Category Archives: Capital punishment

Botched Execution in Arizona

Joseph Wood was put to death by the state of Arizona yesterday.

“It took one hour and 57 minutes for the execution to be completed, and Wood was gasping for more than an hour and a half of that time.”

See the AOL story here.

17, on Death Row …. and Innocent

Shareef Cousin was once the youngest person in the US on death row.

His case is yet another example of how mistaken (or false) eyewitness testimony can override an airtight alibi.  And this one was also compounded by a Brady violation regarding the eyesight of the witness, a lying detective, and coerced snitch testimony.

Cousin has recently authored a CNN article decrying the death penalty.

This quote from the article:  “It is hard to argue that the death penalty is applied fairly. Take it from me, someone who lived alongside guys on death row: The system does not identify and sentence “the worst of the worst” to death — just the most powerless.”

You can read the CNN article here.

First Execution This Year in Japan

The first execution in 2014 was carried out on June 26 in Japan. This was the 9th execution under the Abe administration. Many organizations, including Japan Federation of Bar Associations, EU and Amnesty International , immediately filed a statement opposing the execution.

From the Japan Times:

Man who killed three, including kids, hanged
by Tomohiro Osaki

Brushing aside renewed public concerns over capital punishment, the government executed a 68-year-old death row inmate Thursday morning for three “brutal” and “selfish” murders committed seven years ago. Two of the victims were children.

In November 2007, Masanori Kawasaki sneaked into the Kagawa Prefecture home of Keiko Miura, his 58-year-old sister-in-law, and stabbed her multiple times. He also knifed to death the victim’s two grandchildren, Akane Yamashita, 5, and Ayana, 3. Kawasaki then buried their bodies nearby.

The Supreme Court finalized his death penalty in July 2012.

Thursday’s execution comes as public concern over capital punishment flared anew in March after the release of Iwao Hakamada, the world’s longest-serving death row inmate, upon a review of the DNA evidence that found Hakamada spent nearly five decades behind bars for murders he almost certainly didn’t commit.

Japan and the United States are the only Group of Eight industrialized nations that put people to death.

At a news conference after the hanging, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki condemned Kawasaki’s deeds as “brutal” and “driven by selfish reasons,” noting the killings left kin grief-stricken to an “unimaginable degree.”

As he did following previous executions, Tanigaki defended the hanging as the outcome of “careful scrutiny.”

“We went over his case repeatedly before greenlighting his hanging,” Tanigaki said.

Of the 129 inmates now on death row, 89 are seeking retrials and 24 amnesty.

When asked to comment on the timing of the hanging, Tanigaki declined to elaborate.

“As justice minister, I consider it my highest priority to do everything in my capacity to confirm if an individual really committed the deed they are held culpable for” to avoid wrongful executions, he said.

Tanigaki added that he doesn’t think the capital punishment system needs to be reviewed at this time.

Human rights group Amnesty International was quick to express outrage, saying the hanging ignored the global community’s calls on Japan to end the “dehumanizing” practice.

Regarding the Hakamada incident, the group said the government is deeply reproachable for leaving him exposed to the terror of a looming execution for nearly five decades despite “extremely high odds of his innocence.”

“The government should take this fact seriously and do its utmost to overhaul the current criminal justice system. And as a first step for that, we believe it’s imperative capital punishment be suspended immediately,” the group said, adding that few details of the death penalty are disclosed to the public. The Japan Federation of Bar Association, too, issued a statement demanding capital punishment be halted and more information be disclosed to the public to spur a robust debate on the issue.

Continue reading

Flawed Forensics – Part of a TV Series from Al Jazeera America Examining the US Justice System

Al Jazeera America is running an eight part series called The System which examines the state of the justice system in the US.  This coming Sunday, June 1, the program will cover flawed forensics, and will highlight the case of Mississippi death row inmate Willie Manning.  Manning is a victim of the now-acknowledged faulty hair analysis practices of the FBI.

There is a zip code box on the Al Jazeera America home page to help you find their programming in your area:

AlJazeera3

Here is the schedule for the entire series, The System:

Episode 1: False Confessions, Sunday May 18th at 9E/6P

Episode 2: Mandatory Sentencing, Sunday May 25th at 9E/6P

Episode 3: Flawed Forensics, Sunday June 1st at 9E/6P

Episode 4: Eyewitness Identification, Sunday June 8th at 9E/6P

Episode 5: Parole: High Risks, High Stakes, Sunday June 15th at 9E/6P

Episode 6: Juvenile Justice, Sunday June 22nd at 9E/6P

Episode 7: Geography of Punishment, Sunday June 29th at 9E/6P

Episode 8: Prosecutorial Misconduct, Sunday July 6th at 9E/6P
 

 

Delaware Supreme Court Grants New Trial to Death Row Inmate

Jermaine Wright, who has resided on death row following his conviction of the 1991 murder of Phillip Seifert at a liquor store just outside of Wilmington, Delaware, was granted a new trial yesterday. The Supreme Court of Delaware unanimously agreed with Wright’s contention that undisclosed exculpatory and impeachment evidence cumulatively amounted to a reversible Brady violation.

