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

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dozens of Florida death row inmates expected to challenge sentences

Florida death chamber
Florida death chamber
[T]here are dozens of condemned inmates whose sentences could be reduced to life without parole or who could get new sentencing hearings in the first wave of legal challenges to a Florida death penalty sentencing system struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court ruled on Jan. 12 that Florida's system is unconstitutional because it does not require juries to make all findings of fact necessary to impose a death sentence. That means Florida is violating a defendant's right to a trial by jury.

The Supreme Court's decision involved Timothy Lee Hurst, who was convicted of killing a co-worker at a Pensacola fast-food restaurant in 1998.

Hurst sits in his 6- by 9-foot cell at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to review his case as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

He's not alone. Death penalty experts and Attorney General Pam Bondi say that as many as 43 death row inmates could get life sentences without parole or new sentencing hearings.

It's partly a matter of timing.

Those 43 inmates have filed limited challenges to their death sentences known as direct appeals, which have not yet been acted upon by the Florida Supreme Court. Justices must now apply the Hurst decision to those cases.

"It's sort of a given that these people get the benefit of Hurst," said Martin McClain, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who represents death row inmates in their appeals. "The question will be whether it leads to a life sentence or a new sentencing."

Those 43 cases in the post-Hurst pipeline involve some of Florida's most horrific crimes of the past two decades.

Florida has 389 inmates on death row, second only to California. The state's death penalty is experiencing its greatest turmoil since it was reinstituted four decades ago.

The Hurst case is expected to unleash a flood of new appeals and is forcing a conservative, pro-death penalty Legislature to hurriedly rewrite the law so that executions can resume.

As lawmakers craft a new law, the state's highest court agreed Tuesday to indefinitely postpone the scheduled Feb. 11 execution of Michael Lambrix. He has been on death row since 1984 after being convicted of two murders in Glades County.

Lambrix's case is much older than most death penalty cases, and a legal question is whether the Hurst decision can be applied retroactively to him. The court's decision to stop his execution is seen as an indication that justices want to analyze the impact of the Hurst decision.

In the cases of Lambrix and his other clients, McClain wants the state court to change every death sentence to life without parole, which Bondi opposes.

In case after case this week, Bondi's legal experts argued that those original death sentences must be carried out. The marathon legal battles are just beginning as more cases will appear on the court's argument docket in coming months.


Source: Tampa Bay Times, Steve Bousquet, Feb. 4, 2016

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Dark Secrets of Hitler's Black Holocaust

Nazi propaganda photo depicts friendship between an "Aryan" and a black woman. The caption states: "The result! A loss of racial pride." Germany, prewar. — US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Nazi propaganda photo depicts friendship between an "Aryan" and a black
woman. The caption states: "The result! A loss of racial pride."
Germany, prewar. — US Holocaust Memorial Museum
This article first appeared on The Conversation.

The fact that we officially commemorate the Holocaust on January 27, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, means that remembrance of Nazi crimes focuses on the systematic mass murder of Europe’s Jews.

The other victims of Nazi racism, including Europe’s Sinti and Roma are now routinely named in commemoration, but not all survivors have had equal opportunities to have their stories heard. [For more information on the Nazi persecution and slaughter of homosexuals, read American historian Gerard Koskovich's conference "From Eldorado to the Third Reich, The Life and Death of a Homosexual Culture" here -- DPN.]

One group of victims who have yet to be publicly memorialized is black Germans.

All those voices need to be heard, not only for the sake of the survivors, but because we need to see how varied the expressions of Nazi racism were if we are to understand the lessons of the Holocaust for today.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, there were understood to have been some thousands of black people living in Germany—they were never counted and estimates vary widely. At the heart of an emerging black community was a group of men from Germany’s own African colonies (which were lost under the peace treaty that ended World War I) and their German wives.

They were networked across Germany and abroad by ties of family and association and some were active in Communist and anti-racist organizations. Among the first acts of the Nazi regime was the suppression of black political activism. There were also 600 to 800 children fathered by French colonial soldiers—many, though not all, African—when the French army occupied the Rhineland as part of the peace settlement after 1919. French troops were withdrawn in 1930 and the Rhineland was demilitarized until Hitler stationed German units there in 1936.

Denial of Rights and Work

The 1935 Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of their German citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with “people of German blood.”

A subsequent ruling confirmed that black people (like “gypsies”) were to be regarded as being “of alien blood” and subject to the Nuremberg principles. Very few people of African descent had German citizenship, even if they were born in Germany, but this became irreversible when they were given passports that designated them as “stateless Negroes.”

In 1941, black children were officially excluded from public schools, but most of them had suffered racial abuse in their classrooms much earlier. Some were forced out of school and none were permitted to go on to university or professional training. Published interviews and memoirs by both men and women, unpublished testimony and postwar compensation claims testify to these and other shared experiences.

Employment prospects that were already poor before 1933 got worse afterward. Unable to find regular work, some were drafted for forced labor as “foreign workers” during World War II. Films and stage shows making propaganda for the return of Germany’s African colonies became one of the few sources of income, especially after black people were banned from other kinds of public performance in 1939.

When SS leader Heinrich Himmler undertook a survey of all black people in Germany and occupied Europe in 1942, he was probably contemplating a round-up of some kind. But there was no mass internment.

Research in camp records and survivor testimony has so far come up with around 20 black Germans who spent time in concentration camps and prisons—and at least one who was a euthanasia victim. The one case we have of a black person being sent to a concentration camp explicitly for being a Mischling (mulatto)—Gert Schramm, interned in Buchenwald aged 15—comes from 1944.

Instead, the process that ended with incarceration usually began with a charge of deviant or antisocial behavior. Being black made people visible to the police, and it became a reason not to release them once they were in custody.

In this respect, we can see black people as victims not of a peculiarly Nazi racism, but of an intensified version of the kinds of everyday racism that persist today.

Sterilization: An Assault on Families

It was the Nazi fear of “racial pollution” that led to the most common trauma suffered by black Germans: the breakup of families. “Mixed” couples were harassed into separating. When others applied for marriage licenses, or when a woman was known to be pregnant or had a baby, the black partner became a target for involuntary sterilization.

