In brief: May 2022

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There was a “worrying rise in executions and death sentences” last year, Amnesty International announced in its annual report this week. In 2021, at least 579 executions were carried out across 18 countries, an increase of 20% from 2020. AI found that Iran was the leading executioner, having killed at least 314 people, followed by Saudi Arabia, which doubled its number last year to 65 from 27 in 2020. Still, the report points out that “a global trend toward abolition continued throughout 2021.” In the U.S, for example, Virginia became the first Southern state to abolish capital punishment, the federal government imposed a temporary moratorium on federal executions in 2021, and the number of state executions was the lowest since 1988, according to AI.

In New York, lawyers for Sayfully Saipov, accused of using a truck to kill eight people in Manhattan in 2017, are asking the Justice Department to withdraw authorization for federal prosecutors to ask for the death penalty if Saipov is convicted. The New York Times reports that Attorney General Merrick Garland “has not signaled how he might decide,” but points out that since he took office, Garland has withdrawn “government death-penalty requests in cases involving 16 defendants from around the country” and hasn’t authorized the death penalty in any new cases.

In Florida, the Department of Corrections settled a federal lawsuit by agreeing to treat those imprisoned on death row more humanely. The Tampa Bay Times reports that the settlement guarantees the men and women access to mental health care, and more time outside their cells, including increased access to telephones, showers, and outdoor recreation. The lawsuit was filed in 2017 on behalf of eight men on death row. There are 330 people on death row, including three women.

Also in Florida, a jury opted for life in prison over the death penalty for Jonathan Schuler, who was convicted of killing Scott Osterman in 2017. According to the Palm Beach Post, the six men and six women jurors were aware that Schuler was earlier found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years for another killing in 2017, but unaware that he is still facing a third murder charge in the 2017 beating death of a co-worker. It appears the jury chose life after hearing emotional testimony about Schuler’s long-standing mental health issues. 

In Alberta, Canada, David Milgaard, an exoneree who became a tireless advocate for the wrongfully convicted, died last week. He was 69. The Toronto Sun reports that Milgaard was arrested when he was 17 for the rape and murder of Gail Miller, a nurse’s aide, in 1969. He spent 23 years in prison,“the victim of one of Canada’s most notorious miscarriages of justice,” before being released, based on DNA evidence, in 1992. After his release, he devoted much of his time to raising awareness of wrongful convictions and pushing for creation of an independent body to review innocence claims, according to the paper.  

In Ohio, Michael Webb, who had been on death row since 1990 after being convicted of killing his three-year-old son, Mikey, died earlier this month after setting fire to the house where his wife and four children were sleeping. Mikey was the only family member who died in the fire, which prosecutors said Webb set in an insurance scam. Cincinnati.com reports that Webb was scheduled to be executed in July 2023. He was 73 years old.

In Rome, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty marked its 20th anniversary this month. The organization, an alliance of more than 160 NGOs, bar associations, local authorities and unions, is dedicated to the universal abolition of the death penalty. Since 2003, it has observed October 10 as World Day Against the Death Penalty, and is a partner of the World Congress Against the Death Penalty, which takes place every three years. 

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