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

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Belarus to host European Games in 2019

Alexander Lukashenko is the President of Belarus, in office since 20 July 1994.
Alexander Lukashenko is the President of Belarus, in office since 20 July 1994.
The 2019 European Games will take place in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

The Netherlands was originally chosen to stage the second edition of the multi-sports event, but pulled out days before the inaugural 2015 Games in Baku, Azerbaijan for financial reasons.

Minsk was the sole candidate for the 2019 edition, where about 6,000 athletes will compete across 20 sports.

Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko told the European Olympic Committee to "count on Belarus".

"We are not a superpower but we pay a lot of attention to sport," he added.

Baku spent $1.2bn (£700m) preparing for its hosting of the first European Games.

Despite calls by the Danish Olympic Committee to postpone the decision due to a lack of clarity over financing, the motion was passed easily with 43 Olympic committees voting in favour of Minsk.

In 2018, Scotland and Germany will co-host the inaugural European Sports Championships - another multi-sports event.

The championships in Glasgow and Berlin is to feature athletics, cycling, rowing, swimming and triathlon.

Source: BBC News, October 21, 2016

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Doubts Over Saudi-UK 'Assurances' on Juvenile Executions

Public execution in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia: Darkness at Noon

3 Saudi juveniles remain on death row, 1 year after the UK began seeking 'assurances' that they would not be executed. 

Abdullah Hasan al-Zaher, Ali al Nimr, and Dawood al-Marhoon were aged 15, 17 and 17 respectively when they were arrested for allegedly taking part in protests in the country's eastern province. All 3 face beheading after they were sentenced in the secretive Specialised Criminal Court, on the basis of 'confessions' they signed following torture. Last September, the death sentences of the 3 were upheld, and they could now be executed at any time. 

The UK has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, and for the past year, the UK Foreign Office has sought regular 'assurances' from the Saudi government that the three would not be executed. Last month, Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood told Parliament: "our expectation remains that they will not be executed." 

However, the 3 juveniles remain on death row, and their families say that they fear the executions could go ahead without warning. Speaking to Channel 4 last month, Ali al Nimr's father, Mohammed al Nimr, said that his son was "waiting to be called" to the "execution square." 

Concerns for the 3 juveniles have been heightened by recent reports of other rights abuses in the country. Earlier this week, it was reported that the Saudi authorities had executed a member of the royal family for the 1st time in 40 years; while Saudi blogger, Raif Badawi, is said to be facing a new round of 'lashes' as part of a flogging sentence handed down for his criticisms of the government. 

The British government has so far stopped short of calling for the 3 juveniles' death sentences to be scrapped - something that other governments, such as France, have done. Human rights organization Reprieve has written to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, asking her to request that Saudi Arabia commute the sentences. 

In January this year, several juveniles were among 47 prisoners executed en masse in the Kingdom. They included Ali al-Ribh, a teenager from the Eastern Province who, like Ali, Abdullah and Dawood, was arrested in school in the wake of protests. Last week, a UK Foreign Office minister said that she was "horrified" by news of the mass execution. 

Commenting, Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said: 

"It's appalling that Ali al Nimr, Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon could be beheaded at any moment for the so-called 'crime' of attending a protest. Saudi Arabia's 'assurances' that they won't execute these 3 boys count for nothing when the Kingdom has continued to behead juveniles and other prisoners, many of whom were tortured into bogus 'confessions.' Theresa May must call urgently for these death sentences to be scrapped."

Source: Reprieve, October 21, 2016

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U.S. on track for fewest executions since 1991

With public support for the death penalty at its lowest point in more than 4 decades, the U.S. is on track for its fewest executions in a quarter century. 

So far in 2016, 17 inmates have been executed, according to a database maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. 3 additional executions are scheduled for this year. If all 3 proceed as planned, the year's 20 executions will be the fewest since 1991, when 14 were recorded. The U.S. has executed at least 28 people in each year since 1992. 

Just 5 states - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Texas - account for the 17 completed and 3 scheduled executions this year. This represents the fewest states to carry out executions in any year since 1983. In 1999, by comparison, 20 states conducted executions. 

1 reason for the national decline in executions has been a decrease in Texas, which is scheduled to execute 8 inmates this year, a 20-year low. Texas has long been the nation's leader in executions, carrying out nearly 5 times as many as any other state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. During that span, Texas carried out 538 executions, compared with 112 in Oklahoma and 111 in Virginia. 

Legal and practical challenges have prevented some states from carrying out executions this year. Ohio, for example, has not executed anyone since 2014 amid difficulties acquiring the drugs needed to conduct lethal injections. The state announced this month that it will resume executions next year, using a new protocol. 

The number of states with the death penalty on the books - currently 30 - also could decline this year. Voters in California and Nebraska will decide Nov. 8 whether to eliminate or retain their capital punishment laws. 