In a secret action in 1937, some 400 of the Rhineland children were forcibly sterilized. Other black Germans went into hiding or fled the country to escape sterilization, while news of friends and relatives who had not escaped intensified the fear that dominated people’s lives.

The black German community was new in 1933; in most families the first generation born in Germany was just coming of age. In that respect it was similar to the communities in France and Britain that were forming around families founded by men from the colonies.

Nazi persecution broke those families and the ties of community. One legacy of that was a long silence about the human face of Germany’s colonial history: the possibility that black and white Germans could share a social and cultural space.

That silence helps to explain Germans’ mixed responses to today’s refugee crisis. The welcome offered by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and many ordinary Germans has given voice to the liberal humanitarianism that was always present in German society and was reinforced by the lessons of the Holocaust.

The reaction against refugees reveals the other side of the coin: Germans who fear immigration are not alone in Europe. But their anxieties draw on a vision that has remained very powerful in German society since 1945: the idea that however deserving they are, people who are not white cannot be German.

Source: Newsweek, Eve Rosenhaft, Feb. 6, 2016. Eve Rosenhaft is professor of German historical studies, University of Liverpool.

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Idaho death penalty rarely used

Brandon J. Shaw
Brandon J. Shaw
NAMPA — Nine people are awaiting execution in Idaho. Only three have been executed since 1977 under Idaho’s death penalty.

The issue of capital punishment continues to raise questions nationwide — financially and ethically.

Those questions are now being asked in Canyon County, where prosecutors have filed papers to seek the death penalty against Brandon J. Shaw. He is the man accused of fatally stabbing Chelsey Rae Malone in November outside her home in the 2700 block of Berlin Place in Nampa. She was just 23 years old.

At only 23, Shaw may seem young to potentially sit on death row, but all nine inmates currently awaiting execution in Idaho entered prison between the ages of 20 and 36.

The oldest inmate currently on death row is 65-year-old Thomas Creech, who has been on death row since age 32 after he was convicted of beating an inmate to death in Ada County. Creech began his term on death row in January 1983.

The youngest inmate to ever enter Idaho’s death row is James Hairston, who was convicted and sentenced to death in November 1996 for fatally shooting two people in Bannock County. Hairston was 20 years old when he entered death row.

Since 1977, the state of Idaho has executed only three people, including murderers Paul Ezra Rhoades, Richard Leavitt and Keith Wells — a statistic some might say is unusual given Idaho’s conservative political climate. The state is one of 31 states that permits death as a sentencing option for first-degree murder convictions.

In the local case of Brandon Shaw, prosecutors filed the notice to seek the death penalty against him on Jan. 7, citing aggravating circumstances that made the alleged crime eligible for a sentence of death.

Nationwide statistics have shown the cost of sentencing someone to death exceeds the price of sentencing them to life in prison for a variety of reasons, including the price of trials, appeals and the execution itself.

In Idaho, a statewide fund is in place to protect counties from taking on the full financial burden of a capital punishment case.

Every county in Idaho, except for Jefferson County, utilizes a Capital Crimes Defense Fund established in 1998 to help counties pay for trial expenses. In 2014, the Canyon County Board of Commissioners contributed $66,436 to the Capital Crimes Defense Fund.

Pursuant to the fund, counties pay the first $10,000 of trial costs before submitting reimbursement claims to the fund, and they must pay the wages of the lead defense attorney.

In March 2013, a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee conducted a study regarding the state’s death penalty statute and expenditures after two people were executed within two years.

According to the Idaho Legislature’s 2013 study, 11 counties have been reimbursed more than $4 million for defense costs since 1998. In Canyon County, since 1998, there have been nine cases that utilized the Capital Crimes Defense Fund.

As of 2013 in Canyon County, $450,638 in claims have been paid for cases against nine defendants.

Part of those expenses come from the use of expert witnesses and the length of time it takes to complete adjudication in the process of reaching either a guilty verdict or an acquittal is lengthy.

Capital cases in Idaho, between 1998 and 2013, took an average of about 14.5 months to adjudicate, regardless of whether they went to trial. That’s about 3.1 months longer than it takes to adjudicate non-capital cases, according to the state report.

For defendants who did go to trial, between 1998 and 2013, capital cases took 20.5 months to complete. Non-capital cases took about seven months less time to complete trial. Those state averages were regardless of whether the defendant was found guilty or not guilty.

In a Jan. 19 meeting with the Canyon County Board of Commissioners, Chief Public Defender Tera Harden addressed Brandon Shaw’s case and the financial issues surrounding capital punishment cases.

Harden said three public defenders will need to be approved and qualified by the Supreme Court to work on Shaw’s case. Defense attorneys must be death penalty-certified to defend a potential capital punishment case and meet specific criteria mandated by the Idaho Supreme Court.

Harden also told commissioners that her office has two investigators assigned to the case and they will be having “enormous costs as it relates to experts” in trial.

According to minutes of the meeting, it is Harden’s “personal opinion that it is the most fiscally irresponsible thing that can be done by anyone in a prosecutor’s office, and costs will be staggering.”

DEATH ROW APPEALS

While initial trials can be pricey for counties, the cost of the multiple appeals death row inmates undergo is even greater.

The Idaho Department of Correction pays $88.24 per day to hold a death row inmate in custody at a maximum security prison — regardless if the inmate is on death row or not.

But that’s where many of the similarities end.

The state has an Appellate Public Defender’s Office with a capital punishment defense unit. From July 1, 2004, to Dec. 21, 2013, the office spent $477,716 on death penalty appellate litigation, according to the 2013 report. From 2001 to 2013, staff at the office spent an estimated 79,178 billable hours on capital litigation for 10 defendants sentenced to death — an average of 7,918 hours per defendant.

By comparison, during that same time, the office’s appellate unit accumulated only 16,980 billable hours of litigation for 95 defendants with a life sentence — an average of only about 179 hours per defendant, according to the legislative report.


