[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, IOWA, OKLA., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Feb 14 19:56:10 UTC 2007
Defense suggests a mystery culprit in store clerk's killing
Testimony begins today in the capital murder trial of a 28-year-old man
accused of abducting a store clerk and shooting him to death.
Gary Wayne Weaver could face the death penalty if convicted in the slaying
of Ramesh Cherukumalli, who police said was forced to use his ATM card to
get money for the defendant in March. Prosecutor Sunni Mitchell declined
to comment on the case.
The defense will argue that the victim befriended Weaver and his
girlfriend, Christina Cheri Dewitt, 19. She also is charged with capital
murder, but no trial date has been set.
Defense attorney Anthony Osso said Cherukumalli, 32, twice went to
Dewitt's apartment, which she shared with Weaver, to see the woman. Osso
said Weaver, who was high on crack, was upset Dewitt was spending time
Osso said another person, whom the attorney plans to identify during the
trial, shot Cherukumalli several times March 14 after an argument under a
southeast Houston bridge.
He also said Weaver is recanting his confession.
The lawyer said police found Cherukumalli's debit card in Weaver's wallet
in the apartment, which is near the convenience store in the 5000 block of
Red Bluff. He said the debit card was used after Cherukumalli had been
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Willacy DA protests charges by cuffing himself at jail
A South Texas prosecutor chained himself to a card table with toy
handcuffs at the county jail Tuesday to protest corruption charges filed
Willacy County District Attorney Juan Guerra, 51, said he can't enter his
own office because a special prosecutor in the case, who is a longtime
political rival, has taken the keys.
"As long as he has the keys, we don't have access to that office," Guerra
told the Valley Morning Star for Wednesday editions. "The office of the
district attorney cannot be closed. I have to be accessible to the people,
so here I am. We're open for business. We're happy campers."
Guerra was charged Monday with 3 felony counts of theft by a public
servant following an investigation by special prosecutor Gustavo Garza.
The charges allege Guerra tried to extort $10,000 from a bail bonding
company, privately resold a car that had been seized by forfeiture, and
took $800 in public funds by seeking reimbursement for expenses he didn't
He also was charged with 1 count of interfering with the public duties of
a peace officer after blocking the door of his office Sunday when
Raymondville police tried to serve a search warrant.
His attorney, former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, plans to
counter the charges filed against Guerra.
"We have solid evidence that (Garza) has no evidence for any of those
claims," Hinojosa said. "This is a travesty of justice."
On Tuesday, he again dared officers to arrest him like he did Sunday,
saying he violated his bond when he traveled to Mexico, his birthplace.
"The conditions they placed on me are ridiculous," he said.
Raymondville is in the Rio Grande Valley, about 25 miles north of the
(source: Associated Press)
Capital murder trial opens for man accused in baby's death
At first, the death of 12-week-old Nicholas Hoffert appeared to be from
natural causes, even though his adoptive father's detached demeanor seemed
odd to an officer who tried to help revive the lifeless baby last year.
Hours later, however, David Giddens became the main suspect in his son's
death after an autopsy found that the baby died of a skull fracture.
Tuesday, as Giddens' capital murder trial opened in Johnson County's 249th
District Court, prosecutors and defense attorneys began laying out their
versions of how the baby died, using similar evidence, including Giddens'
statements to police.
The state is not seeking the death penalty for the 43-year-old Cleburne
man. Instead, jurors will be asked to send Giddens to prison for life if
they convict him of either capital murder or injury to a child by failing
to get medical attention for the baby, also a 1st-degree felony.
In a 50-minute opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Kriste
Burnett set the stage for the police, medical and civilian witnesses who
are expected to testify. The prosecution hopes to convince jurors that
Giddens intentionally caused the head injuries that killed Nicholas, one
of the twin boys he and his wife, Lynn, were adopting.
Bryan Proctor, the first officer to arrive after Lynn Giddens' frantic 911
call at 2 a.m. Feb. 8, 2006, said he "kept getting red flags" after he
found David Giddens standing over the baby's body, lying on a kitchen
counter. Giddens began performing CPR after he saw the officer, but
Proctor said he took over because Giddens was doing it incorrectly.
