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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Arkansas: Victim's family asks for state to spare murderer's life

Kenneth Williams
Kenneth Williams
OZARK, Mo. (KSPR) - The family of a man from the Ozarks who was killed by an escaped murderer almost two decades ago said they do not want his killer to be executed.

"I believe justice has already been served. He hasn't been able to kill anyone else. Executing him is more of revenge," said Stacey Yaw, who was Michael Greenwood’s wife.

Kenneth Williams is set to die on Thursday. He's one of eight inmates who Arkansas scheduled for execution by the end of the month before its supply of a key execution drug expires. 

Four of the eight condemned men got judicial reprieves; three of them were put to death; only Williams is still set for execution.

Michael Greenwood of Springfield and his wife had just found out they were expecting twins when Williams escaped from an Arkansas prison. Williams led law enforcement officers on a chase in a stolen truck and crashed into Greenwood's work truck near Urbana, north of Buffalo, and killed Greenwood.

Now Greenwood's family asks for his killer's life to be spared.

"I miss him when I'm with my grandkids, I wish he was there to see them, too; little things they do, proud moments," Yaw said.

Greenwood's family feels his absence every day.

“He was a great guy. He was a tough guy. He was a funny guy. He was a great guy," Yaw said.

They do not want anyone else to feel this pain, even Greenwood's killer.

"Sometimes the right thing is hard to do, but it is the best option," said Michael Greenwood’s son, Joseph Greenwood.

That is why they ask for Kenneth Williams' life to be spared.

"Everyone can change and I definitely believe in second or even third chances, because it's what's right," said Joseph Greenwood.

For them that chance is making sure the killer gets to see his family one last time. The victim’s family just bought Williams’ daughter and granddaughter plane tickets; so, they could get here before the execution.

"It's just not right. It's just not right. She didn't do anything ever and now she is going to be a victim," Yaw said.

They are helping Williams' last wish come true for the sake of his daughter, Jasmine.

"If I was Jasmine, I would want somebody there for me. We are all humans, we are all here together, we have to be here for each other," said Kayla Greenwood, who is Michael Greenwood’s daughter.

"We experience what she felt. She is getting ready to lose a father and me, my brother, and sister all lost a father. It sucks and we feel really bad for her. Even though he killed our father," said Joseph Greenwood.

This will be the first time that Williams has ever seen his granddaughter.

"At least that can be something good and beautiful that can come out of something so horrible," Kayla Greenwood said.

The Greenwood family invited us to drive along with them to meet Jasmine and her daughter on Wednesday.

Source: KSPR, Stephanie Garland, April 26, 2017

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Four militants executed in Pakistan

Military courts have sentenced 161 militants to death penalty since 2014 following Peshawar school attack

Another 4 militants, convicted by military courts for their involvement in terrorism, have been executed at a jail in northwestern Pakistan, an army spokesman said on Tuesday.

"Another 4 hardcore terrorists involved in committing heinous offenses relating to terrorism, including the killing of innocent civilians, attacking armed forces of Pakistan and law enforcement agencies have been executed at a jail in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa [northwestern province]," the spokesman said in a statement.

The executed convicts Rehman ud Din, Mushtaq Khan, Obaid ur Rehman, and Zafar Iqbal were members of the Pakistani Taliban coalition, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Pakistan established controversial military courts to try "hardcore" militants following a deadly gun-and-bomb attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in December 2014, which claimed the lives of over 140 people, mostly students.

The military courts, which were given another 2-year extension by parliament last month, have sentenced 161 militants to the death penalty, 26 of whom have been executed.

Islamabad lifted a 6-year long de facto ban on capital punishment in 2014 following the Peshawar school attack.

According to official statistics, over 8,000 death row convicts are currently in jail.

Source: Anadolu Agency, April 25, 2017

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30 Men Arrested For 'Sodomy' In Iran Face Death Penalty if Convicted: Reports

More than 30 men were arrested after a private party in the Bahadoran region of Isfahan, Iran was raided by the police, Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees reported Thursday.

Their charges are sodomy, drinking alcohol and using psychedelic drugs and they face the death penalty if found guilty.

The men, between the ages of 16 and 30, the Canadian charity reports, were rounded up late April 13 amid gunshots and beatings from police, according to the Jerusalem Post.

"IRQR received several reports in last few days and were able to confirm that police attacked guests and physically beat them. Police detained them all at the Basij (Revolutionary Guard Militia) Station and then transferred them to Esfahan's Dastgerd Prison.

A few people managed to escape and we received reports that there were several heterosexual individuals among those arrested," IRQR reported.

IRQR also reported that those arrested were forced to name their LGBT friends to authorities. In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death, according to the International Society for Human Rights.

IRQR reports that a special prosecutor has been named and that those arrested will be subjected to anal examination to prove the homosexuality charges.

In Iran, LGBT citizens are afforded very little, if any, civil rights. Presently, LGBT citizens cannot marry, cannot adopt, cannot serve openly in the military and are not protected from any discrimination, according to Equaldex.

In 2007, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously declared while at Columbia University that there were no gay people in Iran.

European civil rights leaders are calling for the EU to step in.

"While the Islamic State throws gays from rooftops, the Islamic Republic hangs them. Iran's regime forces homosexuals to flee the country and the EU turns a blind eye," Stefan Schaden, an LGBT rights activist and spokesman for the European "Stop The Bomb campaign" said in an email to the Jerusalem Post. "The EU is, however, required in their dealings with third countries to comply with binding guidelines laid down in the Union's 'LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex] Toolkit' to combat state violence against LGBTI persons. The EU must clearly step up its efforts in this regard and consider more human rights sanctions against the Iranian regime."

