Thursday, April 24, 2014

Florida executes Robert Hendrix

Robert Hendrix
STARKE, Florida — Florida executed a man by lethal injection at 6:21 p.m. Wednesday at Florida State Prison in Starke. Robert Hendrix declined to make a final statement before the lethal drugs were administered.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied Hendrix's last-minute request for a stay without comment. He ate a last meal of pork chops, sausage gravy and biscuits, German chocolate cake and a soft drink, state corrections officials said.

Robert Hendrix was convicted of the 1990 murders of Elmer and Michelle Scott at their Lake County home.

Prosecutors said Hendrix killed the couple because Elmer Scott intended to testify against him. But Hendrix's attorney said there was no forensic evidence linking his client to the murders and that the witnesses against him were unreliable.

Hendrix becomes the fourth person executed in Florida this year and the 16th since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011.

Evidence in the case showed Hendrix shot Scott in the face in his trailer home, hit him in the head with the gun and stabbed him in the neck the night before Hendrix's trial in the armed burglary case was to begin in August 1990. Hendrix then used a knife to cut the throat of Scott's wife, Michelle, who fought back before Hendrix shot her three times, they added.

Scott had already made a plea deal with prosecutors in the armed burglary case in which he and Hendrix broke into a house but only Scott was caught. His cooperation led investigators to arrest Hendrix. In the weeks leading up to his trial, prosecutors say, Hendrix told friends he would kill Scott rather than return to prison

Hendrix attorney Harry Brody said the presiding judge had a conflict of interest, Hendrix's trial lawyer was ineffective at presenting mitigating circumstances during sentencing and that Hendrix was shackled during his trial, leading jurors to a biased impression that he was dangerous.

During sentencing, Hendrix's attorneys failed to call witnesses who could have testified that Hendrix was regularly beaten by his father and had a serious drug addiction, factors that could explain his unbalanced mental state, according to court papers filed by Hendrix.

Hendrix becomes the 5th condemned inmate executed by Florida this year and the 16th since Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011, and the 86th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1979.

Hendrix becomes the 19th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1378th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: The Republic, Agencies, Rick Halperin, April 23, 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

American gets death sentence for drug trafficking in Vietnam

State media say a court in Vietnam has sentenced an American to death for heroin trafficking.

The Liberated Saigon newspaper says Jason Dinh, 41, was convicted of trafficking 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of heroin at a one-day trial by Ho Chi Minh City's People's Court on Tuesday.

The paper said Wednesday that Dinh was arrested last June after customs officials found the heroin hidden in his underwear as he was boarding a flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Australia.

The report quoted the indictment as saying Dinh was hired by an unidentified man to carry the heroin for $30,000.

Court officials were not available for comment Wednesday.

Vietnam has some of the world toughest drug laws, where possessing or trafficking 100 gram of heroin carries the death penalty.

Source: KRMG news, April 23, 2014

Iran: Hassan Rouhani says hangings are “God’s commandment” and “law of the people”

Public execution in Iran
NCRI - As international protests against the rising trend of group and arbitrary executions in Iran become stronger every day, Hassan Rouhani, the clerical regime's president, describes the anti-human and anti-Islamic executions in Iran as “God’s commandments” or “laws of the people”.

In fear of the rage and abhorrence of the Iranian people regarding these anti-human verdicts, Hassan Rouhani approves the executions but he says that the victims not to be mistreated at the time of their execution.

Speaking to commanders of the Iranian regime's State Security Forces on Saturday, he said: “when someone is condemned to death and he comes to the gallows according to the law, then we have no right to insult him as he is being taken to the gallows… in any case, the law has condemned him and he is punished and this has nothing to do with us. It is either the commandment of God or a law approved by the parliament that belongs to the people and we only execute it (Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Qods Force – April 19).

Remarks by Hassan Rouhani comes at the time that the number of executions since he taken office President has surpassed 700 and according to the report by four UN Special Rapporteurs, the number of prisoners executed in just two and a half months since the beginning of 2014 has reached 176.

The Iranian Resistance calls on the UN Secretary-General and the Security Council to adopt immediate and binding measures against the escalating trend of group and arbitrary executions in Iran that is a disgrace to humanity in the 21st century. Silence and inaction in face of these anti-human measures emboldens this regime in its massacres and executions and is tantamount to collaboration.

Missouri executes William Rousan

William Rousan
BONNE TERRE, Mo. — Missouri executed an inmate early Wednesday who was convicted of killing a farming couple in 1993 as part of a plot to steal their cows.

William Rousan's last words were, "My trials and transgressions have been many. But thanks be to my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, I have a new home in his heavenly kingdom."

Before he was killed, Rousan, 57, mouthed words to his brother-in-law and a minister he had invited to his execution. As the drug was administered, he breathed deeply twice and then was still. He was declared dead at 12:10 a.m., nine minutes after the procedure started.

Prosecutors say Rousan, his teenage son, Brent Rousan, and his brother, Robert Rousan, murdered Charlie and Grace Lewis on Sept. 21, 1993 as part of a plot to steal their cows. Brent Rousan is serving life in prison without parole, and Robert Rousan served seven years in prison before being released in 2001.

The slain couple's son and two daughters were among those who witnessed the execution, which took place only a few miles from where their parents were killed. Their son, Michael Lewis, spoke afterward.

