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lifespark Weekly Press-Review no. 49-2014

Published by in weekly news · 19/12/2014 18:56:24

"By making it virtually impossible to prove intellectual disability, the Georgia standard reduces the Eighth Amendment's ban on executing people with intellectual disabilities to a nullity," (Brian Kammer of the nonprofit Georgia Resource Center)

"He said he refuses to carry hatred, saying: "I can control how I feel, and I feel good. I do wish that day (of his conviction) never happened.'' (Newly exonerated Ronnie Bridgeman, Ohio)

Dear members,

You’ll excuse my optimist towards human nature, maybe the Christmas period has something to do, but this week’s  press review and even though two executions took place in the U.S., you’ll be able to read about a forgiving newly exonerated man, a woman who’s about to go free after having been wrongly convicted, a prosecutor who admits that "the people" convicted innocent citizens, a district attorney who asked for the commuting of a death sentence… and a country which has voted the abolition of capital punishment for all crimes on December 10, Human Rights World Day. Read on….

lifespark announcements

Our Money Orders and Stamps coordinator, Gisèle Francey, will be absent from January 12 to March 15, 2015. So make sure to place your order by the end of the year at orders@lifespark.org   Thank you!

Looking for a "different" type of a Christmas gift for a loved one? Why not give a CD of the Inmates’ Voices Choir13 which texts have been written by our penpals? All the necessary information available here: lt http://en.inmatesvoices.com/

lifespark events
(maps and more info, see the website http://www.lifespark.org/index.php?page=about-lifespark&sub=events)

January 11 th, 2015     Regional meeting, in Basel
To register katrin-pilling@web.de  or   aubert.ines@gmail.com

March 28 th, 2015        lifespark General Assembly, in Bern

"Posted on lifespark facebook’s page this week: On Human Rights Day, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reminds us that human rights are the inalienable entitlements of all people, at all times and everywhere, 365 days a year. http://sm.ohchr.org/12Jg0vj
Kind regards,   Evelyne

Scheduled executions within the next few weeks

No more execution is scheduled for 2014

IRAN: Kurdish prisoners on hunger strike in Urmia face threat of execution
GEORGIA: After Delay, Inmate Is Executed in Georgia
GEORGIA: Georgia's Merciless Push to Kill
OHIO: INNOCENCE: Kwame Ajamu Officially Exonerated, Becomes 150th Death Row Exoneree
MARYLAND: Gansler tells appeals court Jody Lee Miles should not be executed
TEXAS: Execution delayed until January
USA: Tortured 9/11 mastermind should not face death penalty
MISSOURI: Missouri executes prisoner over hammer murder
MINNESOTA: MN pharmacy board rejects policy aimed at making d/p drugs harder to get
CALIFORNIA: End death penalty or charade of delays
MADAGASCAR: Madagascar Abolishes the Death Penalty
USA: There is justice for all in America, unless ...
MALAYSIA: 'Abolish mandatory death penalty'
CHINA: China sentences state-owned firm chief to death for graft
AIZONA: Case tossed vs. woman held 22 years in son's death
TEXAS: Court Tells TDCJ to Name Death Drug Suppliers
OHIO: Senate approves execution-secrecy bill
SAUDI ARABIA: Pakistani national beheaded in Saudi Arabia for heroin smuggling

Dec. 8 IRAN: Kurdish prisoners on hunger strike in Urmia face threat of execution

The hunger strike of Kurdish political prisoners in the Urmia central prison continues for the 18th day as administrators are responding to the protest with a threat of execution. The hunger strike by 27 Kurdish political prisoners was launched in protest against the Iranian regime's decision for the transfer of criminal prisoners to the political prisoners' ward in the central Urmia prison. Information obtained from the prison reveals that the Iranian intelligence service has many times threatened the prisoners on strike with execution or transfer to other prisons south of the country since their protest began.
Osman Mostafapour who is also taking part in the protest has reportedly been interrogated by an intelligence officer this week. It is reported that in response to the threats uttered in order for the ending of the hunger strike, the political prisoners remain determined to continue their protest until their demand is met and non-political prisoners are removed from their ward. In the meantime, the health of the political prisoners is reported to be deteriorating as the hunger strike continues for the 18th day. Ali Reza Rasuli is reported to be refusing treatment despite having been referred to hospital several times. Names of 27 prisoners participating in the hunger strike are: Ali, Wali and Jafar Afshari (brothers), Sherko Hassan Pur, Mohammad Abdullah, Xizir Rasuli Rad, Saman Nasim, Amir Maladoost, Sirwan Najawi, Jafar Mizayi, Ibrahim Resapur, Abdullah Efxeri, Abdurhaman Sileman, Ebudllah Omeri, Seyd Sami Hiseni, Ebdulla Hemudi, Ehmed Temuyi, Osman Mistefa Pur, Behroz Alxani, Mistefa Rehman, Yusif Kakememi, Seyd Cemal Mihemedi, Eli Reza Resuli, Sores, Hebib Efsari and Mistefa Dawudi. (source: Firat News)

