Firing Squads for Death Row Inmates?

I read a few days ago in The Root that Trump is trying to push through a plan to perform executions by firing squad and the electric chair, and I was incensed. This is the most unconscionable … it is something I expect in Somalia, not in the U.S.! I hadn’t yet written about this latest abomination, but this afternoon, our friend Jeff has, and he has done such a great job that there is no need for me to re-invent the wheel! Thanks Jeff! 52 days and counting …

On The Fence Voters

A Fitting Swan Song for This Administration

Justice Department rushing to expand execution firing squads for federal death row inmates: CNN headline. November 28, 2020.

Of course, they are. Surprising nobody, it looks like the current loser president wants to end his reign of horror – with even more shock and awe. Because, as we’ve seen for most of his term, cruelty is the point, not the exception.

According to the CNN piece, there are some scheduled executions set to take place in the last days of the administration, and they’re doing everything they can to make them happen by rushing through changes to rules through an approved amendment to the “Manner of Federal Executions.”

That rule change gives federal prosecutors a wider variety of options to avoid delays if the state in which the inmate was sentenced doesn’t provide other alternatives. The rule was pushed forward by none…

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A Jaw-Dropping Headline …

The headline:

Failed Texas Bill Would Have Made Death Penalty Possible in Abortion Cases

Say WHAT???  You have got to be kidding me?!?!?! The story …

A bill considered by members of the Texas House of Representatives this week would have criminalized abortions and opened up the possibility for women and physicians to receive the death penalty.

The bill would have allowed women who obtained an abortion or doctors who performed one to be charged with assault or criminal homicide, the latter of which is punishable by death in Texas. It would have allowed no exceptions for abortions in cases of rape or when the health of the mother is at risk.

Yes, the bill failed to pass the Texas state legislature, with even some legislators who identify as being strongly “pro-life” feeling it went too far.  But I find the fact that somebody even thought of it to be chilling.

So, a young mother who already has two children, works two jobs to support them and still struggles to put food on the table and pay the rent, gets pregnant.  Knowing that she cannot possibly manage to support yet another child, she struggles, searches her soul, sheds many a tear, but at the end of the day she sees no choice.  She has an abortion.  Does anybody honestly think she should be punished at all, let alone be treated in the same way as a man who goes on a shooting spree in a mosque, or an African-American church and kills 10, 15, 20 people?  WHERE is the logic in this?

Worse yet, picture the woman who discovers, at the same time she finds she is pregnant, that she has cervical cancer and carrying the fetus to full term would likely cause her death.  Somebody in Texas thinks this woman should be arrested, sent to prison and put on death row for having an abortion in an effort to save her live?  Again I ask … WHERE is the logic in this?

Nobody can dispute that the U.S. has moved backward in terms of civil rights over the past two years.  Bigotry in all its ugly forms has expanded, obviously including misogyny.  One of Trump’s selling points in his campaign was that he would put judges on the bench who would be willing to overturn Roe v Wade, and he has placed two such judges on the Supreme Court so far.  What happens if Roe v Wade is overturned?  If we have people who honestly think that abortion is akin to murder, then folks, we are in deep trouble.

Women make up only 28.7% of all state legislatures in this country.  There are 127 (23.7%) women in the U.S. Congress.  It’s an improvement, but still not what I would define as equality.  I repeat what I said not too long ago … how would men like it if women decided whether or not they should be allowed their Viagra prescriptions?  Ponder on that one for a while.

Oh … one last thing here.  All those who claim to be “pro-life” … why aren’t they out there fighting hard for universal healthcare, for an expansion of social services to protect and preserve the lives of those who are living below the poverty line?  And why aren’t they vociferously speaking out against the death penalty?  If they aren’t doing those things, if abortion is the only area in which they are concerned about human life, then they aren’t ‘pro-life’, but rather they are misogynists, considering women to be second-class citizens.

Do all lives really matter?

