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

Friday, December 2, 2016

Jailed for 'insulting Islamic sanctities', Iranian filmmaker Keywan Karimi at risk of receiving 223 lashes

Iranian filmmaker Keywan Karimi
Iranian filmmaker Keywan Karimi
Iranian filmmaker Keywan Karimi who was jailed on November 23 after being summoned to start serving his prison sentence is at risk of receiving his flogging sentence of 223 lashes, Amnesty International said in an Urgent Action appeal on December 1.

Karimi, from Iran’s Kurdish minority, is a “prisoner of conscience,” the human rights group said.

The Urgent Action appeal said: “Although he had never received an official written summons, the Office for the Implementation of Sentences had repeatedly telephoned him since February 2016, ordering him to present himself to Tehran’s Evin Prison to begin serving his sentence. The authorities have also told him that they intend to implement his flogging sentence of 223 lashes.”

“Keywan Karimi had been on bail since December 2013. He had obtained a letter from doctors which certified that his mother was undergoing cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, and Keywan Karimi had hoped that the authorities would not summon him to serve his prison sentence before her course of treatment was complete. He had also wanted to remain at liberty long enough to finish making his latest film.”

“Keywan Karimi was arrested on 14 December 2013 and held for 12 days in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer in Section 2-A of Evin Prison, which is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards, before being released on bail.

In October 2015, following an unfair trial before a Revolutionary Court in Tehran, he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment on the charge of ‘insulting Islamic sanctities’ and 223 lashes on the charge of ‘illicit relations falling short of adultery’.

The former charge was imposed in connection with a music video clip the authorities found on his hard drive; the latter was brought against him for ‘shaking hands’ and ‘being under one roof’ with a female friend and poet ‘who had not covered her head and neck’.

On 20 February 2016, Keywan Karimi was told that an appeal court had upheld his flogging sentence and ruled that he must serve one year of his six-year prison sentence,” Amnesty added.

Source: NCRI, December 2, 2016

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Nie Shubin: China clears man 21 years after execution

Nie Shubin was killed by firing squad in 1995 at the age of 20
Nie Shubin was killed by firing squad in 1995 at the age of 20 after being
found guilty of killing a woman in Shijiazhuang, in Hebei province.
A Chinese man has had his conviction for rape and murder overturned, 21 years after he was executed.

Nie Shubin was killed by firing squad in 1995 at the age of 20 after being found guilty of killing a woman in Shijiazhuang, in Hebei province.

The supreme court ruled that the facts used in Mr Nie's trial were "unclear and the evidence insufficient".

Mr Nie's family, who have been campaigning for two decades to clear his name, have thanked his supporters.

Eleven years ago another man also said he had carried out the crime but the claim was rejected.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate of more than 99%.

The official number of executions are a state secret, but is believed to be in the thousands every year.

Rights groups allege that confessions used in court are forced or extracted under torture.

It is highly unusual for convictions to be overturned.

In 2014, Huugiilt, a teenager from Inner Mongolia was cleared of rape and murder, 18 years after his execution.

His parents were given 30,000 yuan ($4,850; £3,080) in compensation while 27 officials involved in his trial were later punished.

The BBC's John Sudworth in Beijing says Mr Nie's case is well-known in China.

Rather than a sign of the justice system's ability to right wrongs, many will see his exoneration as exposing continuing flaws and weaknesses in the justice system, he adds.

Source: BBC News, December 2, 2016

China court finds man executed 21 years ago innocent


Nie Shubin and his mother
Nie Shubin and his mother
BEIJING: China's top court on Friday (Dec 2) cleared a man executed 21 years ago for murder - more than a decade after another man confessed to the killing.

The case of Nie Shubin, who was 20 years old when he faced a firing squad in 1995 after being convicted of rape and murder, is the latest miscarriage of justice in the Communist-ruled country.

"The Supreme People's Court believes that the facts used in the original trial were unclear and the evidence insufficient, and so changes the original sentence to one of innocence," it said in a statement on a verified social media account.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate of 99.92 percent, and concerns over wrongful verdicts are fuelled by police reliance on forced confessions and the lack of effective defence in criminal trials.

Overseas rights groups say China executes more people than any other country, but Beijing does not give figures on the death penalty, regarding the statistics as state secrets.

Nie was convicted of raping and murdering a woman whose body was discovered by her father in a corn field on the outskirts of Shijiazhuang city, in the northern province of Hebei. But the time, method and motive for the murder could not be confirmed, and key documents related to witnesses and the defendant's testimony were missing, the supreme court said.

The "primary evidence was that Nie Shubin's confession of guilt corroborated the other evidence", but "there are doubts over the truth and legality of his confession of guilt", the statement added.

Nie's family had been campaigning for justice since a serial murderer arrested in 2005 confessed to the killing. But the case was only formally reopened in 2014.

"Thanks to all those who helped on Nie Shubin's case!" his mother, Zhang Huanzhi, 72, said on social media.

The Hebei high court, which convicted and executed Nie, "expressed deep, deep regrets" to his relatives and would investigate "possible illegal problems related to the trial" soon, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Source: Channel News Asia, December 2, 2016

China Exonerates Man It Executed for Murder in 1995


HONG KONG — China’s Supreme Court on Friday exonerated a man who had been executed for murder in 1995, in a dramatic example of the inequities in the country’s legal system and the authorities’ halting attempts to come to grips with them.