Dec. 9 GEORGIA: After Delay, Inmate Is Executed in Georgia

After a 3-hour delay as Georgia prison officials waited for the United States Supreme Court to rule on last-ditch appeals, Robert Wayne Holsey was executed by lethal injection on Tuesday night.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected the argument by Mr. Holsey's lawyers that the state's unusually strict standard for judging mental disability violated the Constitution. The lawyers immediately appealed to the Supreme Court in Washington for a stay. But in a terse note issued some 45 minutes later than the originally scheduled execution time of 7 p.m., the court said the petition, based on the claim about Georgia's disability standard, had been denied. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor would have granted the request, the notice said. The defense lawyers then filed an usual second request for a delay, which the Supreme Court turned down around 10 p.m., allowing the lethal injection procedure to commence.
Mr. Holsey, 49, who killed a deputy sheriff, William Robinson, in Baldwin County after robbing a convenience store in 1995, died at 10:51 p.m., according to state officials. On his final day, Mr. Holsey prayed and was visited by several relatives, his lawyers said.
In a statement on Tuesday, members of the slain deputy sheriff's family said they were relieved that the legal process had ended after 19 years and expressed appreciation for public support, The Associated Press reported.
"William was a leader and true hero, evidenced by the years of outpouring of support to our family by all who loved and respected him," the Robinson family said.
Mr. Holsey's case received wide attention in part because his chief lawyer at his 1997 trial later admitted to drinking up to a quart of vodka a day at the time. He had also been preoccupied with pending theft charges that sent him to prison. An appeals court found that the defense had been deeply inept during the penalty phase of Mr. Holsey's trial. His lawyers failed to present potentially mitigating details about Mr. Holsey's history of abuse as a child and did not press arguments that he was intellectually disabled.
Mr. Holsey had an I.Q. of around 70, his lawyers said, on the borderline of a disability that could have made his execution illegal. But state officials maintained that Mr. Holsey had been properly represented and was not severely disabled, and the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty could stand.
At issue in the new appeal to the state court on Tuesday was Georgia's requirement that intellectual disability be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt."  The rule is stiffer than that in any other state and makes it nearly impossible, legal experts said, to declare as disabled a person who is near the borderline and only partly able to manage daily life. Mr. Holsey's lawyers argued in a motion on Monday that the Georgia standard violated United States Supreme Court rulings, especially one in May that held that states could not create "an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed." The State Supreme Court rejected that appeal, with 2 of 7 members dissenting. "By making it virtually impossible to prove intellectual disability, the Georgia standard reduces the Eighth Amendment's ban on executing people with intellectual disabilities to a nullity," Brian Kammer of the nonprofit Georgia Resource Center, one of Mr. Holsey's lawyers, said in a statement on Tuesday. Many legal experts predict that the United States Supreme Court will at some point accept a case resembling Mr. Holsey's and declare the state's tough standard unconstitutional.
Holsey becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Georgia and the 55th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983. He becomes the 34th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1393rd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. (sources: New York Times & Rick Halperin)

Dec. 10 GEORGIA: Georgia's Merciless Push to Kill. Injustice in Robert Wayne Holsey's Case

Even by the abysmal standards of lawyering that defendants in capital trials regularly endure, Robert Wayne Holsey's case stands out. In 1997, Mr. Holsey was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a Georgia sheriff's deputy named Will Robinson, who had pulled him over for robbing a convenience store. Despite evidence that Mr. Holsey was intellectually disabled - which should have barred him from execution under the United States Supreme Court's earlier rulings - his lawyer neglected to make that argument at trial. Mr. Holsey was executed on Tuesday evening after the Supreme Court declined to stay his execution.
The evidence of Mr. Holsey's mental deficits included an I.Q. test score of 70 when he was 15. In school, his intellectual functioning did not move past a 4th-grade level. But under Georgia law, a defendant is required to prove his intellectual disability beyond a reasonable doubt - the strictest standard in the country and one unmoored from scientific reality. Mr. Holsey's new lawyers challenged Georgia's standard under a Supreme Court decision issued in May that reaffirmed and clarified its 2002 ban on executing intellectually disabled people. Laws that do not provide a fair chance to prove intellectual disability, the court wrote, "deny the basic dignity the Constitution protects." The justices should have stayed Mr. Holsey's death sentence on that ground alone. The egregious failures of his trial lawyer, Andy Prince, added to the injustice.
During the trial, Mr. Prince, a lifelong alcoholic, was drinking a quart of vodka a day. He was also facing his own criminal investigation for stealing more than $100,000 in client funds. Before the trial was over, he was arrested and charged with brandishing a gun, threatening to shoot his black neighbors and yelling racial slurs at them. (Mr. Prince is white, and Mr. Holsey is black.) Mr. Prince, who was disbarred and sent to prison for theft of funds, later said, "I shouldn't have been representing anybody in any case."
Georgia, like other "death belt" states, will go to great lengths to execute the people it has sentenced to death. It is hard to understand how the Supreme Court, which spoke so clearly on the unconstitutionality of executing intellectually disabled people, could stand aside and allow Mr. Holsey to die. (source: Editorial, New York Times)

Dec. 9 OHIO: INNOCENCE: Kwame Ajamu Officially Exonerated, Becomes 150th Death Row Exoneree

A judge Tuesday cleared Ronnie Bridgeman of a murder that he didn't commit. The false allegation, however, cost him 28 years in prison. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Pamela Barker tossed out the 1975 conviction against the 57-year-old man who now goes by the name Kwame Ajamu. He was released from prison in 2003. Barker's decision comes just weeks after judges threw out the cases against his brother, Wiley, and Ricky Jackson.

