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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sri Lanka: Nearly 190 death sentences commuted under present govt. moving to abolish death penalty

Sri Lanka
President Maithripala Sirisena has commuted 187 death sentences to life imprisonment on recommendations by an expert committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge Nimal E. Dissanayake.

The decision has been announced in the wake of protests demanding the implementation of the death penalty on the person convicted by the Negombo High Court for rape and murder of a 5-year old girl in the Kotadeniyawa police area in the Gampaha District.

Justice Ministry spokesperson Harsha B. Abeykoon told The Island that President Maithripala Sirisena had endorsed Dissanayake committee's recommendations on 3 separate occasions (Dec. 2015, Apr. 2016 and May 2016).

The previous government established the committee in Oct. 2013 to explore ways and means of overcoming severe difficulties caused by suspension of death penalty in accordance with an understanding with the European Union. The committee included Secretary to the Justice Ministry, additional Solicitor General and Prisons Commissioner.

The Prisons Department has made repeated representations in respect of nearly 1,200 convicts on death row.

Abeykoon said that the committee had inquired into cases of nearly 400 convicts on death row and recommended the abolition of death sentence.

Foreign Ministry sources told The Island that FM Mangala Samaraweera assured the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council last September that Sri Lanka wouldn't implement the death penalty. He also said the government would abolish death penalty.

Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe told The Island yesterday that it would be a continuing process. Asked whether those on the death row, who had their death sentences commuted to life sentence, were eligible for release after serving 20 years behind bars, Minister Rajapakshe said that was a possibility. Minister Rajapakshe emphasised that death penalty had been converted to life sentence before the incumbent government came into being in January 2015.

Source: island.lk, May 28, 2016

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Court stays Texas man’s execution because witness was hypnotized

Charles Flores
Charles Flores
Charles Flores, a Texas death row inmate who was scheduled to be executed next week June 2, was granted a stay of execution late Friday afternoon.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Flores’ execution date and sent his case back to the trial court for a hearing based on his claim that improper hypnosis was used on the main eyewitness in his murder trial.

As Fusion reported earlier this month, Flores was convicted for the 1998 murder of Elizabeth “Betty” Black in a Dallas suburb. A jury sentenced him to death the following year even though prosecutors presented no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and the only witness who saw him at the scene, Jill Barganier, was hypnotized by police.

As part of Flores’ final appeal, which was filed last week, psychology professor Steven Lynn said in an affidavit that recent research shows the hypnosis could have made Barganier create false memories. “Clearly, the techniques that were used to refresh Ms. Bargainer’s memory would be eschewed today by anyone at all familiar with the extant research on hypnosis and memory,” Lynn wrote.

That hypnosis was the crux of the appeals court’s ruling. The court approved his application for a writ of habeas corpus by essentially finding reason to believe a reasonable juror may not have convicted him if they had heard evidence like Lynn’s testimony.

Now, the trial court in Flores’ case will hold a hearing specifically on the hypnosis issue and the eyewitness identification. If Flores’ lawyers can show by a preponderance of the evidence that a jury would acquit him today after hearing new scientific evidence, it would lead to a brand new trial for Flores, more than 17 years after he was convicted.

“We’re ecstatic for Charles right now,” said Gregory Gardner, one of Flores’ attorneys. “This hypnosis was always very troubling from the beginning… and we’re thrilled that now the Texas courts are going to take a closer look at it.”

The warden at the Polunksy Unit, the Texas death row prison where Flores is housed, is expected to notify him of the ruling later tonight.

While the appeals court focused on the hypnosis issue in its ruling, Flores also brought up other issues in his appeal—including the fact that his white co-defendant received a much shorter sentence than he did and is currently out of prison on parole.

Two of the nine judges on the appeals court, which is the highest court in Texas that hears criminal cases, dissented from granting a stay. Only one of the judges who supported Flores’ application, David Jewell, wrote an opinion explaining his thinking.

“Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions across the country,” Jewell wrote. “We may ultimately grant relief. We may ultimately deny relief. But either way, given the subject matter, by granting a stay this Court acknowledges that whatever we do, we owe a clear explanation for our decision to the citizens of Texas.”

Source: Fusion, Casey Tolan, May 28, 2016

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Saudi Arabia: Surge in executions continues as death toll approaches 100

Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia will have put to death more than 100 people in the first 6 months of this year if it continues to carry out executions at its current pace, said Amnesty International today. At least 94 people have been executed so far this year, higher than at the same point last year.

At least 158 people were put to death in Saudi Arabia in 2015, the highest recorded figure in the country since 1995.

"Executions in Saudi Arabia have been surging dramatically for 2 years now and this appalling trend shows no sign of slowing," said James Lynch, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

"The steep increase in executions is even more appalling given the pervasive flaws in Saudi Arabia's justice system which mean that it is entirely routine for people to be sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials. The Saudi Arabian authorities should end their reliance on this cruel and inhuman form of punishment and establish an official moratorium on executions immediately."

The case of 21-year-old Ali al-Nimr who was sentenced to death based on "confessions" he says were extracted through torture, provides a glaring example of the arbitrary use of the death penalty after proceedings that blatantly flout international human rights standards.

Today marks 2 years since Ali al-Nimr, who was arrested after taking part in anti-government protests, was sentenced to death by a special security and counter-terrorism court for a series of offences such as attacking security forces and committing armed robbery. He was just 17 when he was arrested. International human rights law prohibits the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by persons under the age of 18.

"Ali al-Nimr has already spent 2 years on death row - instead of forcing him to spend a single day longer awaiting execution the Saudi Arabian authorities should quash his conviction and order a re-trial immediately in proceedings that meet international fair trial standards without recourse to the death penalty," said James Lynch.

Two other young men, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon were sentenced to death a few months after Ali al-Nimr, on a list of similar offences, and also say they were tortured into "confessing".

Source: Amnesty International, May 27, 2016

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Man hanged in public in southern Iran city

A medieval theocracy, barbaric punishments: Shiraz, Iran, May 26, 2016
A medieval theocracy, barbaric punishments: Shiraz, Iran, May 26, 2016
Iran's fundamentalist regime on Thursday publicly hanged a man in the southern city of Shiraz.

