"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Two Christians and a Muslim man get death penalty in Pakistan for blasphemy

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan.
2 Christians and a Muslim man were on Tuesday sentenced to death by a Pakistani anti terrorism court for committing blasphemy.

The Anti-Terrorism Court of Gujranwala district announced the verdict in the case which was pending for the last one year.

ATC Gujranwala Judge Bushra Zaman handed down death penalty to Anjum, Javed Naz (who are both Christians) and Jaffer Ali for committing blasphemy. Naz and Ali have been sentenced to an additional 35 years each.

The judge also imposed a fine of Rs 5 million on Anjum and Rs 8 million each on Naz and Ali.

Gujranwala city police had arrested Anjum, Naz and Ali a year ago on blasphemy charges.

The judge announced the verdict after prosecution presented all witnesses.

Anjum, a resident of Farid Town, some 80km from Lahore ran a chain of Locus Schools System in Gujranwala. Asif, Anjum's brother, told PTI that his brother never committed any blasphemy.

"Javed Naz was a cousin of Anjum and employed at one of his schools. When Anjum fired Naz on corruption allegations he turned against my brother," he said.

Asif said later Naz started blackmailing Anjum by claiming that he had his voice recorded in which he had made blasphemous remarks.

"When Anjum stopped paying money to Naz, he along with his Muslim friend Ali got a blasphemy case registered against Anjum," he said.

Police during investigation also booked Naz and Ali in the blasphemy case.

"My brother is innocent and we will challenge the ATC verdict in the superior court," Asif said.

Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan. 2 high-profile politicians then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered in 2011 after calling for reforms to the blasphemy law.

Pakistan's tough blasphemy law has attracted criticism from rights groups, who say they are frequently misused to settle personal scores.

Source: firstpost.com, June 28, 2016

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Iran under pressure to abolish death penalty for drug trafficking

Public hanging in Iran
Several European countries cut off financial contributions to republic's counter-narcotics campaign

Iran is under pressure to end its use of death penalty against drug traffickers after facing a serious shortfall in the international funding of the country's counter-narcotics campaign.

An increasing number of European countries have decided to cut off contributions even though the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) last year approved a 5-year country partnership programme for Iran that was aimed at providing about $20m (then 14.4m pounds).

The agency's latest annual appeal document, obtained by the human rights group Reprieve, which works for the abolition of death penalty, shows that Tehran has received zero in funding for 2016. The UK has confirmed in writing that it is no longer contributing. Similar indications have come from Italy, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Norway.

2 senior Iranian officials have recently complained about the lack of international support. Last week, Iran's prosecutor general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, blamed "imperialist" powers for young people's addiction to drugs. In April, the Tehran Times quoted the interior minister as saying that Europeans were uncooperative.

Iran is a neighbour to Afghanistan, a leading producer and supplier of the world's drugs, and faces big challenges at home with a young population susceptible to a variety of cheap and abundant addictive drugs. Critics, however, say Iran's use of death penalty in this regard has done little, if anything, to address the issue.

"It is increasingly untenable for abolitionist states to contribute to the funding of law enforcement-led counter-narcotics programmes in Iran due to skyrocketing drug-related executions in Iran," Maya Foa, director of Reprieve's death penalty team, told the Guardian on the sidelines of the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo.

Iran executed nearly 1,000 people last year, of which more than 1/2 were for drug offences. It is difficult to gauge public attitude to executions in Iran but Iranians increasingly favour forgiveness in cases involving murder. The number of Iranian convicts whose lives were saved last year after being pardoned outnumbered those who were known to have been put to death for murder.

There has been a considerable drop in the number of executions in Iran since the beginning of this year (around 200 executions) but activists said it was too early to say if that amounted to a change in policy.

The UNODC did comment on the cooperation of the Europeans. "The programme received funding in 2015 and there are pledges for 2016 from countries. It would therefore be premature to make any judgment on funding levels for the programme, especially as we are only halfway through the year," said David Dadge, UNODC's spokesperson.

UNODC's deputy executive director, Aldo Lale-Demoz, recently said: "You'll never be able to control the world drug problem just by investing in law enforcement and repression."

Iran has hinted that it wants to end drug-related executions. In December, more than 70 MPs introduced a bill to end such executions and officials have since signalled that Iran is pursing the matter. Iran's chief prosecutor said last week that "we are not in favour of death penalty and we don't think it's appropriate".

Madyar Samienejad, an Oslo-based human rights defender, said comments by the Iranian judicial authorities over abolishing the death penalty for drug-related offences appeared to be serious, showing there was a will to tackle the issue. "I think this is the direct result of good campaigning. Executions have contributed to a great degree in how Iran is viewed from the outside world and the Iranian authorities seem to have begun acknowledging this, at least in their words," he said.

Executions in Iran take place at the hands of the hardline judiciary, which acts independently of the moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani. But critics say the government has failed in preventing such executions take place in public and providing enough funding for lawyers defending convicts.

Asked by the Guardian, the Norwegian foreign minister, Borge Brende, said last week: "We have been very clear regarding our funding towards the UN, and that we will not be a part of funding Iran's programs which is related to this inhumane practice." The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, however, said: "The fight against drug trafficking is one thing, the fight against the death penalty is another." He did not say whether France was still contributing.

Source: The Guardian, June 29, 2016

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Guarding Solitary Confinement

Solitary confinement cell: Entombed alive
Solitary confinement cell: Entombed alive
Interview with a Former Corrections Officer Who Worked in Prison Isolation Units

Recently, Solitary Watch had the opportunity to sit down with “X,” a former corrections officer who spent almost two years working on a segregation unit in Pennsylvania. (The guard requested complete anonymity in exchange for the interview). 

X, now 48, worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections between 2006 and 2009, and in the Special Housing Units (SHU) from 2008-2009. He spoke candidly with journalist Aviva Stahl about what drew him to work “in the hole,” what he saw while he was there, and what he thinks about the growing movement to reform the use of solitary. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

AS: Did you start working in the SHU or did you work in general population first?