The man, Nie Shubin, was 20 when he was convicted of killing Kang Juhua, a woman who was raped and murdered in the northern province of Hebei in the summer of 1994. The local police arrested Mr. Nie soon after her body was found, and he confessed to the killing after days in detention. He was executed by gunshot in April 1995.

In 2005, Wang Shujin confessed to murdering Ms. Kang.
In 2005, Wang Shujin confessed to murdering Ms. Kang.
In 2005, another man, Wang Shujin, confessed to murdering Ms. Kang. But it took Mr. Nie’s family 11 more years of campaigning to clear his name before the Supreme Court did so on Friday. The court ruled that there had not been enough evidence to convict Mr. Nie and cast doubt on the authenticity of his confession.

Mr. Nie is not the first person to be posthumously exonerated by a Chinese court years after execution, but it is impossible to estimate how many have been wrongly put to death. Even the number of annual executions is a state secret; Amnesty International estimates that it is in the thousands, more than in any other country. They seem to have declined since 2007, after the Supreme Court began reviewing the implementation of the death penalty, the rights group said in a 2015 report.

Under President Xi Jinping, the government has been making efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system, with the overturning of wrongful convictions a key part of that effort. Prosecutors in China almost always secure a conviction, and confessions are often made under duress.

“To some extent, this shows the determination of the central leadership to genuinely address some unjust cases,” William Nee, a researcher for Amnesty International in Hong Kong, said Friday of Mr. Nie’s exoneration. “But the Chinese government also wants to ensure that it is seen by the public as redressing these emblematic cases of injustice, and thereby restore greater legitimacy for its troubled criminal justice system.”

Intentionally or not, that message was conveyed to the public by Nie Xuesheng, Mr. Nie’s father. A video by Pear Video, a news service, showed him wailing when he heard of his son’s exoneration on Friday. He vowed to visit his son’s grave the next day.

But he also added a political statement: “Thank you, President Xi Jinping,” Mr. Nie said. “Your ruling the country by law has brought me huge benefits. I give you a thumbs up.”

The Hebei High Court, which had upheld Mr. Nie’s murder conviction, expressed “sincere apologies” to his parents Friday on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. The court promised to improve and said it would begin the process of awarding compensation to the parents.

Legal experts say that despite some improvements in China’s criminal justice system, the underlying problem is that the system is not independent but controlled by the Communist Party.

Xu Xin, a lawyer and scholar in Beijing who studies capital punishment, said that meant that rulings were often made for political reasons. That was true in Mr. Nie’s case, he said. Part of the reason for the 11-year delay between Mr. Wang’s confession and Mr. Nie’s exoneration was resistance from the local police and prosecutors who handled the original case, Mr. Xu said.

“Those who have caused unjust cases do not want to redress them,” said Mr. Xu, who for years posted frequent messages on social media asking for Mr. Nie’s case to be reopened. “There still isn’t an independent judicial system. If we don’t have such a system, it is still difficult to avoid such cases.”

In addition, prosecutors wield enormous influence over the courts. Nationally, the conviction rate was more than 99.9 percent last year, drawing international condemnation.

Wrongful convictions are made more likely by periodic anti-crime drives, or “strike hard” campaigns. Mr. Nie was convicted and executed in the midst of one such campaign. Another is underway now in the far western region of Xinjiang, where thousands have been arrested in an attempt to tamp down unrest among Uighurs, an ethnic minority that calls the region home.

Huugjilt was only 18 at the time of his execution in 1996
Huugjilt was only 18 at the time of his execution in 1996.
Another exoneration of a man who had been executed years before came in 2014, in Inner Mongolia, a region of northern China. That man, an 18-year-old ethnic Mongolian named Huugjilt, had been put to death for murder in 1996; as in Mr. Nie’s case, another person later confessed to the crime.

Even as the Chinese authorities work to assure people that the courts are becoming more fair, the means for people to publicize injustices and bring them to court are being hobbled by a nationwide crackdown on lawyers who take up the causes of the powerless.

Since July 2015, hundreds of lawyers and rights activists have been swept up in a nationwide dragnet, as Mr. Xi seeks to stamp out a perceived threat to Communist Party rule. The latest known detentions happened just days ago.

“With the crackdown on lawyers and human rights defenders, and new regulations restricting the freedom of expression for lawyers, the government is stifling the type of advocacy that brought about this positive outcome in the Nie Shubin case,” Mr. Nee of Amnesty International said.

Source: The New York Times, December 2, 2016

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Ethel Rosenberg's sons plead with Obama to exonerate mom in spy case

Robert and Michael visited the White House in 1953 in a failed
bid to get President Eisenhower to stop their parents’ executions.
WASHINGTON -- The sons of convicted spy Ethel Rosenberg returned to the White House on Thursday, more than 50 years after pleading unsuccessfully to spare her life, in a last-ditch appeal to President Obama to exonerate her amid new evidence.

