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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Neil Gorsuch and the State’s Power to Kill

Justice Neil Gorsuch
Justice Neil Gorsuch and Donald Trump
It’s not entirely fair to judge a Supreme Court justice based on his first vote. Urgent matters arise unexpectedly, and the court must sometimes act quickly.

Still, it’s worth paying special attention to Justice Neil Gorsuch’s vote late Thursday night to deny a stay of execution for Ledell Lee, an Arkansas man who was sentenced to death in 1995 for murdering a woman named Debra Reese with a tire thumper.

After Justice Gorsuch, along with the four other conservative justices, denied his final appeal without explanation, Mr. Lee, who maintained his innocence until the end, was executed by lethal injection.

He was pronounced dead at 11:56 p.m. Central Daylight Time, minutes before his death warrant expired. Arkansas had not executed anyone since 2005.

In short, the first significant decision by Justice Gorsuch, who was sworn in to office less than two weeks ago, was the most consequential any justice can make — to approve a man’s killing by the state.

That man, like so many others condemned to die around the country, was a walking catalog of reasons the American death penalty is a travesty. Evidence that Mr. Lee was intellectually disabled and suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome was never introduced into court, mainly because he had egregiously bad representation. One of his lawyers was so drunk in court that a federal judge reviewing the case later said he could tell simply by reading the transcripts.

In addition to raising these issues in his appeals to the justices, Mr. Lee challenged Arkansas’s lethal-injection drug protocol, which incorporates a sedative, midazolam, that has been implicated in multiple botched executions. For both moral and business reasons, drug makers have banned the use of their products for state-sanctioned killing, making it harder for states to get their hands on them. In fact, Arkansas initially scheduled Mr. Lee’s execution as part of an unprecedented killing spree — eight inmates over the course of 11 days — because the state’s old batch of midazolam was about to expire. (As of Friday afternoon, four of those executions had been placed on hold by the courts, for various reasons.)

This rush to kill based solely on a “use-by” date is “close to random,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote on Thursday in dissenting from the court’s refusal to stay Mr. Lee’s execution. The three more liberal justices agreed that the stay should have been granted, as they regularly do in such cases, just as the conservative justices regularly vote the other way.

That 4-to-4 split effectively gave the deciding vote over Mr. Lee’s life to Justice Gorsuch, sitting in a seat that by all rights should be occupied not by him but by President Barack Obama’s doomed nominee, Merrick Garland.

During his confirmation hearings, Justice Gorsuch talked a lot about his respect for the rule of law, and the importance of sticking to the plain text of the Constitution and of statutes. But he didn’t have to rewrite the Eighth Amendment to see, as Justice Breyer did, that Mr. Lee’s case exemplified “how the arbitrary nature of the death penalty system, as presently administered, runs contrary to the very purpose of a ‘rule of law.’ ”

Neil Gorsuch held the power of life and death in his hands Thursday night. His choice led to Ledell Lee’s execution, and gave the nation an early, and troubling, look into the mind-set of the high court’s newest member.

Source: The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, The Editorial Board, April 21, 2017

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Bearing Witness to Executions: Last Breaths and Lasting Impressions

VARNER, Ark. — They often enter in silence. They almost always leave that way, too.

The death penalty holds a crucial, conflicted place in a nation deeply divided over crime and punishment, and whether the state should ever take a life. But for such a long, very public legal process, only a small number of people see what unfolds inside the country’s death houses.

Witnesses hear a condemned prisoner’s last words and watch a person’s last breaths. Then they scatter, usually into the night. There is no uniformity when they look back on the emotions that surround the minutes when they watched someone die.

The most recent person to be executed, Ledell Lee, died at the Cummins Unit here in southeast Arkansas late Thursday. By next Friday morning, the state hopes to have executed three more men.

In separate phone interviews, five people who have witnessed executions — some years ago, one as recently as Mr. Lee’s — reflected on what they had seen and what it meant to them.

The interviews have been condensed and edited.

Gayle Gaddis


Mother of Guy P. Gaddis, a murdered Houston police officer

I wanted to be sure it was finished, and that’s why I went.

Before the execution, we were in a room without a clock. It’s a terrible experience. We were there, it seemed, like hours, while they were making sure he didn’t get a stay. We were all just miserable.

Then the warden came in and said, “Good news: There are no stays, and he’s going to be gone,” or something like that.

I went in the room, and I saw him strapped on that gurney. Then I couldn’t watch it. They gave me a chair, and I just turned it the other way. One son was kind of hitting his elbow against the glass. My other son asked why he was doing that. He said, “I want him to look at me.”

Edgar Tamayo was his name, and he wouldn’t look or speak or anything. I was hoping he’d say, “I’m sorry,” but he wouldn’t even look at us.

It didn’t hurt him: I would have liked to have stoned him to death or something horrible. He just got a shot like you were going to have some surgery. It was too easy, for all of the pain he caused my family all of these years.

Right at the end, all of a sudden, there was the sound of motorcycles revving up that went through the walls. I realized it was the motorcycle policemen — support from the policemen — and it made my heart feel good.

As we walked outside, his daughter was across the big driveway. She was holding up a great big sign: “Don’t kill my dad.” I did feel sorry for her. He just ruined all of these lives for so long.

I always thought the death penalty was right when there was no doubt that somebody was guilty. When this happened to me and my family, I was very supportive of the death penalty, and I still am.

They caught him right there where he shot my son. I just don’t understand: 20 years before they killed him.

Jennifer Garcia


Assistant federal defender in Phoenix who witnessed one execution

He was my client. His name was Richard Stokley, and he was executed in December 2012.

Often for our clients, they didn’t have people they could depend on, or who fought for them. Once we get on a case, we will stay on it, usually, until the end.

The reason why we witnessed was, he asked us to. If he needed reassurance, he’d be able to see one of us smile at him.

