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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ho Chi Minh City People's Court upholds death sentence for Australian drug mule

Ho Chi Minh City People's Court
Ho Chi Minh City People's Court
The Ho Chi Minh City People's Court Wednesday confirmed the death sentence for a Vietnamese-Australian for drug smuggling after a reinvestigation determined the drug amount was too big to commute the sentence.

Pham Trung Dung, 39, was arrested at Tan Son Nhat Airport in May 2013 when checking in for a flight to Sydney after customs officers suspected he had drugs in his luggage.

He was sentenced to death in April 2014 after police identified the powder as more than four kilograms of heroin.

The Supreme People's Court later ordered authorities to weigh the heroin afresh, and it turned out there were nearly 3.6 kilograms.

The judges ruled Wednesday that it was "a huge amount" that poses a threat to society.

Dung said he was in Vietnam for a family vacation and a local had asked him to carry the drug to Australia for a fee of US$30,500.

Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. 

Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face the death penalty.

The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is also punishable by death.

Source: Thanh Nien News, August 25, 2016

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Iran's executions continue as West prioritizes nuclear deal

Earlier this month Iran executed at least two dozen political prisoners on various charges of activities against the regime or membership in extremist groups. Though there was nothing new either with the charges or the number of executions, the action this time brought wide condemnation, especially by Kurds who thought the world was turning a blind eye to Iran's human rights violations due to its nuclear deal with the West.

"The application of overly broad and vague criminal charges, coupled with a disdain for the rights of the accused to due process and a fair trial have in these cases led to a grave injustice," said Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Among those hanged was Hassan Afshar, a 19-year-old who was arrested and convicted of rape at the age of 17. Al Hussein called the execution of juveniles "particularly abhorrent."

On August 2, the Iranian government announced that it had executed 20 members of a "takfiri" group (a term used by Iran to denote false Islam) that were mainly Kurdish and Sunnis. A few days later, members of the family of Kurdish nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri said that he had been executed.

These executions immediately caught the attention of rights groups who described them as shameful and made Iran a regional leader in executions.

"Iran's mass execution of prisoners on August 2 at Rajai Shahr prison is a shameful low point in its human rights record," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release on August 8.

"With at least 230 executions since January 1, Iran is yet again the regional leader in executions but a laggard in implementing the so far illusory penal code reforms meant to bridge the gap with international standards," she added.

Many have blamed the West, the United States in particular, for not holding Iran accountable to its human rights violations mainly in order to keep their Vienna nuclear deal in place. But the US State Department says that it remains concerned about human rights in Iran and has raised the issue with them through many channels.

"We reaffirm our calls on Iran to respect and protect human rights, and to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all cases," a State Department official told Rudaw English. "We have consistently and publicly expressed our concerns about Iran's human rights record through a range of channels."

Emad Kiyaei, Director of External Affairs at the American Iranian Council, says that his council has condemned the recent executions in Iran and that it has raised the issue with the US government. However, he believes that the nuclear deal does not mean Iran has been given a blank check to act as it wants. On the contrary, he sees the deal as a chance to bring the Islamic Republic out of isolation and help improve its human rights record.

"Instead of resorting to coercive policies, the Council recommends the creation of a joint working group between Iran and the EU to examine policies and methodologies to reform the judicial system in Iran," Kiyaei told Rudaw English.

Kiyaei said that the issue of human rights in Iran should be separated from the nuclear deal as it was specific to dealing with Iran's nuclear program, which was not intended to address all the issues that exist between Iran and the international community. "Therefore, it is unlikely that human rights issues would derail this accord."

He argued that keeping the sanctions on Iran could only worsen the situation for prisoners and would not necessarily reduce the number of executions.

"The Council does not believe that coercive or further sanctions on Iran would improve the human rights condition within the country," Kiyaei said, adding, "Instead, through open dialogue, diplomacy and weaving Iran more intimately within the international community would be more conducive in empowering those within the Iranian government who seek to reform, moderate and transform the country to be more in line with universal human rights."

Alex Vatanka, Senior Fellow and Iran expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington differs. He does not think the nuclear deal would improve Iran's human rights record as it was only to make sure Iran did not become a nuclear power which has now turned into a business scheme.

"The nuclear deal was never meant to change Iran's overall character but simply to make sure it did not become a nuclear weapons power," Vatanka told Rudaw English. "I don't see any signs that the P5+1 would want to void the deal because of Iranian behavior towards its own people at home."

Vatanka believes that Tehran uses the executions as a show of force especially to deter its opponents and drown any dissent.

He argues: "At the moment the int. community wants to safeguard the nuclear deal and is looking for commercial opportunities in Iran. Unfortunately the human rights record of Iran is not on the top of the list in either Europe or in America."

Some critics of Iran's judicial system believe that the authorities seem to be particular in who they execute and they mostly target minority groups, chief among them the Kurds.

"We should know that currently out of 915 political prisoners documented, 411 are Kurds," Taimoor Aliassi, UN representative of the Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan - Geneva (KMMK-G), told Rudaw English, adding that 75 % of Kurdish prisoners are accused and convicted of being mohareb, a judicial term in Iran for enmity against God.

Aliassai said that since the establishment of the Islamic Republic nearly 4 decades ago more than 14,000 prisoners have been executed, a great majority of them ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Balochis and Afghan refugees and most of them not announced to the public.

"A significant number of these victims are political prisoners and ethnic rights activists who were executed under the cover of drug offences," he said. "Regarding the last mass executions, they are all Kurdish and faith political prisoners sentenced in a hasty and unfairly manner for crime of mohareb based on Articles 279 and 286 of Iran???s Penal Code."