Rosenberg was executed in 1953 along with her husband, Julius, after being convicted of conspiring to pass secrets about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. But court records made public last year through a judge’s order cast doubt on the conventional narrative of a Cold War espionage case that captivated the country.

“This is our mother we’re talking about,” Robert Meeropol, one of Rosenberg’s two sons, said as he stood outside the White House gates. “Since we can’t bring her back to life, there could be nothing more satisfying to us than to have the government acknowledge that this shouldn’t have happened, that this was wrong.”

The new documents showed that Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, whose damning trial testimony against her and her husband helped secure the couple’s conviction, had never implicated his sister in an earlier appearance before a grand jury. The brother, David Greenglass, offered the grand jury no evidence of his sister’s direct involvement and said he never discussed such matters with his sister.

As young boys, Robert and Michael Meeropol visited the White House in 1953 in a failed bid to get President Dwight Eisenhower to prevent their parents’ executions. Half a century later, the brothers approached a guard booth outside the White House and asked to deliver their letter to Mr. Obama.

They were turned away by U.S. Secret Service. “OK, well, we tried,” Michael Meeropol said as he stood in the sun, peering through the gate at the West Wing. “Thank you very much, anyway.”

No matter, the brothers said. They’ve already sent a hard copy to Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and are hoping Mr. Obama will act before leaving office. The White House declined to comment.

Both brothers argued that a national reckoning over an erroneous execution is crucial, perhaps now more than ever.

“We have gone through cycles in our history of hysteria, targeting people, over punishing, framing people. We’re in danger of that happening again,” Michael Meeropol said. “Recognizing that in the past we’ve done things we shouldn’t have done might be a cautionary tale.”

The Meeropols are not seeking a presidential pardon, saying that would suggest their mother was guilty. They instead are seeking a public exoneration, akin to a 1977 statement by then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis on behalf of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants who were convicted in a 1920 murder. That proclamation said “any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed” from their names.

In an interview broadcast on CBS’ “60 Minutes” in October, the Meeropols told contributor Anderson Cooper that an exoneration would have personal and political meaning.

“Our mother was killed for something she did not do,” Robert Meeropol told Cooper. “She was taken away from us. That’s as personal as it can get. But, the fact that the government facilitated the invention of evidence in order to convict someone of a capital crime, that is something that should concern everybody.”

It’s not clear what action, if any, the Obama administration will take in its waning weeks. But Rosenberg’s supporters believe their prospects are dim once President-elect Donald Trump takes office, in part because Roy Cohn, once a lawyer for Mr. Trump, was a member of the Justice Department’s prosecution team against the Rosenbergs.

“The ghost of Ethel Rosenberg is going to haunt the White House once Donald Trump takes office,” Robert Meeropol said.

The Rosenbergs both maintained their innocence, though they requested only Ethel’s exoneration. The sons said that’s because they believe their father was guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage, though they argue he didn’t engage in atomic spying and shouldn’t have been executed.

Ethel Rosenberg’s supporters believe their cause was helped by the July 2015 release of Greenglass’ grand jury testimony, which a federal judge in New York unsealed in response to a request from historians and archivists following Greenglass’ death.

Michael, left, and Robert Meeropol, the sons of Ethel Rosenberg, pose with
an old photograph of them before they attempt to deliver a letter to President
Obama seeking a presidential action that would exonerate their mother.
That 1950 testimony conflicted with statements made a year later during the couple’s trial by Greenglass, who was indicted as a co-conspirator and was himself sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Greenglass said he had given the Rosenbergs research data he had obtained while working as an Army machinist at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, headquarters of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb.

He said he recalled seeing his older sister transcribing handwritten notes to give to the Soviets on a portable typewriter at the Rosenbergs’ New York apartment in 1945.

But the grand jury records show no mention of that and indicate he appeared to minimize his dealings with his sister.

Greenglass told the grand jury that Julius Rosenberg was adamant that he should continue with his Army service so he could “continue giving him information,” but when asked whether his sister, Ethel, was similarly insistent, he replied, “I said before, and say it again, honestly, this is a fact: I never spoke to my sister about this at all.”

Decades after the trial, Greenglass was quoted by a New York Times journalist as having admitted to lying at trial about his sister in order to protect his wife. In a May decision that ordered the records unsealed, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein noted that Greenglass said in his new statements that it was likely his wife, Ruth Greenglass, rather than Ethel Rosenberg, who typed up the notes that were passed to the Soviets.

The brothers were adopted following their parents’ executions and changed their last name.

Source: CBS News, December 1, 2016

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dylann Roof’s 'show trial' exhibits Justice Department at its worst

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Attorney General Loretta Lynch has a fleeting moment in time, before Dylann Roof’s show trial falls into deeper lunacy, to exercise strength, grace, and sound moral judgment on behalf of the United States government – by pulling the plug.

“Ms. Lynch chose to seek the death penalty after a contentious review process that included South Carolina’s top federal prosecutor siding with Mr. Roof’s defense lawyers in their offer of a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence,” writes The New York Times’ Alan Binder.