By the time we got in there and walked into the witness room, I was just so tired, and I was so emotional, and I knew I had to hold it together for him, and I had to make sure he was O.K. through the process.

The execution itself was surreal. I cannot even tell you how unbelievable it was to see people deliberately get ready to kill your client. With Mr. Stokley, they couldn’t find a vein. We just sat there for a long time while they started with his hands and worked their way around the body, trying to get a vein. I was trying to maintain my composure because I didn’t want him to look at me and seeing me upset or crying. But it was so hard to watch somebody do that to your client and be powerless.

When they pronounced him dead, I think I felt happy that he was no longer being hurt as part of the process. The fact that I knew it was over and there was nothing else worse that was going to happen as part of the execution, that part was a relief. But over all, you feel shellshocked.

I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily haunted by it, but I’m very aware of it. If I have a client who asks me to be there, I will be there. Until you are trapped there in that room under such tight control by the prison, and there is no way you can react to that somebody is killing somebody right in front of you, it’s hard to know how you’ll feel. But there is nothing you have already done in your life that will make you go, “Oh, this is fine.”

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: The New York Times, Alan Blinder, Manny Fernandez, April 23, 2017

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A closer look at capital punishment in Vietnam

'We are prepared to kill, and have done so more than most people thought.'
Beware Vietnam's Death Machine

One Thursday in July 2013, Barack Obama and his Vietnamese counterpart, Truong Tan Sang, sat down in the Oval Office to discuss Thomas Jefferson. Sang brought to this historic meeting between the 2 nation's presidents a letter Ho Chi Minh had sent Harry Truman, prior to the Vietnam War, seeking cooperation with the United States. Uncle Ho's words, said Obama, were "inspired by the words of Thomas Jefferson." In fact, when the Proclamation of Independence was read by Ho in 1945, he chose to begin with an extract from America's Declaration of Independence, its principal author being Jefferson.

While a visit to the White House by the Vietnamese president was an occasion for historical reflection, the here-and-now was what really mattered. Indeed, diplomacy and trade were the main talking points, signaling the start of an emboldened relationship between the 2 nations. But the U.S. president did at least mention Vietnam's human right's record.

"All of us have to respect issues like freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly. And we had a very candid conversation about both the progress that Vietnam is making and the challenges that remain," Obama said after the meeting. Sang's only comment was that the 2 men "have differences on the issue."

Little reported afterwards was the execution of a 27-year old Vietnamese man named Nguyen Anh Tuan, a convicted murderer, which took place on August 6, just 2 weeks after Sang's visit to White House. Tuan's execution was the 1st in years, and the 1st since Vietnam replaced firing squads with lethal injections in 2011. However, a ban on importing "authorized" lethal drugs meant it had to use untested domestic poisons. Tuan took 2 hours to die, reportedly in harrowing pain.

Between the date of Tuan's death and June 30, 2016, Vietnam executed 429 people (or an average of 147 executions per year; or 12 each month). Additionally, 1,134 people were given death sentences between July 2011 and June 2016. The number remaining on "death row" is not known.

These figures only came to light after the public security ministry decided to release them in February. They are normally classified as state secrets and rarely revealed. Surprising many around the world who thought the numbers to be much lower, Amnesty International reported this month that Vietnam is now the world's third-most prolific executioner of prisoners. Only China and Iran are thought to have executed more people.

In June 2016, the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights provided a lengthy report on the death penalty's mechanisms in Vietnam, explaining that capital punishment is applied for 18 different offenses, down from 44 in 1999.

Like many of its Southeast Asian neighbors this includes harsh drug laws, and Vietnam metes out the death penalty for those caught in possession or smuggling 100 grams or more of heroin or cocaine, or 5 kilograms or more of cannabis and other opiates. Other crimes, including murder and rape, also carry a death sentence.

After reforms during the 2000s, "the death penalty was effectively abolished on certain crimes, such as robbery, disobeying orders or surrendering to the enemy. But in other cases, crimes were simply re-worded to mask their appearance and deceive international opinion," the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights report reads.

Particularly troubling is the fact that the Vietnamese regime wields capital punishment for vaguely-defined crimes of "infringing upon national security," explains the report. These include carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration (Article 109 of the reformed Criminal Code), rebellion (article 112), and sabotaging the material-technical foundations of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (article 114).

Returning to the recent execution figures, it is worth considering why the regime would choose to announce them in February - knowing the reaction they would cause - and whether they are not masking a far larger number of executions.

One problem is that they came with no information as to what the prisoners were being executed for. We might assume that most were for drug offenses or murder, as has been the case in the past, but it is by no means certain. That leads one to wonder whether any of the people executed were arrested for simply protesting against the regime.

Even if they weren't, capital punishment and human rights are by no means detached issues, as some claim. What is the connection between the drug trafficker, the murder and the human-rights activist in the regime's eyes? They are all a risk to national security. Indeed, in his famed essay, "Of Crimes and Punishments," Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria described the death penalty as a "war of the whole nation against a citizen whose destruction they consider necessary."

But what is the "nation" in Vietnam? It is not just an arbitrary land defined borders. No - according the regime's own laws, it is defined as akin to the "people's administration." Since the Communist Party and the Nation are effectively the same under the law, an attack on the Party becomes treasonous. Indeed, the law makes "no distinction between violent acts such as terrorism, and the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression," the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights report reads.

Moreover, what is a "citizen" in Vietnam? And if it is to be treasonous to attack the Party, and thereby the Nation, does this mean the person who wishes the end of the Party is not a citizen? When France did away with the peine de mort in the early 1980s, Francois Mitterrand's Minister of Justice said the scaffold had come to symbolize "a totalitarian concept of the relationship between the citizen and the state." It is this same totalitarian relationship that knots capital punishment and human rights in Vietnam.

What also catches the eye is the hubristic nature of Hanoi's release of the execution figures, coming as they do as criticism of the regime increases. They might be better read as a boast, not an admission. The overriding message is: We are prepared to kill, and have done so more than most people thought.

