Japan | Trial ruling date for man accused of 1966 murder set for September

Iwao Hakamada, who in a rare example is being retried over a 1966 murder case, will be given a verdict on Sept. 26, the Shizuoka District Court said Wednesday, which could see him finally acquitted more than five decades after he was sentenced to death by the same court. In the last trial session, prosecutors again sought the death penalty for the 88-year-old, saying there is enough evidence to show that Hakamata is the perpetrator, while defense lawyers argued that he is not guilty.

Why witnesses could only see part of the process when Missouri executed Brian Dorsey

Missouri executed four people in 2023. Amber McLaughlin, Michael Tisius, Johnny Johnson and Leonard Taylor, who maintained that he was innocent, all died by lethal injection. The state is one of five in the country that carried out executions last year.

Once public spectacles, state-sponsored executions have become highly secretive affairs. Especially in Missouri. Witnesses on Tuesday night watched Brian Dorsey die from a lethal dose of pentobarbital at the state prison in Bonne Terre, about an hour south of St. Louis.

The 52-year-old man, who was convicted in a 1996 double murder, was pronounced dead at 6:11 p.m. Missouri is one of five states to carry out capital punishment this year. Alabama, Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma have also executed people, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

But witnesses in most of the other states are allowed to view more of the process, while Missouri conducts many steps behind closed doors. Advocates have urged transparency, saying shielding the process makes room for errors or pain that may never be disclosed. On Tuesday, when approved witnesses entered the execution viewing area at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center, Dorsey was already strapped to a gurney and the IV line had already been set — reportedly one of the most difficult parts of the process. Witnesses did not see any member of the staff responsible for carrying out the execution — the drug is inserted in a tube running through a wall.

A few minutes after the pentobarbital had been administered, guards closed the curtains while staff members presumably checked Dorsey’s vitals. They reopened the curtains once Dorsey’s death was confirmed. Dorsey’s legal team had argued that Missouri’s execution protocols present a “substantial risk of serious, torturous, physical and psychological pain.” Pentobarbital can induce pulmonary edema — where a frothy fluid leaks into lung tissue and airways — causing the sensation of drowning. The protocols also allow the execution team to use a “cut down,” a controversial procedure that involves cutting into the person to establish an IV line.

Missouri’s protocol was established in 2013 and has been upheld by the courts, said Karen Pojmann, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Corrections. “The protocol is rooted in state statute, which prohibits disclosing the identities of the execution team,” she said. “I can’t speak to why other states choose different approaches.”

IV controversies 

An execution on Feb. 28 in Idaho was called off after the execution team could not get the IV line set. Scott McIntosh, opinion editor at the Idaho Statesman, said he and the other witnesses saw Thomas Creech being brought into the chamber. Six officers, who were wearing surgical masks, strapped Creech down. At one point, it looked like Creech mouthed “I’m sorry.” Three people on the execution team wore medical scrubs. Their faces were covered by a white cloth, and they wore safety glasses over their eyes.

One of them “was clearly in charge,” McIntosh said, and announced what they were doing: Applying an alcohol swab to disinfect, numbing the area, finding a vein. Prisoners were pounding and the sound got loud at 10 a.m., the scheduled time of the execution. But after eight attempts to establish the IV line, the execution was called off. The witnesses were led out of the room. It has not yet been rescheduled.

“This is the most awesome power that the government can have, and it’s vital that the public knows exactly what happens and how it happens,” McIntosh said. 

What happens in other states? 

The first execution to take place this year drew national attention. Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, died by nitrogen gas in Alabama. It was the first time the method had been used in the U.S. Similarly to Missouri, witnesses do not see the person brought in or strapped down.

Ivana Hrynkiw, an investigative reporter at AL.com, said witnesses did not see Smith get fitted with the mask that would deliver the gas. The execution team is also not seen. The prisoner is given an opportunity to make a last statement. In Missouri, the condemned can write a final statement, but they do not address anyone in the chamber. John Koch, founder of Independent News Services, has been to 87 executions in Florida.

The first one he attended was Ted Bundy, who was executed by electric chair in 1989. In those days, witnesses saw the person being brought in and strapped down. Now the state uses lethal injection. Koch said prisoners can make a last statement, but no one on the execution team is seen. In Oklahoma, Phillip Hancock was executed Nov. 30. According to an account by Jake Bleiberg with the Associated Press, witnesses could see liquid moving through the IV. A doctor said Hancock was unconscious and later appeared to listen to his heart and opened his eyes and shined a light in them. Then the corrections director declared the execution complete. On Feb. 28 in Texas, Ivan Cantu spent his last moments with his spiritual advisor Sister Helen Prejean, an anti-death penalty activist.

Witnesses saw a doctor shine a light in Cantu’s eyes and check his neck for a pulse, according to Jamie Landers and Kelli Smith, with The Dallas Morning-News. 

Role of a media monitor

Rhonda Cook, a reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who retired in 2018, witnessed 28 executions in her career. The 2001 execution of Jose High took a long time, and when asked, the Georgia Department of Corrections said they had to do a cut down on his clavicle. Cook said she “pitched a hissy fit” and the corrections department then began allowing a media monitor — one representative from an outlet where the crime occurred, to view the IV insertion.

Georgia executed Willie James Pye on March 20. Karen Gunnels, managing editor of the Griffin Daily News, said as the monitor, she was taken into the viewing area before Pye was brought in and strapped down. “I watched them put the IV in,” she said. “I watched them hook up the blood pressure and the vitals.” Other witnesses, including Jennifer Peebles, a data specialist with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, were then allowed in.

Peebles said Pye was mostly still and after a few minutes, he did not move again. Two men in lab coats who had stethoscopes entered and appeared to listen for signs of breathing or a heartbeat. They briefly nodded at each other and the warden then announced that the death sentence had been carried out. “It just seems to me as a citizen that everything that the state government does, it does in our name and and on our behalf,” Peebles said. “And the press is there to bear witness.”

Ahead of Pye’s execution, the justice system-focused news site The Appeal filed a complaint arguing the protocols hinder “information regarding key aspects of Georgia’s execution process.” Witnesses do not observe any of the preliminary steps in the execution process, the actual injection and the audio is toggled on and off throughout the process. The emergency petition was denied by the Supreme Court of Georgia, but the case remains ongoing.

Eleven men remain on death row in Missouri. The Missouri Supreme Court set David Hosier’s execution date for June 11. On April 2, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office requested a date be set for Christopher Collings. Marcellus “Khaliffah” Williams, who claims he is innocent, remains on death row. His attorneys say his DNA was not on the murder weapon. A motion to vacate his conviction is pending in St. Louis County.

Source: kansascity.com, Katie Moore, April 10, 2024


"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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