Posts Tagged ‘USA’


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. 


We are pleased to attach our monthly death penalty report for the current month thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  Note that China – the world’s largest executioner – does not feature in this report because details are a state secret. 

Report (Word)

 


Our latest monthly death penalty report is available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  Note that China is the world’s largest executioner but the details are a state secret.

Report, August- September (Word)


We attach the latest monthly death penalty report compiled by group member Lesley.

Report (Word)

Majai Matiop Ngong who’s death penalty has been suspended is featured in the report 

Edited: 13 August


There is a majority of people in the UK who, for certain crimes, would like to see a return of the death penalty according to YouGov.  The current home secretary, Priti Patel, has said the same on Question time although she now resiles from this.  People in favour of the penalty should watch this film.

It concerns a female warden (governor in UK parlance) who is in charge of a prison where people are executed.  Directed by a woman, Chinonye Chukwu and starring Alfre Woodard it illustrates the tension of those in charge of actually carrying out the gruesome task.  At the start of the film, the execution process is botched and it takes quite a while for the prisoner to die, painfully.

The film charts the tension the warden experiences: on the one hand the desire to be professional and to do a good job and on the other, the doubts about the process itself.  This tension is reflected in her marriage where her husband leaves her for a while.

In Hollywood terms, it is quite unusual.  Firstly, because women feature a lot in the making of it.  Secondly, no background music which allows the natural tension to build.  The camera is allowed to linger on certain scenes and there is no frantic scene changes which are so irritating in much drama these days.  Lastly, the drama is carried along by Woodard’s expressions and face rather than just dialogue.

It is truly a powerful and quite unique film and makes the fundamental point that the process of executions damages all who are involved in it.

Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances.  It does not deter and levels in violence in US states with the penalty is little different to those with it.  Mistakes, which are frequent, cannot afterwards be rectified.  The process, with appeals lasting years – the average in the US is 10 years – is expensive.  It is applied unfairly with a disproportionate number of black people on death row.  An examination of the trial of Kris Maharaj in Florida is also worth a read.

The group publishes a monthly report on the penalty around the world.

Meanwhile, the pace of executions in America continues with the Justice Dept. executing three people in four days, matching the total number the US government had conducted in the previous 3 decades (Washington Post).   This is part of the ‘law and order’ promise by the President despite serious misgivings by many Americans about the fairness of the process and think it needs a complete overhaul.

The film is available on streaming services.

19 July 2020

 


Billy Wardlow was executed in Texas yesterday, 8 July 2020, despite massive campaign for clemency

Billy Joe Wardlow was executed on Wednesday night in Huntsville, Texas for a murder committed in 1993 when he was 18.  The campaign has focused on his age at the time of the murder arguing that at 18, he was still immature.  The campaign on his behalf was turned down by the Supreme Court.  Since 2005, the Supreme Court has held that the death sentence is unconstitutional for those who are 17 or younger, partly because of their ‘still undefined identity.’

The USA is the only country in the Americas which retains the penalty in some states at least.  In fact, the use of the penalty is in steady decline in the States even in Texas, the state with the highest number of executions (548 since 1976).  It is because of a series of factors.  More programmes on TV showing mistakes and miscarriages of justice have had an effect.  The cost of carrying out executions and years of appeals meaning large numbers spend years on death row.  Difficulties in obtaining drugs for lethal injections with European firms refusing to supply them.

According to a 2018 BBC report ‘the death penalty wouldn’t have survived in America if it weren’t for evangelical Christians’.  This is according to Shane Claiborne a Christian activist.  By contrast, the Pope has condemned the use of the penalty.

One aspect of the abolition debate is whether it is effective or not in deterring crime.  Some say it is and some not.  The Death Penalty Information Center has produced statistics comparing murder rates between death and non-death penalty states.  The murder rates between 1990 and 2003 shows a lower murder rate for non-death penalty states.  They conclude that states without the penalty fared better over the past decade.

UK

THE debate is interesting because in the UK the idea of re-introducing the penalty still receives a lot of support for certain types of crime.  A 2019 YouGov poll found that ‘Brits want harsher punishments for criminals’ and a balance in favour of the death penalty of 58% (terrorist offences); 57% (multiple murders); 53% (child murders) and 47% (murder of a police officer).  The current Home Secretary Priti Patel is quoted as being in favour of the penalty although she now denies this.  An extract from a Question Time programme in which she says ‘yes I am in support of capital punishment’ is available on this link from the Independent.

It is noteworthy that in the USA where the penalty is still practised, the mood is shifting against its use whereas in the UK, where the penalty was finally abolished in 1969*, there is still a powerful desire to have it restored.

The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.  Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.

*1973 in Northern Ireland


Sources: Independent; BBC; Texas Tribune; Death Penalty Information Center

 


Urgent Action: Billy Wardlow faces execution for a crime when aged 18

Urgent Action 108/20 (AMR 51/2595/2020 USA)

Billy Wardlow’s execution is scheduled for 8 July 2020.  He is on death row in Texas, USA in connection with the 1993 murder of an 82-year-old man when he was just 18 years old.  The jury that sentenced Billy Wardlow was never presented mitigating evidence.  Since 2005, it’s unconstitutional to impose a death sentence on anyone younger than 18 when the crime occurred.  Scientific research shows that development of the brain and psychological and emotional maturation continues into a person’s 20s. Two jurors now believe that he should serve a life sentence instead. We urge Governor Abbott to grant clemency.

Please read this UA for more details and a model appeal.

Please ask Texas Governor Abbott, as the main target, to grant clemency.  Can you also please contact the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which puts forward recommendations to the Governor on decisions on clemency:

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, Texas 78757
Fax: (512) 467-0945

Further details are available in this link.

The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights and Amnesty International opposes the sentence in all circumstances. As of 2020, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and more than two-thirds are abolitionist in law or practice. The US has executed 1518 people since 1976, and the State of Texas has accounted for 569 of those executions.

See also the Texas Campaign Against the Death Penalty TCADP.

UPDATE Note that the Governor’s email address is incorrect.