Posts Tagged ‘USA’


The latest monthly death penalty report is attached with thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.

Report (Word)


President temporarily halts arms sales to Saudi Arabia

It’s only temporary, but it may be a start.  It is being cast as part of the normal review of sales which a new president undertakes upon taking office but let us hope that it becomes permanent.  The scale of destruction in Yemen continues apace so anything which acts to reduce it must be welcomed.

Sources: HRW; The Hill


The US rushed to execute 13 before Jo Biden became president

Shock was widely expressed following the execution of 13 people in the final days of the Trump presidency and just days before president elect Jo Biden takes office on 20th.  President Trump has been the most prolific executioner in more than a century.  There has been a gradual drift away from this use of the penalty in the USA – the only American nation still to have the penalty – and the executions are out of step with trends and attitudes among the US public.  These executions took place in federal prisons. It has been criticised as vindictive.

The Attorney General, William Barr said:

[…] We owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.  US Department of Justice statement when federal executions were resumed after two decades.  July 2019 [accessed 16 January 2021]

 

 


The death penalty report for December to January is now available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.

Report- Word

Lisa Montgomery executed on Wednesday 13th


This is an interview on CNN of Helen Prejean who is an active campaigner against the death penalty in the USA.  Helen is a Roman Catholic, born in Baton Rouge Louisiana, and was chair of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty up to 1995.  She is the author of a book, Dead Man Walking.

The interview was made because of President Trump’s programme of carrying out a string of Federal executions in the lame duck period before President elect Joe Biden takes over in January.  The number of these is unprecedented.

CNN interview


This months Death Penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for putting it together.  Two cases in particular are noted and links to those can be found below.  Note that China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together but details are a state secret.

Report: Nov – Dec (Word)

Ali al Nimr

Kris Maharaj

Tree featuring Human Rights Defenders


Lisa Montgomery execution to go ahead in the dying days of the Trump presidency

The execution by lethal injection of Lisa Montgomery is now scheduled to take place at Terre Haute Federal prison Indiana on January 12 just days before president-elect Joe Biden takes office.  She is the first woman to be executed in almost six decades.

Lisa’s crime was truly awful and involved murder of a woman and the removal of her unborn baby.  The argument has been about her mental state and her background.  She was the victim of gang rape, incest and sex trafficking.  Her defence (defense) has argued that the balance of her mind was disturbed at the time of the murder.

It is some kind of fitting end to the President’s term of office to rush through a number of Federal executions including this one.  No other lame duck president has carried out more than one execution since Grover Cleveland’s first presidency in 1888 – 89.

This has been an administration that’s been historically out of step. Not just out of step with the views of America in 2020, but out of step with federal practices by administrations, Democratic or Republican, for the course of [a] century, Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham told The Washington Post.

The USA is the only country in the Americas to retain the death penalty.

China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined but details are a state secret.

See our latest monthly death penalty report.

Further details of other executions being rushed through on the Death Penalty Information Center

Sources: USA Today; Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Washington Post; Guardian; US Dept. of Justice


Kris Maharaj remain in prison in Florida despite being found innocent

Today is Marita Maharaj’s birthday.

She is 81 years old – she’s now had 34 birthdays without her beloved husband Kris by her side.

It’s been a difficult year for the elderly couple. A judge found that Kris was innocent by “clear and convincing evidence” but still refused to order his release.

Marita worries about Kris, this year more than ever before – he’s 81 years old, in poor health and at risk of the worst effects of coronavirus in a crowded Florida prison.  And because of the pandemic, instead of a visit each week, she has not been able to see him since March.

Further details can be found on this link about this shocking case and miscarriage of justice in America.

Message from Reprieve


We attach this months DP report thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  It is full report this month with a wide range of countries to report on.

Report (Word)


Report on Amnesty Death penalty discussion

On 10 October 2020, the 18th World Day Against the Death Penalty, Amnesty hosted a discussion with three people who are closely connected with the campaign to end the practice.  They were Kim Manning Cooper; Dr Bharat Malkani and Chiara Sangiorgio.  It was chaired by Paul Bridges.  It was a fascinating talk in which they discussed different aspects of how the death penalty works in the USA.  Amnesty has maintained a consistent policy of condemning the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.  It is fundamentally about human dignity.

Amnesty is also opposed to life sentences without the chance of parole.