In the piece published Saturday, Binder observes: “the federal government’s decision to pursue Mr. Roof’s execution is widely questioned, and it is in defiance of the wishes and recommendations of survivors of the attack, many family members of the dead and some Justice Department officials.” 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a “show trial” as “a judicial trial held in public with the intention of influencing or satisfying public opinion, rather than ensuring justice.” In a sense, therefore, I’ll concede that U.S. v. Roof is unlike a “show trial.” 

Because, in addition to the many victims’ families (who, as Binder notes, don’t want the death penalty for Roof) the opinion of that segment of society most impacted by Roof’s heinous hate crime – black people – also, overwhelmingly, don’t want Roof killed on their behalf.

Instead, a University of South Carolina poll found “a majority of black South Carolinians – 64.7 percent – said Roof should be sentenced to life without parole if found guilty.” 

In an op-ed asserting “Dylann Roof Shouldn’t Get the Death Penalty,” Christina Swarns, director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote, “[a]lthough this crime was meant to challenge the black community’s right to exist, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund opposes the death penalty for Mr. Roof. Such a sentence would have the perverse effect of justifying the routine, racially discriminatory imposition of the death penalty on black people.”

The victims in the shooting were (top row, left - right) DePayne Middleton-Doctor,
Tywanza Sanders, Myrah Thompson, (center row) Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson,
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, (bottom row) Daniel Simmons, Clementa Pinckney
and Cynthia Hurd.
Poignantly and plaintively, writer Ta-nehisi Coates, demanded: “If the families of Roof’s victims can find the grace of forgiveness within themselves; if the president can praise them for it; if the public can be awed by it – then why can’t the Department of Justice act in the spirit of that grace and resist the impulse to kill?” 

But, even though Dylann Roof’s federal death penalty trial won’t show black people in this country anything they don’t already know – such as the fact that the United States justice system is uncaring, unfeeling, and downright hostile to their interests – it is still apt to call the proceedings a show trial, because: (1) it will, as South Carolina authorities have promised, all be painstakingly repeated again soon, in state court, in all of its gory, gruesome, bloody detail; (2) it needlessly promises to keep Roof’s name and dastardly deeds in the news for weeks, months, and years to come as his appeals work through the dysfunctional federal death penalty system (appeals that wouldn’t exist, or that would, at a minimum, be dramatically limited in scope if Roof were offered and accepted a plea in exchange for a life sentence without the possibility of parole); and, perhaps most outrageously, (3) this federal trial ginning up in South Carolina, with all its brutal, painful facts, and exorbitant high costs (emotional and economic), is being forced upon the victims, the victims’ families, Roof, the federal court system, and literally all of us, for reasons that have nothing to do with seeking justice for “The Emmanuel Nine.”

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Hill, Stephen Cooper, November 30, 2016

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Delaware Supreme Court to weigh fate of death row inmates

Delaware death chamber
Delaware's death chamber
Court to hear arguments over whether a ruling to end the death penalty should be applied to those still on death row.

Even though Delaware Supreme Court found the state's death penalty law unconstitutional in August, the debate over whether 12 men on death row should still be executed will heat up next week when arguments make it to a courtroom.

The court will have to decide whether its landmark ruling, which barred death sentences unless Delaware law is rewritten to comply with the U.S. Constitution, should be applied retroactively to those already on death row.

The top court is poised to hear arguments Dec. 7 in Dover from state prosecutors and attorneys representing Derrick Powell, a 29-year-old sentenced to death for the fatal shooting of Georgetown police officer Chad Spicer.

"The issue becomes, will the court apply the Constitution to everybody or invoke a procedural technicality to arbitrarily apply the decision to some but not others?" said Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.

Prosecutors will urge the five justices to not apply the court decision to the men on death row because of a long-standing rule against doing so after a criminal case is completed. Powell's attorneys will argue it would be draconian to execute him after the court already deemed the sentencing scheme unconstitutional.

The issue first arose when the U.S. Supreme Court in January struck down Florida's death penalty law saying it violated the U.S. Constitution by giving judges, and not juries, the final say to impose a death sentence.

Alabama and Delaware were the only other states that, like Florida, allowed judges to override a jury's recommendation of life.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, the state Supreme Court found that Delaware's capital punishment law was also unconstitutional.

The court, however, did not say in August whether its decision would apply to those on death row, leaving open the possibility of further litigation. Powell's case will be the test.

Powell is Delaware's youngest inmate on death row.

In September 2009, he and two men arranged to rob another man during a marijuana deal. The robbery attempt went awry, and Powell fired at the fleeing man in the parking lot of a Georgetown McDonald's, according to court documents.

The incident led to a police chase that ended when Powell fired a shot at a police car, fatally wounding the 29-year-old officer and father, court documents said.

Powell was found guilty of first-degree murder and other charges in February 2011. He was sentenced to death in May of that year.

When his case is heard by the Delaware Supreme Court next week, his attorneys, Patrick Collins and Natalie Woloshin, will argue that it would be "unjust" to execute Powell just because he had the misfortune of being sentenced to death before the Florida decision.

"This court should recognize that truth, and give meaning to the venerates phrase, 'death is different,' and vacate his sentence," his attorneys wrote in an argument filed with the court.

Chief of Appeals Elizabeth McFarlan and Deputy Attorney General John Williams argued in their own written brief that the court should use a U.S. Supreme Court case known as Teague v. Lane to determine that it is not appropriate to apply a new decision to closed cases.