In 2015, Iran was the 2nd highest executioner in the world after China but 1st per capita.

Aliassi urged the world powers, especially the US and European Union, to make the lifting of sanctions and easing of economic and diplomatic ties conditional to Tehran's respect for human rights and the rights of groups such as Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs and Baluchis.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is governing by spreading violence, fear and terror. So hanging prisoners in public is part of controlling mechanism and Islamic Republic will not abolish death penalty unless there is a change of regime."

Source: rudaw.net, August 25, 2016

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Judge Sees No Wrongs in Texas Executions

Texas death chamber
Texas death chamber
Texas' execution protocol is constitutional, a federal judge ruled, dismissing a lawsuit from 5 death row inmates who say the state should retest its drugs before killing them.

Texas revised its lethal-injection procedure in 2012 from a 3-judge cocktail to a dose of compounded pentobarbital. Since then, Texas has executed 30 prisoners without any reported problems, according to U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes' Aug. 19 ruling.

Texas changed its protocol and started buying its pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy after large drug manufacturers, unwilling to be complicit in the death penalty, stopped producing the drugs the state used.

Lead plaintiff Jeffery Wood sued 2 directors of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the warden of the Huntsville prison on Aug. 12, seeking an injunction to stop the state from carrying out his execution, which was set for Aug. 24.

Though Hughes refused to grant Wood relief in the federal case, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Friday afternoon remanded Wood's case to the trial court that oversaw his death penalty conviction.

The appeals court told the trial court to look into allegations from Wood's attorneys that a psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, the late Dr. James Grigson, dubbed "Dr. Death" by the media, lied to the jury about how often he found defendants pose a danger to society in the numerous capital murder trials in which he had testified. Wood's reprieve came on his 43rd birthday, the Texas Tribune reported.

Church leaders, death penalty opponents and state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, say Wood does not deserve the death penalty because he didn't kill anyone.

Wood was sentenced under a Texas law that makes anyone involved in a crime that causes death equally responsible.

A jury convicted Wood for the 1996 murder of a convenience store clerk in Kerrville, though Wood was sitting outside the store in a pickup when his friend fired the fatal shot.

Wood is fighting to overturn his death sentence in the state case, but his conviction will stand.

In his federal lawsuit, Wood says that because Texas agreed to retest its compounded pentobarbital before using it on inmates Perry Williams and Thomas Whitaker in a settlement of their 2013 federal lawsuit, the state should do the same for him and his 4 co-plaintiffs.

He claims that Texas will violate his Eighth and 14th Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by using a drug that presents a "substantial risk of causing severe pain," an argument his attorneys backed with an affidavit, medical report and lab results from pharmacologist James Ruble and anesthesiologist David Waisel.

Judge Hughes didn't buy it. Describing Ruble's report as a "pseudo-scientific dump of partial facts and incomplete data" and Waisel's affidavit as rife with "speculative, unsubstantiated, and partial data," Hughes dismissed the case Friday.

Wood et al. claim Texas uses expired pentobarbital, an argument Hughes found unpersuasive, because the state administers twice the lethal dose to execute prisoners.

"The plaintiffs have not shown that Texas uses expired drugs to execute people. That should end the inquiry. Their medical support is wholly unreliable to show that the drugs have a demonstrated risk of severe pain," Hughes wrote in a 12-page order, voluminous compared to his typically terse rulings.

Hughes dismissed most of the claims for not meeting Texas' 2-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims.

"The equal protection claim will be dismissed because the plaintiffs have not shown that Texas has infringed upon a fundamental right," he wrote.

Here are the other plaintiffs and their execution dates: Rolando Ruiz, Aug. 31; Robert Jennings, Sept. 14; Terry Edwards, Oct. 19 and Ramiro Gonzales, Nov. 2.

Texas leads the nation with 6 executions so far this year.

Source: Courthouse News, August 24, 2016

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Just 16 counties are fueling America's use of the death penalty

"The death penalty heavily depends on the county in which a defendant is tried."
"The death penalty heavily depends on the county in which a defendant is tried."
Just 16 counties in the US are driving the use of the death penalty, despite a nationwide movement away from the sentence, a new report from the Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project has found.

The "outlier counties" - scattered throughout Alabama, Florida, California, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas, and Arizona - have each imposed five or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015, a major departure from the overall downward trend in death penalty use since it peaked in 1996 with 315.

The report determined that the reasons behind the counties' deviation can be boiled down to 3 "structural failures" that they tend to have in common: overzealous prosecutors, inadequate defense lawyers, and racial bias and exclusion.

The outcomes of these sentencings, according to the report, regularly resulted in wrongful convictions and excessive punishment of young people, or those who suffer from mental illnesses or disabilities.

"Studies have shown [death sentences] to be extremely expensive, prone to error, applied in discriminatory ways, and imposed upon the most vulnerable, rather than the most culpable people," the report said.

For instance, in Maricopa County, Arizona, the report found that a disproportionate 57% of those sentenced to death between 2010 and 2015 were people of color. The county is notable for drawing national scrutiny in recent days - its sheriff, Joe Arpaio, was referred by a federal judge for criminal contempt charges last week after he allegedly failed to abide by a court order meant to prevent his office from racially profiling Latinos.

Arpaio has been accused by the Department of Justice of overseeing the "worst pattern of racial profiling by a law enforcement agency in US history."

The report also looked into Duval County, Florida, where 87% of its death sentences since 2010 have been used on African-American defendants. The report attributed much of the county's outlier status to State Attorney Angela Corey, who is currently campaigning for re-election and was dubbed the "cruelest prosecutor in America" last week by The Nation magazine.

