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Concept: Capital punishment


The rate of erroneous conviction of innocent criminal defendants is often described as not merely unknown but unknowable. There is no systematic method to determine the accuracy of a criminal conviction; if there were, these errors would not occur in the first place. As a result, very few false convictions are ever discovered, and those that are discovered are not representative of the group as a whole. In the United States, however, a high proportion of false convictions that do come to light and produce exonerations are concentrated among the tiny minority of cases in which defendants are sentenced to death. This makes it possible to use data on death row exonerations to estimate the overall rate of false conviction among death sentences. The high rate of exoneration among death-sentenced defendants appears to be driven by the threat of execution, but most death-sentenced defendants are removed from death row and resentenced to life imprisonment, after which the likelihood of exoneration drops sharply. We use survival analysis to model this effect, and estimate that if all death-sentenced defendants remained under sentence of death indefinitely, at least 4.1% would be exonerated. We conclude that this is a conservative estimate of the proportion of false conviction among death sentences in the United States.

Concepts: United States, Crime, Conviction, Criminal law, Prison, Capital punishment, Death row, Miscarriage of justice


From the eighteenth century through to the abolition of public executions in England in 1868, the touch of a freshly hanged man’s hand was sought after to cure a variety of swellings, wens in particular. While the healing properties of corpse hands in general were acknowledged and experimented with in early modern medicine, the gallows cure achieved prominence during the second half of the eighteenth century. What was it about the hanged man’s hand (and it always was a male appendage) that gave it such potency? While frequently denounced as a disgusting ‘superstition’ in the press, this popular medical practice was inadvertently legitimised and institutionalised by the authorities through changes in execution procedure.

Concepts: Medicine, Therapy, Science, Capital punishment, Hanging, New England, Decapitation, Gallows


Genomic pipelines consist of several pieces of third party software and, because of their experimental nature, frequent changes and updates are commonly necessary thus raising serious deployment and reproducibility issues. Docker containers are emerging as a possible solution for many of these problems, as they allow the packaging of pipelines in an isolated and self-contained manner. This makes it easy to distribute and execute pipelines in a portable manner across a wide range of computing platforms. Thus, the question that arises is to what extent the use of Docker containers might affect the performance of these pipelines. Here we address this question and conclude that Docker containers have only a minor impact on the performance of common genomic pipelines, which is negligible when the executed jobs are long in terms of computational time.

Concepts: Computer, Computational genomics, Impact factor, Capital punishment, Computing, Computing platform, Computing platforms


Mental health evidence concerning antisocial and psychopathic traits appears to be introduced frequently in capital murder trials in the United States to argue that defendants are a “continuing threat” to society and thus worthy of execution. Using a simulation design, the present research examined how layperson perceptions of the psychopathic traits exhibited by a capital defendant would impact their attitudes about whether he should receive a death sentence. Across three studies (total N = 362), ratings of a defendant’s perceived level of psychopathy strongly predicted support for executing him. The vast majority of the predictive utility was attributable to interpersonal and affective traits historically associated with psychopathy rather than traits associated with a criminal and socially deviant lifestyle. A defendant’s perceived lack of remorse in particular was influential, although perceptions of grandiose self-worth and a manipulative interpersonal style also contributed incrementally to support for a death sentence. These results highlight how attributions regarding socially undesirable personality traits can have a pronounced negative impact on layperson attitudes toward persons who are perceived to exhibit these characteristics. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2013 APA, all rights reserved).

Concepts: Psychology, Crime, Mental disorder, Capital punishment, Antisocial personality disorder, Psychopathy, Murder, Capital punishment in the United States


Hanging is known not only as a common method of suicide but also as a capital punishment method in some countries. Although several cases have been reported to survive after the attempted suicidal/accidental hanging, to the extent of our knowledge, no modern case of survival after judicial hanging exists. We reported a case of an individual who revived after modern judicial hanging despite being declared dead. The case was admitted with poor clinical presentations and the Glasgow Coma Scale of 6/15. The victim received all the standard supportive intensive care and gained complete clinical recovery.

Concepts: Scientific method, Death, Intensive care medicine, Capital punishment, Hanging, Glasgow Coma Scale, Coma, Plato


Untrustworthy faces incur negative judgments across numerous domains. Existing work in this area has focused on situations in which the target’s trustworthiness is relevant to the judgment (e.g., criminal verdicts and economic games). Yet in the present studies, we found that people also overgeneralized trustworthiness in criminal-sentencing decisions when trustworthiness should not be judicially relevant, and they did so even for the most extreme sentencing decision: condemning someone to death. In Study 1, we found that perceptions of untrustworthiness predicted death sentences (vs. life sentences) for convicted murderers in Florida (N = 742). Moreover, in Study 2, we found that the link between trustworthiness and the death sentence occurred even when participants viewed innocent people who had been exonerated after originally being sentenced to death. These results highlight the power of facial appearance to prejudice perceivers and affect life outcomes even to the point of execution, which suggests an alarming bias in the criminal-justice system.

