Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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Citing cost, states in U.S. consider halting death penalty – International Herald Tribune

When Governor Martin O’Malley appeared before the Maryland Senate last week, he made an unconventional argument that is becoming increasingly popular in cash-strapped states: abolish the death penalty to cut costs.

O’Malley, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic who has cited religious opposition to the death penalty in the past, is now arguing that capital cases cost three times as much as homicide cases where the death penalty is not sought. “And we can’t afford that,” he said, “when there are better and cheaper ways to reduce crime.”

Lawmakers in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and New Hampshire have made the same argument in recent months as they push bills seeking to repeal the death penalty, and experts say such bills have a good chance of passing in Maryland, Montana and New Mexico.


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U.S. high court blocks execution

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the execution of a convicted child-killer in Florida on Thursday, the latest reprieve in a death penalty case since the justices agreed to rule on the lethal injection method.

A federal appeals court earlier in the day had reversed a lower court ruling and said the 6 p.m. execution by lethal injection of Mark Dean Schwab could proceed.

U.S. high court blocks execution of Florida man | Reuters


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Appeals Court Allows Florida Execution

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — A federal appeals court ruled that the execution of a child killer can proceed Thursday, leaving the case in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many observers expect the high court to block the killing of Mark Dean Schwab, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m.

The Associated Press: Appeals Court Allows Florida Execution


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Hope for Texas…

“After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the
recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the
right and just decision is to commute Foster’s sentence from the death
penalty to life imprisonment,” Gov. Perry said. “I am concerned about
Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried
simultaneously, and it is an issue I think the legislature should
examine.”  Death Penalty: Death Penalty Blog


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Texas to Execute An Innocent Man

Kenneth Foster Execution a ‘New Low for Texas’ and a ‘Shocking Perversion of the Law,’ Says Amnesty International
Foster Convicted For a Murder He Did Not Commit or Predict; Human
Rights Organization Calls on Texas Board of Pardons, Gov. Perry to
Grant Clemency

(Washington, D.C.) — Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today
condemned the scheduled August 30 execution of Kenneth Foster,
who was convicted of a murder he did not commit and has consistently
denied knowing would occur. The human rights organization
has mobilized its international membership to urge the Texas
Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry to grant
clemency.

Foster was sentenced to death in 1997 for the murder of
Michael LaHood under Texas’ controversial “law of parties.”
This law abolishes the distinction between principal actor
and accomplice in a crime and allows both to be held equally
culpable.

“This is a new low for Texas,” said Larry Cox,
executive director of AIUSA. “Texas has the most far-reaching
‘law of parties’ in this country, further marking it as
the death penalty capital of the United States. In essence,
Kenneth Foster has been sentenced to death for leaving his
crystal ball at home. There is no concrete evidence demonstrating
that he could know a murder would be committed. Allowing
his life to be taken is a shocking perversion of the law.”

In the early hours of August 15th, 1996, Mauriceo Brown,
DeWayne Dillard, Julius Steen and Kenneth Foster stopped
outside the house of Michael LaHood. Brown got out of the
car, robbed LaHood, and then shot him. To convict Kenneth
Foster of capital murder under the law of parties, the prosecution
had to prove that there was a conspiracy between him and
Brown to rob LaHood, and that Foster should have anticipated
that murder might have occurred during the robbery. At the
trial Brown testified that there had been no discussion
of robbing LaHood before he got out of the car.

Dillard testified at a state appeal that after the shot
was heard, Foster had appeared surprised and panicked. Steen
signed an affidavit in 2003 stating that, “There was
no agreement that I am aware of for Brown to commit a robbery
at the LaHood residence. I do not believe that Foster and
Brown ever agreed to commit a robbery. I don’t think
that Foster thought that Brown was going to commit a robbery.”

Brown was executed on July 19, 2006. Neither Steen nor
Dillard, the two other accomplices, was prosecuted for LaHood’s
murder. Yet, as the evidence stands today, their and Foster’s
culpability in the crime appears to be the same.

