Appeal for Ohio Inmate, Texas juvenile
There is no summer vacation for death row! In recent weeks there have been several executions including those of a juvenile offender and foreign national, both in Texas. This month we feature the case of an Ohio inmate with borderline mental retardation. As noted in the last newsletter in regards to the case of John Paul Penry in Texas, the recent Supreme Court Atkins decision barring execution of persons with mental retardation has not ended this debate.
In addition to this case, we note that Supreme Court Justice Stevens, author of Atkins, has hinted in a recent speech that the elimination of the execution of juvenile offenders will follow the same pattern as the mental retardation issue-- that state legislative action to eliminate this practice will send a message to the Supreme Court that brings about a judicial ban. While here in California we already ban the execution of those under 18, we can still protest cases in other states and contribute to the pressure to address this injustice. An especially prominent example is the case of Toronto Patterson in Texas who is scheduled for execution on August 28. The American Bar Association has set up a comprehensive website including action suggestions on his case:
Please visit the site and write on behalf of Mr. Patterson.
Gregory Lott is scheduled to be executed in Ohio on 27 August. He was sentenced to death in 1987 for the murder of John McGrath in 1986.
On 15 July 1986, police went to the home of John McGrath, an 82 year-old white man, in order to check on his welfare. They had been alerted that another man had been seen driving McGrath's car the day before. The eyewitness, a trained artist, made a sketch of the man she had seen in the car. She later identified Gregory Lott from a photo line-up.
The police found John McGrath in his home. He had been tied up, doused with heating-lamp oil, and apparently set on fire. Although badly injured, he was able to identify his assailant as a six-foot tall, very light-complexioned African-American man, with long straight hair. He also said that he and his attacker went to the same barber shop. When shown the witness sketch, he did not identify the man depicted in it as his attacker.
John McGrath died on 23 July from pneumonia arising from his injuries. Gregory Lott was arrested on 30 July. His fingerprints had been found in John McGrath's home, and a shoeprint was found that was generally consistent with a pair of shoes found in his car at the time of the arrest. In an alleged statement, which was not written or signed by Lott or recorded or witnessed by anyone except the police officer who allegedly took it, Lott admitted to burgling McGrath's home on this occasion and previously, and to tying him up, but not to burning him. The 'confession' was ruled inadmissible as evidence.
Lott waived his right to a jury trial. In July 1987, a three-judge panel unanimously sentenced him to death. Gregory Lott has consistently maintained his innocence of the murder, while admitting that he burgled the house. The Ohio Supreme Court acknowledged in 1990 that Lott had been convicted of the murder on circumstantial evidence, and in 2001, the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit said that 'this is the most troubling aspect of the case'.
Another disturbing aspect is prosecutorial misconduct. The prosecutor did not turn over to the defence the description that John McGrath had given police, or his belief that he and his attacker went to the same barber, or the information that McGrath had not identified his assailant from the sketch. In contrast to the description given by McGrath, Gregory Lott has medium to dark skin tone, is five feet 10 inches tall, and at the time of his arrest had very short hair. No evidence was presented that he ever worn his hair long, and all the available evidence indicates that he had short hair at the time of the crime. The defence was therefore denied important evidence with which to contest the prosecution's version of events.
The prosecutor also argued that the attacker must have taken the heating- lamp oil into the home with the intent to burn the victim because John McGrath had owned no such lamp: 'Nothing in that man's house uses kerosene or lamp oil. So, with that in mind, consider the intent of the individual who would break into an old man's house, knowing the frailty that age has inflicted on him, bringing with him a cord to tie him up and the lamp oil to burn him'. Such argumentation is very damaging to the defendant in the context of a death penalty trial. Moreover, an oil-burning lamp had in fact been found in the house, and this was stated in a police report given to the prosecutor. In several other cases, this same prosecutor has been reprimanded by the courts for improper behaviour. Indeed, one of the trial judges rebuked him during the Lott proceedings for accusing the panel of 'legal gymnastics' for discussing other possible explanations for the fire.
Gregory Lott's previous appeal lawyer discovered the withheld evidence in 1991. However, he failed to present it in the state appeal courts. His failure to do so has meant that federal courts have not reviewed it. Generally, the federal courts are barred from reviewing claims not properly raised in the state courts. In 2001, a state court rejected the claim that the withheld evidence had affected the outcome of the trial, because there was only a two-inch difference between Lott's height and the height described by McGrath; Lott could have cut his hair after the crime; and he could have worn make- up to lighten his skin. It is not clear whether the federal courts will review this decision.
After the US Supreme Court ruled on 20 June 2002 in Atkins v Virginia that the execution of people with mental retardation is unconstitutional, the Ohio Department of Corrections turned over records showing that it had assessed Gregory Lott's IQ at 72 in 1986.
This could indicate possible mental retardation, and Lott's lawyers are asking for the execution to be stayed while the state establishes procedures for determining which inmates are protected by the Atkins ruling. The prosecution continues to pursue Lott's execution, arguing that he does not have mental retardation, and that an IQ test before the trial had placed his IQ at 86.