Following the 2013 meeting between Obama and Sang, some pundits thought Obama's ambition was to embolden Vietnam's reformist politicians through diplomatic engagement and improved trade links. This became America's foreign policy towards Hanoi for the next 3 years. It didn't work, however, and suppression has remained as essential as ever for the Communist Party, perhaps even more so, especially as criticism of the Party's rule nowadays swells on issues such an environmentalism.

So while Vietnam's economy has flourished since Obama's rapprochement, its civil society has languished somewhere between desperation and enviable bravery. Obama's administration bears responsibility for this, and the strategic patience it gambled on played only into Hanoi's hands. Naive, perhaps. Or just willfully remiss, as Vietnam's amity was necessary for America's counter-Beijing Asian 'pivot'. Maybe, then, Vietnam's activists were jettisoned for the sake of geopolitics - an unexceptional component of America's Janus-faced foreign policy.

Today, however, U.S. trade links are far from assured. U.S. President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the TPP has jeopardized the free-trade bounty Hanoi was counting on. Vietnam now appears keen to formalize a bilateral free-trade agreement with the US, and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said last month that he wants to visit Washington as soon as possible

In a perverse situation, Trump's administration now wields the stick that Obama chose not to use. Moreover, it has the ability to bargain in a way Obama couldn't: No trade pact without improved human rights. Since the Communist Party's legitimacy depends on a growing economy - and 1/5 of all Vietnam's export are to the United States, which could be further hampered if Trump pushes through trade tariffs and increased taxes on imports - Hanoi might be strong-armed into opening up space for criticism, in return for the United States opening more trade links.

Still, this depends on how much Trump values a human-rights laden foreign policy, which some analysts claim he doesn't. That said, the State Department's decision to give the imprisoned Vietnamese activist Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh the "International Women of Courage Award" certainly irked Hanoi.

Perhaps this explains the adroit use of executions statistics by the Vietnamese regime, and the appropriate timing of their release. The numbers will raise hairs in Europe; the European Union (EU) bars membership for countries with capital punishment, though not for countries with which it agrees free-trade agreements, it seems. The EU-Vietnam FTA that should become effective next year but contains no condition regarding Vietnam abolishing the death penalty (surely patronizing, given that the EU has higher expectations of European countries than others).

The execution figures, however, put the United States in an awkward position. It cannot condemn Vietnam when it is still a practitioner in capital punishment, as well as the loudest proponent of drug prohibition internationally, too. As is to be expected, the White House has been silent on the matter. If the Washington can stomach the totalitarian ethos behind Vietnam's capital punishment then why can't it overlook Vietnam's human right's record, Hanoi may well argue. Indeed, the moral lecturer on human rights has the mirror turned on it when capital punishment arises.

One might assume, then, that with little international support for capital punishment abolition in Vietnam, the cogs will no doubt continue rotating on the death machine, at least until a true separation between the Nation and the Party, and between the State and the Citizen, takes place.

Source: The Diplomat, April 21, 2017

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Florida Supreme Court denies new DNA analysis in death row inmate William 'Tommy' Zeigler's case

William "Tommy" Zeigler
William "Tommy" Zeigler
William "Tommy" Zeigler, the 71-year-old man who has spent the last 4 decades on death row for the murders of 4 people, will not be allowed to test evidence in his case with touch DNA technology, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Zeigler was convicted of killing his wife, her parents and another man at his Winter Garden furniture store on Dec. 24, 1975. 

The case has long attracted those skeptical of the evidence against Zeigler, including 1 of the original investigators and a former Orlando Sentinel newspaper editor. 

It was also the subject of a 1992 book called Fatal Flaw.

In 2015, his attorneys filed a motion seeking court approval to use a special DNA test to examine evidence, such as clothing and the guns found at the scene, presented at the trial. 

A circuit court denied the motion, and his attorneys appealed to the state's highest court. 

While Zeigler sits on death row awaiting an execution date, he is also sentenced to serve the rest of his life in prison.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, April 22, 2017

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Arkansas rushed to put to death Ledell Lee despite widespread concerns around the use of capital punishment in America

Ledell Lee
Ledell Lee
Arkansas executed Ledell Lee on Thursday night, after it fought and won a complex and sometimes confusing legal battle. The state executed him in spite of Lee's insistence that he was not guilty of murdering Debra Rees, a crime committed more than 20 years ago. It did so despite doubts about whether he had sufficient intellectual capacity to be "eligible" for the death penalty.

The state rushed to put Lee to death before its supply of midazolam expired, claiming that it had a compelling interest in carrying out the "lawful" decision of the jury which sentenced him and that the execution would bring closure to the Rees family. Yet the way it went about doing so hardly seems likely to bring consolation to those who grieve at that family's terrible loss - and raises many concerns about the potential miscarriage of justice.

A 2014 report by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 1 in every 25 people given a death sentence are in fact innocent of the crime for which they are sentenced. Moreover, we know that more than 150 people have been exonerated since the death penalty's return in 1976.

Because of such problems, public confidence in the fairness of the death penalty process is eroding. Thus, a 2013 Gallup poll found that only 52% of the American public believed that the death penalty was administered fairly.

These doubts surfaced in dramatic fashion when Arkansas announced its plan to execute 8 people in 10 days and explained that it was doing so to meet the deadline imposed by its drug expiration problem.

The problems that plague the death penalty system have persisted for decades. It was 45 years ago, in Furman v Georgia, that the US supreme court called attention to the way in which death sentences are carried out in the US and halted all executions in this country. It did so not because it found anything inherently problematic about the death penalty. Instead it focused on difficulties in the way it was administered.

The court found defects in the process through which some capital defendants were sentenced to death while others were spared. It described death sentencing as fraught with arbitrariness. As Justice Potter Stewart put it in his concurring opinion: "These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual."