"My battle has come to an end,'' he told Barker. Then, he detailed what 28 years behind bars did to him.
"We were robbed,'' Ajamu said. "There will be no offspring when I die. When my brother passes away, that is it. We don't have children. There will never be another Ronnie Bridgeman. The important part is that we have been united while we are standing forward and upward and that we are not looking at each other in the graveyard.'' The three men were convicted in the murder of Harold Franks, a Cleveland money-order salesman. Wiley Bridgeman, 60, and Jackson, 57, each spent 39 years behind bars for the death of Franks at an East Side convenience store. They served more time behind bars than any other exonerated inmates, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman were freed after the key witness in the case, Eddie Vernon,  recanted his testimony during a hearing in Common Pleas Court last month . Vernon testified that he was 12 when he approached police and lied about seeing the attack. In fact, Vernon wasn't even close. He was riding a school bus, but he said he did hear the shots that killed Franks at the Fairmont Cut-Rite on Fairhill Road, which is now Stokes Boulevard. Jackson's attorneys, Mark Godsey and Brian Howe of the Ohio Innocence Project, called other witnesses who testified that Vernon was on the bus with them and could not have seen the murder.
But in 1975, police and prosecutors built their case against Jackson, Bridgeman and Ajamu on Vernon, who said he simply wanted to help police. He said a friend gave him the three men's names, and Vernon told police he saw the slaying. From there, he said, police fed him the information needed to convince judges and jurors that the three killed Franks. Two men attacked Franks, threw acid in his face and one of them shot him. They then stole his briefcase. A third man drove a get-away car.
Ajamu championed the causes of his brother and Jackson after he was released in 2003. The case against the three began to unravel last year after Vernon admitted to his pastor, the Rev. Anthony Singleton, that he lied. Asked after the hearing what he would tell Vernon if the men met, Ajamu smiled. He said he does hope to meet him. "I would say, 'I'm not angry with you,' '' Ajamu said. "I didn't believe Edward had any malice. He was a kid who got caught up in the wrong thing.'' He said he refuses to carry hatred, saying: "I can control how I feel, and I feel good. I do wish that day (of his conviction) never happened.''
The three are expected to file for compensation from the Ohio Court of Claims. Each could receive more than $40,000 for every year they were wrongly held in prison.
Last month, Judge Richard McMonagle threw out the charges against Jackson, and Judge David Matia tossed out the conviction of Wiley Bridgeman. Barker did that Tuesday for Ajamu. In order for the men to obtain compensation, judges must rule that the three were wrongfully imprisoned. In court Tuesday, Mary McGrath, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor, said her office will not object to the men's attempt to obtain compensation. She said they were, in fact, innocent. She said county Prosecutor Timothy McGinty called the three men "victims of a terrible injustice.''
Terry Gilbert, the attorney who represents Bridgeman and Ajamu, said he was stunned by McGrath's statements. "I didn't expect that to happen,'' Gilbert said. "It was an amazing experience to see a prosecutor concede that the people her office prosecuted were innocent.''
Soon after the hearing, Ajamu thanked McGrath, lauded his attorneys and hugged Barker. He spent most of the morning in tears. Wiley Bridgeman was at his side throughout the morning, upbeat and happy for his brother. Jackson was not at the hearing. "I feel vindicated,'' Ajamu said. "I feel free.'' He said he soon hopes to go to the grave of his mother, Bessie Mae Bridgeman, who died in 1990. He said he wants to talk to his mother about the struggle. "If she hears me, and I pray she will, I will tell her about it,'' he said. "She walked the last days of her life in pain.'' (Source: The Plain Dealer)

Dec. 9 MARYLAND: Gansler tells appeals court Jody Lee Miles should not be executed

Both Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and lawyers for death-row inmate Jody Lee Miles argued to an appeals court Monday that Miles should no longer be subject to capital punishment. Miles is seeking to have his sentence changed in the wake of the General Assembly's repeal of the death penalty last year. The legislature's action did not directly affect the sentences of the 4 remaining men on Maryland's death row, but Gansler (D) argued that the state is "no longer legally or factually able to carry out" executions.
Gansler, who leaves office next month, said the state would like to convert Miles's sentence to life without the possibility of parole, which he said is "in effect a death sentence." Miles is seeking a new sentence of life with the possibility of parole. "He's the best of the best of inmates," one of his lawyers, Brian Saccenti, told a 3-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis. Miles was convicted in the 1997 robbery and murder of a musical-theater director in Wicomico County.
Maryland has not had regulations in place since late 2006 on how to execute prisoners through lethal injections. A court found the protocols had not been properly adopted, and the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) - a death penalty opponent - never implemented new rules. With the death penalty no longer on the books, the state cannot develop new regulations on carrying out executions, even under a new governor, Gansler said. Keeping Miles on death row, Gansler argued, therefore violates his due-process rights. Gansler announced the state's position at a news conference last month. Technically, the stance applies only to Miles, but Gansler said it opens the door to similar legal motions by the state's other death-row inmates.
It is also possible O'Malley could commute the sentences of all or some of the 4 death-row inmates before Jan. 21, when he leaves office and Larry Hogan (R) is sworn in. O'Malley has started reaching out to relatives of the victims of the 4 inmates, stirring speculation that he might commute their sentences in the twilight of his tenure. (source: Washington Post)