Once again I wish to share a post written by Brosephus. Today he asks the question, “how can we say all lives matter when discrimination is still rampant, particularly in law enforcement and the Justice Department? Please take a moment to read … he has done his homework and draws some spot-on conclusions. Thank you, Brosephus!

The Mind of Brosephus

When I initially began writing this post, my mind was focused on the justice system.  This week there were two death penalty cases in the news that set my brain cells ablaze in that special way that forces me to burn Google searches like they’re hot dogs on a grill.  These two cases were interesting in their own rights, but they also led me to reading up on disparities in how the death penalty is applied in America.

Just hours before he was supposed to be put to death, Marcellus Williams received a stay of execution from the governor of Missouri.  His stay was granted because there was new evidence involving DNA that could potentially exonerate Williams for the killing of Felicia Gayle in 2001.  The testing was unavailable then, but testing on material on the murder weapon excluded Williams as a possible contributor to the DNA.  It is not…

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Thoughts on Hypocrisy …

The right to life is a moral principle based on the belief that a human being has the right to live and, in particular, should not be killed by another human being. The concept of a right to life arises in debates on issues of capital punishment, war, abortion, euthanasia, justifiable homicide and, by extension, public health care.

It seems to me that those who vociferously claim to be “pro-life” would cherry-pick the instances in which they support another’s right to life.  For example, pro-lifers are against abortion … in all cases.  Yet, once a child is born to a mother who does not have the wherewithal to provide for that child, then the same pro-lifers who forbade the mother from having an abortion, turn their backs.  They are unwilling to have their tax dollars used to support the child, to provide medical care for the child, or a free education.  So in essence, they are crueler than those of us who would support a woman’s right to choose, since they have insisted on this child being born, but are now willing to allow it to live in abject poverty, without his basic needs being met.  Listening to the song In The Ghetto, originally by Elvis Presley, one stanza in particular jumps out:

People, don’t you understand

The child needs a helping hand

Or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day?

Take a look at you and me

Are we too blind to see

Do we simply turn our heads, and look the other way?

Rather than making it harder for women to have abortions, why not make it less necessary for a woman to need an abortion?  Ever hear the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”?  But instead, the very same ones who decry abortions, have routinely and consistently spoken out to de-fund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides counseling, health care and contraceptives to women.  And many who consider themselves ‘pro-lifers’, are also against contraceptives.  Think about the Hobby Lobby and other similar cases.  So, they want to deny women a right to birth control, but also deny her the right to do what she feels is best in the case of an unwanted pregnancy.

Those same people who unconditionally oppose a woman’s right to seek an abortion, are by large the same who support capital punishment, seeing no problem with taking a man’s life for a crime he may have committed, even when his guilt may be in question.

And almost to a person, those who claim to be pro-life see no problem with advocating for every person in the nation, regardless of mental state, emotional health, capability, or temperament, to own and carry a firearm.  They applaud when somebody takes the life of another, claiming it was “self-defense” … even though more often than not, it was not self-defense at all.  They also applaud when police brutally murder a black man, frequently without reason.  Just don’t kill a small pocket of cells within a woman’s womb, but kill all the people who might have committed crimes.

Where is that moral outrage on the part of pro-lifers when Trump is threatening to ban refugees because they are Muslims … how do they justify that they are anti-immigration?  Do not the lives of those men, women and children living in conditions whereby bombs are being dropped over their heads over night matter?  Do not the lives of Syrians, Iraqis, Afghanis, and Yeminis count in the ‘pro-life’ ideology?

Let us speak for a moment of drones dropping bombs on unsuspecting civilians in the Middle East.  Or what of the “mother of all bombs” recently dropped in Afghanistan, or the Tomahawk missiles in Syria?  Each of these took lives.  If you support any of these, especially in the cases where civilians were killed, you cannot claim to be pro-life.