"I draw no real satisfaction from Mr. Rousan's incarceration or execution, for neither can replace or restore the moments lost with my parents or give my sons back the grandparents they never got to know," he said.

Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Rousan's request to delay his execution.

Efforts to spare Rousan's life hinged an argument that has held little sway over the courts — concerns about the secrecy used to obtain the execution drug, and the possibility that a substandard drug could cause pain and suffering in the execution process.

Missouri has executed one death row inmate each month since November. Another Missouri inmate, Russell Bucklew, is scheduled for execution on May 21.

Rousan becomes the 4th Missouri condemned inmate to be put to death this year and the 74th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1989. Only Texas (515), Oklahoma (110), Virginia (110) and Florida (85) have executed more inmates since the death penalty was re-legalized in the US on July 2, 1976.

Rousan becomes the 18th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1377th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Source: The Kansas City Star/AP, April 22, 2014

Missouri inmate's lawyers call on Supreme Court to halt execution

William Rousan's attorneys say wall of secrecy around lethal injection drugs amounts to cruel and unusual punishment

Lawyers representing a death row inmate in Missouri who is scheduled to be put to death shortly after midnight tonight with a drug whose source is being kept secret are calling on the US supreme court to step in and stop the execution.

William Rousan's attorneys argue that the impenetrable wall of secrecy surrounding the lethal injection drugs that the state of Missouri intends to use amounts to a violation of his constitutional rights. The defence team, lead by Philip Horwitz, argues that in the absence of any information about the batch of pentobarbital the state intends to use to kill Rousan, or about where the drug was obtained, the prisoner could be subjected to a form of cruel and unusual punishment banned under the US constitution.

The call for a stay of execution for Rousan - who would be the 6th inmate to be put to death by Missouri in as many months - comes just 1 day after the supreme court of Oklahoma postponed 2 executions. Clayton Lockett, 38, and Charles Warner, 46, were temporarily spared the gurney after a state court found that the secrecy surrounding the procurement of lethal drugs was unconstitutional.

A district court judge, Patricia Parrish, ruled on 26 March that by withholding information on where it was obtaining the drugs, the state of Oklahoma was violating the prisoner's right to due process as set out in the 14th amendment of the US constitution. "I do not think that this is even a close call," she said.

With intense legal action in Missouri, hard on the heels of the stay of execution ordered in Oklahoma, the issue of state secrecy in death penalty states is now reaching boiling point. Courts in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas have also expressed misgivings about the creeping spread of secrecy adopted by death penalty states as a way of skirting around a European-lead boycott of corrections departments in the supply of lethal drugs.

So far, the US supreme court has tried to stay out of the bitter legal struggle. But death penalty experts suspect that unless a consensus forms between states, the highest judicial panel in the nation will eventually be forced to intervene.

"The US supreme court really wants to avoid this issue, which it sees as a matter for individual states," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "But there are basic constitutional issues at play here of due process, and if there is a clear contradiction among the rulings handed out at state level, then the supreme court may have to step in."

Such a contradiction is most likely to be seen in Missouri, where the courts have so far shown no truck with the argument that secrecy is a violation of fundamental rights. The state has extended its definition of the execution team to include pharmacists and other suppliers that sell lethal drugs to the corrections department, thus throwing a cloak of total secrecy around the supply chain.

Such secrecy is desired by death penalty states, because where the identity of the pharmacist or manufacturer becomes known, the source frequently chooses to stop providing the drugs for fear of adverse public attention. Earlier this year it was revealed that a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based pharmacy had been compounding pentobarbital and shipping it to Missouri for use in executions.

But Missouri's cloak-and-dagger approach to its executions has already provoked sharp criticism from some senior judges. In February, Kermit Bye, a federal judge on the 8th circuit court of appeals, said caustically that "from the absolute dearth of information Missouri has disclosed to this court, the 'pharmacy' on which Missouri relies could be nothing more than a high school chemistry class."

Barring a last-minute stay from the US supreme court or from the Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, Rousan, 57, will be executed at 12.01am tomorrow morning. He was convicted of the 1993 murder of a couple, Grace and Charles Lewis, on a farm outside Bonne Terre.

Source: The Guardian, April 21, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Would Alabama bring back electric chair?

It wasn't immediately clear that the execution had gone wrong.

All Stephen Ellis could see from the viewing room of Holman Correctional Facility's execution chamber was his client, Horace Dunkins, twitching and jerking after being administered up to 2000 volts of electricity.

Almost 10 minutes passed early on the morning of July 14, 1989. 2 medical personnel examined Dunkins, a mentally retarded man convicted of the 1980 rape and murder of Lynn McCurry, a 26-year-old mother of 4. Minutes passed. Ellis, now an attorney in Vermont, said in an interview last week that "the reality of the situation" slowly dawned on those present.

After an officer opened a door to the death chamber, reporters overheard him saying to a 2nd officer, "I believe you've got the jacks on wrong." Corrections officials later confirmed that the wires had not been properly connected to the chair. Despite a shock that appeared to have rendered Dunkins unconscious, his heart was still beating.

The disconnection required the switch to be thrown a 2nd time. 10 minutes later - and 19 minutes after the execution began - Dunkins was pronounced dead.