Later, Proctor said, Giddens seemed unemotional, detached and uninterested
in his son's condition, unlike his wife, who was clearly upset.
After the skull fractures were found, Giddens gave authorities three
statements. First he claimed no part in his son's death, then admitted
more responsibility as detectives pressed harder with new evidence,
During the second interview, Giddens told Detective Keith Fox that he
stumbled and his son's head hit a wall, and then he dropped the baby on
the hardwood floor.
But Burnett used a doll to demonstrate that the injuries could not have
occurred that way. "This is not an accidental injury," she said. "It's an
intentional infliction of extreme force by striking the baby's head with
an object or against an object."
Even if Giddens hit the baby with his hand, as in the third statement he
gave police, it would not have caused the skull fracture, Burnett
Instead, she suggested, the baby's caretaker, Lela Walker, may have heard
Giddens inflicting the fatal blows through a baby monitor the afternoon
before the baby died.
Walker, who is Lynn Giddens' aunt, testified that David Giddens became
angry when Nicholas cried loudly and would not take his bottle. Throwing
the bottle and blanket on the living-room love seat, Giddens took the
crying baby and walked quickly into a bedroom, she said.
"All of a sudden, I heard a noise real loud, like this," Walker said,
whacking the witness stand. "The crying stopped. I put Gary [the other
twin] down and started toward the room. I heard a 2nd noise. Then he
started crying again, like a whimper."
In his opening statement, defense attorney Dick Turner contends that
Giddens, who has multiple sclerosis, has consistently told police that he
accidentally killed his son when he stumbled and the baby's head hit a
wall and then the floor.
"This was a tragic accident," he said. "The detectives are trying to make
a mountain out of a molehill. They had 3 shots at a man with MS and no
sleep, and every statement he gave was totally consistent with the
evidence except the last statement given without an attorney in an attempt
to make a case."
Turner contends that the 3rd statement, taken by an Arlington polygraph
examiner, is misleading because it was not recorded, is incomplete and
makes it appear that Giddens admitted that he killed his son because he
Turner also hopes to discredit Walker's testimony today. He contends that
the noises she heard were Giddens slapping his son's diaper and his back
while burping him. He said that Walker and Giddens did not get along.
The trial resumes at 9 this morning before visiting Judge Kit Cooke.
(source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)
Johnson's Appeal in Death Penalty Case to be Heard today
A federal appeals court in St. Louis is slated to hear arguments today in
the case of an Iowa woman on federal death row.
Angela Johnson was sentenced to die for the 1993 drug-related slayings of
five people near Mason City.
Johnson and her boyfriend, Dustin Honken, were convicted of planning and
carrying out the slayings of 3 adults and 2 children. Both were sentenced
to death, becoming the first Iowans to received the death penalty in more
than 40 years.
Johnson's attorneys are challenging the denial of a change-of-venue
request, jury selection and the connection between drug trafficking and
Honken's appeal is pending.
(source: Associated Press)
Ada prosecutor starts Web site in response to Grisham book
Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson in Oklahoma has put up a
Web site in response to a book by best-selling author John Grisham which
criticizes the wrongful conviction of 2 men on murder charges.
The book "The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town" is about
the conviction and eventual exoneration of Ron Williamson in the 1982 rape
and murder of Deborah Sue Carter in Ada. Williamson and Dennis Fritz were
convicted with Williamson given the death penalty and Fritz life in
Both were later cleared by DNA evidence and a key prosecution witness in
the case has been convicted of the crime.
Peterson says the book is not accurate and he's started a Web site in
which he disputes conclusions made by Grisham and points out suspected
Peterson says circumstantial evidence convinced him at the time that
Williamson and Fritz were the killers.
Grisham was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and spent his first 7 years in
Black Oak. His 2001 novel "A Painted House" was set in that town in 1952.
Other books include "The Firm," "The Pelican Brief," and "The Runaway
(source: Associated Press)
Lack of Black Bench Nominees Criticized-----No African-Americans in 62
openings for U.S. trial judgeships
In nine of 11 Southern states, President George W. Bush has never
nominated an African-American for any of 62 openings for federal trial
court judgeships, according to federal court data.
