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IDPN 2023

International Death Penalty News 2023, Issue 39: Iran, Japan, Jordan, Taiwan, United States of America

International Death Penalty News 2023 
Issue 39

October 6, 2023

Iran

International Death Penalty NewsOn Wednesday, September 27, 2023, 24-year-old Ali Najafi was executed in Khorramabad Central Prison.  He was convicted of murder and sentenced to qisas, that is, retribution in kind.  He murdered his cousin, although Ali insisted it was an accident.  Allegedly he was 17 years of age at the time of the murder.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the Islamic Republic is a signatory to, prohibits the execution of those who are under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.  

On Wednesday, September 27, 2023, two men were executed in Karaj Penitentiary.  One has been identified as 29-year-old Saman Asgari, while the other has only been identified as Mozafar.  Both were convicted of murder and sentenced to qisas, that is retribution in kind.  Under Iranian law, all killings are considered intentional murder, often with no consideration of intent or mitigating evidence.  After conviction, the family of the victim chooses between granting forgiveness, demanding payment (diya or blood money), or seeking qisas.  State officials and the media have not reported either execution.

On Wednesday, September 27, 2023, 35-year-old Jafar Ghaed was executed in Ahar Prison.  He was convicted of murder and sentenced to qisas, that is, retribution in kind.  Before his arrest, Ghaed was a farmer.  Under Iranian law, all killings are considered intentional murder, often with no consideration of intent or mitigating evidence.  After conviction, the family of the victim chooses between granting forgiveness, demanding payment (diya or blood money), or seeking qisas.

On Saturday, September 30, 2023, Mohammad-Bagher Bazgir and 31-year-old Sasan Farzipour were executed at Khorramabad Prison.  Executions are traditionally carried out by hanging.  Two years ago, Bazgir was convicted of murdering a cleric.  Farzipour was sentenced to death five years ago for his involvement in a group fight that resulted in one death.  Neither execution has been reported by state officials or the media.

On Sunday, October 1, 2023, 30-year-old Samad Morandi was executed in Ramhormoz Prison.  Fellow prisoners opposed his execution, resulting in a protest that left eight prisoners injured.  Morandi was convicted of murder and sentenced to qisas, that is, retribution in kind.   Under Iranian law, all killings are considered intentional murder, often with no consideration of intent or mitigating evidence.  After conviction, the family of the victim chooses between granting forgiveness, demanding payment (diya or blood money), or seeking qisas.  His execution has not yet been reported by state officials or the media.

On Sunday, October 1, 2023, five men were executed in Kerman Central Prison.  Executions are traditionally carried out by hanging.  While three of the five men have been identified by name, two have been identified as Baluch ethnic minorities named Avaz Moradi and Ramezan Khorshid.  All five men are convicted and sentenced to death on drug-related charges.

On Sunday, October 1, 2023, five men were executed at Shiraz Central Prison.  One of the men, Hamidreza Khodabandeh Farsimdan Qashqai, was identified by name, however, the remaining four were unidentified.  Qashqai was convicted of efsad-fil arz (corruption on earth) and moharebeh (enmity against god), which resulted in a sentence of death.  None of the executions have been reported by state officials or the media.

Japan

A hearing is scheduled for the retrial of 87-year-old Iwao Hakamata.  Hakamata was arrested and convicted of murdering his boss, the boss’s wife, and their two children in 1966.  He confessed to the crime after intense interrogation, however, he pled not guilty at the trial.  He spent almost 50 years in prison before new evidence led to his release in 2014.  Prosecutors intend to examine five new witnesses, including forensic experts.  Due to Hakamata’s deteriorating mental condition, he has been exempted from appearing in court, with his older sister attending instead. 

Jordan

In November 2022, a police court sentenced a former police officer to death.  He was convicted of murdering a man to avenge his brother’s murder in Amman in October 2017.  He was also demoted in rank and discharged from the service.  The former police officer plotted to kill the victim, arranging for two of his friends to trail the victim to decide the best time to commit the murder.

Taiwan

On Thursday, September 28, 2023, the Hsinchu District Court sentenced Chen Yen-hsiang to death.  Yen-hsiang was convicted of murdering eight family members, including four children, by setting fire to the house in which they lived.  Yen-hsiang’s mother, wife, three children, sister, sister-in-law, and niece were killed.  The fire was started after an argument with his parents over family matters and the belief that he was being unfairly treated compared to his siblings.  His father managed to escape the burning building while all others inside were killed.