"It's impossible to imagine how unbearably painful it was to experience that level of voltage when that level of voltage that was intended to be lethal, but wasn't," Ellis said. "It's impossible that it wasn't painful."

The legacy of 'Yellow Mama'

The electric chair, colloquially known as "Yellow Mama," was Alabama's primary means of execution from 1927 to 2002; Dunkins was one of 24 people executed in the chair after the state resumed executions in 1983, following an 18-year hiatus.

Initially seen as a humane alternative to hanging, stories of its effects on the condemned - including loss of bodily functions; roasting, stinking flesh and, in some cases, the expulsion of eyeballs - suggested the opposite.

Alabama was the last state to use the chair as a primary method of execution, switching to lethal injection in 2002. Supporters of the death penalty call the method more humane. But Alabama has run out of pentobarbital, the 1st drug in the 3-drug execution "cocktail," which sedates inmates before 2 lethal drugs are administered.

Attempts to pass legislation to encourage manufacture of the drug by keeping the names of those involved a secret failed to pass the Legislature in the recently-concluded session.

Supporters of the bill, including Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, repeatedly warned that without it, the state would have to shift back to electrocution.

"By opposing this bill and killing this bill, we're ensuring the state goes back to the system of the electric chair," said Ward, a death penalty supporter, on the last day of the session. "I would personally believe there is a more humane system of using the death penalty than going back to the electric chair."

The Department of Corrections says it is prepared to bring back the chair if lawmakers so desire. But it isn't as easy as plugging Yellow Mama back in. Both supporters and opponents of the death penalty agree that bringing back the chair would trigger a host of legal challenges, and likely lengthen Alabama's unofficial hiatus on executions.

Alabama currently allows condemned prisoners the option of dying in the electric chair, if they submit their request in writing to a warden. None of the 32 individuals executed since lethal injection was introduced in 2002 have done so. But Brian Corbett, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections, said corrections staff goes through "regular exercises" in the use of execution methods, including the electric chair.

"Everything is still the same," he said. "Nothing's changed."

Bringing the chair back would first require amendments to the state's execution statute. But supporters of capital punishment, including Ward, would much rather revive the death penalty secrecy bill at the start of the 2015 Legislative Session than bring back the electric chair. Still, the possibility lingers.

"I think it would be there if lethal injection was derailed or killed," he said. "But I just don't see a way."

Janette Grantham, state director of VOCAL, a victims' rights advocacy group, said her group supported lethal injection, but "did not particularly care" which method was used, as long as the capital sentences were carried out.

"I've been to several executions with lethal injection," she said. "It's very easy to die. They look like they're going to sleep and being taken off to surgery."

The shortage of drugs has affected executions nationwide, and some states have openly discussed the possibility of moving to revive the electric chair. Last week, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to restore the electric chair if drugs to carry out lethal injection were unavailable. The bill needs to be reconciled with a version that passed the Tennessee Senate earlier this month.

Possibility of court challenges

But returning to the electric chair would almost certainly lead to a host of legal challenges.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of lethal injection in a 2008 decision. The high court has not ruled on the nature of electrocution since 1890, when it decided the appeal of William Kemmler, a New Yorker who was the first man sentenced to die in the electric chair.

In its decision, In re Kemmler, the court defined cruel punishment as "involving torture or lingering death." Although the court did not directly address electrocution in the case - the justices effectively said they had to abide by New York's determination it was not cruel or unusual, as they could not apply the Eighth Amendment to the states - the case is widely seen as granting constitutionality to the electric chair. The U.S. Supreme Court did not explicitly apply constitutional prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment to the states until 1962.

The high court did agree to hear a challenge to Florida's use of the electric chair in 1999, following a series of grisly malfunctions during executions, but the case was dropped after the state switched its primary method of execution to lethal injection.

Some state supreme courts, including those of Georgia and Nebraska, have found the electric chair constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, but "those things are not binding outside their borders," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Besides lethal injection, the U.S. Supreme Court has only ruled directly on the constitutionality of 1 other method of execution - in 1878, it upheld the use of firing squads in executions.

A federal court struck down use of the gas chamber in California executions in 1996; the state amended its death penalty statute to include lethal injection before the Supreme Court could take up the case.

Alabama's death penalty statute contains a provision that says if lethal injection or electrocution are ever found unconstitutional, "all persons sentenced to death for a capital crime shall be executed by any constitutional method of execution," which, presumably, would mean the firing squad.

However, Dieter notes that the idea of "evolving standards" on what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, stemming from a 1958 U.S. Supreme Court decision, could bear on any challenge to the electric chair.

"It would definitely land in court, in multiple courts and over multiple years," he said. "Whoever's going to do this, I could easily see this going to the Supreme Court. If anything, the situation would be more ripe now. It's even more unusual."

That, said Ward, was one of the reasons he wanted to see the state find a way to restore lethal injection.

"We have modern day technology that if we're going to have a death penalty, it's going to provide a much more constitutional way of carrying out executions," he said.

For those on different sides of the issue, it can be personal.

Janette Grantham's brother, Coffee County Sheriff Neil Grantham, was killed on March 1, 1979, by a former inmate as Grantham stood in the entrance of the Coffee County Jail. The sentence of the man convicted of his murder, Billy Joe Magwood, has been commuted, because of procedural issues at his 1st trial. Janette Grantham said she "did not really understand" the concerns over the methods of execution, saying she simply wanted the sentences carried out.