Source: Idaho Press-Tribune, Ruth Brown, February 6, 2016

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In Orwellian move, NC State Archives blocks access to death penalty photo

Allen Foster
Allen Foster
In George Orwell’s novel “1984,” the luckless Winston Smith labors in a Ministry of Truth office where he “re-creates” the past by removing or changing historical documents to reflect Big Brother’s political demands.

Winston doesn’t know whether he’s changing a fact or a fallacy another worker has already introduced. He erases some people entirely after the Party executes them.

I couldn’t help but think of Smith’s grim legacy recently. Last month, I requested from the North Carolina State Archives a photograph of the first inmate executed by lethal gas. I’d first seen Allen Foster’s mug shot in a 2004 edition of the state’s authorized history journal and wanted a high-resolution copy.

But the Archives – the state agency in charge of safeguarding the primary sources of our history – refused my request.

I dug deeper. I discovered that the Archives is blocking access to all historical material related to executions. This is especially important at a time when we as a state and a nation are engaged in a vital discussion about the death penalty. By blocking access to information, the state is harming education, stifling debate and undermining free speech.

The photo I sought is 80 years old. Three conjoined panels depict 20-year-old Foster in custody in 1936. Foster allegedly robbed and raped a Hoke County woman in 1935. At the time, rape was a capital crime. Foster’s mother unsuccessfully pleaded with Gov. J.C.B. Ehringhaus to spare his life. On Jan. 24, 1936, the state executed Foster, an African-American, the first in the state to die by lethal gas.

At the time, officials considered gas more humane than hanging. Yet Foster died horribly. The January cold prevented the gas from working properly. As sociologist Trina Seitz described in the North Carolina Historical Review, Foster gasped for three minutes before losing consciousness. Then “he convulsed wildly.” In all, it took him 11 minutes to die.

Request denied

In her article, Seitz reproduced the photo I wanted, which she legally obtained from the archives more than a decade ago.

I requested the photo as part of work I was doing on a national exhibit on mass incarceration, coordinated by the Humanities Action Lab at New York’s New School. Along with 20 other universities, 16 Duke students, a colleague and I were preparing our contribution, a history of the death penalty in North Carolina. The students read Seitz’s article as well as a UNC-sponsored site that reproduces the photo from the NCHR.

Imagine my surprise when the state archivist replied that current interpretation of law prevented access. I reached out to other researchers and learned that the state archivist is denying access to all historical death penalty records.

Suppressing historical documents on the death penalty is part of a wider effort by our current legislature to restrict or deny public access to information, an effort worthy of Big Brother. One new law shields the identity of companies that sell death penalty drugs to North Carolina. Another, which took effect Jan. 1, aims to silence whistle-blowers. Anyone who secretly gathers information in order to uncover and correct abuses can be sued by business owners for bad publicity and be required to pay a fine.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The News&Observer, Op-ed by Robin Kirk, February 6, 2016

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article58894128.html#storylink=cpy

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

China: A Hospital Built for Murder

The Tianjin First Central Hospital. (Hospital files)
The Tianjin First Central Hospital. (Hospital files)
Tens of thousands may have been killed so the Tianjin First Central Hospital in China could transplant organs for profit

By 2006, from his base at the Tianjin First Central Hospital, Dr. Shen Zhongyang had performed over 1,600 liver transplantations, boastful Chinese media reports say. Tianjin First, a hospital whose transplant ward he led, was just getting a new, well-funded building courtesy of the local government. Shen had patented his own surgical technique for rapid liver perfusion and extraction, and official transplantation websites were calling him China's "great transplant pioneer."

With all the celebration in the Chinese press of the doctor's life-saving operations, little attention was paid to the sources of the organs he transplanted. Dr. Shen's career was being built on a pile of corpses - that much was apparent - but the real question was: where did they come from?

The official explanation, that only formally executed prisoners are used, relies for its credibility on the number of transplants corresponding roughly with the number of executions. In Tianjin, that would be about 40 executions a year - a number derived from calculating the city's population against the national death row total.

Official numbers from the hospital are scarce, but penetrating that secrecy makes clear that Tianjin First Central Hospital, one of the busiest and most acclaimed in the country, for years having enjoyed extensive official backing, transplanted many times more organs than a supply of executed prisoners could support. Moreover, it appears to have transplanted many times more organs than it says it did.

In a detailed study of its activities based on publicly available documents, Epoch Times found sufficient evidence to throw into great doubt, if not demolish entirely, the official narrative of organ sourcing in China. This is simply due to the number of transplants: they are far too high.

That's a problem for China.

It means that the vast majority of organs transplanted at the Tianjin First Central Hospital - and by extension, other major hospitals around the country - could not have come from executed prisoners. Nor did they come from volunteers in any significant numbers, given that it is only very recently that a voluntary organ donation system has been attempted in China, and it is still in its fledgling stages.

This inevitably raises another question, which the Chinese authorities have found particularly vexing but have never addressed: where did the organs actually come from? What is the secret organ source that in the year 2000 suddenly became the basis for a nationwide expansion of organ transplant capacity, for which the Tianjin First Central Hospital stands as an exemplar?

For years human rights researchers have alleged that the captive population of Falun Gong adherents, a persecuted Chinese spiritual practice, is the likely source. The gaping disparity in the Tianjin case, along with a variety of other circumstantial evidence, adds ammunition and urgency to their claims.

This issue has largely been dodged by luminaries in the international medical community. But the circumstantial evidence bolstering the alternative explanation - organized mass murder of prisoners of conscience, using the tools of medicine, in the service of profit, by the world's most populous nation - continues to grow, and with it frustration among doctors that nothing is being done.

A Surgeon Starting

Street protest against organ transplants from executed inmates, Paris, 2007
Street protest against organ transplants from executed inmates, Paris, 2007
In the late 1990s, Shen Zhongyang, a liver transplant surgeon, was at a definite ebb in his career: the organ transplantation industry in China was little developed, operations were risky, so willing recipients were few, and organ supplies were limited.