In California, which has the nation's largest death row, Proposition 62 would eliminate the death penalty and replace it with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment without parole. The measure would apply retroactively and, if approved, resentence the more than 700 people on death row to life without parole. A competing measure, Proposition 66, would retain capital punishment but change legal procedures related to death penalty appeals. (If both measures pass, the one with more "yes" votes will prevail.) 

In Nebraska, voters will revisit a May 2015 decision by the state Legislature to abolish capital punishment and replace it with a maximum penalty of life without parole for the crime of murder. Referendum 426 asks whether to retain or repeal the state law that eliminated the death penalty. 

A 3rd state, Oklahoma, will also vote on a proposal related to capital punishment. Question 776 would solidify the state's death penalty against legal or legislative challenges by adding provisions to the state constitution, including a declaration that capital punishment "is not cruel and unusual punishment." 

A Pew Research Center survey conducted Aug. 23-Sept. 2 found that 49% of Americans support the death penalty for those convicted of murder, compared with 42% who oppose it. While the share of supporters reached a 4-decade low, voters remain divided along party lines. Nearly 3/4 (72%) of Republicans favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, compared with 34% of Democrats

Both major-party presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, favor the death penalty. The federal government has not executed anyone since 2003, carrying out just 3 executions in the modern era of capital punishment. 

Source: Pew Research Center, October 22, 2016

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Florida Supreme Court suspends death penalty

Florida's death chamber
Florida's death chamber

For the 2nd time this year, a court has ruled that Florida's death penalty statute is unconstitutional. 

This time, it was the Florida Supreme Court, handing down a pair of historic rulings on Oct. 14 that shifted Florida into the legal mainstream and are expected to cut the number of people sent to death row. 

Florida has not executed anyone since Jan. 7 because of uncertainty about its death penalty, and Friday's rulings are expected to extend that moratorium indefinitely. 

'A clear outlier' 

In the 1st case, the Florida high court threw out the death penalty given to a Pensacola killer, Timothy Lee Hurst, because jurors had not unanimously recommended it. Their vote was 7-5. 

In the 2nd case, the court ruled that the Florida Legislature botched its rewrite of the statute this year. The problem: The new law required just 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a death sentence. 

"The Florida Supreme Court said today that is has to be unanimous under Florida law," said Stephen K. Harper, a death penalty specialist at Florida International University College of Law. 

Until the Oct. 14 rulings, Florida was 1 of 3 states that did not require a unanimous jury recommendation in death penalty cases. 

The high court said that made the state "a clear outlier." 

Called historic 

As a consequence of last Friday's rulings, Florida currently has no death penalty. 

Former Circuit Judge O.H. "Bill" Eaton Jr. called the rulings historic, pointing out that for the 1st time in 44 years, no inmates will be sent to Florida's death row without all 12 members of a jury agreeing that that is the right punishment. 

In the Hurst case, the high court ruled that the defendant must be given a new sentencing hearing. 

Still unclear, though, is what will happen to the other inmates on Florida's death row and to murderers given the death penalty under the new statute, which was signed into law March 7 by Gov. Rick Scott. 

Blow to Bondi 

Some attorneys had urged the court to automatically convert all Florida death sentences to life in prison, but the recent opinions did not order that. 

The new rulings were a blow not just to the Florida Legislature but also to Attorney General Pam Bondi, who had defended the old and new laws. 

Both of the Oct. 14 rulings were a consequence of an opinion handed down Jan. 12 by the U.S. Supreme Court. It ruled that Florida's death penalty was unconstitutional because it required a judge - not a jury - to decide whether a defendant should be put to death. 

Bondi had argued that the error was harmless, but in that January ruling, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that the court disagreed but left it to the Florida Supreme Court to hash out who, if anyone, was harmed. 

Huge backlog? 

The Florida Supreme Court answered that question last Friday, but only in part. Hurst was harmed, the court wrote, so he should be resentenced. 

It was silent about all other death penalty cases. 

Belvin Perry Jr., former chief judge of the Orange-Osceola circuit, predicted that all 385 death-row inmates would now file paperwork, arguing that they, too, were harmed. 

It might mean a huge backlog for the Florida Supreme Court and for trial courts, he said. 

But Harper and Eaton predicted the rulings could apply to far fewer cases, primarily those with active appeals and those that have not gone to trial. 

All 3 legal experts faulted members of the Florida Legislature. Eaton said they had been warned repeatedly since 2000 that they needed to rewrite the statute to require unanimous jury recommendations. 

Opposed by speaker 

The next speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran, attacked Friday's ruling as "a miscarriage of justice ... and dangerous for our state." 

"We will take a close look at today's rulings and consider our options going forward," he said in a statement. 

A spokeswoman for Scott wrote in an email that his office was reviewing the rulings. That was the same message from the office of outgoing Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and his successor, Joe Negron. 

A spokesman for Bondi wrote the same thing, adding, "In the meantime Florida juries must make unanimous decisions in capital cases as to the appropriateness of the death penalty." 