X: It’s always general population first. Always. You don’t work in solitary confinement until you’ve established yourself as a CO. They want to see how you react. How you handle yourself. How you are with the other CO’s, how you interact with inmates. And they take that all… and you get to know your lieutenants, your captains, your majors, and your other staff members, your peers, your other CO’s. Whether or not they can trust you and you can trust them before you’re ever considered for down there, the hole. We used to call it the hole. People want to see what you’re made of.

AS: Do you remember the kind of people who were there for disciplinary or punishment, do you remember the range of stuff they had done to warrant being put in the hole?

X: Mm-hm. It could be an offense towards an officer. It could be, any inmates if they got in any kind of a fight or something both of them automatically go down. Normally a couple days, you have a trial, find out what’s going on, bring the officers in that seen it. “Yeah I seen this, the inmate so and so you know initiated it.” So normally the one that didn’t, they’d get released back to general population. They could be down there for, I mean, stealing, whether it had been in the chow hall, from one of the workshops trying to bring things in, offenses that they committed during visiting when they were visiting family and friends during visiting hour. There would be state offenses against officers like spitting, hitting. Anything.
AS: Did you ever see people go crazy in the SHU?

X: Oh yeah. Yeah it was, we had one inmate, he was in his 70’s… We had another inmate being transferred from another institution and he said yeah, he would take a cellie. Well, ended up, both celled together. It was the second night together and the younger inmate who was like 24, raped the 77 year old inmate. And I remember when [the 77-year-old] came out of there, the Lieutenant comes out and we had him on a stretcher and I mean this man, we thought he was going to have a heart attack, a stroke or…he was just horrified that this had happened.

AS: I think you told me you walked in on someone who had hanged himself, right?

X: We had one inmate, he was dead when we got him. He snapped his neck from hanging himself. Had some that the genitalia, tried to cut it off with a plastic spoon.

AS: And the people who tried to commit suicide in solitary or who cut themselves, do you think it was because they were in solitary? Do you think it was the solitary that was driving them crazy?

X: No, I think it was just incarceration. And situations that happen while they were in there, if they had a loved one that died or their spouse or their child or someone you’re going to know what happens when it happens. The inmates don’t take time to tell you. They’ll tell you what happened. But they can’t go on anymore and they’ll tell you they don’t want to live anymore. They’ll write Dear John letters. It’s the same as what happens out here. They start giving away everything, they write a note, they start, they lose all affect for anything. You don’t want to be involved anymore and they withdraw. It’s a norm. [In fact, 50 percent of all prison suicides take place among the approximately 5 percent of prisoners held in solitary.]

AS: The other thing I was curious about that we talked about when we met was forced cell extractions. I don’t know if you want to talk about that, what it was like to participate in those or kind of what it looked like.

X: Basically, where we would be doing, whether it would be a fence, they would grab ahold of one of the nurses, when it was pill-passing time. They would mix up stuff, they would defecate all over their cells, they would paint the windows, so you have to be able to see, no matter what, you have to be able to see to do your count, make sure for the safety of the inmates. You have to be able to see in that cell. And they would cover the windows with feces, it was bad. And man, it stunk. But you don’t know if they were dead or what was going to go on there. If they had something they had made shanks out of. We had one inmate he took towels and kind of strapped his shanks to his hands and he was like “come and get me.” And so you have to go in, that’s just it. So a team assembles and you give them several chances to come to the grill to be cuffed and he comes down there, he’s the one giving the order, and no matter what happens before the cellie’s direction or any sort of pepper spray or anything there’s always a lieutenant there. He’s the one giving the order. I’m ordering you to inmate so and so, I’m giving you a lawful order and you need to come to the pie hole to be handcuffed. “No. Come on and get me.”

If they didn’t want to come out then be cuffed up, you have no other choice but to go in. Or you have to hit them with pepper spray. We had our teams for them with our batons and our pepper spray and everybody has a set of cuffs on them. You used to have to overpower them and take them down. I mean you came out with some bangs and bruises on you but, you got done what had to be done.

AS: How often would that happen?

X: Sometimes you may not have a cell extraction for a week or two. But normally it was probably 2 or 3 times a week. Yeah, it happened quite frequently. If you believe somebody had something in their cell, a weapon, and they wouldn’t come out, you’d have to go in and get it.

Click here to read the full article

Source: Solitary Watch, Aviva Stahl, June 28, 2016

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Situation of Iran's Minorities Raised at 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty

Public execution in Iran
ECPM (Ensemble contre la peine de mort) convened the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty on 21-23 June 2016 in Oslo, Norway, to discuss ways forward in the abolition of the death penalty. 

The event gathered around 1000 participants (ministers, diplomats, parliamentarians, academics, lawyers and members of civil society), among which Ms Monireh Shirani (Balochistan Human Rights Group, Sweden) who presented her view on the state of death penalty among migrants and minorities in Iran. 

Baloch, Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks and Turkmen are being systematically discriminated against and have less access to legal resources to defend themselves than the rest of the population, which results in minorities being the most threatened by executions. 

Iran is currently among the top countries when it comes to the number of executions in the past 5 years.

Below is the speech of Ms Monireh Shirani:

Ethnic minorities have long suffered discrimination as they have been viewed with suspicion and considered outsiders or foreign conspirators. The Amnesty report for 2015-16 states that "Iran's disadvantaged ethnic groups, Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen, continued to report that the state authorities systematically discriminated against them, particularly in employment, housing, access to political office, and the exercise of cultural, civil and political rights."

Executions are part of the state policy in dealing with the ethnic minorities, to punish any cultural or political act. The large-scale executions of political and ideological dissidents have resulted in Iran being in the top countries when it comes to number of executions during the last 5 years. Other reasons are that the ethnic minorities also have less access to the legal resources needed to defend themselves due to a discriminatory system, poverty, marginalization and living in militarized zone.

There is a clear over representation of the Ahwazi arabs, Baloch and Kurds on the death row and in executions. Iran executed nearly 1000 prisoners last year, the majority of these executions were prisoners' sentence to death for drug-related offenses. Under Iran's current drug laws possession of 30 grams of heroin or cocaine would qualify for the death penalty.