In May of 1994, he rendered Tianjin its first liver transplant after persuading a 37-year-old migrant worker suffering from cirrhosis to undergo a transplant. At the time, transplants were done free of charge for the recipients, largely due to the low success rate.

Years passed with no notable developments, and in 1998 Shen returned from Japan where he had obtained his M.D. Upon return, he spent his own money (100,000 yuan, or $15,000) to set up a small transplant unit at the Tianjin First Central Hospital.

Progress was slow at first: by the end of 1998 his transplant unit performed just seven liver transplants. In 1999, they performed 24.

In 2000, things quickly turned around as a new organ supply abruptly came online. Over the next decade Shen Zhongyang did some of the briskest organ transplantation business in China.

In Tianjin, numbers kept going up: 209 liver transplants by January 2002; and then a cumulative total of 1,000 by the end of 2003, according to a report in Enorth Netnews, the mouthpiece of the Tianjin municipal government.

Tianjin First Central Hospital's successes are a microcosm of the Chinese organ transplantation system: its operations are opaque; paramilitary ties lurk in the background; organ procurement remains unexplained and rapid, suggestive of a pool of donors waiting to be selected from; and the surgical techniques are consistent with live or close-to-live harvesting from donors.

Doing the Build-Out

The most significant moment for the expansion of Tianjin First, an apparent sign of confidence of continued abundant organ supply, was the 130 million yuan ($20 million) investment in December 2003 by the Tianjin Municipal Bureau of Health to construct a 17-story (including a ground and 2 basement levels) transplant building.

Named the Orient Organ Transplant Center, with a 500 bed capacity and floor space of 36,000 square-meters, it was to become a "comprehensive transplant center capable of liver, kidney, pancreas, bone, skin, hair, stem cell, heart, lung, cornea, and throat transplants," according to Enorth Netnews. The entire Tianjin First Central Hospital then consisted of an emergency ward, an outpatient center, and the transplant building towering above them both.


Source: Epoch Times, Feb. 6, 2016

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'Death Penalty Movie Week' to be held in Tokyo

Former death-row inmate Iwao Hakamada and his sister
Former death-row inmate Iwao Hakamada and his sister
8 films from home and abroad on the theme of capital punishment will screen at a Tokyo theater from Feb 13 to 19, providing Japanese viewers with an opportunity to contemplate the death penalty while their country maintains the policy in the face of a global trend towards its abolishment.

Films to be presented during the 5th "Death Penalty Movie Week" include "Freedom Moon" which depicts the struggle for exoneration by a death-row inmate Iwao Hakamada and his sister, as well as "Death by Hanging," directed by the legendary Nagisa Oshima in 1968.

Hakamada, a former professional boxer convicted of a 1966 quadruple murder, was released in March 2014 after a court decided to reopen the high-profile case. Prosecutors have appealed the court's ruling.

A movie on another death row inmate, Masaru Okunishi, who was convicted for the 1961 murder of 5 women, will also be shown.

Okunishi had once been acquitted over the murder known as "the Nabari wine poisoning case," but the verdict was overturned. While on death row for more than 40 years, he sought exoneration through retrial, but died of pneumonia last October at the age of 89.

From abroad, "The Sleeping Voice," a 2011 Spanish film set in 1940s Spain under the authoritarian rule of leader Gen. Francisco Franco, and 2 other European movies will also be screened.

"We need to give consideration through the screening to the fact that innocent people are sometimes killed in the name of the state," the organizer, Forum 90, said.

"At the same time we expect viewers to think about and discuss how a person who actually killed someone should be punished," the anti-death penalty group noted in its leaflet.

During the 7-day event at the Eurospace movie theater in Tokyo's Shibuya district, 4 movies will be shown per day, accompanied by sessions with guest speakers, including a lawmaker, scholars as well as Kim Sung Woong, director of "Freedom Moon," and Hakamada's sister Hideko.

Attracting around 4,500 viewers in total to the annual event during the past four years, Masakuni Ota, a Forum 90 member, said, "We have provided diversified standpoints in thinking about the death penalty by screening various movies."

"We welcome not only death penalty abolitionists but also those ardently supporting it" so the issue of capital punishment can be discussed from multiple points of view, he added.

Japan hanged 2 death row inmates in December, bringing the total number of executions under the second Shinzo Abe administration which began in December 2012 to 14. Around 70% of nations have abolished the death penalty by law or in practice.

Tokyo was urged by the U.N. Human Rights Committee in 2014 to "give due consideration to the abolition of the death penalty," but has legitimized its continuance by citing the outcome of a survey, which indicated more than 80 % of people in Japan support the death penalty.

Source: Japan Today, February 5, 2016

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Australia: Justice Minister Michael Keenan's approval required for AFP to assist with possible death penalty case in Indonesia

Justice Minister Michael Keenan would have to personally sign off on the Australian Federal Police assisting an Indonesian police investigation into a woman who could face the death penalty.

In a case that has gripped Indonesia, 27-year-old woman Jessica Kumala Wongso, who studied in Australia, has been charged with the premeditated murder of her friend, Wayan Mirna Salihin.

The AFP confirmed it had been approached by the Indonesian National Police for assistance but would seek ministerial approval before releasing any information.

Under the AFP guidelines on international police assistance in death penalty situations, ministerial approval is required if a person has been detained, arrested, charged or convicted of an offence that carries the death penalty.

Ms Wongso and Ms Salihin reportedly studied together at Billy Blue College of Design in Sydney and Swinburne University of Technology.

Ms Wongso worked for NSW Ambulance until late last year.

"The AFP has been advised by the Indonesian National Police of the arrest of Ms Wongso for murder, which attracts the death penalty," a spokesman said. "The AFP can confirm that they have not released any information to the Indonesian National Police in relation to this request and will seek ministerial approval for any such release."

The AFP faced criticism for handing over information to Indonesian authorities about the Bali 9, which led to their arrests for heroin smuggling in 2005. The coordinators of the Bali 9, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, were executed in Indonesia last year.

New guidelines for the AFP's role in cases involving the death penalty were introduced in 2009 after a federal court exonerated the AFP from acting unlawfully in the Bali nine case but argued new protocols were needed.

