Here are short letters that you can easily print and mail.
Select the address and text; copy and paste them into Word or whatever you use for writing. Arrange on the page to your liking.
Even better is to spend a few moments individualizing the text. You could change words, add your own remarks, use different points from the fuller information given.
A short letter in simple language is most likely to be understood. Stay polite.
—Guy Ottewell and Tilly Lavenás, founder members of the Amnesty International groups of Greenville, South Carolina, and Lyme Regis, England.
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You may submit a letter appeal for possible use. Please make it easy for us: Keep it short. Provide a summary of the fuller information (which we like to get in chronological order). Expect to be edited. Provide a web link if possible, or a citation of the authority for the information, e.g. for an Amnesty International Urgent Action, its number, date, and “write no later than” date. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ángel Amílcar Colón Quevedo is a black man from Honduras, a member of the downtrodden Garifuna people (descendants of African slaves and Carib and Arawak Indians, who live along the coast from Belize to Honduras).
Ángel’s eight-year-old son was dying of cancer. This was in 2009. Ángel conceived the desperate hope of getting to the U.S.A. and earning enough money for the medical treatment. It’s something like two thousand miles across Mexico, and a horrendous journey for undocumented migrants, who get harassed, arrested, beaten, murdered — not long ago a whole trainload of such migrants was kidnapped and never seen again. Ángel managed to get all the way to Tijuana at Mexico’s far end, at the border with California. A “coyote,” a people-smuggler, promised to help him across this dangerous and heavily guarded border, but told him to wait a few days. Armed Mexican policemen stormed the house where Ángel was staying. They kicked him, struck him in the ribs, punched him in the stomach, forced him to walk on his knees; took him to a military base, where he could hear the screams of other detainees. They put a plastic bag over his head until he was almost asphyxiated, stripped him, forced him to lick clean the shoes of other prisoners, calling him pinche negro, “fucking nigger.” The torture went on till he signed a written confession to a charge of being a member of a criminal gang. He later told a judge the charge was false. But he was thrown into prison, which was probably not pleasant for one who had contradicted the police. He was never brought to trial; he was lingering in “pre-trial detention.” When he had been there six months, his child died.
Amnesty International took up his case as part of its 2014 campaign against torture (which was focussed on Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, and the Philippines). An Amnesty deletation visited Ángel in prison. On October we learned that he had been released. A video shows him, with a remarkably forgiving smile, thanking all his sympathizers and looking forward to a better world.
They helped two foreign journalists
Thao Moua and Pa Fue Khang, two men of the Hmong minority in Laos, were arrested in June 2003 as they came out of the forest with two journalists, Belgian and French, who were investigating the persecution of the Hmong and for whom these two had been working as guides and interpreters. The journalists were expelled; Thao Moua and Pa Fue Khang, after being shackled and beaten with bicycle chains and after a brief trial with a pre-written verdict, were sentenced to 12 and 15 years respectively. The Lyme Regis Amnesty group was one of those that appealed persistently for them, and tried to get the help of politicians and diplomats. There was no apparent response until in July 2014, at one of the discussions on human rights between the European Union and Laos, a member of the Lao delegation casually revealed that Pa Fue Khang had been “pardoned” in May and Thao Moua had been released in March 2013 – several years before the ends of their sentences. In May 2015, the Laotian embassy in Brussels wrote to a Belgian Amnesty member that Pa Fue Khang had been released in the preceding February.
Longest on death row
Hakamada Iwao was arrested in 1966, and sentenced to death in 1968, for the murder of his employer, his employer’s wife, and their two children. See our page on him for the unfairness of his trial, the ridiculousness of the evidence against him, and the inhumanity of Japan’s death row system, in which he lived year after year (including 28 years of solitary confinement) with the possibility of being hanged every next morning. Also for the international campaign for his exoneration, which included the principal judge at his trial.
At last on 27 March 2014 — 17 days past his 78th birthday — he was granted a retrial, and released from prison. He had been on death row longer than anyone else in the world.
The prosecution filed an appeal against the retrial and release. So Amnesty International, and AI Japan, continue the campaign, urging the prosecution to drop its appeal.
Abolition in Maryland
Maryland abolished the death penalty: the repeal bill passed in the Maryland House on March 15, 2013, by 82 to 56. to be signed into law later by Governor Martin O’Malley. This was the result of hard work by Amnesty and other abolition activists, and leadership by the governor. He was exoected to commute the sentences of five prisoners still on death row. A clause providing support for victims’ families was squeezed out of the bill, and the governor is was urged to include such funding in the budget. Maryland was the 6th state in 6 years to abolish the death penalty. The campaign moves to Delaware and Colorado, which are also seriously considering repeal.