In his home state of Texas, the president has not nominated a single black
judge to the federal bench in 18 nominations sent to the Senate during the
past six years, according to Leslie Proll, director of the NAACP Legal
Defense and Education Fund's Washington office.
The lack of black nominees has caused some African-American lawyers to
express concern that retiring black judges appointed years ago will leave
a new crop of Southern lawyers who may never see a black judge on the
Mississippi and Alabama have not had a black judge appointed in more than
20 years, a situation Proll called, "very egregious. So many of the Carter
judges are leaving the court through death or retirement. Generations are
changing on the bench, and nobody is following them," she said.
In Alabama, where all 9 Bush nominees have been white, U.S. Rep. Artur
Davis, D-Ala., said, "It is inconceivable to me that there has not been a
black judge of caliber to serve on the federal bench in the last 20 years.
"The first thing you hear is they can't find anyone qualified. That is not
plausible, given the number of black lawyers in the state," Davis said.
PROBLEM IN CIRCUITS
The more powerful federal appellate courts of the 4th, 5th and 11th U.S.
circuit courts of appeals have fared little better with black nominations.
Of 14 nominees, no blacks have been proposed for the 5th or 11th circuits.
Bush has nominated three blacks to the 4th Circuit -- Claude Allen of
Virginia, who later withdrew in the face of Democratic opposition; Judge
Roger Gregory, originally a recess appointment by President Clinton
renominated by Bush in 2001; and Judge Allyson Duncan of North Carolina,
confirmed in 2003.
Presidents typically consider judicial recommendations by senators from
the state affected. In the 5th Circuit, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., put the
only black federal judge in the state on a short list of recommendations
for the 5th Circuit in 2004 and 2007, according to Susan Irby, Lott's
communication director. But Chief Judge Henry T. Wingate, a 1985 Reagan
appointee to Mississippi's Southern District, was passed over both times
in favor of white candidates: Charles Pickering, who left in 2004 when his
controversial recess appointment expired, and Leslie Southwick, nominated
on Jan. 9.
Irby said Lott "casts a wide net" when seeking potential judicial
recommendations. "I can't give you specifics, but he has reached out to a
diverse group of folks," she said.
Carlton Reeves, president-elect of the Magnolia Bar Association, which
represents black lawyers, said Lott, "has never, to my knowledge,
consulted with the Magnolia Bar, and we have been in existence since
Irby said she "took umbrage" at not including the recent nomination of
Halil Ozerden, whose family came from Turkey, as "putting diversity on the
court. It is unfair not to note that he is not Caucasian," she said, in
apparent reference to his nationality rather than ethnicity.
In 11 Southern states of the 4th, 5th and 11th circuits, 75 trial court
nominations produced no blacks in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana,
Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia or West
Virginia, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and
NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Bush did nominate one African-American in Florida, Marcia Cooke, and one
in Maryland, William Quarles. In addition, he has nominated 11 Hispanics
to district courts in Texas, Florida and Mississippi and one Hispanic to
the 5th Circuit.
National Bar Association President Linnes Finney of Stuart, Fla., said
that while the number of black nominees is "disappointing," the "White
House general counsels have been receptive to meeting with us to discuss
appointment of African-Americans to the federal judiciary."
The White House did not respond to repeated requests for comment on its
nominations, nor did Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas.; John Cornyn,
R-Texas; Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; or Senate Judiciary Committee member Jeff
Nationwide, Bush has appointed 18 black judges out of 263 appointments to
all federal courts during his 6 years in office, according to the Senate
Judiciary Committee and federal judiciary data.
(source: National Law Journal)
Author of "Death of Capital Punishment" was Misleading
The article "Death to Capital Punishment" is an injustice to journalism.
The "journalist" does a poor job at defending his opinion and
intentionally skews statistics to mislead readers. This article was only
written to further his agenda against capital punishment. I realize that
this is an opinion column, but the fact that the author intentionally
tries to mislead readers is shameful and, in my opinion, discredits
himself and his writing.