Delaware has not wavered from the Teague rule against retroactivity for 26 years and should not start to now, they wrote.

"When criminal convictions are subject to later review because of subsequent legal changes, additional burdens are placed upon the state criminal justice system," they wrote. "This court recognized the burden of repeated review not just of convictions but also of sentences, in determining the retroactivity of a recent legislative change to permit concurrent sentencing under certain circumstances."

Powell's attorneys, however, said executing their client would be unfair and unjust. They pointed to other states, such as New York, Maryland and Connecticut, that had retroactively applied the decision to eliminate the death penalty to those already sentenced to death.

"In Delaware, as elsewhere, whether the abolition has come from the executive, legislative or judicial branch, the result has been the same: the existing death sentences have been vacated," they said. "Those decisions comport with a recognition of the awesome finality of death as a sentence and recognize that death is truly different. To do otherwise would be grossly irreconcilable with the norm, and moreover, would be repugnant to our status as an enlightened society."

Amicus briefs in support of Powell's position have been filed by several others, including an attorney for death row inmate Luis G. Cabrera, the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, and the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Delaware, which represents in some capacity 8 of the 12 individuals currently on death row.

Dunham said, if the court were to apply the decision retroactively, they could do so in a variety of ways. The court could apply its decision to all the cases pending on appeal since January, apply the decision to all the cases pending on appeal since a similar 2002 court decision, or they could apply the decision to all cases, regardless of the time frame or whether an appeal is pending.

"The obvious problem is that if you don't apply it to everybody, you are tolerating unconstitutional executions," he said. "The flip side is if you apply it retroactively, Delaware does not have any mechanism on the books to do resentencing hearings."

Source: Delaware Online, Jessica Masulli Reyes, November 30, 2016

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For January execution of Ricky Gray, Virginia plans to use drug involved in 3 botched executions elsewhere

Midazolam
On Jan. 18, if all goes according to plan, Virginia will execute Ricky Gray for killing a former Virginia Beach homecoming queen and her family in Richmond more than a decade ago.

Gray, whose only other option is the electric chair, will likely die by lethal injection. But the method the state uses to administer the deadly drugs is raising concerns and prompting Gray's lawyers to consider their response, including a potential court challenge.

The 3-drug combination that Virginia has chosen for the execution includes Midazolam, a drug that the state has never used before and that has been involved in botched executions elsewhere.

Furthermore, Virginia would become the 1st state in the country to use a version of Midazolam manufactured by a "compounding pharmacy" - one whose identity is not released to the public and which does not operate under the same federal regulations as the large drug makers.

"It hasn't been done before anywhere, and the drug is new to Virginia executions," said Rob Lee, one of Gray's lawyers and the executive director of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center.

Midazolam would be the 1st of the 3 drugs administered in the execution. State officials say other drugs previously used as the 1st in the process have become very difficult to get.

"Florida has used this 3-drug protocol many times, starting with a lethal injection on Oct. 15, 2013," said state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Kinney.

But the Midazolam used there wasn't made in secret by a compound pharmacy, said Megan McCracken, a lethal injection expert who works with the Death Penalty Clinic at the UC Berkeley School of Law. The drug's use in executions was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2015.

"It brings 2 sets of concerns together," McCraken said. "It's 2 significant changes that introduce risks of pain and suffering."

Gray was convicted of killing 49-year-old Bryan Harvey, 39-year-old Kathryn Harvey and their daughters, 9-year-old Stella and 4-year-old Ruby, on New Year's Day 2006. The family was bound and beaten and their throats cut in the basement of their suburban Richmond home, which was then set on fire.

Bryan was a well-known musician, and Kathryn was a former Cox High School homecoming queen who owned a toy store. In all, Gray and his nephew Ray Joseph Dandridge are linked to the killings of 9 people.

Gray was arrested 7 days after the murders and confessed to them. He told police he and Dandridge were looking for a house to rob and noticed the front door was open. After the killings, they stole a computer, wedding ring and basket of cookies.

Gray pleaded not guilty to the charges, arguing he should receive leniency because of evidence of physical and sexual abuse during his childhood and because he used PCP during the killings. He was found guilty in August 2006 and sentenced to death that October.

Virginia has executed 111 people since 1982, but only 6 since 2010. Currently there are 7 men, including Gray, on death row.

An execution date of March 16, 2016, was set in January but Gray was issued a stay in federal court to allow the U.S. Supreme Court to consider 2 petitions. The time for the Supreme Court to review those has now expired, and a circuit court judge earlier this month set Jan. 18, 2017, as Gray's execution date.

It was questionable whether the state could have executed Gray in March anyway.

For years the drugs used in executions nationwide have been harder and harder for states to obtain. Drug-makers do not want their names or their products associated with executions and have refused to sell them to states for that purpose.

That has led many states to turn to the compounding pharmacies, which make the drugs and then provide them to states in secret. Until this year, Virginia did not have a law allowing for the use of such drugs.

In February, during the legislative session, Corrections Department officials claimed that they did not have enough pentobarbital - then used as the 1st drug in the state's 3-drug cocktail - to execute Gray.