"People so against it shouldn't have a say-so," she said. "They haven't been through it. They don't know how it would feel."

For Ellis, an opponent of the death penalty, Dunkins' execution capped a difficult process. The jury that convicted Dunkins never heard direct evidence of his mental retardation. In an affidavit signed about a week before Dunkins' execution, a juror said she never would have voted for the death sentence had she known.

"It's not an abstract thing to me," Ellis said. "I have very visceral memories of being there. And it being a botched execution underscored the inhumanity of what was taking place."

Source: Montgomery Advertiser, April 21, 2014

Iran: Five prisoners hanged in Gohardasht prison - report

(file photo)
NCRI - The Iranian regime hanged five prisoners including a 68 year-old man on Tuesday in Gohardasht prison in city of Karaj.

The prisoners were among a group of six who had been transferred to solitary cells from sections 3,4 and 6 of the prison.

The names of four of the victims are: Ali-asghar Kokabi, 68, Hormoze Rezaei, 33, Farhad Mullah-hassani, 28, Akbar Nobakht Saran, 37.

Meanwhile, a 24 year-old man was hanged on Monday in the main prison in north-eastern city of Mashhad, state-run daily Khorasan reported.

Source: NCRI, April 22, 2014

Juvenile Offender Executed in Northern Iran- Four Juvenile Executions in Four Days

Iran Human Rights, April 22, 2014: According to reports from Iran a juvenile offender identified as “Ebrahim Hajati” was hanged in the Vakilabad prison of Mashhad on Sunday April 20. 

Ebrahim was convicted of murdering Abdollah (19) under a fight in a village outside Mashhad four years ago. At that time Ebrahim was 16 year old. He was sentenced to qesas (qisas; retribution in kind), and his execution was carried out on Sunday 22. April 2014.

Last week Iran Human Rights (IHR) reported about execution of three juvenile offenders in Bandar Abbas. So far in 2014 at least six juvenile offenders have been executed in Iran.

IHR strongly condemns execution of juvenile offenders by the Iranian authorities. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the spokesperson of IHR said: These executions are clear violations of Iran’s international obligations. We urge the international community, especially the United Nations to react to the ongoing execution of juveniles in Iran”.

Iran has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which bans death penalty for the offences committed under 18 years of age. In 2013 at least 8 juvenile offenders were executed and so far in 2014 at least 6 juvenile offenders have been executed in Iran.

Source: Iran Human Rights, April 22, 2014

Missouri inmate seeks execution stay after Oklahoma drug secrecy case

Lawyers for a Missouri death row inmate on Tuesday were seeking to halt his execution over concerns about the state's secret lethal injection drugs a day after an Oklahoma court stopped two executions there over similar issues.

William Rousan, 57, is scheduled for execution at 12.01am CST on Wednesday. Rousan was convicted of murdering 62-year-old Grace Lewis and her 67-year-old husband, Charles Lewis, in 1993 in a plot to steal the farm couple's cattle.

Attorneys for Rousan have argued that Missouri's secret execution drugs could cause undue suffering. The eighth US circuit court of appeals on Monday rejected Rousan's appeal, and the case was headed to the US supreme court.

The action follows a decision issued on Monday by the Oklahoma supreme court that halted the executions of Clayton Lockett, scheduled for Tuesday, and Charles Warner, scheduled for April 29. The court said the inmates had the right to have an opportunity to challenge the secrecy over the drugs Oklahoma intends to use to put them to death.

Source: The Guardian, April 22, 2014

Oklahoma high court stays executions amid questions over drug secrecy

The Oklahoma supreme court on Monday stayed the executions of two men who challenged the constitutionality of the state's execution drug secrecy.

"We are relieved, and extremely grateful to the Oklahoma supreme court for its reasonable decision to stay the scheduled executions ... With today's stay, the Oklahoma supreme court will be able to fully adjudicate the serious constitutional issues about the extreme secrecy surrounding lethal injection procedures in our state," their attorneys Susanna Gattoni and Seth Day said in a statement following the decision.

Clayton Lockett was scheduled to die at 6pm on Tuesday, and Charles Warner on April 29.

The court in a 5-4 decision said the stay is issued until "final determination of all issues presently pending before this court ... along with all issues that may be brought by [the corrections department] ... and any legal challenges that may arise as a result of this court's resolution of those issues are actively litigated."

The inmates have sued over the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s secrecy about execution drugs, and an Oklahoma county district court judge has ruled that keeping the source of the drugs confidential is a violation of their rights. The state is defending a law that allows it to keep the source of the drugs secret, on the argument that suppliers would be in danger if their identities were made public.

Source: The Guardian, April 21, 2014

This Man Is About to Die Because an Alcoholic Lawyer Botched His Case

What does it take for a condemned person to win a resentencing?

When people recount their alcohol consumption after a night on the town, or even a serious bender, they usually think about it in terms of drinks. Very rarely do they calibrate their intake in quarts. So most of us don't have a good sense of just how much a quart of vodka is—a bit more than 21 shots, as it turns out. That's the amount of alcohol lawyer Andy Prince consumed every night during the death penalty trial of his client, Robert Wayne Holsey, a low-functioning man with a tortured past who now stands on the brink of execution in Georgia.