This incident comes on the heels of reports that in Chechnya, gay men are being rounded up, tortured and in some cases even killed.

Source: towleroad.com, April 26, 2017

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Arkansas executes Jack Harold Jones and Marcel Willilams

Jack Harold Jones
Jack Harold Jones
Jack Harold Jones was put to death by the state of Arkansas Monday night by way of lethal injection.

Authorities began administering the execution drugs at 7:06 p.m. and Jones was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m., according to the Arkansas Department of Correction.

Asked if he had any last words, Jones said the following:

"Well, I just want to let the James family and Lacey [know] how sorry I am. I can't believe I did something to her. I tried to be respectful from the time I took and become a better person. I hope I did better. I hope over time you could learn who I really am and I am not a monster. There was a reason why those things happened that day. I am so sorry Lacey, try to understand I love you like my child."

Jones also gave a written statement to his attorney to read:

"I want people to know that when I came to prison I made up my mind that I would be a better person when I left than when I came in. I had no doubt in my mind that I would make every effort to do this. I'd like to think that I've accomplished this. I made every effort to be a good person - I practiced Buddhism and studied physics. I met the right people and did the right things. There are no words that would fully express my remorse for the pain that I caused."

Jones, 52, was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1995 rape and murder of 34-year-old Mary Phillips at her accounting office in Bald Knob. He was also convicted of the attempted murder of Phillips' 11-year-old daughter Lacy.

Following the execution, Lacy told the media, "I'm glad it's done."

The Supreme Court of the United States denied two requests for a stay for Jones, allowing for the execution to proceed.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge released a statement following the execution:

"This evening, Lacey Phillips Manor and Darla Phillips Jones have seen justice for the brutal rape and murder of their mother, Mary Phillips. Mary was performing her job as a bookkeeper in Bald Knob on June 6, 1995, when she was strangled to death with a coffee pot cord while her 11-year-old daughter Lacey clung to life a few feet away after being choked and beaten. The Phillips family has waited far too long to see justice carried out, and I pray they find peace tonight."

Jones is the second Arkansas death row inmate to be executed in less than a week.

Jones becomes the 2nd condemned inmate to be put to death in Arkansas this year and the 29th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in
1990.

Jones becomes the 8th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1450th overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Arkansas death row inmate Marcel Williams executed


Marcel Williams
Marcel Williams
Marcel Williams was the second death row inmate to be executed by the state of Arkansas Monday night.

Williams was put to death by way of lethal injection. The drugs were administered at 10:16 p.m. and Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m.

Marcel Williams did not have any last words.

Williams was convicted of killing Stacy Rae Errickson, a 23-year-old mother of 2, in Jacksonville in 1994.

Errickson's family declined to comment immediately following the execution.

Williams becomes the 3rd condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Arkansas and the 30th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1990.

Williams becomes the 9th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 1451st overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

Sources: KATV news & Rick Halperin, April 25, 2017


Arkansas executions: 'I was watching him breathe heavily and arch his back'


Arkansas on Monday carried out the first double execution in the US in 16 years. Jacob Rosenberg witnessed the murderer Marcel Williams being put to death

At 9.34pm we entered the execution chamber. I passed through a door with a large sign on its front showing two letters, “EC”, and took a seat among a few rows of chairs that faced four large rectangular windows. Some lights were on, but it was mostly dim. A black curtain was drawn behind the windows in front of us.

Behind that curtain, strapped to a gurney in an even smaller room, was Marcel Williams.

In Arkansas, we do not get to see the placement of the IV for lethal injection. So, from the time we entered until the curtain opened, I saw nothing. We just stared forward at those windows, waiting for them to reveal Williams, 46, who was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station.

We had done this earlier in the night, when a last-minute stay had us waiting in the chamber for over an hour. During that time, we later learned, Williams had been strapped down on the gurney. Now, as then, with the stay lifted, I simply looked at the black curtain, knowing almost nothing about what was happening to the prisoner.

The curtain created a reflection of the room behind me, like a mirror. I could see other witnesses, and myself, fidget.

At 10.16pm, after 32 minutes of IV placement, the curtain opened.

Light from fluorescent bulbs cast a strange yellow glow in the room in front. Marcel Williams’s eyes looked right up at the ceiling. He was on a gurney, tied down. His head was locked in place and the right side of his body was facing us, the viewers. He said no final words.

At this point, the first lethal injection drug – the controversial sedative midazolam, whose expiration date at the end of this month has prompted Arkansas’s unprecedented wave of judicial killings – was supposed to be administered. No one announced that a drug was being given . The process simply moved along. I watched and tried to follow.

His eyes began to droop and eventually closed (the right one lingered slightly open throughout). His breaths became deep and heavy. His back arched off the gurney as he sucked in air.

I could not count the number of times his body moved in such a way, rising off the gurney.

Procedure dictates that five minutes after the introduction of midazolam there should be no movements. But, at 10.21pm, Williams was still breathing heavily and moving. The man in the room checked his pulse and touched his eyes and said something. (The audio was cut off for us.)

At this point, it is likely another dose of midazolam was given. I cannot be sure it was administered. I was watching him breathe heavily and arch his back and then the breathing began to shallow out. By 10.24pm, Williams looked completely still.

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Source: The Guardian, Jacob Rosenberg, April 25, 2017

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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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