DOC officials had obtained 3 vials of pentobarbital from Texas last year, 1 of which was used to execute convicted murderer Alfredo Prieto. Though they had 2 unexpired vials left, state officials claimed they didn't have enough.

The Virginia Death Penalty Coalition, which opposes the death penalty, released a statement claiming that the state had the drugs it needed to kill Gray by using lethal injection and that the department's claim otherwise was designed to put pressure on state legislators to bring back the electric chair.

Inmates condemned to die in Virginia can choose between lethal injection and the electric chair, but the state must use lethal injection if an inmate refuses to make the choice. That meant that if the drugs weren't available, Gray could have refused to choose a method of execution and the execution could not move forward.

The General Assembly passed a bill allowing the state to choose the electric chair as its method of execution. Rather than sign the bill, McAuliffe amended it to allow state officials to obtain execution drugs made by compound pharmacies in secret.

McAuliffe, a Democrat who supports capital punishment, said at the time that his plan was essential to ensure that the death penalty continues without resorting to the electric chair.

"These manufacturers will not do business in Virginia if their identities are to be revealed," McAuliffe said at a news conference.

In addition to being the first using Midazolam obtained in secret, Gray's execution would also be the 1st under the new law.

"The ongoing issue," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, "is how do you assure that the drug is as advertised when you don't know the producer or what its safety record is? How can a prisoner be offered an alternative way of being executed if he doesn't know what the source of the drugs is and the state is the only one with that information?"

Gray requested additional information about the execution process from the state, which refused to provide it.

At a hearing Nov. 21, a judge declined to force the state to release more information about its process.

Lee said he is considering appealing the ruling.

In a 3-drug protocol execution, the 1st drug is supposed to render the condemned person unconscious, the 2nd to paralyze him and the 3rd to stop his heart.

1 of the problems with using Midazolam is that it is not an anesthetic, but an anti-anxiety drug, McCracken said.

In 2 of the botched executions using the drug - that of Joseph Wood in Arizona in July 2014 and Dennis McGuire in Ohio in January 2015 - Midazolam was part of a 2-drug cocktail. The botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014, in which there were problems inserting an IV to get the drugs into his bloodstream, used 3 drugs.

In all 3 cases, the condemned man at first appeared to be unconscious, then gasped for air or struggled in pain.

"It's not used to maintain anesthesia," McCracken said. "So with the 3 botched executions using Midazolam, 1 of the similarities ... is the person initially loses consciousness or appears to and then regains consciousness."

In all of those, the potency of the drug being used was known because it was made by drug makers, not at a compound pharmacy, McCracken said. If Gray is executed using a compound version of Midazolam in January, no one will know the potency of the drug, she said.

"There is a lot of science out there that this is an inappropriate drug to use," she said. "And in Virginia you have the related issue of the new statute that makes so much information confidential. ... This is a unique situation."

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, November 30, 2016

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230 Years Since The Death Penalty Was Abolished for the First Time

The execution of  King Louis XVI on Revolution Square, on January 21, 1793
The execution of  King Louis XVI on Revolution Square, on January 21, 1793
In 2016 90 countries and 2 territories retain the death penalty for certain crimes, with retentionist countries spread across the globe in Europe, Africa, North and South America, and Asia. 

Amnesty International claims that roughly 2/3 of the world's countries have abolished capital punishment, stating that in the course of the last decade an average of 3 countries a year "abolished the death penalty in law or, having done so for ordinary offences, have gone on to abolish it for all offences."

Undoubtedly the trend seems to be that capital punishment is in decline. Exactly when and where this trend started however, is perhaps a surprise.

Since ancient times the death penalty has been a punishment for certain crimes. In the 18th century BCE the Code of Babylonian king Hammurabi listed the death penalty as punishment for 25 different offences, although not for murder. Capital punishment was used in Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, and by the medieval period it was well established in European, African and Asian societies. The execution methods themselves took on a variety of ghastly forms, from drowning to being hanged, drawn and quartered.

30th November 1786 marked the 1st time in European history that a country permanently abolished the death penalty. At a time just a few years before Europe was changed irrevocably by the explosion of the French Revolution and other popular uprisings in the name of progress, it is perhaps surprising that this groundbreaking reform actually came from a member of the Habsburg Dynasty.

Leopold II served as Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1765 to 1790, before inheriting the title of Holy Roman Emperor following the death of his brother: Joseph II. His time as ruler of Tuscany saw him implement a host of changes, removing restrictions on personal freedoms that had been put in place by his predecessors: the Medici, and lowering the rates of taxation to a fairer, rational system. Most shocking of his reforms however, was the abolition of capital punishment.

Prior to 1786, Leopold had blocked any executions in Tuscany, meaning the death penalty hadn't been exercised there since 1769, the year before he took power. In 1786 he moved to make the change permanent, reforming the penal code to see capital punishment abolished and having all equipment that could be used for execution destroyed. Torture was also outlawed in one of the most striking examples of enlightened absolutism - a period in European history when rulers from Charles III of Spain to Catherine the Great of Russia attempted to govern with the inspiration of the Enlightenment.