As pointed out by Norma Edwards, it was nice that MArtin O’MAlley of MAryland, with his Irish name, abolished the death penalty on or about St. Patrick’s Day. “They’re hanging them in Ireland for the wearing of the green”—- no more.
A reprieve in Ohio
John Eley shot shopkeeper Ihsan Aydah of Youngstown, Ohio, in 1986. It seemed that the retarded Eley had been sent into the shop by Melvin Green, against whom Eley afterwards refused to testify. Eley was sentenced to death and was to have been executed on 26 July 2012. One of the judges, the detective who obtained a confession, and even the prosecutor later said that if the defence had presented the mitigating evidence they would have been against a penalty of death. In 2012 the parole board voted 5-3 against the appeal; Eley was to be executed on July 26; we were (on July 3) among those writing to Governor Kasich; the parole board’s decision was not binding on him, and on July 10 he commuted the sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole.
In Burma (called Myanmar by the military regime that has ruled it since 1962), there was a release of 651 prisoners on January 13, 2012, and a further 46 on July 3. Only a fraction were political prisoners, but among these were some for whom Amnesty had been appealing. We eventually learned (it took time) that they included Myo Min Zaw, Ko Aye Aung, Khun Bedu, Khun Dee De, and Khun Kawrio. All had been leaders of student protests, the first two in Rangoon, the three Khuns in the Karenni ethnic region of eastern Burma; all had been condemned to fantastically long prison sentences; their stories included torture, hunger strikes, removal to prisons remote from their families. The Greenville, S.C., group “adopted” Myo Min Zaw in 1999; the Lyme Regis, England, group later took up this and the other cases; and there were many other groups who had cause to celebrate the release of their prisoners with a Toast to Freedom. There still remained many prisoners of conscience in Myanmar.
Patrick Okoroafor was released on April 30, 2012. He had long been featured in Amnesty International’s holiday card campaigns, which was how we first heard of him. He was imprisoned at age 14 and was now 31. He was the youngest of seven youths who were accused, probably falsely, of a robbery, tried with gross unfairness, and sentenced to death; the others, including one aged 15, were shot. He suffered terrible conditions in prison. We keep the fuller story at this page.
Student who wouldn’t keep quiet
The release, on Friday Jan. 13, 2012, of a few hundred out of the possibly thousands of political prisoners in Burma (Myanmar) did not at first seem to include Myo Min Zaw, but after several days of rumors and bated breath, it did.
He was one of the leaders of student protests for democracy in 1996, dodged arrest and continued his activities for a while, but was caught in 1998 and sentenced to 38 years, later increased to 52! He was moved to successively more remote prisons, was beaten, shackled, etc. His case was taken up by the Amnesty group of Greenville, S.C., groups in New York and California, and the Lyme Regis group in England. He was in prison for more than 13 long years, and would have had three more of such spans to go, but perhaps for the attention we tried to keep on him with thousnds of letters, cards, and petition signatures.
Not proved innocent
That;s essentially the ground on which Troy Davis was executed. It’s supposed to be guilt that must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, not innocence.
He was executed by the state of Georgia (U.S.) on September 22, 2011, despite multiple doubts of his guilt and a worldwide outcry including several Urgent Actions by Amnesty International, calls for clemency from the Pope and the UN, huge petitions and vigils, and waves of letters, emails and phone calls at the several times when execution dates loomed.
In 1989 an off-duty policeman, Mark MacPhail, working as a night guard at a Burger King, saw a homeless man, Larry Young,being pistol-whipped by men who had demanded cash from him; MacPhail went to intervene, and before he could draw his gun someone shot him. No weapon or other physical evidence was ever found. Troy Davis was arrested and charged on the basis of eyewitness testimony given by seven people. After the 1991 trial, five of these retracted their testimony, some saying they had been coerced by the police.
One of these was Benjamin Gordon, who had just turned 16 at the time of the crime. In 2008 he signed a statement that a relative of his by marriage told him he had shot the policeman. Another witness, Sylvester “Redd” Coles, was the one who originally went to the police, along with his lawyer, and said that he had been fleeing the scene when shots were fired and that Davis had been there; this was how Davis became the suspect. Several members of the jury which gave the sentence of death have said that they would now not do so.
