Discussion:
death penalty news----TEXAS, FLA., OHIO, MICH., MO., ARIZ., USA, USA/EU
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Rick Halperin
2017-06-29 03:56:20 UTC
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June 29




TEXAS:

Surviving bad lawyers just got tougher for death row inmates


For inmates on death row, having a bad lawyer just got deadlier.

In a ruling Monday against a Texas death row inmate who claimed his lawyer
failed to argue his case adequately, the Supreme Court ruled that federal
courts could not review prisoners' claims that their state appeals lawyers were
ineffective, resolving an issue that had split courts across the country.

The decision makes it harder for death row inmates who had poor legal
representation to make that part of their appeals, a particular issue for poor
inmates who likely have court-appointed lawyers in the early stages of their
cases.

"It does perpetuate a system of inequality," said Sean O'Brien, a law professor
at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law who has argued several
capital punishment cases and served as the director of many of the school's
criminal defense law clinics. "It gives the state a reward for giving prisoners
incompetent lawyers in state post-conviction.... That's the net effect of
this."

In 2008, Erick Davila was convicted of fatally shooting a 5-year-old girl and
her grandmother. Davila argued that he had meant to shoot a rival gang member -
the girl's father. The fact that he had not meant to kill more than 1 person
should have made him ineligible for a capital murder verdict and the death
penalty. But the judge gave the trial jury incorrect instructions about
Davila's eligibility, and they sentenced him to death by lethal injection.

During Davila's appeal, his lawyer failed to argue that those bad instructions
affected Davis' sentencing. Then, crucially, during Davila's post-conviction
proceedings in state court, a new lawyer didn't bring up the appeal lawyer's
failure to mention the instructions. With his case now up for a federal appeal,
Davila's latest lawyer argued that because his appeals lawyer was incompetent,
the federal court should review the impact of the inaccurate instructions to
the jury.

Federal courts, however, typically won't rule on issues that could have been
reviewed at the state level.

"The question is [not] really whether or not Davila had a fair trial," O'Brien
said. "He did not. The question is whether the federal court can remedy that he
had an unfair trial."

The answer to that question, the justices ruled in a 5-4 decision in Davila v.
Davis, is no.

"Claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, however, do not pose
the same risk that a trial error - of any kind - will escape review
altogether," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the majority opinion. (Thanks to
a 2011 Supreme Court case, federal courts can already review lawyers' mistakes
at the trial level.) Thomas added that, if the court ruled in Davila's favor,
"Not only would these burdens on the federal courts and our federal system be
severe, but the benefit would - as a systemic matter - be small."

It's unclear just how many cases will be affected by Monday's ruling. During
oral arguments, lawyers for Texas argued that a ruling in Davila's favor could
unleash a "flood" of cases into federal courts. Texas Attorney General Ken
Paxton echoed that assessment in a statement celebrating the ruling, saying,
"Had the high court ruled otherwise, states and the federal court system would
have been burdened with an avalanche of claims facing an infinitesimal chance
of success."

"It's going to exacerbate the difference between prisoners who have access to
good lawyers and those who don't."

Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law who wrote
about the case for the Supreme Court outlet SCOTUSBlog, says this case wasn't
just about the fates of what both he and O'Brien believe will actually be only
a small number of prisoners who find themselves in situations like Davila's.
Instead, Vladeck says, the case demonstrates a "lack of doctrine that responds
to and accounts for these inequalities" in the criminal justice system -
particularly for people facing capital punishment.

"It's going to further exacerbate the difference between state prisoners who
have access to good lawyers for their post-conviction proceedings, and those
who don't," Vladeck said. "Because the good lawyers will be able to salvage the
ineffectiveness of the appellate counsel."

That difference may be steep. A Harvard Law School study of the 16 counties
that imposed the death penalty 5 or more times between 2010 and 2015 (3 were in
Texas) found "appalling inadequacies" in the quality of legal defense.

"You've got to win the lottery and get 3 good lawyers in a row," O'Brien said
of the trial, appellate, and post-conviction process. "Even if you do get 1
good lawyer, the other 2 lawyers are going to undo the work of that lawyer....
They have a hard time consistently providing competent lawyers at the trial
level, especially Texas."