The court allowed the death penalty to resume four years after Furman. It did so once it was satisfied that procedures had been put in place to insure that when juries made decisions in death cases that they would be given sufficient guidance so that sentences would no longer be imposed or carried out arbitrarily.

Indeed, because death is different in kind from any other punishment, the court insisted that states wishing to execute would have to insure that heightened standards of reliability, what some have called "super due process", would be accorded to those accused and convicted of capital crimes.

While much has changed in death penalty jurisprudence and in American attitudes toward that punishment since the mid-1970s, when those standards were put in place, the continuing legitimacy of capital punishment depends on insuring that they are met.

Responding to those who questioned Arkansas' assembly-line style of execution, Governor Asa Hutchinson acknowledged that he would have preferred a more deliberate pace but insisted that the time had come to bring closure to the families of those who had been murdered so long ago.

As he put it in a recent television interview: "There's been a 25-year nightmare for the victims that had to deal with this and now it's time for justice to be carried out."

After Thursday night's execution, Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas' attorney general, reiterated this concern, saying: "I pray this lawful execution helps bring closure for the Reese family."

But surely it was no favor to those who mourn the loss of a loved one to proceed with an execution without having resolved all doubts about the guilt of the condemned. And it can hardly bring the solace they so profoundly deserve to know that Lee's execution was shadowed by so much controversy.

Instead of focusing on the loss that occasioned last night's execution, the world's attention was focused instead on what seemed to be the unseemly process that led to it.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who dissented from the supreme court's last-minute decision to allow Lee's execution to proceed, got it right when he highlighted "the arbitrariness with which executions are carried out in this country" and noted that allowing the expiration date of Arkansas' supply of midazolam to be "a determining factor separating those who live from those who die is close to random".

When Arkansas put Lee to death, it seems that lightning struck again.

Source: Associated Press, April 22, 2017

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Here's Why The Feds Banned 2 States' Death Penalty Drugs

The FDA banned shipments of execution drugs states have been trying to get for months. BuzzFeed News obtained the letter that shows why.

On Thursday, the federal government formally blocked 2 shipments of a massive amount of execution drugs on their way to Texas and Arizona.

The decision to block the shipments came after months of legal arguments back-and-forth between the states and the Food and Drug Administration. In announcing the conclusion, the FDA did not include its full decision or the reasons it came to its conclusion that the drugs can't enter the United States.

But the full decision shows the FDA said its hands were tied. BuzzFeed News obtained a redacted copy on Friday through an open records request.

In the decision, the FDA pointed to a 2012 court decision that requires the government block shipments of sodium thiopental, an outdated anesthetic, when the shipments appear to violate the law.

The states argued "that [the case] was 'wrongly decided,'" FDA importer Alexander Lopez wrote to Texas. "But FDA is bound by the terms of the order issued by the District Court in that case."

"We interpret the order to mean what it says: namely, that FDA is required to refuse entry to thiopental produced abroad when it appears that the thiopental is misbranded or an unapproved new drug."

There are no longer any FDA-approved manufacturers of sodium thiopental. Years ago, the sole supplier stopped making the drug because states were using it in lethal injections.

So in 2015, the states turned to a man in India who has made more than $100,000 selling execution drugs to states that have never been able to use his products. He placed a label on the vials that carries the disclaimer that they are "For law enforcement purpose only." Texas and Arizona argued the drugs should be allowed in due to a law enforcement exception.

The FDA responded that a law enforcement exception can't apply, because the drugs will still be used on humans.

"The law enforcement exemption could not have been intended to apply to lethal injection, because FDA issued the regulation ... in 1956, well before any state used lethal injection as a method of execution," Lopez wrote.

If states want to import the drug, they could attempt to have the drug approved - a process that could take years. They argued approving a drug for lethal injection would be absurd, as the approval process requires clinical trials and testing - something that has not been done for lethal injection.

"Here, it is not absurd to suggest that the [law] requires a drug to be shown to be safe and effective for use under the conditions suggested in its labeling," Lopez wrote.

"There are numerous situations where it is difficult to design appropriate clinical trials, such as testing a treatment for anthrax infection or plague. In such cases, FDA regulations may allow flexibility, or trials may differ from what scientists generally envision, but FDA's statutory authority remains the same."

If the states wanted to import the drugs, the FDA said they either needed to get the drug approved, or go to court to lift the 2012 order.

Litigation seems likely. Over the past year and a half, both states have indicated publicly that they would sue if the drugs were denied. Texas has requested the FDA give them time to seek a court order before the drugs are destroyed or returned to India. The FDA said the states have 90 days to export or destroy the drugs.

Source: buzzfeed.com, April 22, 2017

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Gorsuch casts death-penalty vote in one of his first Supreme Court cases

Supreme Court (left) Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and President Donald Trump
Supreme Court (left) Justice Neil M. Gorsuch and President Donald Trump
Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch cast his 1st consequential vote Thursday night, siding with the court's other 4 conservatives in denying a stay request from Arkansas death row inmates facing execution.

Hours later, the state executed 1 of the men, the 1st lethal injection carried out there since 2005.

New justices have described being the final word on whether a death row inmate is executed - often during a late-night, last-chance appeal to the Supreme Court - as a time when the responsibility of the role crystallizes. Indeed, one of the court's most solid death-penalty supporters, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., flinched the 1st time he was faced with the choice. The day after his 2006 swearing-in, Alito joined the court's liberals in upholding a stay that kept Missouri from going forward with an execution.

Gorsuch's reasoning for his vote in not known. Neither he nor the other justices who turned down the request explained the decision. But Gorsuch was sworn in on April 10, and he has had some time to study Arkansas' well-publicized attempt to execute several inmates before a drug used in their planned lethal injections expires.

The court's 4 liberals - Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - said they would have stayed the executions.

Breyer wrote that the case supports his call, which Ginsburg has joined, for a review of whether the death penalty can be constitutionally applied.