Corey slammed the Fair Sentencing Project's statistics as being unfair in an interview with the Florida Times-Union on Tuesday.

The study's focus on 16 counties hearkens back to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent in the 2015 Glossip v. Gross case, in which he pegged geography as being a major factor in determining which defendants are sentenced to death.

"Within a death penalty State, the imposition of the death penalty heavily depends on the county in which a defendant is tried," Breyer wrote.

The report, released Tuesday, examined just 8 of the 16 counties, while a second report detailing the remaining eight is set to be released in September.

Source: Business Insider, August 24, 2016

Harvard Death-Penalty Study Rips Maricopa County Prosecutors

Maricopa County's death-penalty system is plagued by "overzealous" prosecutors and creates a high number of questionable death-penalty cases, according to a new Harvard Law School report.

"Too Broken to Fix: Part I: An In-Depth Look at America's Outlier Death Penalty Counties," by the school's Fair Punishment Project, identifies Maricopa as 1 of 16 "outliers" among the nation's 3,143 counties or "county equivalents," for having sentenced 5 or more defendants to death during the period 2010-2015.

The report calls out three deputy county attorneys by name, suggesting they're reckless, and it lays heavy implications on the current county attorney, Bill Montgomery. But it also notes that the number of death-penalty cases has declined since the departure of former county attorney Andrew Thomas.

Thomas, who resigned office in 2010 for an unsuccessful run for state Attorney General, was disbarred in 2012 for abuse of power - as the Harvard study prominently mentions. Voters put Montgomery, also a Republican, in office in 2010 with a special election, re-electing him in 2012. He's running for office once again in 2016 against low-profile Democratic contender Diego Rodriguez.

For much of Montgomery's time in office, he has sought the death penalty at a higher-than-average rate, according to the study. Between 2010 and 2015, the county had 28 capital-punishment cases. On a per-homicide basis, the county's rate of death sentencing is 2.3 times higher than the rest of Arizona. Nationally, it accounts for about about 1 % of the country's population but 3.6 % of the country's death-penalty cases between 2010 and 2015.

"If I were charged with a crime in Maricopa County, based on what we've seen in capital cases - it's not a place where I would feel confident that the county attorney's office would play by the rules," Robert Smith, a Harvard researcher and director of the Fair Punishment Project tells New Times.

The report illuminates problems that go back much further than 2010, showing that Maricopa County has had more cases - and more problems with those cases and its prosecutorial system - than nearly any other U.S. county.

Founded in 2005 by Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr., the Fair Punishment Project has a stated mission to serve as a "critical critical bridge between scholarship, law, policy and practice to solve the challenges of a multi-racial society." The project, led by professor Ronald Sullivan Jr., is a collaboration between the law school's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice and its Criminal Justice Institute.

Citing media coverage, including stories from New Times, the report notes that starting in 2004, Thomas sought capital cases at twice the rate of his predecessor, Rick Romley - thus crippling the county's public-defender system and leaving a dozen murder defendants without lawyers. While the county has backed off its zeal for the death penalty since 2010, Montgomery's office retains three deputies whose strong interest in capital cases appears to color their conduct in court.

Jeannette Gallagher, Juan Martinez, and Vincent Imbordino account for more than 1/3 of all of the capital cases (21 of 61) in which the Arizona Supreme Court has found problems on direct appeal since 2006. The higher court overturned or vacated the death penalty in 4 of the 21 cases and found instances of "improper behavior" in 8 of the cases.

The report notes that the state Supreme Court found that Martinez - who gained worldwide fame as the prosecutor in the Jodi Arias murder trial - committed misconduct in at least 3 capital cases. Additionally, the state's high court cited 17 examples where Martinez had acted "inappropriately" in the murder prosecution of Shawn Patrick Lynch. (The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in that case for reasons unrelated to alleged prosecutor problems.)

The report cites instances in which the state Supreme Court deemed Gallagher's conduct "improper," "very troubling," and "entirely unprofessional."

"Gallagher, who heads Maricopa's capital case unit, has personally obtained at least nine death sentences, including against a military veteran diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and a brain-damaged child whom she described to the jury as '16 going on 35,'" according to the report.

Smith has harsh words for the 3 prosecutors.

"They don't have the temperament required to prosecute a jaywalking citation, and what they're being entrusted with is the death penalty," he tells New Times. "They shouldn't be prosecuting misdemeanor cases, much less deciding whether or not somebody lives or dies."

The report delves into the problems behind the high rate of cases, noting overworked or incompetent defense attorneys, racial bias, and the exonerations of 5 Maricopa County death-penalty defendants since 1978. More than 1/2 of the people sentenced to death between 2010 and 2015 were people of color. The Fair Punishment Project can't say for certain whether Maricopa County has executed any innocent people, but Smith says it has come "perilously close."

It's Montgomery's responsibility to fix the county's sorry record on the death penalty, Smith adds, even though many of its problems predate his tenure. As things stand now, Montgomery shows a "callous disregard" for the people he's been entrusted to protect, Smith says.

Montgomery did not return a message seeking comment.

Source: phoenixnewtimes.com, August 24, 2016

Harvard Law: Duval County among nation's leaders in death penalty sentences

In Duval County, it has taken just 66 minutes in the sentencing phase to decide to impose the death penalty on a murderer. And often, it has been done without a unanimous jury.

That stat illustrates why one group believes Duval is among the worst of the worst when it comes to death penalty sentences, with roughly 1/4 of Florida's death sentences coming from Duval County, with a mere five percent of the state's population.

A new report from the Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project contends Duval County is one of a group of "outlier" counties, where the death penalty is used more than anywhere else in the country.