When a person drinks that heavily, there's bound to be collateral damage—and for Prince and his clients the damage was profound. Once a skilled lawyer, Prince already had dug himself a very deep hole by the time Holsey went to trial in February 1997. But the signs of his downward spiral were clear 14 months earlier, back in December 1995, when a Baldwin County judge first assigned him the case. Prince had recently defaulted on a $20,000 promissory note, and Bell South and Vanguard Financial had won separate judgments against him totaling an additional $25,000. And then there was the probate fiasco: In June 1994, a client named Margaret Collins had hired Prince to handle the estate of her deceased common-law husband, which was valued at $116,000. Within a year there was almost nothing left—Prince had spent it all. He never really considered it stealing, he later insisted. He'd always intended to pay the money back when that one big civil case came along.

His deterioration emerged in other troubling ways. In June 1996, after six months as Holsey's lawyer, Prince got into an argument with neighbors at his apartment complex, cursing at them—"Nigger, get the fuck out of my yard or I'll shoot your black ass"—and threatening them with a gun. He was a white lawyer defending a black man in the high-profile murder of a white police officer, but nowhere in the Holsey case record was there ever a suggestion that he might be unfit to handle the case. He was simply charged with two counts of pointing a pistol at another, two counts of simple assault, two counts of disorderly conduct, and, of course, public drunkenness.

For Prince, it all came back to alcohol. Three months before he wrote the first of many checks against the estate, conduct that eventually put him in prison, he was hit with a complaint from the Athens Regional Medical Center for his failure to pay more than $10,000 for an inpatient substance abuse program he'd attended in 1993. But the drinking began long before that. By 14 he already had a problem with it, and by his late 30s, he'd lost his battle with alcoholism countless times.

Prince was by no means the first drunk to handle a death penalty trial. There are plenty of well-documented examples. Also of drug-addicted lawyers, lawyers who refer to their clients by racial slurs in front of the jury, lawyers who nap through testimony, and lawyers who don't bother to be in court while a crucial witness is testifying. There are lawyers who have never read their state's death penalty statute, lawyers who file one client's brief in another client's death penalty appeal without changing the names, lawyers who miss life-or-death deadlines, and lawyers who don't even know that capital cases have separate determinations of guilt and punishment. (See "10 Ways to Blow a Death Penalty Case.")

There are enough of these cases on record that most people in the legal profession no longer find them particularly shocking. What is more shocking, though, is how commonly courts and prosecutors are willing to overlook these situations as they occur, and how doggedly they try to defend the death sentences that result. Trial judges, of course, are often the ones who appointed the lawyers in question. And prosecutors have little motivation to demand that their courtroom adversaries be qualified and effective. It's a flawed system that often results in flawed verdicts. For a clear window into it, we need look no further than the Holsey case.

Source: Mother Jones, Mark Bookman, April 22, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Crucify Them! Lessons from Holy Week on Capital Punishment

Standing in a dimly lit Greek Orthodox Church this week with my mother, I was confronted with the icon of Christ crucified. As the life-size cross with a hand painted icon of Christ was solemnly carried by the priest around the Church, I, along with many in the Church, was overcome with grief. The faithful wept for the crucified one who is considered by over a billion humans to be God incarnate.

However, I did not weep for God. I wept for the "others." The poor, the homeless, the people of color and minorities of all varieties and stripes, Women, those who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer and Transgender, along with the millions incarcerated in America and around the world. On that cross was a Jesus who for me symbolizes all those who are oppressed and exploited.

I could not help but see this ancient ritual as a commentary on our modern society. Massive crowds chanting for crucifixion of an innocent man whose only crime was that he sought to abolish all forms of state and religious authority and, instead, create a horizontal society of inclusion and mutual aid, where all were equal.

How fitting since this week we are not only commemorating Passover for the Jewish People and Easter for Christian communities but also the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing. All of these have a common thread which binds them: confronting the hatred, misunderstanding and prejudice of some with the resilience and love of others. The story of the exile of the Jews with that of Jesus and the people of Boston is one of leading people from darkness of oppression to the light of love and solidarity.

Yet, on Thursday April 17th, the day in which some of the Christian Churches commemorate the Crucifixion of Christ, the Senate of New Hampshire failed to repeal the death penalty by a single vote. Here we are, almost 2000 years after the crucifixion of Jesus and countless others by the Roman Empire and we are still sentencing people to death. How can faithful and non-faithful alike justify a horrific practice?

The United States carried out more state sanctioned executions than North Korea and Yemen over the past few years. Additionally, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Where is the outcry of the faithful filling their places of worship to pray and be together? Where are the Christians who are weeping for an executed Lord fighting for the millions of oppressed and exploited?

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone writing on behalf of Pope Francis reiterated the Holy Father's complete commitment to abolishing capital punishment. Cardinal Bertone writes, "Today, more than ever, it is urgent that we remember and affirm the need for universal recognition and respect for the inalienable dignity of human life, in its immeasurable value." This not only leaves room for reconciliation and love, but to understand the true face of crime and confront its root causes.

Also this week we were made aware of a powerful story about forgiveness. In Iran, a state which tops the list along with China and Saudi Arabia in terms of carrying out executions, one execution did not go according to plan.

