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British Man Freed from Ohio Death Row

Kenneth Richey, a British and an American citizen, is expected to be freed soon after spending 20 years on Ohio’s death row for the murder of his ex-girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter in a 1986 apartment fire. Richey’s conviction was overturned by a federal court in August 2007 after 15 years of appeals that cast doubts on witness testimony and the competency of his defense attorney at the initial trial. More recently, the original evidence presented by arson experts was found to be based on "unsound scientific principles," and it now appears that the fire that killed 2-year-old Cynthia Collins was accidental.

Richey will plead no contest to attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and entering. He is expected to be sentenced to time already served. Richey’s original trial was heard by three judges after his defense attorney advised him to forgo a jury trial. Prosecutors stated that Richey, who maintained his innocence throughout the trial, did in fact try to save the toddler. The judges, however, did not take that evidence under consideration. His case prompted intervention by Tony Blair, the Pope, the European Parliament and Amnesty International.

Alistair Carmichael, a Scottish Member of Parliament who had campaigned for Richey’s release, stated after he heard the news, “The reality of somebody who is kept locked up in a cell for 23 hours a day for 19 years is quite mind-blowing. It is a dreadful, inhumane and dehumanising system. If one man is off it, then remember there are hundreds of people in America still enduring that dreadful situation.”


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NEW RESOURCE: Handbook on Sentencing in Capital Cases Around the World

The Death Penalty Project, an international organization that provides free legal representation for individuals facing the death penalty in the Caribbean and Africa, recently published A Guide to Sentencing in Capital Cases. The guide provides judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys with information and sample appeals to help them navigate the sentencing phase in cases where a mandatory death sentence for a specific crime was abolished, leaving the former death row inmate to be resentenced.

In the past few years, countries such as Uganda and Malawi have ruled that mandatory death penalty sentences are unconstitutional, leaving the death penalty up to the discretion of the courts. Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zambia are also considering similar challenges to their mandatory death sentence policies. The Death Penalty Project’s guide helps court officials to better understand these new procedural issues and how aggravating and mitigating circumstance are applied in these cases.


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United Nations Calls for a Global Moratorium on Executions

United Nations Calls for Moratorium on Executions A resolution for a global moratorium on executions was passed on Nov. 15 by the UN General Assembly's Third (Human Rights) Committee by a vote of 99-52, with 33 abstentions. The General Assembly is expected to endorse the decision in a plenary session in December. Similar resolutions were introduced in 1994 and 1999 but were either narrowly defeated or withdrawn.

The resolutions calls on countries to:

  • Progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed;
  • Establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty;
  • and calls upon States which have abolished the death penalty not to reintroduce it.

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European Union and World Leaders Mark Day Against the Death Penalty

Member nations of the European Union and the Council of Europe marked October 10th as "European Day Against the Death Penalty," an action to underscore the continent's firm commitment to ending executions throughout the world. Leaders from the EU and the Council of Europe launched the initative during an October 9th conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

On October 10 in New York at the United Nations, a press conference also marked the "World Day Against the Death Penalty" with international human rights leaders urging support for a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions. Sister Helen Prejean, Tim Robbins, and Mike Farrell joined speakers from other countries in advocating a halt to executions.

In Lisbon, European Commission President Juan Manuel Barroso noted, "The European Union is unreservedly opposed to the use of capital punishment under all circumstances and has consistently called for the worldwide abolition of this punishment."

One hundred and thirty-three countries have abolished the death penalty in practice or in law. Regional press conferences calling attention to the day were also held in Morocco, Puerto Rico and the Democratic Republic of Congo.


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Italian Premier Calls for Worldwide Death Penalty Moratorium

Italian Premier Romano Prodi called for a worldwide moratorium on the death penalty in an address to world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.  Prodi advocated passage of a U.N. moratorium resolution, saying, "If genuine politics means showing foresight, we shall perform a great political act through the adoption of this resolution. It will demonstrate that humankind isn't capable of making progress only in science but also in the field of ethics."

Prodi told the General Assembly that there is a "growing trend" against capital punishment and that support for the moratorium was growing each day in Europe and every region of the world. Noting that "the battle against capital punishment is a difficult one because many countries still practice it,'' Prodi urged U.N. member nations to abandon the death penalty to create "a society that has at last freed itself from the spiral of revenge.'' According to reports, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who met with Prodi to discuss the issue, supports passage of the resolution.