The regime's judiciary in Fars Province, southern Iran, in a May 26 statement identified the victim only as Hamid B.

According to Iran Human Rights, the execution was carried out in front of a crowd of onlookers.

A report by the Judiciary in Fars identifies the prisoner as "Hamid B.", sentenced to death over rape charges.

The reports says the prisoner was arrested in 2006 and caught with 46 kilograms of hashish. According to the report, "Hamid" was accused of kidnapping and rape.

The regime mass executed on Wednesday 11 prisoners in their twenties, including at least 1 who is believed to have been only 16 at the time of his alleged offence. Another 5 prisoners were executed on Tuesday in Ghezel-Hessar Prison of Karaj and Adelabad Prison of Shiraz.

Another prisoner was hanged in public in Ramsar, northern Iran, after spending 8 years in prison.

Iran's fundamentalist regime has sharply increased its rate of executions, carrying out at least 21 hangings in a 48-hour period last week.

Ms. Farideh Karimi, a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and a human rights activist, on Wednesday called for an urgent response by the United Nations and foreign governments to the appalling state of human rights in Iran.

"The rising number of mass executions in Iran in recent weeks clearly shows that the regime has in no way decided to change its disgraceful human rights record. Any claim of moderation under Hassan Rouhani is simply a myth. It is high time for the United Nations and human rights organizations to speak out against the brutal executions by the mullahs' regime and send Iran's human rights dossier before the UN Security Council," she said.

The latest hanging brings to at least 116 the number of people executed in Iran since April 10. 3 of those executed were women and 2 are believed to have been juvenile offenders.

Iran's fundamentalist regime earlier this month amputated the fingers of a man in his thirties in Mashhad, the latest in a line of draconian punishments handed down and carried out in recent weeks.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said in a statement on April 13 that the increasing trend of executions "aimed at intensifying the climate of terror to rein in expanding protests by various strata of the society, especially at a time of visits by high-ranking European officials, demonstrates that the claim of moderation is nothing but an illusion for this medieval regime."

Amnesty International in its April 6 annual Death Penalty report covering the 2015 period wrote: "Iran put at least 977 people to death in 2015, compared to at least 743 the year before."

"Iran alone accounted for 82% of all executions recorded" in the Middle East and North Africa, the human rights group said.

There have been more than 2,300 executions during Hassan Rouhani's tenure as President. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran in March announced that the number of executions in Iran in 2015 was greater than any year in the last 25 years. Rouhani has explicitly endorsed the executions as examples of "God's commandments" and "laws of the parliament that belong to the people."

Source: NCR-Iran, May 27, 2016

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Jakarta prosecutors refuse to rule out death penalty in cyanide-laced coffee case

Jessica Wongso
Jessica Wongso
Despite assuring the Australian Federal Police the death penalty would not be sought, Jakarta prosecutors are publicly refusing to rule it out.

Jakarta prosecutors have refused to publicly rule out the death penalty in the case of a woman accused of murdering her friend with a cyanide-laced coffee.

This is despite the Australian Federal Police (AFP) being given assurances she would not be executed before they agreed to help Indonesian authorities.

Jessica Kumala Wongso is accused of killing her 27-year-old friend Wayan Mirna Salihin in January with a poisoned Vietnamese ice coffee at a popular Jakarta restaurant.

After months in which the case file on the alleged murder was repeatedly sent back to police due to lack of evidence, prosecutors declared the investigation complete this week.

Jessica, also 27, said nothing as she was brought to the prosecutor's office in central Jakarta amid a crush of shouting local media.

Trailing behind her were 2 policemen carrying the brief against her and a box which contains new information provided by the AFP.

The AFP received approval in February from Justice Minister Michael Keenan to provide assistance to Indonesian authorities.

The approval came after the Indonesian government assured Australia the death penalty would not be "sought nor carried out" if Jessica were to be found guilty of the alleged murder.

But Jakarta Attorney Office spokesman Waluyo refused to publicly rule out the death penalty as a possible punishment when talking to local media, saying that even for Jessica "it's possible".

"It depends on facts found in the trial later," he said.

Speaking outside the office, her lawyer Yudi Wibowo told reporters the AFP had given local authorities information about an alleged quarrel between Jessica and her then boyfriend - known only as "Patrick" - while they were living in Australia.

Mr Wibowo claimed "Patrick" had reported her to police, because he was "afraid of being reported first".

"She (Jessica) told me they had a quarrel ... her boyfriend had debt. She asked him about the money he owed to her ... that's all," Mr Wibowo told reporters.

He said the AFP had also received reports of Jessica crashing her car into a nursing home in August last year in Sydney.

But Mr Wibowo said he was doubtful the new information could be used during her trial.

In a case that has dominated local press, Jessica is accused of killing 27-year-old Wayan Mirna Salihin, with whom she studied in Australia - first at Billy Blue College in Sydney and later at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne in 2008.

Jessica met up with Mirna and their friend Hani on January 6, during a trip home to Indonesia in January.

It is alleged she laced Mirna's Vietnamese iced coffee with cyanide.

Moments after sipping it Mirna collapsed and began convulsing.

She was confirmed dead a short time later in hospital.

Prosecutors will now have 110 days to prepare the indictment against Jessica and hand it to Central Jakarta District Court.

The AFP have been contacted for comment.

Source: sbs.com.au, May 27, 2016

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Connecticut Supreme Court upholds decision banning death penalty for remaining death-row inmates

The Connecticut Supreme Court on Thursday again said that it would be unconstitutional to execute inmates on the state's death row, upholding a decision from the same court last year effectively banning the death penalty in the state.

In a decision in August, the state's justices ruled that Connecticut could not execute death-row inmates for crimes committed before the state largely abolished capital punishment. Under a law signed in 2012, Connecticut agreed to abandon the death penalty going forward, while also retaining it as an option for crimes committed before that bill became law.

After an inmate named Eduardo Santiago - convicted of murdering someone in 2000 - challenged his death sentence, a divided Connecticut Supreme Court said last year that he could not be executed because the 2012 law "creates an impermissible and arbitrary distinction" between crimes committed before and after that measure went into effect. (Santiago was re-sentenced to life in prison without parole in December.)