Let me tell you what I think.  I think that in order for a person to be honestly considered pro-life, that person must be:

  • Pro-immigration
  • Against capital punishment
  • Pro-national health care
  • Pro-social services for the poor
  • Anti-discrimination of every type, including religious
  • Pro-gun regulation, including at a minimum, a ban on assault-type weapons
  • Anti-war

There are others, but I think you see my point.  Nobody is truly pro-life … perhaps Mother Teresa was, or perhaps Pope Francis is, but for the rest of us, there are circumstances in which we are in support of ending a life.  Right?  Wrong?  I do not pretend to know.  I know only what my own conscience tells me.  And my own conscience, while not a fan of abortion, believes in a woman’s right to choice because I am not inside that woman’s mind, I cannot know her circumstances.  It may be that she knows she cannot take proper care of that child for whatever reason.  That is not mine to judge.  But I believe there are far worse examples of taking a life than to take the life of a fetus whose life would quite possibly be a tragedy from day one.

One final note:  The population on earth is 7.5 billion people and counting.  So far this year, 2017, there have been some 48 million births, and fewer than 20 million deaths. The world is already overpopulated, and some would deny a woman birth control???

Next time somebody claims to be ‘pro-life’, ask them if they support capital punishment, random killings in the Middle East, or if they wish to repeal ACA which provides health care for those who would otherwise have none.

I do not ask that you agree with this commentary, but merely that you think about it.

The Link Between The NRA And Kenneth Williams

Yesterday I opined, rather too emotionally, that the execution of Kenneth Williams in Arkansas was a barbaric act, an abomination.  I stand firmly by that opinion, albeit with less vitriol in my heart. In several of my comment responses to that post, I claimed that we cannot, if we are determined to maintain our devotion to state-sanctioned killing, call ourselves a ‘civilized society’. ‘Barbaric’ and ‘civilized’ are 180° apart.

Just as state-sanctioned executions must be outlawed in a civilized society, so must be the unlimited and uncontrolled proliferation of guns in the hands of civilians.  Yes, I realized I have gone down this path before, and I realize that it tends to garner controversy, but I feel the need, at this point, to state my humble opinion yet again.  One of the main goals of this blog is to root out social injustice wherever I see it, and I see it here. Two things inspired this post.

nraOn Friday, Donald Trump spoke to the National Rifle Association (NRA), a group that played a powerful role in Trump’s election, providing critical support in battle­ground states. It spent more on behalf of Trump than any outside group and began its advertising and other efforts earlier than in any other presidential cycle. Mostly, Trump tooted his own horn, as Trump is wont to do, since nobody else will. But a few statements stood out as being blatantly egregious. Here are some excerpts from his speech, along with Filosofa’s Snarky Comments:

  • “But we have news that you’ve been waiting for for a long time: The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end.  (Applause.)  You have a true friend and champion in the White House.  No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners. No longer will the government be trying to undermine your rights and your freedoms as Americans.”  What eight-year assault?  During President Obama’s entire eight years, there was not a single serious gun regulation law passed.  Not one.  Nobody came and took people’s guns from their hands. 

  • “That is why I have selected as your Attorney General, number one, a really fine person, a really good man, a man who has spent his career fighting crime, supporting the police, and defending the Second Amendment. For the first time in a long time, you now have a pro-Second-Amendment, tough-on-crime Attorney General, and his name is Jeff Sessions.” Good man?  Is he speaking of racist, bigoted Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, who believes in every WHITE man, woman and child owning a gun.

  • “As your President, I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Never ever. Freedom is not a gift from government.  Freedom is a gift from God.” So, God wants us all to own guns and go around killing one another?  That was not what I had been led to believe in the past. 

  • “These are horrible times for certain obvious reasons. But we’re going to make them great times again.  Every day, we are up against those who would take away our freedoms, restrict our liberties, and even those who want to abolish the Second Amendment.  We must be vigilant.” What obvious reasons?  People with common sense?  People who expect humanitarian leadership?  People who are not bigots and racists?  Or people who are not worshippers of the 2nd Amendment? To my ears, these words have a dictatorial tone.