“Wright is not entitled to a perfect trial, but he is entitled to a fair one where material exculpatory and impeachment evidence is disclosed and not suppressed,” wrote Justice Ridgely.

The case history in the opinion explains that no physical or forensic evidence connected Wright to the crime. The State presented no “murder weapon, shell casings, the getaway car, or eyewitness to identify Wright.” Continue reading

National Academy of Sciences Study: Over Four Percent of People Sentenced to Death are Likely Innocent

New peer-reviewed research indicates that at least 4.1 percent of defendants sentenced to death in the United States are likely innocent. The article, “Rate of False Conviction of Criminal Defendants who are Sentenced to Death,” published today in one of the world’s most respected scientific journals—Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—is available at http://www.eurekalert.org/account.php

“This study provides the first rigorous estimate of the rate of conviction of innocent criminal defendants in any context. It shows that the number of innocent people sentenced to death is more than twice the number of inmates actually exonerated and freed by legal action,” said Bruce Levin, Ph.D., Professor and Past Chair, Department of Biostatistics, Mailman School of Public Health Columbia University. Levin, an expert in statistics, did not participate in the research but is familiar with the study. Continue reading

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

  • Federal Public Defender in Oregon, Steven Wax, takes huge pay cut to be first legal director of Oregon Innocence Project
  • Cameron Todd Willingham, executed by Texas though innocent, will not get posthumous pardon.  Outrageous, but unfortunately consistent with what I’ve seen from the robotic parole and pardon boards around the country.
  • City of Cleveland agrees to compensate exonerated clients of Ohio Innocence Project and The Innocence Project, Thomas Siller and Walter Zimmer.
  • Ohio Innocence Project exoneree Glenn Tinney sues prosecutors for his wrongful conviction.

Breaking News: Court Decides to Reopen Hakamada Case

Previous posts on Hakamada case here and here.

This is a case from 1966. Iwao Hakamada has been held in confinement for 48 years. He is at Tokyo Detention Center, on death row.

Shizuoka District Court granted Hakamada’s petition for retrial today, saying that a new DNA testing result indicates that one crutial piece of evidence did not come from Hakamada.

It is the 6th time since 1945 that the courts grant a retrial in a death penalty case. However, the prosecutors still have a chance to appeal the decision.

PostScript:
Iwao Hakamada was released from the Tokyo Detention Center at around 17:20 JST on March 27th, 2014.

From Mainichi Shimbun News:
Court decides to reopen 1966 murder of 4

SHIZUOKA, Japan (Kyodo) — The Shizuoka District Court decided Thursday to reopen a high-profile 1966 murder case in which a former professional boxer has been on death row for more than 30 years for killing four people.

The court also decided to suspend the death penalty for Iwao Hakamada, 78, who was convicted of murdering Fujio Hashimoto, 41-year-old managing director of a soybean processing firm, his wife and their two children and setting fire to their home on June 30, 1966, in Shimizu city, Shizuoka Prefecture, which is now a part of Shizuoka city, as well as his detention.

During the petition for a retrial, his defense lawyers obtained DNA test results that indicated the DNA-type from blood stains detected on five pieces of clothing, which were said to have been worn by the culprit, is different from Hakamada’s.

Accepting the argument, Presiding Judge Hiroaki Murayama said, “The clothes were not those of the defendant,” indicating the possibility that investigators had fabricated the evidence.

Murayama also said, “It is unjust to detain the defendant further, as the possibility of his innocence has become clear to a respectable degree.”

It is the sixth time in postwar Japan that a court has approved a retrial for a defendant for whom capital punishment had been finalized. Of the other five, four were acquitted.

Hakamada, a live-in employee at the soybean processing firm, temporarily admitted to the charges after being arrested in August 1966, but changed his plea to one of innocence from the first court hearing.

Despite his plea, the Shizuoka District Court sentenced him to death in 1968, with the sentence finalized by the Supreme Court in 1980.

He filed his first appeal for a retrial in 1981, which was rejected by the top court in 2008, prompting his sister Hideko, 81, to file a second appeal immediately.

Despite the district court decision, it may still take time before a retrial can begin as prosecutors, who argued that the reliability of the DNA test is low, are expected to appeal the decision to the Tokyo High Court.

