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Showing posts from January, 2010

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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Banned in Texas prisons: books and magazines that many would consider classics

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Ask the Texas Department of Criminal Justice how many book and magazine titles it has reviewed over the years to determine if the reading material is suitable for its inmates, and officials will give you a precise number: 89,795.
Ask how many authors are represented on the list, and they can tell you that, too: 40,285.
But ask how many of those books and magazines have been rejected because prison reviewers decided they contain inappropriate content, and prison officials will tell you that information is unavailable: "There's just no way to break that out," said Tammy Shelby, a program specialist for the prison agency's Mail System Coordinators Panel.
But after the Statesman reviewed five years' worth of publications — about 5,000 titles — whose rejections were appealed by inmates to the agency's headquarters in Huntsville and obtained through open records requests, one thing is clear: Texas prisoners are missing out on some fine reading.
Novels by National Book …

Trouble on death row

On New Year’s Day, 2010, convicted murderer Leeland Mark Braley was found hanged dead in his cell on death row at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. His apparent suicide, currently under investigation by the Department of Corrections, marked the third non-execution death on the row since October 2009. Since Braley’s death, new restrictions, meant to enhance security within the prison, have been placed on inmates’ privileges including the revocation of contact visits with family and loved ones for all prisoners.
Advocates for the inmates and their families, however, say the restrictions, especially the elimination of nearly all physical contact with anyone from outside the prison walls, goes beyond the limits of humane punishment or reasonable security measures.
Click here to read this feature in full.
Source: The Sunday Paper, January 31, 2010

Iran puts 16 protesters on trial

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- Sixteen opposition protesters went on trial Saturday in Iran on charges that they tried to overthrow the government, state-run media said.
Their court appearance came two days after the government executed two dissidents -- an act that drew international condemnation.
There was no immediate word on the outcome of Saturday's court appearance.
The demonstrators face charges linked to anti-government protests during the December 27 observances of Ashura, a major Shiite Muslim holy day. They are accused of plotting against the establishment, rioting and conspiring against the ruling system, and violating security regulations, according to the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.
The Ashura clashes between security forces and anti-government demonstrators were the bloodiest since the post-election protests last summer.
The 16 also are accused of sending videos of the demonstrations to "foreign hostile networks," according to the official Islamic Republ…

Two hanged in Tehran

Iran Human Rights, January 30: Two young men were hanged in Tehran’s Evin prison around noon today (Saturday). Iran Human Rights had earlier today warned about their scheduled execution.
According to the state run Iranian news agencies the men were identified as "Masoud L." (19) and "Mohammad S." (21) and were convicted of raping a woman in the Lavasan area north of Tehran in the fall 2009.
The state run Fars news agency wrote that "the men were hanged with a blue noose in the court yard of the Evin prison".
Source: Iran Human Rights, January 31, 2010

Iran: More than 2000 people gather outside Evin prison

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According to reports received from Human Rights and Democracy Activists in Iran, more than two thousand people, comprising of prisoners’ families, Mourning Mothers, and supporters have gathered outside Evin prison tonight. The crowd is asking for an end to executions.
On Saturday January 30, 2010, a big crowd that included recently freed prisoners joined the families of prisoners to voice outrage at executions of two political prisoners and rumors of more hangings to follow. The demonstrators demanded not only an end to executions but also the unconditional release of all political prisoners. The crowd was so big that from the bottom of the hill to the main gate of Evin was packed with people.
By 9:00 pm, there were more than 2000 people gathered at the main gate of Evin prison. They plan to continue their demonstration there until midnight. The Mourning Mothers who usually gather every Saturday at Laleh Park decided to take their protest to the very gates of the notorious Evin prison. …

Texas Polunsky Unit: 3 shot in escape attempt

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Three people are hospitalized with gunshot wounds following an escape attempt at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Polunsky Unit in Livingston.
The escape attempt, involving 5 inmates, occurred just after 9 p.m. on Friday. Guards fired several shots from a surveillance tower, striking 3 of the 5 would-be escapees. The other 2 were taken into custody.
TDC has not released the condition of the 3 inmates who were shot, but 2 Life Flight air ambulances were called in, and then grounded because of weather. The inmates are at a Livingston hospital.
The entire prison complex, which includes death row, Administrative Segregation, and general population was on lockdown as of 11:30 p.m. Friday.
Source: Montgomery County Police Reporter, January 30, 2010

More on Polunksy Unit here.

