Protesters gather outside the Gambian embassy in Senegal on August 30, 2012 to demand President Yahya Jammeh halt the mass execution of prisoners. (Photo AFP/GettyImages)
While many nations have eliminated the threat of execution by abolishing the death penalty, the president of the Gambia is taking a very different and far more troubling approach. President Yahya Jammeh pledged recently in a televised broadcast to empty his country’s death row by executing all its prisoners by mid-September. This West African nation about the size of Connecticut had not executed anyone in more than a quarter of a century. In the past week alone, authorities have executed at least nine people.
A rising number of organizations and governments around the world are calling on President Jammeh to stop the executions, including the Gambia’s neighbor, Senegal, along with the African Union, the European Union, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Amnesty International.
After a tense delay of more than 4 hours, the state of Georgia has just killed Troy Anthony Davis.
My heart is heavy. I am sad and angry. Georgia’s criminal justice system behaved with the viciousness of a defective machine, relentlessly pursuing his death while ignoring the doubts about his guilt that were obvious to the rest of the world.
Tonight we witnessed an abuse of power that exposed a justice system devoid of humanity, a dysfunctional destructive force in denial about its own deeply embedded flaws.
We could not ultimately stop Georgia’s machinery of death in this case, but the groundswell of activism Troy Davis has generated proves that people are hungry for a better system of justice. This will be his legacy. We will fight for a system of justice with more humanity, that accepts the possibility of mistakes, errors, and doubts. A system of justice that believes that innocence matters. A system of justice with more justice.
Let’s take a moment to honor the life of Troy Davis and Mark MacPhail. Then, let’s take all of our difficult feelings and re-double our commitment to the abolition of the death penalty.
Please take this Pledge, and commit to working for abolition in your community, in your state, in your country, and in the world.
On June 23, Georgia intends execute Roy Blankenship. For the first time they plan to use Nembutol, the anesthetic they acquired to replace sodium thiopental in their lethal injection protocols (their supply of sodium thiopental was seized by the DEA).
Lundbeck, the Nembutol’s Danish manufacturer has written a second letter demanding that their drug not be used in state killing, now pointing out that the they “cannot assure the associated safety” of the drug.
Anthony Graves spent 12 years on death row in Texas for a crime he didn't commit.
The story of Anthony Graves illustrates how a particularly heinous crime can lead to an emotional response and a tunnel-visioned investigation, and how the result can be that someone ends up on death row based on nothing more than flimsy physical evidence (later discredited) and dubious witness testimony (later recanted).
Anthony Graves, it turns out, was innocent, and was set free from Texas death row late last year. CBS’ 48 Hours Mysterydid a good job of telling the story this weekend, and you can watch it below.
Troy Davis, who was also sentenced to death despite a lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, and who remains on death row in Georgia despite recantations from most of the witnesses who testified against him, has so far been unable to exonerate himself.
Sakineh Ashtiani is at risk of execution in Iran. Last month, her lawyer and her son were arrested, apparently for discussing her case with foreign nationals. Her other lawyer, prominent human rights and death penalty defense lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei, was hounded into exileover the summer when he refused to be silenced.
While these episodes may be extreme, the same efforts to suppress information about the death penalty are at work here in the USA where, for instance, a state law in Missouri makes it a crime – even for journalists – to reveal the identities of those who participate in executions.
It’s the same principle of secrecy that allows Arizona and California to continue to conceal the source of their execution drugs, or for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to call for such information to be classified as a “state secret.” The claim that such secrecy is necessary to protect executioners from harassment is incredibly weak. Other government agencies and employees (for example, the guy at the DMV who makes you wait in line, or the city employee who gives you parking tickets) don’t benefit from such undemocratic anonymity. The public has a fundamental right to know what a state agency is doing with their tax dollars, especially when that agency is engaged in the ultimate act of state power – the killing of a human being.
Most of us would agree (I hope) that lawyers should not be detained for publicizing their client’s case, and that no one should be punished for writing about a country’s death penalty (although that could happen under Missouri’s law). When government is exercising its greatest power, that’s when we should demand the greatest transparency. This is essential to ensuring accountability and preventing that power from being abused.
Instead, we are seeing, both globally and here in the USA, a disturbing trend towards imposing greater secrecy on the executions that are carried out in our name.
California may be keeping its moratorium in place… for now. U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel has blocked the Thursday night execution of Albert Brown. In a separate ruling, the California Supreme Court also blocked Brown’s execution.
