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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Florida: The inmate in Cell 1

Cell 1 is the last cell Florida inmates stay in before they’re executed. It’s where they say their goodbyes, make peace with death or mount their final legal stands against death. It’s where many hope their sentence will be delayed or commuted. Some inmates get pulled out of Cell 1 to return to Death Row; others meet their end in the execution chamber a few feet away. It’s a place of uncertainty, the cell between life and death.

On Jan. 12, 2016, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling threw Florida’s death penalty into a state of limbo -- putting the death sentence on hold. Legal challenges and court decisions--as recently as last month--have created more confusion. It is in this climate that the Legislature will start rewriting the new rules to reinstate the death penalty when it returns to session in March.

WLRN News reporter Wilson Sayre spent almost two years researching the ins and outs of the death penalty in Florida. In this special report, she looks at the momentous changes that occurred in 2016, the consequences of the Supreme Court decision in Hurst v. Florida and what being in limbo means for the 384 people on Death Row in the state, their families and the victims’ families.

Part 1: The inmate in Cell 1

Mike Lambrix has spent more of his life on Death Row than in the outside world.

At 56, he’s lost most of his hair along with his once-athletic body. Every day for the 33 years he’s lived on Death Row, since he was convicted of a double murder in 1984, he’s worn the orange shirt of condemned men in Florida.

On November 30, 2015, Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant and Lambrix was set to die by lethal injection on Feb. 11, 2016. This wasn’t a surprise. Lambrix had exhausted all his appeals and Gov. Scott has had a quick pen when it comes to executions. In fact, Scott has overseen more executions than any other Florida governor since LeRoy Collins, who left office in 1961.

A death warrant sets in motion a strictly codified script that regulate all actions until the prisoner's execution. Lambrix was moved from Death Row to Death Watch, which is reserved for people who’ve been given their execution dates.

“The first thing you see is a board on the wall that says your name, your cell number and your execution date,” said Lambrix. “Every time you go in and out of there you see that right there, in writing, just to remind you.”

On Death Watch, inmates get more privileges than Death Row inmates. For example, you get to call to your family. Until recently, there were no social calls on Death Row.

Death Watch cells are bigger, 12x7 feet instead of the 6x9-foot cells on Death Row, which means prisoners get from one end of the cell to the other in five steps instead of three. Lambrix says the guards tend to be nicer. Even those that don’t have a great reputation show a more compassionate side with inmates on Death Watch.

Mike Lambrix
Mike Lambrix
But Death Watch isn’t supposed to be some kind of prison paradise where you can live out your final days in a more enjoyable setting. There’s a practical side to it. Inmates are put there so guards can watch over them more carefully; to make sure they don’t hurt themselves or others.

The fear is: Condemned prisoners have nothing to lose.

“You never forget why it's different. Everything about Death Watch is specifically structured towards what the conclusion is going to be,” said Lambrix

Lambrix had company when he was moved to Death Watch in 2015. Oscar Bolin was then the official resident of Cell 1. That cell is always reserved for the next inmate to be executed and Bolin's date came before Lambrix's.

So Lambrix spent weeks watching Bolin prepare for his execution: packing up his property in boxes for his wife, have his final meetings with lawyers and a chaplain, dealing with the denials of his final appeals, shaving his chest ahead of the execution.

“I can't get away. There's nowhere I can go. I put my earbuds on. My MP3 is my escape,” said Lambrix.

For Lambrix, this was like looking into the future, a process he'd be following himself.

“There's a part of you that says, ‘You know what, that's me,’ ” said Lambrix, “because I am the next cow in line. And I'm watching this cow get its head off."

Lambrix got to know Bolin; They’d spent weeks talking between their cells. And then he was just down the hall during Bolin’s execution.

The state’s two execution chambers are right next to Death Watch. In one, there’s the state’s electric chair -- which hasn’t been used since 1999. In the other chamber, there’s a gurney with straps used for lethal injections.

“So they walked [Bolin out of Cell 1] and that’s last I heard of anything because once he went around he never came back,” said Lambrix.

After Bolin was walked out to meet his sentence, Lambrix could hear the witnesses to the execution mill about, waiting.

“Every little sound down on Death Watch during this period of time becomes somewhat amplified, like a thunderous roar,” said Lambrix. “Every little whisper, you know, I'm straining to hear everything that goes on on the other side of that door.”

The execution went forward at 10:16 p.m. on Jan 7, 2016. Bolin was the last person in Florida to be executed and the only one in 2016.

The execution affected Lambrix. “I didn't sleep too well that night,” he said.

“One of the things that really bothered me about the process after they killed him [Bolin] is that very early the next morning they came in and they ordered me to get my stuff in my Cell 3 and I immediately got moved to Cell 1. You know, I'm just telling myself, “What, you couldn't wait a day? You know, you just killed this guy. You couldn't just wait a day?”

Florida's death chamber
Florida's death chamber
Lambrix says that being moved from Cell 3 to Cell 1 brought the reality of his imminent execution home.

"When you walk into that Cell 1, there's a part of you that even despite all the hope that you might still have. It takes that hope away,” said Lambrix.

This was the second time Lambrix has been in Cell 1. He was hours away from his execution before, in fall 1988. Then, a U.S. district court stayed his execution to review various claims by his defense attorneys hoping to overturn Lambrix`s death sentence.