The report contends Duval and other so-called outlier counties are "plagued by prosecutorial misconduct, bad lawyers, and racial bias."

Turning its attention to Duval County specifically, the report contends 48 % of Duval County death penalty cases involve defendants who have an intellectual disability, brain damage, or mental illness.

The report cites a death penalty conviction for a man with an IQ of 67 who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a vivid example.

Further, 20 % of those death penalty cases involve defendants under the age of 21.

Duval County had findings of prosecutorial misconduct in 16 % of its cases; Angela Corey, the current state attorney, and her chief prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda were named in the report specifically.

"Of the death sentences that the Florida Supreme Court has reviewed from Duval County since 2006, 1 in every 6 cases involved a finding of inappropriate behavior, misuse of discretion, or prosecutorial misconduct, including 2 recent death sentences tried by Bernie de la Rionda that the Florida Supreme Court vacated due to their excessive harshness," the report contends.

Other issues arose also, according to the Fair Punishment Project.

In Duval, the guilty verdict and the sentencing often occurred in the same day, permitting no mitigating evidence to be offered.

Of the defendants sentenced to death in Duval County, 87 % were African-American.

This trend predated Corey, claims the FPP, though it has escalated under her watch.

"Between 1991-2009, 62 percent of death sentences from Duval County were imposed against African-American defendants, compared to just 33 % in the rest of Florida. Since 2010, 1 year after Angela Corey took office, 87 % of death sentences have been imposed against African-American defendants, compared to 44 % in the rest of the state. African-Americans make up approximately 30 % of Duval's population, and 17 % of the state's population," the report contends.

Of those sentenced to death, 88 % were "non-unanimous," the report added.

An expert quoted in the press release lamented the insufficiency of defense in counties like Duval.

"This report vividly shows how the last remnants of the American death penalty still survive: in counties that have wholly crippled the defense function," said Professor Brandon Garrett of the University of Virginia School of Law. "Conversely, in the places that provide minimally fair resources for defense representation, we have seen a steep decline in death sentences. Readers of this report will learn that what is left of the death penalty persists only through extreme unfairness and arbitrariness."

With Corey facing a competitive primary in the state attorney race, national scrutiny has been inconveniently timed for the 2-term incumbent.

The Nation posed the question: "Is Angela Corey the cruelest prosecutor in America?"

When asked about this article last week, Corey was dismissive, saying that the article was from a "liberal blogger in San Francisco."

One can expect a similar response to this report.

Source: floridapolitics.com, August 24, 2016

State Attorney Angela Corey calls new Harvard study about death-sentencing 'unfair and untrue'

Duval County is again among a handful of U.S. counties that most frequently send convicted criminals to their deaths, according to a Harvard University study released Tuesday.

The Fair Punishment Project, of Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and its Criminal Justice Institute, highlighted the 16 U.S. counties that sentenced at least 5 people to death from 2010 to 2015. Duval had 16 death sentences, and 88 % of its death sentences since 2006 were not unanimous.

The same day the Harvard report was released, a New York Times Magazine story highlighting the top death-sentencing counties focused on the murder of Shelby Farah of Jacksonville. Farah's mother, Darlene, has asked local prosecutors not to seek the death penalty, but they are still seeking death.

The feature also discussed the area's chief assistant public defender, Refik Eler, who has had 2 death cases overturned because of his ineffective assistance of counsel.

"I wouldn't say it's troubling. There were only 2 cases reversed" and 1 is pending on appeal, Eler said. "In a 30-year career, I've tried several hundred cases."

As one of the attorneys who's represented many poor clients in death cases, Eler said, he's proud of the times he has succeeded. "You have to really be there and do it and understand the many factors that go into strategic decisions."

State Attorney Angela Corey rebutted the Harvard Law School report, saying the statistics were unfair and the researchers should've shared data with her before publishing.

The report focused on:

-- Corey's "overzealous" prosecution

-- Public Defender Matt Shirk's office providing ineffective counsel

-- Racial bias at the courthouse.

("Since 2010, 1 year after Angela Corey took office, 87 % of death sentences have been imposed against African-American defendants, compared to 44 % in the rest of the state. African-Americans make up approximately 30 % of Duval's population, and 17 % of the state's population.") The Times story was the 2nd magazine article in a week focusing on Duval's role as a leader in tough-on-crime sentencing. Last week, liberal magazine The Nation published a feature asking, "Is Angela Corey the Cruelest Prosecutor in America?", and back in June, conservative magazine National Review criticized her.

"It's totally without merit," Corey said of the report, saying she was unfairly targeted when she didn't divert from her predecessors' approaches to prosecuting death-penalty cases.


Corey called the Fair Punishment Project report and the magazine story untrue. She questioned why the report came out a week before her Aug. 30 primary.

But Rob Smith, the legal research fellow who headed the project, said the election had nothing to do with the timing.

"We looked at the study not to persecute her. We weren't just picking anecdotes out and picking on people. We wanted to have an objective, thematic, national look. Surely she doesn't believe the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School decided to create a gigantic project with a dozen people working on it over months to pick a time period just to affect Angela Corey's election. ...

Contrary to Ms. Corey's belief, the world doesn't revolve around her."

Smith said, 'I also think that she's a bully, and what I mean by that is that when a Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz called her out in a case, she calls and threatens the university. When her predecessor critiques something she did, she criticizes Mr. Shorstein. When her IT person criticizes something she does, she fires that person. She gets upset and she lashes out. Bullies shouldn't be deciding who lives and who dies."

