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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Humane Death Penalty Charade

When the United States at last abandons the abhorrent practice of capital punishment, the early years of the 21st century will stand out as a peculiar period during which otherwise reasonable people hotly debated how to kill other people while inflicting the least amount of constitutionally acceptable pain.

The Supreme Court stepped back into this maelstrom on Friday, when it agreed to hear Warner v. Gross, a lawsuit brought by four Oklahoma death-row inmates alleging that the state’s lethal-injection drug protocol puts them at risk of significant pain and suffering.

In accepting the case, the justices had to change its name. The lead plaintiff, Charles Warner, was executed on Jan. 15 after the court, by a vote of 5-to-4,denied him a last-minute stay. That may sound strange until you consider that while it takes only four justices to accept a case for argument, it takes five to stay an execution. The case is now named for another inmate, Richard Glossip.

The plaintiffs in the current case challenge the continued use of one of the drugs that may have contributed to Mr. Lockett’s prolonged death, the sedative midazolam.

There is disingenuousness on both sides. Many who oppose the death penalty, this page included, are obviously not interested in identifying more “humane” methods of execution; the idea itself is a contradiction in terms. Nor are many capital punishment supporters concerned with how much suffering a condemned person might endure in his final moments. In the middle sit the armchair executioners who engage in macabre debates about the relative efficiency of, say, nitrogen gas.

It is time to dispense with the pretense of a pain-free death. The act of killing itself is irredeemably brutal and violent. If the men on death row had painlessly killed their victims, that would not make their crimes any more tolerable. When the killing is carried out by a state against its own citizens, it is beneath a people that aspire to call themselves civilized.


Source: The New York Times, The Editorial Board, January 27, 2015

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Clemency denied for Georgia death row inmate Warren Lee Hill

Warren Lee Hill
ATLANTA -- The State Board of Pardons and Paroles has denied clemency to death row inmate Warren Lee Hill.

Hill is scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday at 7 p.m. He was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of murdering his 18-year-old girlfriend in 1985. 

In August 1990, he beat fellow Lee Correctional Institute inmate Joseph Handspike to death with a board embedded with nails.

A jury sentenced him to death for Handspike's murder.

A previous petition for clemency for Hill was also denied in July 2012. A new execution order was issued earlier this month by Lee County Superior Court. 

Attorneys have filed multiple past appeals for Hill, arguing he is mentally handicapped and therefore ineligible for the death penalty.

"The clemency board missed an opportunity to right a grave wrong," Hill's attorney Brian Kammer said Tuesday. Kammer added that his client has "the emotional and cognitive functioning of an 11-year-old boy."

The State Board of Pardons and Paroles said it listened to witness and thoroughly reviewed all information and documents pertaining to the case before denying clemency. 

The latest hearing was granted because the board has changed its composition since its 2012 decision in Hill's case.

Source: 11Alive.com, January 27, 2015

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Monday, January 26, 2015

1st beheading in Saudi Arabia under King Salman

A teacher convicted of sex crimes in Saudi Arabia was publicly beheaded on Monday in the port city of Jeddah, according to official media.

"Mousa bin Saeed Ali al-Zahrani lured several underage girls and kidnapped them. He also threatened them and their relatives and physically assaulted them in his home," the Saudi Press Agency said, citing the interior ministry.

"He raped them, detained them, forced them to drink alcohol, and forced some to watch pornographic material."

The family of Zahrani, however, have pleaded in his innocence and said the teacher was convicted in a "sham trial". Relatives complained to the late King Abdullah about the case and gained a stay of execution and a promise to re-open the investigation.

But on 23 January, the day Abdullah died, the family said they were notified by police insiders that an order had been reissued for an expedited beheading to take place on Monday.

Zahrani, who was married with 6 children, posted a video in April 2014 declaring his innocence and asking for a review of the verdict.

"I plead my innocence and swear to God that neither my religion nor my education, knowledge, age, fatherhood or upbringing allow me to even think of committing such an act, which can only come from ribald and mentally ill people," he said.

"I strongly deny all that I am accused of. It is all unjust fabrication of the truth. The accusations I am being subjected to are not acceptable in our religion. They are malicious and have been magnified and manipulated."

Friends of the family, who asked to remain anonymous, said the police investigator who arrested Zahrani was a relative of one his alleged victims and demonstrated an "obvious conflict of interest".

The kingdom has faced constant international criticism over its human rights record, including the use of the death penalty.

The latest beheading brings a total of 16 people executed in 2015 by Saudi authorities. In 2014, 87 people were executed, with 72 taking place between August and December.

An independent expert working on behalf of the United Nations called in September for an immediate moratorium on executions in Saudi Arabia. But the interior ministry insists that the execution of convicts aims "to maintain security and realise justice".

Rape, murder, armed robbery, homosexuality and drug trafficking are all punishable by death in the kingdom.

Source: Agence France-Presse, January 26, 2015

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Oklahoma asks Supreme Court to halt upcoming executions

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, said Monday he was asking the U.S. Supreme Court to postpone three upcoming executions in the state.

There are three executions scheduled in Oklahoma over the next six weeks, with the first currently taking place Thursday. But last week, the Supreme Court announced that they would hear arguments over Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedures in response to a petition filed by the three inmates who are set for execution.

The justices are going to consider whether the protocol currently used by Oklahoma violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Pruitt said Friday that his office would “defend the constitutionality of this protocol” in front of the Supreme Court.

Oklahoma adopted its current lethal injection procedure last year after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, who grimaced and kicked before dying 43 minutes after the execution began. That execution was one of three problematic lethal injections last year that involved the sedative midazolam.


Source: The Washington Post, January 26, 2015

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Oklahoma: Richard Glossip's attorneys to file stay request in light of recent Supreme Court decision

Richard Glossip
Richard Glossip
Attorneys representing Oklahoma death row inmate Richard Glossip, who is scheduled to die Thursday, plan to file a request to stay his execution in light of the recent news that the U.S. Supreme Court will review his case.

Dale Baitch, the public defender representing Glossip, wouldn't specify whether he and his colleagues will ask the country's highest court or Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) to suspend the execution, adding that he'd "rather not predict" what the specifics of a Supreme Court decision could mean for Glossip's future. "At this moment, we're in a 'wait and see' posture," he told The Huffington Post.

Glossip and 2 other inmates claim Oklahoma's lethal injection procedure can cause severe pain that violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to take up their case.

"It's the 1st time in a long time that I let myself get a little more excited than normal," Glossip, 51, told HuffPost after hearing the Supreme Court news. "I finally got a victory. A small victory -- but it uplifted me."

Oklahoma's execution methods came under scrutiny last April after death row inmate Clayton Lockett died 45 minutes after being injected with a combination of drugs that had never been used together before. Lockett allegedly writhed, clenched his teeth and struggled against the restraints holding him to a gurney before prison officials halted the execution. He then died from a heart attack.