In 2007 Davis came within two hours of execution when the state Board of Pardons and Paroles issued a stay. It said it would not allow execution “unless and until its members are convinced that there is no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.” Twice more, in 2008, execution dates were set,then stayed by the courts.
In 2009 the Supreme Court ordered a “federal evidentiary hearing” hearing, which was held in 2010 by District Court Judge William Moore. At this extraordinary hearing, defense lawyers wanted to call witnesses who had given sworn statements that, after the 1991 trial, Coles told them he was himself the actual killer. Judge Moore did not allow these witnesses to testify because Davis’s lawyers did not subpoena Coles to testify. A technicaltity if ever there was one. Yet Moore asserted that if the wirnesses had testified he could have assessed the truth of what they said and it was probably that Coles was merely boosting his image as a tough guy; that the new evidence was “largely smoke and mirrors”; and that Davis was simply “not innocent.” One who did testify at this hearing was Benjamin Gordon, who now for the first time said he had actually seen the alternative suspect do the shooting; he said he had not done so before because of fear. Judge Moore felt that Gordon was “not credible.”
After this the last resort was the Board of Parsons and Paroles (Georgia being one of three states where the Governor did not have power of clemency). Despite its previous assertion, it voted for death (by what majority of its five members, was not disclosed).
Lawyer wasn’t ready
Martin Grossman was executed in Florida by lethal injection on Feb. 16, 2010. He was 19 in 1984 when he shot Margaret Park, a wildlife warden on patrol. His co-defendant received a third-degree conviction.
Grossman, according to a forensic psychologist, suffered “a high level of fear and depression, and parental neglect, abandonment and mistreatment”, which made it doubtful that his crime was premeditated. But this only came out later; the defence presented no mental health testimony to the jury. A second defence lawyer, hired only two weeks before the sentencing, said he should have told the trial judge that they were not ready. Grossman’s lead trial lawyer said in an affidavit to the Appeals Court that he and his defence colleague had done a “very poor and ineffective job”.
In his final statement Grossman said ” . . . I fully regret everything that happened that night, everything that was done, whether I remember everything or not”, and recited a Jewish prayer. Jewish leaders, and the Vatican, were among those who appealed for clemency, and Governor Charlie Crist received 49,000 letters, phone calls, and emails; an online clemency petition was signed by more than 34,000.
This was the 7th state killing this year in the USA. Since the resumption of judicial killing in 1977, it was the 69th in Florida and the 1195th in the USA.
Ricardo Ucán Seca (or Ceca) was released on December 31, 2009, after serving more than 9 of the 22 years’ imprisonment to which he had been sentenced in June 2000. He was the peasant farmer in Yucatán state of Mexico who, after killing in self-defense a neighbor who threatened to rob him of his land, received an unfair trial, without interpreter from Spanish to his own Mayan language. His case was taken up, as an example of discrimination against indigenous Maya people, by local activists called Equipo Indignación (“Team Indignation”), and by Amnesty International. We long campaigned for him (http://humanrightsletters.com/MexicoUcan.htm) and in January 2008 Tilly Lavenás and Guy Ottewell visited him in prison at Tekax. The Interamerican Commission for Human Rights agreed in 2008 to consider his case, and did so on Nov. 5, 2009. Jorge Fernandez and Raul Lugo of Equipo Indignación went to Washington to present Ricardo’s case, along with Red Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos (“network of all rights for all people”). Some weeks later, the Mexico and Yucatán governments agreed to a friendly settlement. Equipo Indignación volunteers said that if this did not come to pass by Humanr Rights Day, Dec. 10, they would protest outside the governor’s palace. The release came on the last day of the year, and on Jan. 2, 2010, Cristina Muñoz of Equipo Indignación sent us her press release (“Don Ricardo Ucán, libre!”).