He says being in Cell 1 sort of changes you. You have to wrestle with knowing the date of your death, in his case Feb. 11, 2016. That’s on top of other, more mundane preparations you’re forced into, like divvying up your property.

Lambrix found himself making choices based on the date of his execution. Should he buy new toothpaste? Or stretch what he has left?

Watch the new X-Files mini series? His date would come halfway through the episodes.

He was fitted for his execution suit: dark blue with charcoal pinstripes and a white shirt, short sleeves so they can insert the needle.

Here’s an excerpt from something he wrote for his blog during that time on Death Watch for Feb 1, 2016:

“Time flies quickly when you’re counting down what is expected to be the last days of your life. As I awoke this morning, I realized I’m now down to only 25 days. I smiled as I remembered song on my mp3 player by country music legend Johnny Cash called “25 Minutes to Go.” It starts with the words, 'They’re building a gallows outside my cell and I’ve got 25 minutes to go,' then in his southern accent continues, 'and the whole town’s waiting just to hear me yell, I’ve got [24] minutes to go.”

Lambrix says that during each minute of his 25 days on Death Watch, he hoped his execution would get called off.

“Death Watch is a very unique experience because the phone is like five feet in front of your cell and you're just like looking at that phone and there's a clock on the wall and you're looking at the clock,"said Lambrix.

"Because that phone is your lawyers telling you you got a stay of execution. You know, every moment of that clock is tick, tick, tick. And you're looking at that phone just trying to mentally will it to ring.”

The phone did ring for Lambrix, a little more than a week before his execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court had issued an opinion in a case called Hurst v. Florida that put in limbo all death penalty cases in the state.

➽ Click here to read the full article (+ videos)

Source: WLRN News, January 19, 2017

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Iran: Four hanged on drug charges

Four prisoners were reportedly hanged on drug charges at Mashhad's Vakilabad Prison (northeastern Iran).

Iran Human Rights (JAN 18 2017): Four prisoners were reportedly hanged at Mashhad's Vakilabad Prison on drug related charges.

According to the human rights news agency HRANA, the executions were carried out on the morning of Tuesday January 17. 

One of the prisoners has been identified as Ahmad Shekarabi, sentenced to death on the charge of possession and trafficking five kilograms of heroin.

"Ahmad's first death sentence was quashed by the Supreme Court, but he was sentenced to death again by branch 8 of Mashhad's Revolutionary Court, presided by Judge Mazloom," a source close to Mr. Shekarabi's family tells Iran Human Rights. The source insists that Mr. Shekarabi was innocent.

The source adds: Ahmad was a cab driver who had a customer whom he would pick up packages forn at various addresses. The last time Ahmad did so, he arrived at the pick up location and noticed his customer had been arrested. As soon as Ahmad had arrived, he was also arrested, even though he explained that he's just the cab driver. However, the customer denied this and claimed that Ahmad was aware that the packages contained drugs and was involved in the operation. The customer's testimony had many inconsistensies to the point that Ahmad was first exonerated, but branch 2 of the court sentenced him to death anyway. After the Supreme Court quashed his death sentence [pending a new trial], he was sentenced to death again, and this time the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence.

Iranian official sources, including the Judiciary and the media, have been silent about these executions.

The names of the other three prisoners are not known at this time.

Source: Iran Human Rights, January 18, 2017

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Executions often put physicians in unfair dilemma

"Midazolam will produce relaxation and that relaxation may be sufficiently severe to produce sleep, but in studies we've conducted, it does not eliminate sensation to pain." - S. Stevens Negus, professor of pharmacology at Virginia Commonwealth University

(CNN)--Virginia executed Ricky Gray, 39, by lethal injection on Wednesday evening at the Greensville Correctional Center. Virginia was to use compounded midazolam and compounded potassium chloride, as well as the paralytic drug, rocuronium bromide.

Midazolam has been highly problematic in past lethal injections. Lethal injection is a trick of chemistry, and contrary to appearances, does not cause a cruelty-free death. Lately, the practice of lethal injection has somehow gone awry as more states drop the paralytic drug from the traditional three-drug cocktail and drug shortages lead to suspicious drug substitutions.

Virginia used a paralytic drug that may obscure the failure of midazolam to create the sort of deep unconsciousness contemplated by lethal injection proponents. All three drugs used in the Virginia protocol have reversing antidotes or inhibitors of some kind and these agents could be used to halt an execution gone wrong.

Virginia made no claim that these reversing drugs would be on hand and further, it is not known whether anyone with expertise in the use of these agents was present during the execution. Suspicions are spreading throughout the population in capital punishment states, but even as demand for forthright and open public debate rises, these states respond by placing legal shrouds in the form of secrecy laws over the details of execution.

Execution is a kind of killing and to be lawful, it must occur without cruelty. Lethal injection has emerged as the latest method of execution without obvious cruelty, replacing the electric chair, the gas chamber, the firing squad and the noose. Lethal injection approximates a medical act and this is no accident.

Medical acts fall within the purview of physicians who now find themselves wittingly or unwittingly cast in the role of execution adviser. The American Medical Association and the American Board of Anesthesiology both have statements condemning physician involvement in capital punishment based on an ethical prohibition against killing, yet some physicians continue to linger around execution activity.