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China Reports Fewest Death Sentences in a Decade

China reported that the number of people sentenced to death in 2006 was the lowest in nearly a decade, and officials project that this trend will continue in 2007. According to a state media report, during the first five months of 2007, the number of death sentences handed out in cases of first instance dropped approximately 10% from the same time in 2006. The decline stems from a key legal reform requiring that all death sentences be approved by the Supreme People's Court, a change made in response to widespread concerns about wrongful convictions.

"Among the death penalty cases the Supreme People's Court reviewed from January to July, a relatively large proportion was not given approval. That is to say, executions would have been authorised (by provincial courts) if the final review power had not been taken back [by the Supreme Court]," Jiang Xingchang, vice president of the top court, told Outlook Weekly magazine.


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Canadian Man Who Once Faced Death Penalty Acquitted After 48 Years

Nearly five decades after Steven Truscott (pictured) was sentenced to die for the murder of 12-year-old Lynne Harper in Clinton, Ontario, he has been acquitted by the Canadian province's highest court. Truscott, who was only 14-years-old when he was sentenced to hang in 1959, was on death row for four months before his sentence was commuted to life in prison. The case was one of the most high profile cases in Canada's history, and Truscott was the youngest person on death row. Two attempts to clear his name failed before he was granted parole in 1969, just seven years before Canada abolished the death penalty. Though he spent decades keeping a low profile, Truscott always maintained his innocence and began a new fight to clear his name in 1997. In the final chapter of that effort, the Ontario Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that new evidence in the case proved that Truscott's conviction was a "miscarriage of justice," and Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant apologized to Truscott as he announced the province has no intention of appealing the high court's decision. Truscott told reporters, "I never in my wildest dreams expected in my lifetime for this to come true, so it's a dream come true."


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Rwanda Votes to Abolish the Death Penalty

Rwanda's parliament has voted to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life without parole, a move that officials hope will clear the way for suspects in the nation's 1994 genocide to be extradited back to Rwanda for trial. Many of the suspects are believed to be at large in Europe, North America, and West Africa, regions where many countries refuse to extradite criminal suspects to nations that continue to practice capital punishment or torture. Rwandan genocide survivors welcomed the decision, noting that capital punishment existed in the country's law prior to the violence of 1994 and did not deter the crimes from taking place.


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Executions Declining in China

A new requirement that every death sentence be reviewed and approved by China's highest court has resulted in a sharp decline in executions there. A spokesman for the Supreme People's Court in China said that lower courts are reporting a 10% drop in executions during the first five months of 2007. Human rights experts estimate that China executes 10,000 - 15,000 people each year, more than the rest of the world combined, but officials do not release specific numbers to the public.

In recent years, cases of wrongful executions have sparked public outrage about executions in China, and many have urged the government to take steps that would improve the fairness and accuracy of the nation's judicial system. Legal scholars predict that the new rule requiring the Supreme People's Court to conduct a final review of each death penalty case could eventually cause executions to drop by 20 to 30 percent. Xiao Yang, chief justice of the People's Supreme Court, has said, "A case involving a human life is a matter of vital importance."

Human rights activists are encouraged by the declining number of executions and say that it continues a trend that actually began six years ago when China was awarded the 2008 Olympic games. Some believe that executions have dropped by 40% since that time.


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NEW RESOURCES: "Towards the Abolition of the Death Penalty In Africa"

"Towards the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Africa: A Human Rights Perspective" is a new book by Lilian Chenwi that examines the history of capital punishment in Africa and the continent's emerging trend away from the death penalty. In her book, Chenwi details the impact that both international human rights organizations and international treaties have had on shifting African views about capital punishment. This resource includes chapters on the history and current state of capital punishment in Africa, the right to life in the continent, and a review of the prohibition of cruel and inhumane punishment in Africa. Chenwi is a human rights attorney and senior researcher in the Socio-Economic Rights Project of the Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape.
(Book description, May 15, 2007; pub. by Pretoria University Law Press, 2007). See International Death Penalty and Books.


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