The state's high court upheld its earlier ruling in a 5-to-2 decision handed down Thursday in a case focusing on Russell Peeler, a man sentenced to death for his role in the 1999 killings of a woman and her 8-year-old son.

The justices ruled that Peeler must instead be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, because his earlier sentence "must be vacated as unconstitutional in light of" last year's decision. 3 justices wrote concurring opinions, while 2 authored dissents, 1 of which said the ruling last year "inflicted [damage] on the rule of law" that "must be repaired."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D), who signed the 2012 law abolishing the death penalty, reiterated his opposition to capital punishment on Thursday and focused on how the new ruling will keep the death-row inmates from ever seeking parole.

"Today's decision reaffirms what the court has already said: those currently serving on death row will serve the rest of their life in prison with no possibility of ever obtaining freedom," he said in a statement. He added: "Our focus today should not be on those currently sitting on death row, but with their victims and those surviving family members. My thoughts and prayers are with them on this difficult day."

According to the state Department of Corrections, Connecticut has 11 inmates on death row. The only state in New England that still has capital punishment on the books is New Hampshire, where legislators recently came within one vote of abolishing it.

Since 2007, 7 states have formally abandoned the death penalty. However, they have not agreed on what to do with the people on death row once this takes effect. In some cases, such as New Jersey and Illinois, death sentences were commuted to life sentences without parole. This is what Nebraska's bill abolishing the death penalty also would do; while lawmakers there voted to get rid of capital punishment last year, that law remains on hold until voters decide in November.

In other cases, though, inmates have remained on death row and the effect on their sentences has been uncertain after their states abandoned the death penalty. Like Connecticut, Maryland - the last of the states to formally outlaw the death penalty - abolished the practice while exempting those already on death row. Before he left office, former governor Martin O'Malley (D) commuted the sentences of the remaining inmates to life terms.

Connecticut has executed only 1 inmate since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state considered abolishing the death penalty in 2009, but Malloy's predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, vetoed a bill that year that would have eliminated the practice.

Her decision came as the state was reeling after a horrifying home invasion there 2 years earlier. 2 men broke into a family's home before sexually assaulting a woman, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, and her 11-year-old daughter, Michaela. The 2 men also beat the girl's father, William, before killing Jennifer, Michaela and the couple's 17-year-old daughter, Hayley. Both men accused in the case - Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes - were convicted, found guilty and sentenced to death. This crime was cited as the reason lawmakers compromised in 2012, getting rid of the death penalty while keeping it in place for people, like those 2 men, who had committed crimes beforehand.

Source: Washington Post, May 26, 2016

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Indonesia: Drug kingpin Freddy Budiman files case review to overturn death sentence

Police boats patrol the strait between Cilacap and Nusakambangan Island
Police boats patrol the strait between Cilacap and Nusakambangan Island
Amid the government's preparations for the next round of executions, convicted drug kingpin Freddy Budiman has filed a case review to overturn his death sentence.

On Wednesday, he and his team of lawyers attended a hearing for the case review at the Cilacap District Court in Central Java, amid reports he is one of the death-row convicts soon to be executed on Nusakambangan Island.

His lawyer Untung Sunaryo told the panel of judges, presided over by Catur Prasetyo, that his client should not have been sentenced to death because none of Freddy's accomplices, who were involved in the smuggling of 1.4 million ecstasy pills from China in 2011, was given the death penalty.

"Why was Freddy Budiman then sentenced to death while the others were not? This is the substance of the objection we've raised in this case review hearing. We demand our client not be put to death," said Untung at Cilacap District Court.

Freddy's case review hearing was tightly secured by around 150 police personnel from the Cilacap Regency Police. Police escorted Freddy from the ferry crossing from Nusakambangan Island to the Cilacap District Court, a distance of around 4 kilometers. Freddy wore a long white robe with black cap.

"We hope the Supreme Court will hear our case for a review as far as possible because the judges stated our client's offense was the same as his accomplices during a previous appeal hearing," said Untung.

The central government has remained silent on the upcoming executions despite apparent preparations on the island, in a move many see as trying to avoid animosity among the international community.

Central Java Police revealed that 10 foreign nationals and five Indonesians were already on the list, but the Attorney General's Office (AGO) has denied this, with Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo saying that his office had yet to decide when and who would be included in the next batch of executions.

Freddy has avoided execution at least twice as his lawyer team had kept postponing a plan to file for a case review.

Prasetyo said he expected Freddy would be included in the next round of executions, but he was still waiting for the convict to decide on whether to exercise his legal right to challenge the death sentence.

The hearing at Cilacap court was heard by 3 local judges--Catur and Vilia Sari and Cokia Ana Pontia, while the prosecutors were from the West Jakarta Prosecutor's Office.

The case review appeal was read by Freddy's legal advisors. The hearing commenced at around 10:30 a.m. local time and ended at 12 p.m..

Freddy's case review should have been heard in early May at the West Jakarta District Court. However, as Freddy had been transferred to Nusakambangan, his legal team requested the case review hearing be held in Cilacap and this was granted.

"As he's been transferred to the Pasir Putih prison, Freddy's legal team proposed the hearing be moved and it was finally approved to be held at the Cilacap District Court," West Jakarta prosecutor Reda Manthovani told journalists.

He said that although the hearing was at the Cilacap District Court, prosecutors convened the session from the West Jakarta Prosecutor's Office.

Freddy was arrested on April 28, 2011, by the Jakarta Police's narcotics division for smuggling 1.4 million ecstasy pills from China. Freddy was sentenced to death by the West Jakarta District Court five months after his arrest.

From November 2012 until July 2013, he was confined at the Cipinang Narcotics Prison in East Jakarta. Although he was sentenced to death, Freddy did not give up drug dealing, as he carried on his activities from within his prison cell, he was therefore transferred to Batu Prison on Nusakambangan in July 2013. However, he allegedly still deals drugs in Nusakambangan.

Source: The Jakarta Post, May 26, 2016

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Prosecutors Still Using Race to Choose Juries in Death Penalty Cases, Despite Century of Supreme Court Rulings

Tuesday's 7-1 Supreme Court decision in Foster v. Chatman was a huge victory for Timothy Foster, a 49-year-old Black man who has been on Georgia's death row for 29 years. The ruling also reflects a systemic problem with the death penalty: prosecutors' repeated, deliberate use of race to choose jurors. This practice alone makes capital punishment so fundamentally unfair that we must end it.