Iran views these number as a great victory and defends its acts because they claim that they are in a war on drugs. Some of those who were convicted for drug related offenses were actually political dissidents. In Balochistan entire adult male populations from singled out villages have been executed, the regime fully admit to this and refers to the war on drugs and drug trafficking as crimes which have to be met with mass execution. Some of them were executed without trials others had trials conducted behind closed doors, before biased judges and in absence of legal representations.

One can wonder how this is possible on a large scale.

Well, charges of act on national security and drug related offenses, are among the charges routinely used on ethnic minorities, fall within the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary court which is one for the strictest Judicial bodies.

The Revolutionary court consists of essentially closed meetings, the right of defense is ignored. The accused is not informed of his or her right to adequate defense. The right to assistance of interpretation of the proceedings in his or her mother tongue as Farsi is not the mother tongue of the ethnic minorities not given.

The family is prohibited to participate in the deliberations of the case. The courts is by law obliged to inform the accused of the verdict by sending a copy of the decision to his place of residence and from that time there is a 20 day appeal possibility. The Revolutionary court fails to follow its legal obligations and violates the accused's rights, because they don't send a copy, the family is not notified in time.

The accused are usually moved to different locations, in different regions as a strategy to isolate the accused. This places a challenge on the prisoner because it makes it hard for the family to visit and give adequate support.

In Iran there are thousands of minors in prison, often sentenced to death while underage and executed when coming to age. On the 27th of April Mohammad Sanchouli 22 years old was executed in Balochistan. He was arrested and convicted when he was 17 years old and spent 5 years in prison.

The obstacles confronted by minorities facing the death penalty is on the individual level impossible to tackle. The strategies and the ambiguity of the system is difficult for the individual and his/her family to overcome. Rather than finding reasonable evidence for the commission of a crime, judges generally rely on confessions, which have often been coerced through physical and psychological torture. Iranian television continue to broadcast self-incriminating testimonies of ethnic minority detainees even before their opening trial, undermining their fundamental rights of defendants to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Last year in Ahwaz 5 prisoners were arrested in April and on in June they were brought in front of state TV by the Ministry of Information to make public confessions. These public confessions are frequent used when lack of evidence. For example in 2012 in Balochistan ten people were arrested for an assassination.

Confessions were broadcast on state TV. Some of them received long sentenced others were sentenced to death. A few years after the security forces arrested another 18 people for the same crime for which the people in 2012 had been tried and convicted for.

Most of the minority prisoners have been arbitrary arrested. We have cases of security forces raiding homes and arresting people without warrants. In Ahwaz last year more than 75 people were arrested after a demonstration and for months their whereabouts were unknown to their families.

"Waging war against God" (Moharebeh) enmity against God is one of the leading charges used by the Iranian regime to justify the inhuman executions of ethnic minorities groups in Iran. Other common charges against minorities sentences to death are charges of corruption on earth (Mofsid fil-arz), drug related offences and acts against national security. Another vulnerable group is religious minorities such as the Bahai who are also usually charged with espionage and acts against national security.

A few weeks ago, the Iranian government executed 5 Kurdish prisoners in the northwestern city of Urmia. They were hung publicly on charges of "conspiring against the Islamic Republic of Iran". They were human rights activists who used to document violations by security forces against civilians in the Kurdish city of Urmia. The regime is quick to state examples by using public hangings to discourage any form of activity in the regions. Many of these hangings take up to 20 minutes, a slow and painful death. The body is often left for a time before removed from the scene.

We the diaspora and the civil society living outside Iran depend on the United Nations as a tool to challenge the ongoing oppression in Iran. The UN's office on drugs and crime, the anti-drug agency has a multi-million dollar funding package, which includes EU money, for Iran's counter narcotics trafficking program. Iran's war on drugs have not resulted in the population being less addicted to drugs but rather resulted in mass executions of ethnic minorities. The international community needs to raise concern over the lack of the administration of justice in this war on drugs.

This money should be conditional and the UN should demand that the capital punishment for drug related offense not be used, put pressure on the country to give the accused a fair trial and access to judicial system. The UN should at least demand that the Special rapporteurs be given access to the country as a condition.

The strategy is to continue to work against the death penalty. To work with wide networks of law makers, lawyers, NGO's and activists to create new strategies towards universal abolition of the death penalty.

Other tactics to challenge the status quo is Social media and media. Iran does not expose its execution records, it's quite hard to obtain full court records. Bridging the information gap is key. In Zahedan prison in April 8 men were executed. We still don't know the full identity of five of them. The civil society outside as well as in side Iran plays an important role in creating records and bring the information out. The state TV often dehumanize ethnic minorities in national media, promoting a discourse of uncivilized, barbaric, drug lord and illiterate people living in dangerous areas. People in the central part never see the regions of the minorities and so the only information that they have of us is the state's portrayal. That's why media coverage to is important so that the state narrative can be challenged.

Source: unpo.org, June 28, 2016

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Arkansas judge criticizes secrecy in U.S. executions

An Arkansas judge who last year declared unconstitutional a law that allows the state to keep confidential the source of drugs used for execution by lethal injection has lamented a 5-4 decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court reversing his ruling.

In a breakout session on the death penalty at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly June 24, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen said that since the Supreme Court upheld the use of capital punishment for certain crimes, the death penalty debate has shifted to whether specific execution procedures satisfy the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

"How it's being done now is we'll make sure it's nice by making sure it's secret so you don't know how barbaric it is," said Griffen, who also serves as pastor of CBF-affiliated New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark. Griffen said legal action surrounding capital punishment now focuses on "seeking to discover the chemicals that are being used to put people to death and discover where they are coming from."

The day before the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a state law that allows for the type, manufacturers and sellers of drugs used for lethal injections to be kept confidential. The law is designed to ensure the state can find a place to buy the drugs in a market where pharmaceutical companies are rapidly withdrawing from the lethal injection trade.

