In today’s post I roundup some of the latest developments and global news stories regarding capital punishment. From extraordinary tales of fabricated evidence, exoneration, state secrecy and racial bias, the following tales strengthen the growing argument that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime. Only time will tell if that argument will eventually be loud enough to reach the ears of legislators worldwide.
Iranian killer’s execution halted at last minute by victim’s parents
A convicted murderer had the hangman’s noose around his neck when his victim’s mother approached, slapped him in the face and spared his life. In incredibly moving scenes a mother chose to forgive her son’s murder instead of participating in the execution. In a literal application of qisas, the sharia law of retribution, the victim’s family are able to participate in public hangings by pushing away the chair on which the guilty stand.
In recent years Iran has faced criticism from human rights activists for its high rate of executions. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, accused Hassan Rouhani of doing too little to improve Iran’s human rights, especially reining in its staggering use of capital punishment. According to the Guardian newspaper, as of last week, 199 executions are believed to have been carried out in Iran this year, according to Amnesty, a rate of almost two a day. Last year Iran and Iraq were responsible for two-thirds of the world’s executions, excluding China. At least 369 executions were officially acknowledged by the Iranian authorities in 2013, but Amnesty said hundreds more people were put to death in secret, taking the actual number close to 700.
World’s longest serving death row inmate released in Japan
After nearly half a century on death row, a Japanese man has been set free in in a step establishing his innocence in the murder of four family members in 1966. The 78 year-old, Iwao Hakamada, had remained in prison for 48 years, 30 of which were in solitary confinement, for the murder of two children and their parents. But Hakamada finally walked free last month after a Japanese court found that evidence may have been fabricated.
Those on death row in Japan are not classified as prisoners by the justice system and the facilities in which they are incarcerated are not referred to as prisons. Inmates are held in solitary confinement and are forbidden from communicating with their fellows. Executions in Japan are carried out by hanging in a death chamber within the detention centre. When a death order has been issued, the condemned prisoner is informed in the morning of their execution.
Death row inmate released three decades after wrongful conviction
A man found guilty of murder by all-white jury in deeply flawed trial had one of America’s longest-ever waits for exoneration. Louisiana man, Glenn Ford, who has spent nearly 30 years on death row, was released last month, after prosecutors asked a judge to set aside his first-degree murder conviction and death sentence, citing new evidence in the case that exonerated him.
Ford was convicted for the 1983 robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman, a 56-year-old Shreveport watchmaker, who was found, shot to death behind the counter of his jewellery shop. Acting on new information that exonerated Ford, a judge in Shreveport ordered him released from Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, where he has been held on death row since March 1985.
North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act
On 14 April 2014, North Carolina Supreme Court heard appeals in the cases of four inmates whose death sentences were reduced to life without parole under the state’s Racial Justice Act. North Carolina passed the Act in 2009, allowing death row inmates to use statistical studies to show that racial bias affected their trials. The Racial Justice Act was repealed in 2013, but claims made prior to repeal are still pending. The state brought the current appeal in an attempt to have the death sentences of all four inmates reinstated. The Supreme Court did not say when it would issue opinions in the cases. North Carolina has not executed an inmate since 2006.
Conviction overturned in Mississippi
The state Supreme Court in Mississippi has reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial for death row inmate Michelle Byrom who had been scheduled to be executed by way of lethal injection last month. This follows serious doubts about her guilt and the quality of her legal representation at trial, who gave her what one Mississippi Supreme Court Justice later described as the most “egregious” representation that he had ever known.
Oklahoma obtains secret supply of execution drugs
Oklahoma officials have admitted that the state had obtained manufactured pharmaceuticals from a secret supplier for use in the executions of two men later this month, avoiding concerns over the use of compounded drugs but leaving unanswered questions about how it obtained them.
Assistant attorney general, John Hadden, in a letter to defence lawyers, said the state “has recently acquired a manufactured source of vecuronium bromide. That means there will be no compounded drugs used in the executions of your clients. This will resolve the concerns you and your clients have expressed regarding compounded drugs.”
This is despite a judge’s ruling that a drug secrecy law violated the constitutional rights of inmates’ on death row, Hadden declined to identify the supplier of the new drugs, writing: “This information is irrelevant to your clients and disclosure could lead to harassment or intimidation which will have a chilling effect on the state’s ability to acquire these drugs for future executions.”
Death row inmate to challenge rape conviction
The Mississippi Supreme Court has set out a timetable for attorneys for a death row inmate, Charles Ray Crawford, to file briefs by late May supporting his appeal of a 1994 rape conviction. In refusing to set an execution date for Crawford in March, the Supreme Court said it would resolve the appeal of prior rape conviction first. That conviction was cited as an aggravating factor by prosecutors in justifying the death sentence Crawford received in 1994 for the slaying of a junior college student.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice.