Tag Archives: Capital Punishment

Iran Sentences American to Death for Espionage

American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, on trial in Iran for espionage, has been sentenced to death.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that a court convicted Mr. Hekmati of “working for an enemy country … for membership in the CIA and also for his efforts to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism.”

Mr. Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in August while visiting his grandmother and other relatives, his family in Michigan said last month.


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European Commission Restricts Production of Drugs for Executions


The European Commission announced a restriction on drugs produced by European manufacturers for use in lethal injection executions.  The restriction marks a widening of the gulf between the capital punishment policy of Europe and the United States.


A lethal injection room in Alabama (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)


The drug, sodium thiopental, is a sedative commonly used in administering executions.  It can only be exported from Europe after authorization by national authorities.


The reason for the restriction is to “prevent their use for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”


The move was cheered by opponents of the death penalty.


The restriction forbids the sale of the drug to countries that practice the death penalty.  It is consistent with the opposition to the death penalty expressed in the European Charter:  “[T]he European Union opposes the death penalty under all circumstances. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that no one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed. In this regard, the decision today contributes to the wider EU efforts to abolish the death penalty worldwide.”


The impact of the regulation is yet to be known in countries that practice the death penalty.  States like Ohio, Texas, and Georgia that execute people often have taken to using alternative drugs and looking to other countries overseas to meet its demand.  Switching to the use of alternative drugs, however, places a burden on states that want to perform lethal injections by complicating the process of obtaining the drugs.


Tuesday’s announcement is effort to cut the supply of drugs for executions.  In April, Great Britain announced a ban on exportation to the U.S. of three drugs used for lethal injections. An Indian pharmaceutical manufacturer that supplied sodium thiopental to Nebraska announced it would stop supplying the drug to American prison officials.  In July, a Danish manufacturer attempted to quell the sale of its drug for executions by making its distributors promise they would not use the drug for that purpose.


Europe’s new regulation will make it more difficult for prisons to replenish supplies in the future.  It is also difficult for regulators to promise that the drugs will not be sold to prison through the back door.  In order to prevent manufacturers from circumventing the regulations, the European Council has retained the power to add other drugs to the ban as it sees fit.


In the United States, lethal injections have become the main method of executions in recent years.


Since 2007, the E.U. has called for a worldwide halt on the death penalty.

Via Impunity Watch.



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Ohio Justice Who Helped Write Capital Punishment Law Calls for Its Repeal

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An Ohio Supreme Court justice who helped write the state’s death penalty law urged lawmakers Wednesday to repeal it.

“This is where the decision is made as to what should be the ultimate penalty,” Justice Paul Pfeifer, a Republican, said at an Ohio House of Representatives committee hearing. “I have concluded that the death sentence makes no sense to me at this point when you can have life without possibility of parole. I don’t see what society gains from that.”

Justice Pfeifer called on Republican Governor John Kasich in January to end capital punishment. A spokesman for the governor immediately shot down Pfeifer’s suggestion.

Wednesday marked the first time he testified before lawmakers that the death penalty should be repealed.

In 2003, Justice Pfeifer raised concerns about whether the death penalty was applied evenly based on race and geography during testimony before a House committee.

After his testimony, Justice Pfeifer said he doesn’t expect much support for his position in the GOP-controlled legislature either. Nevertheless, he laid out his case against the punishment, which he referred to as a “death lottery.”

Justice Pfeifer was testifying in support of House Bill 160, which would abolish the death penalty and resentence death row inmates to life in prison without parole.

Justice Pfeifer was chairman of the Ohio Senate’s Judiciary Committee in 1981 when the death penalty statute became law. Executions resumed in Ohio until 1999. Since then, the state has executed forty-six inmates. Twelve more are scheduled by September 2013.

Pfeifer said the punishment was meant for the “worst of the worst” — but that is not always the case today. He also said the punishment is not an effective deterrent.

Via Cleveland.com.