Source: Florida Courier, October 21, 2016

Bondi's office looks for clarity on death penalty

Florida Supreme Court: Jury must unanimously agree on death penalty

Attorney General Pam Bondi has asked the Florida Supreme Court to clarify a ruling last week that struck down a portion of the state's death-penalty law, arguing that failing to do so "will only generate confusion."

In a pair of opinions issued last Friday, the court found that a statute, passed in March in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case known as Hurst v. Florida, was unconstitutional "because it requires that only 10 jurors recommend death as opposed to the constitutionally required unanimous, 12-member jury."

Bondi's request for clarification came in the case of Larry Darnell Perry, who was convicted in the 2013 murder of his infant son. An appellate court had asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the law passed in March applied to cases that were already under way.

In last Friday's 5-2 decision in the Perry case, the court said that the law was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations and "cannot be applied to pending prosecutions."

The state contends that death penalty prosecutions can continue without a change in the law, so long as trial courts require unanimous jury recommendations to comply with last week's ruling.

But the Supreme Court majority did not address the issue of "severability," which would allow portions of the law that are not deficient to remain intact, Senior Assistant Attorney General Carol Dittmar wrote in the 11-page request filed Thursday.

"This omission unnecessarily invites continued litigation. The language leaves open the possibility that defense attorneys will assert that no valid death penalty law exists in Florida, demanding that trial judges strike notices of intent to pursue capital cases and refuse to impanel capital juries," she wrote.

However, "the state maintains that after severing the constitutional defect, current capital prosecutions should still be conducted as long as the trial courts ensure that the jury's final recommendation is unanimous," Dittmar continued.

The arguments "will no doubt be rejected by some trial courts and accepted by others," leading to more litigation in "an already overburdened system," Dittmar wrote.

"...This court's finding of a constitutional flaw will only generate confusion, absent some clarification as to trial court's authority to cure the legislative error," she argued.

But defense lawyers maintain that, a decade ago, the Supreme Court asked the Legislature to address the issue of unanimity. They say it's now the Legislature's job --- not the court's --- to fix the law.

"It's not clarification to ask the court to rewrite the statute," said Martin McClain, who has represented over 200 defendants facing the death penalty.

Like Bondi, legislative leaders and prosecutors --- who pushed for 10-2 jury recommendations in death-penalty cases over the repeated warnings of defense lawyers --- contend that the statute does not have to be changed immediately for prosecutions to move forward.

But an Ocala judge on Monday put on hold the penalty portion of a murder trial, saying the court needed direction from the Legislature before proceeding.

Arguing for the state in the request for clarification, Dittmar wrote that the flaw in the statute "is easy to fix" through "accurate jury instructions and simple interrogatories" and "does not require any substantive rewriting of the law."

But defense lawyers say that allowing trials to proceed without changing the statute could be even more problematic.

Relying on judges to craft jury instructions in different cases "is a situation that will cause havoc," said 5th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Mike Graves, whose office represents Kelvin Lee Coleman in the Ocala murder trial and who argued Coleman's case Monday. A jury late last week found Coleman guilty of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder.

"We literally could have dozens and dozens of different procedures, different jury instructions on the issue of death in individual cases. That, I think, would cause absolutely unnecessary complication in review," Graves said. "I don't for the life of me understand what their hurry is."

The state's death penalty has been in limbo since January, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries. Following that decision, the Florida Supreme Court indefinitely put on hold two executions, which are still pending.

Of the 31 states with the death penalty, Florida is 1 of just 3 --- including Alabama and Delaware --- that have not required unanimous jury recommendations for death to be imposed. Delaware's high court has halted that state's death penalty following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in January in the Hurst case.

The Hurst ruling did not address the issue of unanimity, which became a flashpoint during this year's legislative session as Florida lawmakers sought to repair the state's death penalty sentencing process to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Defense lawyers repeatedly told lawmakers that Florida's "outlier" status regarding unanimity jeopardizes the state's death penalty because the U.S. Supreme Court considers "evolving standards of decency" when considering the issue.

A Senate proposal originally required unanimous jury recommendations, but lawmakers ultimately struck a deal --- backed by Bondi and prosecutors --- in which at least 10 jurors were required to favor death for the sentence to be imposed.

"Refusing to make a steady, reasoned review of the situation is what led to the chaos our court system is now dealing with. Lives are literally at stake. Have patience. Take a breath," Pete Mills, an assistant public defender in the 10th Judicial Circuit who is chairman of the Florida Public Defender Association's death penalty steering committee, said in a telephone interview Friday.

"If the Court attempts to fix this on their own, it could be a violation of the separation of powers recognized in our state's Constitution," Mills said. "They run the risk of misinterpreting what the Legislature will do. The Legislature might have bigger plans."

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who will take over as head of the chamber after the November elections, told The News Service of Florida this week that there was "no ambiguity" regarding the need for unanimous jury recommendations following the state Supreme Court opinions.