In 1987, Foster had been convicted of murdering a white woman and was sentenced to death by an all-white jury. During jury selection, the prosecutors in his case deliberately eliminated potential Black jurors based on their race. Those prosecutors violated the Constitution when they excluded those jurors, and yesterday the Supreme Court held them to account. The justices struck down Foster's conviction and death sentence and ordered a new trial because it's unconstitutional to choose jurors according to race.

While this ruling may save Foster's life, it doesn't represent a big advance in the law. The court applied a legal doctrine that was already a settled principle: prosecutors may not use race as a basis to select - or exclude - jurors. In fact, the Supreme Court has been condemning racial bias in jury selection in capital cases since 1880 when it outlawed the practice in Strauder v. West Virginia. But more than 100 years after the court's 1st decision on this problem, and 40 years into our modern experiment with the death penalty, widespread racial bias continues in jury selection for capital cases. We continue to send people to die from trials tainted by racial bias.

In criminal cases, prosecutors and defense counsel are each granted "peremptory strikes," whereby each side is permitted to dismiss a set number of potential jurors. A handful of studies have undertaken systemic investigations of prosecutors' use of peremptory strikes in capital cases. Each one has uncovered damning patterns of discrimination, showing disproportionate strikes of Black jurors by prosecutors.

Most recently, a 2015 study of prosecutor strikes in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, found that prosecutors struck Black jurors at 2 to 3 times the rates of other jurors. An extensive study of strikes in capital cases in Philadelphia found prosecutors struck Black jurors at twice the rates as other jurors. Here in North Carolina, researchers conducted the only state-wide study and found the same All across the state, city and country alike, discrimination against qualified Black jurors remains depressingly constant.

During jury selection, if the defense can point to some signs that prosecutors are using their strikes in a discriminatory manner, the prosecutors will be required to give explanations for their strike decisions. In Foster, the Supreme Court criticized the prosecutors' "concerted effort" to keep Black people off the jury in the Georgia case, as well as their "shifting explanations" and "misrepresentations" to the courts intended to camouflage those efforts. Foster involved the rare indisputable proof of discrimination: Prosecution notes showed a planned strategy to avoid selecting any Black jurors.

In North Carolina, we litigated extensively jury discrimination practices in four capital cases. (All four were recently sent back from the North Carolina court for new hearings on their claims alleging discrimination.) As in Foster, we found handwritten notes showing racially influenced jury selection in individual cases. Even worse, we uncovered evidence that several prosecutors were trained in how to provide canned explanations for why they removed Black jurors. A statewide prosecutor training handed out a cheat sheet with a list of the top 10 explanations for use in responding to allegations of racial bias. Prosecutors were instructed to complain of the juror's "age," or body language - 2 of the very same explanations offered by the prosecutors in Foster to hide their discrimination.

With so much evidence of racial bias in jury selection for capital cases, we know the damage is too pervasive for our courts to rectify. After more than 100 years of racially biased jury selection, the inescapable truth is that capital punishment can't be squared with the Constitution or any other commitment to equality. It's time to shut it down.

Source: ACLU, Cassandra Stubbs, Director, ACLU Capital Punishment Project, May 26, 2016

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UN rights office 'deeply concerned' about possible imminent executions in Gaza

Expressing concern about possible imminent executions in Gaza, the United Nations human rights office today urged the authorities in Gaza to uphold their obligations to respect the rights to life and to a fair trial and not carry out death penalty.

"We also urge the Palestinian President to establish a moratorium on executions in line with the strong international trend towards ending the use of the death penalty," said spokesperson Rupert Colville of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

He said that the office is "deeply concerned about recent statements made by the authorities in Gaza, including the Attorney General, of their intention to implement a number of death sentences, and fear that the first executions may be imminent."

The Gaza authorities' statements follow the demands of several families for the death penalty to be carried out against individuals accused of killing their relatives.

Death sentences may only be carried out in extremely limited circumstances, and pursuant to a trial and appeals that scrupulously follow fair trial standards, he said, adding that the office has serious doubts as to whether capital trials in Gaza meet these standards, and is concerned about reports indicating that these executions will be implemented without the approval of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which is required under Palestinian law.

Media reports indicating that the sentences could be carried out in public also raise alarm, as this is a practice prohibited under international human rights law, the spokesperson said.

Source: UN News Centre, May 26, 2016

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The Anomaly of Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
White-on-black murders rarely result in a death sentence. Roof might be an exception.

Federal prosecutors have announced that they will seek a death sentence for Dylann Roof, meaning he will face two death penalty trials.

Though Dylann Roof’s case is in its earliest stages, he is likely to face the death penalty for shooting a group of churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. earlier this summer. Governor Nikki Haley is pushing for the punishment, and a famed capital defense attorney, David Bruck, has been hired to represent Roof in both local and federal murder cases.

Roof will join an extremely short list in American history: white defendants facing the death penalty for killing black victims. Only 31 of the nearly 800 white defendants executed since 1976 — when the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty — had a black victim, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. During the same timeframe, 234 of nearly 500 executed black defendants had white victims.

The last time a white person was put to death for killing a black person in South Carolina, where Roof will be tried, was in 1991. In Pennsylvania, it was in 1999. In Louisiana, 17521. In Texas, there were no such executions between 1854 and 2003, and in Alabama, there were none from 1913 to 1997 (there haven’t been any, since, either). In Florida, a white defendant has never been put to death for murdering a black person.

“It is pretty much like you have to be a Dylann Roof in order to get executed for such a crime,” says Frank Baumgartner, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

In a recent article, Baumgartner wrote that the effect of the victim’s race on the likelihood of a death sentence “is one of the most consistent findings in all empirical legal scholarship relating to capital punishment.”

Ever since the research of law professor David C. Baldus on racial disparities in Georgia death sentences formed the basis for a failed Supreme Court challenge to the death penalty in 1987, researchers have consistently argued that there is a relationship between race and capital punishment: white victims produce more executions than black victims, while black defendants are more likely than white defendants to be sentenced to death.