Dec. 9 TEXAS: Execution delayed until January

The killer of Vicki Garner, who was murdered in Tyler in 1996, has delayed his date with the execution chamber in Huntsville for at least another month as a result of a paperwork snag. Family members were bitterly disappointed when they learned the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) cancelled Robert Charles Ladd's execution - which was to have been held this Thursday, Dec. 11 - because of a paperwork delay. "It was a crushing blow," Teresa Wooten, the sexual assault director at the SAFE-T women's shelter, said. "We had all worked so hard to set this date by the end of the year."
Judge Christi Kennedy of the 114th District Court in Tyler held a hearing and ruled the execution should move  forward on Nov. 7. The request by Ladd's attorney for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in October.   
           But Wooten said Judge Kennedy did not sign her court order until Nov. 13, thereby running afoul of a state law the specifies an execution cannot fall less than 31 days after the court order. It seems to have simply been an error, Wooten said. "When they realized their mistake, I will say they did their best to try to get around it," she said.
But the TDCJ followed the law and rejected the date. The order has now been filed, and the execution date reset for Jan. 29.
Vicki Ann Garner, a member of the Mount Pleasant High School class of 1977, was brutally murdered on Sept. 25, 1996 in Tyler. Garner was found dead in her home. She had been raped and strangled to death. In addition, her house was robbed and then set on fire. A police investigation quickly connected Ladd to Garner's murder. Ladd's DNA was found on Garner, his hand print was found in Garner's kitchen, and Ladd had sold a TV set that had been taken from Garner's residence in exchange for crack cocaine. Soon after, Ladd was indicted for capital murder, because the murder occurred during the commission of burglary, robbery, sexual assault, and arson.
On Aug. 23, 1997, a Texas state jury convicted Ladd of capital murder, and, on August 27, 1997, the jury imposed the death penalty. "It took them 20 minutes to reach a verdict," Wooten said. "They said it was the fastest verdict in a death penalty case they had ever seen."
Vicki's mother died in 2011 and her father in 2013. In addition to Wooten, she is survived by an older sister, Kathy Pirtle, who lives in Upshur County. Wooten said that she went to work for SAFE-T as a result over the years of being driven by the need to find justice for Vicki. (source: Daily Tribune)

Dec. 9 USA: Tortured 9/11 mastermind should not face death penalty. It's not legal, humane, or fair to execute a person after torturing him.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, should not have to face the death penalty, his lawyer said Tuesday, following revelations of torture in a scathing US Senate report. "It's not legal, humane, or fair to execute a person after torturing him," David Nevin told AFP.
Mohammed is known to have been waterboarded 183 times in secret CIA prisons and in March 2003 he was subjected to 5 waterboard sessions over 25 hours. "Holding a real execution of Mr Mohammad, after 183 mock executions, is cruel and unusual punishment," prohibited under the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution, Nevin said. "The brutality revealed in the details of the torture is quite shocking," he said, and "produced absolutely no useful information." Tuesday's report revealed that sleep deprivation for over a week, beatings, shackling and waterboarding were among the cruel methods used by the George W. Bush-era CIA to interrogate Al-Qaeda terror suspects. The document found that the techniques employed by the Central Intelligence Agency were "far more brutal" than the spy agency had previously admitted to.
The lawyer for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who allegedly led Al-Qaeda operations in the Gulf, said it was "stunning" that the prosecutors knew of the torture "for years and hid it from the court in violation of their professional obligations." Al-Nashiri, who was tortured in CIA prisons, is accused of masterminding a suicide bombing of the USS Cole which killed 17 American sailors in 2000 off the coast of Yemen. "The fact that military and civilian prosecutors are protecting torturers who were acting in violation of American and international law is disappointing, although regrettably not unexpected," Richard Kammen told AFP.
Rights advocates hailed the exposure following the report's release, but criticized a Justice Department announcement that it will not prosecute any US officials implicated. It was regrettable that "the government has excluded from the report the identities of the torturers, the locations of the torture, and many other facts," said James Connell, the civilian lawyer for Mohammad's nephew and accused co-conspirator Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali. He called for the publication of "the remaining 6,125 pages": of the redacted report.
Lieutenant Colonel Sterling Thomas, Ali's military lawyer, said that "torture violates American military values." "The military commission should order access to the full torture report and its underlying documents as part of that accounting for torture," he said. According to the Senate report, Mohammed was the detainee who was tortured the most of the 39 prisoners who underwent the interrogation techniques. (source: Agence France-Presse)

Dec. 10 MISSOURI: Missouri executes prisoner over hammer murder. Paul Goodwin, 48, receives state's 10th lethal injection this year despite last-minute appeals to Supreme Court