Negron, a lawyer, said that lawmakers could deal with the issue during next year's 60-day legislative session, which begins in March.

Bernie McCabe, the state attorney in the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco and Pinellas counties, said he believes prosecutors can move forward because the state Supreme Court, in the decisions last week, "has established the procedures necessary if you're going to seek the death penalty."

But McCabe also said that the attorney general's concern about clarification is valid.

"We have cases pending that need to be resolved, and there is perhaps confusion over the proper mechanism over how to resolve them," he said.

McCabe said he is trying 2 cases in which he is seeking the death penalty that are at a critical stage.

"I think we can go ahead. Others will perhaps disagree," he said. "I can see where it might be helpful if the Supreme Court just came out and said, OK, judges here's what you do, and go ahead and do it."

Source: news4jax.com, October 21, 2016

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Barbados: Criminologist warns that hanging will not stop crime

Barbados: "A lot of our problems are societal problems."
Barbados: "A lot of our problems are societal problems."
A recent study by this country's Criminal Justice Unit shows that 80 % of Barbadians support the retention of the death penalty on this country's statute books.

However, Kim Ramsay, a senior researcher with the Government-run unit, Wednesday night warned that this strong retentionist sentiment, which she expects local politicians to pay attention to, "comes into conflict with the broad jurisdiction of international human rights tribunals".

The island has been under pressure from international organizations such as Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to do away with the death penalty, which was deemed too harsh and said to be in breach of international law.

Back in 2014, Government had announced plans to abolish the mandatory death sentence for murder with Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite stating at the time that he expected strong opposition to the plan, as many believe the death penalty was an appropriate punishment.

Brathwaite had also promised that Government would engage the population in a big public debate before the proposal was tabled in Parliament.

"Barbadians generally feel that once you commit murder you should forfeit your lives, but that is until one of their family members is involved," Brathwaite had said.

"I know it will be a battle but . . . . I believe that it is a better path for the country," he added at the time.

However, the provision remains on the statute books and delivering a lecture here last night on criminal justice, Ramsay revealed that an overwhelming number of Barbadians want it to remain there.

"80 % of our Barbadians, based on a study we did, indicated that they want the death penalty retained.

"So this retentionist sentiment, which obviously politicians have to pay attention to, comes into conflict with the broad jurisdiction of international human rights tribunals," she said, while warning that Britain has also been waving a big stick over this island's trade.

Therefore, "'if you do not comply with what I say, then we start to pull away things from you,'" she said in reference to pressure from the UK, while further cautioning that "it puts us in a very precarious position".

Ramsay, a criminologist of 14 years experience, went on to suggest that this was one of the reasons "why we have not had any executions since 1984".

She also explained why she differed with most Barbadians on the use of the death penalty, which remains on the island's statute books as the automatic punishment for convicted murderers, even though no one has been hanged here in 32 years.

"I don't believe that the death penalty is effective in reducing our criminal problems," she said, adding that she was yet to see how executions of condemned criminals would reduce crime in any jurisdiction.

"There is crime in any country, no matter what systems you have in place," she insisted, while highlighting the fact that the Caribbean has one of the highest homicide rates in the Americas.

"I have to agree with the international agencies, the international rights, the treaties that we've signed on to," Ramsay said while adding that she was a firm believer in dealing with problems at the root.

However, she argued that "a lot of our problems are societal problems.

"I think that is how we need to address crime, from a societal point, as opposed to coming in at the back end," she said.

Source: Barbados Today, October 21, 2016

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Alabama now alone on 'limb' with death penalty law

Alabama, Delaware and Florida were in a very small club at the start of 2016, but Alabama now stands alone - last in the nation to embrace a set of rules, deemed unconstitutional elsewhere, that increases the likelihood of a death sentence. 

All 3 states were the only ones in the nation to allow judges to override jury recommendations for life without parole and instead impose the death penalty. And they also were the only states that didn't require jury advisory votes for the death penalty be unanimous. 

Since January, however, courts have ruled those practices unconstitutional in Delaware and Florida. The most recent ruling came last Friday when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that jury recommendations for the death penalty must be unanimous. 

That leaves Alabama as the only state that allows judges to override jury recommendations and the only one to allow split juries to recommend death. In Alabama, at least 10 of 12 jurors must vote for a death recommendation. 

But there have been signals that the U.S. Supreme Court may be taking aim at Alabama. 

"Alabama is out on the limb and the U.S. Supreme Court has already suggested it might be pulling out the saw," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. 

One sign that Alabama's death penalty law is on the U.S. Supreme Court's radar is that the high court this spring sent back the cases of 3 death row inmates for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to review. The U.S. Supreme Court didn't say in its brief orders what it was about each of those cases that the Alabama appellate court should consider because in all 3 the judges followed jurors' recommendations for death. One recommendation was unanimous and the other 2 split decisions. 