"It was a horrible thing to witness," Lockett's attorney, David Autry, told The Associated Press at the time. "This was totally botched."

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court declined to stay the execution of Charles Warner, another Oklahoma death row inmate. "My body is on fire," Warner, the 1st to be killed since Lockett, said after he was injected.

Glossip was convicted of 1st-degree murder in 1998 based on the testimony of 1 witness, Justin Sneed, who claimed Glossip hired him to kill his boss. Glossip has staunchly maintained his innocence from the beginning.

His situation has drawn the support of several death penalty opponents, including Sister Helen Prejean, a nun best known for her memoir Dead Man Walking. Prejean, who serves as Glossip's spiritual adviser and plans to be present the day he's executed, will hold a press conference Tuesday to bring more attention to his case.

"We need to get out to the public just how flimsy and vulnerable our whole system is that a man could be condemned on [Sneed's testimony] and be moving to his execution," Prejean told HuffPost last week. "It's really unworthy of us to do that as a people."

Sneed, a contract handyman who worked and lived at the Best Budget Inn that Glossip managed in Oklahoma City, confessed to beating motel owner Barry Van Treese to death with a baseball bat on Jan. 7, 1997. Prosecutors said Glossip was afraid he was about to be fired, and Sneed later testified that Glossip offered to pay him $10,000 to carry out the murder. In exchange for his testimony, Sneed received a life sentence without parole.

A judge told Glossip that if he admitted his involvement in Van Treese's death, he would be sentenced to life in prison and eligible for parole after 20 years. Glossip refused, saying he wouldn't perjure himself by admitting to something he didn't do.

"A lot of people ask if I hate [Sneed]," Glossip told HuffPost last week. "I don't hate him. Hatred ain't gonna do anything for you."

Death penalty opponents argue that it's unfair to convict someone based on only one individual's story. A Change.org petition calling on Fallin to halt the execution had garnered nearly 27,000 signatures as of Monday. It noted that Sneed's daughter recently wrote a letter to the Oklahoma clemency board claiming her father wished he could recant his testimony.

HuffPost obtained a copy of the letter. "For a couple of years now, my father has been talking to me about recanting his original testimony. But has been afraid to act upon it, in fear of being charged with the Death Penalty," it reads. "His fear of recanting, but guilt about not doing so, makes it obvious that information he is sitting on would exonerate Mr. Glossip."

Prejean believes Sneed recanting would change everything for Glossip. "The one thing that got Richard the death sentence was the testimony of Sneed," she said. "All the jury heard was this man. There was no forensic evidence at all."

Glossip told HuffPost he has a small TV in his cell, which he keeps on most of the time. He first learned the Supreme Court would take up his case late on Friday, when he noticed something different about the news reports regarding his case.

"When they came on the TV in Oklahoma, on the news, they used to always say 'convicted murderer Richard Glossip,'" he said. "They changed that now: Richard Glossip, who is accused of being in a murder-for-hire plot.' It's the 1st time they've ever done that, and it's a step in the right direction."

While the Supreme Court needs only 4 votes to review a case, it needs 5 to stay an execution. The other 2 inmates involved in the Supreme Court case, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, aren't set to die until Feb. 19 and March 5, respectively.

"Over the next couple of days, the issues the [Supreme Court] wants to hear will become clear," Baich said. "The fact that 4 justices wanted to hear the case suggests that they don't want it mooted out by the 3 petitioners being executed."

In the meantime, Glossip remains optimistic, vowing to fight until the very end. "I don't give up hope in any way, shape or form," he told HuffPost. "Because until they lay you on that table and stick them needles in you and you're completely dead, you always have hope. I'll never let them take that away from me, no matter what."

Source: Huffington Post, January 26


Oklahoma AG says he will defend state execution protocol

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt says his office will defend the constitutionality of the state's method for executing death row inmates as the U.S. Supreme Court considers a challenge by three death row inmates.

The nation's high court announced Friday it will hear arguments by inmates who are challenging the state's method for conducting executions.

Pruitt says Oklahoma's method has been deemed constitutional by 2 federal courts and has been successfully implemented in the state as well as in Florida.

Pruitt says his office will work to preserve the Department of Corrections' ability to proceed with death sentences given to each inmate by a jury of their peers.

Death row inmate Richard Eugene Glossip is scheduled to die on Thursday. Pruitt says there is no pending request for a stay.

Source: Associated Press, January 26, 2015

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Boston bombing jury excludes some Catholics

D. Tsarnaev in court
As the quest for a jury in the Boston Marathon bombing trial approaches its 4th week, some of the area's 2 million Roman Catholics are growing frustrated with criteria that effectively disqualify followers of church teachings.

Potential jurors in bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's trial must be able to impose the death penalty or a life sentence with no possibility of release. That standard eliminates Catholics who heed the catechism of the Catholic Church, which says a death sentence is not to be used when "non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor." Cases warranting the death penalty "are very rare, if not practically non-existent," according to the catechism, because government has other means to keep the public safe from convicts.

"It is both ironic and unfortunate that Catholics who understand and embrace this teaching will be systematically excluded from the trial," says the Rev. James Bretzke, professor of moral theology at Boston College. "It is frustrating."

Judge George O'Toole had hoped to hear opening arguments Monday, but they have been delayed because individual questioning of jurors, which began Jan. 15 after questionnaires were filled out, is taking longer than anticipated. A new start date has not been scheduled.

O'Toole has denied 2 defense motions to move the trial out of Boston, but the protracted jury selection process is keeping the issue alive. On Thursday, Tsarnaev's lawyers filed a third motion for a change of venue, asking the court to give juror questionnaires "fresh evaluation."

The defense cited the attitudes of prospective jurors, saying of the 1,373 who filled out questionnaires, 68% already believe Tsarnaev is guilty and 69% have a connection or allegiance to people, places or events in the case.

Finding a jury in Boston is already proving to be a challenge.

1 prospective juror fought back tears as she recalled having met Martin Richards, an 8-year-old who was among the 3 people killed in the April 15, 2013, twin bomb explosions, which also injured more than 260. Others described personal ties to injured victims or police, or expressed a belief that Tsarnaev is guilty. A Catholic theologian said he couldn't impose the death penalty.

With hurdles to overcome in jury selection, some local Catholics lament that the pool is likely to be purged of people trained in their faith to grapple with matters of justice and mercy.

Refusing on religious grounds to impose the death penalty "shouldn't be enough to disqualify them," said Michele Dillon, a University of New Hampshire sociologist and co-author of American Catholics in Transition. "We're supposed to have a jury of one's peers. And if one's peers are informed by this sort of religious ethos, then that surely deserves some kind of recognition."

