The National Registry of Exonerations Releases Grim, Eye-Opening Report — Wrongful Convictions Blog

I have long been against the death penalty and executions for a number of reasons, the foremost being that we have a dark history of wrongful convictions, sending innocent people to prison for crimes they did not commit. The National Registry of Exonerations recently released a report with some eye-opening statistics about wrongful convictions in the U.S. and blogging friend Xena has the scoop. It should be noted that while Blacks have always been a minority in the overall population, they have been the majority when it comes to wrongful convictions. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Thank you, Xena, for bringing this report to our attention. We, as a nation, really must try to do better!

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident

This month our nation exceeded 25,000 years lost to wrongful convictions. The human suffering associated with the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of 2,795 innocent people is incalculable. Without the research and reporting of the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE), we likely would not know of or comprehend the truth or implications of this horrific milestone.

The report, “25,000 Years Lost to Wrongful Convictions” released today quantifies the reality of a justice system making its most egregious error: convicting an innocent person. The NRE defines an exoneree as a “person who was convicted of a crime and later officially declared innocent of that crime, or relieved of all legal consequences of the conviction because evidence of innocence that was not presented at trial required reconsideration of the case.”

The NRE has focused on exonerations since 1989. Here are a few highlights from the report:

• On average, each exoneree spent…

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One Out Of Three …

The Supreme Court was busy yesterday morning.  They made one good decision and two horrible ones.  Let’s start with the good …

On the upside, the Court struck down Louisiana’s restrictive anti-abortion law.  Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the Court’s liberal justices … not because he was against the law or pro women’s rights, but simply because four years ago, the Court struck down a similar law in Texas, thereby setting the precedent.  I will never understand why men think they know anything about this topic, or why they think they have a right to tell us what we can or must do with our own bodies.  Watch them scream and yell if you suggest that women should decide whether men can have a vasectomy, or those little blue pills they’re so fond of.

Anti-abortion groups went ballistic, saying it will give them more motivation than ever to turn out at the polls in November.  Once again, folks, we have people in this country who are so narrow-minded that they will return a madman to the Oval Office for another four years, simply to deny women the same rights that men have to make our own decisions regarding our own bodies.  And here I thought we were living in the 21st century.

At any rate, thumbs up to the five on the Court who voted right on this one.

In another ruling, the Court gave the federal government the right to carry out executions.  Funny, isn’t it, that people like Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito and Thomas are so horrified at the thought of a woman having the right to control her own body, but they are ready, willing and perfectly happy to say it’s okay to murder federal prisoners … people who are actually already people.

Now, the biggest problem I have with the death penalty is that more than a few times, a prisoner on death row has been found to be innocent of the crime for which he is serving time.  The state releases him, pays him a bit of restitution, and while his life has been shattered, he still has a chance to put it back together.  If he had been executed … what???  Does the government say, “Oops … sorry ‘bout that!”?  Executing a person is pretty darn final.

The second problem I have with the death penalty is that it is inhumane.  Think of how many executions were botched a few years ago and people died after sometimes hours of intense pain.  Hell, the guillotine was kinder!  Proponents of the death penalty say execution by lethal injection is painless and humane, but we’ve seen that it isn’t.  And by the way … the people who seem most gung-ho for executing criminals are Christians … what happened to that tenet that says it’s not up to humans to decide life and death?

And I’ve saved the best (worst) for last.  The justices ruled that the president has unfettered discretion to fire the head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB). This should raise your hackles, if you remember the reason the CFPB was created back in 2010.  It was in response to the financial crisis of 2007-2008 caused by reckless speculation, loose credit, and too much debt in asset markets, namely, the housing market.  The purpose of the CFPB was to provide a single point of accountability for enforcing federal consumer financial laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace.  It was to promote fairness and transparency for mortgages, credit cards, and other consumer financial products and services and ensure that the financial crisis of 2007-2008 would not be repeated.

Until today’s Supreme Court ruling, the CFPB was an independent agency, not answerable to the president.  In order to ensure the CFPB’s independence, the law creating the agency called for it to be headed by a single director, confirmed by the Senate, who would serve a five-year term and who could only be fired for malfeasance, inefficiency or neglect of duty.  Today, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the conservative wing of the Court, saying that “the structure of the CFPB violates the separation of powers.” 