As of late last year, Texas had executed more people than any other state -
including 3 people who were sentenced to death after their lawyers slept
through parts of their trials.

"It's going to be the occasional case that we'll see where this case makes a
difference between life and death," O'Brien said of the Supreme Court ruling.
"There will be some prisoners who will lose the capital punishment lottery
because of this principle."

(source: vice.com)






FLORIDA:

Miami murder conviction to test Florida's new death-penalty law


12 jurors deliberated just half-an-hour Wednesday before convicting a man of
murdering a security guard outside a popular North Miami-Dade restaurant.

? Now, they will become the 1st jury in Miami to be asked to agree unanimously
on meting out the death penalty.

Wednesday's verdict came 3 months after Florida lawmakers, compelled by U.S.
and Florida supreme court decisions, changed the law so that jurors must agree
in unison when handing down execution as punishment for murder.

The same jury will reconvene later this summer to consider Silver's sentence.
DNA on a bloody ski mask was the key evidence.

At closing arguments on Wednesday, prosecutors said Silver - dressed in black
and wielding a 9mm pistol - targeted 62-year-old Solmeus Accimeus as he sat in
his car at closing time outside Esther's Restaurant.

Intending to rob the guard, Silver walked up to the car and fired at the guard,
penetrating the man's aorta, spraying blood all over the gunman, prosecutors
said. Moments later, as he fled, Silver threw away the ski mask, which had
Accimeus' blood on the outside, and Silver's DNA on the inside, prosecutors
said.

Prosecutor Gail Levine told jurors that Silver, his mouth having been covered
in blood, later blurted out to some friends:

"'Can you smell it? Can you smell the death on me?'" Levine said. "The words of
this defendant after he murdered Solmeus Accimeus in cold blood ... those words
alone tell the whole story."

Prosecutors Levine, Tammy Pitiriciu and Josh Hubner began presenting evidence
on June 21.

Assistant Public Defender Steven Yermish suggested to jurors that the DNA
evidence was flawed and didn't prove he wore the mask during the murder.

"The DNA is not as definitive as one would think," Yermish said.

This will be the 2nd time Silver has faced possible execution.

A different jury, in 2015, convicted Silver of murdering a jogger in Coral
Gables, part of a crime spree that also included shooting up a pizzeria in
Delray Beach. Jurors, however, decided against recommending the death penalty,
and Silver was sentenced to life in prison.

For decades in Florida, prosecutors only needed at least a majority 7 votes for
a death-penalty recommendation, with the judge ultimately meting out the
punishment.

Then in January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida's sentencing
scheme was unconstitutional because defendants have a right to a trial by jury.

Florida lawmakers responded by rewriting the state law, replacing the judge's
override and requiring a vote of at least 10 of 12 jurors to sentence someone
to death.

But the Florida Supreme Court later ruled that the new law was unconstitutional
because jury verdicts need to be unanimous.

In March, the Legislature passed a new law requiring jurors to unanimously
agree on a death sentence.

(source: miamiherald.com)






OHIO:

Ashtabula County murder suspect now facing death penalty----John Bove faces 10
charges, including aggravated murder and kidnapping


A man accused of killing a teenager in Ashtabula County and then hiding in
Sharon, Pa. from law enforcement was indicted by an Ashtabula County grand
jury.

John Bove now faces 10 charges, including aggravated murder, kidnapping and
gross abuse of a corpse. He faces the possibility of the death penalty if he's
convicted.

Bove is accused of killing Kara Zdanczewski, the 13-year-old daughter of his
friend.

Investigators say Bove took Zdanczewski from her home with her parents'
permission on May 10. Her body was found in Saybrook Township, Ashtabula County
just days later.

Bove ran to Sharon but was caught after a car and foot chase with police. A
woman who he was staying with tipped off law enforcement, claiming he told her
"things went south" with the girl.

He faces fleeing and eluding charges as a result of that chase in Mercer
County.