Judge Fogel’s decision was a reversal of the one he made last Friday, in which he said Brown’s execution could go forward after Brown himself chose between a single-injection method or a three-drug cocktail. Questions arose, however, when it was discovered that the state’s supply of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic used in executions, is good only until Friday, mere hours after Brown’s scheduled execution. Not only that, but the state only has 7 gramsof the substance on hand.
“We love each other no matter what happens.” Those were some of the last words of Khayyam and Siddiqa before they were stoned to death for ‘eloping’. This was the first stoning in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Surrounded by many of the victims’ neighbors and even their family members, the couple received this gruesome punishment handed down by an Islamic Council.
In fact, the execution was carried out two days after the Council of Ulema called on the Afghan government to implement harsher shari’a punishments, which included public stoning, lashing and amputations.
Despite continuous efforts by international human rights groups and governments, the method of execution by stoning still remains a legal punishment in several other countries. They include Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates.
The news of the couple stoned to death is a tragic and ironic remainder of ongoing abuses of human rights in Afghanistan. The Council of Ulema and the Afghan government must denounce stoning as a punishment and cease from using it.
On September 28, 2010, Gaile Owens, a 57-year old mother and grandmother, is set to be executed in Tennessee – she would be the first woman executed since 1820 in the state. She was convicted of soliciting the murder of her husband, Ronald Owens, more than 24 years ago. But since the conclusion of the trial, evidence has emerged that Gaile Owens endured severe abuse at the hands of her husband, and may have been suffering from “Battered Women’s Syndrome.”
When Owens was arrested in 1985, she was appointed a lawyer who helped out at the beginning of the case but soon had to withdraw, leaving Owens with two other attorneys. The first lawyer though, signed an affidavit in 2009 recalling Owens’ state of mind the day after the arrest:
[Gaile was] extraordinarily remorseful for hiring someone to kill her husband. But her most immediate and profound concern was the well-being of her children. Ms. Owens was clear – she wanted to plead guilty and avoid a trial because she didn’t want to put her children and the rest of her family through any more pain…Ms. Owens was also immediately forthcoming with me regarding her motivations for hiring someone to kill her husband – her husband was abusive and cheated on her regularly. Based on the information she provided, I immediately recognized that the defense in this case should be that Ms. Owens suffered from battered women’s syndrome. Based on that, I believe this case should never have been a death penalty case.
Gaile Owens did indeed agree to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but was not allowed to do so because Sidney Porterfield, the man she hired, did not accept the agreement. Both were sentenced to death.
Gaile Owens was a victim of serious abuse at the hands of her husband, including brutal sexual assaults… As organizations that work with victims of abuse, we are particularly appalled by the inadequate investigation and presentation of Ms. Owens’ psychosocial history by her trial attorney, and throughout the case. Ms. Owens was not examined by professionals with the expertise the case required, nor was relevant information presented (at all or as fully as needed) about the abuse she experienced over lifetime.
Putting Gaile Owens to death would do nothing now but make the state and people of Tennessee active participants in an ongoing cycle of violence. If ever there was a text book case for a Governor to grant clemency and commute a death sentence, this is it.
By Laura Kagel, Georgia Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International USA
Savannah was tranquil and warm in the early hours when people started lining up to get passes for the evidentiary hearing in the Troy Davis case. The police seemed prepared for some major disruptions, but a courteous atmosphere prevailed everywhere.
Across from the courthouse Amnesty International was a presence, along with the NAACP, under the dense foliage of Wright Square. Inside the pleasantly air-conditioned courtroom the public seemed full of anticipation and the sight of box after box of court documents entering the chamber was a sudden visual reminder of the gravity of the event. Just before the proceedings began, Troy entered the courtroom in the company of corrections department employees. He looked straight ahead and then took a seat at the end of the row of defense lawyers and facing the witness stand. His legal team began calling witnesses straight off, because the judge had requested that they skip opening arguments.
(c) Scott Langley
The testimony of the witnesses called by the defense team really underscored the fragility of the state’s case against Troy Davis. It was amazing to hear their stories. Over the course of the morning, the witnesses affirmed that their testimony implicating Davis was built on lies and often explained their recantations in moving ways, recounting the pressure they felt to point the finger at Troy.
Antoine Williams, who said he could not read the statement he allegedly made to the police because he can’t read, talked about being haunted with nightmares about it. Kevin McQueen testified that he implicated Troy because he was mad at him. When asked what he hoped to gain by his testimony today, he stated simply, “peace of mind.” When pressed about his earlier – now recanted – testimony, McQueen said adamantly, “The man did not tell me he shot anyone. Period.”