Physician participants in capital punishment claim that professional medical societies are playing at politics more than at ethics when they object to physician involvement by setting aside another ethical imperative to reduce suffering.

For physicians, the cluster of so-called "botched" executions presents a particular sort of ethical dilemma. Secular and religious ethics both direct against standing idly by in the face of suffering. Here, an inmate dying by lethal injection is compared to a patient dying of a terminal illness.

Public concerns about aggressive care at the end of life have led to medical interventions directed to control pain and distress as a primary therapeutic intervention, abandoning any notion of a traditional cure. Now, death is the cure; death has been reimagined as a treatment and lethal injection has been reimagined as another form of euthanasia.

How sound is the comparison between end-of-life care in the hospital setting and the end of life in the execution chamber? From a distance, the comparison may seem apt and for the physician who participates in the execution, a distant similarity is sufficient, but it is a false similarity.

An inmate facing death is not a patient by virtue of being connected to an intravenous device and having a doctor in a lab coat standing by. Physicians can only work with patient consent. Patients can only consent if they are freely weighing and deciding -- and an inmate on the brink of death has no such freedom. Circumstances exist under which an individual lacks this capacity and designates a relative to act as decision maker.

In the execution chamber, the warden seems a poor substitute and certainly never the physician. If a physician touches a patient without consent, the law regards it as a battery, although state laws immunize the physician in the execution chamber.

Lethal injection only impersonates a medical act and in order to be certain that suffering is reduced in a medical setting, much more information in the form of monitoring and testing is required. To date, lethal injection proponents have not sought to verify the claim that a doctor makes any difference at all. Medical practice is a highly regulated activity performed by highly trained and licensed individuals. When a doctor changes a tire, he is not practicing medicine. When a doctor is standing in the execution chamber, he is not practicing medicine either.

State secrecy laws protect the identity of these doctors. State medical boards, charged with regulating all physician activity -- including moral turpitude -- should not be blinded if physicians are truly there to alleviate suffering. What is the role of the doctor in the execution chamber? When does the alleviating of suffering become physician-assisted homicide?

The US Supreme Court has ruled that every inmate is entitled to medical care. If the execution method fails to cause death, the physician as the state agent, must be able to revive the inmate in order to avoid killing him, not by lawful execution but by unlawful manslaughter.

Lethal injection, as presently practiced, is an impersonation of medicine populated by real doctors who don't acknowledge the deception. The rightness or wrongness of capital punishment remains an open question but it's time to reject lethal injection. If capital punishment continues, it needs another method.

Source: CNN, Opinions, Dr. Joel Zivot, January 19, 2017. Dr. Joel Zivot is an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University School of Medicine and adjunct professor of law at Emory Law School. A practicing anesthesiologist and intensive care specialist, Zivot has written extensively on the subject of physician participation in lethal injection and the problems of lethal injection in the circumstance of coexisting illness of the condemned. He opposes the use of lethal injection in executions.

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Former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia urges Malaysian government to intervene in case of death row inmate in Singapore

"S Prabagaran has always maintained his innocence."
"S Prabagaran has always maintained his innocence."
Former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has called on his country's Foreign Ministry to look into the case of S Prabagaran, reported Malaysiakini. Prabagaran a Malaysian is facing the death sentence here for drug trafficking.

Anwar said that he would normally not want to comment on people facing drug trafficking charges, but he thinks this is a proper case to be brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Prabagaran was arrested on 12 April 2012 when he was just 24 years old, for a narcotic trafficking offence. He has been on death row for more than 4 years since 2012, and is awaiting the result of his clemency petition to the Singapore President.

The Singapore Anti-Death Penalty activists who have been fighting to save Prabagaran, allege that he is being deprived of his life in a manner that is in breach of the principles of the separation of powers, the fundamental rules of natural justice, and the rule of law.

"In respect of a person who has been convicted of a drug offence that is punishable with death under the Second Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), Section 33B(2)(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) provides that the Public Prosecutor may certify that a person convicted of a drug offence punishable with the death penalty has substantively assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in disrupting drug activities. If the Public Prosecutor so certifies, and if the offender is also merely a courier, then the sentencing judge has the discretion to impose life imprisonment in lieu of the death penalty. If the Public Prosecutor does not so certify, then the sentencing judge must sentence the offender to the death penalty.

As discussed above, although in this case Praba has maintained his innocence, he has, in fact, done his best to provide CNB with credible leads that could well have resulted in persons involved in drug activities (i.e., Balu and Nathan) being apprehended."

They argue that the right to a fair trial is one of the most important fundamental human rights and that the death sentence imposed on Prabagaran violates the right to fair trial under customary international law.

The activists said "the Public Prosecutor's determination of whether or not substantive assistance was provided is too fluid and unstable a standard by which to determine the penalty which an offender should receive."

Anwar in seeming to agree with the activists, said that Prabagaran was denied a fair trial.

"There is allegedly a denial of key witnesses and this deprives opportunity for the defence to present its case. This is a proper case for the foreign minister and the prime minister to take to the ICJ," he said.

Source: The Independent, January 18, 2017

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Philippines: One more bill reimposing death penalty filed in Senate

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
Trigger-happy Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
A new measure that seeks to reimpose death penalty on persons involved in the illegal drug trade has been filed in the Senate on Wednesday.