Concepts: Crime, Prison, Capital punishment, Murder, Capital punishment in the United States


The case of the ‘murder of Meredith Kercher’ has been the subject of intense media scrutiny since 2007 when the offence was committed. Three individuals were arrested and accused of the crime. Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were exonerated in March 2015. Another defendant, Rudy Guede, remains convicted as the sole perpetrator. He was implicated by multiple DNA profiles recovered from the murder room and the bathroom. However, the evidence against Guede contrasted strongly with the limited evidence against two co-defendants, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. There were no DNA profiles pertaining to Amanda Knox in the murder room itself. She was separately implicated by a knife recovered remote from the crime scene (discovered in a cutlery drawer at Sollecito’s apartment), along with DNA profiles in a bathroom that she had shared with the victim. Upon analysis a low level trace of DNA attributed to the murder victim was found on the blade of a knife, along with DNA profiles attributed to Amanda Knox from the handle. However, there was no evidence of blood on the knife blade itself. A separate key piece of evidence was a DNA profile attributed to Raffaele Sollecito recovered from a forcibly removed bra-clasp found in the murder room. There followed an extraordinary series of trials and retrials where the pair were convicted, exonerated, re-convicted and finally, in March 2015 they were finally exonerated (no further appeal is possible). Since Knox and Sollecito have been found innocent it is opportune to carry out an extensive review of the case to discover the errors that led to conviction so that similar mistakes do not occur in the future. It is accepted that the DNA profiles attributed to them were transferred by methods unrelated to the crime event itself. There is a wealth of material available from the judgements and other reports which can be analysed in order to show the errors of thinking. The final judgement of the case-the Marasca-Bruno motivation report-exposes the illogicality of much of the previous court proceedings that led to the convictions and provides useful guidance for judges to follow.

Concepts: DNA, Abortion, Crime, Conviction, Criminal law, Capital punishment, DNA profiling, Miscarriage of justice


We conducted five studies to demonstrate that individuals' beliefs in pure evil (BPE) and in pure good (BPG) are valid and important psychological constructs. First, these studies together demonstrated that BPE and BPG are reliable, unitary, and stable constructs each composed of eight theoretically interdependent dimensions. Second, these studies showed that across a wide variety of different measures, higher BPE consistently related to greater intergroup aggression (e.g., supporting the death penalty and preemptive military aggression) and less intergroup prosociality (e.g., opposing criminal rehabilitation, proracial policies, and beneficial social programs), while higher BPG consistently related to less intergroup aggression (e.g., opposing proviolent foreign relations and torture) and greater intergroup prosociality (e.g., supporting criminal rehabilitation and support for diplomacy). In sum, these studies evidence that BPE and BPG relate to aggressive and prosocial orientations toward others and have strong potential to advance current theories on prejudice, aggression, and prosociality.

Concepts: Crime, Criminal law, Capital punishment, Republic of China, Core issues in ethics, Torture, Amnesty International, Death penalty


Watching other people move elicits engagement of a collection of sensorimotor brain regions collectively termed the Action Observation Network (AON). An extensive literature documents more robust AON responses when observing or executing familiar compared to unfamiliar actions, as well as a positive correlation between amplitude of AON response and an observer’s familiarity with an observed or executed movement. On the other hand, emerging evidence shows patterns of AON activity counter to these findings, whereby in some circumstances, unfamiliar actions lead to greater AON engagement than familiar actions. In an attempt to reconcile these conflicting findings, some have proposed that the relationship between AON response amplitude and action familiarity is nonlinear in nature. In the present study, we used an elaborate training intervention to probe the relationship between movement familiarity and AON engagement during action execution and action observation tasks. Participants underwent fMRI scanning while executing one set of guitar sequences with a scanner-compatible bass guitar and observing a second set of sequences. Participants then acquired further physical practice or observational experience with half of these stimuli outside the scanner across 3 days. Participants then returned for an identical scanning session, wherein they executed and observed equal numbers of familiar (trained) and unfamiliar (untrained) guitar sequences. Via region of interest analyses, we extracted activity within AON regions engaged during both scanning sessions, and then fit linear, quadratic and cubic regression models to these data. The data best support the cubic regression models, suggesting that the response profile within key sensorimotor brain regions associated with the AON respond to action familiarity in a nonlinear manner. Moreover, by probing the subjective nature of the prediction error signal, we show results consistent with a predictive coding account of AON engagement during action observation and execution that also takes into account effects of changes in neural efficiency.

Concepts: Scientific method, Regression analysis, Observation, Philosophy of science, Hypothesis, Nature, Capital punishment, Execution of Saddam Hussein


elPrep is a high-performance tool for preparing sequence alignment/map files for variant calling in sequencing pipelines. It can be used as a replacement for SAMtools and Picard for preparation steps such as filtering, sorting, marking duplicates, reordering contigs, and so on, while producing identical results. What sets elPrep apart is its software architecture that allows executing preparation pipelines by making only a single pass through the data, no matter how many preparation steps are used in the pipeline. elPrep is designed as a multithreaded application that runs entirely in memory, avoids repeated file I/O, and merges the computation of several preparation steps to significantly speed up the execution time. For example, for a preparation pipeline of five steps on a whole-exome BAM file (NA12878), we reduce the execution time from about 1:40 hours, when using a combination of SAMtools and Picard, to about 15 minutes when using elPrep, while utilising the same server resources, here 48 threads and 23GB of RAM. For the same pipeline on whole-genome data (NA12878), elPrep reduces the runtime from 24 hours to less than 5 hours. As a typical clinical study may contain sequencing data for hundreds of patients, elPrep can remove several hundreds of hours of computing time, and thus substantially reduce analysis time and cost.

Concepts: Clinical trial, Sequence, Computer, Computer program, Capital punishment, Computing, File system, Inter-process communication