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Number of Executions, Like Support for Capital Punishment, Dropped Dramatically in 2011

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The number of executions and death sentences nationwide continues a steady decline, matching dwindling public support for capital punishment in general, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s annual report.

Only seventy-eight people were sentenced to death this year, the first time that number dropped below 100 since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Death sentences last year were at 112, and have declined by nearly 75% from fifteen years ago, when more than 300 people were condemned.

A report showed forty-three people were executed in 2011, down three from last year and a 56% decline from twelve years ago.

A CNN/Opinion Research Poll in October found more Americans for the first time favor a sentence of life in prison over the death penalty for murderers, 50% to 48%. CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said his analysis shows a difference between thinking the government should have the death penalty as an option and actually wanting to see it applied.

The decline in the number who prefer the death penalty as the punishment for murder may be related to the growing number who believe that at least one person in the past five years has been executed for a crime that he or she did not commit. In 2005, when a solid majority preferred the death penalty, 59% believed that an innocent person had been executed within the previous five years. Now that figure has risen to 72%.

The year’s highest profile execution dealt with questions of innocence. Troy Davis was given a lethal injection in September, ending a battle for the man convicted of killing a Georgia officer. He drew widespread support for his claims an innocent man was being put to death, after federal and state courts had rejected his calls for a new trial. Since Davis’ conviction in 1991, seven of the nine witnesses against him had recanted their testimony, and no physical evidence was presented linking Davis to the killing of the officer.

A Texas execution also attracted international attention. Mexican national Humberto Leal Garcia was convicted of killing a sixteen-year-old girl. A world court found Texas violated his rights by not giving Mr. Leal access to Mexico’s consulate upon his arrest, as required by an intentional treaty. U.S. and Mexican officials, along with a variety of human rights groups, urged Texas to delay the execution, but to no avail.

Texas continues to lead the nation as the busiest death penalty state, with thirteen executions this year. Alabama was next with six, and Ohio with five.

Thirty-four states have capital laws; thirteen states carried out the punishment in 2011. Several states with capital punishment laws failed to sentence anyone to death in 2011.

Illinois this year became the fourth state in four years to get rid of the death penalty, while Oregon’s Democratic governor said no executions would occur while he is in office.

California voters could decide next year whether to abandon the practice. That state has the highest death row population, but no one has been executed there since 2006.

Connecticut and New Hampshire are the only New England states with the death penalty, but only one person has been executed in the region since 1960.

Via CNN.

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Saudi Woman Executed for Witchcraft

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A Saudi woman was beheaded after being convicted of practicing “witchcraft and sorcery,” at least the second such execution for sorcery this year.

The woman, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar, was executed in the northern Saudi province of al-Jawf on Monday.

Authorities who searched Ms. Nassar’s home found a book about witchcraft, thirty-five veils, and glass bottles full of “an unknown liquid used for sorcery” among her possessions. Authorities said Nassar claimed to be a healer and would sell a veil and three bottles for 1500 riyals, or about $400.

Ms. Nassar’s death sentence was upheld by an appeals court and the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council.

Philip Luther, the interim direct of Amnesty International‘s Middle East and North Africa program, condemned her killing, calling it “deeply shocking.”

“The charges of ‘witchcraft and sorcery’ are not defined as crimes in Saudi Arabia and to use them to subject someone to the cruel and extreme penalty of execution is truly appalling,” Luther said.

Mr. Luther said that a charge of sorcery is often used by the Saudi government as a smokescreen under which they punish people for exercising freedom of speech.

In September, a Sudanese man was publicly decapitated with a sword in Medina after he was found guilty of the same crime.

At least seventy-nine people have been executed in Saudi Arabia in 2011. Amnesty International condemned the kingdom’s reliance on capital punishment.

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California Advocates Push to Repeal Capital Punishment

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Anti-death penalty advocates in California are making a push to end capital punishment in 2012. In that state, death penalty abolitionists have gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures to place a measure on the November ballot.