Not only are inmates on death row not entitled to know who is selling the drugs, Griffen said, they also cannot find out the qualifications of the individuals who will administer them.

"If you want to euthanize your dog, you know that under your state only the people who have certain credentials can put your dog down," Griffen said at the CBF workshop. "If you want to euthanize your neighbor - if you want to kill your neighbor in the name of the state - I 10-time double-dog dare you to find out the qualifications of the person who is doing it."

"As a matter of fact, there is no requirement that the state tell you, and they have an affirmative obligation to not disclose that," the judge continued. "It is amazing. One would call it irony, but it's too nice a word."

Pfizer, the world's 2nd-largest drug company adopted distribution controls in March to prevent its drugs from reaching execution chambers across the United States.

"Pfizer makes its products to enhance and save the lives of the patients we serve," the company said in a statement. "Consistent with these values, Pfizer strongly objects to the use of its products as lethal injections for capital punishment."

Reprieve, a New York-based human rights organization, said in May that all 25 FDA-approved manufacturers of potential execution drugs now have blocked their sale for use in capital punishment.

The ruling by the Arkansas high court clears the way for the execution of 8 people on death row whose lives were extended by Griffen's temporary restraining order last Oct. 9. One of the state's execution drugs expires before the Supreme Court decision goes in effect, however, and the supplier has told officials it would not supply any more.

Source: baptistnews.com, June 27, 2016

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Philippines President-elect Rodrigo Duterte calls human rights activists and opponents of the death penalty “stupid”

Rodrigo Duterte
Rodrigo Duterte
During a speech Monday, Philippines President-elect Rodrigo Duterte — who has sworn off interviews with the press — reiterated his support for capital punishment as a retaliatory measure and not a deterrent, disparaging human rights activists and opponents of the death penalty as “stupid.”

“I believe in retribution. Why? You should pay. When you kill someone, rape, you should die,” Duterte said in a speech Monday in Davao City, where he was mayor for two decades before winning the presidency this year and has been succeeded by his daughter, Sara Duterte. “These human rights (groups), congressmen, how stupid you are,” he added, promising to restore the death penalty. “He promised that tens of thousands of people would die, with security forces being given shoot to kill orders,” Agence France-Presse notes.

“When they describe or characterise a human rights violator, these fools make it appear that the people you kill are saints, as if they are pitiful or innocent,” he said of human rights activists and United Nations officials who have publicly reprimanded Duterte for his repeated promises to kill as many violent criminals as possible and offer police who perform extrajudicial killings legal protection.

Duterte won the presidency by a wide margin in early May, campaigning on his record as mayor. Davao City remains one of the few safe places on the southern island of Mindanao, home to the nation’s largest Muslim population and jihadist gangs like Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Following his victory, he has repeatedly vowed to increase the number of drug suspects killed by law enforcement.

On Saturday, Duterte vowed to kill not only drug traffickers, but drug addicts. “If I couldn’t convince you to stop, I’ll have you killed… if you’re into drugs, I’m very sorry. I’ll have to apologize to your family because you’ll surely get killed.” he said in a speech, adding, “the problem is once you’re addicted to shabu [methamphetamine], rehabilitation is no longer an option.” The Philippines website Rappler notes that at least 54 drug suspects have been killed since Duterte won the presidential election.

In addition to insisting on the return of capital punishment, Duterte has asserted that he prefers hanging to more expensive forms of execution. “I’m asking for re-imposition of death penalty so that I can hang them,” he said last week, arguing that the influence of drugs “reduced human beings into bestial state [sic].”

He also reiterated in different remarks last week that he neither believes that capital punishment deters criminals, nor does he believe deterrence is a relevant issue in reviving the practice. “Death penalty to me is the retribution. It makes you pay for what you did,”he stated clearly.

In the same speech, to police, he said, “If you kill 1,000, tell them it was ordered by Duterte. Period. I will deal with everybody.”

In response to Duterte’s repeated calls for the execution of drug criminals, leading drug traffickers have placed a million-dollar bounty on Duterte himself. He has responded by offering government-sanctioned bounties available to civilians if they killed the drug lords placing a bounty on his head. “If he (drug lord) puts P50 million for my life, I will put P60 million. Kill him. No questions asked. We can match each other’s price,” Duterte said last week.

Duterte also bizarrely stated on Monday that he would not run for president again if he knew that he would win. “You know, if I can go back in time, I would decide not to run for president. Honestly, swear to God. If this is just a bad dream, I hope it is,” he said Monday, “during his final flag ceremony as mayor of Davao City.” He added a protest that his salary is not enough to maintain his common-law wife and pay his ex-wife alimony.

While Duterte has given speeches this month, he has not entertained questions from the media sine early June. “I won’t grant interviews. Sorry. It’s really a boycott,” he announced, adding the boycott would lift when his six-year term as president was over.

Duterte will be inaugurated into office on Thursday, June 30.

Source: breibart.com, Frances Martel, June 27, 2016

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Clock Ticks as Indonesian Execution Spree Looms

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo
Hope and Hypocrisy: Despite fighting for the freedom of hundreds of its own citizens facing the death penalty abroad, Indonesia looks set to carry out a spate of executions of foreign nationals. Can international and local activists force the populist Jokowi administration to change its course?

Sixteen executions are expected to soon take place in Indonesia, and most of the people are foreigners convicted of drug crimes.

Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, says Indonesia’s “tragically misguided and wrongheaded” policy could see more than 40 people executed by the end of 2017.
“We are greatly concerned because the Indonesian government has made it clear that as soon as Ramadan is over, in early July, they will begin executions again,” Kine told The News Lens International.

Indonesia had a de-facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty until 2013, and human rights activists blame President Joko Widodo (often referred to as Jokowi) and his "War on Drugs" for restarting capital punishment.

“What we’ve seen since Jokowi took office in late 2014, is he has made the execution of convicted drug traffickers a signature policy issue,” Kine says. “He refers to this as ‘shock therapy’ for what he perceives as an emergency facing Indonesia.”

Diplomatic backlash or backlash to diplomacy?