A Missouri inmate has been executed for fatally beating a 63-year-old woman with a hammer in 1998, a record 10th lethal injection of 2014 for the state. It now matches Texas for the highest number of executions in the US this year. Paul Goodwin, 48, sexually assaulted Joan Crotts in St Louis County, pushed her down a flight of stairs and beat her on the head with a hammer. Goodwin was a former neighbor who felt Crotts played a role in getting him kicked out of a boarding house.
Goodwin's execution began at 1:17am, delayed more than an hour after it was scheduled because Supreme Court appeals continued into the early morning. He was pronounced dead at 1:25 am He declined to make a final statement. Efforts to spare Goodwin's life centered on his low IQ and claims that executing him would violate a supreme court ruling prohibiting the death penalty for the mentally disabled. His lawyer, Jennifer Herndon, said Goodwin had an IQ of 73, and some tests suggested it was even lower. Goodwin's sister, Mary Mifflin, wrote in a statement that the death penalty "is not a just punishment for his crime - an act that occurred out of passion, not premeditation, by a man with the mental capabilities of a child, not an adult".
But Goodwin's fate was sealed when Missouri's governor, Jay Nixon, denied a clemency request and the supreme court turned down legal appeals - 1 on the mental competency question and one concerning Missouri's use of an execution drug purchased from an unidentified compounding pharmacy.
6 people attended the execution on Goodwin's behalf, including his mother and two sisters. 10 of Crotts's relatives attended, all wearing purple, her favorite colour. Her son Robert Becker recalled his mother as, "a pleasantly ornery Germany woman". That stubbornness was evident in her final hours, he said, when she stayed alive long enough to provide information to police that helped lead to the killer. Another son, Kent Becker, said the execution "cannot erase the memory of having to clean up your mother's murder scene".
Missouri's 10th execution of 2014 surpasses the state's previous high of 9 in 1999. Neither Missouri nor Texas has another execution scheduled this year.  Texas, Missouri and Florida combined carried out 28 of the 34 executions in the US this year.
Goodwin received special education as a child but still failed several grades, Mifflin wrote. He relied on relatives or his girlfriend to help with buying groceries or paying bills, she said. When his girlfriend died, Goodwin turned to alcohol, which was a factor in his attack on Crotts, Mifflin wrote. Crotts's daughter, Debbie Decker, told the St Louis Post-Dispatch that Goodwin deserved no mercy. "I've been sitting back waiting for this to happen," Decker said of the execution. "I'm hoping all these bad memories will go away." Missouri has scheduled 1 execution each month since November 2013. 2 were halted by court action, but 12 were carried out over the past 14 months.
Goodwin becomes the 10th condemned inmate to be put to death in Missouri this year and the 80th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1989. Only Texas (518), Oklahoma (111), Virginia (110), and Florida (89) have executed more inmates since the death penalty was re-legalized in the USA on July 2, 1976. He becomes the 35th and final inmate to be executed this year in the USA and the 1394th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977. It is the fewest executions in the country since 1994, when 31 inmates were put to death. (sources: The Guardian & Rick Halperin)

Dec. 10 MINNESOTA: Minnesota pharmacy board rejects policy aimed at making death penalty drugs harder to get

Minnesota regulators won't adopt a policy that would bar pharmacists from mixing lethal drugs that could be used in administering the death penalty elsewhere. In declining to act Wednesday, state Board of Pharmacy leaders said they weren't aware of any cases where Minnesota pharmacists supplied execution drugs. They say that possibility is remote and likely would run afoul of existing law. As execution drugs become harder to obtain, attention has turned to compounding pharmacies.
Death penalty foes wanted Minnesota to set the nation's first such policy in hopes others would follow. That would make it tougher for capital punishment states to obtain lethal supplies. Minnesota outlawed its death penalty more than a century ago. Advocates for the drug policy argue it is unethical for pharmacists to aid in death. (AP)

Dec. 10 CALIFORNIA: End death penalty or charade of delays

Why even seek the death penalty when it hasn't been implemented in California in nearly a decade and when Democrats who rule the state allow it to linger in perpetual limbo?
Jan Scully, the outgoing district attorney for Sacramento, answered the question without a hint of cynicism on Tuesday - quite a feat considering how cynical people on both sides of this issue have become. Some death penalty supporters have come to believe that death penalty cases just waste taxpayer money because legal obstacles have prevented anyone from being put to death in California since Clarence Ray Allen was executed by lethal injection on Jan. 17, 2006.
Yet there was Scully, and her counterpart from Placer County, announcing they would seek the death penalty for Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes, the Mexican national accused of killing 2 law enforcement officers in a terrifying late October crime spree that gripped the region. "The death penalty is still in force in California. It's still the will of the voters, and by not following this law we disrespect the will of the voters," Scully said.
It's true. California should either abolish the death penalty or abolish the legal charade of endless delays. State prisons house about 750 people sentenced to death, but only 13 inmates have been executed since 1978. That fight could be returning to the ballot box in 2016. But before it does, consider points that death penalty opponents are loath to admit. In California, death penalty convictions are rarely overturned, Scully said. In Scully's 20 years as Sacramento County's DA, prosecutions by her office have sent just 10 men to death row. "If you look at the cases where the death penalty has been found, they stand out," Scully said. "They are very rare."Bracamontes is accused of carrying out a shooting and carjacking spree that terrorized residents from Sacramento to Auburn and resulted in the deaths of 2 peace officers. The facts of the case have not been presented in court, but what is publicly known is chilling enough. What's the right thing to do?
Life without the possibility of parole is often offered as a more humane alternative, but some disagree. The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization, recently reported that solitary confinement - the alternative to death penalty employed in some states - is hardly humane. "Some people condemned to solitary have chosen a swift and certain death over a life of daily torture. Data suggests that as many as half of all prison suicides take place in some form of isolation," according to a Marshall Project commentary piece published by the Huffington Post recently.
There is no safe moral distance from this issue, even though we try to pretend there is. Some crimes and criminals are just different. Sometimes the punishment fits the crime. (Opinion, Marcus Breton; Sacramento Bee)

Dec. 10 MADAGASCAR: Madagascar Abolishes the Death Penalty

Today, on the occasion of the World Human Rights Day, the National Assembly of Madagascar adopted a bill that abolishes the death penalty in Madagascar. In Antananarivo on the 10th of October, the World Day against the Death Penalty, during a workshop aimed at spreading awareness about the death penalty the President of the National Assembly, via his personal representative, expressed his optimism by saying that a bill to abolish the death penalty was to be adopted during the current parliamentary session.
This workshop, organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ministry of Justice with the support of ACAT Madagascar, FIACAT and the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, brought together a wide array of activists to discuss the death penalty in Madagascar. Its audience included the Representative of the President of the National Assembly, 8 MPs, numerous leaders and members of civil society, representatives of UN agencies and several representatives of European embassies. In the final statement, participants at the workshop welcomed "the steps taken by the National Assembly for the development of a bill to abolish the death penalty" and encouraged the President of the Assembly "to include it in the agenda of the October 2014 session".
In light of Madagascar's Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which took place in Geneva on the 3rd of November 2014, FIACAT and ACAT Madagascar recommended in an alternative report to the United Nations Human Rights Council that the Madagascan authorities abolish the death penalty and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.
Therefore, the World Day workshop's final results and the UPR's recommendations were followed-up by the members of the National Assembly who adopted the bill as early as 10 December 2014.
Madagascar has become the 18th member state of the African Union to have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. (source: Fiacat.org)

Dec. 11 USA: There is justice for all in America, unless ...