Tuscany proved to be the exception rather than the rule. The French Revolution and its aftermath saw a massive upsurge in executions as the Guillotine went to work. In Britain meanwhile, some 220 crimes were punishable by death by the late 1700s, although the severity of the punishment meant juries would often acquit if they felt it excessive for the crime. In 1823, 5 laws were passed to exempt roughly a hundred crimes from the death penalty. Between 1832 and 1837 further reforms saw capital punishment removed as the punishment from more crimes, though in 1840 an attempt to completely abolish the death penalty was blocked.

Throughout Europe campaigns continued for the abolition of capital punishment, yet change was slow to come about. Britain, France and Germany all retained the death sentence until long after the 2nd World War. 

In the case of Britain, although 1965 legislation saw capital punishment no longer applied in murder trials, one could officially be executed for treason as late as 1998. 

West Germany officially abolished capital punishment in 1987 (although the last execution had taken place in 1949). 

In France, the last execution took place in 1977, the death penalty itself abolished in 1981.

Capital punishment is now exceedingly rare in Europe. 

In Russia the death penalty has been indefinitely suspended, meaning the country is abolitionist in practice. As such, Belarus is the only country on the continent that still practices it.

Source: newhistorian.com, November 30, 2016

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

UN: Morocco Abstains from Voting on Resolution for International Abolition of Death Penalty

UN Building, NYC
Morocco abstained from voting for the international abolition of the death penalty earlier this month, when a resolution on the matter was presented to the United Nations' Third Committee, which specializes in human rights issues.

Morocco's representative clarified that the country has maintained a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1993, when the last government sanctioned execution occurred.

The final vote count on the amended draft resolution against the lethal punishment stood at 115 votes in favor to 38 against, with 30 countries other than Morocco abstaining, according to the committee's press release, [which]criticized the country's position in a statement, expressing regret regarding the kingdom's persistent abstentions from votes in the international arena relating to the human rights implications of the practice since 2007.

The organization argues that the North African country's position is incompatible with Articles 20 and 21 of the constitution, which guarantee the right to life to all human beings and the right to "the security of their person and of their kin."

CMCPM is composed of eleven national human rights organizations - including Amnesty Morocco, the Moroccan Human Rights Association and others - that formed a union in 2003 at the conclusion of the International Death Penalty Seminar in Casablanca.

"Convinced that capital punishment is not a deterrent, CMCPM believes that this punishment is simply murdering in the name of the law, referring to the culture of revenge and retribution, particularly since the International Criminal Court - which tries criminals of war and genocide - does not implement the death penalty," the union's official website states.

Source: Morocco World News, November 30, 2016

Death Sentence for Tetouan Man Charged with Murder


A Tetouan man who was charged with the murder after killing a mosque-goer last August has just been sentenced to the death penalty.

The court sentenced the man, who admitted his guilt, on Tuesday, November 29 to the death penalty after the murder of a man inside the Al Andalous mosque in the Mellah neighborhood of Tetouan, an act which authorities concluded was premeditated.

Since the verdict was publicized, a new conversation on the death penalty in Morocco was started.

Earlier today, it was reported that Morocco had abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution asking for the international abolition of the death penalty.

The resolution was presented to the UN's 3rd committee, specializing in human rights.

On November 17, a UN press release stated that a "representative of Morocco said his country had had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1993." With the recent death sentence handed in Tetouan, this statement is no longer true, which begs the question as to what the nation will tell the UN the next time it asks about the death penalty.

The UN would have also criticized the country's position on the death penalty, arguing that it was incompatible with Articles 20 and 21 of the constitution.

Source: Morocco World News, November 30, 2016

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13 Oklahoma death row inmates now eligible for execution

Oklahoma's death chamber
Oklahoma's death chamber
WASHINGTON — James Chandler Ryder, convicted of killing a woman and her son over some personal belongings in 1999, is now the 13th Oklahoma death row inmate who has exhausted appeals and is eligible for an execution date.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined, without comment, to review Ryder's appeal. It was the fifth time since the high court's new term began in October that justices have rejected the final appeal in an Oklahoma capital case.

In such instances, the Oklahoma attorney general typically moves quickly to request an execution date from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals.

But problems with lethal injections in Oklahoma have led to a pause in executions while the state Department of Corrections reviews the process.

The last execution in Oklahoma was in January 2015. And executions won't resume immediately after the Corrections Department decides it is ready. 

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has said he would wait at least 150 days after the review is complete before requesting execution dates.

Earlier this month, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot question that gives state constitutional protection to the death penalty — and death sentences already handed down — even if a particular execution method is ruled to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled against a method and has twice upheld lethal injection protocols, including Oklahoma's in 2015.

Ryder, who is now 54, was convicted of killing Daisy Hallum and her adult son, Sam Hallum, in Pittsburg County in a dispute over possessions Ryder had been storing with them. Ryder received the death penalty for killing Daisy Hallum and life without parole for killing Sam Hallum.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the death sentence in January.

Source: NewsOK, Chris Casteel, November 30, 2016

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Saudi Arabia: Man Faces Execution After Grossly Unfair Trial

Medieval and barbaric: Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Medieval and barbaric: Public execution in Saudi Arabia
A Shi’a man is at risk of execution in Saudi Arabia after he exhausted all his appeals. He was sentenced to death after a grossly unfair trial. He claims he was tortured into “confessing”, but his allegation has not been properly investigated.

