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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Ten Death Penalty Stories of 2011 by Execution Watch

NEWS RELEASE

DEC. 31, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Elizabeth at 281-989-6556 or eliza.tx.usa@gmail.com

WEB: http://executionwatch.org; http://kpft.org; facebook: Execution Watch

EXECUTION WATCH NAMES TOP 10 DEATH PENALTY STORIES OF 2011

HOUSTON -- The most significant death-penalty stories of 2011 have been named by Execution Watch, a news program on Pacifica Radio Network’s KPFT FM 90.1 that broadcasts and streams live whenever Texas puts a prisoner to death:

1. Troy Davis is executed in Georgia despite lingering doubts about his guilt. The rush to execution was not as unusual as the broad international awareness of, and support for, Davis.

2. Mumia Abu-Jamal makes the metaphorically giant leap from Pennsylvania’s death row into general prison population after the Philadelphia district attorney announces it will stop its 30-year effort to obtain a durable death penalty against him.

3. Texas executes Mexican national Humberto Leal, flouting international law by refusing to give him a new hearing despite the failure by police to tell him at arrest that he may contact the Mexican Consulate for legal help.

4. Illinois abolishes the death penalty, reducing the number of states with capital punishment to 34. In a related story, Oregon’s governor says no executions will take place during his term but neither commutes any death sentences nor stops prison officials from selling excess execution drugs to other states.

5. The European Union escalates its activism against American use of the death penalty by banning the export to the United States of barbiturates that could be used to in lethal-injection executions.

6. The number of new death sentences in the United States reaches an historic low of 78, the first time in more than three decades that fewer than 100 people were condemned to death.

7. Anthony Graves, exonerated from death row for a murder he did not commit, successfully sues the State of Texas for compensation owed to him by law, accepting from the comptroller a check for $1.45 million.

8. The Texas death penalty is declared unconstitutional by State District Judge Teresa Hawthorne of Dallas, echoing Harris County District Judge Kevin Fine’s earlier ruling, made moot by a plea deal.

9. The death penalty becomes part of the GOP primary race when Rick Perry elicits applause from a debate audience for presiding over more executions than any governor in history and disbelief from the media for declaring he has never lost sleep over an execution.

10. Director Werner Herzog successfully releases INTO THE ABYSS, a gritty documentary describing from several points of view a triple murder in Texas and its aftermath. Another documentary involving capital punishment, INCENDIARY, premieres and wins an award at Austin’s South by SouthWest Film Festival.

Other stories in 2011 that Execution Watch designated as especially noteworthy include:

- A district judge in Georgetown takes under advisement a request for a special inquiry into alleged wrongdoing by the top prosecutor in a murder trial that put an innocent man behind bars for 25 years. Michael Morton presented evidence that ex-district attorney Ken Anderson knowingly withheld evidence that might have led to his acquittal.

- The U.S. Supreme Court vacates a $14 million jury verdict against former New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. for withholding evidence that might have averted the wrongful conviction and near-execution of John Thompson. A divided court said a prosecutor’s office cannot be held liable for a member’s illegal withholding of exculpatory evidence due to inadequate training.

- The Texas Forensic Science Commission releases its final report on the Todd Willingham case, directing the Innocence Project of Texas to work with the state fire marshall to review more than 700 arson cases for possible wrongful convictions based on outdated science.

- Literary critics respond enthusiastically to the publication of AUTHOBIOGRAPHY OF AN EXECUTION, a highly personal and humanistic memoir by David Dow, litigation director of Texas Defender Service.

- A Louisiana-based coalition of civic and religious groups called I Want to Serve launches a campaign to outlaw the exclusion from capital juries of people who oppose the death penalty.

(END)

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Executions in U.S. by State Since 1930 and 1977 (Texas number one in both time periods)

The Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a report on December 11, 2011 that contained a table on page 15 with all executions by state since 1930 and since 1977.  Texas is by far the number one execution state in both time periods according to the BJS table, with 761 executions since 1930 and 477 since 1977.  The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a list that goes back to 1924 and says that a total of 361 people were executed in Texas from 1924 to 1964. There was then an 18 year moratorium on executions in Texas, and add the 477 in the modern era for a grand total of 838 executions in Texas since 1924.