  • “And to the NRA, I can proudly say I will never, ever let you down.” Maybe not, but he damn sure has no problem letting down the people who are paying his salary and who expect better of their so-called leader.  For Trump’s information, the NRA is NOT synonymous with We The People.

gun-pointingThose, friends, are the words of the man we elected to represent We The People, but apparently he only represents those of us who support completely unregulated gun ownership and proliferation, or his ‘friends’ in the NRA.  Therefore, he does not represent me. Here is a link to the full transcript of his speech.

On to the second thing that triggered this post.  On Thursday night, Kenneth Williams was executed in the state of Arkansas.  Williams was convicted of causing the deaths of four people, three with a firearm.

Firearms are much more tightly controlled in the rest of the western/industrialized world:

  • In the United Kingdom, access by the general public to firearms is tightly controlled by law. The country has one of the lowest rates of gun homicides in the world.

  • Individuals in Canada who wish to acquire firearms are required to obtain a firearms acquisition certificate (FAC) from their local police agency. All firearms owners are required to possess a firearms license and all firearms are required to be registered.

  • In France, the weapons law begins by stating “No one shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords”, and very few exceptions are allowed. However, citizens are permitted to possess firearms for hunting and sport shooting, but only after submitting to a lengthy licensing procedure.

  • Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. Germans do not have fundamental rights to bear arms, unlike Americans do under the Second Amendment, and the country’s violent past including the Nazi era has certainly helped to shape the current strict regulations.

  • Dutch gun laws are actually quite strict. Gun ownership is seen not as a right, but a privilege, with hunting and target shooting the only two legitimate reasons for owning a gun. Self defence is not regarded as a valid argument for owning a gun, and only the police are allowed to carry a weapon.

Every other western nation has a gun homicide rate of under 0.5 per 100,000. The U.S. homicide rate per 100,000 is 3.8.  Tell you something?

“Overall, our results show that the U.S., which has the most firearms per capita in the world, suffers disproportionately from firearms compared with other high-income countries,” said study author Erin Grinshteyn, an assistant professor at the School of Community Health Science at the University of Nevada-Reno. “These results are consistent with the hypothesis that our firearms are killing us rather than protecting us,” she said in a journal news release.

I am thoroughly against capital punishment, and I am equally against the right of every citizen to own a gun, as anybody who has read this blog over time is aware.  But today I pose these two questions:  Would there be far fewer people on death row if we did not provide easy, nearly unlimited access to guns by any citizen? Does anybody still want to make the case for unregulated gun proliferation?

Shame, Tears, and a Broken Heart

Tonight I was having a bit of fun, working on a post about flying cars, when a news flash came across my screen and I found myself suddenly overwhelmed … with sadness, with tears, with grief for a man I never knew.  Then with rage, and a sense that there is no place left for soft, squishy hearts like mine in this world any more.

Despite the best efforts of humanitarians, lawyers, and courts around the nation, the lowly, trashy state of Arkansas performed its 4th execution in as many days, mainly in order to use up a supply of killing drugs whose expiry date was near.  I’m sorry, but you will have to wait until this afternoon to read about flying cars, for I am still sobbing, broken-hearted, and wishing, not for the first time in the past two years, that I was almost any other nationality.  Right at this particular moment, I absolutely despise my country and what it has allowed to happen.  Tonight my heart is so broken …

“Arkansas executed a death-row inmate late Thursday night in the state’s fourth lethal injection in eight days, concluding a frantic execution schedule officials said was necessary in order to carry out death sentences before one of their drugs expired.” 

I make no apologies for what I am about to say.  I hope … I sincerely hope … that every single person involved in the decision to execute four men, to take four lives, because they did not wish their drugs to reach expiry date … 

I want to hit someone … I want to kick … I want to lash out … but there is only Miss Goose and the Significant Seven, none of whom would choose to murder a fellow human being.