Now the Alabama court must see if the sentences should be overturned in light of the federal decision in January. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law in Florida that allowed judges to override jury recommendations. 

"That suggests that the U.S. Supreme Court is looking at this issue," Dunham said. 

While the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals hasn't ruled on those 3 cases, that same court has since declared Alabama's death sentence law constitutional in light of the Florida case anyway. 

That happened in June when the state appeals differed with Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tracie Todd. The state court ordered Todd to vacate her March 3 ruling that declared the state's capital punishment sentencing scheme unconstitutional in the cases of 4 men charged with capital murder in her court. She had considered the Florida case in her order. 

Then on Sept. 30, the Alabama Supreme Court weighed in. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in the case of Death Row inmate Jerry Bohannon that Alabama's death penalty law is constitutional in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Hurst v. Florida in January. 

Alabama Death Penalty Controversy Explained 

District attorneys and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange have said Alabama's law is not the same as Florida's. 

The AG's office and district attorneys have said the U.S. Supreme Court held in the Florida case that a jury, not the judge, must find the aggravating factor in order to make someone eligible for the death penalty. Alabama's system, however, already required the jury to do just that in either the guilt or sentencing phase, they said. 

Once a jury has unanimously made the factual determination that a defendant meets the criteria to be eligible for the death penalty, the judge may make the legal determination of whether to impose it or not, the attorney general has stated. 

"The Hurst ruling has no bearing whatsoever on the constitutionality of Alabama's death penalty, which has been upheld numerous times," the AG's office has stated. 

The Alabama Attorney General's Office declined an interview this week regarding Friday's new ruling in Florida regarding unanimous jury recommendations for death sentences, but a spokesman for the office offered a response. 

"Florida and Alabama have different laws regarding death penalty sentencing," Mike Lewis, communications director for the attorney general. "Alabama's Supreme Court has already found Alabama's death penalty law to be constitutional." 

Alabama's sentencing scheme in death penalty cases is the same as Florida's, which was ruled unconstitutional last month by the U.S. Supreme Court, a number of Alabama defense lawyers are arguing to get death sentences barred in their cases. 

But Emory Anthony, a Birmingham lawyer who has filed motions for about 5 defendants seeking to have their capital murder charges dismissed in light of the Hurst decision, believes judicial override and non-unanimous will be changed. 

"We're still trying to hold on to something that will have to be changed legally," Anthony said, adding that the state has been "dragging our feet" because elected judges and justices and prosecutors want to show the electorate that they're tough on crime. 

"I think we are finding out that one individual should not be the final voice on whether someone should live or die. That should be a decision for 12 people," he said. "I don't know why we are so hard headed. It is almost stupid when you think about it." 

At least 2 U.S. Supreme Court justices - Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer - have indicated in recent years that it may be time to look again at Alabama's death penalty sentencing law when it comes to overrides by judges. 

Alabama is the only state in the last decade where judges have imposed the death penalty despite of contrary jury verdicts, according to the dissent. Since adoption of this statue, Alabama has imposed death sentences on 95 defendants when a jury voted to sentence them to life. 

Within days after the SCOTUS decision in the Hurst case in Florida attorneys for Alabama death row inmate Christopher Brooks argued that his execution should be halted because Alabama's death penalty sentencing law was similar to Florida's. 

SCOTUS declined to stop Brooks' Jan. 21 execution. 

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with whom Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed, noted in the court's denial of Brooks' motion that the court in Hurst v. Florida had overruled the 2 cases that underpinned Alabama's law, basically knocking out any legal foundation for Alabama's system. But procedural obstacles would have prevented the court from granting the stay of Brooks' execution, she wrote. 

Justice Stephen Breyer also wrote that SCOTUS has recognized that Alabama's sentencing scheme is much like and based on the one used in Florida that has been declared unconstitutional. "The unfairness inherent in treating this case differently from others which used similarly unconstitutional procedures only underscores the need to reconsider the validity of capital punishment under the Eighth Amendment," Breyer wrote in the Brooks' opinion. 

Sotomayor in a 2013 dissenting opinion in the case of Mario Dion Woodward, who was convicted in the shooting death of Montgomery Police Officer Keith Houts, said it's time to look at Alabama's law again. 

She noted that while Florida, Delaware and Alabama still had override laws at that time, Alabama judges were the only ones who were still using it. No one is on Delaware's death row as a result of an override and no death sentences have been imposed by override in Florida since 1999. 

Since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury verdicts 112 times, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. 

"18 years have passed since we last considered Alabama's capital sentencing scheme, and much has changed since then," Sotomayor wrote. "Today, Alabama stands alone: No other State condemns prisoners to death despite the considered judgment rendered by a cross-section of its citizens that the defendant ought to live." 

Source: al.com, October 21, 2016

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Citing aging inmates, Ohio says it will again move death row

Ohio's death chamber
Ohio's death chamber
Ohio is moving its death row for the third time in little over a decade, this time because of the growing number of aging inmates serving death sentences, state prison officials said Friday.