Texas Moratorium Network revised the BJS  table to include executions in 2011 and also added executions in Hawaii and Alaska that occurred after 1930, which were left out of the BJS table. Neither Alaska or Hawaii conducted any executions since becoming states in 1959. In the table below, a handful of states had zero executions since 1930, but there were executions in various numbers in all those states before 1930. The total number of all executions in the U.S. since 1930 is 5,104 . The total since 1977 is 1277.  The table below does not include all the many executions in states prior to 1930. If you count all known executions from the year 1685 to the present, Virginia is the number one state with 1,386 followed by Texas with 1,232.  You can see a list of executions since 1685 here, to which you have to add the ones in the modern era.

 

Note: Statistics on executions under civil authority have been collected by the federal government annually since since 1930. These data exclude 160 executions carried out by military authorities between 1930 and 1961.

Source: BJS, National Prisoner Statistics Program and Texas Moratorium Network

 

 

State                                      Since 1930                    Since 1977
Texas 761   477
Georgia 414   52
New York 329   0
North Carolina     306   43
California 305   13
Florida                                                                                          239   71
Ohio 213   46
South Carolina 204   43
Virginia 200   109
Alabama 184   55
Mississippi 167   15
Louisiana 161   28
Pennsylvania 155   3
Oklahoma 154   96
Arkansas 145   27
Missouri 129   68
Kentucky 106   3
Illinois 102   12
Tennessee 99   6
New Jersey 74   0
Maryland 73   5
Arizona 62   28
Indiana 61   20
Washington 52   5
Colorado 48   1
Nevada 41   12
District of Columbia 40   0
West Virginia 40   0
Federal system 36   3
Massachusetts 27   0
Delaware 26   15
Connecticut 22   1
Oregon 21   2
Utah 20   7
Iowa 18   0
Kansas 15   0
Montana 9   3
New Mexico 9   1
Wyoming 8   1
Nebraska 7   3
Idaho 4   2
Vermont 4   0
South Dakota 2   1
New Hampshire 1   0
Alaska 3   0
Hawaii 8   0
Maine 0   0
Michigan 0   0
North Dakota 0   0
Wisconsin 0   0
Rhode Island 0   0
Minnesota 0   0
 Totals 5104   1277

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Another Texas Judge Rules Texas Death Penalty Unconstitutional

Another judge in Texas has ruled that the Texas death penalty is unconstitutional. This is the second time in less than two years that a judge in Texas has made such a ruling. In 2010, Judge Kevin Fine ruled the Texas death penalty was unconstitutional and then later had to withdraw the ruling. There will be a hearing in January 2012 on the ruling by Judge Teresa Hawthorne in Dallas. Texas Moratorium Network is making tentative plans to be at the hearing, just as we attended the hearing in Houston in December 2010. These type of rulings are likely to continue as more and more judges reach the same conclusion. One day, we expect it will be the U.S. Supreme Court that will rule the death penalty unconstitutional, but until then we are happy to see lower level courts build momentum towards the day when the death penalty will be rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you live in the Dallas area, we hope you will come to the hearing. We will post the date as soon as we find out.

From the Dallas Morning News:
A state district judge in Dallas County has ruled that a Texas death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it allows prosecutors to arbitrarily seek capital punishment.

Prosecutors are appealing Judge Teresa Hawthorne’s decision and have filed a motion to recuse her from Roderick Harris’ capital murder case.

Hawthorne acknowledged when making her ruling last week that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and other courts have “consistently rejected” the reasons that she found the statute unconstitutional, according to a transcript of the hearing. But she said changes in the law can still be made.

Hawthorne, who could not be reached for comment later, said she refused to be a “rubber-stamp judge.” The Democrat took office in January and is a former public defender.