Within the industrialized world, the U.S. is one of only four nations that stubbornly clings to the death penalty.  We are in great company, the other three being Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan. The European Union holds a strong position against the death penalty; its abolition is a key objective for the Union’s human rights policy. Abolition is also a pre-condition for entry into the Union. But the U.S. … oh, the U.S. is so sure it holds the key to righteousness.

The execution of Kenneth Williams tonight came after his attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he was intellectually disabled and not fit to be executed. But the almighty right-white in Arkansas knew better … they are, after all, the almighty right-white. Relatives of one of Williams’s victims pled for his life, calling on the governor to call off the execution. But the almighty right-white persisted.  U.S. Supreme Court justices, shortly after 10 p.m., denied the requests without explanation.

The United States has now shown itself to be the most barbaric nation among the developed western nations, and I am no longer proud of this country.  I have, for the past year-and-a-half railed against the intrusion of a highly unqualified senior administration, starting with Donald Trump and working its way down through advisors and cabinet members.  But you know what?  Tonight, I think perhaps this barbaric, inhumane nation got exactly what it deserves.

R.I.P., Mr. Williams.  I apologize, on behalf of all my barbaric countrymen.  😥  There is obviously more to this story, and Filosofa will be back with … the rest of the story … one day.  But for now, I cannot … just … cannot.

The Value of Life …

lethal injThe State of Arkansas is scheduled to execute seven men over an 11 day period beginning next Monday, 17 April 2017.  Arkansas has not executed anybody since 2005, and these seven men represent fully one-fifth of their death row population.  Why, all of a sudden, are they doing what some are referring to as ‘conveyor belt’ executions?  Because the state’s store of the sedative midazolam, one of the pharmaceuticals used in its lethal injection protocol, is due to expire at the end of April.  The cost of the drugs to perform an execution by lethal injection is said to be $16,500 per execution, up from $525 just a few short years ago.  So, I suppose Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson should be applauded for saving the state some $115,500 (the total replacement cost of the drugs).  Given Arkansas’ annual budget of $23.6 billion, these savings represent a whopping 0.000489%. Sorry, guvn’r, Filosofa is not applauding.

Regular readers are aware that I do not support the death penalty for a variety of reasons, most notably that if, twenty years down the road the person is found to have not been guilty, it is impossible to bring him/her back to life.  Other reasons include the value of a human life, and the fact that the rate of botched executions using lethal injection is 7.12%.  I understand the arguments that if a person committed a crime heinous enough to be sentenced to death, it doesn’t really matter as long as they end up dead.  I understand the argument, but I do not agree with it.


Bruce Ward

But back to the slated executions in Arkansas.  The first, scheduled for Monday, is to be Bruce Earl Ward, age 60. Mr. Ward, who has been in solitary confinement for 14 years, is not too concerned about his impending execution, as he believes he is certain to survive the triple lethal injection and walk out of the prison to fabulous wealth and public acclaim, then go on to found an evangelical ministry.  Mr. Ward, you see, is mentally ill.

Since 1986, under the Ford v Wainwright ruling of the US Supreme Court, reinforced by Panetti v Quarterman in 2007, states have been banned from executing prisoners who are insane or incapable of understanding the reason they are about to be put to death. Ward has consistently displayed signs of mental illness for almost 30 years, and was evaluated by a court-recognized psychiatrist and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

“At heart here is someone who back in the late 1980s was not competent to stand trial but never had a fair court process to look at whether he was insane. The question was kicked down the road, and here we are now with him facing imminent execution,” said one of his legal team, Joseph Perkovich, an attorney with the Phillips Black project. Mr. Ward’s mental health challenges started young. Teachers at his high school vividly remember him eating flies during class. One of his post-conviction lawyers, Joseph Luby, testified in an affidavit that Ward “lacked a rational understanding about his case and was unable to fully and reasonably assist counsel in litigating it”.