Under Senate Bill No. 1294, Sen. Sherwin "Win" Gatchalian seeks to amend Section 11 of RA 9165 to impose capital punishment on persons convicted of possession, sale, distribution, importation, and manufacture drugs.

These include marijuana (10,000 grams or more), shabu (1,000 grams or more), opium, morphine, heroine, cocaine, cocaine hydrochloride, marijuana resin, marijuana resin oil, ecstasy, and LSD, and other drugs as determined by the Dangerous Drugs Board (200 grams or more).

The measure also seeks to increase fines and penalties imposed for offenses under RA 9165 involving smaller quantities of drugs.

Gatchalian, an ally of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, said that his bill was his commitment to the Duterte administration's intensified campaign against illegal drugs.

The neophyte senator, who was also 3-time mayor of Valenzuela City, said that he and Pres. Duterte were both "mayors at heart" and had "the same perspective" in terms of solutions to eliminate drug trafficking.

"As local chief executives, we have both seen firsthand the kind of damage the illegal drug trade can do to entire communities if drug lords and kingpins are allowed to continue their despicable operations with impunity," Gatchalian said.

"Passage of this law will stop the illegal drug trade in its tracks and make sure that these despicable people will pay the ultimate price for their crimes against the Filipino people," he added.

Aside from Gatchalian, Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, has previously filed a measure to revive death penalty. Some other senators who have openly expressed being in favor of the reinstatement of death penalty include Senate President Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Senate Majority Leader Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, and Senator Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao.

Pimentel, however, said that the passage of the death penalty bill will not come easy in the Senate as in the House of Representatives where it expected to face less opposition.

Last December 7, the House Committee on Justice approved the committee report on the reinstatement of the death penalty bill or House Bill No. 1 in a vote of 12-6-1.

The measure is one of the priority bills of President Duterte.

Source: northboundasia.com, January 18, 2017

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Bahrain: Victims of horrific human rights abuses, not criminals - The stories of the 3 men executed by firing squad on Sunday

(Left to right) Sami Mushaima, Ali al-Singace and Abbas al-Samea
(Left to right) Sami Mushaima, Ali al-Singace and Abbas al-Samea
On Sunday 15th January, three men were executed by firing squad in Bahrain. Their names were Ali Al-Singace, Abbas Al-Samea and Sami Mushaima.

The UN Special Rapporteur, Dr Agnes Callamard, called their executions "extrajudicial killings". Ali, Abbas and Sami were the first prisoners to be put to death by the Bahraini authorities since 2010.

Ali al-Singace

Ali was just 21 when executed. He had been harassed and tortured by Bahrain's police since he was 15, because of his family's links to political opposition.

The police wanted Ali to work as an informant. He refused.

When Ali was 18, a bomb exploded killing several policemen. Ali was sentenced to death without even appearing before a court and then arrested a year later.

He was tortured and electrocuted into making a false confession. His torture was never investigated.

The day before his execution, Ali's family came to visit him in prison. The guards refused to say if he was about to be executed, and Ali asked his family to arrange for him to resit school exams he had missed.

Abbas Al-Samea

Abbas was a school teacher, and was just 27 when executed. He was targeted because of his family's links to political opposition. He was sentenced to death despite presenting the court with an alibi letter from the school where he taught.

Abbas required hospital treatment after police tortured him during his interrogation, including electric shocks to his genitals and suspending him from the ceiling. He was later tortured again by guards in prison.

Although UK prison inspectors helped plan inspections of both the police station and prison just months after Abbas was abused there, his torture allegations were ignored.

Another UK-trained torture watchdog in Bahrain dismissed his complaint about ill-treatment without even arranging for a doctor to examine him for signs of torture.

The day before his execution, Abbas' family came to visit him in prison. The guards refused to say if he was about to be executed.

Sami Mushaima

Sami was targeted because of his family's links to political opposition. During his police interrogation, he was beaten, tortured with electric shocks and sexually assaulted. He was illiterate, but was forced to sign a confession that he could not read. He was 42 years old when he was executed.

Although UK prison inspectors helped plan inspections of the police station just months after Sami was abused there, his torture allegations were ignored.

The day before his execution, Sami's family came to visit him in prison. The guards refused to say if he was about to be executed.

Source: Reprieve, January 18, 2017

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Advocates for repealing the Colorado death penalty will be back before the legislature

Advocates for repealing the death penalty in Colorado are back with a legislative effort for the 1st time in 4 years, motivated by their belief the issue is gaining traction in battleground and red states

But proponents still face an uphill battle in the legislature.

The Better Priorities Initiative of Colorado hopes to build off of work in the right-leaning state of Nebraska, where the legislature there repealed the death penalty in 2015, despite opposition led by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The Nebraska legislature repealed the death penalty over the governor's veto, becoming the 1st conservative state in more than four decades to abolish the death penalty.

But Nebraska voters in November reinstated the state's policy on capital punishment, with 61 % voting to "repeal the repeal."

Still, supporters of abolishing the death penalty in Colorado say the action by the Nebraska legislature offers hope that Colorado lawmakers can cross party lines to advance a repeal.

A bill from Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver is expected to be introduced as early as Wednesday.