Yussuf Ali al-Mushaikass, 42, was sentenced to death on 6 January by the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) in Riyadh, the capital, for offences that included “armed rebellion against the ruler”, “destabilizing security and stirring sedition by joining a terrorist group” and “participating in riots”. 

Following his appeal on 1 February his legal representative learned that the sentence had been upheld by both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

The case was later sent to the Ministry of Interior on 20 April raising fears that the sentence will be ratified by the King and Yussuf al-Mushaikhass might be executed at any time.

According to the verdict the SCC seems to have based its decision on signed “confessions” which Yussuf alMushaikhass claims were extracted under torture and other ill-treatment. However, the court did not fully investigate such claims. During the first three months of his incommunicado detention he was held in solitary confinement and interrogated repeatedly. He told the court that he was: subjected to sleep deprivation; hung from the ceiling and beaten with a bamboo cane and electrical cable on different parts of his body; and, handcuffed and forced to lay on the ground while he was severely beaten by four officers from the General Directorate of Investigation (GDI). Under international law, statements elicited as a result of torture, ill-treatment or other forms of coercion must be excluded from evidence in trial proceedings.

Yussuf al-Mushaikhass was arrested on 26 February 2014 in Ras Tanura City and taken to the GDI prison in Dammam, both in the Eastern Province. He was placed in solitary confinement and denied access to his legal representation throughout his interrogations. He is still detained in the same prison.

Please write immediately in English, Arabic or your own language:

-Urging the Saudi Arabian authorities to quash the conviction and death sentence against Yussuf Ali alMushaikass, given grave concerns about the fairness of the trial, and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence against him, to retry him in line with international fair trial standards without recourse to the death penalty;
- Calling on them to order a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation into his allegation of torture and other ill-treatment;
- Urging them to immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 11 JANUARY 2017 TO:


King and Prime Minister
His Majesty Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Royal Court, Riyadh
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior)
+966 11 403 3125 (please keep trying)
Twitter: @KingSalman
Salutation: Your Majesty

Minister of Interior
His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin
Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Minister of Interior
Ministry of the Interior, P.O. Box 2933,
Airport Road, Riyadh 11134
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 11 403 3125
Twitter: @M_Naif_AlSaud
Salutation: Your Excellency

And copies to:

Minister of Justice
His Excellency Dr Walid bin Mohammed bin
Saleh Al-Samaani
Ministry of Justice, P.O Box 7775,
University Street, Riyadh 11137
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 11 401 1741/ 402 031

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION


Saudi Arabians in the Kingdom’s predominantly Shi’a Eastern Province have long complained of discrimination and harassment by the authorities. Inspired in part by protests that swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, they organized demonstrations to protest at the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of members of the Shi’a community for such things as celebrating Shi’a religious festivals, breaching restrictions on building Shi’a mosques and religious schools, and expressing
support for protesters in Bahrain.

The Saudi Arabian authorities have taken repressive measures against people they suspect of taking part in or supporting protests, or expressing views critical of the state. Protesters have been held incommunicado and without charge for days or weeks at a time, and some have said they were tortured and otherwise ill-treated. The security forces have killed at least 20 people connected with protests in the Eastern Province since 2011, and imprisoned hundreds. On 2 January 2016 Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was executed along with 46 other prisoners. He was one of scores of people sentenced to death in connection with the 2011 and 2012 protests. Three of them, who remain on death row awaiting execution, were arrested for offences committed when they were under 18 and have said that they were tortured to make them “confess”. One of these three, Ali al-Nimr, is Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr’s nephew (See UA 143/14, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde23/014/2014/en/ and UA 229/15, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/mde23/2671/2015/en/).

Court proceedings in Saudi Arabia fall far short of international fair trial standards. Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by lawyers, and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. They may be convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under duress or torture. Yussuf al-Mushaikhass’ detention and trial have followed a similar pattern. After his arrest he was placed for almost three months in solitary confinement and denied any access to his family or legal representative. Throughout this period he was repeatedly interrogated and allegedly tortured to force him to confess. He was moved from al-Dammam political prison to the SCC in Riyadh to start his trial on 2 August 2015. He attended his first hearing alone. His legal representative was not even informed about the trial session and only knew about it when Yussuf al-Mushaikhass told him during their weekly phone call. He claimed that he was tortured during interrogations to force him to “confess”, and claims he was threatened with more torture before he was taken to court to verify his confessions before the judge. Although the SCC decided to sentence him to death based largely on these confessions, it did not properly investigate Yussuf al-Mushailkass’ claims of torture. According to the court verdict the SCC discarded all his allegations, relying solely on a medical report provided by the medical centre in the GDI prison where he had been detained and tortured into confessing. When his legal representative requested a counter opinion by an independent doctor outside of the prison, the judge rejected the request stating “this is all we have”.

The death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty at all times, regardless of who is accused, the crime, their guilt or innocence or the method of execution. Saudi Arabia is one of the top executioners in the world, with more than 2,000 people executed between 1985 and 2016.

Source: Amnesty International, November 30, 2016

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