Due to the Ashtabula County indictment, prosecutors there will be able to apply
for a Governor's Warrant to have Bove extradited from Mercer County to
Ashtabula County to face the murder charges.

Since Bove has twice refused to waive extradition, issuance of a Governor's
Warrant is necessary in order to extradite Bove to Ohio. The process to obtain
a Governor's Warrant is expected to take approximately 30 days.

In addition to Bove, others were also indicted on Wednesday:

Debra Ann Bove: 2 counts of obstructing justice

Malachi Desmond Schultz: 1 count of tampering with evidence and 1 count of
obstructing justice

Stanley Ray Wilfong III: 1 count of tampering with evidence and 1 count of
obstructing justice

Schultz is accused of hiding the murder weapon while Wilfong is accused of
getting rid of John Bove's bloody clothes.

Debra Bove, Schultz and Wilfong remain incarcerated in the Ashtabula County
Jail.

(source: WKBN news)

****************************

Ohio can use 3-drug combination to resume executing those on death row, appeals
court says


The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday said it would allow the
state of Ohio to use a certain 3-drug mixture to carry out lethal injections,
paving the way for the state to resume executing those on death row.

The full court's opinion, decided 8-6 mostly along the court's
conservative-liberal split, reverses a preliminary injunction granted by
federal magistrate Judge Michael Merz in Dayton in January, as well as a
three-judge appellate panel's April decision to uphold the injunction while the
case heads to trial.

Merz found there is a "substantial risk of serious harm" in using midazolam, a
sedative that is one of the three drugs the state endeavors to use in
executions.

Judge Raymond Kethledge, a George W. Bush appointee writing for the majority,
wrote that "some risk of pain 'is inherent in any method of execution -- no
matter how humane.'" He also wrote that people have differing views on whether
the potential for pain is acceptable, but that the plaintiffs must show the
drug combination is "'sure or very likely' to cause serious pain."

The anti-death-penalty advocates who brought the case said they would ask the
Supreme Court to review the 6th Circuit's decision.

"Multiple executions have demonstrated that midazolam is not a suitable drug
for lethal injection, and especially when used with the 2 excruciatingly
painful drugs Ohio abandoned in 2009. Wednesday's 8 to 6 narrowly divided
ruling doesn't change that fact," attorney Allen Bohnert said in a statement.

Ohio hasn't performed an execution since January 2014, when it took killer
Dennis McGuire 25 minutes to die from a previously unused execution drug
combination. The state chose a new mixture and scheduled executions, though
they have repeatedly been pushed back because of the most recent legal
challenge.

The state's new proposed blend includes midazolam, as well as potassium
chloride, which stops the heart, and a paralytic agent.

McGuire was administered a combination that included midazolam. Witnesses said
he appeared to gasp several times during his execution and made loud snorting
or snoring sounds.

"Ohio should not take the risk of continued botched executions by going back to
using these dangerous, unsuitable drugs. This is especially true because Ohio
still has open avenues where it may be able to obtain reliable execution
drugs," Bohnert's statement said.

The challenge to the new mixture was made by death row inmates Gary Otte,
Ronald Phillips and Raymond Tibbetts. Phillips, who raped and killed a
3-year-old girl in Akron in 1993, is the first inmate scheduled to die, with an
execution date set for July 26.

A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said in
an email that the department "remains committed to carrying out court-ordered
executions in a lawful, humane and dignified manner."

Kethledge wrote that Merz applied the wrong standard in determining the level
of harm a person being executed could be exposed to with the 3-drug
combination.

He also wrote that the state proved viable alternatives to the combination --
namely sodium thiopental or pentobarbital -- were not readily accessible.

Judge Karen Nelson Moore, who authored a previous opinion striking down the
state's proposed use of the combination, wrote the dissent for the
mostly-liberal group of judges.

But it was Judge Jane Stranch, a Barack Obama appointee, who opposed the ruling
in the most blatant language.

Writing separately, Stranch wrote that certain drug makers have refused to sell
the alternative drugs to states to carry out executions, and that the
majority's decision ignores the possibility that the refusal to sell "may well
evidence a recognition of changing societal attitudes toward the death penalty
and a conclusion -- whether based on principle, profit motivation, or both --
that the business in which drug companies engage, selling drugs that improve
health and preserve life, is not consistent with selling drugs that are used to
put people to death."