"We've seen a renewed energy around ending the death penalty," said Stacy Anderson, outreach director for the Better Priorities Initiative of Colorado, who helped run the repeal effort in Nebraska. "It's definitely shifting to be more of a Western states movement."

The Nevada legislature this year is expected to take up a bill that would make the state's maximum punishment life in prison without parole. And Utah is expected to take up the issue again this year after a repeal bill failed on the last day of the legislative session last year. Washington state also is working on a bipartisan effort to abolish the death penalty.

Efforts to repeal in Colorado have failed in the past, including in 2013, when Democrats controlled the legislature. This year the legislature is split.

It's also unclear where Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, stands on abolishing the death penalty.

In 2013, the governor expressed "conflicting feelings" and upset some by granting a stay of execution to Nathan Dunlap, who was convicted of murder for the 1993 deaths of four people at an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese.

In 2014, Hickenlooper outlined his reasons for opposing the death penalty, which opened him up to attacks from Republicans as he headed into re-election. But he has never pushed to abolish capital punishment in the state.

Last year, Republican lawmakers attempted to make it easier to impose the death penalty by requiring only nine out of 12 members of a jury to deliver capital punishment. Current law requires a unanimous agreement. Supporters of the bill attempted to compromise by requiring 11 of the 12 jurors to agree, but that effort also failed, with the vote crossing party lines.

Repealing the death penalty in Colorado would be a major victory for supporters, especially given high-profile cases. Jurors in Arapahoe County could not unanimously agree to sentence the 2012 Aurora movie theater gunman to die by lethal injection.

George Brauchler, the Arapahoe County prosecutor who sought the death penalty in the Aurora movie theater case, said a judicial issue as important as capital punishment should not be left to the legislature.

"This is an issue for the people of the state of Colorado to decide," Brauchler said, suggesting that it would be better to refer the question to voters.

The Better Priorities Initiative of Colorado - which is pushing the repeal effort this year - said they have no immediate plans for a ballot drive.

The coalition consists of many of the usual groups that fight capital punishment, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Religious organizations also are part of the coalition.

Anderson said she expects the coalition to have bipartisan support, with Republicans speaking out against the death penalty as well.

One of the talking points used by repeal advocates is that capital punishment is an expensive burden on taxpayers, though detailed costs have not been recently researched in Colorado. Some estimates put the cost between $5 million and $10 million per year thanks to the need for extensive legal work.

The last time someone was executed in Colorado was in 1997.

"We're wasting millions of dollars on a punishment we don't use, and arguably, that most Coloradans have lost interest in," Anderson said. "There are things that we could be spending our money on that could make us all safer and actually be more effective for all Coloradans."

Brauchler, however, questions whether seeking capital punishment actually costs millions, or if there would be much of a savings to taxpayers if it were repealed.

"They want to suggest that if we didn't have the death penalty, we wouldn't have had the cost, but what is ignorant about that analysis is if you take the death penalty away, and God forbid something like the Aurora theater shooting happened tomorrow, you think the public defender's office is going to come in and say, 'Well, we're ready to plead guilty and go to prison forever,'" Brauchler asked.

"No. We're going to have the exact same trial, minus the sentencing phase for the death penalty, and that exact same expense."

Source: The Gazette, January 18, 2017

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Bill would let Nebraska prison officials hide identities of lethal injection suppliers

Nebraska Governor (R) Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Governor (R) Pete Ricketts: "I will make every effort to proceed
with the executions of the 10 men on Nebraska's death row."
Nebraska prison officials would be allowed to hide the identities of their lethal injection suppliers under a proposal introduced Wednesday on the final day of bill introduction in the state Legislature.

The bill would allow authorities to withhold any information "reasonably calculated to lead to the identity" of an entity or individual that "manufactures, supplies, compounds or prescribes" drugs used to carry out an execution.

Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, who sponsored Legislative Bill 661, said it's the Legislature's responsibility to comply with the majority of Nebraska voters who cast ballots in favor of capital punishment in November. He suggested providing confidentiality to drug makers would remove one of the obstacles that makes capital punishment dysfunctional.

Most of the leading death penalty states shield the identities of the lethal drug suppliers, saying the information is used by capital punishment opponents to pressure suppliers not to make or sell the drugs for executions.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a strong supporter of the death penalty, is pursuing changes to the state's lethal injection protocol that include similar secrecy provisions. The governor also wants to withhold the type of drug the state plans to use until 60 days before the attorney general asks the Nebraska Supreme Court for a death warrant.

Kuehn's 2-page bill addresses no other issues except for shielding the identity of the drug supplier. He said Wednesday that Ricketts did not ask him to introduce it.

While the senator said he thinks the existing lethal injection law allows prison officials to shield information from public disclosure, he said addressing it specifically in statute would help keep the death penalty functional.

In 2015 the Legislature repealed the death penalty over the governor's veto. But in November, 61 % of voters overturned the repeal and reinstated capital punishment.

Ricketts has said he will make every effort to proceed with the executions of the 10 men on Nebraska's death row.

Death penalty opponents have argued that the state has an obligation to keep the execution process open to public scrutiny. They also have predicted confidentiality provisions will simply be subject to legal challenges.

Source: Omaha World-Herald, January 18, 2017

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Virginia executes Ricky Gray

Ricky Gray
Ricky Gray
Ricky Javon Gray, 39, was sentenced to death for the 2006 murders of Harvey sisters Ruby, 4, and Stella, 9. Gray also killed the girls' parents and another Richmond family.