The defense team has urged prosecutors not to appeal, given that Hakamada’s mental state has deteriorated during almost 50 years in prison. Amnesty International Japan also issued a statement seeking the immediate start of a retrial, saying, “It is not too much to say that the unfair, long-time detention of a death row inmate is torture.”

After hearing the decision, Hideko said, “I am truly thankful,” while Katsuhiko Nishijima, who heads the defense team, said, “Mr. Hakamada’s strong desire has finally been attained.”

Continue reading

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

CNN Series – Death Row Stories

DRS

Death Row Stories is a CNN Original series of one-hour documentaries unraveling the truth behind capital murder cases. Executive produced by Alex Gibney and Robert Redford and narrated by Susan Sarandon, these stories call into question various beliefs surrounding America’s justice system and the death penalty.

The series starts tonight, Sunday, March 9 at 9:00 PM EDT.

See the CNN web page here.

Ex-detention officer tells court how death row inmates are executed

Japan still retains the death penalty. Polls suggest that the majority of citizens (more than 85%) support the ultimate punishment. However, when talking with friends or students, I often find that people do not necessarily know about the punishment. Some do not even know how the executions are carried out.

This is also true in death penalty cases where the citizens participate as lay judges (saiban-in) and decide the facts and also the punishment. Lay judges do not know the situation of the death row inmates and executions, but they are asked to impose the punishment.

In an effort to let the lay judges know about the punishment at trial in deciding the sentence, some lawyers have called experts or ex-officers to testify. Here is a story about this effort.

from the Mainichi Japan:

OSAKA (Kyodo) — A former detention officer told a court Monday how death row inmates in Japan are treated and how they are executed during a trial of a murder-robbery case.

“The trapdoor on the floor opens and (death row inmates) fall at least 4 meters below and after they suffer cardiac arrest, they are left hanging for five minutes so they cannot be resuscitated,” detention officer-turned-writer Toshio Sakamoto told the Osaka District Court’s Sakai branch.

Sakamoto, known for his book “Record of an Executioner,” also said death row inmates are kept in solitary confinement except when they are allowed to exercise or take a bath.

Detention officers are informed about an execution the day before and try not to make it obvious to the inmate, he added.

Sakamoto was testifying on behalf of defendant Munehiro Nishiguchi, 52, who is charged with murdering Takeko Tamura, 67, in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, in November 2011 and robbing her of around 310,000 yen, as well as murdering Soshu Ozaki, 84, former vice president of household product manufacturer Zojirushi Corp., in Sakai a month later and robbing him of 800,000 yen.

February 25, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

Prosecutor Misconduct in the Todd Willingham Case

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 by the state of Texas for setting a fire that killed his three young children.

We’ve reported numerous times on this blog about the Cameron Todd Willingham case, and here is just one of those articles – Will Texas Admit It Executed an Innocent Man?

 It’s clear to even the casual observer of this case that Todd Wilingham was wrongfully convicted and wrongfully executed.  The State used now-debunked junk science in determining the fire that killed the Willingham children was arson.  The case is carefully documented in the award winning film Incendiary: The Willingham Case.

And now, another snake has just slithered out of the pit that the Texas justice system has made of this case.  It’s been revealed that the Willingham prosecutor, John Jackson, made a secret deal with jailhouse snitch, Johnny Webb, in return for his testimony that Willingham had confessed the crime to him in prison.  And further, that Jackson then concealed this deal from the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons which was considering a stay of execution for Willingham.

Reported here by the Innocence Project – New Evidence Suggests Cameron Todd Willingham Prosecutor Deceived Board of Pardons and Paroles About Informant Testimony in Opposition to Stay of Execution.

Read the stories from the New York Times here, and the Manchester Guardian here.

Study shows how ‘mob journalism’ helps convict the innocent

“The media has won deserved credit for its role in exposing wrongful convictions,” The Crime Report says. “But there are many examples of compliant coverage of prosecutors and law enforcement authorities who rush to convict the innocent on flimsy or phony evidence.”

To prove its point, the web site has published a study by crime journalist David J. Krajicek that focuses on three examples — the 1949 case of Florida’s “Groveland Four”; the conviction of Kirk Bloodsworth in the 1985 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl near Baltimore; and the conviction of Walter McMillian for the 1986 murder of a clerk in Monroeville, Ala.

All three cases are good examples of how the news media frequently follow — and sometimes lead — police and prosecutors down the rabbit hole of bias and tunnel vision. You can read the excellent study here.