“My decision is not an act of unabashed judicial activism,” she said Monday from the bench. “I remember when women and blacks could not vote. I remember when so-called witches were burned. I remember when gays had to hide to be in the military. My decision is not to buck the system or stir the waters.”

and
Hawthorne ruled that she believed:
The Legislature failed to define terms like “continuing threat” and “moral blameworthiness” for jurors deciding between a life or death sentence.

The Legislature’s definition of mitigating evidence is vague.

State law prevents jurors from knowing that one vote for life can keep a defendant from receiving a death sentence.
The law allowing a judge to enter into evidence “any matter that the court deems relevant to sentence” means that each judge hearing a case has the power to influence a sentence.

“The law should not be arbitrary or capricious,” Hawthorne said in court.

The Dallas County district attorney’s office and special prosecutor Kevin Brooks declined to comment about the ruling or the recusal motion.

Brooks was appointed special prosecutor in the case because he had already been working on the case when he left the DA’s office earlier this year.

Brad Lollar, one of Harris’ defense attorneys, said he believed that the appellate court would be interested in issues surrounding the lack of definitions and the fact that jurors consider whether a defendant would continue to be a threat based on his release into society.

“That’s not going to happen” after sentencing in a capital murder case, Lollar said. “He’ll either get life without parole or death.”

A Harris County judge made a similar ruling on the constitutionality of the death penalty in March 2010. State District Judge Kevin Fine eventually withdrew his ruling and refused to recuse himself from the case.

That case ended in a plea agreement earlier this year when John Edward Green Jr. pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of murder. He fatally shot a Houston woman and wounded her sister in a June 2008 robbery.

The chance that a higher court will agree with Hawthorne is “a long shot,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. But he said changes in an appeals court’s makeup can produce different rulings on the same issues.

“That’s sometimes how laws get changed,” Dieter said. “What’s been rejected before could be seen differently.”
Lollar pointed to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as an example of a jurist changing his opinion on death penalty issues. Lollar said that within a 10-year span, Kennedy changed his mind on whether the mentally retarded and those who are 17 at the time of the crime could be executed for capital murder. Executions of the mentally retarded and juveniles are no longer allowed in the United States.

“Unless you give the court the opportunity to reconsider, how do you change the law?” Lollar said.

A hearing on the recusal motion is scheduled for January before another judge. Testimony in Harris’ trial is expected to begin in May after a months-long process of jury selection.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Charlie Baird Files For Travis County District Attorney

AUSTIN—Telling gathered supporters it was time for real reform in the District Attorney's Office, Charlie Baird formally filed for a place on the Democratic Primary ballot Monday afternoon at Travis County Democratic Party Headquarters. 

    Baird, a former Travis County district court judge and judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, said his campaign was about ideas and making the criminal justice system in Travis County a model for the rest of the state and the nation. Baird filed petitions with a total of 893 signatures of Travis County voters to qualify for the ballot. 


    "I am running for District Attorney because I believe we have a moral obligation to help people lead a good and productive life and that, if we do that, we are better as a society--we are better people. That's what I want to do as your District Attorney. It's time to take people that don't need to be in the criminal justice system and get them help to break the cycle of criminality and support their children and families, and live the kind of life that we all want to live," Baird said. 



    "People in our community are continually being ground up by the criminal justice system. It's time to stop that and focus on rehabilitation and addressing the root causes of crime so we can have a safer and more productive society. This is where my passion is. This is where my heart is," he continued. 



    "We know that we can do a better job with the criminal justice system in Travis County than we're doing now.  We are the most progressive county in Texas, and we should to be the model not just for our state but for the nation when it comes to how to treat people in the criminal justice system and still provide for public safety," he continued. 



     A longtime progressive and jurist who has gained national attention for his work on such cases as that of the late Tim Cole, Baird is campaigning on issues including reforming the Felony Diversion Program, increasing rehabilitative opportunities, and operating the DA's office 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Video of Exoneree Juan Melendez at 12th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty



Juan Melendez spent seventeen years,eight months and one day on Florida's death row for a crime he did not commit. His story highlights the many problems that plague the death penalty system, including its high risk and inevitability of being imposed on the innocent,its unfair application on the basis of race and ethnicity and its almost exclusive imposition on our most vulnerable members of society—the poor.