Death row will go from Chillicothe in southern Ohio to the Toledo Correctional Institution, a trip of more than three hours. Toledo's prison is newer and designed to handle inmates with physical and mobility limitations, including those in wheelchairs, the state said.

The state will relocate 126 death row inmates in the "near future," said prisons department spokeswoman JoEllen Smith. She said she couldn't provide exact details because of security reasons. Three other inmates at a medical facility in Columbus are being evaluated to see if they are healthy enough to be transferred.

The average age of Ohio's death row population is just under 50, with inmates' ages ranging from 21 to 75.

Executions still will be carried out at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.

Ohio said earlier this month that it plans to resume executions in January following an unofficial moratorium of nearly three years that was blamed on shortages of lethal drugs.

The state hasn't put anyone to death since January 2014, when Dennis McGuire repeatedly gasped and snorted during a 26-minute procedure using a never-before-tried two-drug combo.

Prison officials also hope the switch will help reduce crowding at the Chillicothe prison and other sites across the state. Areas now used to hold death row inmates in individual cells could be converted to double-bunked cells that could house twice as many high-security inmates.

The prison system's total population has increased 15 percent in about the last 12 years, according to a Correctional Institution Inspection Committee report from May. Overcrowding rates also are up. Currently, Ohio has almost 51,000 in its prison system.

Death row was moved from the supermax prison in Youngstown, where it had been since 2005, to the Chillicothe Correctional Institution at the beginning of 2012.

The state said the move to Chillicothe would save money by bringing inmates facing execution closer to the death house in Lucasville.

The union representing Ohio prison guards and other workers said the shift would disrupt the consistency for the staff, the inmates and their families.

"You keep shuffling all these guys around in the system, and it just puts more hardships on everyone," said Chris Mabe, president of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

The state didn't have a firm estimate on how much the move to Toledo would cost. Smith said it wasn't "a fiscal decision" but rather one designed to increase safety and security while reducing density at the prisons.

The agency said the decision was made as part of its routine review of how it manages its inmate population.

Staffing in Chillicothe isn't expected to change, but more workers will be hired in Toledo, the state said.

To make room for death row inmates in Toledo, about the same number of inmates will be relocated to other facilities, Smith said.

The move is the fourth overall for Ohio's death row since the state re-enacted capital punishment in 1981.

Source: The Associated Press, October 21, 2016

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Iraq: ISIS executes hundreds of Mosul area residents

Iraqi-led forces push toward Mosul, Iraq.
Iraqi-led forces push toward Mosul, Iraq.
(CNN) ISIS rounded up and killed 284 men and boys as Iraqi-led coalition forces closed in on Mosul, the terror group's last stronghold in Iraq, an Iraqi intelligence source told CNN.

Those killed Thursday and Friday had been used as human shields against attacks forcing ISIS out of the southern sections of Mosul, the source said.

ISIS dumped the corpses in a mass grave at the defunct College of Agriculture in northern Mosul, the intelligence source said.

The victims -- some of them children -- were all shot, said the source, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. CNN could not independently confirm the killings.

UN 'gravely worried' over human shield use

The United Nations said Friday it is "gravely worried" that ISIS has taken 550 families from villages around Mosul for human shields as Iraqi and Kurdish forces battle the terror group for control of Iraq's second-largest city.

Two hundred families from Samalia village and 350 families from Najafia were forced out Monday and taken to Mosul in what appears to be "an apparent policy by ISIS to prevent civilians escaping," Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office, told CNN.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said his office had evidence of several instances since Monday where ISIS forced civilians to leave outlying villages and head to Mosul. It also had received reports that civilians suspected of disloyalty had been shot dead.

Iraqi army and militia forces arrive Thursday in Saleh village in the offensive to wrest Mosul from ISIS.

"We are gravely worried by reports that (ISIS) is using civilians in and around Mosul as human shields as the Iraqi forces advance, keeping civilians close to their offices or places where fighters are located, which may result in civilian casualties," the UN official said.

"There is a grave danger that (ISIS) fighters will not only use such vulnerable people as human shields but may opt to kill them rather than see them liberated," he said.

His office is examining reports that ISIS shot dead at least 40 civilians in a village outside Mosul.
Any ISIS fighters who are captured or surrendered "should be held accountable in accordance with the law for any crimes they have committed," he said.

Source: CNN, October 22, 2016

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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Arizona: Judge questions vow not to use sedative again in executions

A judge presiding over a lawsuit that protests how Arizona carries out the death penalty extracted promises in court from the state Wednesday that it won't use the sedative midazolam in future executions.

Lawyers for the state are seeking to dismiss the lawsuit's claim that midazolam can't ensure that condemned inmates won't feel the pain caused by another drug in a three-drug execution protocol. The state said it won't use the sedative in the future even if it finds a new supply.

