Category Archives: Capital punishment

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.

 

Singapore courts review death penalty convictions under amended legislation: Yong Vui Kong

I previously blogged on the 2012 legislative amendments to Singapore’s Penal Code and Misuse of Drugs Act, which give Singapore judges some discretion over imposing the death penalty in cases of murder and drug trafficking – offences that previously carried the mandatory death penalty. Singapore Courts have been reviewing cases and deciding which convicted persons may have their death sentences replaced under these amendments.

Among the cases reviewed so far is the high profile case of Yong Vui Kong. Since his 2008 conviction, locally-based activists in Singapore have ceaselessly campaigned for the reconsideration of Yong’s case based on his circumstances. On 14 November 2013, the Singapore High Court reduced Yong’s death sentence to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane.

As mentioned in my earlier post, these 2012 legislative amendments, by circumscribing the application of the death penalty, will positively impact investigations into possible wrongful convictions. The only independent organisation specialising in such investigations in Singapore is the Singapore Innocence Project, which was established by students from the National University of Singapore and formally launched in May 2013. Though an imprisonment based on a wrongful conviction can seldom be truly compensated, at least, in cases of imprisonment, those found to be wrongfully convicted will be alive to experience relief and vindication.

Texas to Execute Jamie McCoskey Tomorrow

The Texas execution bandwagon just keeps rolling along.

Texas plans to execute a man Tuesday whose sentencing hearing included a presentation by a prosecution psychologist whose testing methods for developmental disability have since been debunked as unscientific. Execution Watch will air coverage of the state killing, plus a taped interview with the condemned, Jamie McCoskey.  Spread the word.

RADIO SHOW PREVIEW, EXECUTION WATCH - Unless a stay is issued, we’ll broadcast live:  Tuesday, 12 November 2013, 6-7 PM Central Time, KPFT FM Houston 90.1 and Online…

http://executionwatch.org > Listen

Updates and discussion onFacebook: Execution Watch

TEXAS PLANS TO EXECUTE:  JAMIE McCOSKEY, a Houston bartender convicted in the 1991 kidnapping and stabbing death of a 20-year-old man. McCoskey was one of 16 defendants sentenced to death in separate cases after the now-disgraced psychologist George Denkowski used his own, non-standard methods to conclude that none was developmentally disabled. His determination sank the defendants’ chances of having their death sentences declared unconstitutional.  Denkowski’s punishment included being barred from performing such evaluations in future.

Death of inmate’s adoptive son ends ‘Teigin’ retrial bid

My previous post on Teigin Case here.

From the Japan Times:

Death of inmate’s adoptive son ends ‘Teigin’ retrial bid

by Keiji Hirano, Oct 16, 2013

The curtain has effectively come down on the most mysterious mass-murder case in postwar Japan, with numerous questions left unanswered.

Takehiko Hirasawa, 54, who sought a posthumous retrial for his adoptive father, Sadamichi Hirasawa, was recently found dead in a home in Suginami Ward, Tokyo.

Sadamichi Hirasawa was sentenced to hang for poisoning 12 people to death at a branch of Teikoku Ginko (Imperial Bank) in Tokyo on Jan. 26, 1948, in what became known as the “Teigin Incident.” He passed away in a prison hospital on May 10, 1987, at the age of 95, after maintaining his innocence for nearly 40 years. Continue reading

Supreme Court Rejects to Reopen Nabari Case…

Previous posts on Nabari Case here, here and here. This is a murder case from 1961. The defendant, Masaru Okunishi is critically ill, awaiting his execution on a prison hospital bed.

From Mainichi.jp:

Top court rejects petition to reopen 1961 murder case

TOKYO (Kyodo) — The Supreme Court said Thursday it has turned down a petition by a death row inmate for a retrial over a 1961 murder case in which five women died after drinking poisoned wine in Nabari, central Japan.

In the seventh plea for a retrial, the defense team for Masaru Okunishi, 87, presented an expert opinion that the poison used in the crime was not tetraethyl pyrophosphate as determined in the final ruling.

However, the top court’s No. 1 petty bench unanimously rejected the petition, saying the pesticide could have been used as the poison as Okinishi had initially confessed.

In response, the defense team said it plans to file another plea for a retrial with the Nagoya High Court in the near future.

The case involves the poisoning of 17 people on March 28, 1961, at a local community meeting in Nabari, Mie Prefecture. Five, including Okunishi’s wife, died and 12 fell sick.

The Tsu District Court acquitted Okunishi in 1964 for lack of evidence, but the Nagoya High Court handed him a death sentence in 1969, finalized by the Supreme Court in 1972.

Accepting his petition for a retrial, the high court decided in 2005 to reopen the case and suspend the execution, but another panel of the high court nullified the decision the next year, accepting the appeal of prosecutors.