The guidelines require senior AFP officials to take into account a series of factors before providing assistance in potential death penalty scenarios. These include whether the information is favourable to the defendant, the nationality of the person involved, the person's age and personal circumstances, the seriousness of the suspected criminal activity and the likelihood the death penalty will be imposed.

Australia's interest in promoting and securing cooperation from overseas agencies in combating crime is also a consideration.

This information would all be provided to Mr Keenan by the AFP to assist him make a decision.

A spokeswoman for Mr Keenan said the minister was yet to receive a formal request for approval of assistance from the AFP under the death penalty guidelines.

Ms Wongso and Ms Salihin met at Olivier Cafe in Grand Indonesia Shopping Mall on January 6.

Ms Salihin took a sip of the Vietnamese iced coffee, which Ms Wongso had reportedly ordered for her. She began to suffer convulsions and foam at the mouth and died on the way to the hospital.

Jakarta Police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal said Ms Wongso had been arrested last Saturday. "She is being detained under article 340 (of the criminal code) for premeditated murder," he said.

Mr Iqbal said Ms Wongso and the victim had a connection with Australia which is why police had sought assistance from the AFP.

Ms Wongso's lawyer, Yudi Wibowo, said police had no proof of his client's involvement.

"What can the AFP provide? Criminal records, she has none. She and Mirna were just friends, nothing else. What's being reported (in the media) are all lies, not true."

He said Ms Wongso was doing fine, considering the circumstances. "Right now, we are just going along with the police investigation."

Source: smh.com.au, February 5, 2016


Australian resident facing possible death penalty in Indonesia denies poisoning murder

Jessica Kumala Wongso
Jessica Kumala Wongso
The woman accused of being the 'coffee killer' is a permanent Australian resident who is facing the possibility of the death penalty after allegedly lacing her friend's iced coffee with cyanide on a holiday in Indonesia.

Jessica Kumala Wongso, 27, was charged with premeditated murder earlier this week over the death of her friend Wayan Mirna Salihin, 27, on January 6.

If found guilty, the charge carries a minimum jail sentence of 20 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison or death.

Mirna died in Jakarta, Indonesia after having an iced coffee with Jessica and another friend, Hani, at the Olivier cafe in Grand Indonesia shopping mall earlier this month.

Police have accused Jessica of lacing Mirna's drink with cyanide after the newlywed reportedly sipped the iced coffee then started convulsing. She was rushed to hospital and died that day.

Jessica, who denies involvement in Mirna's death, was the one who ordered the drink that killed Mirna, according to police.

News.com.au can exclusively reveal that Jessica, her parents and 2 siblings have been permanent residents of Australia since emigrating from Indonesia about 8 years ago.

The family resides in Sydney.

A source close to the family told news.com.au that Jessica was on holidays in Indonesia with her parents and was due to return to work as a graphic designer in Sydney just weeks after her arrest.

"She's innocent," the source, who is in contact with Jessica, said. "She's just a common Australian; a 27-year-old young lady who was having a coffee then got into trouble for something she didn't do.

"She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and (now) she could die."

NSW Ambulance confirmed Jessica was employed with the service until just a few months ago.

"Jessica Wongso was employed as a temporary agency contractor in an administrative position within NSW Ambulance from July 2014 until her resignation in November 2015," a statement issued to news.com.au from NSW Ambulance read.

"As this is a matter under police investigation, NSW Ambulance is unable to comment further."

The Jakarta Post reported the Australian Federal Police was contacted by Jakarta Police "to look into the relationship between Mirna and the friends during their time studying together", reportedly at Sydney's Billy Blue College of Design and Swinburne University of Technology.

Wayan Mirna Salihin died from suspected cyanide poisoning. Her friend Jessica Kumala Wongso has been arrested in relation to Mirna's death.

The AFP confirmed "it has been approached by the Indonesian National Police (INP) in relation to this matter".

"The AFP is currently considering this request in accordance with normal police-to-police assistance processes and policies," an AFP spokesman said.

"It is not appropriate for the AFP to comment on an INP investigation.

"As this is a matter for Indonesian authorities, further questions should be directed to the Indonesian authorities."

Indonesian chief detective Krishna Murti said police have gathered about 20 witness statements, including evidence from experts, and conducted a re-enactment.

"Jessica's statement is highly inconsistent with the facts we have gathered," Mr Murti told reporters. "We will confirm whether her statement as a suspect is still consistent with her one as a witness or if she will give another statement."

Indonesia National Police Commission member Edi Saputra Hasibuan said the cafe's CCTV footage allegedly shows Jessica moving "the coffee drink ... twice".

Jessica's lawyer Yudi Wibowo said the evidence was "legally insufficient" and fails to show "her physically pouring poison into the coffee".

Yudi said Jessica was innocent.

"She is not afraid. She is tough because she has done nothing wrong in relation to the case," he said earlier this month.

Yudi has questioned the autopsy process undertaken on Mirna's body, saying he did not believe she died from cyanide poisoning, as her friend Hani had sipped coffee from the same cup.

Police confirmed they found cyanide in Mirna's stomach and in the coffee she drank before her death.

Yudi has called for a 2nd autopsy to be conducted in another hospital, after it was first completed in Kramat Jati Police Hospital on January 10.

Mirna recently married her partner, Arief Soemarko.

Yudi also denied rumours there was a love triangle between his client and Mirna's husband.

"There is nothing like that. Jessica has a boyfriend overseas," he said, according to local media reports.

Source: The Cairns Post, Feb. 5, 2016


Jessica May Walk Free Due to Weak Evidence: Lawyer

Jakarta. The suspect in a shocking case of a woman murdered with cyanide in her coffee may walk free from court as police have been providing proof largely based on assumptions, a prominent lawyer has said.

Jessica Kumala Wongso is charged with the premeditated murder of her friend Wayan Mirna Salihin, who died shortly after taking a sip of ice coffee last month at a cafe in Grand Indonesia mall.