While Ward’s case may be the most severe in terms of mental illness, it was reported that four of the seven inmates scheduled appear to suffer from serious mental illness or intellectual impairment, according to the Fair Punishment Project, which is affiliated with Harvard Law School.

johnsonIn the case of another, Stacey Eugene Johnson, there remains doubt as to his guilt, and The Innocence Project has petitioned the court to grant new DNA testing.  Johnson has maintained his innocence throughout, and in part his conviction was the result of testimony by a six-year-old who was initially determined incompetent to testify.

On Tuesday, the president of the American Bar Association asked Hutchinson to delay his “unprecedented execution schedule” because “expediency need not, and should not, be placed above the Constitution’s due process protections.” Earlier this week, a federal judge began to hear arguments from the inmates’ lawyers about the risks involved in using midazolam and in following the accelerated schedule. The lawyers have presented evidence that the schedule is making it impossible for them to defend their clients properly, depriving the inmates of their right to counsel and leaving the lawyers in violation of their ethical duties.

Little Rock lawyer Julie Vandiver said, “When the state undertakes the task of killing a person, there are multiple ways that it can go horribly wrong. Over and over, Arkansas officials have failed to treat this incredibly complex enterprise with appropriate gravity.”

In 2015, in a dissent to a Supreme Court ruling about lethal-injection drugs, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that, when midazolam does not work as expected, the drugs that then paralyze an inmate and stop his heart “do so in a torturous manner, causing burning, searing pain.” She described that as “what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.”

While I am against capital punishment in any circumstances, I set that aside for the moment as I posit that even those who support the death penalty must be appalled at the plan to take seven lives under these circumstances and for this reason.  What is the value of a human life?  Whose job is it to determine the value of a life?  I know that it is not mine, and I do not believe it is Governor Hutchinson’s, either.

In addition to the flurry of motions and petitions filed by attorneys for the seven men, two pharmaceutical companies have asked a judge to stop the use of their medicines for executions. Fresenius Kabi manufactures potassium chloride, the drug that prison officials use to stop the heart, and West-Ward Pharmaceuticals manufactures midazolam, the controversial sedative that prompted this madness.

As of 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency set the value of a human life at $9.1 million. Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration put it at $7.9 million — and the Department of Transportation figure was around $6 million. For the purpose of this conversation, the methods by which each arrived at their estimate, and the wide disparity, are irrelevant.  What is relevant here is that the various agencies of the United States Government have declared a single human life to be worth millions of dollars.  So how can anybody justify taking a life that is valued in the millions, to save a few thousand dollars’ worth of drugs? Think about it.

The Law of Parties and Jeffrey Wood

Earlier this week I wrote about the Stand Your Ground law that originated in Florida in 2005, and has since been passed in 22 other states.  I find this to be one of the most dangerous laws on the books and subject to wide abuses as we saw in the case of Trayvon Martin.  I have now found one that is at least equally bad, if not worse.  It currently exists in only one state, Texas. (What is it with Texas these days?)

The law is called the Law of Parties and under this law, prosecutors are not required to prove that a defendant had any part in committing a crime, or even intended to commit it. Jurors only need to find that there was a plan to commit a crime and that the defendant should have anticipated that the crime would occur. What ever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?  Worse yet, a person found guilty under this law can be executed, as Texas is one of 32 states in the U.S. that still use capital punishment.  And that is exactly what is set to happen on 24 August, a mere 11 days from today.

Briefly, before I get into the specifics of the case, allow me to state my opinion on capital punishment.  I am against it.  There was a time that I had mixed feelings about it, thinking, on the one hand, that some people were so evil that they needed to be removed entirely from the face of the earth, but on the other hand, death being a pretty permanent thing, fearing that someday we might actually execute an innocent person, which would be even worse.  My mind was changed a few years ago when, as a part of my ongoing education, I took a course in ‘wrongful convictions’.  I was amazed at the number of times innocent people have been sent to prison*, some even to death row, who were exonerated years, or even decades later by new technology, such as DNA, or by witnesses or the guilty party coming forward with the truth.  It is horrible to think of an innocent person spending years of his life in prison, but even worse if we executed that person, then later found he was innocent.  It was at that point that I decided I cannot support capital punishment under any circumstances.