Advocates say 2010 could be their best opportunity to replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole, pointing to shifts in public opinion, rising concern over execution costs, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s decision to place a moratorium on capital punishment, and Troy Davis’s execution. In California, the drive for a referendum could get a boost by appearing on the Presidential election-year ballot.

The system is not just broken, anti-death penalty activists say, but far too costly.

In California, where voters passed capital punishment over thirty years ago, the state’s budget crisis spells an opportunity for success in 2012. A recent study found California has spent roughly $4 billion to carry out thirteen executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. The $4 billion figure comes from all costs funding the death penalty system in California, including the trials, appeals, death-row housing, healthcare of inmates, and the executions themselves.

The campaign has collected 240,000 signatures. California requires 504,000 signatures for the referendum to make it onto the ballot. The campaign is aiming to send about 750,000 by the end of February.

California, where voters must make the decision through the referendum process, seeks to capitalize on a swing in public opinion. A Gallup poll conducted after Mr. Davis was executed in September showed support for the death penalty has fallen to a thirty-nine-year low nationwide.

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Martina Davis-Correia Dies at 42

The sister of late death row inmate Troy Davis has died of cancer.

Martina Davis-Correia was diagnosed in 2000 with breast cancer. While battling cancer, Ms. Davis-Correia helped spread awareness about her brother’s case, maintaining that there was too much doubt in the details of his conviction to allow for his execution.

Amnesty International issued a statement Thursday night hailing Ms. Martina-Correia as a “Hero of the Human Rights Movement.”

“Our hearts are breaking over the loss of this extraordinary woman,” Amnesty International CEO Curt Goering wrote.

She fought to save her brother’s life with courage, strength and determination, every step of the way. She was a powerful example of how one person can make a difference as she led the fight for justice for Troy Davis, even as she endured her own decade-long battle with cancer. And despite the terrible blow of his execution, she remained brave and defiant to the core of her being, stating her conviction that one day his death would be the catalyst for ending the death penalty.

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Can There Be Justice for Gays in Uganda?

WSF 2007 - Sexual Minorities UgandaIn January, a Ugandan tabloid called The Rolling Stone (not connected to the American magazine) published a list of names, photos, and addresses of Ugandans it claimed were gay. The words “Hang Them” was on the tabloid’s front page, and the paper stated that the accused were infected with a fatal disease and were preying on children.

Soon after the list’s publication, prominent gay rights activist David Kato (who was included on the list) was found dead in his home in a pool of blood. Sidney Nsubuga Enoch, who had cooked Mr. Kato’s last meal, was arrested. Ugandan courts sentenced Enoch to thirty years in prison, but the case still doesn’t seem solved.

The killing represents the apex of a gay-rights struggle in the country. After collaboration between American evangelicals and Ugandan pastors and politicians, the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was born; if enacted, all health programs geared towards gays would end; the government could punish activists “promoting” homosexuality; and homosexuals could be imprisoned for life. After international pressure, the legislation was shelved, but President Yoweri Museveni and the parliament vowed to keep it alive.

Mr. Kato, who was forty-six and described by friends as confidently out, was a co-founder of Uganda’s first gay-rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda.

The Ugandan prosecutor drew a story of what police say took place that afternoon: Mr. Kato made advances to Mr. Enoch; Mr. Enoch agreed, then rejected Kato; Mr. Enoch returned to kill him. When the murder occurred, police refused to acknowledge the possibility that it was a hate crime. Officers blamed it on a supposed robbery, though no valuables were missing from his home. After an outcry over the killing, police apprehended Mr. Enoch, who pleaded guilty to beating Mr. Kato to death.