Not all local Catholics have qualms about the way jurors are being chosen. The Rev. Michael McGarry, director of a socially progressive Catholic congregation called The Paulist Center in downtown Boston, is a longtime activist for abolition of capital punishment. Still, he isn't bothered by the fact that he, like others who would refuse to impose death, would be ineligible for the jury if summoned.

"They're doing the right thing by saying you shouldn't allow people who are not open to the death penalty at all," McGarry said. "Nor should you allow people who are eager for blood."

Greater Boston is 46% Catholic, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, but religion isn't necessarily a strong shaper of local attitudes. Massachusetts is the fourth least religious state after nearby New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, according to the Gallup Poll, which looks at worship attendance and how important people say religion is in their daily lives.

Yet when faced with extraordinary decisions, even less-observant Catholics turn to church teachings for guidance, according to Dillon. They're apt to do so if tapped for the Tsarnaev trial, she said.

"If they identify as Catholic, part and parcel of why they do that is because they believe these teachings have a lot of value," Dillon said. "They make up their own minds, but it gives them pause" to consider what the church teaches.

Nationwide, 62% of Catholics favor the death penalty for murderers, according to the General Social Survey's most recent data from 2012. That is a substantial decline from 30 years ago, when 82% of Catholics favored it.

In the interim, the Catholic Church ended its support for routine use of capital punishment via Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae.

Catholics aren't obligated to heed church teaching on the death penalty, Bretzke said, because the teaching is not considered infallible.

"I don't think it much matters from the defense side" whether a potential juror is Catholic, said Karen Fleming-Gill, a Walnut Creek, Calif.-based jury consultant who's worked on 60 capital cases. "There are plenty of Catholics who will impose the death penalty."

Source: USA Today, January 26, 2015

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Death penalty at home is not in Indonesia's best interests overseas

Andrew Chan (left) and Myuran Sukumaran (right)
Indonesian President Joko Widodo's decision to refuse clemency to death row prisoners in drug cases and the following execution of five foreigners and one Indonesian raises once again the nation's use of the death penalty.

Now Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan have had their clemency bids denied and they potentially await the same fate, subject to substantive judicial review proceedings, along with more than 60 other prisoners, including other foreigners.

Is it fair to execute prisoners long after they have been sentenced, especially those who show rehabilitation? Is this not cruel and unusual punishment?

The decision also raises questions of justice and Indonesia's best interests given the burden Indonesia has with its own citizens facing execution overseas.

The context is clear. The world trend is decisively in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. On December 18, 2007, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. Interestingly, Indonesia abstained. Nearly all of Indonesia's neighbours are abolitionist with only Malaysia and Singapore having the death penalty.

Under international law the death penalty can only be imposed for " the most serious crime". This expression has come to be interpreted as "for serious, violent crime", not drug offences.

Indonesia retains the death penalty despite having the right to life as a guarantee in its constitution. In a case bought by Indonesian citizen Edith Yunita Sianturi, Bali 9 member Scott Rush and others in 2007, the Indonesian Constitutional Court upheld the constitutional validity of the death penalty by majority of 6 to 3.

The minority judges were almost scathing in their dissent and held that the death penalty was unconstitutional, violating the right to life. The majority in a joint judgement upheld the validity of the death penalty and, contrary to international law, held that the death penalty for drug offences fell within the category of "most serious crime".

However, the majority judgment made certain recommendations which are contrary to the justifications given for the President's recent decision.

Significantly, the majority judges accepted that the death penalty did not act as a deterrent, certainly no more a deterrent than life or other significant imprisonment term. They also made several important recommendations, including that the death penalty should not be a primary form of punishment, rather one that is "special and alternative". Further, that it should be able to be imposed with a prohibition period of 10 years, so that if "the prisoner shows good behaviour, it can be amended to a lifelong sentence or imprisonment for 20 years".

The sentences of the 6 recently executed prisoners were all imposed when the death penalty was considered "a primary form of punishment". This is also the case for Chan and Sukumaran.

The blanket statement from Jokowi that he will not grant clemency to condemned drug offenders is contrary to the recommendations of the Constitutional Court. It is also against the clemency applicants' legitimate expectations that he would consider the merits of each application, including good behaviour and rehabilitation.

The past 5 years have shown the great distress caused in Indonesia by the imposition of the death penalty upon its citizens overseas, usually poor migrant workers. In 2010, Indonesia had more than 220 citizens facing execution overseas, mainly in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, Malaysia, China and Vietnam. Indonesia has more than 1.3 million of its poorest citizens working as migrant domestic workers.

A series of controversial beheadings of female migrant workers in Saudi Arabia caused widespread public anger among ordinary Indonesians. There was a perceptible change of mood in Indonesia about the death penalty and the importance of mercy.

It was in response to this mounting problem that Indonesia introduced its de facto moratorium on the death penalty to help secure clemency for its own citizens on death row overseas. Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono granted clemency in some cases, including drug cases.

The combination of the moratorium, mercy and excellent diplomacy worked. Former foreign minister Marty Natalegawa was widely reported as saying that the moratorium had helped Indonesia secure clemency and the return of many citizens.

Yet Indonesia still has more than 90 citizens facing execution overseas. The country has a lot more at stake than Australia or any other nation in the region.

President Jokowi's clemency stance came very early in his term in response to opposition claims that prisons were overcrowded and death row prisoners were clogging up cells. The opposition sought to wedge the new President.

Indonesia does have a growing problem with drugs and drug crime, like all countries in the region. The problem requires a more sophisticated response than the executions of mules and expendable persons. But what is clear is that the President's decision is contrary to the Constitutional Court's recommendations, international law and the successful efforts that achieved clemency for Indonesian citizens overseas.

Then, there is the issue of justice. Is it fair to execute prisoners long after they have been sentenced, especially those who show rehabilitation? Is this not cruel and unusual punishment? What does it do to Indonesia's excellent diplomatic reputation? What effect does it have on police and intelligence co-operation at a time of increased need for international engagement? From Indonesia's own experience, the government must know executions raise fundamental issues and values.

Indonesia could deport long-serving foreigners on condition that they face justice in their home countries. After all, in the cases of the two condemned Australians, they were apprehended as a result of Australian Federal Police advice in respect of drugs intended for Australia not Indonesia.

The shared burden of citizens facing execution overseas throws up a range of issues. The careful political response of former president Yudhoyono, which helped reduce Indonesia's burden, is now jettisoned. Yes, the death penalty is always political. Perhaps that is why in the current political climate, Indonesian observers are questioning whether the new President's decision is in Indonesia's best interests.

Source: Brisbane Times, Colin McDonald, January 26, 2015. Mr. McDonald, QC, is a retired barrister who was the Australian senior counsel for Bali Nine members Renae Lawrence and Scott Rush; Brisbane Times.