A Briton’s death in China Akmal Shaikh, a British citizen from London, with three children, mentally ill for many years with a probable bipolar disorder, traveled to Poland. He behaved bizarrely, wanted to become a pop star though he had no singing experience, and was tricked by a criminal gang, who promised him introductions to people in the music business. They arranged for him to fly to Kyrgyzstan, from there to Tajikistan, then on 12 Sep. 2007 to Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, the northwest province of China. He was arrested on arrival. In a suitcase the gang had asked him to carry were found four kilograms of heroin — of which he disclaimed knowledge. He was imprisoned; in October 2008, after a half-hour trial in which not all the evidence was heard, he was sentenced to death. The British embassy and the charity Reprieve offered to arrange for a mental health assessment, but no such examination by a doctor was allowed. According to China’s Criminal Law, Article 18, the mentally ill should receive medical treatment and reduced sentences. Despite intensive appeals from British authorities and his family, two of whom traveled to China, he was killed (by lethal injection or by a bullet in the back of the neck — accounts differ) on 29 Dec. 2009, at the age of 53 — the first British or indeed European Union citizen to be executed in China for at least a century. It was suspected (by Reprieve) that China used the case to punish Britain because Gordon Brown had implicitly blamed China for wrecking the Copenhagen world climate conference. “Face” is more important than a man’s life or the planet’s.
Some releases in Sri Lanka
We appealed in November 2009 for the 260,000 detainees being kept under miserable conditions in camps after the crushing in May of the Tamil Tiger rebellion. On Dec. 1 several thousand were allowed to leave, though told they must register wherever they go and must return within 10 days. An estimated 127,000 civilians are still in the camps.
China’s revenge on the Uighurs
We appealed on 9 Nov. 2009 for nine people (apparently eight Uighurs and one with a Han Chinese name) sentenced to death. But later the same day Chinese authorities announced that all nine had been executed, at an unstated date. They had been convicted, after unfair trials, of robbery, arson, or murder during riots on July 5, including attacks on Chinese immigrants. These riots were a reaction to the crackdown by police on a peaceful protest against the killing of Uighur migrant workers in a distant part of China. Many more Uighurs are in detention awaiting trial.
The Uighurs, Turkic in speech and Muslim in religion, are the native people of Xinjiang (formerly known as Sinkiang or Chinese Turkestan or Eastern Turkestan), the high, dry region north of (and even larger than) Tibet. Another of their grievances is that China has begun to demolish and rebuild one of their ancient cities, Kashgar.
She kidnapped six policemen? Jacinta Francisco Marcial, for whom we wrote on August 24,2009, was released on or just before September 16. She was an Otomi Indian, non-speaker of Spanish, aged 46, mother of six, making a living by hawking ice cream. In March 2006, agents of the Mexican Federal Investigation Agency made a raid for pirate DVDs in a market on Santiago Mexquititlán square in Querétaro, provoking a protest. Six of the agents claimed that some stall holders kidnapped them and held them hostage. In their original statements the agents made no mention of Jacinta. A month later, after seeing a photo in a local newspaper that showed Jacinta walking behind the crowd of protesters, the agents accused her of involvement, and this photo was the only evidence against her. Many witnesses testified that she took no part in the protest, and during it was seen selling ice cream and attending mass. The trial was an unfair one in which she had no interpreter and the state-appointed public defender never spoke to her to explain her rights or defence. In August 2006 she was sent to prison for 21 years. When she had served three, Amnesty International adopted her as a prisoner of conscience in August 2009, and she was released the same month. This is an example of the effectiveness of international outcry. There may be many little people like Jacinta imprisoned in obscurity for absurd reasons. As soon as the absurdity was noticed internationally, Mexico was shamed into releasing her.
An Uighur intellectual Ilham Tohti, for whom our group wrote, was released on 23 August 2009. An economics professor, he was editor of a website for the Uighur people (the native people of Xinjiang, which is ruled by China). After the mass demonstrations by Uighurs on 5 July, Chinese authorities said his website had fuelled violence. He says he would never agree with using violence. He was taken from his home on 8 July and imprisoned in Beijing, without charge. He says he was not tortured, but was questioned by police “day and night”. He remains under surveillance; police told him not to criticize the government or he will face formal charges and punishment.
What the jury wasn’t allowed to hear Dennis Skillicorn was put to death in Missouri in the first few minutes of May 20, 2009.
In 1994 he and two others, named Nicklasson and DeGraffenreid, took advantage of the kindness of Richard Drummond, who stopped to help them with their broken-down car. At gunpoint they made him drive to a lonely spot; then Nicklasson took him away into a field and shot him. After his arrest in October 2004, Nicklasson said he had meant to tie Drummond up and leave him, but had “snapped” (at something the victim said?). Nicklasson consistently said that Skillicorn did not know Drummond would be killed.