In interviews Tuesday, Corey said it was unfair to report on the findings without first reviewing the data the project collected. Over the course of 2 telephone interviews, Corey grew increasingly combative while 2 of her top homicide attorneys remained collegial. 3 times she interrupted one of them to tell him to stop being apologetic.

Those attorneys, Bernie de la Rionda and Mark Caliel, addressed many of the statistics in the report and said why they felt they were misleading. Caliel said when considering the race of all 1st-degree murder suspects, there likely isn't a disparity between those who qualified for death and those sentenced to death. They said they believe seeking the death penalty honors the many black victims of murder.

"What scholars tend to forget is all lives matter," de la Rionda said. "I'd venture to ask this question. Who are our victims? If the focus is going to be on race, what was the race of our victims?"

He said he respects organizations that oppose the death penalty, but he believes it's the right punishment for certain crimes.

Corey and de la Rionda also said the manner of handling death cases and the number of death cases haven't changed much since Ed Austin and Harry Shorstein were the elected state attorneys before Corey. Smith disagreed, saying that while most the country reduced the number of death sentences, Corey increased it even when the murder rate dropped.


Harvard's Smith, who has handled death-penalty cases, said the decision to do this study came after a Supreme Court dissent last summer noted the geographic concentration of death-penalty cases. At the time, only 15 counties had 5 or more death penalties from 2010 to 2015; that number grew to 16. Many viewed that dissent as an open invitation to challenge the constitutionality of the death penalty. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that the intellectually disabled and juveniles should not be executed. Smith said he wanted to see if the few counties still sending people to death were sentencing "the worst of the worst" or the types of people the Supreme Court said shouldn't be executed.

Smith has previously published reports noting that de la Rionda is one of the nation's most prolific death-penalty prosecutors.

"In Duval what happens is you have both this aggressive prosecutor in Angela Corey where she seeks the death penalty in cases where many other prosecutors would not and this non-unanimous jury rule," he said. The law didn't used to require any specific number of jurors to agree to a death sentence; it now requires a 10-2 decision. "Those 2 things work together."

Smith said in places like Duval County, he found that the people on death row were not the most heinous criminals. Instead, the report noted, 48 % had an intellectual disability, severe mental illness or brain damage. 1 in 5 were younger than 21.

And shockingly, he said, the sentencing phase of the trial - when prosecutors explain why a crime is particularly egregious, defense attorneys explain why someone shouldn't be executed and a jury decides death or life - in Jacksonville lasts one day. That means opening statements, witnesses, evidence, closing statements and jury deliberation all occur in the same workday.

For that, Smith blamed defense attorneys. "You have an overaggressive prosecutor and defense lawyers who you wouldn't want to represent you in a parking ticket case."

Source: jacksonville.com, August 24, 2016

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Iran: 7 executed on drug charges

IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS (AUG 24 2016): Five prisoners were hanged in the prison of Bandar Abbas (southern Iran), reported the official news website of the Iranian Judiciary.

The prisoners who were identified as "H. Gh.", "M. A.", "H. J.", "A. S." and "A. M." were charged with drug offences in different parts of the Hormozgan Province, and according to the report, 7639 kilograms [sic] of narcotic drugs such as opium, heroin and crack has been confiscated from them.

On Sunday August 23, Iran Human Rights reported about the execution of ne prisoner identified as "Habib Jamalzahi" in Bandar Abbas. It is possible that this individual was the same as "H. J." mentioned in this report.

Iran Human Rights (AUG 23 2016): A prisoner on death row for drug related charges was reportedly hanged at Sirjan Prison (Kerman province, southcentral Iran), and one prisoner was reportedly hanged at Bandar Abbas Prison (Hormozgan province, southern Iran) on unknown charges.

According to the unoffocial news source, Baloch Activists Campaign, a prisoner identified as Reza Naruee was hanged on the morning of Thursday August 18 on drug related charges. 

The group also reports on the execution of a prisoner, identified as Habib Jamalhezi, at Bandar Abbas Prison on Sunday August 21 on unknown charges.

Iranian official sources, including the media and Judiciary, have been silent on these two executions.

Earlier, Iran Human Rights had reported on the public execution of two prisoners at Saheli Boulevard in Bandar Abbas on rape charges.

The executions were reportedly carried out on the morning of Wednesday August 17 in front of a crowd of people.

Source: Iran Human Rights, August 23-24, 2016

Iran regime plans to chop off prisoners’ fingers as punishment

Medieval punishments: Judicial amputation in Iran (file photo)
Medieval punishments: Judicial amputation in Iran
 NCRI – Iran's fundamentalist regime plans to amputate the fingers of several prisoners who are accused of stealing, the local judiciary chief of Tehran’s districts 16 and 17 said on Tuesday.

The local judiciary chief, a notorious mullah called Sadeq Rezvani, told the Mizan Online News Agency, which is affiliated to the regime’s Judiciary, that the prisoners were all caught stealing in Tehran in the past five months.

He said that several prisoners have received sentences to each have four of their fingers chopped off. He added that their cases were pending an appeal.

On May 9, 2016, the mullahs’ regime amputated the fingers of a man in his thirties in the city of Mashhad, north-east Iran, the latest in a line of draconian punishments handed down and carried out.

Medieval punishments: Judicial amputation in Iran (file photo)The inhumane sentence was carried out in the Central Prison of Mashhad. The state-run Khorasan newspaper identified the victim by his initials M. T., adding that he was 39 years old. The prisoner was accused of theft and is also serving a 3-year jail sentence.

The sentence was upheld by the regime's Court of Appeal.

The regime's prosecutor in Mashhad, Gholamali Sadeqi, said: "One of the most important policies in the current year is confronting criminals and carrying out sentences precisely and decisively.”