12th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty
Austin, Texas
October 22, 2011
www.marchforabolition.org

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Clarence Darrow: "A Plea for Mercy" delivered September 1924

Clarence Darrow delivered "A Plea for Mercy" at the Sept 1924 trial of Nathan Leopold and Walter Loeb, who were two Jewish wealthy University of Michigan alumni and University of Chicago students who murdered 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks in 1924 and were sentenced to life imprisonment. They were motivated to murder Franks by their desire to commit a perfect crime. Once apprehended, Leopold and Loeb retained Clarence Darrow as counsel for the defense. Darrow’s summation in their trial is noted for its influential criticism of capital punishment and retributive, as opposed to rehabilitative, penal systems. Darrow succeeded. The judge sentenced Leopold and Loeb each to life imprisonment (for the murder) plus 99 years each (for the kidnapping). Loeb was murdered while in prison by another inmate. In 1958, after 33 years in prison, Leopold was released on parole. He died in 1971.

"A Plea for Mercy"

Now, your Honor, I have spoken about the war. I believed in it. I don’t know whether I was crazy or not. Sometimes I think perhaps I was. I approved of it; I joined in the general cry of madness and despair. I urged men to fight. I was safe because I was too old to go. I was like the rest. What did they do? Right or wrong, justifiable or unjustifiable -- which I need not discuss today -- it changed the world. For four long years the civilized world was engaged in killing men. Christian against Christian, barbarian uniting with Christians to kill Christians; anything to kill. It was taught in every school, aye in the Sunday schools. The little children played at war. The toddling children on the street. Do you suppose this world has ever been the same since? How long, your Honor, will it take for the world to get back the humane emotions that were slowly growing before the war? How long will it take the calloused hearts of men before the scars of hatred and cruelty shall be removed?

We read of killing one hundred thousand men in a day. We read about it and we rejoiced in it -- if it was the other fellows who were killed. We were fed on flesh and drank blood. Even down to the prattling babe. I need not tell you how many upright, honorable young boys have come into this court charged with murder, some saved and some sent to their death, boys who fought in this war and learned to place a cheap value on human life. You know it and I know it. These boys were brought up in it. The tales of death were in their homes, their playgrounds, their schools; they were in the newspapers that they read; it was a part of the common frenzy -- what was a life? It was nothing. It was the least sacred thing in existence and these boys were trained to this cruelty.

It will take fifty years to wipe it out of the human heart, if ever. I know this, that after the Civil War in 1865, crimes of this sort increased, marvelously. No one needs to tell me that crime has no cause. It has as definite a cause as any other disease, and I know that out of the hatred and bitterness of the Civil War crime increased as America had never seen before. I know that Europe is going through the same experience today; I know it has followed every war; and I know it has influenced these boys so that life was not the same to them as it would have been if the world had not made red with blood. I protest against the crimes and mistakes of society being visited upon them. All of us have a share in it. I have mine. I cannot tell and I shall never know how many words of mine might have given birth to cruelty in place of love and kindness and charity.

Your Honor knows that in this very court crimes of violence have increased growing out of the war. Not necessarily by those who fought but by those that learned that blood was cheap, and human life was cheap, and if the State could take it lightly why not the boy? There are causes for this terrible crime. There are causes as I have said for everything that happens in the world. War is a part of it; education is a part of it; birth is a part of it; money is a part of it -- all these conspired to compass the destruction of these two poor boys.

Has the court any right to consider anything but these two boys? The State says that your Honor has a right to consider the welfare of the community, as you have. If the welfare of the community would be benefited by taking these lives, well and good. I think it would work evil that no one could measure. Has your Honor a right to consider the families of these defendants? I have been sorry, and I am sorry for the bereavement of Mr. And Mrs. Frank, for those broken ties that cannot be healed. All I can hope and wish is that some good may come from it all. But as compared with the families of Leopold and Loeb, the Franks are to be envied -- and everyone knows it.