Thus Skillicorn was party to a nasty form of robbery, but not to murder. Yet at Skillicorn’s trial Nicklasson’s statement was not allowed into evidence; the jury never heard it. Why? — because it counted as “hearsay”. This has to count as one of the most outrageous of the technicalities of American law. The state was required to prove that Skillicorn had “after deliberation” aided or encouraged Nicklasson to do the killing, and the jury decided he had done so. The jury foreman later said he would not have voted for death if he had known of Nicklasson’s statement. Nicklasson was also sentenced to death, but as yet has no execution date. DeGraffenreid was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Skillicorn was repentant (“for the last 15 years I’ve lived with the remorse of my actions” was his final statement) and in prison worked with young offenders and terminally ill prisoners; founded a program that organized visits by inmates’ children and families, and helped inmates develop parenting skills. Many religious and civic leaders, and former and current staff members of the Missouri Department of Corrections, supported the clemency petition, but the governor denied it.
This was the first state killing in Missouri since October 2005, the 29th this year in the USA. Since the resumption of judicial killing in 1977, it was the 67th in Missouri and the 1165th in the USA.
Healer of the tortured in danger of torture
In Sudan, Mohammed El Mahjoub was released without charge on April 17, 2009.
He was acting director of the Amal center for the treatment and rehabilitation of victims of torture, in El Fasher, North Darfur. After the International Criminal Court on March 4 issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudan’s President Omar El Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity, aid agencies were expelled and there was harassment of human-rights defenders. The Amal centers at El Fasher and at Nyala in South Darfur were closed down. On 11 April Mohammed El Mahjoub was arrested from his home by the National Intelligence Service. For six days he was held incommunicado, and Amnesty International, concerned that he was himself at risk of torture, issued an Urgent Action (UA 101/09 of 14 April). Happily, on his release he was in good health and said he had not been tortured.
A mother whose children turned their thumbs down on her ‘Aisha Ghalib al-Hamzi was executed in Yemen on 19 April 2009 for the murder of her husband in October 2003. All seven of her children refused to pardon her. In Yemen, relatives of the victim may seek execution, grant pardon for monetary compensation, or grant pardon freely. We don’t know whether ‘Aisha had been suffering intolerable abuse from her husband, as in other recent cases of women in Muslim countries driven to kill their husbands or employers. I (Guy) called my human-rights book Think Like a Mother. Perhaps it is more nearly universal for mothers to agonize for their children than the other way around.
A state outgrows the death penalty New Mexico became the second US state since 1965 to abolish the death penalty. It hadn’t seemed certain that the governor would sign the bill passed by the state legislature, but a lot of people wrote, he signed it on March 18, 2009, and we supported him with letters of gratitude.
Condemned by planted evidence?
Edward Bell, a Jamaican national, black, aged 44, with probably mental retardation, was killed by lethal injection on the evening of Feb. 19, 2009.
In 1999 in Winchester, Virginia, white police Sergeant Richard Timbrook, chasing a fleeing suspect, was shot as he climbed over a fence. Another officer said the shooter was dressed in black. Police conducted a meticulous day-long search for the murder weapon, but found none. Then they left the crime scene unsecured for several hours. Next morning they returned, found Edward Bell hiding in the basement of a nearby house, and “found” the gun in an obvious location under the house’s porch. Forensic testing showed that it was the murder weapon; DNA on it was a mixture from at least three people, and neither excluded nor identified Bell. Rather than being dressed in black, Bell was wearing a jacket with reflective stripes on its sleeves that “lit up like a Christmas tree”. He said he had fled when people he did not realize were police got out of a car and ran toward him, and hid when he heard the gunshot.
There was another person in the area who was fleeing the police but was never investigated. The prosecution produced a witness, Terry Johnson, who was in jail with Bell before the trial and who testified (not under oath) that Bell had confessed to the murder and that he, Johnson, had not been offered anything by the state in return for his testimony. He later signed an affidavit under oath that when first approached by the authorities, he had told them repeatedly that he knew nothing about the case; that the prosecutor promised a reduction in his own prison sentence, as well as relocation to a more favorable prison, and contact visits with his family and girlfriend.
At the sentencing phase, Bell’s court-appointed lawyer, who had never before handled a capital case, failed to tell the jury of any mitigating evidence. A later investigator with experience in over 200 cases described this as “the most disorganized case” she had ever tried to work on. The trial lawyers consistently failed to respond to her efforts to carry out her work. Such a wealth of mitigating evidence about Bell and his family was later found that one of the jurors wrote: “It was very important for me to hear about Eddie Bell’s background. I was undecided at sentencing and I wanted to hear something, anything about Eddie Bell. We were looking for something mitigating, some reason not to sentence him to death, but we were given nothing by his lawyers…” The US District Court in 2006 concluded that Bell had had deficient representation and the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling to the contrary was unreasonable. But this was overridden by later courts and the governor.