In a powerful display of forgiveness and love, the parents of the victim who were helping to carry out the execution of their sons' killer, stopped the execution as the noose was tightened and spared the life of the perpetrator. Is this not how we can reconcile and repair the world?

Source: Dissident Voice, Christopher Helali. Mr. Helali is Adjunct Professor of History at MassBay Community College

USA: Where the Death Penalty Stands

Yesterday, the New Hampshire state Senate deadlocked on a bill that would have eliminated the state's death penalty, killing the bill for the moment and leaving New Hampshire as the only state in New England that still has a law providing for executions. The bill had already passed in the state House of Representatives and has the support of the governor, so one more vote would have passed it. I thought this was a nice opportunity to look at the state of the death penalty in America and around the world. On to the charts and graphs!

As of now, 32 states still have the death penalty, and 18 (plus the District of Columbia) have eliminated it. 6 of those 18 - Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York - eliminated their death penalties just since 2007. Even in some states that have death penalty laws on the books, capital punishment has all but disappeared. Kentucky, for instance, has executed only three prisoners since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976; Colorado has executed only one. Other states are more, shall we say, enthusiastic about capital punishment. This GIF created by the Pew Research Center shows the quantity of each state's executions over that time. (Go to the link to see the execution explosion.)

Texas alone accounts for 515 of the 1376 executions in America during this period, or 37 %; Virginia and Oklahoma are tied at 110 apiece. But even Texas has been slowing down in recent years. Their annual total peaked at 40 executions in 2000 (George W. Bush attended to business before leaving for Washington), but in 2013 the state executed 16 prisoners. This follows a national trend.

Unfortunately, we're still among the world's top executioners. According to a recent report by Amnesty International, there has been a steady trend away from capital punishment; by the end of last year, 98 countries had officially abolished it. (The number was 85 ten years ago). But while only 22 countries executed prisoners in 2013, the number of executions rose over the previous year. There were 778 confirmed executions, 80 % of which took place in just three countries: Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Those numbers don't include China, which, it is believed, executes thousands of prisoners every year, but keeps the numbers secret.

That means we come in fourth among the world's countries in the number of prisoners we execute, after a communist dictatorship that hands out death sentences like parking tickets, 2 Islamic theocracies, and Iraq, a country still riven by terrorism and civil war a decade after we invaded and broke it to pieces. So congratulations on that.

Source: The American Prospect, Paul Waldman, April 18, 2014

Delhi high court to find if man on death row is capable of reform

In a rare exercise, the Delhi high court has ordered the behavioural examination of a rapist and murderer on death row, to find out if he is capable of reform or a threat to society.

On Thursday, a bench of justices S Muralidhar and Mukta Gupta upheld the conviction of a 56-year-old man for the gruesome rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl, calling the crime a work of "exceptional depravity".

However, before deciding if Bharat Singh deserves to be hanged, the court said it would inquire into his antecedents, his conduct in jail and take feedback from his family/friends for a comprehensive view.

"Is there a probability that, in future, the accused would commit criminal acts of violence as would constitute a continuing threat to society? Is there a probability that the accused can be reformed and rehabilitated?" the bench said while roping in a probation officer of the Delhi government.

HC asked the officer to inquire from the jail administration and seek a report on the man's conduct in jail." He has also been directed to meet the convict's family and the locals even if that means travelling to his hometown.

"The officer will seek their inputs on the behavioural traits of the accused with a particular reference to the two issues highlighted. He shall consult and seek specific inputs from two professionals with not less than 10 years' experience in clinical psychology and sociology," said the court before deferring its decision on sentencing to July 11.

HC invoked the Supreme Court to explain why it wanted more evidence on Singh's criminal antecedents. "The SC has been emphasizing the need for the trial court, faced with the question on whether to award the death penalty, to be satisfied with the probability the accused would not commit criminal acts of violence and the probability that the accused can be rehabilitated," it noted. Additional public prosecutor Varun Goswami highlighted the depravity of the act.

Source: The Times of India, April 20, 2014

Iran: Official confirms execution for bank fraud to proceed

Iran's Chief Auditor Nasser Seraj announced that there is no truth to rumours that a death sentence issued in the so-called $3-billion fraud case will be withdrawn.

Seraj, who acted as judge in the trial of Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, said: "A sentence that is issued and approved will no doubt be carried out."

IRNA reports that Seraj indicated that the authorities are continuing to trace the assets of Amir Khosravi, adding that the investigation is proceeding well.

The case, which has been referred to as the "biggest embezzlement case" in Iran's banking history, came to light in 2011, and 39 defendants were charged with misappropriating close to $3 billion; they're accused of using forged documents to obtain credit from banks to buy state-owned companies.

4 people were sentenced to death for the charge of "corruption on earth" including Amir Khosravi, and others were sentenced to prison terms of up to 25 years.

Mohammad Reza Khavari was the CEO of the country's largest bank, Melli Bank, and he remains a major suspect in this case, having fled to Canada as soon as the investigation became public.

Source: Radio Zamaneh, April 20, 2014

Pakistan: Asia Bibi appeals hearing delayed again, she's been jailed since 2009

Appeal proceedings have been delayed again in the case of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. This is the 3rd delays, now coming 1 month after the delay in March.