Commenting on the amputation, Ms. Farideh Karimi, a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and a human rights activist, said that such acts “point to the barbarity of the mullahs’ regime which has unfortunately become more worrisome due to the international community’s inaction.”

“It is now incumbent upon [the UN Special Rapporteur of the human rights situation in Iran] Mr. Ahmed Shaheed to urgently take necessary and effective action to halt the wave of executions and medieval tortures,” she added.

Source: NCRI, August 25, 2016

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

U.S.: Efforts to end death penalty gain steam

Nebraska: Gathering signatures against the death penalty repeal
Nebraska: Gathering signatures against the death penalty repeal
After nearly 2 decades of declining use, opponents of the death penalty have begun what they characterize as a sustained legislative and political push to end capital punishment in states across the country.

Voters in California and Nebraska will decide this year whether to end the death penalty.

Legislators appear poised to end capital punishment in states as different as deep-blue Delaware and ruby-red Utah. And public opinion polls show that while a majority of Americans still back executions for those convicted of murder, that majority is shrinking.

"The growing opposition to the death penalty is evident among every demographic group. You see the same type of patterns among all age groups, among all races, among all religions and among every political affiliation," said Robert Dunham, who runs the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that advocates for an end to capital punishment.

At the presidential level, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both support the death penalty. But Trump hasn't discussed the issue in detail, and Clinton at a debate earlier this year suggested she'd be happy if the Supreme Court or states began to eliminate the death penalty. The Democratic platform calls for repealing the death penalty.

At the state level, calls for an end to the death penalty are coming from an unlikely corner of the political spectrum: Conservatives.

Nebraska's legislature, ostensibly nonpartisan but in practice controlled by Republicans, made headlines in 2015 by repealing the death penalty.

Utah's Republican state Senate passed a repeal bill earlier this year, though it died in the state House. In Kentucky, where Republicans only recently gained control of the state Senate, a Senate committee held hearings on a repeal vote, the first such hearing since 1976. Another repeal measure stalled on a tie vote in Montana's legislature, where Republicans are in control.

"You're going to see more conservative states moving toward repeal," said Marc Hyden, a former National Rifle Association staffer who now runs Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. "The death penalty is dying out."

While 30 states allow capital punishment, the governors of four of those states - Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania - have set a moratorium on executions while they are in office. 20 states do not allow executions.

The number of executions carried out across the country has declined precipitously in recent years. In 2015, states carried out just 28 executions, the lowest number since 1991 and down from a high of 98 in 1999. Through July 15, when Georgia executed a man convicted of murder in 1982, 15 executions had taken place in 2016.

Part of the reason the number of executions have fallen is that states are having a tough time getting the drugs necessary for lethal injections. All thirty states that allow the death penalty use lethal injections as their preferred method of execution. But some of the pharmaceutical companies - mostly based in Europe - that produce those drugs have refused to sell their products to states for use in executions, leading to nationwide shortfalls.

The fact that so few executions are taking place has spurred legislators in at least a few states to rethink capital punishment.

"We started to look at the institution of the death penalty as a broken government system. We had a system that was not being used, that was costing us money," said Colby Coash, the Nebraska state senator who sponsored his state's repeal measure in 2015. "If any other program in history had been this costly or ineffective, we would have gotten rid of it a long time ago."

Death penalty advocates are fighting repeal supporters in a handful of key states. After Nebraska passed its repeal in 2015, over the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts, advocates forced a voter referendum on the measure onto this year's ballot, aided by $300,000 from the governor and his father, a major Republican donor who founded the online brokerage firm TD Ameritrade.

"There was a real groundswell of anger from different corners of the state about the repeal,' said Chris Peterson, a spokesman for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty. Peterson's group is preparing an ad campaign that highlights those on Nebraska's death row, and the crimes they have committed.

Peterson pointed to a poll conducted for his group earlier this month that showed 58 % of Nebraska voters back keeping the death penalty. Just 30 % favor repealing the legislation.

Repeal backers in Nebraska are touting a study conducted by Ernest Goss, an economist at Creighton University, which found Nebraska spends $14.6 million every year on the death penalty, even though the state has not executed a prisoner since December 1997. Death penalty supporters countered with a study from a state legislative analyst that found the death penalty has no such impact.

The Nebraska vote, Peterson said, appeared as the first in what could become a series of anti-death penalty dominos. But, he said: "We're going to work aggressively and we're optimistic that we're going to set our domino back up."

Death penalty proponents have a chance to bolster capital punishment in 1 state this year: Voters in Oklahoma will face a state question that would specifically declare the death penalty is not cruel or unusual punishment.

There is likely to be at least 1 legislative push to reinstate the death penalty next year: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) said last week she would make a legislative priority of reinstating the death penalty for those convicted of murdering police officers and children. Martinez cited the murders of 5 police officers in Dallas last month, a police officer in Hatch, N.M., and a Navajo child earlier this year.

"[A] society that fails to adequately protect and defend those who protect all of us is a society that will be undone and unsafe," Martinez said in a statement emailed to The Hill.

Voters in California will decide 2 ballot measures that would lead to polar opposite outcomes: One measure, Proposition 62, would end California's death penalty altogether. The other, Proposition 66, would maintain capital punishment and speed the appeals process.

It was not immediately clear what would happen if both measures pass in November. In other cases, when 2 contradictory ballot measures have passed, courts have tended to side with the measure that won a higher level of support among voters.

A majority of Americans continues to support the death penalty, according to public opinion polls, but that support has dropped. In October, Gallup found 61 % of Americans support the death penalty for a person convicted of murder, down from a high of 80 % in 1994. A Pew Research Center survey conducted last year found 56 % of Americans favor the death penalty, down from a peak of 78 % in 1995.