International safeguards not only oppose the use of the death penalty against people with mental retardation, but also require that capital defendants receive adequate legal representation 'at all stages of the proceedings', and that the death penalty be withheld if guilt is not 'based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts'. Furthermore, the UN Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors require prosecutors to 'perform their duties fairly, consistently and expeditiously...thus contributing to ensuring due process and the smooth functioning of the criminal justice system.' Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unreservedly in all cases.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in your own words:
· expressing sympathy for any relatives of John McGrath and explaining that you are not seeking to excuse the manner of his death;
· noting that Gregory Lott was convicted on circumstantial evidence, expressing concern that the prosecutor withheld evidence from the defence, that Gregory Lott's appeal lawyer failed to raise this claim in timely fashion in the courts, and citing the international standards noted above;
· noting that Gregory Lott's IQ has been assessed by the Department of Corrections at 72, which could indicate possible mental retardation;
· calling for Gregory Lott to be granted clemency.
Governor Bob Taft
30th Floor, 77 South High Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215-6117
Fax: 1 614 466 9354
Urge new president to respect human rights!
Urge Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez to Respect and Promote Human Rights As a new government takes over in Colombia, Amnesty International has sent an Open Letter to the new President of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe Vélez, in which the organization stresses the importance of respecting and promoting human rights. Now is the opportunity for President Uribe to address the human rights crisis in the country by taking action to end the human rights violations and abuses being committed by members of the security forces, army-backed paramilitaries and armed opposition groups.
Write to President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (in Spanish if possible) along the following lines:
Dear Mr. President,
Now is an important and crucial opportunity for the new Colombian administration to give priority to developing a human rights action plan.
I urge you to take immediate action to implement repeated UN recommendations to end impunity, to confront and dismantle army-backed paramilitary organizations and to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders and other vulnerable sectors of the civilian population.
Amnesty International and the international community are concerned about the impact on human rights of policies which may be introduced by the new administration which include:
· The creation of a million-strong civilian militia of informers which will fuel the spiral of political violence and will drag the civilian population further into the conflict;
· Reforms of the Constitutional Court which might seriously undermine its role in safeguarding human rights;
· Re-establishing the President's faculty to call a state of siege without due regard for safeguards laid down in international standards;
· The possible curtailment of public rights and freedoms, including that of expression, in the name of security;
· Granting judicial police powers to the armed forces which threatens to strengthen the mechanisms of impunity by facilitating the covering up of responsibility for human rights violations committed by the armed forces and the paramilitaries.
The civilian population is already at risk - human rights defenders, trade unionists, the indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations and internally displaced persons continue to suffer serious human rights violations. They must be protected from further such violations from armed opposition groups as well as from Colombian security forces and army-backed paramilitaries.
By giving priority to developing a human rights action plan, based on UN recommendations, and ensuring that human rights organizations play a central role in this process, with the support of the international community, the new Presidency will be making concrete steps towards addressing the long-standing human rights crisis in Colombia.
Dr. Alvaro Uribe Vélez
President of the Republic of Colombia
Palacio de Nariño
Carrera 8 No. 7-26
Santafé de Bogotá,
Hon. Colin L. Powell
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20520
Hon. Luis Alberto Moreno, Ambassador
Republic of Colombia
2118 Leroy Place, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
House Demolition as Collective Punishment
Since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, more than 2,600 Palestinian homes have been destroyed -- many as punishment, without any absolute military necessity. Other houses have been demolished for planning reasons -- ostensibly because the houses are built illegally; in reality, the practice is often based on a discriminatory policy which consistently refuses planning permission to Palestinians. Amnesty International is gravely concerned by the use of house demolitions in what seem to be measures of collective punishment.
Recommended Action. Call on the Israeli authorities to cease the demolition of houses as collective punishment or in reprisal cancel outstanding demolition orders based on discriminatory policies absolutely prohibit the demolition of houses with the inhabitants still inside; any IDF member who has ordered this, carried out such an order, or failed to bring help to those buried in the rubble should be brought to justice.
Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister
and Minister of Immigration Absorption
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street
P O Box 187
Jerusalem 91919, Israel
Eli Yishai, Minister of the Interior
and Deputy Prime Minister
Ministry of Interior
2 Kaplan Street
PO Box 6158
Kiryat Ben Gurion
Jerusalem 91061, Israel
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Minister of Defence
Ministry of Defence
Tel Aviv 67659, Israel
PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
Ngawang Pekar, Tibetan Monk
Our group is committed to work for the release of Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk who has been imprisoned by the Chinese authorities since his arrest in 1989 for participating in a peaceful demonstration in Lhasa.
Group 22 continues to strive for the release of our "adopted" prisoner of conscience (POC) Ngawang Pekar (naw-wan pee-kar). Pekar is a Tibetan Buddhist monk who has been imprisoned since 1989 after being arrested by Chinese authorities for participating in a peaceful demonstration in support of Tibetan independence.