Governor Kaine’s words, five hours before the execution: “Having carefully reviewed the petition for clemency and judicial opinions… I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was recommended by the jury, and then imposed and affirmed by the courts. Accordingly, I decline to intervene.”
Edward Bell’s last words: “To the Timbrook family, you definitely have the wrong person. The truth will come out one day. This here — killing me — there’s no justice about it.”
There are some cases where it can’t help appearing that police are determined to convict someone in revenge for the killing of one of their own.
This was the 1st state killing this year in Virginia, the 14th in the USA. Since the resumption in 1977, it was the 103rd in Virginia and the 1150th in the USA.
Spared for blood-money
Reza Alinejad was released on December 3, 2008, from Adelabad prison in Shiraz, Iran.
At age 17, he had been attacked by bullies wielding martial-arts weapons; defended himself with a knife; one of them died. By religious law the family of the dead bully could accept blood money in lieu of execution. Reza’s father had a month to raise one billion Iranian rials, desperately tried to sell his house, was afraid that even if managed in time it would not be enough. But apparently he succeeded and the victim’s family accepted it. (We are not told whether Reza’s family is now houseless.)
We learned about Reza’s release on the morning of Dec. 10, Human Rights Day, when we were putting on an event with an Iranian speaker, so we were able to say that “For example, one of Amnesty’s Urgent Actions that came today was about yet another Iranian death-penalty case — though of the rare kind with a happy ending.” Happier would be an end to the grotesque blood-money system.
Campaigner against torture released
Osman Hummaida was released on Nov. 28, 2008. He had been in incommunicado detention since Nov. 24, and had once before been imprisoned for a year and a half. He had been director of the Sudanese Organization Against Torture.
Turkey acknowledges a police crime
Ozgur Karakaya and Cihan Gun were released on Oct. 15, 2008, from Metris prison in Istanbul.
After their arrest on Sep. 29, they and Engin Ceber were beaten so badly over several days that Engin Ceber died. The Minister of Justice (one of those we wrote to) recognized that Engin Ceber died as a result of torture, and took the unprecedented step of publicly apologizing to the family. And 19 state officials were suspended pending an inquiry into the allegations of torture.
Executed though the real killer owned up
Gregory Wright was lethally injected in Texas on October 30, 2008, for the stabbing of Donna Vick in 1997. John Adams reported the murder, accusing Wright. In 2008 Adams took the sole blame on himself: “I want the record clear that Greg Wright is innocent of the crime he’s here on death row for. If you kill him your killing a innocent man.”
In his final statement, Gregory Wright said: “John Adams is the one that killed Donna Vick… I was in the bathroom when he attacked. I am deaf in one ear and I thought the TV was up too loud. I ran into the bedroom. By the time I came in, when I tried to help her with first aid, it was too late… I have done everything to prove my innocence. Before you is an innocent man.”
This was the 14th state killing this year in Texas, the 30th in the USA; since the resumption in 1977, it was the 419th in Texas and the 1129th in the USA.
Plenty of witnesses — but they say they were coerced
Troy Davis, for whom we have appealed over and over again, received on Oct. 24, 2008, a stay of execution from the federal appeals court in Atlanta, Georgia. His latest execution date had been set for Oct. 27. He had been convicted of the killing of police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. There was no physical evidence pointing to Davis; the only evidence was that of 9 supposed witnesses, 7 of whom recanted their testimony implying that it was forced; the remaining two were a police officer and the other principal suspect. But courts had maintained that new evidence of innocence came too late to be considered. On Sep. 23 he was just hours from execution when the US Supreme Court issued a stay; later, decided not to hear the case. This latest stay is conditional: Davis has to make a showing he can meet the “stringent requirements” to pursue another round of appeals.