Indonesia faced intense international criticism last year after it carried out 14 executions; ambassadors left Jakarta in protest and Brazil refused the credentials of an incoming Indonesian ambassador.

Nithin Coca, a freelance writer and social activist, says only in the case of Mary Jane Veloso – the Filipino woman who escaped execution at the eleventh hour last year – did international lobbying efforts make a “discernable impact.”

“I don’t think the current administration cares that much what the international perception of their policies are,” says Coca, who shares his time between the U.S. and Indonesia. “I think [international lobbying] had a reverse impact, domestically at least.”

Amid criticism, “especially from Australia,” Indonesians “became more nationalistic and more pro-death penalty than they would have had there been no international outcry,” he says.

Further, he suggests that Indonesians are “very cognizant of hypocrisy” – Indonesians are executed in other countries with worse capital punishment records each year, but “the world doesn’t care.”

“There is this idea, because they are westerners [facing execution], now all of a sudden you care. But if it is an Indonesian or someone else from a developing country, you don’t really care.”

Kine says although there is a perception that international pressure doesn’t work, the criticism last year has “stung the Indonesian government.”

“The biggest blowback, and the greatest pressure that the Jokowi administration has had, has been from close bilateral partners whose citizens have been executed despite strenuous diplomatic efforts to commute those death sentences,” he says.

“After the peak of that pressure in March-April, 2015, when that last spree of executions occurred, the government paused and went silent on this death penalty issue. It has only been in recent weeks where it has suddenly reemerged.”

Nationalism and the 'War on Drugs'

Using the death penalty on foreign nationals involved in drug trafficking appears to be popular among the electorate and is being used by politicians riding a wave of patriotism across the archipelago.

Coca says there has been renewed nationalism in Indonesia under the Jokowi administration. He points to Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia’s minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, who has been promoting an aggressive defense of Indonesia’s maritime territory.

“She’s incredibly popular,” Coca says. “She’s probably the most popular politician in the country right now.”

Pudjiastuti’s confrontational rhetoric, Coca says, is “more for PR and more for show” than a sign of effective policy. Capital punishment in the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ is used similarly to portray an “image of power.”

“The executions are not going to help actually stop the drug problem; they are really a show of force to demonstrate the government is doing something,” he says.

Polls and surveys show a large number of Indonesians favor the death penalty, Kine says.

“You could debate why that is the case, but the fact is that reflex pursuit of some kind of ‘justice’ through the death penalty is not based on the facts, science and international law,” he says.

Twelve of the 14 drug offenders last executed in Indonesia were foreigners. This February, Widodo said drug abuse “tops the list” of Indonesia’s major problems.

Coca says the statement was “ridiculous,” considering the country has challenges across electricity and infrastructure, education and literacy, and the environment, among others.


Source: The News Lens, Edward White, June 28, 2016


Joko would order cops to shoot drug dealers if the law allowed

Indonesian President Joko Wid­odo has called on police to “smash” drug dealers, and said he would order them to “shoot them on sight if existing law allowed it”.

In language reminiscent of the hard-line position taken by The Philippines’ president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, Jokowi (as he is known) said: “If (shooting on sight) were allowed by the law then I would have ordered the ­National Police and the BNN chief to do so, but luckily it is not.

“This extraordinary crime has affected not only adults, but also elementary school and kindergarten-aged children,” he said in comments reported by the Jakarta Globe yesterday to mark the UN International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Indonesia drew international criticism last year when it exec­uted 14 death-row prisoners, most of them foreigners convicted of drug offences.

Among those put to death were Australian Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukamaran, despite strong protests from Canberra and supporters who said the two men had amply demonstrated their rehabilitation during their imprisonment.

Clock Ticks as Indonesian Execution Spree Looms
Clock Ticks as Indonesian Execution Spree Looms
Two foreign nationals, Frenchman Serge Atlaoui, and Filipino domestic worker Mary Jane ­Veloso, were spared at the 11th hour, however, following appeals from their governments.

The Indonesian government has flagged its intention to execute a further 18 death-row drug convicts after the Islamic holiday of Idul Fitri on July 6, as well as a further 30 next year, and has already made provision for them in the budget.

But Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan has vowed there will be no repeat of the “soap opera” surrounding last year’s executions of convicted drug traffickers, and there would be just three days’ ­notice given before the prisoners faced the firing squad.

About 60 prisoners of a total 152 currently on death row in ­Indonesia have been convicted for drug offences. Among them are two British citizens, Cheltenham grandmother Lindsay Sandiford and Gareth Cashmore, 36.

Jokowi has previously ­described the drug problem as a national emergency, citing statistics suggesting up to 5.1 million people of Indonesia’s total 250 million population (2 per cent) are chronic drug abusers.

Mr Duterte, who takes office in The Philippines on June 30, vowed to kill all drug dealers and feed their bodies to the fish in ­Manila Bay during his election campaign and has since said he will allow police to shoot to kill drug dealers.

Philippines’ National Police spokesman Wilben Mayor last week said that since Mr Duterte’s election victory on May 9, more than 40 drug suspects had been killed, compared with 39 deaths recorded in the four months preceding the election.

Late last week Adelaide man Damian John Berg was arrested in Manila for allegedly selling ­ecstasy in a police “buy-bust” raid.

Source: The Australian, Amanda Hodge, June 28, 2016

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Japan: Capital punishment for a minor

Death chamber at Tokyo Detention Center
Death chamber at Tokyo Detention Center
The Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold the death sentence given in a lay judge trial to a 24-year-old man for murders he committed when he was a minor raises questions about the lay judge trial system and capital punishment. These include whether the lay judges correctly understood the spirit of the Juvenile Law in sentencing the defendant to death. It was the 1st death sentence handed down on a minor in a lay judge trial.

The murders took place in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, in 2010 when Yutaro Chiba was 18 - meaning he fell under the purview of the Juvenile Law. Chiba was convicted of entering his ex-girlfriend's house and stabbing to death the girl's sister and a female friend of the girl with a butcher knife, seriously injuring a male friend of the sister and abducting the girl. Prosecutors said Chiba killed the victims because they were trying to separate him and his former girlfriend.