She wrote that questions about the death penalty are closely intertwined with
issues regarding unfairness in the criminal justice system.

(source: cleveland.com)






MICHIGAN:

The Story Behind Michigan's Death Penalty Ban

Michigan is the only state that includes a prohibition on the death penalty in
its constitution. Eugene Wanger was a young Republican delegate to the
constitutional convention in the early 1960's, and he drafted the capital
punishment clause approved by state voters in 1963.

WKAR's Scott Pohl talks with Eugene Wanger about his book "Fighting the Death
Penalty."

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing and the Michigan Political History
Society will host a program with Eugene Wanger tonight at 7 p.m. at the Library
of Michigan.

"Most people, when they find out what the facts are, will be inclined to think
that the death penalty is a bad idea." - Eugene Wanger

Wanger was motivated by Michigan's death penalty history. "Michigan earlier,
115 years before that constitutional convention, was the 1st government in the
English-speaking world to abolish capital punishment for murder and lesser
crimes," he explains. "It seemed to me that since we were writing a
constitution, it was a good idea to put it in the constitution."

The death penalty clause was approved with only three dissenting votes at the
convention, held on the Michigan State University campus and at the Lansing
Civic Center.

There have been attepts to remove the prohibition, but they've never gotten
enough petition signatures to put it on the ballot.

(source: WKAR news)






MISSOURI:

Victim's mother testifies against death penalty for daughter's accused killer

The man charged with kidnapping and killing a 10 year old girl is in court
fighting to get the death penalty off the table.

Hailey Owens' mother, Stacey Barfield, testified that she would support taking
the death penalty off the table if it meant Craig Wood's case could end with a
guilty plea and a life sentence without parole.

Craig Wood's attorneys are trying to make the case with an unusual person on
their side--the victim, Hailey Owens, mother.

Everyone at the hearing just left the court house, but when Hailey Owens mom,
Stacey Barfield, took the stand, the man accused of killing her daughter kept
his head down.

She said in court that she did not want him to be put to death. She says it's
because she doesn't want to go through all of the appeals and a trial. WHEN
attorneys asked, she said she didn't know all the facts of the case, but she
knew what sentence she thought wood should get.

She says she wanted him to serve life in prison.

Judge Tom Mountjoy has not decided on that.

Instead they've scheduled another hearing for next month about whether Craig
Wood should face the death penalty.

Craig Wood is still scheduled to go on trial in October.

(source: KSPR news)






ARIZONA:

Jurors consider death penalty after Phoenix double-murder conviction


The penalty phase for a man convicted of murdering 2 people and then burying
them in the backyard of his mother's house began Tuesday in Maricopa County
Superior Court.

Alan Champagne was convicted in the murders of Philmon Tapaha and Brandi
Hoffner. He was found guilty of 1st- and 2nd-degree murder, kidnapping and 2
counts of abandonment or concealment of a dead body.

Elise Garcia, Champagne's girlfriend and co-defendant, was sentenced to 16
years in prison in 2016 after pleading guilty in Hoffner's death.

The jury this week is hearing testimony to help it decide whether Champagne
will face the death penalty or whether some mitigating factors can help him
avoid a death sentence.

Defense attorney Maria Schaffer on Tuesday reminded jurors their decision will
have a consequence.

"That decision you all make is binding - it's final," Schaffer said.

Schaffer appealed to the jury for compassion, asking them to view Champagne as
a human being foremost. She argued this crime, while serious, was just one part
of his overall life. Schaeffer said she intends to show jurors why he has made
poor choices and how he went from a small boy to a man convicted of murder.

"Mitigation is not an excuse for what happened," Schaffer said, adding the
man's past is not an "abuse excuse." She projected a photo of Champagne as a
young "innocent" boy and asked that the jury not make their decision from a
position of hate, rather one of compassion.

"It'd be understandable if you didn't like him," Schaffer said, while imploring
the jury to use their personal values to make their decision.