Ricky Javon Gray was executed by injection Wednesday night for the slaying of 2 young Richmond sisters on New Year's Day 2006.

Gray, 39, was pronounced dead at 9:42 p.m. at the Greensville Correctional Center. Asked if he had any final words, Gray said, "Nope," according to a prison spokeswoman.

It appeared to take an inordinately long time - more than a half-hour - to place the IV lines and do other procedures behind a curtain that blocks the view of witnesses.

At the conclusion of the execution, a physician came out from behind the curtain and listened to Gray's chest for a heartbeat.

Gray was sentenced to die for the Jan. 1, 2006, slayings of Ruby Harvey, 4, and Stella Harvey, 9. He and accomplice Ray Dandridge, 39, also killed their parents, Bryan Harvey, 49, and Kathryn Harvey, 39, in their Woodland Heights home.

A few days later, Gray and Dandridge killed Ashley Baskerville, 21; Baskerville's mother, Mary Tucker, 47; and stepfather, Percyell Tucker, 55, in their South Richmond home. Dandridge, Gray's nephew, was sentenced to life for those killings.

The Harveys were tied up, their throats cut and beaten with a hammer. Their house was set on fire by the killers when they fled and the victims were initially discovered by firefighters. Ultimately, Gray was sentenced to death, leading to years of appeals.

The Virginia Department of Corrections said that victim family members were expected to witness the execution. The state does not reveal the victim witnesses who view the proceedings through one-way glass in a separate room from other witnesses.

On Tuesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe turned down a clemency request to commute Gray's death sentence to life without possibility of parole. Later on Tuesday, Gray's lawyers asked the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency stay, which the justices denied on Wednesday evening.

Outside Greensville Correctional Center on Wednesday evening, a half-dozen members of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty gathered with about 20 of Gray's family members to hold a vigil as the man was executed.

One women held a sign that said "Thou shall not kill." Several in the group said they object to the death penalty for religious and other reasons. They said there is no doubt that Gray killed the Harveys and Tucker-Baskerville families, but that no one else should die.

Also outside the prison was Chuck Troutman, of Staunton, who held a sign in support of the Harvey family.

Earlier in the day, as the clock ticked down for Gray, Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring said, "I definitely think the city is going to be better off when we close the chapter on Ricky Gray."

"I think we will remember the Harveys and the Tucker/Baskervilles well - and it will be nice when Ricky Gray's name and memory are distant," Herring said.

He recalled the Sunday the Harveys were murdered. He had just been elected to office but had not yet taken the oath. "I was at the scene before I was sworn in," said Herring, who officially took office the next day.

"When I heard the news, I remember being in disbelief that we had a crime that involved 4 fatalities. That was just hard to come to terms with," said Herring. He and the 2 deputies who would prosecute Gray and Dandridge, Learned Barry and the late Matthew Geary, went to the Harveys' house.

Herring said, "That 1st week we really were struggling to come up with leads. It's one thing to have to reconcile the gravity of what's happened with the inability to identify the perpetrator."

"So we immediately went from the scope of what had (happened) to the fear that we had potential mass murderers roaming the city. And it turned out that that's what we had because they ended up killing the Tucker-Baskervilles. We became just totally preoccupied with trying to develop viable leads," said Herring.

The Harveys were murdered on Jan. 1 and the Tucker/Baskerville slayings were discovered on Jan. 6. Acting on a tip, police arrested Gray and Dandridge in Philadelphia on Jan. 7. Gray soon confessed. He also admitted he had murdered his wife, Treva Gray, in Pennsylvania in November 2005.

Herring did not attend the execution but Barry planned to be there to represent the office.

Gray's clemency petition to McAuliffe cited his physical and sexual abuse suffered as a child that led to his addiction to PCP, a drug his lawyers said he was high on while committing the murders.

The late court challenge stemmed from Virginia's 3-drug execution procedure. The 1st drug is intended to render the inmate unconscious, the 2nd to cause paralysis, and the 3rd stops the heart.

For Gray's execution the state planned to use midazolam and potassium chloride made by a licensed compounding pharmacy in Virginia as the 1st and 3rd drugs. The compounded chemicals are tested monthly to verify identity and potency, said state officials.

The chemicals are injected into 1 of 2 intravenous lines - the 2nd line is a backup - with a saline flush following the injection of each chemical. 2 minutes after the 1st saline flush, the inmate is pinched or otherwise tested to make sure he or she is unconscious.

Among other things, critics contend that if the 1st drug fails to render the inmates unconscious, they could be awake but paralyzed by the 2nd drug and unable to signal they are suffering pain.

Compounded midazolam has never been used in an execution before, complained Gray's lawyers.

Their bid for a stay of execution was rejected by a federal judge and a federal appeals court last week. On Wednesday evening the U.S. Supreme Court denied Gray's request for a stay without giving explanation.

Virginia's Catholic Bishops Francis X. DiLorenzo, of Richmond, and Michael F. Burbidge, of Arlington, released a statement Wednesday opposing the death penalty.

They said in part, "Knowing that the state can protect itself in ways other than through the death penalty, we have repeatedly asked that the practice be abandoned. Our broken world cries out for justice, not the additional violence or vengeance the death penalty will exact.