Since Chiba pleaded no contest to the key facts presented by the prosecution, the severity of punishment was the main issue in the trial, which was handled by a team of three professional and 6 lay judges, at the Sendai District Court. In its November 2010 ruling, the court said that in view of the heinousness of his crimes, the fact that Chiba was a minor at the time did not constitute sufficient reason to avoid capital punishment. The decision was upheld in 2014 in an appellate trial handled solely by professional judges at the Sendai High Court.

The district court trial lasted 11 days. 5 hearings were held and the judges spent two days deciding on the penalty. During the trial, Chiba's lawyers argued that he was mentally immature, that his crimes were not premeditated and that a doctor's record of his examination pointed to the possibility that he could be rehabilitated. A legitimate question is whether the judges had enough time to examine the family environment of the accused and whatever reflection he had over his crimes. It must be asked whether the judges had fully considered and discussed the prospect of his rectification, in view of the Juvenile Law's main principle of helping problem youths achieve rehabilitation.

Chiba's family was fatherless. Under the Juvenile Law, a family court can send a minor to prosecutors if its judges deem such a move is appropriate. But the law also says that in examining the behavior of a minor and his or her personal history and family environment, a family court should use the expertise of medicine, psychology, pedagogy and other branches of learning. Regarding a crime committed by a minor who is under the age of 18, a court cannot hand down a death sentence.

The Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry should consider whether lay judge trials, whose durations tend to be short, are suitable for handling serious crimes committed by minors. They also should think about whether it is appropriate to have lay judges participate in trials that may result in giving the death penalty because experience shows that handing down such a sentence puts an enormous psychological burden on lay judges.

In 1983, the Supreme Court adopted a criterion comprising nine factors for sentencing someone to death, which said in a nutshell that a court can hand down the death penalty only when it is unavoidable in view of the gravity of the crimes of the accused. Under this criterion, the age of defendants when they commit their crimes was considered a key factor in trials involving minors. But this trend changed when the Supreme Court in 2006 remanded the case involving the 1999 murder in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, of a 23-year-old woman and her baby daughter by a boy - who had just turned 18 - to the Hiroshima High Court. The Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for him in 2012.

The judges in the Sendai trial are likely to have followed the trend set by the top court's handling of the Hikari case. In supporting the lower court rulings, the Supreme Court's First Petty Bench in a 5-0 ruling pointed out that in view of the serious nature of the crimes - that 2 people were murdered out of the accused's selfish motive - his criminal responsibility was extremely heavy even though he was a minor when he committed the murders and had no prior record.

The tendency to impose tougher punishment on crimes committed by minors appears to have set in. Through revisions of the Juvenile Law, the minimum age at which minors can face criminal punishment has been lowered from 16 years of age to 14 and the upper limit for a fixed prison term was raised from 15 years to 20. The Supreme Court and the Justice Ministry should rouse public discussions on whether imposing stricter punishment, including hanging, on minors will really contribute to reducing crimes by providing concrete data as well as information on how other countries cope with crimes by minors.

Source: Editorial, The Japan Times, June 24, 2016

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Maldives state ready to kill Humam, and a way of life

Humam being brought to court
Humam being brought to court
In the early hours of the morning on the 19th day of Ramadan, as most of the country slept, the Maldives Supreme Court upheld the verdict by lower courts to kill Hussein Humam Ahmed. The 22-year-old man was convicted of killing MP Dr Afrasheem Ali on 2 October 2012 in a trial laden with irregularities.

Regulations introduced recently say the sentence must be carried out within 30 days. Umar Naseer, Home Minister until a sudden resignation on Tuesday this week, has said the State is now ready to kill by hanging - the only thing missing was someone’s neck to put the noose around and squeeze the life out of. The Supreme Court delivered that last night in the shape of Humam.

Humam’s killing will be the first in the Maldives since 1953, even then a rare thing. 

The Supreme Court’s decision is political in another way. It panders to the strict Salafi clerics and their philosophy of ‘progression through regression’ that now dominate Maldives society. It caters to their demands for a legal system in the Maldives based on Sharia alone. This is a demand expressed by the whole spectrum of Salafis in the Maldives from the apolitical to the radicals and the violent ‘Jihadists’ who have emigrated to Syria. The Supreme Court decision will appease them.

It also panders to the overlords who facilitate, finance and continue to groom Maldivian Muslims to become Salafis: Saudi Arabia.

The noose around Humam’s neck will put an end to not just his life but to two problems the government encounters: rumours of President Yameen’s involvement in Afrasheem’s murder that just won’t die; and accusations that it is not following the path of ‘true Islam’, i.e, Saudi-led Salafi Islam.

There is still a significant part of Maldivian society today, like me, horrified by the Supreme Court decision which ignored even the last-minute pleas by the murdered victim’s family for a temporary reprieve. 

We should understand this verdict is a harbinger of things to come: a society characterised by injustice, faux piety, and appeasement of the radical. There was a time when none of us could have imagined life in Maldives dominated by strict Salafi ideology. Today it is a lived truth. Tomorrow seems likely to be totally ruled by it.


Source: Dhivehi Sitee, Azra Nassem, June 24, 2016

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Penn State researchers analyze death penalty findings

Archives and records
Penn State researchers studying whether racial bias affects the imposition of the death penalty have begun crunching the data, a move signaling the end of a 4-year saga of waiting on a state report that has officially halted executions in the state.

The Penn State findings might be made public before year's end.

While the analysis is in the early stages, the professor leading the research said he expects similar findings to what the Reading Eagle reported last week on the distribution of death sentences in Pennsylvania.

"I think it'll be a good complement to what you've done, with some details that will flesh out the issues that you've raised," said John Kramer, a retired Penn State criminology professor. "I don't suspect that it will erase the (Eagle's) findings."