Lab testing confirmed traces of cyanide inside the 27-year-old’s stomach, as well as in her drink, which police found was ordered by Jessica, who had arrived at the cafe almost an hour earlier.

Investigators cited 45 minutes of footage from the cafe's surveillance cameras as "key evidence," which they said showed 27-year-old Jessica behaving suspiciously prior to Mirna's arrival.

Police have brought in a number of experts to testify on the evidence, which investigators said also showed Jessica moving Mirna’s coffee drink twice.

“But do psychologists or psychiatrists have the qualifications to examine human behavior in footage of surveillance cameras?” Hotman Paris Hutapea, a prominent lawyer, said on Friday (05/02).

“They don’t have the authority to do that. Besides, it’s a long process to study the psychological state of a person.”

Mirna’s murder should not be proven solely based on assumptions, Hotman said. “There should be a confession from the perpetrator as well.”

“If the material facts are not found, there is a possibility that Jessica could be released.”

Reza Indragiri Amriel, a forensic expert, also doubted the police's conclusion.

“Why did they still have to consult with prosecutors and not directly hand over the case?” Reza said. “Are they cautious or confused?”

Investigators held a joint examination with state prosecutors twice within last week, before police named Jessica a suspect.

Source: Jakarta Globe, Feb. 5, 2016

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Georgia death row on my mind

Clive Stafford Smith
Clive Stafford Smith
I got Brandon Jones off death row 20 years ago. On Tuesday, the state of Georgia ended his life.

I knew I wouldn't sleep on Tuesday, when the state of Georgia geared up to execute Brandon Jones. At 72, Jones was the oldest prisoner to ever be killed there, and to me, he was no anonymous condemned prisoner: Jones was an old client of mine. More than 20 years ago, I got him off death row. Then, I moved away from Georgia, and some local lawyers managed to get him back on. His appeals failed; they made plans to end his life. So even though I was in London some 4,261 miles away, on Tuesday, my mind was on the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center, its euphemistic name for death row.

Brandon always insisted that while he had taken part in his alleged crime - a robbery of a convenience store in 1979 - his co-defendant, Van Solomon, was the one who shot Roger Tackett, the unfortunate and entirely innocent attendant. Solomon was electrocuted in 1985, despite the heroic efforts of my good friend, lawyer George Kendall. I was more fortunate: In 1989 I managed to persuade a federal judge to order a new sentencing trial to decide whether Brandon would live or die.

It was a curious issue that seemed to save Brandon's life. In talking to the jurors, I learned that they had illegally taken a Bible into their deliberations. They had not turned to Matthew 5:7 and read that "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Rather, they had relied on Exodus 21:24: "You shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. ..." Because of this smuggled guidance, Brandon got a new sentencing trial.

By the time Brandon was on trial again, in 1994, I had moved to Louisiana to set up a death penalty charity, and could not commute hundreds of miles to Cobb County, Georgia, for the case. I found him an excellent lawyer, but he and Brandon had a falling out, and Brandon ended up with 2 court-appointed lawyers who had no idea what they were doing. Tom Charron, a bloodthirsty local District Attorney who seems to relish the association of his name with the mythological ferryman Charon on the River Styx, successfully urged the jury to call for a second death sentence. I have participated in the retrials of every other client whose sentence I managed to reverse, and won every time. Brandon was the solitary exception. In that way, I, too, failed him.

On the morning of Tuesday, February 1, Brandon's death had been sanctioned by the narrowest of margins. The issue was whether Georgia's new secrecy laws were valid: The state now refuses to allow access to information about the drugs being used in executions after a spate of embarrassing challenges to the execution protocol - some concerning botched executions, some concerning the right of pharmaceutical companies to object to the government using their life-saving drugs to kill people.

5 of the 11 judges on the federal court of appeals voted for a stay. "Today Brandon Jones will be executed, possibly in violation of the Constitution," Judge Robin Rosenbaum predicted. "He may also be cruelly and unusually punished in the process. But if he is, we will not know until it's too late - if ever."

Brandon Jones
Brandon Jones
Even at the 11th hour, the battle was not over. Sickening as it sounds, I have often received a stay from some judge, anywhere between Atlanta and Washington DC, within an hour of an execution. Here, Brandon's execution was set for midnight GMT, [7 p.m. in Georgia]. His current lawyers filed a flurry of last minute pleadings, and they won Brandon extra time and extra life - albeit perhaps only temporarily. So the clock edged around as Brandon sat in the holding cell, close by the execution chamber.

Almost 30 years ago, in 1987, I sat with Edward Johnson, the young man immortalized in the BBC documentary "14 Days in May" as he awaited death in Mississippi's gas chamber. But society has moved on, and we are even less civilized, now. So Brandon, a septuagenarian, had to wait alone, with perhaps a guard stopping by his cell door for company. I have been in those rooms before, watching the clock move at once too fast and too slow towards the dial of the appointed hour. It is excruciating.

It was 4 a.m. GMT when Justice Clarence Thomas, at the Supreme Court in Washington, vacated the final stay of execution. Now, after 36 years, this allowed the "Diagnostic Center" to set about killing Brandon. Problem is, despite their appetite for death, they are not very good at it. No doctor may take part - the Hippocratic Oath forbids it - so some inept technician probed and prodded Brandon for an hour, trying to find a vein. In the end, they had to insert the needle in his groin.

A journalist who was present from the local paper wrote that Brandon "fought death." I know he would have, but that was another euphemism. What she meant was that they botched it. Georgia uses 1 drug to execute its prisoners - a medicine originally designed for patients with severe epilepsy. Since the medicine is made to save the lives of patients, not end the lives of prisoners, the manufacturer had forbidden its sale to prisons for use in executions. But instead of heeding the manufacturer's wishes, the state turned to a shady compounding pharmacy and paid the pharmacist to mix up unapproved versions of the product so they could go ahead with executions; presumably this was the same pharmacist that had previously mixed up drugs for Kelly Gissendaner's execution, which were found to have "white chunks" in what ought to have been a transparent solution.