A federal appeals court has halted Texas' execution of convicted killer Scott Panetti. While allegedly suffering from religious delusions, he murdered his wife’s parents. The appeals court considered Panetti's history of mental illness. The Supreme Court ruled nearly 30 years ago mentally incompetent persons could not be executed, because that would be cruel and unusual punishment prohibited under the 8th Amendment.
In addition to insanity, courts have ruled that convicted murderers can be too young or have too low an IQ to receive the death penalty.
A person can commit horrific crimes, claim innocence due to insanity, and eventually rejoin society as a free person. Last month, convicted murderer Theodore Leleaux - who murdered a co-worker, cut out his heart and put it in his jacket - was paroled by a California judge who decided Leleaux was rehabilitated. Leleaux claimed he suffered a psychotic delusion when he committed the murder. But he is alright now? Really? If Charles Manson is alright now, should he be released?
If Panetti is too crazy to execute, then maybe his murder conviction should be overturned. Then, he could be retried, found innocent by reason of insanity, and if he could convince some judge he was no longer insane, he could be a free man. So, one can be crazy enough to commit murder, but too crazy to be fully punished for it. Panetti's defense is that he suffered from psychotic religious delusions - the devil made him do it. It can be argued all religious beliefs are delusions, therefore any religious person committing a crime could be innocent by reason of insanity. So, all those Islamic State barbarians butchering people in the name of God could be innocent.
It challenges both the notions of logic and justice that some people committing murder are evil and deserve punishment, while others are mentally ill and deserve therapy. If the latter are innocent and not evil, then there is no guilty party. Murder is just an unfortunate accident. That can be difficult for the victims' loved ones to accept.
While some murders are committed out of mercy, as when someone kills a loved one who is suffering a painful terminal illness and wants to die, most murders are either cold-blooded or acts of rage. Why are they not acts of insanity? All such murderers are crazy, so why is it OK to execute any of them?
However, who is nuts and who is not isn't the most critical issue in deciding justice for murder, the death penalty is. While the courts are deliberating over whether a murderer is sane, or who is too young or not smart enough to execute, or what method of execution is constitutional, the larger problem is the instances of failed justice that result in wrongful convictions. Unless justice can be absolutely infallible, all cops and prosecutors honest, and all juries impartial, the death penalty is not appropriate. With police executing people on the streets with impunity, and with the federal government using drones to assassinate American citizens, we sure don't need more state-sanctioned executions by a fallible, sometimes-corrupt, judicial system.
Widespread police thuggery, an emerging police state that spies on and bullies the public, twisted justice that punishes victimless drug users while it ignores fraudulent bankers who victimize millions of people have all made American justice suspect, putting trust in the judicial system in jeopardy. Justice in America is the best money can buy, and for that reason and others it is not always impartial, honest or fair. It is certainly not infallible. Allowing such a system to put people to death is not only barbaric. it is a lethal threat to every citizen. (source: Opinion, Randy Alcorn----Lompoc record)

Dec. 11 MALAYSIA: 'Abolish mandatory death penalty'

Malaysia's mandatory death penalty is arbitrary and discriminatory and ought to be abolished, stated a prominent human rights lawyer. Speaking at the Forum on Death Penalty in Malaysia organised by Hakam in conjunction with Human Rights Week (Dec 8-12), Abdul Rashid Ismail said that since the mandatory death penalty does not consider the circumstances of its offences, it violates the basic right to life, as enshrined in international human rights laws.
Citing past cases in Malaysia, Abdul Rashid, who is also Hakam's immediate presiding president, pointed out that most nations retaining the death penalty have done away with its mandatory nature, reserving it for serious and extraordinary crimes. Highlighting Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), he stated it contravenes the mandatory death penalty as the ICCPR is customary international law and should therefore be a part of Malaysian law. He was also careful to stress that the ICCPR does not abolish the death penalty itself but only removes its mandatory nature. "For offences such as drug trafficking, the mandatory sentence is automatic and indisputable. This is unjust as most individuals sentenced for drug trafficking are commonly duped low-ranking mules while the kingpins often escape the net," said Abdul Rashid. (source: The Sun Daily)