Maricopa County prosecutor Ellen Dahl argued jurors would not be deciding
whether Champagne should live or die, but rather there are enough factors to
show leniency.

Dahl said that the law dictates how jurors should reach their verdict, not
their "moral compass."

"The evidence must be proven to you," Dahl said. "Challenge it. Put it to the
test."

Dahl said the defense will prove Champagne had a childhood and that he had a
mother who loved him, but questioned how much weight that should carry.

Killings inside apartment, bodies moved

Court records show that in October 2011, police had received a tip about
Champagne's possible involvement in a double homicide at an apartment complex
near Osborn Road and 12th Street.

Police spoke with a maintenance man at the complex who said he smelled a strong
odor coming from Champagne's former unit when he went to clean it, documents
state.

The man told police that he had built a large box for Champagne after he told
the man he needed it to transport items from his mother's home, which was
entering foreclosure, according to the documents.

Court records state in July 2011, police stopped Champagne and his girlfriend,
Elise Garcia, after realizing they were driving a car registered to someone
else and found Tapaha's Social Security card and Hoffner's purse in the car.
Authorities did not immediately connect the 2 to the double homicide.

The same month that stop occurred, Hoffner and Tapaha were reported missing,
and investigators discovered that Tapaha was the brother of Phillena Tapaha,
someone who had two children with Champagne.

According to records, Phillena told police that her brother had found out that
Champagne was cheating on her and that it may have caused him distress.

The two were eventually arrested in March 2012 following a SWAT team stand-off
at his mother's house when they refused to surrender on felony aggravated
assault warrants, according to police. Champagne was accused of firing at SWAT
officials, documents say.

Once in jail, a former cellmate told police that Garcia had detailed to her
that she was in the apartment when Champagne killed 2 people, later identified
as Hoffner and Tapaha, documents state.

According to records, Garcia said Champagne had ingested drugs and pointed a
gun at the two people to frighten them. Champagne opened fire and shot Tapaha
in the head. Garcia held Hoffner at gunpoint before Champagne returned and
strangled Hoffner, documents say.

A huge break in the case came after a new owner started remodeling Champagne's
mother's former home and a landscaper uncovered the bodies of Tapaha and
Hoffner.

According to court records, Champagne spent 14 years in prison for murdering
Ricky Marquez at a party where two rival gangs fought in central Phoenix back
in 1991. He was released in June 2005.

'Cruel and cowardly'

Dahl argued that the defendant was not an "innocent boy" at the time of the
murders, but a 40-year-old man.

"The defendant is not a victim of his upbringing or society," Dahl said.

She also cited Champagne's long criminal history, in which he was a committed
gang member and had gone to prison before on a murder conviction.

Several relatives of Brandi Hoffner read statements to the jury Tuesday,
showing photos of Hoffner during childhood and as an adult.

Hoffner's father, Balvino Hernandez, read a statement in Spanish about his
daughter, which was translated in court for the jury. He said he separated from
Hoffner's mother when she was little and he did not get to see her until she
contacted him years after she became a mother herself.

"She was taken in a cruel and cowardly way," Hernandez said.

He said Hoffner was murdered just as they were beginning to reconcile.

"No one could ever cure that pain. Now all I have left is a broken heart,"
Hernandez said.

Hoffner's brother, Daniel Hoffner, also testified, saying his sister loved the
outdoors and singing in choir despite not being able to carry a tune and showed
the jury a tattoo he had done in his sister's honor.

"Her life lives on in her children," he said. "She will always be in my heart."

Christine Philips, Hoffner's sister, echoed the same sentiments the brother
expressed, retelling fond childhood stories of Hoffner and her silly nature.

She also described how her family has struggled since her sister's death,
describing emotional struggles of some family and the impact on her physical
health.

"Time causes the heart to hurt worse," Philips said.

This penalty phase is expected to last through this week before the court takes
a 3-week break and resumes on July 24.

(source: azcentral.com)






USA:

Attached is my new book chapter on death penalty developments. It can also be
found at:
https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/criminaljustice/2017/SCJ2017_Death_Penalty.pdf
[www.americanbar.org].