Source: The Marshall Project, Maurice Chammah, May 25, 2016

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Hamas Calls for Resumption of Death Penalty in Gaza

Execution of alleged "collaborators" with Israel by Hamas militants in Aug. 2014
Execution of alleged "collaborators" with Israel by Hamas militants in Aug. 2014
GAZA CITY — Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza, called on Wednesday for the resumption of the death penalty for certain crimes. Several Palestinians convicted of collaborating with Israel or of murder are now facing execution.

In a terse statement, Hamas called on “the competent judicial authorities to undertake its duties.” The statement was widely seen as a green light to begin executions, because Hamas officials had been arguing for days about reinstating the death penalty.

“We found it was important to implement the death penalty rule to maintain civil peace in society and to prevent cases of murder,” said Yehia Mousa, a Hamas legislator in Gaza.

“The death penalty exists in America,” he said. “Killings warrant the death penalty.”

“We have three or four cases that are ready for the death penalty,” Mr. Mousa said, adding that the executions would be carried out in police stations.

He did not provide more information, but on April 18, a military court in Gaza sentenced three men to death for collaborating with Israel, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Palestinians consider such collaboration treasonous.

Hamas officials began imposing the death penalty after they took control of Gaza in 2007. Since then, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights has documented 67 executions. That figure does not include Hamas gunmen’s killings of people accused of being collaborators during wartime.

Hamas mostly stopped the executions after June 2014 because a national unity government led by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority was officially placed in charge of Gaza.

An exception was the case of Mahmoud Ishtiwi, a Hamas commander, who was fatally shot in April for “moral crimes” after he was accused of theft and of having sex with another man.

As president, Mr. Abbas is required to ratify each death sentence before it is carried out. But he opposes the death penalty and has not ratified a sentence since he came to power in 2005.

The national unity government fell apart last year, and Hamas reasserted control over Gaza.

Hamdi Shakour, the deputy director of programs at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, said Hamas appeared to have revived the death penalty in response to the popular sentiment that crime is increasing in Gaza, a product of years of unemployment and poverty, tight restrictions on travel and three wars in the territory.

“Instead of talking about the collapse of the economy, the social fabric and people’s living standards, they are arguing that there is no preventative punishment,” Mr. Shakour said.

Sari Bashi, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch, said: “It’s terrible. The court system in Gaza is rife with coercion, torture and compromised procedures, and so to execute people in Gaza is particularly egregious.”

Source: The New York Times, Majd Al Waheidi, Diaa Hadid, May 25, 2016

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Is Hillary Clinton The Last Democratic Presidential Candidate To Support The Death Penalty?

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton
In 1977, 2 years after he was convicted of robbing a shoe store and stabbing a clerk to death, 22-year-old Henry Giles sat on death row at Arkansas' Cummins Prison Farm, awaiting his execution by electric chair.

Psychologists had termed Giles "grossly retarded." With an IQ of just 59, it was unclear at the time of trial if the young, black defendant fully understood the severity of the charges against him.

"I really didn't know what the death penalty was," Giles wrote in a letter this year.

15 years later, another black inmate, with a similarly low IQ of just 63, sat on the same death row at Cummins. Rickey Ray Rector had been convicted of murdering 2 men - 1 a police officer - and in 1992, the 42-year-old was awaiting his execution by lethal injection.

But Rector had no knowledge or memory of the crimes he had committed. After killing the officer who had come to arrest him for the 1st murder, Rector shot a bullet through his own brain, essentially giving himself a frontal lobotomy. During his trial, experts testified that he was "severely impaired" and lacked the ability to grasp the concepts of past or future. He was only able to respond to immediate sensations.

"When you'd ask him a question, you could tell he was trying to answer but it was kind of like a skipping record," said John Jewell, 1 of Rector's appellate lawyers. "He'd just keep coming back to the same questions. He couldn't communicate clearly, articulately. I had no confidence that anything he was telling me he actually knew."

Rector's attorneys filed numerous appeals, but the timing was not on their side. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was also running for president, and he was desperate to send the message that he was tough on crime - an issue that had plagued him in previous campaigns. So he decided to take a break from the campaign trail in New Hampshire to fly home to Arkansas, where he would oversee Rector's execution.

From the governor's mansion, where he repeatedly denied pleas for a stay of Rector's execution, Clinton was joined by the same person who, less than 2 decades earlier, was largely credited with saving Giles' life: Hillary Clinton.

The stories of Henry Giles and Rickey Ray Rector - both black, and both severely mentally disabled - have dramatically different endings. Their fates can be attributed partly to the political climate at the time of their scheduled deaths and perhaps partly to when they crossed paths with the Clintons.

But much of their experiences can be chalked up to the completely arbitrary nature in which capital punishment is applied in the United States - an argument that Clinton herself made in the 1970s. That one mentally disabled black man is living, while another was put to death, tells the story of the criminal justice system in a country in which an inmate's race, zip code, jury composition, and attorney competence are all more likely to determine whether he lives or dies than his crime.

Since launching her campaign for the White House last year, Hillary Clinton has become a vocal supporter of comprehensive criminal justice reform. She has had to apologize for aspects of her husband's '3 strikes' crime bill and has backtracked on some of the 'tough-on-crime' language she used during the 1990s.

But there remains one area in which she is reluctant to embrace progressive reform.

On multiple occasions this year, Clinton has expressed her support for the death penalty. She usually qualifies her support, saying she believes capital punishment should be used for certain federal crimes, like terrorist attacks and mass shootings. And she says she doesn't think states should be able to carry out capital punishment because of the arbitrary nature in which it's applied and the possibility for human error. Nonetheless, she still believes that the federal government should maintain a "very limited" use of capital punishment.

"Maybe it's a distinction that is hard to support, but at this point, given the challenges we face from terrorist activities in this country that end up under federal jurisdiction for very limited purposes, I think it can still be held in reserve for those," Clinton said of the death penalty during a March town hall event.

Her support for the practice distinguishes her from the Democratic challengers she's faced throughout the race. It also distinguishes her from the Democratic electorate.