Dec. 11 CHINA: China sentences state-owned firm chief to death for graft

China has sentenced the head of a state-owned company to death for corruption involving nearly 400 million yuan ($64.8 million), state media reported, in a rare instance of an official being condemned to die. Communist Party authorities have waged a much-publicised anti-graft campaign since Xi Jinping ascended to the organisation's leadership 2 years ago, with the powerful former security czar Zhou Yongkang being the highest-ranking official ensnared. But while China executes more people than the rest of the world combined, according to rights groups, it is very rare for corrupt officials to face the ultimate penalty.
A court in the southern city of Guangzhou convicted Zhang Xinhua, former general manager of the Baiyun Industrial and Agricultural Corporation, of bribery and embezzlement on Wednesday, the Xinhua news agency said, citing the verdict. Zhang was found to have embezzled company assets worth more than 280 million yuan since 2003, it said. He also took bribes worth around 95 million yuan in exchange for various favours, according to the report.
Zhang's conviction came on the same day that Liu Tienan, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planning agency, was sentenced to life in prison for graft. Liu ranked far above Zhang in the country's hierarchy, but his conviction involved 35.58 million yuan -- less than 10 % of what Zhang was found to have obtained.
The last Chinese official to be executed for graft was Xu Maiyong, the former vice mayor of the wealthy eastern city of Hangzhou, who was put to death in 2011 after being convicted of taking bribes reportedly worth 198 million yuan, embezzlement and abuse of power.
The current anti-graft campaign has netted high-level "tigers" as well as low-level "flies", but critics say the ruling party has failed to introduce systemic reforms to prevent corruption, such as public disclosure of assets. Xinhua said that Zhang appealed Wednesday after the verdict was announced. "The corruption of people like Zhang Xinhua caused significant losses to the country... and challenged the public's basic moral principles," the report quoted Zheng Yunzhan, a judge of the court, as saying. "We must firmly punish with severity crimes by people who take advantage of their official posts, that are vile in nature and cause great harm," Zheng said, according to the report. (AFP)

Dec. 12 ARIZONA: Case tossed vs. woman held 22 years in son's death

In a scathing critique of Arizona's criminal justice system, a state appeals court on Thursday ordered the dismissal of murder charges against a woman who spent 22 years on death row in her son's killing. The Arizona Court of Appeals said the charges against Debra Jean Milke in the 1989 death of her son Christopher can't be refiled. A three-judge panel said it agrees with Milke's argument that a retrial would amount to double jeopardy.
The court held that prosecutors' failure to turn over evidence that could have helped Milke's defense was egregious, calling the actions "a severe stain on the Arizona justice system." "Nondisclosure of this magnitude calls into question the integrity of the system and was highly prejudicial to Milke," the court wrote. "In these circumstances - which will hopefully remain unique in the history of Arizona law - the most potent constitutional remedy is required."
Authorities say Milke dressed her son in his favorite outfit and told him he was going to see Santa Claus at a mall in December 1989. He was then taken into the desert outside Phoenix by two men and shot in the back of the head. The court said it wasn't expressing an opinion on Milke's guilt or innocence, though it heavily criticized authorities for staking much of their case on a detective with credibility problems. A federal appeals court threw out Milke's 1st-degree murder conviction in March 2013, saying prosecutors knew about a history of misconduct by the detective but failed to disclose it. Maricopa County prosecutors were preparing for a retrial.
Milke's appellate attorney, Lori Voepel, was ecstatic at the victory, which prosecutors could appeal to the state Supreme Court. "We're all thrilled," Voepel said. "We still have the gag order so we can't say much more than we're all thrilled with the opinion." Milke has been free on bail since September 2013 as she awaited retrial.
A spokesman for Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery had no immediate comment. "This is really a sock in the gut - it's a cheap shot," said Arizona Milke, Christopher's father and ex-husband of Debra Milke. "She shouldn't walk free, because she's guilty."
Milke was convicted in 1990. The original case rested largely on her purported confession, which Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate did not record. He has since retired, and The Associated Press has made repeated efforts to reach him for comment. That left jurors with Saldate's word alone that she told him about her involvement. Milke has maintained her innocence and denied she ever confessed. In its ruling overturning Milke's conviction, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited numerous instances in which Saldate committed misconduct in previous cases, including lying under oath and violating suspects' rights. The federal appeals court also asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Saldate had committed civil rights violations.
Prosecutors insist Milke is guilty, but Saldate has claimed he fears potential federal charges if he testifies at a retrial, based on the appeals court accusations of misconduct. In December, Superior Court Judge Rosa Mroz granted Saldate's request to assert his Fifth Amendment right, allowing him to refuse to take the stand. The state Court of Appeals overturned that ruling in April and said Saldate would be forced to testify at the retrial. Both county and federal authorities said they don't intend to seek charges against the detective based on any of the accusations leveled by the federal appeals court. Saldate's attorney countered that authorities had offered no guarantees that he wouldn't face charges in the future based on his testimony, and an appeal to the state Supreme Court was expected.
Judge Mroz had previously said that if Saldate didn't testify again, the purported confession likely couldn't be used at her retrial.
Milke's defense sought dismissal of the entire case against her, noting in a previous motion that "the only direct evidence linking defendant to the crimes is the defendant's alleged confession to Saldate." The 2 men convicted in Christopher's death did not testify against Milke and remain on death row.
Milke, whose mother was a German who married a U.S. Air Force military policeman in Berlin in the 1960s, has drawn strong support from citizens of that nation and Switzerland, neither of which has the death penalty. Milke's mother died in Germany in August after a battle with cancer. A week earlier, a judge had denied Milke's request for permission to travel to Germany to visit her sick mother. (source: Associated Press)