United States of America

On Tuesday, October 3, 2023, Michael Zack, III was executed in Florida.  Michael was convicted of murdering 23-year-old Ravonne Smith on June 13, 1996, near Pensacola, Florida.  

On Thursday, October 5, 2023, Richard Rojem, Jr., was scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma.  His execution has been delayed.  Sixty-five-year-old Richard is convicted of raping and murdering his seven-year-old stepdaughter Layla Dawn Cummings on either July 6 or 7, 1984, in Washita County, Oklahoma. His execution has been delayed and will be rescheduled at a future date.

The Supreme Court of the United States has sent a total of seven capital cases back to lower courts in Arizona this year through two separate rulings.  In the most recent case, attorneys for Manuel Ovante argued that he was improperly sentenced to death after his trial judge gave false instructions to the jury.  The jury was told that if they sentenced Ovante to life in prison, he would become eligible for parole.  Instead, the jury sentenced him to death.  In a similar ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that defendants be allowed to tell juries that a sentence of life in prison would be without parole.  These two rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States could affect about 30 other death row inmates in Arizona.

Prosecutors in Florida have announced they intend to seek the death penalty against 36-year-old Matthew Flores, who is accused of murdering 74-year-old Lyft driver Gary Levin on January 30, 2023.  After the murder, Flores, who was on the run for a separate felony, fled Florida to North Carolina, where he was arrested.  Flores is also accused of the January 24, 2023, murder of 43-year-old Jose Carlos Martinez in Hardee County, Florida.  After Jose’s murder, Flores stole multiple cars before a friend ordered him a ride through the ride-sharing app, Lyft.  Gary was the Lyft driver.  It is unclear why Flores shot Gary.  Flores was arrested in North Carolina on February 2, 2023.

Sixty-five-year-old Texas death row inmate Scott Panetti has been ruled incompetent for execution by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin.  Panetti has a documented history of mental illness and disorganized thoughts that prevent him from understanding why he is being executed.  The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that mentally incompetent individuals are barred from being executed.  Panetti was sentenced to death for the September 1992 slaying of 55-year-old Joe Alvarado and his wife 56-year-old Amanda.  Joe and Amanda were the parents of Panetti’s estranged wife.  The couple was murdered in their home in Fredericksburg, Texas.  Panetti was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1978 and was hospitalized over a dozen times to receive treatment.

Thirty-eight-year-old Peter Avsenew was convicted last year of murdering 47-year-old Kevin Powell and 52-year-old Stephen Adams in Wilton Manors, Florida.  The couple took him into their home over the 2010 holiday season.  Avsenew then murdered the couple, robbed them, stole their cars, and fled the scene.  Now, he has decided to represent himself during sentencing, which will decide if he is sentenced to life in prison or death.  Avsenew rejected an earlier plea deal that would have removed the death penalty option.  During the penalty phase of his trial, jurors admitted that they improperly discussed the case on a social media app and that some had made their decision before the trial began.  If Avsenew had accepted the plea deal, he would not have been able to pursue an investigation into jury misconduct.

Former Texas death row inmate Clinton Young has filed a federal lawsuit alleging his constitutional right to a fair trial was violated when a prosecutor at his initial trial was also working as a law clerk for the judge in the case.  The Texas Attorney General’s office has reindicted Young on one charge of murder and announced that they plan to seek the death penalty.  Young was initially convicted and sentenced to death for murdering 41-year-old Doyle Douglas and 52-year-old Samuel Petrey in late November of 2001.  His conviction was overturned in 2021, and he was released from prison in 2022.

After Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced his opposition to capital punishment, and his willingness to commute the sentences of death row inmates, nearly all death row inmates in the state filed clemency petitions.  In Louisiana, the governor can only grant clemency to a death row inmate if it is recommended by the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole.  After months of back and forth, in which the legality of the petitions was questioned, an agreement has been reached between the East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore and the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole.  The board will only consider clemency petitions in accordance with the rules of the board, which limits when inmates are eligible to file clemency petitions.  Lawyers for death row inmates are frustrated with the decision.  It is likely more lawsuits will be filed in an attempt to force the board to consider all the petitions. Governor Edwards has not yet commented on the agreement.

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