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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…

Malaysian drug mule due to hang in Singapore gets last-minute stay of execution

Singapore prison
SINGAPORE — The Court of Appeal on Thursday (May 23) granted an eleventh-hour appeal by Pannir Selvam Pranthaman for a stay of his execution. He was supposed to be hanged in Changi Prison on Friday morning.

The 31-year-old Malaysian was convicted in 2017 of trafficking 51.84g of diamorphine, also known as heroin, into Singapore through Woodlands Checkpoint in September 2014.

Pannir, who was not represented by lawyers before Thursday, had filed the application for the stay of execution himself on Wednesday.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, who heard the case with Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Steven Chong, noted that Pannir was informed of his execution date and President Halimah Yacob’s rejection of his clemency petition only a week in advance.

This left him with little time to get legal advice on his options, and he should be given the chance to do so, they said.

Pannir’s lawyers, Mr Too Xing Ji and Mr Lee Ji En from BMS Law LLC, stepped in only a few hours before the Court of Appeal hearing on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Too told the court that he had taken instructions from his client just 10 minutes before the hearing, and Chief Justice Menon acknowledged that the lawyers could not be expected to present fully developed arguments.

Mr Too called for a stay of execution as they intend to challenge the rejection of the clemency petition, by way of judicial review.

To that, Chief Justice Menon said: “There are extremely narrow grounds upon which the clemency process may be so impugned. However, in our judgment, the applicant ought to have a reasonable opportunity to take advice on whether he can mount a successful challenge.”

Following the stay of execution, he ordered the following:

Pannir should file his intended application to challenge the clemency process within the next two weeks, along with supporting evidence.

The prosecution has two weeks to respond.

Both parties are to file further submissions within one week.

The appropriate court will then hear the matter at short notice.

‘COMPLETE LACK OF TRANSPARENCY’


During the hearing, the court heard that Pannir’s family received two letters, dated May 17, 2019, in the same courier mail package.

One was from the Singapore Prison Service confirming his date of execution on May 24, while another was from the Istana, stating that his clemency petition had been rejected.

This “troubled” Pannir, Mr Too said.

Affidavits from the President Halimah’s principal private secretary, Mr Benny Lee, as well as Pannir himself, laid out the sequence of events before May 17.

Sometime before May 7: President Halimah decided to reject the clemency petition, on advice from the Cabinet.

Around May 7: Mr Benny Lee signed letters informing Pannir, as well as his parents and siblings in Malaysia, of the decision. The letters were each dated May 17.

May 14: The Istana sent these letters to the prison authorities to be delivered.

May 16: The two letters from the prison and the Istana were posted by mail to Pannir’s family.

Mr Too said that this showed “a complete lack of transparency in the clemency process”.

He noted the uncertainty surrounding when exactly President Halimah decided to reject the petition, what the decision-making process was, and the lack of reasons why the letters were post-dated.

The lawyer also suggested that the Attorney-General’s Chambers should set out a “full chronology of when the decision was made, and why it was not conveyed earlier”.

“I’m inviting Your Honours to draw the inference that this process has been infected by a sense of casualness,” Mr Too added.

CONVICTION AND SENTENCE


In its grounds of decision on the case in 2017, the High Court found that Pannir was a mere drug courier, but the judge imposed the mandatory death penalty after the public prosecutor did not issue him a certificate of substantial assistance.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, judges have the discretion to impose life imprisonment or the death penalty on drug couriers who have either been certified by the public prosecutor to have substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau during investigations, or have proven themselves to be mentally impaired.

The last reported execution in Singapore happened in March. In 2015, Micheal Garing, a Malaysian, was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang by the High Court. His death sentence was affirmed by the Court of Appeal in 2017. 

Source: TODAYonline, Staff, May 23, 2019


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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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