Gray becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Virginia, and the 112th execution in Virginia since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976. The toll ties Oklahoma's 112 executions for the 2nd most nationally. Texas leads the country with 539.

Gray becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1444th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch, Rick Halperin, January 18, 2017

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Iran: Wave of floggings, amputations and other vicious punishments

Public flogging in Iran: Medieval and barbaric punishments
Public flogging in Iran: Medieval and barbaric punishments
Iran’s persistent use of cruel and inhuman punishments, including floggings, amputations and forced blinding over the past year, exposes the authorities’ utterly brutal sense of justice, said Amnesty International.

Hundreds are routinely flogged in Iran each year, sometimes in public. In the most recent flogging case recorded by Amnesty International, a journalist was lashed 40 times in Najaf Abad, Esfahan Province, on 5 January after a court found him guilty of inaccurately reporting the number of motorcycles confiscated by police in the city.

“The authorities’ prolific use of corporal punishment, including flogging, amputation and blinding, throughout 2016 highlights the inhumanity of a justice system that legalizes brutality. These cruel and inhuman punishments are a shocking assault on human dignity and violate the absolute international prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment,” said Randa Habib, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“The latest flogging of a journalist raises alarms that the authorities intend to continue the spree of cruel punishments we have witnessed over the past year into 2017.”

Under Iranian law, more than 100 “offences” are punishable by flogging. These cover a wide array of acts, ranging from theft, assault, vandalism, defamation and fraud to acts that should not be criminalized at all such as adultery, intimate relationships between unmarried men and women, “breach of public morals” and consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Many of those flogged in Iran are young people under the age of 35 who have been arrested for peaceful activities such as publicly eating during Ramadan, having relationships outside of marriage and attending mixed-gender parties. Such activities are protected under the rights to freedom of belief, religion, expression and association and must never be criminalized.

As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Iran is legally obliged to forbid torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. However, Iranian law continues to allow internationally banned corporal punishments including amputation, stoning and flogging and claims to justify it in the name of protecting religious morals.

In one case last April, an unmarried couple convicted of “having an illegitimate relationship” were sentenced to 100 lashes each. A month later 35 young women and men arrested in Qazvin Province for dancing, mingling and consuming alcohol at a party were sentenced to 99 lashes each. The sentences were carried out immediately. Lashing sentences were also carried out in May 2016 against a group of 17 miners who protested against their employment conditions and dismissals in West Azerbaijan Province.

Journalists and bloggers have also been sentenced to flogging in relation to their work. In July, an appeal court sentenced journalist Mohammad Reza Fathi to 459 lashes for “publishing lies” and “creating unease in the public mind” through his writing.

The popular Iranian Facebook page “Azadihayeh Yavashaki” (My Stealthy Freedom), administered by the journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, has posted detailed accounts from several women who received lashes for consuming alcohol and attending mixed-gender parties which were raided by Iran’s morality police. The page also features images showing the severe injuries on women’s backs as a result of these lashings.

In one of the posts, a 28-year-old woman who received 80 lashes for attending a birthday party described the day she was flogged as “the worst day of [her] life”. She described how, after her arrest, her photograph and fingerprints were taken before she was led to a small room where a middle-aged woman flogged her repeatedly while her feet were in chains and her hands shackled.

“With the impact of the first lash, I jumped out of my [seat] uncontrollably. I was so shocked that even my tears would not drop. I wanted to scream, but I could not even control my voice. Every time she hit me hard, she would ask me to repent so that God would forgive me,” she said.

Another woman, who was also lashed for attending a mixed-gender party to celebrate her recent engagement in the city of Robat Karim, near Tehran, described how, less than one hour after the party began, security forces stormed the villa where it was taking place, confiscating bottles of alcohol. They questioned several of the guests and brutally beat many of them before taking them to a police station where they were insulted and interrogated. They were forced to spend three nights in jail before being sentenced to 74 lashes each.

Judicial amputation in Iran: Cruel and not unusual
Judicial amputation in Iran: Cruel and not unusual
“I don’t remember how many lashes I had received, but I reached a stage where I was just moaning and had become numb with pain. When I finally arrived home, I was afflicted with a terrible pain on my body while my soul was aching due to the feelings of humiliation and fear that I had lived throughout the entire ordeal,” she said about her experience.

In addition to floggings, Amnesty International also recorded an incident in November 2016 when a man was forcibly blinded in both eyes in Tehran in retribution for blinding a four-year-old girl in an acid attack in June 2009. Several other prisoners remain at risk of being forcibly blinded.

Disturbingly, doctors from the Legal Medicine Organization of Iran provide the Supreme Court with “expert” advice on whether the implementation of a blinding sentence is medically feasible and how it can be carried out, seriously breaching medical ethics.

“Medical professionals have a clear duty to avoid any involvement in acts of torture and other ill-treatment. Rather than aiding and abetting acts of torture by providing pre-blinding medical assessments, doctors in Iran should refuse to participate in such calculated cruelty,” said Randa Habib.

Amnesty International has also recorded at least four amputations carried out for robberies in Iran, including “cross amputations” of several fingers and toes on opposite sides of the victim’s body.