U.S. District Judge Neil Wake said the state's decision to voluntarily end its midazolam use in executions could be changed in the future by a state prisons director or a governor.

"There is nothing to stop the director or a future director or a future governor from saying the world has changed," Wake said, marking the second time in recent months that he has questioned the solidity of the state's claim on finding midazolam.

Arizona announced nearly 4 months ago that it was eliminating its use of midazolam after its supply expired and another supplier couldn't be found because of pressure from opponents of the death penalty. Attorneys for the state say the lawsuit's midazolam claim is moot because the drug won't be used in the future executions.

Wake scheduled the hearing after learning that Ohio now has a supply of midazolam and plans to resume executions there in January.

Collin Wedel, an attorney representing the condemned inmates who filed the lawsuit, said the state's claim that it can't find the sedative doesn't hold water because Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas have already said they have a midazolam supply.

Jeffrey Sparks, an attorney representing the state, said the state wasn't arguing that there is no midazolam available anywhere, but rather that Arizona's prison system simply can't acquire it.

Wake hasn't yet decided whether to dismiss the lawsuit's midazolam claim.

Executions in Arizona will remain on hold until the lawsuit is resolved. They were put on hold after the July 2014 death of convicted killer Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was given 15 dozes of midazolam and a painkiller and who took nearly 2 hours to die. His attorney said the execution was botched.

Several of the lawsuit's claims have been dismissed, but lawyers for the condemned inmates want to press forward with allegations that the state has abused its discretion in the methods and amounts of the drugs used in past executions.

Similar challenges to the death penalty are playing out in other parts of the country that seek more transparency about where states get their execution drugs.

States are struggling to obtain execution drugs because European pharmaceutical companies began blocking the use of their products for lethal injections.

Source: Associated Press, October 20, 2016

Plaintiffs Want More Than A Promise From Arizona On Death Penalty Drug

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Arizona's death penalty want more than a promise that Arizona will never again use a controversial lethal injection drug. 

Midazolam dominated the discussion during a federal court hearing Wednesday. 

Judge Neil V. Wake called the hearing to ponder if Ohio's having recently obtained the drug defeats the state's argument that Arizona's inability to get more midazolam makes the lawsuit moot. 

Lawyers for state followed up with a promise to never use midazolam again. 

But lawyers for the plaintiffs said Ohio's plan to resume executions next year using midazolam show it's still available. Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas also have midazolam, they said. 

A change in Arizona leadership could lead to the state using midazolam again, and the plaintiffs need a way to enforce the state's promise to refrain from using the drug, said Mark Haddad, an attorney for the plaintiffs. 

"That would be very unfair to end this case now without any ability for us to stop that change of decision," Haddad said. 

Haddad also said he's open to discussions on resolving the case, and he's hopeful the sides can come to an agreement. 

Attorneys for the state declined to comment.

Source: KJZZ news, October 20, 2016

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Schizophrenia ‘not a mental illness’, says Pakistan Supreme Court

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has today ruled that schizophrenia does not qualify as mental disorder, paving the way for the execution of Imdad Ali who suffers from severe mental illness.

In an unprecedented judgement, they claim that schizophrenia is not a permanent condition and varied according to the “level of stress”.

They claimed that “it is, therefore, a recoverable disease, which, in all the cases, does not fall within the definition of “mental disorder” as defined in the Mental Health Ordinance, 2001.”

In seeking to justify their case, the judges made reference to an outdated Indian case from the 1980s, which said that “‘schizophrenia’ is what Schizophrenia does.”

Mr Ali has been previously diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and a 2013 medical report stated him to be “insane.” Sentenced to death in 2008 over a shooting, Imdad lost his final appeal last year.

He came within hours of being hanged last month, before his wife filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. A medical assessment conducted at the jail last month by Dr Tahir Feroze Khan noted that Mr Ali was suffering from “active psychosis” and that his illness appeared to be “treatment resistant”.

The latest ruling means Mr Ali could face the gallows as early as Wednesday 26th October.

Maya Foa, a director of Reprieve, said:

“It is outrageous for Pakistan’s Supreme Court to claim that schizophrenia is not a mental illness, and flies in the face of accepted medical knowledge, including Pakistan’s own mental health laws. It is terrifying to think that a mentally ill man like Imdad Ali could now hang because judges are pretending that schizophrenia is not a serious condition. Pakistan’s President needs to urgently intervene to stop this sickening attempt to hang Imdad.”

  • More information about Imdad Ali is available on the Reprieve website.
  • A copy of the Supreme Court judgement is available on request.

Source: Reprieve, October 20, 2016

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Saudi Arabia: Man executed in Qatif for kidnapping and raping minor

Public execution in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
Public execution in Saudi Arabia (file photo)
DAMMAM — A man convicted of kidnapping and raping a minor girl was executed in Qatif on Tuesday.