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A plea from former Kerobokan inmate to save the lives of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran

Andrew Chan (let) and Myuran Sukumaran (right)
To President Joko Widodo and Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo,

I write this letter in response to the recent execution of 6 inmates in Indonesia, with the hope that it will encourage you to reform drug policy and grant clemency to death row inmates convicted on drug charges across the nation, so that they may have the chance to re-enter society as reformed and rehabilitated persons capable of leading a healthy and productive life. I am aware that there are many people who oppose your decision to carry out the death penalty including the many governments of various nations, members of the presidential cabinet, activists, and human rights groups. However, with this in consideration, I would like to offer a different perspective - one that comes from my personal experiences with 2 of the individuals currently facing execution in Indonesia. In the name of Life I express the sincere hope that this letter finds you.

My Testimony
In 2009, at age 17, I was convicted on charges for possession of a schedule I narcotic. I was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment - a short period by Indonesian standards. The court was clement on account of my age, and I started my prison term at the end of 2009 in LP Kerobokan in Bali. Though the system should clearly distinguish between adults and minors, I was put with the general population of adult prisoners, which included violent offenders convicted for rape, murder and terrorism.
It was during my time in the penjara (jail) that I met 2 Australian inmates, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who I would find out had received the death penalty for attempting to smuggle heroin out of Bali and into Australia. At first I avoided contact with most other inmates. One day, however, Andrew and Myuran - who goes by Mayu - came to the newcomer block to help me with the transfer process so that I could be moved to Block B, where foreign prisoners are held. They had heard from other inmates that a 17-year-old had arrived at the prison, so they came looking for me to offer their help. I was hesitant at first; the 1st thing to learn if you are incarcerated is to avoid being indebted to other prisoners. Kerobokan isn't as violent or dangerous as many other prisons in the world. Still, I have seen what happens to prisoners who can't pay their debts - some are beaten or stabbed, others are raped or tortured, sometimes they're killed. I learned afterwards that Andrew and Mayu didn't want anything in return; they were simply offering their help because I was young and didn't have any contacts inside. Over the next few months I would become friends with the 2, eventually sharing a cell with Andrew, without the 2 of them asking for anything in return but my friendship. To this day - 5 years after my release - I continue to visit them.
Any person who has met Andrew and Mayu can attest that they are very generous and normal people - in fact it is the 1st comment anybody will make about them. On days when I didn't have much to eat, Andrew and Mayu shared their food with me. On 1 occasion in the prison yard, for no apparent reason, a prisoner tried to start a fight with me. Andrew intervened, declared that there was no problem and the issue was resolved peacefully. Andrew didn't respond with aggression; in fact he prevented the situation from turning violent. This is how he handles situations - calmly and peacefully. I have always been amazed at how the two of them carry themselves in the face of execution. In their short lives Andrew and Mayu have contemplated their actions more than most people can say of themselves.
During the time I was in prison, drugs were easy to find in LP Kerobokan. Many prisoners were addicts and were taking drugs daily - others drank arak (a local rice liquor). I spent 1/2 of my time in prison sharing a cell with Andrew and in that time neither Andrew nor Mayu took drugs or were involved in distributing drugs. They didn't even smoke cigarettes.
Andrew leads church services inside the prison, as well as teaches cooking classes and English courses to other prisoners. Myuran also teaches English and cooking classes. In more recent years, he [Myuran] has established an art program, in which he teaches other prisoners how to paint and draw. Occasionally the prison showcases the prisoners' art in galleries outside of the prison. All the proceeds go into buying new materials for the program.
Andrew once told me in his own words, 'I know what it's like to be a junkie - I've been one. But you know, it's no good. So I got clean. As for what I've done [his crime], I just thought it would be a quick payday, nothing more, nothing less. It was stupid and selfish, and if I could tell my younger self not to do it, I would. But I was young and didn't understand. All I can do is move forward and try help people'. When I asked him what he would do if he would be released, he said he would be a counselor or a pastor and encourage other youths not to make the same mistakes he made. Not surprisingly, Mayu gave similar answers. Mayu is in his final year of university studying art, and is mentored by artist Ben Quilty.
I was released in January of 2010, exactly 5 years ago. A few months before I was arrested I was expelled from high school. After my release I went back to school and finished with a 98 % grade average, the highest of hundreds of students in the class of that year, and I can say with honesty that I would never have achieved this had I not met Andrew and Mayu. I have witnessed them rehabilitate themselves, and with every passing year they accomplish more and grow into more beautiful people. They have influenced me to do the same. They have changed the lives of many prisoners through their programs and continue to help rehabilitating prisoners by offering education and guidance.
I try to stop responding to people who argue that Andrew and Mayu would have destroyed lives if they succeeded in smuggling drugs into Australia. I wonder if any of these people have served prison sentences - 10 years is a long time to reflect. Andrew and Mayu are different now than they were back then. They are changing lives and helping people recover from a life of drugs. A legal system should not employ a penalty of retribution. Drug smuggling should be illegal, hard drugs are destructive to society and measures must be taken to stop the import/export and distribution of drugs. Unfortunately, as many well-developed countries have learned in the past, the war on drugs only brings further destruction to society and the death penalty does virtually nothing to deter people from smuggling narcotics and/or other illegal substances. Many nations that are seasoned in the war on drugs have abandoned capital punishment and have moved forward with policy reforms. The death penalty has no place in the 21st century. A government must protect and respect the sanctity of all human life, including those convicted on drug charges. These people have a right to live and deserve a 2nd chance.
Your constitution protects this right.
Please, Mercy
Xander

Source: Xander, a former inmate of Kerobokan Jail, echo.net.au, January 26, 2015

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A Look at the Death Penalty in the United States

Facts:

Capital punishment is legal in 32 U.S. states.

Connecticut and New Mexico have abolished the death penalty, but it is not retroactive. Prisoners on death row in those states will still be executed.

As of October 2014 there were 3,035 inmates awaiting execution.

Since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court, 1,394 people have been executed. (as of December 2014)

Japan is the only industrial democracy besides the United States that has the death penalty. In Japan, the 2013 per capita execution rate was 1 execution per 15,809,458 persons.

Federal Government: (source: Death Penalty Information Center)

The U.S. government and U.S. military have 69 people awaiting execution. (as of October 2014)

The U.S. government has executed 3 people since 1976.

Females:

There are 57 women on death row in the United States. (as of October 2014)

15 women have been executed since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. (as of October 2014)

Juveniles:

22 individuals were executed between 1985 and 2003 for crimes committed as juveniles aged 16 and 17.

March 1, 2005 - Roper v. Simmons. The Supreme Court rules that the execution of juveniles is unconstitutional. This means that 16 and 17-year-olds are ineligible for execution. And reverses 2 1989 cases in Kentucky and Missouri.

Clemency:

Clemency Processes around the Country.

275 clemencies have been granted in the United States since 1976.

For federal death row inmates, the president alone has the power to grant a pardon.

Timeline:

1834 - Pennsylvania becomes the 1st state to move executions into correctional facilities, ending public executions.