Contact: Wende Gozan at 212/633-4247
or Brian Evans at 202/544-0200 x496

Texans are apparently still living in the Wild West of the 19th Century.  Time to catch up, killers.


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Jailing Nation: How Did Our Prison System Become Such a Nightmare?

How can you tell when a democracy is dead? When concentration camps spring up and everyone shivers in fear? Or is it when concentration camps spring up and no one shivers in fear because everyone knows they’re not for “people like us” (in Woody Allen’s marvelous phrase) but for the others, the troublemakers, the ones you can tell are guilty merely by the color of their skin, the shape of their nose or their social class?

Questions like these are unavoidable in the face of America’s homegrown gulag archipelago, a vast network of jails, prisons and “supermax” tombs for the living dead that, without anyone quite noticing, has metastasized into the largest detention system in the advanced industrial world. The proportion of the US population languishing in such facilities now stands at 737 per 100,000, the highest rate on earth and some five to twelve times that of Britain, France and other Western European countries or Japan. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has close to a quarter of the world’s prisoners…  Read more…


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It Was Only a Little Bit of Torture…

In an interview on Wednesday, Qaddafi said: “Yes, they were tortured by electricity and they were threatened that their family members would be targeted. But a lot of what the Palestinian doctor has claimed are merely lies.”

Let’s see: they were tortured, they had eight years stolen from their lives, and were condemned to death and supposedly within 1 day of having the sentence carried out. The s.o.b. should be apologizing abjectly, not making excuses!

Oh. I forgot. We do that, too.

Libyan leader’s son admits medics’ torture | csmonitor.com


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Exoneration starts with Innocence Project gatekeeper

The prisoner’s name is one that Huy Dao has never forgotten. For years, it would resurface amid the thousands of requests for free legal aid that flood his office – an annual, meticulously typewritten plea for help, a last-ditch effort from a man convicted of rape but convinced of his innocence.

Mr. Dao turned that case down in 1997, but he still can’t put it out of his mind. Maybe it was the fact that the man was from Philadelphia, where Dao grew up as the son of Vietnamese refugees, knowing what it’s like to have cops look at you askance because of your skin color. Or that it smelled like a faulty conviction, but the evidence that could have provided an indisputable forensic verdict had been destroyed.

“There was something from the letters that he wrote back to me, screaming, basically, ‘I have to be innocent, this can’t be the end,’ ” recalls Dao, whose organization uses post-conviction DNA testing to help wrongfully convicted prisoners gain freedom. “It’s not fair. But it’s my job to evaluate whether DNA can prove innocence, and the answer [in this case] is no.”

Such are the difficult decisions that echo in the conscience of the case director of New York’s Innocence Project, a 15-year-old nonprofit that recently won its 205th exoneration of an innocent prisoner.

“Many clients write to us as a last resort. If we say no to their cases, they may very well die in prison,” says staff attorney Vanessa Potkin, a colleague of Dao’s. “Huy has had to live with that burden for so many years. Sometimes they say doctors play God – well, Huy does. You really do have someone’s life in your hands.”

• • •

DNA exoneration starts with Innocence Project gatekeeper | csmonitor.com


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Texas’s Commuter-in-Chief

Back in the days when Governor George Bush was only able to screw-up Texas instead of an entire nation, 57 lawyers representing men – and a woman – on death row requested commutations so that their clients might receive life instead of death.

  • When approached by lawyers representing mentally retarded inmates, Bush refused.
  • When approached by lawyers representing inmates whose court-appointed lawyers had slept during their trials, Bush refused.
  • When approached by lawyers representing men who had committed the crime in question as juveniles, Bush refused.

In each case, then-Governor Bush felt that the defendants had had full and equal access to the law.