In an investigation spanning 5 months, the Eagle found Pennsylvania has sentenced 408 defendants to death since 1978, at a rate of 1.6 death sentences for every 100 homicides. The rate for counties varied from zero to more than 7, indicating wide prosecutorial discretion.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia that found capital punishment unconstitutional, states created statutes that were intended to make its application less arbitrary, particularly for black defendants.

"Going back to the Furman decision, the question is: Have we controlled that kind of discretion adequately?" Kramer said. "I'm sure we will cite your article when we're reviewing our data."

The meticulous gathering of data on more than 900 first-degree murder cases from 2000 to 2010 in 18 counties has been tedious and painstakingly slow, pushing a state report that was expected 3 years ago back several times.

Kramer's team has been out in the field since 2012 poring over court files in counties stretching from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to identify charging and sentencing patterns in 1st-degree murder cases. The death penalty is reserved almost exclusively for the crime of murder.

Researchers hope to learn whether race is a factor in who is charged capitally and ultimately sentenced to death in Pennsylvania.

This investigation will be folded into the study state lawmakers called for in 2011. That report, by the Joint State Government Commission, isn't expected until six months after Penn State concludes its study for the Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness.

As directed by lawmakers, the state report will examine 17 issues around the death penalty, including its cost, deterrence and quality of counsel.

The commission's reports often are completed within a year and include recommendations.

Recommendations in the long awaited report, however, will likely relate to data collection, which is sorely lacking. The Joint State Government Commission will not be recommending whether to continue to support or abolish the death penalty, said Glenn Pasewicz, executive director of the Joint State Government Commission.

"From the beginning, it was not the intent that the report would come up with some firm recommendations about what capital punishment should be in Pennsylvania," Pasewicz said. "We're going to leave the big questions to the Legislature itself. We'll provide them with as much information as we can, and they can sort it all out."

For years, Pennsylvania's death penalty system has been a source of consternation among those on both sides of the issue. Having sentenced hundreds in the modern era and executed only 3, it is widely perceived as dysfunctional.

Another round

It has been studied before.

In 1999, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court directed a study on whether racial or gender bias influences the judicial system, including the death penalty. In the committee's 550-page report in 2003, it made more than 170 recommendations, including issuing a moratorium on executions. Gov. Tom Wolf issued one last year, saying executions would not resume until the state report is completed.

"Based on existing data and studies, the committee concluded that there are strong indications that Pennsylvania's capital justice system does not operate in an evenhanded manner," the group's report said, noting the responsibility of ensuring equal justice under the law cannot fall to a single branch of government.

The committee also took aim at the quality of capital representation, which the Eagle explored last fall, finding nearly 1 in5 inmates sentenced to death in Pennsylvania the past decade were represented by attorneys disciplined for professional misconduct at some point in their careers.

The committee's report said of capital representation, "Unless the poor, among whom minority communities are overrepresented, are provided adequate legal representation, including ample funds for experts and investigators, there cannot be a lasting solution to the issue of racial and ethnic bias in the capital system."

The group also recommended original research to study the issue further.

"It's critical that we do our own studies," said Lisette McCormick, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, which conducted the review at the Supreme Court's direction.

'There are gaps'

Established in 2005 by Pennsylvania's three branches of government, the Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness is tasked with addressing inequities in the court system.

McCormick added, noting there is no systematic data collection on Pennsylvania's death penalty: "There are gaps. You cannot conduct a valid study with gaps."

The Penn State report - Kramer said an internal draft would be completed next month - was commissioned in part to address this gap. McCormick's group is funding the report at a cost of about $325,000.

The Eagle's cost and sentence-distribution findings, McCormick said, were consistent with other studies she's reviewed for the current state study.

The shortage of original research on Pennsylvania's death penalty system, Kramer and McCormick said, is directly related to the difficulty of winnowing out information buried, oftentimes in storage, in hundreds of case boxes across the commonwealth.

Kramer's data collectors could examine, at their quickest pace, a maximum of 5 cases a day and averaged only 3 or 4. And some days, they would sift through case boxes and collect no pertinent data.

"There's just not any data that you can put together to do this study without investing a tremendous amount of time," Kramer said.

Source: Reading Eagle, June 16, 2016

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ISIS executes 5 media activists in Syria

ISIS members (file photo)
ISIS members (file photo)
The Islamic State murdered 5 Syrian media activists as it continues its assault on the press, maintaining tight control of the message that comes out of regions under the terrorist group's control.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has viewed a video released by ISIS in Deir Ezzor, in eastern Syria. The video shows the execution of five media activists via 5 different, sadistic methods.

The militants also issued a warning that any journalists or media activists opposed to the group and working to reveal their crimes are not safe, even outside of Syria. They cite the killing of Mohammed Zaher al-Shirqat.

Shirqat worked for Halab Today TV, an independent satellite channel from Aleppo. He was shot in the neck at close range on the street in the Turkish city of Gaziantep in early April. He had previously received death threats from ISIS, who claimed responsibility for his murder.

The United States condemned the killing. "Freedom of the press, including ensuring that journalists can safely report on the crisis in Syria, remains critical as reporters keep working to expose the truth about this brutal conflict and Daesh's atrocities," reads a statement issued by John Kirby, Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson for the US state department. "[W]e stand ready to support Turkey as it works to bring to justice those responsible for attacks on the media."

The 5 media activists killed in Deir Ezzor were executed on charges of "acting against the Islamic State, communicating with outside parties and receiving funds, and other charges," reported the Observatory on Sunday.

The Islamic State has murdered at least 3 other journalists in Turkey. The media advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders) has urged Turkey to "take whatever measures are necessary to guarantee the security of Syrian exile journalists."

Source: rudaw.net, June 26, 2016

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Arizona abandons use of sedative as a lethal-injection drug

Midazolam
The state of Arizona has eliminated its use of the sedative midazolam as one of the drugs it relies on in carrying out executions.

Lawyers for the state said in a court filing Friday that its current supply of midazolam expired on May 31 and that Arizona's sources of the drug have dried up because of pressure from opponents of the death penalty.

That leaves Arizona with other lethal-drug combinations, but the state's lawyers said they can't currently carry out executions because it has no access to supplies of pentobarbital and sodium thiopental.