1838 - Discretionary death penalty statutes are enacted in Tennessee.

1846 - Michigan becomes the 1st state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason.

1890 - William Kemmler becomes the 1st person executed by electrocution.

1907-1917 - 9 states abolish the death penalty for all crimes or strictly limit it. By 1920, 5 of those states had reinstated it.

1924 - The use of cyanide gas is introduced as an execution method.

1930s - Executions reach the highest levels in American history, averaging 167 per year.

June 29, 1972 - Furman v. Georgia. The Supreme Court effectively voids 40 death penalty statutes and suspends the death penalty.

1976 - Gregg v. Georgia. The death penalty is reinstated.

January 17, 1977 - A 10-year moratorium on executions ends with the execution of Gary Gilmore by firing squad in Utah.

1977 - Oklahoma becomes the 1st state to adopt lethal injection as a means of execution.

December 7, 1982 - Charles Brooks becomes the 1st person executed by lethal injection.

1984 - Velma Barfield of North Carolina becomes the 1st woman executed since reinstatement of the death penalty.

1986 - Ford v. Wainwright. Execution of insane persons is banned.

1987 - McCleskey v. Kemp. Racial disparities are not recognized as a constitutional violation of "equal protection of the law" unless intentional racial discrimination against the defendant can be shown.

1988 - Thompson v. Oklahoma. Executions of offenders age 15 and younger at the time of their crimes are declared unconstitutional.

1989 - Stanford v. Kentucky, and Wilkins v. Missouri. The Eighth Amendment does not prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed at age 16 or 17.

1994 - President Bill Clinton signs the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that expands the federal death penalty.

1996 - The last execution by hanging takes place in Delaware, with the death of Billy Bailey.

January 31, 2000 - A moratorium on executions is declared by Illinois Governor George Ryan. Since 1976, Illinois is the 1st state to block executions.

2002 - Atkins v. Virginia. The Supreme Court rules that the execution of mentally retarded defendants violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

January 2003 - Before leaving office, Governor George Ryan grants clemency to all of the remaining 167 inmates on Illinois's death row, due to the flawed process that led to the death sentences.

June 2004 - New York's death penalty law is declared unconstitutional by the state's high court.

March 1, 2005 - Roper v. Simmons. The Supreme Court rules that the execution of juvenile killers is unconstitutional. The 5-4 decision tosses out the death sentence of a Missouri man who was 17-years-old when he murdered a St. Louis area woman in 1993.

December 2, 2005 - The execution of Kenneth Lee Boyd in North Carolina marks the 1,000th time the death penalty has been carried out since it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976. Boyd, 57, is executed for the 1988 murders of his wife, Julie Curry Boyd, and father-in-law, Thomas Dillard Curry.

June 12, 2006 - The Supreme Court rules that death row inmates can challenge the use of lethal injection as a method of execution.

December 15, 2006 - Florida Governor Jeb Bush suspends the death penalty after the execution of prisoner Angel Diaz. Diaz had to be given 2 injections, and it took more than 30 minutes for him to die.

December 15, 2006 - Judge Jeremy Fogel of the U.S. District Court in San Jose rules that lethal injection in California violates the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.

December 17, 2007 - Governor Jon Corzine signs legislation banning the death penalty in New Jersey. The death sentences of 8 men are commuted to life terms.

September 2007 - The U.S. Supreme Court takes up the case of Baze and Bowling v. Rees, in which two Kentucky death row inmates challenged Kentucky's use of a 3-drug mixture for death by lethal injection.

December 31, 2007 - Due to the de facto moratorium on executions, pending the Supreme Court's ruling, only 42 people in the U.S. are executed in 2007. It is the lowest total in more than 10 years.

April 14, 2008 - In a 7-2 ruling, the Supreme Court upholds Kentucky's use of lethal injection. Between September 2007, when the Court took on the case, and April 2008 no one was executed in the U.S.

March 18, 2009 - Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico signs legislation repealing the death penalty in his state. His actions will not affect 2 prisoners currently on death row, Robert Fry, who killed a woman in 2000, and Tim Allen, who killed a 17-year-old girl in 1994.

November 13, 2009 - Ohio becomes the 1st state to switch to a method of lethal injection using a single drug, rather than the 3-drug method used by other states.

2010 - Execution by firing squad is used for the last time in Utah, with the death of Ronnie Lee Gardner.

March 9, 2011 - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announces that he has signed legislation eliminating the death penalty in his state, more than 10 years after the state halted executions.

March 16, 2011 - The Drug Enforcement Agency seizes Georgia's supply of thiopental, over questions of where the state obtained the drug. U.S. manufacturer Hospira stopped producing the drug in 2009. The countries that still produce the drug do not allow it to be exported to the U.S. for use in lethal injections.

May 20, 2011 - The Georgia Department of Corrections announces that pentobarbital will be substituted for sodium thiopental in the 3-drug lethal injection process.

July 2011 - Lundbeck Inc., the company that makes pentobarbital (brand name Nembutal), the drug used in lethal injections, announces it will restrict the use of its product from prisons carrying out capital punishment. "After much consideration, we have determined that a restricted distribution system is the most meaningful means through which we can restrict the misuse of Nembutal. While the company has never sold the product directly to prisons and therefore can't make guarantees, we are confident that our new distribution program will play a substantial role in restricting prisons' access to Nembutal for misuse as part of lethal injection." Lundbeck also states that it "adamantly opposes the distressing misuse of our product in capital punishment."

July 7, 2011 - Humberto Leal Garcia, Jr., a Mexican national, is executed by lethal injection, in Texas for the 1994 kidnap, rape and murder of Adra Sauceda in San Antonio. Despite pleas from the U.S. State Department and the White House, Texas Governor Rick Perry does not grant clemency and the U.S. Supreme Court does not intervene.

November 22, 2011 - Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon grants a reprieve to Gary Haugen, who was scheduled to be executed December 6. Kitzhaber, a licensed physician, also puts a moratorium on all state executions for the remainder of his term in office.

April 25, 2012 - Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signs S.B. 280, An Act Revising the Penalty for Capital Felonies, into law. The law goes into effect immediately and replaces the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole. The law is not retroactive to those already on death row.

June 22, 2012 - The Arkansas Supreme Court strikes down the state's execution law, calling the form of lethal injection the state uses unconstitutional.

August 7, 2012 - The Supreme Court allows the execution of Marvin Wilson, 54, a Texas inmate with low IQ.

November 6, 2012 - A measure to repeal the death penalty in California fails.

May 2, 2013 - Maryland's governor signs a bill repealing the death penalty. The legislation goes into effect October 1.

June 26, 2013 - Texas executes its 500th prisoner since 1982, Kimberly McCarthy, for the 1997 murder of Dorothy Booth. McCarthy is the 1st female executed in the U.S. since 2010.

