessment that recognizes that dementia and other mental conditions are covered by the Eighth Amendment's ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
"We are thrilled that today the Court recognized that people with dementia like Vernon Madison, who cannot consistently orient to time and place, are protected from execution and cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment," said EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson, who argued Mr. Madison's case. "Prisoners who become incompetent due to dementia and severe mental illness are vulnerable and shou…