Last Meals of the Wrongfully Executed…

Moving photo display of the last meals of wrongfully executed inmates here

 

Ohio Executes Prisoner with Controversial Drugs

This morning, Ohio executed Dennis McGuire with an untried combination of drugs.  Witnesses report it took a gasping McGuire 15 minutes to die.

I leave it to the reader to decide if this is “cruel and unusual.”

Read the CNN article here.

Death Penalty Information Center’s 2013 Annual Report: Use of Death Penalty Declining

Today, December 19, 2013, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) released its annual report on the latest developments in capital punishment in the United States. Read the full report, “The Death Penalty in 2013: Year End Report” (here).

According to Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director:

“Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing. Now it is declining by almost every measure. The recurrent problems of the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated, and often delayed for decades. More states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining this expensive and ineffectual practice.”

Highlights of the 2013 Death Penalty Information Center annual report include: Continue reading

Note to Yong Vui Kong post: death penalty reprieve for Chum Tat Suan (Singapore)

Prior to Yong Vui Kong (blog post here), there was another drug trafficking case where the Singapore High Court exercised its discretion under legislative amendments for drug trafficking during the sentencing hearing. The decision explains the manner by which this discretion is exercised and highlights the judge’s concerns. This was in the case of Chum Tat Suan (24 October 2013).

One of the conditions that an accused convicted of drug trafficking has to meet to benefit from this judicial discretion is that he/she must be found to be a mere drug “courier”. Recognising, among others, that this issue was “a matter of life and death” for the accused, the judge decided to give the “benefit of doubt” to the accused of being a mere “courier”, though no new evidence about this was introduced at that stage and evidence earlier adduced during trial on this point was found to be “not unequivocal”.

Ps: Thanks to CHEN Siyuan and Jack LEE from the Singapore Management University for highlighting important facts about the Chum Tat Suan case

New Evidence Found in 1966 Hakamada Case

My previous post on Hakamada Case here. This is a case from 1966. Hakamada claims his innocence from Tokyo Detention Center, where he is held on death row. He has been held in confinement for over 45 years.

From the Mainichi:

New evidence emerges in 1966 murder case: lawyers

SHIZUOKA, Japan (Kyodo) — New evidence has emerged in a 1966 murder case that suggests the man who has been convicted and is on death row for the crime may have been wrongfully accused, his defense lawyers said Sunday.

The new evidence in favor of Iwao Hakamada, 77, may provide stronger grounds in their appeal for a retrial, the result of which will be decided by the Shizuoka District Court next spring at the earliest.

The lawyers said the new evidence came to light in the witness statements of two colleagues of Hakamada who were staying at the same company dormitory at the time of the crime in June 1966. Continue reading

Japan’s Hanging Method Criticized by U.S. Occupation Officials More than 60 Years Ago

 An important document concerning the capital punishment in Japan was found recently. The document showed that the U.S. occupation officials raised concerns about the execution by hanging. The method is still used today. Read here about how the executions are carried out in Japan.

 From The Asahi Shimbun:

U.S. occupation officials criticized Japan’s hanging method

By GEN OKAMOTO/ Staff Writer

U.S. occupation officials in 1949 raised concerns about how Japan executed prisoners, saying the condemned were not dying quickly enough under the hanging method that is still used today, a document showed.

The concerns were expressed in an internal document from the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) that was found in the National Diet Library by Kenji Nagata, an associate professor of law at Kansai University.

“The document shows that issues were being raised about the hanging method used in Japan from more than 60 years ago,” Nagata said.

The internal document was written by an official in the Civil Intelligence Section (G2) of GHQ and dated Sept. 2, 1949. The subject of the memo is “Executions, Japanese Prisons.”

In the document, an official in the Nagoya area is quoted as calling for a change in capital punishment “so as to effect rapid and more humane death of the subject.”

The statement indicates the official wanted Japan to employ hanging methods then in use in the United States that severed the neck vertebrae to instantly kill the prisoner.

The official in charge of prisons in G2 says in the document that the matter would be brought up with the director of the correction and rehabilitation bureau of what is now the Justice Ministry.

The document was originally kept in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. A copy has been kept at the National Diet Library’s Modern Japanese Political History Materials Room.

Another GHQ internal document showed that 79 people were executed during the occupation period, and the average time before the individual was confirmed dead was about 14 minutes.

Japan’s hanging method has come under fire because those executed do not die quick deaths. Critics say the method violates Article 36 of the Constitution, which states “cruel punishments are absolutely forbidden.”

In a criminal trial held in 2011 at the Osaka District Court, a former prosecutor testified, “At one execution that I witnessed while working as a prosecutor, it took about 13 minutes before the individual died.”

Japan has used hanging for capital punishment since 1873.