Just 56 % of Americans say they support capital punishment - a 40-year low, down from 78 % just 2 decades ago. And just 40 % of Democrats favor the death penalty, while 56 % are opposed. Being opposed to capital punishment is no longer a handicap for Democratic presidential candidates; in fact, taking a strong stance against the death penalty may even be beneficial in both a primary and general election. And experts say we can expect to see a time in the near future when support for the practice could actually be a liability.

But Clinton has not always supported allowing the government to end lives. In fact, she launched her legal career by representing a death row inmate and arguing the very opposite.

She has never mentioned it on the campaign trail and her campaign declined to comment on her involvement, but as a young public interest lawyer with the University of Arkansas' legal aid project in the 1970s, Clinton - then Hillary Rodham - served as the lead attorney on the Cummins Prison Project, which worked to defend prisoners at the notorious maximum security detention center. The group frequently sent attorneys and students to Cummins to meet prisoners in need of legal help.

One of those inmates was Henry Giles.

There is no evidence that Giles, who was 17 years old at the time of his crime, planned his attack. According to court documents, he was walking down the street in Forrest City, Arkansas when he noticed through the window of a Shoe Outlet that Evelyn Drummond, a clerk, was alone. He then entered the store, wrapped a wire around her neck, dragged her to the rear of the building, and stabbed her twice with a knife. With the store empty, he rifled through the cash register and pocketed the money. Immediately after, he found his brother, Everett, and told him he had done something wrong.

In a signed confession, Giles told law enforcement he killed Drummond because "something came over me to make me do something wrong." But his attorney said Giles had no idea he was signing a confession.

"Those police wrote down what they wanted and I thought they were writing down what I was saying," Giles wrote in a letter. "And I sign it. They didn't give me no lawyer or said anything about one."

He was convicted of murder 4 months before his 18th birthday, and in May 1975, an all-white jury sentenced him to die.

"I never understood any of it anyway," Giles wrote about his trial. "It was something like me against the world ... The hole [sic] court room was white, so you can see how that turn out."

From the start of his trial, questions were raised about his mental competence. Giles had a verbal IQ of just 51, and Dr. Arthur Rogers, a clinical psychologist employed by the Veteran's Administration in North Little Rock, testified that his mental capacity was "quite, quite low, to put it mildly."

"Rogers was of the opinion, from his testing, that Giles had the intelligence of an average seven or 8 year old person," court documents stated. "He said that Giles' knowledge of arithmetic was essentially nonexistent. He thought Giles could count up to 7 and could subtract 1 from 3, but could not figure out change, even from 10 cents for a 6-cent purchase."

The doctor also testified that "Giles was on the borderline between a moron and an imbecile," that he "tends to react immediately without thinking ahead," and that it was very possible he did not understand his right to an attorney or the charges he was facing.

In their motion to appeal, his attorneys wrote that "Henry Giles does not know the degree of the charges against him ... [he] does not know he has been on trial." They also argued that the jury left his age and mental deficiencies off of the verdict forms - both factors that should have lessened his sentence.

Giles' memory of the trial has faded, and in a letter this year he wrote that he never fully grasped what was happening in the courtroom anyway.

"I really didn't understand what the judge said," he said of first learning of his death sentence. "I thought he said that you are sentence to 16 year in prison. That what he sound like to me. I didn't know until the other lawyer told me what he said."

After his sentencing in 1975, the Cummins Prison Project decided to take up Giles' case. As its lead attorney, Clinton orchestrated the effort to have Giles' sentence commuted to life in prison without parole. The project submitted an amicus brief in Giles' appeal before the state supreme court, arguing that because of his mental retardation, killing him would prove the unconstitutional and arbitrary application of the death penalty.

According to the Arkansas Supreme Court's opinion from April 1977, Clinton and her 2 co-counsel claimed in their brief that the state's capital punishment statute "permits arbitrary selectivity in determining whether a defendant charged with a capital felony murder shall live or die."

"Because the imposition of the death penalty is discretionary with the jury... [and] because of the allegedly uncontrolled selective discretion of prosecuting attorneys, trial judges, juries and the governor in choosing which defendants will live and which will die in cases in which the death penalty might be imposed," Giles should not be put to death, they argued.

The Arkansas Supreme Court sided with Clinton's prison project, and commuted Giles' sentence to life without parole. Bill Clinton signed that commutation in April 1977, as Arkansas' attorney general. The current Democratic presidential front-runner's legal work was largely responsible for sparing Giles from execution.

"The brief was credited with saving the life of Henry Giles, a retarded man convicted of murder," wrote David Brock in his 1996 book, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham.

Timing was another factor that spared Giles from the death chamber. At the time Giles narrowly avoided the death penalty, the practice was not politically popular. The U.S. Supreme Court effectively reinstated it just 2 months after Clinton submitted her brief (4 years earlier, in 1972, it ruled that the death penalty qualified as cruel and unusual punishment because states employed execution in "arbitrary and capricious ways" and had imposed a temporary ban). At the time, states were still reluctant to go through with the ultimate punishment.

"We're in no hurry to bring the electric chair out of storage," Arkansas prison spokesperson Tim Baltz told the AP in 1975. "No one is anxious to take a life."

But this was all about to change. After a crime wave in the 1970s stoked people's panic about violence in their communities, Democrats began to fear being labeled as soft-on-crime. In 1986, both parties helped pass legislation creating mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses - the effects of which are still being felt today.

Clinton herself seemed to be aware of the forthcoming shift in public opinion. Though she led the effort to save Giles from execution, she left her name off the brief that was filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court. She has never explained the decision, but Jeff Rosensweig, a friend of Bill's and a longtime Arkansas criminal defense attorney, pointed out that Bill was running for attorney general at the time and "it would be a problem" for the attorney general's wife to be on the opposite side of a case against the state.

After securing a victory in Giles' case and leaving the Cummins Prison Project, Clinton went on to work at a private law firm. She has since served as First Lady of Arkansas and of the United States, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and is now the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to the presidency.

Meanwhile, Giles, who is nearly deaf and stutters when he speaks, has now spent more than 40 years incarcerated for his crime. "I been in prison longer than I been home, or whatever that is," he wrote this year. Most of the time - except for a few short stays in "the hole," or solitary confinement - he sleeps on one of 50 beds in the north barrack of the East Arkansas Regional Unit, known to the inmates as Brickeys.

"Life in prison is no life," he wrote in one five-page letter of looping script. "You live in fear most of the time. There are time you never know what the next person sitting by you may do. He may flip out anytime. I done seen it happen so many time, it have you on edge, wondering if you next."

Giles said he no longer speaks with any family members and has not received letters or visitors in years. Because of his hearing impairment, he is unable to speak on the phone - the prison has an accessibility machine to help deaf people use the phone, but Giles can't use it because he doesn't know how to type. "In here you have nothing. Know [sic] family, friend, nobody really care about you," he wrote. "But after so long, you know it only you and God."

Though he said he remains grateful that he escaped the electric chair, Giles refers to life in prison without parole as "a death sentence, just a slow death sentence." He writes a lot about what life might be like on the outside. "The world would be a strange place," he said. "Everything is different now." But he emphasizes that any situation on the outside would be better than being locked up.

"If I have to live under bridges, cardboard boxes, that what I do. Or beg for small change. It beat the hell out of coming back to prison."

"I don't feel I would make the same mistakes again," he continued in another letter. "I was still a kid when I came here, never have a life, and I would like to spend the rest of my life a free man. I don't know how much longer I have left but I would like to be free."

As the decades passed and harsh sentencing legislation made its way through Congress, people's perception of the death penalty also changed. By the late 1980s, Americans were obsessed with crime and were willing to go to any length to lock away potential predators.

The Willie Horton ad from the 1988 presidential campaign is perhaps the most memorable moment from that alarmist period. That year, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) was locked in a close race against George H.W. Bush (R). A few months before Election Day, Bush's campaign released an ad called "Weekend Passes" which attacked Dukakis using the case of Horton, a convicted felon who raped a woman during a weekend furlough program that Dukakis supported.

"Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed 1st-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison," a man's voice booms in the 30-second ad, featuring grainy shots of Horton and Dukakis above bolded words like "kidnapping," "stabbing," and "raping."

During that same election, Dukakis suffered another major blow: When he was asked during a debate what he would do if his wife was raped and murdered, he gave an unemotional response explaining his opposition to capital punishment. It didn't sit well with the public.

Just how important was the death penalty to voters at the time? More respondents to a poll said they would consider a candidate's support for capital punishment when deciding who to vote for than they would his party. Bush ended up defeating Dukakis by a landslide.

Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton
Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton
Going into the 1992 election, Bill Clinton was well aware of how Dukakis' stance on criminal justice issues had hurt him with the electorate and that dynamic had only become clearer: Polls at the time showed that nearly 80 % of Americans approved of the death penalty. 1 commentator declared, "There is no way the Democrats can nominate somebody against the death penalty and be viable."

As 1 of Rector's earlier attorneys put it: "Poor ole Rickey Rector's timing just happened to be real bad."

In 1981, 29-year-old Rector was at a dance hall in Conway, Arkansas. After getting into a dispute about the entrance fee, he pulled a gun from his waistband and shot 3 men, killing 1. He then ran from law enforcement for several days before deciding to turn himself in to authorities. But when Patrolman Robert W. Martin arrived at Rector's mother's house, where he was waiting, Rector shot him in the jaw and neck, killing him almost immediately.

Rector then walked out of the house, held the gun to his own head, and shot himself straight through his brain. Doctors at Little Rock's University Hospital removed the bullet from behind his ear, and with it, about 3 inches of his frontal brain tissue.

After the surgery, Rector suffered from "gross memory loss" and became "totally incompetent" to assist any attorney who took his case, according to his doctors. Psychologists testified in the ensuing trial that he "seemed unable to grasp either the concept of past or future."

John Jewell represented Rector in his habeas corpus appeal - he was one of many attorneys who took on the case and got to know Rector throughout the appeals process. Jewell said he felt pity and sorrow for his client, but never a deeper personal connection "because there wasn't anyone there to connect to."

Jewell never doubted Rector's guilt. Instead, he had serious doubts about a system in which an all-white jury could condemn a mentally incompetent black inmate to die. His focus was on commuting Rector's sentence to life in prison.

"That's all that we ever asked for - that he not be executed," he said. "Our argument was that he wasn't competent to stand trial to begin with because of the brain damage from when he tried to kill himself."

But multiple judges denied his appeals and Rector's execution was set for January 1992. For Bill Clinton, who had privately wavered on his support for the death penalty, the event was the perfect opportunity for him to look like the tough-on-crime lawmaker he knew the country wanted. With the execution falling right before the New Hampshire primary and Clinton looking to distract voters from allegations about his personal life, Bill and Hillary flew home from the campaign trail in order to be in Arkansas to oversee the execution.

It wasn't the 1st time Clinton scheduled a killing around his own campaigns - his 2 previous executions were both held in an election year, and his next execution would come a few months later - but it was the 1st time a presidential candidate had made a spectacle over an execution.

"Never - or at least not in the recent history of presidential campaigns - has a contender for the nation's highest elective office stepped off the campaign trail to ensure the killing of a prisoner," the Houston Chronicle remarked at the time.

From the governor's mansion, Clinton received multiple calls and pleas from Rector's attorneys for stays of execution and pardons. But he denied all of them.

"There were, I don't remember how many judges that had ruled the same way as Clinton, saying no, I'm not going to pardon him," Jewell said. "It wasn't like he did anything to change the direction of things. He just didn't do anything to stop the execution."

The next year, Jeff Rosensweig, another of Rector's attorneys, would tell the New Yorker that Clinton's decision was likely entirely political. "I think in his heart of hearts Clinton would not have wanted to go through with Rickey's execution," but "he figured he had to," Rosensweig said.

Hours before his death, Rector watched a news report about Clinton on the prison TV. "I'm gonna vote for him. Gonna vote for Clinton," he said to those present. That same execution night, Rector put the pecan pie from his final meal to the side, saying he would save it for later.

Around 9:30 p.m., Carolyn Staley, a close friend of Bill Clinton's, found out that Rector had not yet been killed - medics were having trouble locating a vein and the execution had been delayed. Staley, who strongly opposed the death penalty, decided to call the governor, according to her interview with the New Yorker that year. When Clinton called her back that night, he spoke in a low whisper, saying, "I'm not able to breathe, I'm destroyed."