Lahore High Court Judges Sardar Tariq Masood and Abdul Sami Khan adjourned the case shortly after the hearing begun and arguments presented. Court sources said that a new date for the appeal is expected quickly in a case that began with the woman's arrested back in 2009.

For several months, extremist groups have also been making threats against the judges in order to pressure them to confirm the death penalty imposed by the lower court. However, the woman's lawyers said they remain confident and hopeful that the High Court will soon overturn her conviction and let her go.

In recent days, Pakistani Christians have promoted days of fasting and prayer on behalf of Asia Bibi and Sawan Masih, both of whom are innocent but sentenced to death under the infamous "black law".

The blasphemy laws say that "whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."

In 2009, Bibi was working for a Muslim landowner on a farm. The Muslim women told Asia about Islam, and Bibi responded by telling the Muslim women that Jesus is alive.

"Our Christ sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins...Our Christ is alive," she said.

She was then punished, charged with blasphemy and sentenced to hanging.

Source: The Global Dispatch, April 20, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Oklahoma Justices Send Execution Case To Lower Court

Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner have sued the state seeking more information about the drugs that would be used to kill them.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court says it is not the place for death-row inmates to go if they want a stay of execution.

Justices said Thursday that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals should take up stay requests from 2 inmates scheduled to die in the next 2 weeks. The appeals court had said previously it didn't have the authority because the inmates hadn't met all technical requirements under the law.

Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner have sued the state seeking more information about the drugs that would be used to kill them. They say they need stays of execution so they can continue their challenge.

The justices wrote that the Court of Criminal Appeals erred in not taking up the request.

Death penalty abolitionists and others who seek to end the death penalty will protest the executions of two death-row inmates on the days of their executions.

The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty will host "Don't Kill for Me" demonstrations at the governor's mansion followed by silent vigils on Tuesday for death-row inmate Clayton Lockett and on April 29 for Charles Warner.

The inmates have been in a legal battle with the state over the secrecy surrounding which drugs are used in executions and their origins. The executions are still scheduled to take place, despite pending litigation in the case.

Lockett was found guilty of the 1999 shooting death of a 19-year-old woman, Stephanie Nieman. Warner was convicted for the 1997 death of his roommate's 11-month-old daughter.

Source: Associated Press, April 18, 2014

Arthur Tyler, slated to die May 28 in controversial capital case, asks Ohio for mercy

Ohio Death Chamber
Arthur Tyler, who has been on Ohio's death row 3 decades for the murder of a produce vendor during a robbery in Cleveland, has asked the Ohio Parole Board to commute his sentence to life in prison with a chance of parole.

The parole board will hold a clemency hearing April 24 to hear Tyler's pleas. The board will make a recommendation to Gov. John Kasich, who will ultimately decide Tyler's fate.

He is scheduled to be executed May 28.

Tyler's case has been controversial because he was 1 of 2 people convicted in the killing of Sanders Leach, but the only one sentenced to die. And there are questions as to who actually pulled the trigger.

Tyler's co-defendant, Leroy Head, confessed almost immediately. Head admitted to police, family and friends that he shot Leach in a struggle for the gun during the March 1983 robbery attempt, according to court records.

He signed a confession, but later changed his story, telling prosecutors that Tyler fired the gun.

Tyler was convicted of aggravated murder and aggravated robbery and sentenced to die. Head pleaded guilty to the same charges and was sentenced to prison. He was released in 2008.

Tyler's lawyers, in a brief filed with the parole board, said Tyler recognizes he shares responsibility for Leach's death. But they urge clemency be granted, commuting his death sentence to life imprisonment with parole eligibility.

"Ideally, Arthur Tyler should be granted parole and released from prison for time served, they wrote. "As we will demonstrate, Arthur Tyler did not shoot Mr. Leach. Head falsely testified against Mr. Tyler in order to save himself from the death penalty."

Source:, April 18, 2014

Iran killer's reprieve stokes campaign against executions

The victim's parents (center, right),
moments before they spared the
life of their son's murderer.
It is Wednesday, early in the morning. Balal is walking to the gallows to face execution in the city of Nour, in northern Iran.

It is before sunrise but hundreds of people have gathered near the prison to watch it.

His mother and sisters are crying hard, but blindfolded Balal cannot see them as he steps on the wooden stool.

Some in the crowd start shouting "forgive him, forgive him". They are asking the family of the victim to pardon him.

Balal stabbed Abdollah Hosseinzadeh to death 7 years ago in a street fight. He was 19 at the time, Abdollah was 17.

The guards put the rope around Balal's neck. Now he cries hard.

As the dramatic scenes - captured in photographs by onlookers - unfold, the mother of Abdollah goes towards Balal and slaps him in the face.

Then, in front of the surprised crowd, she takes the rope from around his neck. She has forgiven her son's killer, sparing his life. Now even the police officers start crying.

The mother says she had a dream that her deceased son had asked her not to take revenge.

According to Iran's sharia laws, murder and several other crimes are punishable by death. But the victim's family has the right to spare a convict's life in return for 'blood money'.

For months, many Iranian celebrities had taken part in a campaign to save Balal's life. They started collecting money to pay compensation to the relatives.

Adel Ferdosipour, a famous television sports presenter, raised the issue in his popular show just days before the execution.