Click here to see recent annotated pictures of the 'living' conditions on Texas' Death Row. These photos were obtained through a Freedom of Information request.


Five inmates at a prison in Livingston repor…

Texas forensic panel is mum on execution

A state agency reshuffled by Gov. Rick Perry as it prepared to review a report linking bad science to the execution of an innocent man spent its first meeting hammering out policy language and trading jabs over commission structure.
No mention was made during Friday's meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission of the controversial report concerning Todd Willingham, put to death in 2004  for murdering his children by burning down the family home.
The report by arson expert Craig Beyler put the investigation into question, as did a report presented to Perry hours before Willingham's execution.
Death penalty opponents accused Perry of replacing three members of the commission, including Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley as chairman to replace defense lawyer Sam Bassett, to scuttle an investigation that could hurt Perry during the Republican primary.
Bassett told media he felt pressured to back off on the investigation, and the blogosphere in recent days buzzed wi…

KY moves one step closer toward reinstating death penalty

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On Friday, Kentucky moved one step closer toward reinstating the death penalty.
Recently the State Supreme Court put a halt on executions until the protocol surrounding the entire execution was made public.
In the days and then hours leading up to an execution there are procedures followed by the Department of Corrections and for years those procedures have been confidential. But the Supreme Court said it should all be public and Friday it was the public’s one chance to voice opinion on those rules.
No one there agreed with the death penalty but hoped to make it more humane. They even revisited old arguments settled by the U.S. Supreme Court that involved drugs used to execute Kentucky inmates and challenged what witnesses are allowed to see; requiring better witness access from beginning to end and better accommodations for families and the condemned.
The attorney, who challenged the state's protocol and won, was also there with more questions so that Kentucky's protocol will fol…

Kansas Senate takes up repeal of death penalty

TOPEKA — The full Senate will have the chance to debate the death penalty after a panel endorsed a bill abolishing capital punishment in Kansas.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 to move along Senate Bill 375 on Friday.
It would eliminate the state's 1994 death penalty law and would replace the crime of capital murder with aggravated murder, punishable by life in prison without parole.
It would apply to crimes committed on or after July 1.
Several lawmakers said the bill still has a difficult path ahead.
Senate Republican Leader Derek Schmidt of Independence urged senators not to move the bill forward, saying it is unlikely to make it to the governor's desk this year.
Although the Senate grappled with the issue last year and has had time to think about it, the House has not had the same opportunity, he said.
"The question is not is the death penalty going to be repealed this year," he said. "The question is, at what point does it stop this year?"
Others disa…

U.S. Drops Plan for a 9/11 Trial in New York City

The Obama administration on Friday gave up on its plan to try the Sept. 11 plotters in Lower Manhattan, bowing to almost unanimous pressure from New York officials and business leaders to move the terrorism trial elsewhere.
“I think I can acknowledge the obvious,” an administration official said. “We’re considering other options.”
The reversal on whether to try the alleged 9/11 terrorists blocks from the former World Trade Center site seemed to come suddenly this week, after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg abandoned his strong support for the plan and said the cost and disruption would be too great.
But behind the brave face that many New Yorkers had put on for weeks, resistance had been gathering steam.
Click here to read this feature in full.
Source: The New York Times, January 30, 2010