I do not know how much salvage there is in these two boys. I hate to say it in their presence, but what is there to look forward to? I do not know but what your Honor would be merciful to them, but not merciful to civilization, and not merciful if you tied a rope around their necks and let them die; merciful to them, but not merciful to civilization, and not merciful to those who would be left behind. To spend the balance of their days in prison is mighty little to look forward to, if anything. Is it anything? They may have the hope that as the years roll around they might be released. I do not know. I do not know. I will be honest with this court as I have tried to be from the beginning. I know that these boys are not fit to be at large. I believe they will not be until they pass through the next stage of life, at forty-five or fifty. Whether they will then, I cannot tell. I am sure of this; that I will not be here to help them. So far as I am concerned, it is over.

I would not tell this court that I do not hope that some time, when life and age have changed their bodies, as they do, and have changed their emotions, as they do -- that they may once more return to life. I would be the last person on earth to close the door of hope to any human being that lives, and least of all to my clients. But what have they to look forward to? Nothing. And I think here of the stanza of Housman:

Now hollow fires burn out to black,

And lights are fluttering low:

Square your shoulders, lift your pack

And leave your friends and go.

O never fear, lads, naught’s to dread,

Look not left nor right:

In all the endless road you tread

There’s nothing but the night.

I care not, your Honor, whether the march begins at the gallows or when the gates of Joilet close upon them, there is nothing but the night, and that is little for any human being to expect.

But there are others to consider. Here are these two families, who have led honest lives, who will bear the name that they bear, and future generations must carry it on.

Here is Leopold’s father -- and this boy was the pride of his life. He watched him, he cared for him, he worked for him; the boy was brilliant and accomplished, he educated him, and he thought that fame and position awaited him, as it should have awaited. It is a hard thing for a father to see his life’s hopes crumble into dust.

Should he be considered? Should his brothers be considered? Will it do society any good or make your life safer, or any human being’s life safer, if it should be handed down from generation to generation, that this boy, their kin, died upon the scaffold?

And Loeb’s the same. Here are the faithful uncle and brother, who have watched here day by day, while Dickie’s father and his mother are too ill to stand this terrific strain, and shall be waiting for a message which means more to them than it can mean to you or me. Shall these be taken into account in this general bereavement?

Have they any rights? Is there any reason, your Honor, why their proud names and all the future generations that bear them shall have this bar sinister written across them? How many boys and girls, how many unborn children will feel it? It is bad enough as it is, God knows. It is bad enough, however it is. But it’s not yet death on the scaffold. It’s not that. And I ask your Honor, in addition to all that I have said to save two honorable families from a disgrace that never ends, and which could be of no avail to help any human being that lives.

Now, I must say a word more and then I will leave this with you where I should have left it long ago. None of us are unmindful of the public; courts are not, and juries are not. We placed our fate in the hands of a trained court, thinking that he would be more mindful and considerate than a jury. I cannot say how people feel. I have stood here for three months as one might stand at the ocean trying to sweep back the tide. I hope the seas are subsiding and the wind is falling, and I believe they are, but I wish to make no false pretense to this court. The easy thing and the popular thing to do is to hang my clients. I know it. Men and women who do not think will applaud. The cruel and thoughtless will approve. It will be easy today; but in Chicago, and reaching out over the length and breadth of the land, more and more fathers and mothers, the humane, the kind and the hopeful, who are gaining an understanding and asking questions not only about these poor boys, but about their own -- these will join in no acclaim at the death of my clients.