He called on people to ask Abdollah Hosseinzadeh's parents to pardon Balal. One million people texted the show and supported the campaign.

Ghani Hosseinzadeh, Abdollah's father, used to be a football player and many Iranian footballers called him in person.

He and his wife finally agreed to forgive Balal. They said they would build a football school under their son's name using the compensation collected.

But not all the people on death row in Iran have been as lucky as Balal.

Behnoud Shojaee was executed in Evin prison in 2009 when he was 21, although many Iranian actresses and actors started a campaign to save his life.

Behnoud was found guilty of killing a boy when he was 17 and the family of the victim refused to pardon him.

Iran is said to have the 2nd highest number of executions of any country in the world.

Public execution is common as the government believes it sets an example.

Iranian lawyer Afrouz Maghzi blames the high number of executions on the legal concept of "qisas" - a law based on the principle of "an eye for an eye" that gives victims the right to retaliate.

"Iran's law gives the family of the victim this right to kill another person.

"Everyone has the right to life, and no citizen should be given this permission to take it from another person."

Widespread debate

After saving Balal's life, Iranian campaigners are hopeful they will be able to save more.

Attentions are now focused on the case of Reyhaneh Jabbari, who is currently on death row. She killed a man in 2007 and claims she acted in self-defence after a sexual assault.

Even Asghar Farhadi, the Oscar-winning Iranian director, asked the victim's family to forgive the 26-year-old woman in the name of "humanity".

In his letter, the director - whose titles include A Separation - said Reyhaneh had played a short role in one of his films when she was a child.

This week Ahmed Shaheed, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, urged the country to stop Reyhaneh's planned execution.

He also published a report on 13 March, which condemned the execution of juveniles in Iran as well as the use of capital punishment for offences that do not classify as serious crimes under international law.

Balal and Reyhaneh's cases have provoked widespread debate in the country - especially on social media - about the use of capital punishment.

Iranian journalist Siamak Bahari praised the pardon of Balal in his blog, describing society as more united and "ready to pose new challenges against the death penalty".

He called the campaign "a historic decision by society against a system that was born with a noose".

Tahmineh Milani, a renowned Iranian filmmaker, has for years been donating money from her movies to victims' families as blood money in order to spare killers.

She told BBC Persian she also believes campaigners' success in Balal's case can lead to a change in the law.

"People should take their influence seriously, as each signature can change the destiny of a person," she said.

Source: BBC News, April 18, 2014

Belarus executes convicted murderer: rights group

Belarus has executed a man convicted of a gruesome double murder, a rights group said Friday, the latest case of capital punishment in the ex-Soviet country.

Pavel Selyun had been found guilty of murdering his wife and her lover in August 2012 after he found out they were having an affair.

He had decapitated the man and stuffed his body down a rubbish chute, but took his head with him as he fled town and still had it when he was arrested on a train.

Last year a court sentenced Selyun, 23, to death, a punishment that is usually carried out in secret by shooting in the back of the head.

The execution, the first of 2014, was apparently carried out in recent days, although Selyun's lawyer and family found out only on Friday.

"Today the mother of Pavel Selyun found out from the lawyer that the punishment had been carried out," rights group Viasna said in a statement. "The lawyer went to meet the defendant but was told by prison officials that Selyun 'had left in accordance with the sentence'."

"In other words, that means he was executed," it said.

Belarus is the only country in Europe to administer the death penalty.

Last September the Supreme Court confirmed the sentence in Selyun's case, however the defence filed a complaint over the decision and was awaiting a response when the execution took place.

Source: Global Post, April 18, 2014

Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty for Kansas Anti-Semitic Gunman

Former KKK leader Frazier Glenn Cross facing hate crimes charges; if found guilty could face death penalty.

Prosecutors filed a death penalty murder charge Tuesday against a white supremacist accused of fatally shooting 3 people at Jewish sites over the weekend, judicial sources said.

Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, was charged with 1 count of capital murder for the deaths of a 69-year-old physician and his teenage grandson outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City.

He also faces 1 count of 1st-degree murder for the death of a 53-year-old woman at the nearby Village Shalom retirement community where she was paying a weekly visit to her mother.

Cross was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., a spokeswoman for Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe told AFP by telephone.

Sunday's bloodshed - on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Pesach (Passover) - occurred in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. All 3 victims were Christian.

Local police, FBI agents and federal prosecutors said Monday they intended to pursue Cross for hate crimes, which under federal law calls for tougher sentencing.

Cross shouted "Heil Hitler" from the back of a police car when he was taken into custody Sunday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League described Cross as a North Carolina native and former US army Green Beret commando who, in the 1980s, founded and led the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party.

The center, which monitors hate groups, said Cross, a Vietnam war veteran, is well-known for espousing anti-Semitic and white supremacist views.

He spent 3 years in federal prison after being indicted on weapons charges and for plotting robberies and the murder of the law center's co-founder Morris Dees.

More recently, resettling in rural Aurora, Missouri, Cross helped launch a short-lived newspaper called The Aryan Alternative and "actively promoted his racist and anti-Semitic views online," the Anti-Defamation League said.

"I'm a patriotic white man... The only thing I ain't figured out is whether to hate all you (expletive) Jews or just the Zionists," Cross candidly told Kansas City television station KMBC in a 2006 interview.

Source: Israel National News, April 16, 2014