"Why these 8? Why now? The apparent reason has nothing to do with the heinousness of their crimes or with the presence (or absence) of mitigating behavior," Breyer wrote. Instead, Breyer wrote, "apparently the reason the state decided to proceed with these 8 executions is that the 'use by' date of the state's execution drug is about to expire. In my view, that factor, when considered as a determining factor separating those who live from those who die, is close to random."

As expected, Gorsuch's decisions have been closely scrutinized. A new justice's role on the court is only broadly sketched during confirmation hearings, and each decision begins to fill in the outlines of a lifetime appointment.

Gorsuch has rejected stay-of-execution requests as a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, but he has had limited exposure to the issue of capital punishment.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, he was often asked about a passage in a book he wrote in which he criticizes euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. "All human beings are intrinsically valuable, and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong," he wrote.

It is the phrase "by private persons" that was key to Gorsuch's response.

Some online commentators have questioned what Thursday night's action says about Gorsuch's "pro-life" credentials. He has a thin record on which his view of a constitutional right to abortion could be assessed. But if he supports the constitutionality of the death penalty and questions a constitutional right to abortion, he would simply be reflecting the various positions on the court he is joining.

The justice he replaced, Antonin Scalia, felt the same on capital punishment and abortion. Liberals such as Breyer and Ginsburg are the opposite, supporting abortion rights while raising doubts about the death penalty.

Gorsuch has faced an immediate immersion at the Supreme Court. He was sworn in on April 10. He skipped the justices' private conference that week to prepare for oral arguments that began last Monday.

Although he asked no questions in one oral argument, he was an active participant in the other 6. Some analyses showed that he asked more questions than many of his colleagues did in their first outings on the court, and he displayed a confidence borne of his decade on the bench.

On Friday, he was scheduled to meet with the rest of the court to examine a long list of cases that would be on the docket that begins in October. When it had only 8 members, the court seemed to shy away from some controversial topics.

But the new list is anything but neutral. They include cases involving gun rights, voting rights and whether businesses can for religious reasons refuse their wedding services to same-sex couples.

Source: Washington Post, April 22, 2017

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Spaniard sentenced to death by Thai court over killing of countryman

Artur Segarra
Artur Segarra
Artur Segarra found guilty of murdering and dismembering David Bernat in bid to access his savings

A Spanish national was on Friday given the death sentence after being found guilty by a Thai court of murdering fellow countryman David Bernat in Bangkok. 

The victim had traveled to the Asian country in January 2016 for a vacation. Hours after arriving, he met with Segarra to have drinks, and after midnight, the pair went to the condemned man's apartment. 
There he was held captive for 6 days, until he was killed and dismembered by Segarra, according to the police investigation into the case.

Segarra will have 2 chances to appeal the sentence, at the Thai Appeal Court and the country's Supreme Court. If the appeals process fails to overturn the death penalty, he can apply to the Royal Family for a pardon, which could see a lesser punishment applied.

According to the investigators assigned to the case, Segarra extorted his victim in order to gain access to the bank account Bernat held in Singapore and which contained his savings. 

The forensic police believe that he was killed around January 26. According to the investigation, that same night Segarra headed out on a motorcycle to the river that runs through Bangkok, carrying with him a large package, which the police believe contained the victim's body. He is thought to have returned in the early hours of the next morning without the object.

The authorities found the first remains of Bernat days later in the Chao Phraya river, and later recovered another 6 pieces of the body from the water. 

Segarra was identified as the main suspect on February 5, the night that he tried to flee to Cambodia after being recognized in a restaurant in Surin province.

The prosecutor in the trial called nearly 40 people to the stand, none of whom were direct witnesses to the crime, and also produced evidence including DNA samples and fingerprints collected in the apartment he had rented, as well as security camera recordings and bank records.

Thailand carried out its last executions in 2009: these involved 2 convicts who had been sentenced to death on drug-trafficking charges. Since then an indefinite stay has been placed on the application of the death penalty. The last execution in a murder case dates back to 2003, the year that the country switched from firing squad to lethal injection as its method for the death penalty.

According to data from Amnesty International, at the end of last year there were 427 prisoners on death row in Thailand, 24 of whom were foreigners. An Australian was sentenced to death on February 7 in a murder case, which bears similarity to that of Segarra given that the victim was dismembered and an attempt was made to dispose of the evidence.

Source: elpais.com, April 22, 2017

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Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof Moved to Death Row in Terre Haute Federal Prison

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Convicted church shooter Dylann Roof has been transferred to death row at Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana — the facility that houses male inmates awaiting execution under the federal government.

Roof, the first person to be convicted of a federal hate crime and sentenced to the death penalty, was removed from custody in Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday and transferred to Terre Haute, prison records show.

Terre Haute, a medium-security prison where inmates are put to death by lethal injection, currently houses 1,338 inmates.

In January, a jury sentenced the self-proclaimed white supremacist to death for killing nine black worshipers in June 2015 at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston during a Bible study. The 23-year-old told FBI agents that he was trying to start a race war.

He also pleaded guilty to nine counts of state murder charges on April 10.

Roof is now among the long list of well-known criminals who have spent time in the Indiana facility. Others include murderer and drug trafficker Raul Garza and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

As of Feb. 9, there were 62 federal inmates on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Three inmates have been on death row since 1993 — drug gang members Richard Tipton, James Roane Jr. and Corey Johnson, who were convicted of killing nine people to protect their crack trade.

Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who a jury in 2015 recommended be put to death, remains in a federal lockup in Colorado, where officials say they can better handle his "unique" security arrangements.

After the federal death penalty was suspended by a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision, it was brought back 16 years later and three people have since been executed under it.

Like his fellow death row inmates, it isn't likely Roof will be executed anytime soon.

Legal battles are underway in a number of states, including Arkansas and Ohio, over the constitutionality of controversial lethal injection methods. 