Secrecy surrounding Georgia's execution protocol means that the public could obtain no assurances regarding the quality of the drugs injected into Brandon's groin in the early hours of this morning. Anecdotal evidence doesn't inspire confidence: While Brandon's eyes closed within a minute of the warden leaving the execution chamber, a full 6 minutes later, his eyes popped back open. According to the witnesses, he looked at a clock on the wall, and then appeared to look at the man who prosecuted him in 1979, Tom Charron, who was sitting on the front row of the witness area.

How I hate to think of what was happening then. Charron was sitting in the same chair when they executed Nicky Ingram 20 years ago. I remember the bald patch at the back of Charron's head, and how he could not keep eye contact when I looked at him. I doubt he could hold Brandon's eye either.

When I would leave that execution chamber, always in the early hours, I invariably looked up at the stars - the same stars looking down on Brandon as he died were hovering over London last night.

And I have always asked myself: Did that ghastly event in there really make it a more civilized world?

Source: Al Jazeera America, Clive Stafford Smith, Feb. 4, 2016. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and director of Reprieve.

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Why an Egyptian appeals court overturned 149 death sentences

The 6th October Bridge in central Cairo, Egypt
The 6th October Bridge in central Cairo, Egypt
The grounds for the appeals court ruling are still unclear, but the new trial will be held in a criminal court.

Egypt's Court of Cassation, the country's highest appeals court, on Wednesday ordered a retrial for 149 activists of the banned Muslim Brotherhood sentenced to death.

The activists were handed capital sentences for allegedly storming a police station in 2013 and killing 11 policemen and 2 civilians in a mob attack, a judicial source said.

The grounds for the appeals court ruling are still unclear, but the new trial will be held in a criminal court, and the defendants will have the right to appeal the verdict at the high court.

The initial ruling took place in February 2015, amid a series of death sentences and mass trials that were criticized internationally, as the government cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood activists and supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Mr. Morsi became Egypt's 1st democratically elected president after the downfall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011 but was himself overthrown by the army in 2013 after mass protests against his rule. The overthrow of Morsi ushered in the worst domestic bloodshed in the country's modern history, according to human rights observers.

The Egyptian government has long drawn criticism from Western governments and human rights organizations for cracking down on Morsi supporters. Since the Egyptian leader was ousted from power in July 2013, hundreds of Morsi's Islamist supporters have been killed, thousands jailed, and dozens sentenced to death.

The United Nations has continually condemned the crackdowns and mass trials that have left thousands of Brotherhood members and supporters jailed, calling them "unprecedented in recent history."

Despite the outcry from rights advocates, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi vowed to speed up the legal process to allow for quicker enforcement of death sentences last June after the assassination of Egypt's public prosecutor, Hisham Barakat.

"The hand of justice is shackled by the law. We're not going to wait for this," Mr. Sisi said. "We're going to amend the law to allow us to implement justice as soon as possible."

But since then, things have changed with the court overturning several death penalties, a move that has been widely welcome by many rights advocates.

Last December, the same court overturned death sentences against Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and 36 others who were accused of "setting up an '"operations room'" for the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in organized by Brotherhood supporters after the military toppled then-President Morsi, according to Al Jazeera.

Mr. Badie is, however, facing other trials, and has been sentenced to death in a separate case along with Mr. Morsi for plotting prison breaks and attacks on police during the 2011 uprising. Last month, the Egyptian Justice Minister vowed to make sure that Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood members convicted to death sentence will be executed if the appeal court upholds the sentences, the Middle East Eye reported.

Under Egyptian law, death sentences are referred to the mufti, the government's interpreter of Islamic law, who plays an advisory role. If he approves, convictions are still subject to a lengthy appeals process.

Source: Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 4, 2016

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European Parliament condemns death penalty, torture in Bahrain

The European Parliament has condemned the use of torture and the death penalty in Bahrain, demanding the release of a man sentenced to death after allegedly confessing under torture.

In a resolution passed on Thursday, the body called on Bahraini ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to pardon 32-year-old airport guard Mohammed Ramadan.

Ramadan was arrested on 18 February 2014 - allegedly without a warrant - on suspicion of involvement in a bombing that killed a member of the security forces 4 days earlier.

Ramadan and Husain Ali Mossa, who had been arrested previously, reported that they were tortured into confessing to the crime, and later retracted their confessions and complained of having been coerced.

Despite this, no investigation was launched and the pair were sentenced to death in December 2014.

The case has already been highlighted by five UN human rights experts, who in August 2014 expressed their concerns over the fairness of the trial to the Bahraini government.

A resolution was co-authored by Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, who called it "a strong message to our friends in Bahrain that we are confident Bahrain can move in the right direction.

"Today, the Parliament firmly condemned the continuing use of torture by the security forces against prisoners and the use of Bahrain's anti-terrorism laws to punish citizens for their political beliefs."

The resolution has been welcomed by Bahraini human rights organisations, who warned on Thursday that Ramadan had exhausted all legal avenues of appeal and stands at risk of imminent execution.

Source: middleeasteye.net, Feb. 4, 2016

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Bernie Sanders And Hillary Clinton Split On The Death Penalty

Bernie Sanders (left) and Hillary Clinton (right)
Bernie Sanders (left) and Hillary Clinton (right)
Clinton thinks it's appropriate for "particularly heinous crimes," while Sanders wants the government out of the killing business.

WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders split on the issue of capital punishment during a debate Thursday, with Clinton supporting the death penalty in certain circumstances and Sanders saying the government shouldn't be "part of the killing."

Clinton said during the MSNBC debate that she still supports the death penalty, though said she had "much more confidence in the federal system" and had concerns with how the death penalty was implemented on the state level. She said she hoped the Supreme Court would make sure states had protections in place and were implementing the death penalty in a constitutional manner.

"For very limited, particularly heinous crimes, I believe it is an appropriate punishment, but I deeply disagree with the way that too many states still are implementing it," Clinton said.

Sanders, on the other hand, said he worried that too many innocent people, particularly minorities, had been executed when they weren't guilty.