"It's just awful. Just terrible, terrible," he continued.

At 10:09 p.m. on January 24, 1992, after he yelled out 8 times while medics searched for a vein, Rector was pronounced dead.

There's no way of measuring the impact of the execution on the election, but there were many who questioned why Clinton made the decision he did, when he did.

A New York Times headline the day of the execution read: "Arkansas Execution Raises Questions on Governor's Politics." "The case of Mr. Rector - the 3rd execution to go forward during Mr. Clinton's tenure - raises knotty issues that go beyond general support or disapproval of the death penalty," the article noted, adding that Clinton was playing with the "undeniable politics of death." The Washington Post also questioned Clinton's motives. "It seemed at odds with his progressive, compassionate image, and it appeared to contradict his own acknowledgment that capital punishment was not a deterrent," Richard Cohen wrote in 1993.

Most news coverage of the execution honed in on Rector's mental capacity. In 1986, the Supreme Court had ruled that defendants subject to execution must understand that they are being sentenced to death and why, but at the time of Rector's death, the court had not yet ruled against the killing of the mentally disabled.

"It wasn't the law yet but I think it was probably a case in which people saw there needed to be some changes in the law," Jewell said.

In 2002, a decade after Rector was killed, the U.S. Supreme Court would rule that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. And 12 years later, the court would narrow the state's discretion to determine who has an intellectual disability. Had Rector, a defendant with an IQ of just 63, been sentenced after 2002, it's likely he would still be alive today.

Other legal battles in recent decades have also pointed to the random and arbitrary application of the death penalty. In response, courts have narrowed the cases in which the punishment can be used. In 2005, the Supreme Court banned the execution of juveniles; in 2006 it ruled that DNA evidence can be considered in death penalty appeals; and in 2008 it said that states cannot impose the death penalty for any crimes less than murder. In 2015, just 49 people were sentenced to death, a 50-year low.

While fewer people are being put to death because of the changes in the law, those still facing the punishment are not the worst, guiltiest, or the most threatening. Most executions are concentrated in a few jurisdictions where the penalty is still disproportionately applied. And the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office has identified "a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty." More than 75 % of executions are for crimes against white victims, and African American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white.

As more information about the disparities surface and as its use has become more infrequent, public support for the death penalty has also waned. A recent study found that a majority of Americans prefer life without parole to the death penalty and opposition to the practice has reached its highest level in 43 years.

It's also becoming more mainstream for world leaders and politicians to champion its abolition. Last year, Pope Francis called for an end to capital punishment worldwide, declaring its use "inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed." And in June of last year, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissent in a capital case saying the death penalty may be unconstitutional and calling for a "full briefing" on "whether the death penalty violates the Constitution."

"If trends on the ground continue in the direction that they are going, and new justices to the court either replicate or are further to the left of the current court - which is not a tremendously left-wing court - we think that it's likely there will be a constitutional invalidation of capital punishment," said Carol Steiker, a Harvard Law School professor and expert on capital punishment.

Clinton herself has said recently that she would "breathe a sigh of relief if either the Supreme Court or the states themselves began to eliminate the death penalty." That vision may not be far off - 19 states have already eliminated it, and the Supreme Court may not be too far behind.

The Democratic front-runner's indication that she'd be relieved if the high court resolved the issue likely means that her support for the death penalty is more political than personal, Steiker said. But even her political support seems unnecessary given the current climate on criminal justice issues.

Both of the men who mounted serious challenges to Clinton during the nominating process - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley - came out strongly against the death penalty. "The state, in a democratic, civilized society, should not itself be involved in the murder of other Americans," Sanders said last October.

Though the issue didn't come up much during the 2008 presidential election, bipartisan support for criminal justice reform in recent years have once again raised the political profile of capital punishment. President Barack Obama has expressed his conflicted feelings about the death penalty and has called it "deeply troubling" in practice, but he hasn't yet disavowed it entirely.

Which leaves Clinton, who may be the last Democratic presidential candidate to support capital punishment.

Even some conservative leaders are beginning to come out against capital punishment, also citing its arbitrary application. Marc Hyden, the national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, called the practice "a worthless and albeit expensive and dangerous government program" and "quintessential big, broken government."

Hyden, who used to work for the National Rifle Association, noted that the practice is not pro-life, does not promote fiscal responsibility, and does not represent limited government. "I don't think there's anything limited about giving an error-prone state the power to kill its citizens," he said.

Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP who has endorsed and is campaigning for Sanders, suggested that Clinton could quickly fall behind the status quo. He has called the death penalty "the spawn of lynching in our country."

"If Hillary Clinton wants us to trust that she will strong on criminal justice reform, she needs to break with the death penalty and she needs to get back into the progressive mainstream on criminal justice reform," Jealous said in March. "We will see the death penalty abolished in this country in your lifetime."

If Clinton were to win the White House this November, she could very well oversee that historic moment. After appointing another liberal justice to the Supreme Court, it's even more likely that the 9 justices will take up and decide on a case invalidating the practice during Clinton's term.

While Clinton has not been a leader on the issue, experts say they expect she would get there eventually.

"Fewer and fewer Americans are confident that the government can be counted on. And where public opinion goes, political leaders eventually catch up," wrote Frank Baumgartner, a UNC-Chapel Hill researcher who has created a statistical index of public support for capital punishment. His analysis shows public opinion is currently at an all-time low.

"One of the things successful politicians are good at is figuring out in what direction public opinion is going," said Robert Durham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "And they can either lead public opinion to try to change it, or they can ride public opinion for their own gain."

Henry Giles, for one, is grateful that Clinton took a stand against the death penalty early in her career. Giles recently celebrated his 62nd birthday from Brickeys maximum security prison, the 44th birthday he has celebrated behind bars. Though he called his life sentence a slower death penalty, he remains grateful that he escaped the electric chair.

"Sometime I think back to the old days, and how life been for me," he wrote in a letter. "Yes it hurt real bad. It really make you cry inside. Know [sic] family to call you [since] my mom + dad pass while I was here. The rest of them, god only know where. But you know I give thank to almighty god for every day. That I am able to get up and enjoy life. That really a blessing. Smile."

Source: thinkprogress.org, May 25, 2016

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