The structure was so determined in order to ensure the independence and integrity of the agency.  Think about all the people Donald Trump has fired since the Senate refused to convict him of the crimes he had committed back in February.  He has fired most everyone who was tasked with overseeing his office, with ensuring that he acted properly and in the interest of the nation and its people.  Now, he’s been given another he can fire … the Director of a very important regulatory agency.  It is only a matter of time before Kathy Kraninger, the current Director, is given her walking papers, and someone totally unqualified for the agency position will be put in place to undermine the good work that has been done for the past ten years.

Way to go, John Roberts.  Is there anything else you’d like to give Trump?  Perhaps the authority to rewrite Article II of the U.S. Constitution to say that he can do anything he likes, as he told a group of young people he could do?  Or, perhaps you’d like to simply declare that there will be no more elections in the U.S.?

Independence and integrity in our Supreme Court?  I think not.  The only good decision, in my book, was the abortion decision and it wasn’t done for the right reason, not because John Roberts believes that women have rights, but simply to maintain a precedent.  Apart from that decision, the Court handed Trump presents wrapped in gift paper with pretty bows.  Bah Humbug.

State-Sanctioned Murder!

Clayton-LockettDoes anybody remember Clayton D. Lockett?  No, of course not.  Allow me to refresh your memory.  Mr. Lockett was brutally murdered by our own federal government on April 29,2014 in a botched execution.  Lockett was administered an untested mixture of drugs that had not previously been used for executions in the United States. Although the execution was stopped, Lockett died 43 minutes after being sedated. He writhed, groaned, convulsed, and spoke during the process and attempted to rise from the execution table fourteen minutes into the procedure, despite having been declared unconscious.

Does anybody remember Clemente Javier Aguirre?  Probably not.  In 2006, he was sentenced to death for the stabbing deaths of two neighbors, despite the fact that he maintained his innocence throughout. Last year, after spending 14 years on Florida’s death row, he was exonerated by DNA evidence that had been withheld at his trial, and a confession by the real killer.  What if Mr. Aguirre had been executed as initially planned?

It is not possible to undo death!

death-penaltyToday, the United States took a step backward toward the Dark Ages.  Today, Attorney General William Barr announced that the federal government, such as it is, will re-instate the death penalty and that five executions have already been scheduled to take place, with more to be announced soon.

Let me just give you a few facts:

  • Since 1972, 165 people have been exonerated that were on death row.
  • African American defendants are three times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants.
  • 88% of criminologists believe the death penalty is not a deterrent.

Troy-DavisTroy Anthony Davis was convicted of the shooting-death of off-duty police officer Mark McPhail.  He was executed in 2011. His conviction was based on the testimony of nine witnesses, seven of whom later recanted their testimony or admitted it was false.

Carlos-DeLunaCarlos DeLuna was executed in Texas in 1989 for the stabbing death of Wanda Lopez.  DeLuna maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment and insisted another individual by the name of Carlos Hernandez was really the killer.

Gary-GrahamGary Graham was sentenced to death at the age of 18 in 1981 in Texas for the robbery and murder of Bobby Lambert.  He was executed in 2000. His conviction was based largely on the testimony of one witness who said she saw him through a windshield from over 30 feet away.

WillinghamCameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for the death of his three young daughters in a house fire.  Willingham’s conviction was based on faulty forensic science which erroneously concluded that the fire was arson.

I am, in case you couldn’t tell, incensed by this decision at this time.  I would likely be incensed by such a decision at any time, but under the present administration, and with the current divisive political climate in this nation, this is no time to be re-instituting state-sanctioned murder!  Does anybody trust our government not to start executing immigrants?  I don’t.  With Trump having appointed some 131 federal judges thus far, with Trump spouting racism on a daily basis, with the spate of killings of unarmed blacks in the past decade … does anybody believe there is equal justice for all in this nation?  I don’t.