I hope that you and perhaps others will whom you may share it will find it
interesting.

It is circulated with permission, and is derived from the forthcoming The State
of Criminal Justice 2017, to be published by the American Bar Association
Criminal Justice Section.??? For more information on the entire book, see:
???www.ambar.org/cjsbooks ---- [www.ambar.org] ???(book ordering info to be
posted shortly)

(source: Ronald Tabak)






USA/EUROPEAN UNION:

Opening Remarks Ambassador David O'Sullivan / EU's global advocacy to abolish
capital punishment


Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here and I'd like to start by thanking our hosts,
Elizabeth Zitrin, President of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty,
and Bishop Roy Campbell, Pastoral Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington.

In 1945, only 8 countries had abolished the death penalty. 33 years later, in
1978, that number had merely doubled. Today, however, more than 150 countries
have either legally abolished the death penalty, or established moratoriums by
practice.

As you know, the European Union holds a strong and principled position against
the death penalty. As a union founded on democracy, human rights and the rule
of law, it is natural for us to oppose it. It is part of our common identity,
so much so that it is a requirement for any State applying to join the EU.

If we look at the history of this movement, it is interesting to note that it
was on the heels of major war and destruction that the anti-death penalty
movement gathered momentum in the Europe. The fall of repressive or dictatorial
regimes following the Second World War brought a frankness to conversations
surrounding the death penalty. Europeans were still reeling from the extreme
arbitrariness and abuses of power many had witnessed during the war, and it was
no great leap to see that the death penalty carried within it the same
potential for arbitrary violence.

But to abandon the death penalty, calls for strong leaders willing to take a
stand and to represent a moral high ground.

In France, it was President Mitterrand who took on this mission, together with
his Minister of Justice, Robert Badinter. Ahead of public opinion, they
repealed the death penalty in 1981, and found support only after the fact,
through deliberate and exemplary leadership.

On both sides of the Atlantic, those who have witnessed the death penalty are
haunted by its lasting imprint.

Recently, I was reading that in September 2014, Mr. Badinter returned to La
Sante prison in Paris. There, in 1972, he witnessed the execution by guillotine
of one of the last inmates sentenced to death in France, a man for whom he, as
a lawyer, had desperately tried to win a reprieve. Mr. Badinter, now 89,
observed, "The shadow of the guillotine is everywhere".

That same month in 2014, Texas Monthly newspaper ran a long profile of Michelle
Lyons, a former reporter with The Huntsville Item who spent more than a decade
working as a public affairs officer for the Texas Department of Criminal
Justice. By the time she departed from the Department, Ms. Lyons, now in her
late 30s, had witnessed 278 executions. She told Texas Monthly, "I think about
it all the time."

So abolishing the death penalty is a key objective for the European Union's
human rights policy.

Today, the death penalty has not only been abolished in all 28 member countries
of the European Union, but also in all 47 member countries of the Council of
Europe, which includes countries like Russia and Turkey. And we hope it will
continue to be abolished in Turkey.

This brings me to the United States, the democracy which has the largest number
of capital punishment executions each year. I am hopeful that this won't remain
the case for much longer. Although as many as 20 people were executed last
year, which underlines the work yet to be done towards repealing the death
penalty, this number represents a 25-year record low and we're hopeful that
this downward trend will continue. Until the abolition of capital punishment,
which would put the U.S. on the right side of history.

I am sometimes asked, "Why is the EU concerned with how the United States
administers its justice system?" It is a good question.

And while fully recognising the truly horrific crimes at the heart of some
cases, and mindful of the suffering of the victims and their families, the
penalty itself is also a dehumanizing practice. We do not believe that victims
of violent crimes are adequately compensated for their losses by the death of
another person.

We are also convinced that it is an illusion to believe that the death penalty
deters the most serious crimes. There is no difference in the number of serious
crimes committed in a country that has abolished the death penalty as opposed
to those in countries that still administer it. Abolitionist states are not
softer on crimes than retentionist states. All crimes are best fought through a
functioning judicial system, not through taking life.