USA

Much of the discussion focused on the miscarriages of justice in the USA.  The death penalty does not do what its proponents claim it does.  It does not deter violent crime.  States who do not use the penalty have some of the lowest murder rates in the Union.  It is expensive, with 724 people on death row in California alone, which has cost the state $4bn since 1978.  Mistakes are common and of course cannot be put right.  Since 1973, 170 prisoners on death row have been exonerated, a quite staggering level of error.  The One for Ten movement was referred to, which notes that for every ten people executed in the US, one has been exonerated and released, having spent, on average, ten years on death row.

Dr Malkani’s talk explored the effects on innocent people.  Following arrest for a crime they did not commit, there is a feeling of a sheer sense of disbelief.  Their first concern is for their loved ones.  How would they cope without them and if they have children, how will they handle school when everyone will know that their parent has been arrested for murder?  He mentioned the ‘ripple effect’ which results in trauma being felt among a wide community of individuals, not just the immediate family.

There follows a sense of hopelessness, realising that the might of the State is trying to kill you.  Next comes anger when you know you are innocent.  (No reference was made to the fact that that the US does not have the equivalent of PACE,  which requires evidence indicating innocence to be disclosed to the defence.  This evidence is often not disclosed with the aim of a securing a conviction.)

Release

Dr Malkani went on to discuss the effects on people released after a long period of captivity.  Understandably, they want to return to their previous life, but they find this impossible as so much has changed both in society and in their families.  Their children have grown up without knowing them.  It is also difficult to achieve a personal identity having spent the many years in captivity as just a number.  Now free, they are always described as someone who was on death row.

Because they were on death row, they received no training or attempts at rehabilitation since they were destined for execution.  The pace of modern technology meant the world was a completely different place.  There were no support systems in place.  There was also relationship breakdown after such long periods of separation.  Sadly, many die quite soon after their release.

Troy Davis

Kim Manning-Cooper spoke of the infamous Troy Davis case.  An off-duty policeman was murdered and a witness came forward claiming that Troy was the killer.  It now appears possible that the witness himself may have been the culprit.  There are too many irregularities to list but include witnesses who were threatened with being charged themselves, police statements signed by people who could not read or write, some witnesses were threatened by the police, no forensic or DNA evidence was submitted, and no gun was ever found.  An evidentiary hearing was held by the Supreme Court but, despite the multiple failings in the prosecution case and some misgivings, the appeal failed and Davis was executed in September 2011.  His sister had campaigned tirelessly in his support.  Amnesty International campaigned for justice in the Davis case, a cause the Salisbury group took part in.

Kim said people often say ‘the system is failing black men but in reality, the failure is in the way the system was designed’.

‘the system is failing black men but in reality, the failure is in the way the system was designed’

 

This theme was developed by Dr Malkani.  The issue of race was built into the legal system in the USA he said.  It

Screenshot: Dr Bharat Malkani

dates back to the 13th amendment of the US Constitution which abolished slavery ‘except as a punishment for a crime’.  When lynching ended in the 1920’s, executions skyrocketed, as evidenced by the Death Penalty Information Center.  The bias extended to the prosecution process, with district attorneys unwilling to prosecute a black person murdered by a white but all too willing to prosecute the other way around.   Some members of juries in the state of Georgia are quoted as saying ‘black people have no souls’.  Many murders of black people remain unsolved.  Only 21 white people have been executed for killing a black person but 296 black people for killing a white person.

Finally, he said the effects on wardens and prison guards can also be profound as was shown in the award winning film Clemency.

Forensic evidence

The question was posed ‘could the justice system ever be error proof?’  This was related to things like the use of DNA.  The answer was that no system could be error proof, DNA was not infallible and was not a silver bullet, although sometimes evidence is found years later.  The justice system could not be used to solve issues of bad housing, drug addiction and social problems generally.  We needed to advocate for prison reform as well as ending the death penalty and life sentences without the prospect of parole.

Campaigning

In addition to Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Urgent Actions, the work of Reprieve was highlighted, and writing to people on death row organised by Lifelines.

Comment

This was a most interesting discussion.  There is a slow decline in the number of executions and Americans themselves are increasingly wanting the practice ended.  The role of Black Lives Matter is likely to have an effect.  There are other countries in the world with far worse records –  Saudi Arabia, and Iran – but especially China.  The numbers executed in China run into thousands but details are a state secret.

For American readers: PACE – the Police and Criminal Evidence Act provides a range of protections to people arrested in the UK one of which is the defense must see all the evidence collected by the police, not just that which indicates possible guilt.