His petition was again rejected by the high court last year after having the case sent back by the top court, leading Okunishi to file a special appeal to the Supreme Court.

Okunishi has experienced deteriorating health and is in a serious condition at a medical prison in Hachioji in the western suburbs of Tokyo, where he has been held since May.

October 17, 2013(Mainichi Japan)

Texas to Execute Michael Yowell Tomorrow

RADIO SHOW PREVIEW - EXECUTION WATCH  Unless a stay is issued, we’ll broadcast live:  Wednesday, 9 October 2013, 6-7 PM Central Time, KPFT FM Houston 90.1 HD3 channel, and Online… http://executionwatch.org >Listen

Updates and discussion on Facebook: Execution Watch

TEXAS PLANS TO EXECUTE:  MICHAEL YOWELL, convicted in a 1998 triple murder in Lubbock, in which Yowell’s father, mother and grandmother died of injuries sustained before or during a fire at their home. Yowell’s execution date has been delayed in the past, based on the contention that his trial lawyers did not provide effective representation. At the time of the slayings, Yowell had a history of mental illness.

Featured Interview: MICHAEL YOWELL, who accepted Execution Watch’s invitation to be interviewed, with the understanding that the audio recording would air unedited, in its entirety, and only in the event of his execution. The interview took place Aug. 28 on death row.

NEXT SCHEDULED EXECUTION:  On Oct. 16, Texas plans to kill LARRY HATTEN. If it does, Execution Watch will air coverage.

Will Texas Admit It Executed an Innocent Man?

From the NYTimes:

Armed with what it says is new evidence of wrongdoing in the prosecution of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Innocence Project on Friday will ask Gov. Rick Perry to order the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to investigate whether the state should posthumously pardon Mr. Willingham, whose 2004 execution has become a lightning rod of controversy over the Texas justice system.

“This is a terrible thing to not only execute somebody who was innocent; this is an individual who lost his three children,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, a legal group that focuses on wrongful convictions.

The organization says it discovered evidence that indicated the prosecutor who tried Mr. Willingham had elicited false testimony from and lobbied for early parole for a jailhouse informant in the case.

The informant, Johnny Webb, told a Corsicana jury in 1992 that Mr. Willingham had confessed to setting the blaze that killed his three daughters.

The Innocence Project also alleges that the prosecutor withheld Mr. Webb’s subsequent recantation. The organization argues that those points, combined with flawed fire science in the case, demand that the state correct and learn from the mistake it made by executing Mr. Willingham.

Former Judge John H. Jackson, the Navarro County prosecutor who tried Mr. Willingham, said the Innocence Project’s claims were a “complete fabrication” and that he remained certain of Mr. Willingham’s guilt.

“I’ve not lost any sleep over it,” Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Willingham was convicted, largely on the testimony of a state fire marshal, who said Mr. Willingham started the 1991 fire that killed his daughters. Several fire scientists, though, have concluded that the science underpinning that conclusion was faulty. In April 2011, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed.

Now, Mr. Scheck said, his organization has discovered that prosecutors went to great lengths to secure false testimony from Mr. Webb, to repay him for helping secure the conviction and to hide the recantation.

During the trial, Mr. Webb, who was in jail on an aggravated robbery charge, said he was not promised anything in return for testifying. But correspondence records indicate that prosecutors later worked to reduce his time in prison.

In a 1996 letter, Mr. Jackson told prison officials Mr. Webb’s charge should be recorded as robbery, not aggravated robbery.

But in legal documents signed by Mr. Webb in 1992, he admitted robbing a woman at knife point and agreed to the aggravated robbery charge.

In letters to the parole division in 1996, the prosecutor’s office also urged clemency for Mr. Webb, arguing that his 15-year sentence was excessive and that he was in danger from prison gang members because he had testified in the Willingham case.

In 2000, while he was incarcerated for another offense, Mr. Webb wrote a motion recanting his testimony, saying the prosecutor and other officials had forced him to lie.

That motion, Mr. Scheck said, was not seen by Mr. Willingham’s lawyers until after the execution. Meanwhile, he said, prosecutors used the testimony to stymie efforts to prove Mr. Willingham’s innocence and prevent his death.

An investigation is needed, Mr. Scheck said, to improve the judicial process.

Mr. Jackson said he made no promises to Mr. Webb. He also said Mr. Webb had sent him a letter explaining that the recantation motion was untruthful but that he was forced to submit it by prison gang members who supported Mr. Willingham.

“There’s no doubt the arson report was based on archaic science, but from a practical standpoint I think the result was absolutely correct,” Mr. Jackson said.

The Innocence Project has worked for years to exonerate Mr. Willingham, but Mr. Perry has argued that he was guilty.

Scott Henson, author of the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, believes the current effort may be successful when a new governor takes office in 2015, he said.

Mr. Henson added, “Perry has made his position on the case pretty clear.”