November 20, 2013 - Missouri executes white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin for the 1977 murder of Gerald Gordon. He was blamed for 22 killings between 1977 and 1980.

January 16, 2014 - Ohio executes inmate Dennis McGuire with a new combination of drugs, due to the unavailability of drugs such as pentobarbital. The state used a combination of the drugs midazolam, a sedative, and the painkiller hydromorphone, according to the state corrections department. According to witness Alan Johnson of the Columbus Dispatch, the whole execution process took 24 minutes, and McGuire appeared to be gasping for air for 10 to 13 minutes.

February 11, 2014 - Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announces that he is issuing a moratorium on death penalty cases during his term in office.

May 22, 2014 - Tennessee becomes the 1st state to make death by electric chair mandatory when lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

May 28, 2014 - A judge in Ohio issues an order temporarily suspending executions in the state so that authorities can further study new lethal injection protocols.

July 23, 2014 - Arizona uses a new combination of drugs for the lethal injection to execute convicted murderer Joseph Woods. After he was injected it took him nearly 2 hours to die. Witness accounts differ as to whether he was gasping for air or snoring as he died.

September 4, 2014 - The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety issues a report on the controversial April execution of inmate Clayton Lockett. Complications with the placement of an IV into Lockett played a significant role in problems with his execution, according to the report. An autopsy confirmed that Lockett died from the execution drugs and not from a heart attack, but many consider it botched nonetheless because it took 43 minutes for him to die.

November 19, 2014 - A Utah legislative committee votes 9-2 to endorse a bill that will allow the execution of condemned prisoners by firing squad if drugs needed for lethal injection are not available. The bill is scheduled to be heard by full Utah Legislature convening in January 2015.

December 22, 2014 - A U.S. district court judge in Oklahoma rules that future scheduled executions may proceed after he denies a preliminary injunction request filed by 21 Oklahoma death row inmates stemming from the problematic execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29th.

December 22, 2014 - Arizona's state-commisioned review board decides that the execution of Joseph Woods was "handled appropriately," but that it will be changing the combination they use in future executions from a 2 drug formula to a 3 drug formula, or a single drug injection if the State can obtain it (pentobarbital).

December 31, 2014 - Outgoing Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley takes the state's last 4 inmates off death row, commuting their sentences to life in prison without parole in one of his final acts in office.

January 8, 2015 - Ohio announces that it is reincorporating thiopental sodium, a drug which it used in executions from 1999-2011, into it's execution policy. The state is also dropping the two-drug regimen of midazolam and hydromorphone.

Source: CNN, January 24, 2015

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Egypt: Retrial ordered in mass death penalty case

Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced in swift mass trials

A court in Egypt has ordered a retrial for 37 Muslim Brotherhood members sentenced to death over an attack on a police station in 2013.

They were among more than 500 backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi sentenced to death in a mass trial.

Most of the death penalties were later commuted to life in prison. A retrial was also ordered for 115 other defendants sentenced to life.

The 2-day trial and its outcome had drawn international condemnation.

The defendants had been convicted of attacking the police station in Minya, south of Cairo, following a deadly crackdown on pro-Morsi supporters by security forces that August.

The original trial also saw some 377 people sentenced to life in prison in absentia.

There have been a number of mass trials of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt where defendants have received heavy sentences.

The cases and speed of the hearings have drawn widespread criticism from human rights groups and the UN.

Source: BBC news, January 24, 2015

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The U.S. Supreme Court Lethal Injection Case Could Have Major Implications For Inmates Everywhere

Following a number of high-profile cases involving controversial death-row inmates, the Supreme Court has decided to weigh in on the use of lethal injections and whether such practices violate the Constitution's measures against cruel and unusual punishment. The decision to review the procedure marks the 1st time the high court has addressed the issue since 2008, when it unilaterally denied a challenge to the practice. Now, however, following a single-line issue published late Friday afternoon, the Roberts Court has agreed to hear a case brought forward by three inmates awaiting execution who say the lethal dosage of drugs is unconstitutional.

The lawyer representing the prisoners, Oklahoma-based attorney Dale Baich, told USA Today:

The time is right for the Court to take a careful look at this important issue, particularly given the bungled executions that have occurred since states started using these novel and experimental drugs protocols.

He refers to the controversial execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett, whose allegedly painful and inhumane execution brought into question the legality and humanity of the lethal injection procedure. Since then, however, the state has put to death convicted child rapist and killer Charles Warner without any claim of foul play. Still, some lawyers say, the usage of the fatal combination of drugs can be excruciating, especially if used in the wrong order.

In an earlier challenge presented by Oklahoma defense attorneys, NBC News reports, naysayers of the penalty and the lethal injection have noted:

There is a well-established scientific consensus that it cannot maintain a deep, coma-like unconsciousness. For these reasons, it is uncontested that midazolam is not approved by the FDA for use as general anesthesia and is never used as the sole anesthetic for painful surgical procedures.

According to these lawyers, their clients are acutely aware of intense pain during their final moments, making the entire procedure entirely unacceptable under the Constitution's Bill of Rights. Attorneys have further claimed:

The lethal injection landscape has changed significantly since Baze v. Rees in 2008. At that time, every state was using the same three-drug combination, which the lawyers in Baze conceded was humane if administered properly. Today, states are not using that 3-drug protocol and instead are using experimental drug combinations. The drug protocol used in Oklahoma is not capable of producing a humane execution, even if it is administered properly.

The Supreme Court is expected to come to a conclusion on the issue by late June at the latest after hearing the case in April. A number of the Court's more liberal justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, have previously expressed reservations about the current policies in place regarding lethal injection executions. Following a recent decision to ignore a similar petition from an inmate in Missouri, Justice Sotomayor remarked,

The questions before us are especially important now, given states' increasing reliance on new and scientifically untested methods of execution. Petitioners have committed horrific crimes and should be punished. But the Eighth Amendment guarantees that no one should be subjected to an execution that causes searing, unnecessary pain before death. I hope that our failure to act today does not portend our unwillingness to consider these questions.

Now, these considerations are more salient than ever as the entire court prepares to hear a case that has the capacity to change the entire landscape of capital punishment in the United States. In the coming weeks, the scheduled executions of a number of death row inmates will be stayed while the Court begins to weigh arguments and evidence pertaining to the issue.

Many of the issues that have recently arisen around the drugs used in lethal injections followed the boycott of a number of European companies who refused to provide the necessary sedatives that, ostensibly, make the procedure more painless and humane. The United States, which remains one of the few "developed nations" that still makes use of the death penalty, has come under significant fire by other nations for the seemingly antiquated capital punishment system. Still, executions continue to happen by state jurisdictions, and in the states of Oklahoma, Florida, Ohio, and Arizona, the same apparently ineffective pain killer is used as the 1st of the 3 injections. Ohio, however, has announced that is will halt all executions until a superior alternative can be found.