To defend my position (something the author of the article did very
poorly) I'll start with the fact that he skewed information in the
article. The author reports that the United States, China, Iran and Saudi
Arabia collectively account for 94 % of the 2,148 reported executions in
2005. He then negatively compares the U.S. to these countries by saying,
"Some company we keep." But are we really in the company of the other
I went to research the matter myself and after .29 seconds (according to
Google) I discovered that by typing "death penalty world statistics" into
my browser I found the same site that the author used to hreference in his
article. Yes, I had to look no further than the first link to find the
wonderful source of information the author used. The fact he presented is
true, but the way he presented it is misleading. China executed 1,770
people. That alone is 82 % of the total. The U.S. only accounts for 2.7 %
of the total. Then, if one accounts for the fact that it is believed by
many, including a Chinese legal expert, that China actually executed about
8,000 people in 2005, this changes the numbers completely. If this is
accounted for then China accounts for 95 percent of the world's total
executions, and the United States would only account for 0.7 %. Comparing
these numbers to each country's respective percent of the world's
population yields even more insight. China accounts for 20 % of the
world's population and is responsible for 95 % of the world's executions,
whereas the United States accounts for 4.5 percent of the world's
population and is responsible for merely 0.7 % of the total executions. In
fact, the U.S. is the only country of the 4 to be responsible for a lesser
percent of the world's executions than their own percent of the world's
population. Contrary to what the author would like everyone to believe,
this clearly shows that we are not in the same league as the other three
countries. Therefore, we should not be compared to them.
The author also claims that capital punishment should be banned because
the U.S. has racist tendencies. As evidence, he says that about 1/3 of the
people executed in the last 30 years were black and that black people only
account for about 15 % of the U.S. population. While true, this evidence
is not substantial to prove that there is a bias against blacks in the
legal system. 1,057 people have been executed since 1976 and according to
the Death Penalty Information Center, 1,046 of them were men. Men are
about 99 % of those executed in the US and men only account for about 49 %
of the United State's population. Would anyone consider this evidence
enough to condemn society as being sexist against males?
The author also claims that the U.S. should eliminate the death penalty
because other countries have. Well I'd like to respond to this by asking
the author if he would jump off a cliff after watching someone else do it.
The U.S. does not follow world convention in many ways. The U.S. has no
official language, has a strong army and has a strong economy. No other
country in the world can say the same. Mimicking other countries is
foolish. The U.S. is the most powerful country in the world and our
Constitution is the second oldest in the world. I see this as a sign that
the U.S. must be doing something right and that perhaps other countries
should follow the their example.
Challenging the current legality of capital punishment, the author said,
"it seems evident that the authors' (founding fathers) were aware that the
standards for acceptable punishments might change with time, so they did
not outlaw any specific form of punishment but rather all punishments that
may be deemed cruel." Well this is not true. The founding fathers used the
word "and" for a reason. Punishments are allowed if they are cruel or
unusual, but not both. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that capital
punishment is not cruel AND unusual. Also, the standards for acceptable
punishments have changed. That is why lethal injection is used now instead
of hanging, firing squad, or electrocution. Other changes include the
Supreme Court cases Atkins vs. Virginia (2002) and Roper vs. Simmons
(2005) which deemed it cruel and unusual for the mentally handicapped and
those under 18 to receive the death penalty. Additional Supreme Court
cases declare drawing and quartering, revoking one's citizenship and
excessive punishments as cruel and unusual.
I'd like to close by stating that I am not a big fan of how capital
punishment is currently implemented. While I do agree with it in
principal, I think that the current process is rather ineffective and that
hreforms should be made to fix the problems. That being said, I'm even
less of a fan of poorly written articles that have the intent to deceive.
Someone with the responsibility of writing for the Collegiate Times should
not try to construe facts or evidence just to make a point. Solid
evidence, not intentionally misleading statistics, should be used to
defend one's position. The author has a very powerful closing line that
reads "The United States cannot in good conscience maintain the death
penalty." Well, I have a statement that I believe to be equally powerful.