Source: the hill.com, August 23, 2016

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New Mexico's bishops reject governor's plan to reinstate death penalty

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez
The Catholic bishops of New Mexico in an Aug. 18 statement said they oppose Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's plan to reinstate the death penalty and called on the Legislature to reject it.

The bishops recalled that when the Legislature in March 2009 repealed "the morally untenable practice of the death penalty," they applauded the move, calling it "a milestone" that was "moving New Mexico from a culture of violence to a culture of peace, justice and love."

"The state created life in prison without the possibility of parole. This renders a perpetrator harmless to society," they said.

"In one voice, (we) once again echo the teaching of the church that life is sacred," the New Mexico bishops said. "There is one seamless teaching on God's gift of life that must be protected from conception in the womb to natural death. It is always tragic and sad when a member of the community is murdered.

"These senseless acts must be prevented by calling for systemic change in society beginning with our youngest children. Crime can be prevented, and this is done by an investment in social capital," they said.

On Aug. 17, Martinez said she will push for reinstating the death penalty during the 2017 legislative session. She was prompted to call for resuming capital punishment after the recent shooting of a Hatch police officer. She said she supports the death penalty at least for convicted child killers and those convicted of murdering law enforcement officers.

She supported a measure to reinstate the death penalty shortly after she was elected governor in 2011, but the bill died in Democratic-majority Legislature.

The New Mexico bishops' quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St. John Paul II in saying that cases where it is "an absolute necessity" for the state to employ the death penalty to ensure the safety of the community "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."

"We join Pope Francis in his continued call to end the practice of the death penalty," the bishops said. "Pope Benedict and St. Pope John Paul II both worked diligently to end the death penalty throughout the world. The trend in the United States has now been to abandon the use of the death penalty. In the last 5 years, 5 states have passed legislation to repeal their death penalty law."

The statement was signed by Archbishop John C. Wester and retired Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan of Santa Fe; Bishop Oscar Cantu and retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces; and Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup.

Source: Catholic News Service, August 23, 2016

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WikiLeaks outs gay people in Saudi Arabia in ‘reckless’ mass data dump

WikiLeaks Julian Assange speaking from the Ecuadorian Embassy, London, UK.
Reminder: Homosexuality is a capital offense in Saudi Arabia.

Whistleblowing group WikiLeaks is under fire for publishing Saudi government data that outs gay men, leaving them at risk of attack.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most repressive countries when it comes to LGBT rights, and gay people can face punishments ranging from a fine or flogging up to to the death penalty.

Internet whistleblowing website WikiLeaks is known for routinely publishing illicitly-obtained government data from around the world – recently coming under fire for publishing emails illegally hacked from the servers of the US Democratic National Convention. That hack was thought to have been perpetrated by Russian-backed hackers.

Wikileaks has now been accused of carelessly and recklessly publishing unredacted data from Saudi Arabia in a mass info dump, including the personal records of hundreds of people.

Among the thousands of documents, the data released includes the personal information identifying at least one gay man – as well as a number of rape victims and people living with HIV.

It also makes public the identity of domestic workers who had been tortured or sexually abused by their employers – even listing the women’s passport numbers, alongside their full names.

One of the cables includes private details of a Saudi man detained for ‘sexual deviation’ – the charge for homosexuality – raising fears of reprisals or ‘vigilante’ attacks.

One partially disabled woman whose private debt information was released in the data dump told Associated Press: “This is a disaster.

“What if my brothers, neighbours, people I know or even don’t know have seen it? What is the use of publishing my story?”

A doctor whose patients’ data was released branded the leak “illegal”.

Embattled WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, who has spent years hiding in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy, said previously: “The Saudi Cables lift the lid on an increasingly erratic and secretive dictatorship that has not only celebrated its 100th beheading this year, but which has also become a menace to its neighbours and itself.”

Source: Pink News, Nick Duffy, August 23, 2016

Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets

CAIRO (AP) — WikiLeaks' global crusade to expose government secrets is causing collateral damage to the privacy of hundreds of innocent people, including survivors of sexual abuse, sick children and the mentally ill, The Associated Press has found.

In the past year alone, the radical transparency group has published medical files belonging to scores of ordinary citizens while many hundreds more have had sensitive family, financial or identity records posted to the web. In two particularly egregious cases, WikiLeaks named teenage rape victims. In a third case, the site published the name of a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, an extraordinary move given that homosexuality is punishable by death in the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom.

"They published everything: my phone, address, name, details," said a Saudi man who told AP he was bewildered that WikiLeaks had revealed the details of a paternity dispute with a former partner. "If the family of my wife saw this ... Publishing personal stuff like that could destroy people."

WikiLeaks' mass publication of personal data is at odds with the site's claim to have championed privacy even as it laid bare the workings of international statecraft, and has drawn criticism from the site's allies.

Attempts to reach WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange were unsuccessful; a set of questions left with his site wasn't immediately answered Tuesday. WikiLeaks' stated mission is to bring censored or restricted material "involving war, spying and corruption" into the public eye, describing the trove amassed thus far as a "giant library of the world's most persecuted documents."

The library is growing quickly, with half a million files from the U.S. Democratic National Committee, Turkey's governing party and the Saudi Foreign Ministry added in the last year or so. But the library is also filling with rogue data, including computer viruses, spam, and a compendium of personal records.

The Saudi diplomatic cables alone hold at least 124 medical files, according to a sample analyzed by AP. Some described patients with psychiatric conditions, seriously ill children or refugees.