Source: bustle.com, January 25, 2015


Midazolam and the Supreme Court

Only 1 week after refusing to stay Charles Warner's execution, the justices will now hear his fellow inmates' appeal on a questionable lethal-injection drug.

What changed?

Last week, the state of Oklahoma executed Charles Warner after the Supreme Court refused to halt his execution while he appealed the constitutionality of the drugs used to kill him. Warner and 3 other death-row inmates argued that midazolam, a sedative used by Oklahoma and 3 other states in lethal injections, did not properly induce unconsciousness and would therefore lead to a horrifyingly painful death.

A 5-justice majority, however, denied Warner's request for a stay without comment, and the state of Oklahoma executed Warner shortly thereafter. Justice Sonia Sotomayor and three other justices dissented, arguing that Warner and the other inmates had raised serious questions about Oklahoma's lethal-injection procedures. "I hope that our failure to act today does not portend our unwillingness to consider these questions," Sotomayor wrote.

Those hopes were not in vain. On Friday, the Supreme Court granted the three remaining plaintiffs' petition to hear their case, titled Glossip v. Gross, after it was relisted for further consideration. The justices gave no indication why they would refuse to stay Warner's execution, then agree to hear his case 7 days later. Requests for the Court to stay the other three inmates' executions are forthcoming, said Dale Baich, one of their attorneys.

The Supreme Court has not addressed a lethal injection protocol's constitutionality since Baze v. Rees in 2008. A 6-justice majority ruled then that a 3-drug cocktail - the sedative sodium thiopental, the paralytic pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride - did not violate the Eighth Amendment. But without sodium thiopental to anesthetize a condemned inmate, the court wrote, there would be "a substantial, constitutionally unacceptable risk of suffocation from the administration of pancuronium bromide and of pain from potassium chloride." In other words, the inmate would die in agony as he or she suffocated to death.

Amid intense pressure by anti-death-penalty activists, the last American drug maker to produce sodium thiopental withdrew from the market in 2011. State officials scrambled to find alternative sources in overseas markets, leading to a European Union embargo of lethal-injection drugs and raids by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to seize stockpiles of sodium thiopental that had been imported without a license.

Without sodium thiopental, states then experimented with alternative cocktails. Midazolam, a sedative from the benzodiazepine family, was first used for executions in Florida as part of a 3-drug cocktail without apparent complication. Outside of the Sunshine State, however, it has led to at least 3 botched executions. Last January, Dennis McGuire told observers during his execution with midazolam and hydromorphone in Ohio that he could "feel his whole body burning" as he died. In July, Joseph Wood gasped for air for 1 hour and 57 minutes in Arizona during his executions with the same 2-drug cocktail.

Oklahoma first used a 3-drug midazolam cocktail identical to Florida's to execute Clayton Lockett last April. During his execution, an improper IV placement failed to deliver enough of the paralytic drug into his bloodstream, and he died of a massive heart attack while writhing in pain. In the aftermath, the other 4 Oklahoma death-row inmates appealed for a stay of their executions, arguing that midazolam did not produce a "deep, comalike unconsciousness" and was therefore an unacceptable substitute for sodium thiopental. As Justice Sotomayor observed last week, this paralytic's absence may have revealed pain and suffering that would otherwise be unobservable. This possibility raises serious questions about all executions performed with midazolam, including those carried out without incident in Florida.

The Supreme Court has never struck down an existing method of execution as unconstitutional. A ruling that forbids midazolam would reverberate even throughout states that do not use the sedative. No execution chamber in the U.S. currently uses the Baze cocktail, and no pharmaceutical company currently provides its key ingredient to American death rows. Even states like Texas, which uses a single-drug protocol with pentobarbital in its lethal injections, could find themselves on unsure constitutional footing.

Source: The Atlantic, January 24, 2015


US death penalty: Supreme Court to decide lethal injection case

US high court last week allowed Oklahoma execution to go on, despite questions over drugs used

The US Supreme Court revealed on Friday that it would look into lethal injections in Oklahoma, just a week after it allowed the execution of a man in that state, despite questions about the deadly drugs combined for the lethal injections.

The Oklahoma case was brought by 3 death row inmates in the state who say that lethal injections violate the US Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment, according to a report from Reuters. All 3 of the inmates who brought the case are scheduled to be put to death within the next 2 months.

Questions have surrounded the 3-drug lethal injection process used in Oklahoma since April 2014, when the state botched the execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. Execution officials had a difficult time placing Lockett's IV for the injection and it took 43 minutes for him to die, during which he was seen writing in pain, according to reports of the incident.

An investigation into Lockett's execution revealed that it wasn't the drugs that caused the slow, painful death, but the IV connection. Still, the state altered its lethal injection procedure following the Lockett debacle.

The Lockett case brought up questions of whether the Supreme Court would halt further executions in Oklahoma, pending a procedural review. On 15 January, the Supreme Court declined to halt the execution of Charles Warner, who was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old baby.

The inmates who brought the case before the high court are Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole. Glossip is slated to be killed on 29 January for arranging the murder of his former boss. Grant's execution is scheduled for 19 February, after he was convicted of stabbing a correctional officer to death. Cole, who is to be killed on 5 March, was convicted of killing his 9-month-old daughter.

It was not immediately clear if the Supreme Court would halt any of the 3 executions while it's waiting to hear the case, which is to be argued on April, with a decision expected before July.

Source: The Independent, January 24, 2015


Supreme Court To Take Up Use Of Lethal Injection

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to review Oklahoma's method of execution by lethal injection, taking up a case brought by three death row inmates who accuse the state of violating the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The high court just last week allowed the execution of a convicted killer to go ahead in Oklahoma over the objection of its four liberal members.

The 3-drug process used by Oklahoma prison officials for carrying out the death penalty has been widely debated since the April 2014 botched execution of inmate Clayton Lockett, a convicted murder. He could be seen twisting on the gurney after death chamber staff failed to place the IV properly.

The inmates challenging the state's procedures argue that the sedative used by Oklahoma, midazolam, cannot achieve the level of unconsciousness required for surgery and was therefore unsuitable for executions.

On Jan. 15, the high court declined to halt the execution of another Oklahoma inmate, Charles Warner, who was convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old baby. The court was divided 5-4, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing a dissenting opinion.

Although 5 votes are needed to grant a stay application, only 4 are required for the court to take up a case.

The inmates say the 3-drug protocol used by the state can cause extreme pain in violation of the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

After the Lockett execution, the state revised its protocols by increasing the amount of midazolam used to render an inmate unconscious. Lower courts signed off on the change, as did the divided Supreme Court.

In her dissent in the Warner case, Sotomayor said she was "deeply troubled by this evidence suggesting that midazolam cannot be constitutionally used as the 1st drug in a 3-drug lethal injection protocol."