Last month, the country’s first gay bar was suddenly shut. Sappho Islands had been a haven for gay Ugandans; its owner arrived to the bar on a weekend to find a padlock on the door. Her landlord told her the bar was too noisy and attracted “strange” people. Weeks later, Ugandan parliamentarians voted to reopen debate on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, including the provision that would sentence gays to the death penalty.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/11/justice-for-gay-ugandans.html#ixzz1ddS12EgM

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Death Row Inmate Who Has Requested DNA Testing for a Decade Scheduled to Die Next Week

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Hank Skinner is scheduled to die on November 9. The state of Texas may execute him without conducting DNA tests on the evidence from his trial, despite a decade of requests from Hank and his lawyers.

Hank has been on death row since 1995 for the murders of his girlfriend and her two adult sons. He has steadfastly professed his innocence. Since his conviction, the star witness against Hank has recanted her testimony, and others have implicated another man as the killer.

Hank’s family created an organization called “Justice 4 Hank,” and they’re fighting for a DNA test for Hank.

At the trial, the prosecution conducted DNA tests on the clothes Hank was wearing, but declined to test the rest of the physical evidence, including a rape kit, the murder weapons, several hairs clutched in the victim’s hand, and a bloody windbreaker that strongly resembles that of the man accused by others of being the true murderer.

Since 2000, Hank has requested that the office of the District Attorney that prosecuted him order DNA tests on the remaining evidence. The DA’s office has continuously denied those requests.

Hank could die as soon as next week. Please sign the Change.org petition created by “Justice 4 Hank” and demand the Gray County District Attorney order a DNA test on the rest of the evidence before the execution. Click here to add your name.

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More on Governor Perry and the Death Penalty

Perry Event 2/1/2010

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When Rick Perry had been governor for three years, the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole had yet to recommend to him that a single death row inmate be spared.

That May, the board’s chairwoman allowed the lawyer for Kelsey Patterson to present to her a plea that the inmate’s execution be blocked because of his severe mental illness.

Mr. Patterson had murdered two people for no clear reason and fled to a yard, where he stripped to his brown socks and waited until police arrived.

Juries previously found Mr. Patterson, who had paranoid schizophrenia, incompetent to stand trial. For the double murder, he was tried and testified in proceedings so tumultuous he was ejected from the room and gagged with duct tape.

When the parole board voted five-to-one to commute Mr. Patterson’s sentence to life in prison, Mr. Perry’s legal counselor cautioned Mr. Patterson’s lawyer, “Honey, don’t get your hopes up.”

The next day, Mr. Perry rejected the recommendation. Mr. Patterson was executed, and his incoherent last statement ended with the bell-clear “Give me my life back.”

In campaigning for the Republican Presidential nomination, Mr. Perry has defended the executions on his watch: 236 over eleven years.

Explaining why he upheld the execution of Kelsey Patterson, Mr. Perry said, “Texas has no life without parole sentencing option.” He said, “No one can guarantee this defendant would not be freed to commit other crimes were his sentence commuted.” Mr. Patterson would have become eligible for parole at 74.

In response, Charles Aycock, a former Texas State Bar president who served on the parole board, said, “Baloney. We would have never released anybody like that to the street.”

Mr. Perry’s championing of the death penalty is crystallized by his veto of a bill banning the execution of the mentally retarded and refusal to stay the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham after an arson expert cast doubt on his guilt in his daughters’ deaths in a fire.

Mr. Perry expresses certainty that the system works well enough to prevent the execution of any innocent people. Asked by Brian Williams at a Republican debate last month whether he struggles to sleep because he has presided over more executions than any other governor in modern history, Mr. Perry said, “No, sir.” He continued, “In the state of Texas, if you come into our state, and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.”

In death penalty cases, Texas governors have the right to issue a one-time, thirty-day reprieve from execution. They were stripped of the authority to grant clemency seventy-five years ago when Texas voters created an independent pardons board. Still, the governor appoints the board and can influence it.

The board has reviewed more than 200 death penalty cases on Mr. Perry’s watch but chose commute only a few sentences. (Two Supreme Court decisions, banning the execution of the mentally retarded and minors, required several dozen commutations.)

Mr. Perry accepted the board’s recommendation to commute a death sentence only once, for a man who did not commit murder.

Via NYT.

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