A source from the Ministry of Interior said 33-year-old Saad Al-Shimrani, a Saudi national, was charged with kidnapping and raping the 14-year-old girl. “His death sentence was approved by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. A royal decree was issued to execute the man for his crimes,” said the source.

Al-Shimrani was arrested in connection with a previous kidnap case but was released on bail. “Six years ago, the man was convicted of kidnapping and raping a girl aged between 12 to 14 years old. The man was from an area outside of Qatif Governorate. He is the father of two children. He kidnapped his first victim on her way back from school,” said the source.

The source said the man took the victim to an apartment near Dammam. “The man assaulted her in the apartment but he did not rape her. He took pictures of her body and threatened to post them online if she does not submit to his wishes the next time. He took her back to an area near her home in the evening. The girl walked back home crying,” said the source.

The source added the girl told her parents of the incident the minute she got home.

“The girl’s parents reported the incident to the police. The police told the parents that they need to trap the man and catch him red-handed. The man called the girl the next day and the family of the girl lured him in. Police located the man and attempted to arrest him,” said the source.

The man escaped but he was later arrested near the apartment where he had held the girl captive, the source added.

“The man was released on bail after his arrest over kidnap charges. But he went on to commit a second crime. He kidnapped a 14-year-old girl from the street. The girl managed to call her parents while she was kidnapped and inform them that she was kidnapped and being taken to either Dhahran or Dammam,” said the source.

The source said the parents of the girl reported the incident to the police and the girl was found in Dammam.

“The man was initially sentenced to four years in prison and 1,500 lashes. The sentence was later increased to six years in prison and 1,600 lashes. During an appeal hearing, the public prosecutor demanded that the man receives capital punishment for his horrid crimes. The Qatif General Court then sentenced the man to death and he was executed in the governorate on Tuesday,” said the source.

Most people put to death in Saudi Arabia are beheaded with a sword.

Saudi Arabia has a strict Islamic legal code (Sharia) under which murder, drug trafficking, armed robbery, rape, homosexuality and apostasy are all punishable by death.

Amnesty International says the kingdom carried out at least 159 death sentences in 2015, making it the third most prolific executioner after Iran and Pakistan.

Related content:

Sources: Saudi Gazette, Agence France-Presse, October 20, 2016

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Georgia executes Gregory Paul Lawler

Gregory Paul Lawler
Gregory Paul Lawler
Georgia on Wednesday executed a man who opened fire on Atlanta police with an AR-15 rifle in 1997, killing one officer and critically wounding another after they had given his intoxicated girlfriend a ride home.

Gregory Paul Lawler, 63, was scheduled to be executed by injection at 7 p.m. EDT at a state prison in Jackson.

A request was made to the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution and hear his appeal shortly before his execution was set to go forward, after the Georgia Supreme Court denied his request for a stay. Georgia opposed the request.

About 11 p.m., the Supreme Court announced it had denied his request for a stay of execution. There were no noted dissents.

Gregory Lawler was pronounced dead at 11:49 p.m., after he was injected with a fatal dose of the sedative pentobarbital.

The execution is the seventh this year in Georgia, matching Texas for the most death sentences carried out in a state in 2016, according to data from the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.

Lawler was sentenced to death in 2000 after being found guilty in the murder of officer John Sowa, 28. A second officer, Patricia Cocciolone, survived the shooting with a shattered pelvis, damaged intestines and permanent brain injury. She testified at Lawler's trial, according to a Georgia Supreme Court summary of the case.

The synopsis said Lawler and his girlfriend had been drinking at a bar near their Atlanta apartment the night of the October 1997 shooting.

Police were summoned by a witness who thought he saw Lawler hit the woman with a bag as they walked home. Lawler fled when officers arrived.

The officers decided to help the girlfriend get home. At the apartment, they were met by Lawler, who fired at the officers 15 times, the case summary said.

Both Sowa and Cocciolone still had their pistols strapped into their holsters when backup arrived. Lawler surrendered after a six-hour standoff, according to court records.

At his trial, a coworker testified Lawler had talked about having “an extreme dislike” of police and that if they ever tried to enter his home he would be "ready for them," court records said.

Georgia's State Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Lawler's request for clemency on Tuesday. In their petition to the board, his attorneys said Lawler had recently been diagnosed with autism, a disorder that had prevented him from explaining the murder to jurors.

"Instead, he could only offer his confused and angry insistence that he had acted within his rights, which provoked his jury further and alarmed even his defense counsel," according to the petition, which sought to have Lawler's sentence commuted to life in prison without parole.

Lawler spent much of the day Wednesday visiting his brother, Gerald, at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson. At 3 p.m. he was given a physical and was served his last meal.

Lawler becomes the 7th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Georgia, and the 67th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1983.

The 7th execution in Georgia is the most carried out in a single year in that state since the death penalty was re-instated by the US Supreme Court on July 2, 1976.

Lawler becomes the 17th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1439th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: Reuters, AJC, Twitter live feed, Rick Halperin, October 19, 2016

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