The contingent, primarily white, evangelicals, who seek to take away a women’s right to make her own health decisions, who are so strongly opposed to abortion that they are willing to sentence a woman to death rather than allow her to have an abortion, call themselves “pro-life”.  Well, guess what, people?  If you claim to be pro-life, then you damn well better be enraged by this decision to re-start government-sponsored murder, for these people on death row are humans, are people, they have lives that you should care about.  I’m waiting …

executionThis nation has taken many steps backward since 20 January 2017.  This is just one more in a long series of inhumane decisions by Donald Trump and his minions.  This is no longer a nation I recognize nor that I take any pride in.  We are on a path that most of us did not choose.  Ask yourself, if you have the courage:  What next?

Cruel and Unusual …

The 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Simple, right?  Not so much, actually.  The vague language has led to confusing and conflicting court rulings over the years, especially with shifts in society’s standards and the makeup of the Supreme Court.  What is ‘excessive’ bail or fines, and what constitutes ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments?  Better yet, who gets to decide those questions?

I will say right up front that I am against the death penalty.  I wasn’t always … I used to believe that certain people were irreparable and didn’t deserve to live.  And then I took a post-graduate class offered by The Innocence Project and learned how many death row inmates had been exonerated, how many times we had come too close to executing an innocent man or woman, and that changed my view.

Yesterday, the case of Missouri inmate, Russell Bucklew was decided by the Supreme Court.  In a nutshell, Mr. Bucklew was convicted of murdering a man who had been seeing his former girlfriend, and of kidnapping and raping her. His sentence … the death penalty.  Now, the preferred method of execution in Missouri is lethal injection, however Mr. Bucklew has a medical condition known as cavernous hemangioma which causes vascular tumors—clumps of blood vessels—to grow in his head, neck, and throat.  In the event of lethal injection, the tumours would rupture, causing him to sputter, choke and suffocate on his own blood for up to several minutes before he dies. Mr. Bucklew had requested a different form of execution, preferably nitrogen gas.

The Court handed down its decision yesterday, and in a 5-4 ruling said that Mr. Bucklew’s execution would proceed as planned, using lethal injection.  The justices who voted for this decision were Neil Gorsuch, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Brett M. Kavanaugh.  Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, claiming that Bucklew had waited too long to object to the way the state planned to execute him.

He further wrote …

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch

Neil Gorsuch

“Courts should police carefully against attempts to use such challenges as tools to interpose unjustified delay. The Eighth Amendment does not guarantee a prisoner a painless death — something that, of course, isn’t guaranteed to many people, including most victims of capital crimes. We see little likelihood that an inmate facing a serious risk of pain will be unable to identify an available alternative — assuming, of course, that the inmate is more interested in avoiding unnecessary pain than in delaying his execution. A prisoner must show a feasible and readily implemented alternative method of execution that would significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain and that the state has refused to adopt without a legitimate penological reason.”

Gorsuch falsely claimed that Bucklew’s chosen alternative, Nitrogen gas, is not authorized by Missouri law and had never been used to carry out an execution in the United States.  In truth, it has been used by three states.

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote …

“There are higher values than ensuring that executions run on time. If a death sentence or the manner in which it is carried out violates the Constitution, that stain can never come out. Our jurisprudence must remain one of vigilance and care, not one of dismissiveness.”

I side with Justice Sotomayer on this … when a human life is involved, I prefer to err on the side of caution rather than expediency.

More importantly than just this one case, though, is the precedent this sets.  This may well be the most significant Eighth Amendment decision of the last several decades and the cruelest in at least as much time. Beyond the macabre facts of the Bucklew case, Gorsuch’s opinion also undercuts decades of Eighth Amendment law, potentially permitting states to revive punishments that fell out of favor 200 years ago.

Recall that the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishments. The word “unusual” implies that, as a particular punishment becomes less and less common, it stands on weaker constitutional footing. Thus, as Chief Justice Earl Warren explained in a 1958 opinion, the Eight Amendment prohibits punishments that defy “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

The number of death sentences in the United States collapsed over the last two decades, strongly suggesting that executions themselves defy evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society. death sentencesIn total, only 25 people were executed in the United States in 2018, and only eight states performed any executions at all. One state, Texas, accounted for more than half (13) of these executions.

It is the opinion of this writer that the Supreme Court has just opened the door for us to regress to a time where the death penalty was carried out in ways that we, as a society, now view as ‘cruel and unusual’.  Of course, it is also the opinion of this writer that we should not be in the business of deciding to kill another human being.