Dec 12 TEXAS: Court Tells TDCJ to Name Death Drug Suppliers

The name of the compounding pharmacy supplying lethal injection drugs for Texas executions must be released because it is public information, a judge ruled late Thursday. State District Judge Darlene Byrne granted summary judgment in favor of three lawyers who often work for death row inmates in Texas - Maurie Levin, Naomi Terr and Hilary Sheard - in a little-watched lawsuit filed in Austin earlier this year. "It's a big deal," plaintiffs attorney Philip Durst said of Byrne's decision. "It goes to the topic of how we provide [public] information."
Since the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is expected to appeal the ruling, however, it may be a while before the name is revealed. "If they appeal, then we don't get the names until it's over," Durst conceded. Jason Clark, a spokesman for TDCJ, confirmed to The Texas Tribune late Thursday that the agency would appeal, and declined further comment until staff lawyers review Byrne's ruling.
The 3 lawyer-plaintiffs sued TDCJ after the prison agency refused to release the name of the compounding pharmacy used to supply the prison system with the lethal injection drugs. The lawyers had filed a request for the information under the Texas Public Information Act and the agency refused to release it. The lawyers' suit originally included 2 more plaintiffs, both Texas death row inmates. Both, Tommy Lynn Sells and Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas, were executed last April.
In September 2013, TDCJ turned to compounding pharmacies, which are allowed to mix or "compound" drugs on site, for its lethal injection drugs after manufacturers stopped providing pentobarbital to U.S. prison systems. But since the identity of one of the compounding pharmacies was released to the public in 2013, the Texas prison system has worked to keep the names of the current provider or providers secret. The names of the pharmaceutical companies providing lethal injection drugs were long made public in Texas, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has issued rulings confirming that drug supplier names are public information. That changed, however, when TDCJ was forced to turn to compounding pharmacies.
Last May, Abbott, in the midst of his own campaign for governor, sided with TDCJ after the agency secured a "threat assessment" from the Texas Department of Public Safety stating that the pharmacies "by design are easily accessible to the public and present a soft target to violent attacks." If the agency names the pharmacy-supplier, DPS reasoned, it would present a "substantial" threat of physical harm to the pharmacy.
Levin and other attorneys for death row inmates have argued that compounded drugs subject condemned inmates to cruel and unusual punishment which is barred by the Eighth Amendment. The drugs that compounding pharmacies mix are not approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Compounding pharmacies themselves are licensed not by the FDA, but by individual state boards of pharmacies. In the past 2 years, executions have taken longer, raising questions about the purity of these "compounded" drugs. Last April in Oklahoma, death row inmate Clayton Lockett had a heart attack 43 minutes after the sedative midazolam was used for the first time in that state's execution protocol. Compounding pharmacies provided the drugs. An official autopsy ruled he died from the lethal drugs, not the heart attack.
In the past two years, executions have taken longer, as states begin using never before used "execution" drugs like midazolam to replace older lethal cocktails now unavailable to them. Some are using compounded drugs and questions are being raised about the purity and efficacy of these drugs. In the past 2 years, executions have taken longer, as states begin using never before used "execution" drugs like midazolam to replace older lethal cocktails now unavailable to them. Some are using compounded drug and questions are being raised about the purity and efficacy of these drugs.
Last April in Oklahoma, death row inmate Clayton Lockett had a heart attack 43 minutes after the sedative midazolam was used for the 1st time in that state's execution protocol. Before the execution, Oklahoma had said it was moving to compounded drugs, however, the drugs used in Lockett execution were manufactured. An official autopsy ruled he died from the lethal drugs, not the heart attack. In an earlier version of this story it was reported that Oklahoma used compounded drugs to execute Clayton Lockett. While Oklahoma officials had said they were going to purchase compounded lethal execution drugs, they used manufactured drugs in Lockett's execution. (source: Texas Tribune)

Dec. 12 OHIO: Senate approves execution-secrecy bill

A bill shrouding parts of Ohio's execution process in secrecy cleared the Ohio Senate yesterday, with an added provision requiring a review of how killers are put to death amid ongoing legal questions over lethal injection. The measure, which prison officials say is needed to ensure that Ohio can obtain the execution drugs from compounding pharmacies, now returns to the House, where approval is expected next week as the legislature wraps up its work for its 2-year session. The Senate approved the measure 20-10 as minority Democrats voiced concerns over the lack of transparency to accompany the state's use of capital punishment. Three Republicans also voted against it.
The bill would forever keep confidential the identities of execution-team members and physicians and shield the identities of compounding pharmacies that prepare lethal-injection drugs for 20 years after their state contracts expire. Prison officials contend they cannot obtain the drugs needed to conduct executions unless compounding pharmacies are assured they will not be identified and will be protected from potential retaliation. The pharmacies "have become subjected to not just criticism but downright attack, boycotts and picketing at their homes," said Sen. John Eklund, R-Chardon. "Consequently many of these pharmacies have become unwilling ... to subject themselves to that aggravation."
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee added a 2-year sunset provision under which the law would expire unless the measure is renewed. Lawmakers want to see how the secrecy changes work before potentially extending them. Execution-team members and pharmacies granted confidentiality during the 1st 2 years would retain those protections even if the law expires.
The bill also calls for appointment of a joint Senate-House committee to review the "means and manner" by which Ohio executes the condemned amid controversy over the fatal drug combinations concocted to replace drugs no longer made available by their manufacturers. Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, a death-penalty opponent, voted against the bill. "Is there any irony to take the life of a convicted killer but then worry endlessly that we don't cause him any suffering?" Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, who served 2 years on the Ohio Supreme Court's Death Penalty Task Force, said he recognizes that people are opposed to the death penalty, "but that is not what this bill is about."
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction officials said yesterday that they did not request the review of the means of death of the condemned or the sunset provision and declined to comment on their inclusion. (source: Columbus Dispatch)

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