"This has nothing to do with politics or corruption," said Dr. Nayef al-Fayez, a consultant in the Jordanian capital of Amman who confirmed that a brain cancer patient of his was among those whose details were published to the web. Dr. Adnan Salhab, a retired practitioner in Jordan who also had a patient named in the files, expressed anger when shown the document.

"This is illegal what has happened," he said in a telephone interview. "It is illegal!"

The AP, which is withholding identifying details of most of those affected, reached 23 people — most in Saudi Arabia — whose personal information was exposed. Some were unaware their data had been published; WikiLeaks is censored in the country. Others shrugged at the news. Several were horrified.

One, a partially disabled Saudi woman who'd secretly gone into debt to support a sick relative, said she was devastated. She'd kept her plight from members of her own family.

"This is a disaster," she said in a phone call. "What if my brothers, neighbors, people I know or even don't know have seen it? What is the use of publishing my story?"

Medical records are widely counted among a person's most private information. But the AP found that WikiLeaks also routinely publishes identity records, phone numbers and other information easily exploited by criminals.

The DNC files published last month carried more than two dozen Social Security and credit card numbers, according to an AP analysis assisted by New Hampshire-based compliance firm DataGravity. Two of the people named in the files told AP they were targeted by identity thieves following the leak, including a retired U.S. diplomat who said he also had to change his number after being bombarded by threatening messages.

The number of people affected easily reaches into the hundreds. Paul Dietrich, a transparency activist, said a partial scan of the Saudi cables alone turned up more than 500 passport, identity, academic or employment files.

The AP independently found three dozen records pertaining to family issues in the cables — including messages about marriages, divorces, missing children, elopements and custody battles. Many are very personal, like the marital certificates which reveal whether the bride was a virgin. Others deal with Saudis who are deeply in debt, including one man who says his wife stole his money. One divorce document details a male partner's infertility. Others identify the partners of women suffering from sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C.

Lisa Lynch, who teaches media and communications at Drew University and has followed WikiLeaks for years, said Assange may not have had the staff or the resources to properly vet what he published. Or maybe he felt that the urgency of his mission trumped privacy concerns.

"For him the ends justify the means," she said.

Source: AP, August 23, 2016

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ISIS executes 4 men, including 2 of its own members, for the 'crime' of gay sex

A gay man is thrown off a building top by ISIS militants, Iraq, Aug. 20, 2016
A gay man is thrown off a building top by ISIS militants, Iraq, Aug. 20, 2016
Extreme violent images emerge of ISIS killing two of its members for homosexuality

Islamic extremists have murdered four men, including two of its own members, on charges of homosexuality and sodomy.

Photos of the four blindfolded men being held by their ankles and then thrown from the roof of a former insurance company building, have been exposed to the public.

The execution was carried out in dour al-Toub area in the central city of Mosul, Iraq on 20 August.

ISIS then transferred the bodies, after they had been finished off by stoning, to a hole west of Mosul.

‘Even though the National Insurance building is destroyed, yet the terror outfit is using it for carrying out executions,’ the source told Iraq News.

Ever since ISIS have come to power in Iraq and parts of Syria, researchers have said many men have been forced to join the group and fight or face being executed themselves.

These killings just add to the dozens of gay men under the depraved ISIS regime.

ISIS have described gay people as the ‘worst of creatures’.

Mosul Iraq, August 20, 2016

Source: Gay Star News, August 23, 2016

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Nebraska: Death penalty in our hands now

Nebraska: Gathering signatures against the death penalty repeal
Nebraska: Gathering signatures against the death penalty repeal
The death penalty debate has moved out of the Legislature and into the public square.

State senators in 2015 said repeal it, and they spoke with enough force to override a gubernatorial veto. Now, it's our turn to decide.

Conventional wisdom says Nebraskans will overturn the Legislature's decision and restore the death penalty by supporting a referendum in November to do just that.

But there's also a widespread hunch that this might not be a slam dunk, not really quite settled yet.

And so voters now will hear some of the same arguments that senators heard from supporters of death penalty repeal: It's costly, it's used so rarely that it's essentially unworkable and ineffective, it runs the risk of killing an innocent person who later is found not to have committed the crime.

And then there's the overriding issue of personal or religious belief: Do pro-life believers make exceptions? Or does the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, not only justify, but direct punishment by death if you kill another?

Lots of fundamental issues and important questions for Nebraska voters to weigh, just as their elected representatives did last year when they voted for repeal.

That decision startled many people in other parts of the country and made them reconsider some of their stereotypical views about Nebraska and Nebraskans. Some of your friends and associates in other states probably already have told you that.

On the other hand, that decision surprised and disappointed some people who looked on from afar, friends may also tell you.

In any event, it was noticed. It was news. Big change, unexpected, even startling, chronicled in New York newspapers and celebrated in Rome by bathing the historic Colosseum in white light.

On the other hand, it also was a decision that quickly mobilized death penalty supporters determined to reverse the Legislature's decision.

So now it's our turn as voters to decide.

TV ads are going to try to influence us, convince us, nudge us toward a decision.

Death penalty opponents probably are going to have to change minds if they hope to succeed, just as they did in the Legislature; supporters will make a case for deterrence and just punishment, pointing to heinous crimes.

The most compelling 30-second ads -- we'll probably see a ton of them -- could make a difference in moving the needle on voter consideration of this issue.

But this essentially is a private and personal decision and one that for most people probably already has been made.

The critical question is: Are there still open minds?

Source: Lincoln Journal Star, August 22, 2016

Source: Retain A Just Nebraska. Aug 17, 2016. For more, please visit: http://retainajustnebraska.com

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