In our June, 2002 newsletter it was reported that four nuns belonging to a group of prisoners dubbed the "Drapchi 14" had obtained early releases. It has now been confirmed that two more members of the group, Gyaltsen Drolkar and Ngawang Choezom, have also been released five months and nine months respectively ahead of their scheduled release dates. Although the exact reasons for their early releases are unknown, both nuns had been the adopted POCs of AIUSA groups that actively worked for their releases for a number of years. Congratulations are therefore in order for AIUSA Group 133 for the release of Gyaltsen Drolkar and AIUSA Group 30 for the release of Ngawang Choezom!
In a message recently sent to Amnesty International, former POC Palden Gyatso wrote "I would like to thank everyone in Amnesty and other organizations for their long standing and hard work for Tibetan political prisoners and for the emphasis to people like Tanag Jigme Sangpo, who now has been released. Thank you very much for this. Please don't forget however the political prisoners that are still in prison in Tibet today, particularly the prisoners that got their sentences extended after the May 1998 incidents. Once more thank you very much."
Although Ngawang Pekar's release date should be scheduled for sometime next year, as early release dates appear to be occurring with increasing frequency we should seek the same for Pekar. This month, we ask that you write to the Minister of Justice of the People's Republic of China. Below is a sample letter you can copy or use as a guide in composing your own:
I am writing to you out of concern for a prisoner being held in Tibet Autonomous Region Prison No. 1. The prisoner's name is NGAWANG PEKAR (layname: Paljor).
Ngawang Pekar, a Tibetan monk, was arrested in 1989 for participating in a peaceful demonstration in the city of Lasashi and sentenced to 8 years in prison. Subsequently, his sentence was increased by an additional 6 years.
Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and I am concerned that he has been imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of his universally recognized right to freedom of expression. I am further deeply concerned about reports that he has been beaten and denied access to medical care since his arrest.
I respectfully urge you to request that Ngawang Pekar's case be reviewed and that he be immediately and unconditionally released in accordance with the international laws to which China is signatory. I further request that he be allowed access to independent non-governmental agencies so that his current state of well being may be determined and made known.
I thank you for your attention to this important matter and would greatly appreciate any further information that your office may be able to provide.
Address your letter to:
ZHANG Fusen Buzhang
People's Republic of China
EVENING WITH PALDEN GYATSO
Author of “Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk”
Join us Monday, August 26, 2002, 7:30-9:00 PM at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles, when Los Angeles Friends of Tibet and Amnesty International present: PANGO YOD: I HAVE WITNESSED – The Remarkable Life of Palden Gyatso. There will also be a talk and book-signing on Saturday, August 24, 2002, 3 PM at BORDERS BOOKS & MUSIC in 1360 Westwood Blvd, West Los Angeles. (310) 475 3444)
In 1993, Venerable Palden Gyatso, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, escaped from Tibet after 33 years of imprisonment for exercising such "freedoms" as speech and religion. In these various institutions, Palden was malnourish-ed to the point where he survived by eating mice, worms, green grass, and even his own leather shoes. During his time of incarceration, he and others worked in prison fields, and when too exhausted to go on because of lack of food, they were kicked and whipped.
In October 1990, Palden was tortured with an electric baton for hours. One prison guard put the baton all over his body, giving him electric shocks. Then the baton was forced into his mouth, between his clenched teeth, breaking four of them. Before the instrument was jammed into his throat and the maximum shock of 70,000 volts was applied, one guard said, "I will give you Tibetan independence." Palden does not know how long he laid unconscious but when he came to he was covered in vomit and urine. Most of his teeth were missing and the rest fell out later.
This last incident, which the Chinese guards thought had broken his spirit, actually strengthened his will to show the world what the Chinese government had done to him, and continue to do to other Tibetan prisoners. With this resolve, he began to buy the instruments of torture (i.e. self-tightening handcuffs and thumbcuffs, serrated edged knives, cattle prods, electric batons) from Chinese guards so he could smuggle them to the West.
In 1992, Palden was released from prison and fled to India with his instruments of torture, over the Himalayas, so that he could tell his story. Despite emotional and physical scars from his ordeal, he feels no anger for the prison guards; however, he feels that the Chinese government is responsible for these and other similar atrocities.
His autobiography, 'Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk' is published by Grove Press.
(695 E. Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena)
Note: If you plan to purchase the book at Vroman’s look in the Current Events section or request it at Will Call..
In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All
By William F. Schulz, Executive Director Amnesty Intl, USA
If any foreign policy primer could be called a page-turner, it is this one by the executive director of Amnesty International USA. What the human rights community needs to do, argues Schulz in this well-written clarion call, is find "the compelling reasons why respect for human rights is in the best interests of the United States." For Schulz, this means convincing "realists" that a moral foreign policy serves a practical end. His case is strongest when arguing for human rights intervention into the cases of whistle-blowers around the world who have been jailed or killed. If these people's warnings about environmental degradation or inefficient control of weapons are not heard, he notes, the entire world, including the United States, could suffer disastrous consequences. –Publisher’s Weekly
Read us on line: http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~aigp22
Martha Ter Maat, 626-281-4039 / email@example.com
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Amnesty International Group 22
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Pasadena, CA 91115-0193