The author of this article cannot, in good conscience, continue to poorly
write intentionally deceitful articles. That being said, I hope that this
letter has brought attention to the author's poor journalism, and maybe he
will stop trying to misinform the Virginia Tech community in the near
Robert Fox----Sophomore, Engineering
(source: Collegiate Times)
The death sentence needs to be killed off
We saw the pictures of Saddam Hussein's body, hanging from the end of a
rope, at the end of last year. A few days later we viewed with horror the
bodies of his 2 close associates, 1 of whom had been decapitated while
being executed by hanging.
Here in the United States our feelings about capital punishment are
intense and deep. For many people just talking about this topic invokes
strong emotions. "SMU capital punishment discussion gets corporal" read
part of the headline of an article in the Feb. 4 issue of this newspaper.
Is there any justification for capital punishment when almost every state
now provides the option of life sentence without the possibility of
Polls show that a majority of Minnesotans favor bringing back capital
punishment for some violent crimes. From time to time Gov. Pawlenty has
proposed a constitutional amendment that would re-institute the death
penalty if approved by voters. He claims that the possibility of death
would deter violent crime.
But data does not support that claim. On average states that have the
death penalty do not have fewer murders than states that do not have it.
In Canada, the rate of murders has dropped sharply since capital
punishment was banned in 1976. In our neighbor to the north, the homicide
rate has gone down from 3.09 per 100,000 population in 1975 to 1.73 in
2003 a 44 % decline.
In the United States less than two percent of people convicted of murder
are executed. Most of those are indigent, unable to afford adequate legal
counsel. Inexperienced, incompetent lawyers are often appointed by courts
to defend them.
It costs taxpayers two or three times as much to convict and sentence
someone to die for his/her crime as to incarcerate them for life.
According to Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking," the
federal government spent $82.5 million to investigate and prosecute
Timothy McVeigh, and another $15 million for McVeigh's defense.
Many condemned people remain on death row for 10 to 15 years, while filing
numerous judicial appeals, and requests for administrative pardon or
clemency. They claim trial errors, cite mitigating circumstances, or even
protest their innocence. Though the public is exasperated with the delays
and length of time it takes to carry out executions in America, justice
requires ample opportunities for a condemned person to be exonerated.
Since the Supreme Court in 1973 allowed capital punishment to resume, 123
prisoners have been released after evidence that they were innocent of the
crimes for which they were sentenced to death became available. Because
there have been more than a thousand death sentences carried out since
1973, as many as 1 out of every 8 or 9 condemned persons may be innocent
of the crime for which they were convicted.
Who can deny the possibility that the lives of some innocent people have
been taken by the state? Amnesty International takes the position that "as
long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing the
innocent can never be eliminated." Even if only 1 person were the victim
of this legalized homicide by our government acting in our interest, we
would all be responsible for wrongful death.
Last fall a North Dakota jury recommended that Alfonso Rodriquez Jr.,
convicted abductor and killer of Dru Sjodin, should receive the death
sentence. And a judge agreed and Rodriquez has been sentenced to death. My
visits with some of Sjodin's Pequot Lakes, Minn., high school friends
revealed that she was a beautiful young woman, highly regarded by her
peers, and had a wonderful life ahead of her. The desire of Dru's parents
and friends that Rodriquez be executed is understandable. The callous
taking of a human life raises a desire for revenge in most of us. But
Rodriquez's death will not restore Sjodin's life.
Acting in revenge is not the Christian way. Jesus expressly repudiated
that ethic. "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a
tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if
anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."
Contemporary Vatican officials have condemned Saddam Hussein's execution.
Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice
and Peace said: "There is no doubt that Saddam was a ruthless dictator
responsible for hundreds of deaths. But one does not compensate for one
crime with another crime. The church proclaims that human life is to be
protected from conception to natural death. The death penalty is not a
Although opposed to the death penalty, Susan Jacoby, in "Wild Justice: The
Evolution of Revenge," mentions an argument that capital punishment may
contribute to the stability of society by assuring victims of crimes and
others that retributive justice is being carried out. In other words,
capital sentences help keep us from taking the law into our own hands,
because we believe that the perpetrator will receive punishment
commensurate with the consequences of his crime.