These would ask that the shedding of blood be stopped, and that the normal feelings of man resume their sway. And as the days and the months and the years go on, they will ask it more and more. But, your Honor, what they shall ask may not count. I know the easy way. I know the future is with me, and what I stand for here; not merely for the lives of these two unfortunate lads, but for all boys and all girls; for all of the young, and as far as possible, for all of the old. I am pleading for life, understanding, charity, kindness, and the infinite mercy that considers all. I am pleading that we overcome cruelty with kindness and hatred with love. I know the future is on my side. Your Honor stands between the past and the future. You may hang these boys; you may hang them by the neck until they are dead. But in doing it you will turn your face toward the past. In doing it you are making it harder for every other boy who in ignorance and darkness must grope his way through the mazes which only childhood knows. In doing it you will make it harder for unborn children. You may save them and make it easier for every child that sometime may stand where these boys stand. You will make it easier for every human being with an aspiration and a vision and a hope and a fate. I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding and faith that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man.

I feel that I should apologize for the length of time I have taken. This case may not be as important as I think it is, and I am sure I do not need to tell this court, or to tell my friends that I would fight just as hard for the poor as for the rich. If I should succeed, my greatest reward and my greatest hope will be that for the countless unfortunates who must tread the same road in blind childhood that these poor boys have trod -- that I have done something to help human understanding, to temper justice with mercy, to overcome hate with love.

I was reading last night of the aspiration of the old Persian poet, Omar Khayyam. It appealed to me as the highest that I can vision. I wish it was in my heart, and I wish it was in the hearts of all:

So I be written in the Book of Love,

I do not care about that Book above.

Erase my name or write it as you will,

So I be written in the Book of Love.

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Friday, December 02, 2011

Sister of Troy Davis, Martina Correia Dies; She Fought to Prove His Innocence and Save Him From Execution

From an email from Marlene Martin of CEDP:

Terribly sad news....

I just learned a few moments ago that Martina Correia, the courageous sister of Troy Davis died today. As many of you know she was fighting breast cancer and had become very ill and weak in the last few months.

For all of you that were lucky enough to meet Martina, they met someone with incredible conviction and determination.

In one of my last conversations with Martina she told me someone in France had emailed her to say they were sorry that despite all of their efforts and protests for Troy, they had failed.  Martina said, “I want people to know that we didn’t fail. As long as we keep hammering away at this thing, as long as we refuse to give up, we haven’t failed. We’ll be doing what Troy would have wanted us to do. Our efforts made an impact and we’ll continue to make an impact.”

That is always how she was. She refused to be defeated.  She always looked to the positive, she always looked to ways we could mobilize to win.

I feel so proud and honored to have fought alongside Martina and Troy’s family.
And I know many, many of you feel the same way.

This news came to me in a phone call from Mark Clements, someone who spent 28 years wrongfully incarcerated in IL, he said, “We will miss her, she was a warrior in this fight. To the best of our ability we must continue this fight she started for Troy and for others.”

Her life was consumed by the fight to win justice for her brother and to raise the banner for abolition of the death penalty.
She was an inspiration to us all.

Now it will be up to us all to fight on in her memory and in Troys memory -- and to not give up.

As we learn more details on services and arrangements, we will post them on the list serve and on our website.

Marlene
Campaign to End the Death Penalty


She stood by her brother, who maintained his innocence in the death of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989. MacPhail was moonlighting on a security detail when he was shot three times.
After Davis' trial, a number of key witnesses recanted their testimony. Davis' case was known around the world and fueled the debate over eyewitness testimony.
Correia fought to clear her brother's name.
"She was the No. 1 messenger and was the one that really inspired people to get involved and work for him," Laura Moye, who heads Amnesty International's campaign to abolish the death penalty, told the Associated Press. "She is the person who really sparked the global campaign for Troy Davis."
Media witnesses reported that Davis, 42, addressed the MacPhail family from the gurney before his Sept. 21 execution and again proclaimed his innocence. He also asked his friends and supporters to keep searching for the truth.
After the execution, his sister told the AP, "We're going to keep moving forward. That's what my brother would have wanted us to do, not be angry and wallow and those kinds of things."
Correia is survived by her 17-year-old son, Antone De'Juan Davis Correia; brother Lester Davis; and sisters Kimberly and Ebony Davis, the Savannah Morning News said.
This year, the Davis family also lost their mother, Virginia Davis, who died in April, the Associated Press reported.

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