“Severing people’s limbs, taking away their eyesight and subjecting them to brutal lashings cannot be considered justice. The Iranian authorities should urgently abolish all forms of corporal punishment and take urgent steps to bring the country’s deeply flawed criminal justice system into line with international human rights law and standards,” said Randa Habib.

Source: Amnesty International, January 18, 2017

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Ordinary citizens in Iran rally to save death-row prisoners

Iran: A young man's execution is halted at the last minute by his victim's parents.
A young man's execution is halted at the last minute by his victim's parents.
Mahyaddin spent the final hours of 2016 in solitude, deciding whether to spare the life of a man on death row for killing his only son, Pouya. 5 years ago, Pouya was knifed to death by 17-year-old Hemin Oraminejad in a brawl over petty issues in the western Iranian city of Sanandaj. 

The Supreme Court rejected Oraminejad's appeal earlier last year and upheld the ruling, which was death by hanging with the consent of the victim's family under the retribution law known as "qisas." Oraminejad, now 22, was repentant and had asked for forgiveness from the family of his victim.

As the execution scheduled for Jan. 1 drew near, Simin Chaichi was in a state of anxiety. The 60-year-old poet was leading a campaign to save the killer's life by persuading the victim's family to forgive Oraminejad, which under Iranian law meant that he would avoid the gruesome execution chamber. 

It was 1 of many such grass-roots campaigns in Iran that have sprung up in recent years to prevent executions. In 2015, at least 262 people on death row for murder were spared thanks to campaigns organized by citizens, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights.

"I think violence fuels more violence," Chaichi told Al-Monitor via telephone from Sanandaj. "That is why I believe these kind of grass-roots campaigns are important," he added.

Despite the efforts of campaigners across Iran to halt executions of convicted murderers under the retribution law, the Islamic Republic continues to use the death penalty extensively. On Dec. 19, 2016, it joined 39 other countries in voting against a UN General Assembly resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

"Let's be clear, we are not asking for those who committed murder to be freed," Chaichi said, adding, "Once a family exercises its right to forgive, then it is up to the government to apply the law and keep a murderer behind bars."

In the city of Sanandaj alone, campaigners numbering over 2,000 managed to convince seven families to opt for forgiveness over the noose last year, according to Chaichi - a testimony to the power and influence of these grass-roots activists. 

Last August, a mother whose son was killed spared the murderer at the last minute and removed the noose from his neck. "We were under tremendous pressure, and scores of people were coming to our house asking for [our] forgiveness," her husband, Aba Ahmadi - the victim's father - told Al-Monitor via telephone. "I think the campaign was effective in convincing us, and we don't regret our decision to forgive our son's killer."

Energized by this victory, Chaichi and hundreds of other concerned citizens of Sanandaj set about trying to persuade Pouya's family to forgive their son's killer. They focused on Mahyaddin, who is in his late 40s and is a dervish and follower of the Kasnazan Sufi order, a branch of the mystical dimension of Islam.

The campaigners, led by 5 individuals, stayed in regular contact with Mahyaddin's local spiritual leader, the "pir" (elder).

Pouya's mother - and his grandfather, who was also a dervish from the same Sufi order - were against the execution, but the ultimate decision rested with the father, who was still reeling from the loss of his only son. 

A group of whirling dervishes even visited from the main base of the Kasnazan Sufi order in Iraq's Kurdistan region to try to persuade the grieving father to forgive his son's murderer. The pressure on Mahyaddin was intense.

Under pressure from the campaigners, Mahyaddin spent the last day of 2016 in a place of worship for Sufis, known as a Takia, as around 2,000 people gathered in a mosque nearby. He refused to see any of the campaigners and was adamant that the execution would go ahead.

"My heart was sinking with anxiety; we were all holding our breath waiting for Mahyaddin's decision," said Chaichi, still tearful in recalling that night. What made Chaichi and others fearful was that Mahyaddin had shown no sign that he would forgive the prisoner. But they stayed hopeful, as they knew miracles could happen seconds before executions.

As Mahyaddin arrived in the central prison of Sanandaj before dawn on Jan. 1, accompanied by his spiritual leader, the guards prepared Oraminejad for execution. Terrified and repentant, Oraminejad, in a blue prison uniform, made his last plea, but to no avail.

Even the prison guards and the judge overseeing the execution pleaded with Mahyaddin to pardon the young man. But Mahyaddin was resolute. In the execution room, he placed the noose around Oraminejad's neck as the convict said his last prayer.

At that moment, the pir, who spoke to Al-Monitor but refused to be quoted, reminded Mahyaddin of the graveness of the act he was about to perform. It was only then that Mahyaddin paused and quietly removed the noose. 

According to Chaichi, when the family of the murderer offered to sell their house in order to pay the blood money, which was close to $100,000, Mahyaddin simply responded, "I don't want any money. I did not forgive him for money."

The following day, around 2,000 people, many carrying red roses, went to the main cemetery in Sanandaj where Pouya is buried, paying tribute to the young man who had lost his life in a senseless incident. "Had you had Hemin [Oraminejad] executed, you would have been sitting at home on your own a bitter man," Chaichi said she whispered in Mahyaddin's ear as he stood by his son's grave. She told him, "Look at the smiles you have put on these people's faces. They are celebrating your son's life."

Source: al-monitor.com, January 18, 2017

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