But now along comes Scooter. President Bush deemed his 30-month sentence “excessive” and – just like that – commuted his sentence prior to any judicial review. Libby had the finest legal representation. He never expressed any remorse for lying to a grand jury or for his role in the administration’s snow job on the American people that led our nation into a war. Yet Scooter is the lucky soul granted clemency by Bush. … Texas’s Commuter-in-Chief


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The Daily Dish: "Verschärfte Vernehmung"– Permission to Torture

Commentary on Bush’s latest Permission to Torture:

Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I’m not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn’t-somehow-torture – “enhanced interrogation techniques” – is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.

Source: The Daily Dish: “Verschärfte Vernehmung


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Tennessee set to resume executions after changing rules – International Herald Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tennessee: One U.S. state says it is ready to start executing death row prisoners again after taking a break to revise its rules, but the new procedure still includes the injection of a lethal three-drug cocktail that opponents have called needlessly cruel.

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen had ordered a 90-day reprieve in February to review the state’s execution procedures after pointing out a number of problems with the state’s guidelines for putting people to death. That reprieve ends Wednesday, with the next execution scheduled for May 9.

An Associated Press review had found the state’s procedure manual for executing prisoners was a jumble of conflicting instructions that mixed instructions for lethal injection with those for the old electric chair.

Bredesen called that document a “cut-and-paste job” that needed significant revision. He said he wanted to ensure future executions are not botched.

The brief reprieve also came after a death row inmate sued the state over its execution procedures, challenging, among other things, the kinds of drugs used in lethal injections. … Tennessee set to resume executions after changing rules – International Herald Tribune


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Death Sentences on Mexicans Draw Scrutiny by U.S. Supreme Court

April 30 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether dozens of Mexicans on death row are entitled to a new hearing because they weren’t notified of their right to seek consular assistance upon their arrest.

The justices today said they will hear arguments from Mexican national Jose Ernesto Medellin, a convicted murderer facing execution in Texas. State courts rejected his bid for a hearing even though President George W. Bush called for reconsideration of the case, along with those of 50 other Mexicans. Bush acted in 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice concluded the inmates’ rights had been violated.

Source: Bloomberg.com: Worldwide


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Why We’re So Tough on Crime — Carol S. Steiker

A man walks into a pro shop and tries to leave with several golf clubs stuck down his pants. Sounds like the beginning of a joke? Not for the unhappy perpetrator, who received a sentence of 25 years to life under California’s notoriously harsh “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law. Another Californian was sentenced to 50 years to life for attempting to shoplift nine videos from a K-Mart. The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld both of these sentences, reasoning that lengthy sentences for repeat offenders are a policy choice reflecting the sound judgment of state legislatures and do not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Constitution. Such policy choices are popular these days in the United States. Along with enhanced sentences for repeat offenders, legislators and prosecutors vie with each other to support everything from new “super max” prison facilities to mandatory minimum sentences and other curbs on judicial leniency to post-sentence “civil” commitment for “sexually violent predators” to criminal prosecution for increasing numbers of juvenile offenders to capital punishment for the most serious offenses, whatever the age of the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic the average sentence served in French prisons reached a measly high of eight months in 1999, up from a mere 4.3 months in 1975. German convicts work at real jobs while incarcerated—and even receive four weeks of paid vacation each year! On any given day in Paris (or Amsterdam, Geneva, or Berlin) one can find dedicated human rights activists working grimly to forestall yet another execution—usually in Texas. While the U.S. execution rate has soared over the past 25 years, the death penalty has been abolished throughout Western Europe, with the Western European countries pulling in many of the former Soviet bloc countries by requiring abolition as a precondition for eligibility to join the European Union.

In Harsh Justice, legal historian James Whitman explores this striking divergence between American and Western European penological practices since the 1960s. … Carol S. Steiker: Why We’re So Tough on Crime

Carol S. Steiker, professor of law at Harvard Law School, is author of numerous scholarly articles in the field of criminal law, criminal procedure, and capital punishment.