Meet The Man Who Stood Up To Donald Trump …

Today, I discovered Governor Jay Inslee of the State of Washington.  Here is the video that caused me to applaud this man …

And in case you missed his last line …

“We need a little less tweeting and little more listening, and I just suggest we take [Trump’s proposal] off the table and move forward.”

WHOO HOO!!!  clapping  Go Jay!!!

And so, once I quit jumping up and down, clapping and whistling through my fingers, I sat back down and determined to learn more about Governor Inslee.  The very next tidbit of information I found also impressed the heck out of me (in this era of Trump, it doesn’t take a lot to impress me … it’s a very low bar).

In 1994, nearing the end of his first term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Mr. Inslee lost his bid for re-election to the same candidate he had beaten in 1992, Doc Hastings.  Why, you ask, did he lose his bid for re-election?  Because, even though he knew it was highly unpopular in the rural district he represented, he voted in support of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban.  He voted his conscience, had the courage to stand by his convictions, despite knowing it might well cost him his seat in the U.S. Congress.  This, my friends, is the kind of person I want sitting in the Capitol, and in the White House.

Apollo's FireInslee is a supporter of clean energy initiatives, and co-authored Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy, in which he argues that through improved Federal policies the United States can wean itself off of its dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuel, create millions of Green-collar worker jobs, and stop global warming. Inslee strongly believes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should remain authorized to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Inslee voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law.

inslee-2On 11 February 2014, Inslee announced that he was issuing a moratorium on executions in Washington:

“Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served. The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred.”

Inslee began his second term in January 2017, proposing full funding of state education and addressing mental health needs, while also raising worker pay.

Inslee was awarded a “Friend of the National Parks” award by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) in 2001 for his support of legislation protecting the integrity and quality of the National Park System.

When, just one week after taking the oath of office, Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban entry from Muslim countries, Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced their intention to sue Trump, alleging his order was unconstitutional. The civil action, Washington v. Trump, was filed on January 30 and on February 3 successfully earned a temporary restraining order to forbid federal enforcement of certain provisions of the order.

In 1998, Inslee once again ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and won against republican candidate Rick White.  He remained in the House until March 2012, when he left to concentrate on his bid for Governor of Washington, where he is currently serving his second term.

In a recent interview, speaking of the upcoming mid-term congressional and gubernatorial elections, he expressed confidence in the democratic party candidates …

“No Democrat running for governor anywhere has to say, ‘Did you notice that Donald Trump has caused nothing but division, hatred and chaos?’ You don’t have to say that because he’s showing it himself. Our people are going to lead with an economic message … and we’re not going to be distracted by his divisiveness. … It’s not ideological. It’s just a rejection of chaos.”

A ‘rejection of chaos’ … spot on!  Perhaps that should be every democrat’s slogan this year!

There has been some speculation that Inslee might consider a run for president in 2020, to which he replies …

“I’ve got two great jobs right now. I do believe this is a generational opportunity for the Democrats to advance progressive policies by winning governor’s races. I think it’s a 50-year opportunity, or a lifetime opportunity, given the combination of circumstances here. I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s honest: I’m focused on the job that I’ve got.”

Inslee-2020Aw shucks … that’s what they all say, about a year before they toss their proverbial hat into the ring.  This is one to watch, folks.  I like his ideas, love that he stood up to Trump  today, and followed his conscience in 1994. If I have any concern about Inslee, it is this … A total of 43 percent of Inslee’s donations came from Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. The largest interests funding Inslee’s campaign were pharmaceutical and health related companies, lawyers and law firms, and high tech companies.  That, of course, is not in and of itself troubling, but definitely something I would wish to know more about.  At least, as far as I can determine, he has not taken donations from the NRA!


Trudi Inslee

Heck, I even like his wife, Trudi, who over the years has volunteered for organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Planned Parenthood, and Mothers Against Violence in America. She also maintains a large garden outside of the Washington Governor’s Residence. In 2013, Trudi grew 500 pounds of food which was then sent to the Thurston County Food Bank, the Rainier Valley Food Bank, and the Salvation Army.

As I said, this is one to keep an eye on …

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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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.

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!