Jeffrey Lee Wood

The man who is scheduled to be put to death on 24 August is Jeffrey Lee Wood.  Mr. Wood has been in prison since 1996 for the death of a man he did not kill — and, by some accounts, did not know was going to be killed. In January 1996, Mr. Wood, then 22,  was sitting in his pickup truck outside a convenience store in Kerryville, Texas, waiting for Daniel Reneau who he believed had gone inside to buy snacks and drinks.

Although there was an earlier plan between Mr. Wood, Reneau, and several others to steal a safe from the convenience store, the other collaborators had backed out of the plan, and unbeknownst to Wood, Reneau had taken it upon himself to steal the safe anyway.  Upon heading to the store, Wood had admonished Reneau not to take his gun, but Reneau did so anyway, without Wood’s knowledge. Reneau apparently entered the store with the intent of stealing the safe and in the process shot and killed the clerk, Kris Keeran.

Wood’s attorney, Jared Tyler, said his client could not have anticipated the death of Keeran, and was unfairly held responsible for Reneau’s actions and decisions. Nonetheless, both men were convicted of capital murder and Reneau was executed in 2002.  Wood’s attorney has filed a writ of habeas corpus — used to review the legality of someone’s imprisonment — asking the state’s highest court for a new sentencing hearing for Wood, saying the punishment should fit the crime. His punishment is based, in part, on “false and misleading” testimony from a psychiatrist who did not personally examine Wood.

Mr. Wood is considered developmentally delayed, and with an IQ of only 80, is borderline mentally disabled.  As such, his attorney claims he should have been declared unfit to stand trial.  He was initially admitted to a mental hospital for psychological evaluation, and a psychologist testified that Wood was delusional, unable to grasp the issues about his case and the reality facing him. He was released from the hospital, somehow found competent to stand trial, and the psychologist’s evaluation was withheld from the jury, who found him guilty of capital murder under the Law of Parties.

Since 1976, there have been 1,437 executions in the United States. More than a third of them have taken place in Texas, which has executed 537 people over that period. Executions of people who did not directly kill the victim are extremely rare: The Death Penalty Information Center lists just 10 such instances that didn’t involve contract killings. Half were in Texas under the law of parties. In 2009, the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill 2267, which would have eliminated the death penalty in Law of Parties cases, but the bill failed in the State Senate.  Since it was not retroactive, it would not have helped people like Jeffrey Wood who were already on death row.

Earlier this month, 16 Roman Catholic bishops from across the state wrote a letter to Texas Governor Greg Abbott urging him to grant a stay on Wood’s execution. “Mr. Wood has never taken a human life in his own hands,” the letter reads. “He was not even in the building at the time of the crime. It is extremely rare for any person in the history of modern death penalty to have been executed with as little culpability and participation in the taking of a life as Mr. Wood.”


Texas Governor Greg Abbott

Whether or not you support capital punishment, I think we would all agree that executions based on the Law of Parties, executions of people who simply did not take another’s life, and perhaps had no knowledge of a crime, are just wrong.  Morally, ethically, socially wrong.  It is to be hoped that enough Texans are outraged and raise their voices so that the governor will have little choice but to issue a stay of execution before 24 August.  There are rallies and petitions circulating throughout the State of Texas to try to sway the governor. Hopefully Governor Abbott is a man of good conscience and chooses to do the right thing, though from what I know of him, I have my doubts.  He is a conservative Republican who has sued the Obama administration over a dozen times.  He is sometimes referred to as Imperial Governor Abbot and was recently accused of threatening law enforcement if they did not support his harsh immigration policies. Humanitarian may not be his middle name.

The Law of Parties, first passed in 1974, makes no sense to me, and seems too open to abuse.  If you think back to the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.  If the Law of Parties had been operative in Colorado at that time, might the parents of shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have been found guilty and sentenced to death, based on the fact that they “should have known” what their sons were planning?  I shudder to think of the potential abuses of this law.  Thankfully, no other states have a Law of Parties, and I would hope this case causes Texas to overturn theirs.