Iran begins to limit its death penalty — maybe Iran on Oct. 16, 2008, outlawed the death penalty for juveniles (people whose offences were committed when they were under 18). A senior Iranian judiciary official issued a directive to judges to abolish execution for juveniles and replace it with life imprisonment with possibility of parole. Hossein Zabhi, Assistant Attorney for Judicial Affairs (it is not clear in The Independent’s article whether he is the senior official referred to), told the state-run news agency that “in cases of good behaviour and signs of rehabilitation, juvenile offenders may qualify for conditional release under Islamic compassion guidelines.” The decision is not legally binding until it has been ratified by the Iranian parliament. The judiciary in 2004 issued a similar directive, which was largely ignored by judges. Up to now Iran has led the world in executing juveniles. There are about 130 on death row. Six have been arrested so far in 2008. The latest known to be executed was Behnam Zare, hanged in Shiraz on Aug. 26 for a crime committed when he was 15. Since January 2005, Iran has been responsible for 26 of the 32 known executions of juveniles worldwide. The other states defying international law by executing juveniles are Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Pakistan.
A tragedy Jack Alderman, of Georgia: in 1974, his wife Barbara Jean was murdered. John Brown confessed to the killing, but claimed that Jack had promised to pay him for it. For this Brown got a light sentence, was in prison for 12 years, and after getting out committed various crimes against young women and children. Jack was sentenced to death. Two jurors said afterwards that if they had known of the plea bargain they would not have voted for the death penalty. Jack was offered life if he would plead guilty; he refused to confess to something he had not done. According to a passionate letter from a minister who knew him well, Jack was a model prisoner, a peacemaker, an altogether shining character. Several times, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declined to grant clemency hearings. It held a last hearing on the day of execution, September 16, 2008; Jack’s elderly and ill father was brought from his trailer park home in Thomaston to Atlanta to testify; this last appeal was turned down. Jack was put to death about 7 p.m. The execution by lethal injection took about 14 minutes. He was 56. We suggest that this story is close to the extreme of tragedy and might provide someone with the outline for a novel.
Executing a boy from another country
José Ernesto Medellín Rojas, a Mexican national, was executed in Texas on August 5, 2008. He was barely 18 when he participated in the 1993 murder for which his two defendants, who were 17, had their death sentences commuted. His trial had been unfair in that his court-appointed lawyer spent his time trying to keep himself out of jail for unethical practices; and Texas never advised Medellín, and advised his consulate four years too late, of his right to receive Mexico’s extensive consular assistance. The execution thus violated international law, and defied worldwide appeals including by Mexico and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. This was the 5th state killing this year in Texas, the 17th in the USA; since the resumption in 1977, it was the 410th in Texas and the 1116th in the USA.
(It’s only a bit less than ten years since Tilly as a journalist had to cover the USA’s 500th modern-times execution, in South Carolina.)
Killing not the killer but the one who stood by
Dale Leo Bishop was executed on July 23, 2008. Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi denied clemency even though the man who actually did the killing to which Bishop was a rather passive assistant is serving a life sentence. This was the 1,113rd execution in the USA since 1977, and the 14th this year; in Mississippi, the 10th since 1977, and the 2nd this year.
A reprieve in Oklahoma
Kevin Young was to be executed on July 22, 2008. On July 15 Governor Brad Henry granted a 30-day stay to review the clemency recommendation of the Pardon and Parole Boad; and on July 24 he accepted that recommendation and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. He said: “This was a very difficult decision and one that I did not take lightly. I am always reluctant to intervene in a capital case, and I am very respectful of a jury’s verdict, the prosecutors who tried the case and the victim’s family who suffered because of the crime. However, after reviewing all of the evidence and hearing from both prosecutors and defence attorneys, I decided the Pardon and Parole Board made a proper recommendation to provide clemency and commute the death sentence. As a result, Kevin Young will be punished by serving the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole.” This was only the second time Governor Henry had granted a clemency recommendation.
A reprieve in Alabama
Also on Aug. 1, it was announced that Thomas Arthur had been granted a stay of execution on July 30, they day before he was to have been put to death.)
A loss in Oklahoma Terry Lyn Short, whose guilt was highly doubtful, was executed on June 17, 2008. This was the 1106th judicial killing in the USA since the resumption in 1977; the 87th in Oklahoma; the 7th in the USA this year.
A reprieve in Virginia
Percy Levar Walton was to be executed on June 10, 2008. This would have been Virginia’s 100th execution in modern times.
On June 9, Governor Tim Kaine commuted the death sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole. He decided that Walton’s mental state (he shows virtually no awareness of the world outside himself) is such that he could not have understood what was to happen to him or why. Thus killing him would contravene the Supreme Court’s ruling that it is unconstitutional to execute a person who is mentally incompetent. We sent messages of appreciation to the governor.