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Texas parole board recommends killer be spared from death

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The Texas parole board on Tuesday made a rare recommendation to commute a death sentence, unanimously endorsing a “lesser penalty” for a man set to be executed this week for masterminding the killings of his mother and brother.

Thomas “Bart” Whitaker is scheduled for lethal injection Thursday for the shootings of his mother and brother at their suburban Houston home in 2003. Whitaker’s father, Kent, also was shot in the attack but survived. He said he wants his 38-year-old son to live.

The recommendation from the seven-member Board of Pardons and Paroles goes to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. It’s unclear whether Abbott will accept or reject it. The governor appoints the parole board members.

It’s only the fourth time since the state resumed executions in 1982 that the parole board has recommended clemency within days of an inmate’s scheduled execution. In two of those cases, then-Gov. Rick Perry rejected the board’s recommendation and those prisoners are among the 548 executed in Texas, more than any other state.

David Gutierrez, the parole board’s presiding officer, said the panel recommended the governor commute Whitaker’s sentence “to a lesser penalty.” Jurors who convicted him and sentenced him to death in 2007 had only one other option, life imprisonment.

In the clemency petition, Whitaker’s attorneys said his execution would “permanently compound” his father’s suffering and grief, and compared the case to the biblical story of Cain and Abel, where God sent Cain to “restlessly wander” after killing his brother.

Kent Whitaker has said he’s seen “too much killing already,” has forgiven his son and believes his son is a changed person.

Whitaker, his son’s attorney and supporters awaited the decision in a conference room in the Texas Capitol. As lawyer Keith Hampton read the outcome, Whitaker covered his face with his hand and wept softly. After about 15 seconds, he looked at Hampton and murmured, “Thank you.”

“I never, ever believed that we were going to get a unanimous decision in favor,” he said as he and Hampton headed immediately across the building to Abbott’s ceremonial office — even though the governor wasn’t there — to plead with the governor that he honor the board’s recommendation.

“The best we were hoping was a 4-3,” he said. “This is beyond amazing. I can’t tell you.”

At his trial, Bart Whitaker said he took “100 percent” responsibility for planning and carrying out the killings. Prosecutors said he hated his parents and hoped to collect an inheritance.

“I think it’s the wrong decision and clearly the wrong decision,” said Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey, whose office prosecuted Whitaker and convinced a jury to convict him and send him to death row.

He said Tuesday that he didn’t know if he could speak with Abbott before the governor made a decision.

“I don’t know if that’s part of the allowed protocol,” Healey said. “It’s a unique situation.”

Evidence showed the murder plot included two of Whitaker’s friends and was at least Whitaker’s third attempt to kill his family. The shooting was made to look like an interrupted burglary at the family’s home in Sugar Land, southwest of Houston, and Bart Whitaker was shot in the arm to draw attention away from him.

About six months after the shootings, he disappeared. A year later, he was apprehended in Mexico.

The gunman, Chris Brashear, pleaded guilty in 2007 to a murder charge and was sentenced to life in prison. Another man, Steve Champagne, who drove Brashear from the Whitaker house the night of the shootings, took a 15-year prison term in exchange for testifying at Whitaker’s trial.

In 2007, death row inmate Kenneth Foster was spared and his sentence commuted to life. The board had voted 6-1 in favor of a commutation. Perry said Foster and a co-defendant in a fatal robbery in San Antonio should not have been tried together for capital murder. Foster was the getaway driver in the slaying and both he and a partner received death sentences. His co-defendant was executed.

In 2004, Perry overruled the parole board’s 5-1 vote favoring clemency and convicted killer Kelsey Patterson was executed. He took the same action in 2009 in the case of death row inmate Robert Lee Thompson, who was executed despite a favorable a 5-2 ruling from the board.

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Michael Graczyk reported from Houston.

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New Zealand is best placed to survive a global collapse of society, study suggests | World News

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New Zealand is the country most likely to survive a collapse of global civilisation, researchers have said.

A study has suggested a combination of ecological destruction, limited resources and population growth could trigger a worldwide breakdown “within few decades”, with climate change making things worse.

A “very likely” collapse would be characterised by the disintegration of supply chains, international agreements and global financial structures, according to researchers at the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University.

Wind turbines at Whitelee Windfarm in East Renfrewshire
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Researchers said the UK could increase its use of wind turbines to secure its future

They said problems could spread quickly because of how connected and economically dependant countries are on one another.

Five countries were identified as best placed to maintain civilisation within their own borders: New Zealand, Iceland, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia.

All of them are islands or island continents which have fewer extremes in temperatures and varied amounts of rainfall due to their proximity to oceans.

Researchers said this makes them most likely to have relatively stable conditions in the future, despite the effects of climate change – which is expected to hit subtropics and tropics the hardest.