Prosecutors and defense lawyers are arguing over whether one of the three drugs used in the process, called midazolam, constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" because it fails to render inmates unconscious before two other drugs are injected.

Source: NBC News, Avalon Zoppo, April 22, 2017

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Does the death penalty bring closure to a victim’s family?

The conflict in Arkansas is the latest to politicize the death penalty — but for families of the victims and the prisoners, it also resurfaces the complicated issues of closure and the long-reaching effect of these executions on their communities.

Arkansas justified its unusually swift schedule by saying the state’s supply of lethal injection drugs were about to expire, and pharmaceutical companies have refused to replenish stocks. A series of judicial rulings blocked the scheduled executions of the first four men: Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, Don Davis and Stacey Johnson. The three men who remain are, at the moment, still scheduled to die before the month is out.

The idea of closure is powerful. It’s something Arkansas invoked in an April 15 motion that tried to fight a temporary restraining order that McKesson Medical Surgical, Inc., has used to block the use of its drug vecuronium bromide in state executions. (The drug is typically used as general anesthesia to relax muscles before surgery).

“The friends and family of those killed or injured by Jason McGehee, Stacey Johnson, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams, Bruce Ward, Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Don Davis, and Terrick Nooner have waited decades to receive some closure for their pain,” it read.

But even when executions take place, a surviving family’s pain doesn’t disappear with the perpetrator’s pulse.

It’s been more than two decades since Heath’s death. But Belinda Crites, a 41-year-old caregiver who still lives in her hometown of Malvern, Arkansas, finds laughter in her sweet memories of her cousin. A high school cheerleader, Heath wanted to be a police officer one day. She worked two jobs — at Taco Bell and a blue jean factory — and before she died, she earned enough money to buy a beat-up 1957 black Mustang. With each paycheck, Julie bought a new part, and she and her father, William Heath, restored the car together.

Whenever Crites visited her cousin’s house, they’d pile into bed together and watch episodes of their favorite television sitcom, “Family Matters.” For Christmas, Crites, Heath and both of their mothers dressed in matching outfits — nice jeans, ties or whatever was the latest fad — and baked cookies. The two mothers were inseparable, working and raising their families together. Crites and her cousin “always said we’d be just like them,” Crites said.

But after Heath’s murder, Crites said her family fell apart. Her mother, aunt and grandmother were all diagnosed with depression and needed medication. When Nancy Heath — her aunt and Julie’s mother — hugged Crites, she ran her fingers through Crites’ hair, long like her dead cousin’s; she held her tight, Crites said, as if she were “just trying to get a piece of Julie back.”

The family watched as Nancy Heath wasted away. They cried and hugged each other on March 31, 1994, when a jury sentenced Nance to death. But after the family left the courtroom and got into their cars to drive home, Heath became incoherent. Her husband rushed her to the hospital, where doctors observed her overnight, Crites said.

Nancy Heath’s psychologist later begged her to at least eat bananas and watermelon, but she refused food. If she left Crites’ house to go to the store, her family knew to follow her — often, she drove instead in the direction of the cemetery where Julie was buried. Crites’ mother once found Nancy Heath there overdosed on pills. Crites said her aunt attempted suicide at least four times before she killed herself on Christmas morning in 1994, 15 months after her daughter’s murder.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: PBS, Laura Santhanam, April 22, 2017

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Arkansas Death Row Inmate's Sister: 'Why Can't I Witness my Brother's Execution?'

Lynn Scott, the sister of Arkansas death row inmate Jack Jones, Jr.
Lynn Scott, the sister of Arkansas death row inmate Jack Jones, Jr.
Jack Jones' sister says she wants to be there for her brother in his final hour.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News release) - Lynn Scott, the sister of Arkansas death row inmate Jack Jones, Jr., has been denied a request to witness the execution of her brother, who is scheduled to die April 24.

In an interview with freelance journalist Deborah Robinson, Scott said the Department of Corrections does not allow the family of those being executed to witness their loved one's executions. She said, "There’s absolutely nobody there for him. He’s just gonna die. He’s gonna be murdered at the hands of the state with nobody there except for people wanting to watch him die. That’s just so cruel."

An excerpt of the interview concerning Scott's request to witness her brother's execution can be found here.

The full interview with Scott covers a wide range of issues as it relates to her brother's execution. She discusses Jones' childhood, what they discuss when she visits, his suicide attempts, the victim's family, and Jones' desire for his life to be over.

The transcript of the interview (Courtesy of Freelance Journalist Deborah Robinson) is below.