*  The Innocence Project  is an excellent source of information about wrongrul convictions and their work to exonerate the innocent.

To Kill or Not to Kill …

Some crimes are so heinous, the perpetrators of those crimes so remorseless, that we want those criminals to pay for their evil deeds with their own lives.  We think they have no place in society, that in fact they do not belong in this world.  I get that, I really do, and in fact until a few years ago I was very conflicted on the issue of capital punishment.  But as I matured, as I read more, learned more, my thought processes opened to let in other perspectives, I began to question what I once firmly believed.  What, you ask, has gotten Filosofa started on this tangent?  The answer is today’s headline in the Washington Post: “After 18 botched IV attempts on a screaming, bleeding inmate, Ohio gets another chance to execute him”.

The death penalty as a form of punishment has a long history, dating back to 1608 when Captain George Kendall was hanged for the capital offense of treason in the Jamestown Colony of Virginia.  From 1930 to 2002, 4,661 executions were carried out in the U.S, about two-thirds of them in the first 20 years. Additionally, the United States Army executed 135 soldiers between 1916 and 1955 (the most recent). The largest single execution in United States history was the hanging of 38 American Indians convicted of murder and rape during the Dakota War of 1862. They were executed simultaneously on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota.

There were no execution in the entire country between 1967 and 1977. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down capital punishment statutes in Furman v. Georgia, reducing all death sentences pending at the time to life imprisonment.  In 1976, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutionality of capital punishment in the case of Gregg v. Georgia.  The United States is one of only five industrialized democracies that still practice capital punishment. Among the others, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan have executed prisoners, while South Korea currently has a moratorium in effect.

Arguments for and against capital punishment are based on moral, practical, and religious grounds. Advocates of the death penalty argue that it deters crime, is a good tool for prosecutors (in plea bargaining for example), improves the community by eliminating recidivism by executed criminals, provides closure to surviving victims or loved ones, and is a just penalty for the crimes it punishes. The arguments of opponents are equally compelling, saying it is not an effective means of deterring crime, risks the execution of the innocent and puts government on the same moral plain as the criminals. Many, including myself, would also argue that the administration of capital punishment is biased toward the poor and minorities who do not have access to the same quality of legal representation as others.

A couple of years ago, I took a law class that included a segment on wrongful convictions.  That segment was taught by members of The Innocence Project, a “national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.”  This class was an eye-opener for me.  To date, some 156 people who were on death row have been exonerated by The Innocence Project and similar organizations.  Think about that statistic … 156 human beings might have been executed for a crime they did not commit.  While admittedly, that is not my sole reason for changing my thoughts about capital punishment, it is certainly a major part of the reason.  Juries and judges are humans and humans sometimes make mistakes, especially when you consider the many flaws that exist in the legal/judicial system in the U.S.

Some would argue that executing a criminal saves the state the cost of housing and feeding him for the rest of his life, but there is a fallacy in that line of thought.  A man sentenced to the death penalty is likely to use every appeal available to him … paid for by the state.  Additionally, it costs approximately $90,000 more per year to house a prisoner on death row than in the general prison population. However, we are talking about a human life, and while politicians may try, it is still impossible to put a price tag on a human life. 

Charles Manson’s death sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in 1972, and he still lives today, at the age of 81.  Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, is alive today at age 67.  David Berkowitz, Son of Sam, is alive and well at age 62.  Am I happy about these people surviving to old age on the taxpayer’s dime?  No.  BUT … I would rather they live to a ripe old age on my dime and yours than to take their lives.  For me, it is not a religious issue, nor a pragmatic one, but a humanist one.  I would rather see a thousand guilty men go free than to risk executing a single innocent man.  I make no attempt to sway anyone with this post, but simply felt a need to make my own opinion heard and understood.  I a very curious to hear some of your opinions on this issue, so please do feel free to comment!