Bangladesh Executes Killers of Independence Leader

5 former army officers convicted of killing Bangladesh's founder, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, have been hanged. They were executed nearly 35 years after he was assassinated, in an army coup. The five men were executed in the early hours of Thursday in Dhaka Central jail, as hundreds of police and security forces stood guard outside.
Roads outside the prison were closed to traffic. The executions took place the night after the Supreme Court dismissed their appeals for a review of the death sentence.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was gunned down, along with several members of his family, in an army coup in 1975 - 4 years after Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan. Mr. Rahman, who led the country's freedom struggle, was its 1st president.
The 5 men executed did not deny their role in his death, but were given immunity for two decades by subsequent governments which benefited from the coup.
Their trial only began in 1996, after their immunity was revoked by a government led by the assassinate…

Iran: first executions after election protests

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2 of the people who have been sentenced to death in connection to the post-election protests in Iran, were hanged early this morning.
According to the state run news agency ISNA, the men were identified as Mohammadreza Alizamani (37) and Arash Rahmanpour (19), and both were convicted of disruption of order and Moharebeh (at war with God) through membership in the "Monarchist Association".
The 2 were among 11 people who had been sentenced to death on charges including moharebeh (waging war against God), efforts to overthrow the Islamic establishment and membership of armed groups, said the report.
The executions were the first carried out officially for election-related incidents.
However, there are some reports indicating that some of those sentenced to death in the 1st trials after the election protests, had been arrested several months before the elections.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Spokesperson of Iran Human Rights said: "We strongly condemn this morning's executions a…

Troy Davis' attorneys seek police file - Petition charges file will prove Davis' innocence

Lawyers for Troy Anthony Davis want a federal judge to force prosecutors to turn over police files they say conceal evidence not produced in his trial in the 1989 slaying of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail.
Those files contain material "corroborating the evidence of his innocence to be introduced at the hearing in this matter," the defense petition filed in U.S. District Court Monday states.
They also argue the police files will support Davis' allegations that Sylvester "Red" Coles committed the crimes for which Davis was convicted.
The Georgia attorney general's office, which is handling the appeal, has until Feb. 12 to respond.
Davis, 38, remains on Georgia's death row at Jackson on his 1991 conviction and death sentence in Chatham County Superior Court in the MacPhail slaying.
The victim, 27, was working off-duty at the Greyhound Bus Terminal/Burger King on Oglethorpe Avenue early Aug. 19, 1989, when he was shot twice and killed. He w…

UK appalled by hangings in Iran

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Foreign Secretary David Milliband said Thursday it was "appalled" by the reported hanging of 2 men in Iran convicted of being Mohareb (enemies of God), the first executions of dissidents since post-election protests.
"I am appalled by reports that Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani and Arash Rahmani Pour were hanged this morning in Iran," said Miliband.
"The trials and now these subsequent executions undermine Iran's claimed commitment to justice, human rights and democratic values."
Their executions were the first reported hangings of people tried after the wave of protests that broke out following the disputed June 12 re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Miliband praised the determination of protesters, saying they showed "the strength of desire for democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms amongst ordinary Iranians."
"These latest executions appear to be politically motivated and yet another attempt by the regime to silence…

Hank Skinner: Case Open

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Twila Busby was Hank Skinner’s soul mate. “We just fell together. We just clicked, man,” he says. The two were hardly apart after they met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. They would kiss in public and cuddled up on the couch to watch thrillers. They were “sick in love,” Skinner says through a telephone receiver behind a Plexiglas window on Texas’ death row unit in Livingston.
A jury found that Skinner (pictured) was so sick in love that, in a jealous rage, he strangled Busby, bashed in her head and face with an axe handle and then stabbed to death her two mentally disabled adult sons on New Years Eve 1993. He was sentenced to death for the three murders. His execution is scheduled for February 24.
The 47-year-old doesn’t deny he was in the small house in the tiny West Texas town of Pampa on the night of the murders or that the blood on his clothes that night belonged to 41-year-old Busby and her sons. But Skinner and his lawyers say there’s no way he could have killed anyone; he was…