We read how Saddam was taunted even while praying shortly before his
execution. Are we Americans really that close to committing the barbarisms
currently being perpetrated in Iraq? Have we not progressed much further
from our own wild West, in which law and order were never certain and
always fragile? Could we ever return to lynching black men who were not
tried and sentenced by a court of law?
Will not life without the possibility of parole be just as effective as
capital punishment in convincing us that we can count on our judicial
system to administer appropriate punishment, and to protect us from
(source: Stewart Shaw is a former Winona State University registrar who is
getting a second education in retirement. He also volunteers for several
local organizations; Winona Daily News)
>From death row to the talk circuit
Life for Kirk Bloods-worth almost ended on death row. In 1992 he was the
1st man who served time on death row to be freed based on DNA evidence --
and dumb luck. He said a judge who'd heard his case stored key evidence in
his chambers instead of releasing it to be stored and possibly lost or
The invention of DNA testing occurred just in time to exonerate
Bloodsworth, although he'd been convicted for the rape and murder of
9-year-old-Dawn Hamilton. The DNA ultimately led to the real killer's
Bloodworth's talk at Bergen Academies Friday gave the audience of mostly
students an inside look at one man's experience with a flawed criminal
justice system. He is not alone.
According to Innocence Project numbers, since Bloodsworth's ordeal in the
early Nineties, 14 other death row denizens nationwide have been
exonerated. Also, DNA proof prior to trial has freed thousands of
wrongfully accused suspects.
But it's astonishing to watch teams of lawyers and young law students
successfully tackle decades-old wrongful convictions. The Innocence
Project, Princeton-based Centurion Ministries and dozens of other law
projects were created in the past few years to find cases with big holes
that only money -- unavailable to the average poor defendant -- as well as
time and imagination can fill.
The non-profit Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by lawyers Barry Scheck
and Peter Neufeld, has been very successful in assisting a staggering
number of prisoners unjustly convicted and jailed.
About 1,000 people have been executed nationwide since the U.S. Supreme
Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1977 after a nearly 10-year
moratorium. In one tragic Centurion case, evidence clearing Jimmy Wingo
came to light after he was executed in Louisiana in 1987.
With so much direct evidence demonstrating the fallibility of criminal
prosecutions, there's no question that New Jersey lawmakers should follow
the state Death Penalty Study Commission's advice and adopt legislation
abolishing capital punishment for good. 9 men now on death row could be
switched to a sentence of life with no possibility for parole.
The first former death row inmate to use DNA comparisons as his key to
freedom, Bloodsworth said his imprisonment for a crime he didn't commit
hurt him and his family. It robbed him of nine years of freedom and left
his mom and dad in financial ruin.
Other inmates viewed him as a child molester, and aimed a particularly
virulent strain of hatred at him. "We're going to do to you what you did
to that little girl," he recalled hearing them say. "Through the vents in
my cell I heard 'We're going to get you, Bloodsworth,' over and over and
over for months and years."
Bloodsworth was invited to address students at at Bergen Academies by the
school's Amnesty International student group. Representatives from New
Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty were also invited to share
their concerns about the propriety of the death penalty when there is so
much room for error.
"The kids are really passionate," said senior, Leon Ratz, 17, founder of
the student human rights group, which hosted an audience of about 125 for
last Friday's death penalty program. "I was appalled. This is not what the
Founding Fathers wanted and not the America I believe in....But we can
change it!" Ratz said emphatically.
According to the Innocence Project, 194 people in 32 states including New
Jersey have been exonerated after conviction as the result of DNA
comparisons. The prospect of unintentionally taking an innocent man's life
is the lingering fear behind calls for abolishing the death penalty.
The growth of forensic technology has proven that applying science
uncovers an embarrassingly high number of wrongful convictions.
In case studies of New Jersey and elsewhere, the justice process gets
tainted and the outcome of a case is anything but just: prosecutors
withhold evidence, police plant evidence, "informants" are encouraged to
lie and witnesses or co-defendants protect their own interest.
Opponents of the death penalty are trawling the state for support to get
the Legislature to abolish it once and for all, a position reflecting
death penalty commission conclusions.
It should be abolished because there are too many Kirk Bloodsworths.
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