"Of course there are barbaric acts out there, but in a world of so much violence and killing, I just don't believe that government itself should be part of the killing," Sanders said. He said when someone commits murder, they should be locked away for life. But, Sanders said, "I just don't want to see government be part of killing."

Source: The Huffington Post, Ryan J. Reilly, February 4, 2016

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2 Baluchi Juvenile Offenders Executed in Iran

Watching a public execution in Iran (file photo)
Watching a public execution in Iran (file photo)
According to close sources, 2 Baluchi prisoners were hanged to death at Yazd Central Prison on drug related charges.

The executions were reportedly carried out on Monday February 1. 

According to the Baloch Activists Campaign, the names of the prisoners are Khaled Kordi and Moslem Abarian. 

A relative of Khaled Kordi confirms to Iran Human Rights that both prisoners were under the age of 18 at the time of their arrests. 

Iranian authorities carried out the executions without informing the family members of the prisoners.

The 2 prisoners were reportedly riding a bus to work when they were arrested by Iranian authorities for drug offenses. 

The relative tells IHR that he believes Khaled and Moslem were innocent and the drugs were planted on them by someone else on the bus.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Iran is a signatory of, bans death sentences for offenses committed under the age of 18.

Source: Iran Human Rights, February 4, 2016


U.N. panel rebukes Iran for allowing sex, execution at 9 years old

Iran must reform its laws that allows girls as young as nine to be executed for crimes or forced into sexual relations with older husbands, a United Nations watchdog said on Thursday.

Iran continues to execute children and youth who committed a crime while under 18 years of age, in violation of international standards, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said, after its 18 independent experts reviewed Iran and 13 other countries.

"The age of criminal responsibility in Iran is discriminatory, it is lower and lower for girls, that is to say 9 lunar years while for boys it is 15. At 9 a girl can marry, even if the law sets the age at 13," said Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, a panel member.

9 lunar years in the Iranian calendar is equivalent to 8 years and 9 months, a U.N. spokeswoman said.

The age for boys having criminal responsibility is 15, but the age for girls at 9 is "extremely low", Idrissi said.

The experts deplored that Iran "allows sexual intercourse with girls as young as 9 lunar years and that other forms of sexual abuse of even young children is not criminalised". They called for the age of sexual consent to be raised to 16.

Shaqayeq, 15, has been in prison for almost a year on the charge of armed
robbery from a Tehran chain store. Her death sentence has been issued and
she must reach 18 so the verdict can be carried out. Read more...
"The Committee is seriously concerned about the reports of increasing numbers of girls at the age of 10 years or younger who are subjected to child and forced marriages to much older men."

Girls suffered discrimination in the family, in the criminal justice system, in property rights, and elsewhere, while a legal obligation for girls to be subject to male guardianship is "incompatible" Tehran's treaty obligations, the panel said.

Iran made "positive progress" last year with a new Criminal Procedure Code that introduced juvenile courts, but nevertheless there were very serious concerns, the panel's chairman Benyam Mezmur told a news briefing.

"The age of criminal responsibility is very low and there are instances where the death penalty can apply for persons below the age of 18 or for offences they committed while below the age of 18," Mezmur said.

There were no figures for the number of executions of children or juvenile offenders, nor those imprisoned, due to secrecy surrounding the cases, he added.

Source: Reuters, February 4, 2016

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Lacking enough execution drugs, Virginia eyes electric chair

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A proposal that would force inmates to die by electric chair if lethal injection drugs can't be found is gaining steam in Virginia, in part because of a looming execution scheduled for next month.

State officials are frantically searching for the drugs for the March 16 execution of convicted killer Ricky Gray, one of Virginia's seven remaining death row inmates. While the electric chair measure wouldn't go into effect by then, supporters say the state needs to ensure the policy is in place for future inmates, or if Gray's execution is delayed because the drugs can't be found.

"Either way, Ricky Gray will die very quickly, with very little, if any, pain," said Republican Del. Jackson Miller, who introduced the bill that could come up for a vote in the GOP-controlled House this week. "The numerous victims of Ricky Gray didn't get a choice on how they wanted to die. And neither should Ricky Gray."

Virginia is one of at least eight states that allow electrocutions, but it currently gives inmates the choice of lethal injection or the electric chair. If they don't choose at least 15 days before the execution, they receive the injection.

Drug companies have blocked the use of their products in executions, creating a nationwide shortage and forcing lawmakers across the country to scramble for other options.

"If states want to carry out the death penalty, they may be facing a choice. What kind of executions do they think their constituents will stomach?" said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

In 2014, Tennessee became the first state to enact a law reintroducing the electric chair without giving prisoners a choice. Last year, Utah lawmakers passed a bill that would allow firing squads for executions if drugs aren't available. Neither state has carried out executions under those methods since the laws were passed.

Opponents of Virginia's bill say a legal fight over the electric chair law would be inevitable and tie up executions even more. It could also be cruel and unusual punishment, they say.

Georgia's Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that using the electric chair violated the state constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The court said electrocution "inflicts purposeless physical violence and needless mutilation" and criticized the electric chair for its "specter of excruciating pain and its certainty of cooked brains and blistered bodies."

"The chair basically cooks someone to death," said Virginia state Sen. Scott Surovell, a Democrat who opposes the bill.

Gray was convicted in the 2006 stabbing and bludgeoning deaths of 49-year-old Bryan Harvey, 39-year-old Kathryn Harvey and their daughters, 9-year-old Stella and 4-year-old Ruby.

Bryan Harvey was a well-known Richmond musician, and his wife was co-owner of a toy store.

Gray's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said it currently lacks enough pentobarbital to carry out Gray's execution. The drug is the first used in Virginia's three-drug protocol.

A legislative panel endorsed the electric chair bill with an 11-6 vote on Wednesday. The bill is expected to easily pass the House, but its fate in the Senate — where Republicans hold a much slimmer majority — is unclear. A similar measure stalled in the Senate two years ago, but there was no pending execution at the time.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe wouldn't say whether he supports the idea.

Source: The Associated Press, Alanna Durkin Richer, Feb. 3, 2016

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