New Zealand’s ability to produce geothermal and hydroelectric energy, its abundant agricultural land and its low population would allow it to survive relatively unscathed.

Although the UK has generally fertile soils and varied agricultural output, it does not have as much agricultural land available because of its population density, raising questions about future self-sufficiency.

Britain’s reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear energy was considered to be a risk as power sources could be “rendered at least partly inoperable” if global supply chains collapse.

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Researchers said this could be mitigated by the nation’s manufacturing capabilities.

Meeting the large population’s energy demands through renewables alone would require very extensive infrastructure, they said, but the UK could increase its resilience by harnessing more energy from wind and water bodies like lagoons or barrages in the Severn Estuary.

Professor Aled Jones, Director of the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, said “significant changes are possible in the coming years and decades”.

He said: “The impact of climate change, including increased frequency and intensity of drought and flooding, extreme temperatures, and greater population movement, could dictate the severity of these changes.”

Researchers identified pandemics as another risk to societal stability, citing the United Nations’ warning that future pandemics could be even more severe than COVID-19.

Twenty countries were analysed in the report.

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Boris Johnson urges world leaders to dig deep to boost children’s education across globe | Politics News

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Boris Johnson is urging world leaders to dip into their pockets to boost children’s education across the globe and help avoid a “legacy of wasted talent” as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The prime minister will host a summit in London on Thursday with the aim of fundraising among governments, business and charities for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

The GPE aims to raise $5bn (£3.6bn) over the next five years in order to get 175 million more children into education around the world.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta at Chequers, the country house of the serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, in Buckinghamshire. Picture date: Wednesday July 28, 2021.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will close Thursday’s summit

Ahead of the Summit, Mr Johnson said: “We have a fight on our hands to ensure COVID-19 does not scupper the life chances of millions of children, leaving a lasting legacy of wasted talent.

“Too many children around the world – girls in particular – were already out of school before the pandemic.

“Enabling them to learn and reach their full potential is the single greatest thing we can do to recover from this crisis and build better, greener and fairer societies.

“Today I am urging governments, businesses and philanthropists to invest in the future by fully funding the transformative work of the Global Partnership for Education.”

Girls are feared to be particularly at risk of never returning to school once they have left, with 132 million girls around the world already estimated to be out of school even before the impact of the COVID pandemic.

Thursday’s summit is being jointly hosted with Kenya and will be opened by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and his Kenyan counterpart, Raychelle Omamo.

The prime minister and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who held bilateral talks at Chequers on Wednesday, will close the summit, along with Australia’s former prime minister Julia Gillard, who is the GPE’s chair.

World leaders, businesses, UN agencies, charities and youth leaders will join the summit both virtually and in person.

The UK last month pledged £430m to the GPE at the G7 Summit in Cornwall.

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Pedro Castillo: Left-wing rural teacher becomes Peru’s president, promising a new constitution | World News

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A man who was until recently a teacher in a rural part of Peru has been sworn in as the country’s new president.

Pedro Castillo, representing a left-wing party, stunned voters and political observers by emerging from a group of 18 candidates and advancing to the run-off, finishing in first place.

His slogan, “no more poor in a rich country”, attracted support from the impoverished and those living in rural areas.

Pedro Castillo
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Pedro Castillo has never held political office before

Mr Castillo, 51, has never held political office before, defeating right-wing career politician Keiko Fujimori by just 44,000 votes.

He is promising a new constitution, and to rule for “my peasant sisters and brothers”.

The son of illiterate peasants, he led a teachers’ strike in 2017. He is his country’s first president of peasant origin.

Mr Castillo is married with two children. Video of his wife, filmed at the weekend, shows her sweeping the floor at their house in the Andes and tending to some animals. Their home is in the country’s third-poorest district.

Peru is the second largest copper exporter in the world, but its economy has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic. Economic gains made over the last decade have been eliminated.

Private companies are fearful that Mr Castillo will hike taxes on mining to fund health and education reforms.

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Pedro Castillo’s family leave behind rural life

But on the day of his inauguration, he said there was “not the remotest” plan to nationalise industry.

He will be seeking a “new pact” with private investors, however.

In a speech shortly after being sworn in, he said he wanted the state-owned bank to compete with private lenders but that he would maintain economic “order and predictability”.

He faces a divided Congress, meaning his political abilities will be tested from the start.

Pedro Castillo receives the presidential sash from the president of the Congress, Maria del Carmen Alva
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Mr Castillo receives the presidential sash

Claudia Navas, an analyst with the global firm Control Risks, said his government begins amid “considerable uncertainty”.

She added: “We still do not have clear his main lines of policy. However, we foresee that possibly, due to the characteristics of the Peruvian political system and the current general political and economic situation of the country, that Castillo will maintain a more pragmatic position than he announced during the campaign.

“The key is to build those consensuses and add strength to the proposals on how he is going to achieve them.”

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