"I think of it as if any loved one of mine was in their final days, whether they were in a hospital bed, in hospice, or wherever, you would want to be with your loved one to the end. No matter how it’s going to happen it doesn’t take away the fact that I want to be there with Jack to the end. As gruesome as it may sound to someone, he’s my brother and I can’t walk away from him. Knowing that the witnesses that will be peering through the glass at him have a different mindset than I would, it hurts to know that there’s nobody there at that time that truly cares about Jack. I would want him to know that there’s someone right there that truly loves him to the end. I know that I will be praying for a shield of protection for what I might see that might haunt me for the rest of my life. But I think the guilt of not being there would actually be worse than being there. I just don’t think it’s fair that the inmate’s families, it’s almost like we’re treated as though we don’t care, we don’t have a voice. It’s hard to think that someone thinks that we cannot be there for our loved ones if we choose to be. It’s tough.
There standard answer every time this happens is the warden of the prison is the one that sets the program for what will take place, who will come, how it’s done. Basically, they see no forthcoming changes to their procedures. It’s not a state law, it’s not anything. It falls solely in the hands of the warden.
In the past, I have told them that Arkansas is one of the only states that does not allow the inmate’s family to witness the execution of their loved ones. I understand the need to separate the inmate’s families from the victim’s families, I solely understand that. Every other prison I’ve talked to, I’ve talked to wardens at other prisons, and they have a system where the families are totally separate. They bring them in at separate times. They put them in separate spaces. But these wardens understand the need of these inmate’s families to be a part of it, just as the victims are. That’s what I just don’t understand is how we can be overlooked and not even being thought of.
Nobody’s called me to tell me what’s going to happen. It’s me making the phone calls. I understand what’s going on there. There’s seven, possibly eight that’s gonna take place so I know that there’s this mad craziness going on there. Every time I call, it breaks my heart. I can just hear it in all their voices. The strain that’s on them. I don’t want to take away from that but at the same time, I want to be heard. And I feel like I’m being ignored. I’m trying to be as kind as possible and taking everyone’s feelings into consideration, but I’m a victim as well.
Somebody on April 24th is going to kill my brother and I’m trying to prepare for that. How do you prepare for that? You just can’t. I just have to do the best I can and do what I feel in my heart is right. This is nothing I asked for. I just want some consideration, that’s all.
I just don’t like the secrecy. I was told the last time that they would put me out on the corner in the tent with the media and I would hear from it at the same time that the media heard about it and I just don’t think that’s fair. What are they trying to hide from me? I should be able to see the same thing that the people on that side get to see. That’s my brother. I don’t understand why I can’t be a part of that.
He has no one else. My mother passed away in 2010. My father lives in Ohio. He’s so ill we don’t even know if he’ll make it through the end of the year. He just had another heart attack a week ago and had stints put in. He can’t even travel. There’s absolutely nobody there for him. He’s just gonna die. He’s gonna be murdered at the hands of the state with nobody there except for people wanting to watch him die. That’s just so cruel. So why can’t one person who loves him that wants to be there, I just don’t understand. Why the secrecy?"

Source: Arkansas Matters, Ellen Lampe, April 19, 2017

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Serial killer sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit who abducted and murdered children in bid to avoid execution

Seema Mohan Gavit (red sari) and Renuka Shinde
Seema Mohan Gavit (red sari) and Renuka Shinde
SERIAL killer sisters Seema Gavit and Renuka Shinde are making a last desperate bid to avoid execution for abducting and murdering multiple children aged under five years old.

The sisters, who with their mother abducted or brutally murdered up to 13 children, are due to become the first women hanged in India for 72 years.

On death row in Yerawada Central Jail in the western Indian city of Pune, the sisters are incarcerated for the crimes which they committed while aged in their 20s.

The sisters’ lawyer Sudeep Jaiswal told news.com.au exclusively that the two women — known as the Gavit sisters — hoped to have their death penalty commuted to life in prison.

Speaking from his chambers in Nagpur, Mr Jaiswal described plans to execute the sisters as “a barbaric act”.

Yerawada jail has its own gallows and the “anda”, an egg-shaped cell where condemned prisoners are held and weighed before being hanged.

Mr Jaiswal, who belongs to a prominent Indian legal and cricket-playing family, is reputed for his skills in getting murderers off or avoiding the death penalty.

The Gavit sisters have exhausted all court appeals against their death sentence, and had the Indian president reject a plea for mercy.

They have also launched a petition claiming that the delay in execution has caused them “immense mental torture, emotional and physical agony”.

It was in 1996 that police arrested Seema Gavit, 25, Renuka Shinde, 29, her husband Kiran Shinde and the girls’ mother Anjana Bai Gavit.

Anjana, who died in prison the year after her arrest, was the matriarch of the family who operated a theft and pickpocket racket.

They stole from people mainly in the streets of India’s ninth largest city Pune, in Maharashtra state, 40 per cent of whose population live in slums.

But two events were to turn Anjana into something more sinister, a kidnapper and murderer with her daughters as assistants.

A cold-eyed criminal, she had been arrested for 125 cases of petty theft including pick pocketing and snatching people’s gold chains from around their necks at railway stations, Anjana had become a thief after her first husband, a truck driver, deserted her after the birth of Renuka.

Then her second husband, a retired soldier named Mohan Gavit, left her after the birth of Seema. He married another woman named Pratima and the couple had a baby girl.

In 1990, Anjana, 58, ordered her daughters to abduct Mohan and Pratima’s daughter, Kranti, who she murdered.

Around the same time, Renuka was with her toddler son Aashish in the process of pickpocketing someone in a temple complex when the victim caught her.

An angry crowd surrounded Renuka, but using the boy as a foil, Renuka said “How can a woman with a child commit a crime?”.

The crowd let her go.

It was after this that Anjana decided the trio would always take a child along when committing a theft.

Anjana expanded the syndicate’s operations to other Indian cities or suburbs — Thane and Kalyan in Mumbai, Kolhapur, and Nashik — in Maharashtra. Renuka’s husband Kiran drove the getaway car.

Over the next six years up to 40 children were kidnapped.

Some were let go, others were deliberately injured to create a distraction, or murdered when they had lost their usefulness.

At least nine were murdered and among the victims were a nine-month-old and two 18-month-olds.

➤ Click here to read the full article

Source: news.com.au, Candace Sutton, April 22, 2017

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Singapore: Hanged because he had not 'substantively assisted' the Narcotics Bureau

Changi Prison, Singapore
Changi Prison, Singapore
Mohd Jeefrey bin Ismail was hanged in the early hours of Friday morning, 21 April, at least according to the scheduled execution date given to his family by the Singapore Prison Service.

He was executed after the Public Prosecutor decided that Jeefrey had not “substantively assisted” the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in “disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore.”

In Singapore, the authorities do not make public announcements of hangings, the preferred state-sanctioned killing method for those condemned to death. Lawyers for the inmates and anti-death penalty activists often have to guess if the executions have in fact been carried out.

Executions are typically held just before dawn on Fridays.

Jeefrey, 52, was a drug addict and trafficker, or courier, who was arrested in 2012 and subsequently sentenced to death for trafficking in excess of the statutory limit for the drug diamorphine.

