“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Japan: Death sentence finalized for man over 2015 murder of 2 children

Gallows trapdoor at Tokyo Detention Center
OSAKA -- The death sentence has been finalized for a 49-year-old man convicted of the 2015 murder of two junior high school students in western Japan after he withdrew his appeal, a court said Tuesday.

Koji Yamada retracted the appeal on May 18, according to the Osaka High Court.

During the first hearing of his trial at the Osaka District Court in November 2018, Yamada denied intending to kill Natsumi Hirata, 13, and pleaded not guilty over the death of 12-year-old Ryoto Hoshino, insisting he had died of an illness.

The district court sentenced him to death on Dec. 19, saying Yamada suffocated the two around Aug 13, 2015, in Osaka Prefecture or its vicinity.

It is unclear why Yamada retracted the appeal. 

He said in an interview with Kyodo News last December after the ruling was handed down that he had not expected to be subject to capital punishment.

"I'm shocked because I wasn't ready for the death penalty," Yamada said.

He also said in another interview in March "If I do not appeal the decision, everyone will think that I did it."

A senior official of the Osaka High Public Prosecutors Office said his decision was unexpected and the office had been preparing for an appeal.

On the evening of Aug 12, 2015, Hirata and Hoshino, who attended the same city-run junior high school, went missing after meeting up in the area where they lived.

Hirata's body was found the following day in a parking lot in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, while Hoshino's remains were found on Aug 21 in a mountainous area of Kashiwara, which Yamada had visited. 

He was arrested the same day.

Source: Japan Today, Staff, May 21, 2019

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