Another inherent flaw of the death penalty is that it is deeply rooted in
social injustice. Everywhere the death penalty is applied globally, statistics
show that it discriminates against the poor, the minorities and the
marginalised citizens of a society.

New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak, who was behind New Jersey's repeal of
the death penalty in 2007, underlined this very fact, when he said, "The death
penalty is a random act of brutality. Its application throughout the United
States is random, depending on where the murder occurred, the race and economic
status of who committed the murder, the race and economic status of the person
murdered and, of course, the quality of the legal defence."

Most importantly, the death penalty claims innocent lives. And with the number
of proven wrongful convictions in the United States on the rise, this
eventuality is of great concern. As Bryan Stevenson - great lawyer, social
justice activist and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative - has constantly
said, "Death penalty in America is defined by error ... For every 9 people who
have been executed, we've actually identified 1 innocent person who's been
exonerated and released from death row." There is no permissible margin of
error when a human being's life hangs in the balance.

A few months ago, in support for the World and Europe Day Against the Death
Penalty, the European Union Delegation organised the World Premiere of "THE
GATHERING". This documentary tells the story of Witness to Innocence, which is
the largest organisation of death row exonerees in the country.

Witness to Innocence is led by a remarkable person called Leno Rose-Avila who
is present here tonight. Not only did I have the great honour to meet Leno
then, but I also had the opportunity to speak with men and women who suffered
at the hands of the state for crimes they did not commit. These people endured
years of wrongful punishment and awaited for their execution on death row while
knowing they were innocent. They ultimately escaped the ultimate injustice of
dying for something they didn???t do, but how many others haven???t been
acquitted early enough? How many lives have been taken by mistake?

There is much more to discuss about the death penalty, but let me briefly turn
our attention to what the EU is doing to fight for the abolition of the death
penalty worldwide, and more specifically, in the United States.

Through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the EU remains
the main donor to NGOs fighting to repeal the death penalty worldwide. Since
2007, this European Instrument has allocated more than 25 million Euros to
projects around the world.

We intervene both on individual cases and at a general policy level when a
country's policy on the death penalty is in flux. Every year, the European
Union issues statements in excess of 30 individual cases on average, and
carries out more than 30 other actions in favour of individuals at risk of
execution. I have actually just written to the Governor of Virginia to ask him
to exert clemency for Mr. Morva, a dual American and Hungarian national
sentenced to death, who presents signs of mental illness.

The EU is also the 1st regional body in the world to have adopted rules
prohibiting the trade in goods used for capital punishment, as well as the
supply of technical assistance related to such goods, with a particular impact
in the United States.

In the United States, in addition supporting the ban of lethal drugs, the EU
has intervened in many judicial cases, including Amicus Curiae briefs
considering our strong interest. Last April, through various diplomatic
channels such as public statements and in close coordination with the NGO
community, we strongly opposed the series of eight executions scheduled in the
state of Arkansas.

A few years ago, Kenneth Roth wrote, "America today needs its Francois
Mitterrand and Robert Badinter. There is no shortage of death penalty opponents
in the United States. But we need political leaders who are willing to take the
risk of standing up for what they believe."

Over the last few years, we have seen anti-death penalty sentiments grow. But
the long road Europe has travelled to the abolition of the death penalty shows
us that the opposition to death penalty is unlikely to be popular without a
strong leader.

If we wait for public opinion alone to turn the tide, abolition may never come.
What we need, in the United States and in those countries where the death
penalty continues to be legal, is a vibrant civil society working in
conjunction with political leaders, who together with public support will work
to repeal the death penalty, thus ending this blight on our common humanity.

This is the reason why we are very thankful for the work of the World Coalition
Against the Death Penalty, and this is also why the European Union will
continue to fight relentlessly at your side in favour of the abolition of the
death penalty.

And it is precisely because the U.S. is our greatest ally, that I am deeply
concerned that they keep implementing the death penalty. We need to be true to
who we are. We can't remain silent. So in friendship and respect, we pursue the
objective of the final abolition of capital punishment in the U.S

Thank you very much.

(source: euintheus.org)

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