The only person who stood between him and the noose was the Public Prosecutor who, through powers vested in him by law, could have spared his life if he had issued a Certificate of Cooperation (COC) to Jeefrey.

The COC would then allow Jeefrey to apply to the courts to have his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment and caning. The courts’ hands would then have been freed to mete out the alternative sentence.

In effect, the Public Prosecutor now has power over the courts as well: if the Public Prosecutor does not issue a convict with the COC, the courts cannot commute his sentence.

Yet, in the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), the Prosecutor’s decision making, in whether a COC is issued or not, is shrouded in secrecy and not even the highest court in the land, the Court of Appeal, can question it, or conduct a judicial review of it unless “it is proved to the court that the determination was done in bad faith or with malice.”

But this is extremely hard for anyone to prove, given that the Prosecutor is also not bound to release or make known the reasons for his decision.

In short, the Prosecutor has iron-clad, virtually unfettered powers to decide whether a person gets to live or die.

Such dubious decision making can result in inexplicable outcomes, as in the 2013 case of Abdul Haleem Abdul Karim, 30, and his friend, Muhammad Ridzuan Md Ali, 28.

Both men were arrested in 2010, also for trafficking 72.5g of heroin.

In court, Abdul Haleem had asked to be given the same sentence as Muhammad Ridzuan, if the latter was sent to the gallows.

The Straits Times reported the exchange between Abdul Haleem and judge Tay Yong Kwang:

Choking with emotion, he [Abdul Haleem] told Justice Tay Yong Kwang: “If you are sparing my life and not sparing his life, I’d rather go down with him.”

But the judge replied: “The court does not have complete discretion to do whatever you want me do.”

Abdul Haleem then pointed out that he and his friend faced the same charges.

The judge told him: “You have certification from the Attorney-General’s Chambers, he does not.”

Abdul Haleem was sentenced to life imprisonment and caning because in the eyes of the Public Prosecutor, he had fulfilled the criteria of having “substantively assisted” the CNB in “disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore.”

Muhammad Ridzuan, on the other hand, was deemed not to have cooperated with the CNB to the same extent.

He was thus sentenced to death which left his family wondering what more he could have done to assist the CNB.

“Ridzuan told the [Central Narcotics Bureau] who gave him the drugs,” said his sister Noraisah. “He gave them a description, with full name and identification. I feel that this information is quite strong, and I don’t know why they said that they are still not happy with it.”

No one knows why the Prosecutor decided to issue Abdul Haleem the COC, while denying the same to Muhammad Ridzuan because the Prosecutor is not required by law to release or explain his reasons, either to the convict’s lawyers or even to his family.

Everything is decided behind a veil of silence and secrecy.

It is disturbing that a person can be condemned to his death just because he is deemed to not have “substantively assisted” the police in “disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Singapore.”

Whether drug trafficking activities are “disrupted” or not depends on so many different factors, most of which would be beyond the control of the inmate.

For example, it would depend on whether the authorities actually act on information provided by the inmate.

It would also depend on whether the authorities take the appropriate action, or are competent in doing so.

And how would an inmate incarcerated on death row in Changi Prison in Singapore be able to “disrupt” drug activities “outside Singapore”? Would this not depend entirely on how the authorities act on the information provided by the inmate?

With the law prohibiting any judicial review or questioning of the Prosecutor’s decision, except when such decision is proved to have been made on bad faith or malice, there really is no way of knowing if the Prosecutor has done the right or necessary thing in acting on the information provided by the inmate.

Clearly, this practice of vesting the Prosecutor with so much power is highly flawed.

His decision and decision-making process are effectively unquestionable, giving him seemingly unfettered authority.

Such absurdity has resulted in decisions which allow one person to be spared death while another, charged for the same crime, is sent to the gallows.

The rule of law insists that decisions, especially those involving capital punishment which is irreversible, must be made according to the law, and must be opened to review or question.

In 2011, lawyer M Ravi filed a constitutional challenge on the case of Yong Vui Kong, which centred on whether the Cabinet’s decision in granting clemency is opened to judicial review.

The Court of Appeal, in its ruling, said “the making of a clemency decision pursuant to Art 22P is now ‘not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power … [but] a part of the [c]onstitutional scheme’.”

Article 22P refers to the president’s powers to grant clemencies.

The Court of Appeal said that if “conclusive evidence is produced to the court to show that the Cabinet never met to consider the offender’s case at all, or that the Cabinet did not consider the Art 22P(2) materials placed before it and merely tossed a coin to determine what advice to give to the President, the Cabinet would have acted in breach of Art 22P(2).”

The Court added:

“If the courts cannot intervene to correct a breach of Art 22P of this nature, the rule of law would be rendered nugatory.”

Would it also not follow that if the courts are unable to intervene and question the Prosecutor’s decision on granting the COC, there is a risk that the Prosecutor could make an erroneous decision based on wrong facts or even on superficial whims which, under existing laws, could result in the death of an inmate?

Yet the law says such decisions “shall be at the sole discretion of the Public Prosecutor and no action or proceeding shall lie against the Public Prosecutor in relation to any such determination unless it is proved to the court that the determination was done in bad faith or with malice.”

The granting, or not, of a COC by the Prosecutor, to borrow the words of the Court of Appeal, is ‘not a private act of grace from an individual happening to possess power.’

It is in fact from constitutional powers vested in him which should make him accountable, and not protected behind a wall of opacity.

And if he is to be accountable, then surely his decisions must be opened to judicial review.

Why was Haleem Abdul spared death, while Muhammad Ridzuan was not?

Why was Mohd Jeefrey not similarly issued the COC, as Haleem Abdul was?

How is it that a person can be condemned to death just simply because he is deemed to not have “substantively assisted” the police?

How did we arrive at a law which says that not cooperating with the police is, effectively, a capital offence?

Source: publichouse.sg, April 21, 2017

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