The status of the state's lethal-injection drug supplies were revealed Friday in a court filing in a lawsuit that challenges the way Arizona carries out the death penalty.

Executions in Arizona were put on hold after the July 2014 death of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 doses of midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly 2 hours to die. His attorney says the execution was botched.

Executions in Arizona remain on hold until the lawsuit is resolved.

A ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Neil Wake dismissed parts of the lawsuit, but other elements of the case remain alive.

The state argued in its filing Friday that the lawsuit is moot now that midazolam is off the table.

Dale Baich, one of the attorneys representing death row prisoners, said that even if the lawsuit's claims involving lethal-injection drugs are dismissed, his clients still have claims that Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan has abused his discretion in the methods and amounts of the drugs used in past executions.

"It's our belief that the unlimited discretion that the director has during the execution process violates the Eighth Amendment," which forbids cruel and unusual punishment, Baich said.

Similar challenges to the death penalty are playing out in other parts of the country that seek more transparency about where states get their execution drugs.

States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections. Death penalty states refuse to disclose the sources of their drugs, though the sources are widely believed to be compounding pharmacies - organizations that make drugs tailored to the needs of a specific client. Those pharmacies do not face the same approval process or testing standards of larger pharmaceutical companies.

Source: Associated Press, June 24, 2016

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Arkansas death penalty drug expiring before use

Court OKs execution but requires wait; AG won't ask for a rush

1 of Arkansas' execution drugs will expire before a court decision upholding the state's execution law goes into effect, and might be impossible to replace.

A spokesman for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said Friday that she will not ask the state's Supreme Court to expedite finalizing its Thursday ruling that upheld Arkansas' execution secrecy law and drug protocol. The executions of 8 people are waiting for that ruling.

Generally, rulings are final 18 days after opinions are issued. Without the attorney general's request, the ruling takes effect July 11 - days after the state's supply of vecuronium bromide, a paralytic the state uses in executions, expires.

"After careful consideration and analysis, the attorney general has decided not to seek an expedited mandate from the court. But once the court issues the mandate, the attorney general is fully prepared to ask the governor to set execution dates to see that justice is served," said Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere.

After the mandate is issued, the stays on the 8 executions would be lifted. But with 1 of the 3 drugs expiring June 30 and the supplier telling the state it would not provide more, it was unclear when the state could resume executions.

Solomon Graves, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Correction, said he would not speculate about what will happen after the supply of the paralytic expires. Deere said Thursday that the attorney general's office would not advise the Department of Correction to use expired drugs.

The inmates' attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, said he did not have a comment on the attorney general's decision. He said he still plans to file a petition with the court asking for a rehearing before the mandate is issued.

The court ruled Thursday in a 4-3 decision that the state's 3-drug protocol and the law that allows Arkansas to keep its source of drugs confidential are constitutional. The inmates had argued that Arkansas' execution secrecy law could lead to cruel and unusual punishment and that the state reneged on a pledge to share information.

But the high court said that a lower court "erred in ruling that public access to the identity of the supplier of the 3 drugs (the Arkansas Department of Correction) has obtained would positively enhance the functioning of executions in Arkansas. As has been well documented, disclosing the information is actually detrimental to the process."

The inmates argued that without disclosure of the source and other information they had no way to determine whether the midazolam, vecuronium bromide or potassium chloride would lead to cruel and unusual punishment.

The inmates also argued that the secrecy law violates a settlement in an earlier lawsuit that guaranteed inmates would be given the information. The court agreed with the state that the agreement is not a binding contract.

Attorneys for the state said at least 5 other courts have ruled that the three drugs used in Arkansas' protocol are acceptable, including the sedative midazolam. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma's use of midazolam last year.

Source: Associated Press, June 24, 2016

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Execution set for July 14 would be the 6th in Georgia this year

John Wayne Conner
John Wayne Conner
Conner was sentenced to die 34 years ago

John Wayne Conner was scheduled Friday to become the sixth man executed in Georgia this year - a record number since the death penalty was reinstated here 40 years ago.

The time for his lethal injection for the 1992 murder of a drinking buddy was set for 7 p.m. on July 14.

Conner's scheduled execution comes as the pace of executions in Georgia is increasing. Yet, death sentences are being rendered in Georgia murder trials less often.

At this time, Conner is the only death row inmate who has exhausted his appeals, though several others are nearing the end of legal recourse.

On Jan. 9, 198, Conner, Beverly Bates and J.T. White went to a party in Eastman, Ga., but when it was over they weren't ready to call it a night.

So they returned to Conner's house to keep drinking.

But Conner, then 26, and White, 29, needed more bourbon. They walked to a neighbor's house in hopes of getting a ride to the liquor store but the neighbor refused, so they started walking back to Conner's house.

On the way, Conner told investigators, White "made a statement about he would like to go to bed with my girlfriend and so I got mad and we got into a fight and fought all the way over to the oak tree and I hit him with a quart bottle."

White ran and Conner chased him. The fight continued in a ditch by the road.

"He was swinging, trying to get up, or swinging at me to try to hit me," Conner told investigators. "There was a stick right there ... and I grabbed it and went to beating him with it."

Conner left White for dead in a ditch and went home to wake Bates. He told her they had to leave town because he thought he had killed White.

But he also needed to make sure, so they drove back to the ditch where White and Conner had fought.

Bates told investigators she heard a thud moments after Conner disappeared into the woods. He came back to the car, telling her he was sure. "Let's go," he said.

Conner, now 60, and Bates were picked up the next day in Butts County, which is where Georgia's death row is located.

The last time Georgia carried out an execution was on April 27, when Daniel Anthony Lucas died by lethal injection 18 years and four days after he murdered Steven Moss and his 2 children in their Jones County home.

This year Georgia has also executed Joshua Bishop, Kenneth Fults, Travis Hittson and Brandon Astor Jones.

The only other time Georgia has put to death as many as 5 people in a year was in 1987.

Source: myajc.com, June 24, 2016

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