The inmates want the court to decide whether its 2008 decision in a case called Baze v. Rees in which the justices upheld the three-drug execution protocol used by Kentucky applies to Oklahoma's procedures. Lawyers for the inmates say that the Oklahoma protocol is different, so the reasoning of the 2008 ruling should not apply.

The inmates are Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole. Glossip, who arranged for his employer to be beaten to death, is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 29. Grant, who stabbed a correctional worker to death, is due to be put to death on Feb. 19. Cole, convicted of killing his 9-month-old daughter, is scheduled to be executed on March 5.

The brief court order did not note whether the court had agreed to stay the executions.

The case will be argued in April, with a decision due by the end of June.

Source: Reuters, January 24, 2015


The botched executions behind the Supreme Court case on lethal injection

Late Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court announced it would review lethal injection procedures used for many death row inmates across the country after a few of botched executions raised concerns about whether the procedure is unconstitutional.

Those problematic executions include Clayton Lockett, an Oklahoma inmate in April who died of a heart attack 43 minutes after the lethal injection process was started. After the 1st of a 3-drug cocktail was supposed to make him unconscious, Lockett began writhing on the gurney. Months earlier in Ohio, Dennis McGuire struggled and choked for several minutes and took nearly 25 minutes to die from the lethal injection. Arizona inmate Joseph R. Wood took nearly 2 hours to die, with witnesses saying he gasped and snorted for much of it. Other cases of problematic executions have been reported.

The question before the court now is whether the lethal injection protocol, which has undergone unexpected changes in the past few years, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

How lethal injection has changed

Until a few years ago, most lethal injections used a three-drug combination - an anesthetic, a paralytic drug and a drug stopping the heart. The most common anesthetic used was sodium thiopental, but in 2011, its sole manufacturer said it would no longer make it after Italian officials banned export of the drug for capital punishment. So states started using a different anesthetic, pentobarbital - until its manufacturer, a Danish company known as Lundbeck, protested its use in executions.

In turn, states started using new and untested combinations to carry out lethal injections, which is still the main method of executions in the United States. A Germany company said it would stop providing its anesthetic for lethal injections, and a compounding pharmacy last year refused to provide drugs to execute a Missouri inmate.

There's been a high level of secrecy

There's also been secrecy about where and how states are getting these new drugs. As my colleagues reported last April, following Lockett's execution:

In their scramble to carry out death sentences, prison officials from different states have made secret handoffs of lethal-injection drugs. State workers have carried stacks of cash into unregulated compounding pharmacies to purchase chemicals for executions. Some states, like Oklahoma, have relied on unproven drug cocktails, all while saying they must conceal the source of the drugs involved to protect suppliers from legal action and harassment.

"It looks like a street-level drug deal," said Dean Sanderford, a lawyer for Lockett. "And they're keeping all the information secret from us. .?.?. They don't need to be carrying out any more executions until they come clean, until we know exactly what happened with Clayton's execution and everything about these drugs, where they're getting them."

What's changed in Oklahoma

After a review of Lockett's death, Oklahoma a few months ago announced changes to its lethal injection procedure. The state says it will now use 5 times as much of the sedative midazolam, which it used for the 1st time in Lockett's execution last year. The state last week executed its 1st inmate since Lockett, and there were no apparent signs of distress.

What other states have done

The high-profile botched executions haven't changed much for states around the country. As the Boston Globe reported last month, some states are looking at other ways of executing death row inmates. Oklahoma is apparently looking at becoming the first state to use "forced deprivation of oxygen," while Tennessee may bring back the electric chair and Utah may reinstate the firing squad, according to the Globe.

Support for the death penalty is down

Nationwide support for the death penalty has been declining, but at least 60 % of people still favor it. After series of botched executions, pollsters expressed doubt those incidents would change public attitudes in a significant way. Still, at least 6 states have abolished the death penalty since 2007, and 18 states in total ban it.

Source: Washington Post, January 24, 2015

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Slight drop seen for 1st time in Japanese who support capital punishment

Execution chamber at Tokyo Detention Center
In a sign of wavering support for capital punishment, the 1st decline in the percentage of Japanese who support the death penalty has been noted, although the support rate remains about 80 %, according to a Cabinet Office survey released Jan. 24.

The decline in support is the 1st since the survey, which is conducted every 5 years, began in 1994, it added.

The high percentage in the survey apparently shows the public's continuing sympathy for victims of violent crime.

However, movie director and author Tatsuya Mori, who calls for abolition of the death penalty, said that the decline in the support rate is attributable to the Shizuoka District Court's approval of a retrial in March for death-row inmate Iwao Hakamada, 78.

"(Due to the decision,) many people were made aware of strong-arm investigation tactics and unfair proceedings in trials," Mori said.

Hakamada, a former professional boxer, was on death row for decades after being convicted of murdering 4 people in 1966. He was released from prison in March after the court ordered a retrial.

The Cabinet Office conducted the latest survey in November 2014 on 3,000 men and women aged 20 years or older throughout the country through direct interviews. A total of 1,826 people, or 60.9 percent, gave valid responses.

According to the survey, 80.3 percent of the respondents said that having a death penalty is unavoidable, marking a decline of 5.3 % points from 85.6 % in 2009. Until then, the corresponding figures had continued to rise from 73.8 % in 1994 to 79.3 % in 1999 and to 81.4 % in2004.

On the other hand, 9.7 % of the respondents in the 2014 survey said that capital punishment should be abolished. That was a rise of 4.0 % points from 5.7 % in 2009.

In the 2014 survey, those who replied, "I don't know" or "I cannot reply yes or no" constituted 9.9 %.

The survey also asked the respondents about the reasons for their replies. They were allowed to give plural answers.

Of the respondents, 53.4 % of those who approved the death penalty said that if it is abolished, the feelings of victims or their families will not be assuaged. In addition, 52.9 % replied that those who committed heinous crimes should pay with their lives.

Besides, 47.4 % answered that if vicious criminals were allowed to live, they could commit similar violent crimes again.

On the other hand, 46.6 % of the respondents who sought the abolition of capital punishment said that if the results of the trials were later found to be false, it is impossible to restore the lives of the executed death-row inmates.

The 2014 survey also asked respondents about whether the death penalty should be abolished if a sentence of life imprisonment without parole was introduced in Japan. In response, 51.5 % replied that it should not be abolished while 37.7 % said that it should be abolished.

The reply showed that more than 50 % believe that life imprisonment without parole cannot become a substitute for capital punishment.

As for the results of the 2014 survey, Mikio Kawai, professor of sociology of law at the Toin University of Yokohama, said, "I think that those who approve of capital punishment are not giving their all-out support (to it). In their minds, the percentage for support and non-support is about 50-50."

However, Kawai added, "When they think about how to punish violent criminals, they will have strong resistance to the complete abolition of the death penalty."

He predicted that the support rate for the death penalty will continue to remain high.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun, January 25, 2015

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