Texas is set to execute Marvin Wilson, a man with an IQ of only 61, this Tuesday, despite the Supreme Court’s ban on the use of capital punishment for the mentally disabled.
FILM: At the Death House Door
The Europe Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton demanded Friday that Iran halt the pending executions of a woman sentenced to die by stoning and a Christian pastor convicted of apostasy.
Ashton also called on Iran to impose an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, saying the country leads the world in the number of executions per inhabitant.
“Thousands of individuals remain at risk of execution, including Ms Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani and Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. The EU reiterates its call on Iran not to execute them,” Ashton said in a written statement.
“Hundreds of individuals were executed in 2011 after grossly unfair trials, without the right of appeal and for offenses, which according to international standards should not result in capital punishment.”
Forget Iran or North Korea, the EU is imposing trade sanctions on the U.S. over its human rights abuses in the realm of capital punishment. The U.S., along with Saudi Arabia, Syria, and China, remains one of the world’s leading nations in number of people executed by the government annually.
The European Union is now blocking importation of lethal injection technology into the United States.
With its legislation this week limiting our access to the drugs we use to kill one another, the European Union has just proven that if America is still a superpower, that designation must carry a prominent asterisk for how easily we’re humbled these days. The EU is now blocking importation of technology into the United States that we cannot be trusted to use properly. As widely reported yesterday, the EU is cutting off our supply to the drugs we use for lethal injections, some of which we no longer have the capacity to manufacture domestically. (…)
America is now the target of a coercive technique that we’ve regularly used to punish Iran and North Korea.
Source: The Atlantic, Ford Vox, December 21, 2011
If you were touched or outraged by the Troy Davis case, don’t allow the same thing to happen to another man. This is Rodney Reed and like Troy Davis there is no physical evidence tying Rodney to the crime that he was accused of committing. In fact, there is very real evidence leading to another suspect all together. Rodney was tried by an all white jury in southern Texas and sentenced to death. Let’s show the murderers that took the life of Troy Davis that we are not going anywhere anytime soon. This is a movement, not a moment.Here is a link to the free, streaming documentary regarding Rodney and his story: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4864052717720140330
A summary of the case (source):
Rodney Reed has been on Texas death row since 1998. He was convicted of killing Bastrop woman Stacey Stites in 1996. In 2005, a new evidentiary hearing in front of the Bastrop trial judge was ordered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In March of 2006, Judge Reva Towslee-Corbett (daughter of the original trial judge) heard testimony from several witnesses which linked Stacey’s fiancée and former police officer Jimmy Fennell to the crime. The defense also showed how some of this eyewitness testimony was hidden from the defense at the time of trial. However, the judge declined to recommend that the CCA grant a new trial. In 2008, the CCA ruled to deny relief, sending the case back into the federal courts. Hidden eyewitness evidence is not the only problem in this case. Consider these facts:
Just like Troy Davis, Hank Skinner is scheduled to die with only days to live. November 9 is his execution date and he has been on death row since 1995. The star witness has recanted her testimony and others have implicated another man as the murderer of Skinner’s girlfriend and her two adult sons. Skinner has requested a DNA test to be conducted on all of the evidence, however, the request has been denied. Of course, this is in Rick Perry’s ‘hang ‘em high’ Texas.
During his trial, the prosecution conducted DNA tests on the clothes Skinner was wearing, but for some reason decided against testing the rest of the evidence at hand, which includes a rape kit, the murder weapons, several hairs clutched in his girlfriend’s hand and a bloody windbreaker that strongly resembles that of the man accused by others as being the real killer.
The death penalty was established as a crime deterrent but only if the accused is guilty is beyond a reasonable doubt. The justice system has failed previously and will fail again in the future. History is repeating itself and the outcome may be determined after the typical partisan bickering which seems to prevail over our justice system, but time is short and a man’s innocence has yet to be determined through science.
Charisse Coleman has no real compassion for the man who walked into the Thrifty Liquor Store in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1995 and put three bullets in her brother, Russell.
But she doesn’t want Bobby Lee Hampton — one of more than seven dozen killers on Louisiana’s death row — executed, either.
“My opposition to the death penalty has nothing to do with Bobby Lee Hampton,” Coleman said. “He’s a bad dude. He’s never going to be a good dude. If I got a call that said Bobby Lee Hampton dropped dead in his cell last night, I don’t think it would create a ripple in my pond.”
She added, though, “I will be goddamned if I will let Bobby Lee Hampton make me a victim, too, by taking me down that road of bitterness and revenge.”
Coleman, 50, is among the most unlikely opponents of the death penalty, people who lost loved ones to unspeakable violence yet believe executing the killer will do nothing for family members or society.
Their stance is backed by groups like Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, and their reasons aren’t as religious or political as one might think. Some feel so strongly they’ve spoken against the death penalty even when it wasn’t an option in their loved one’s case.
Before they died, each prisoner had the chance to eat a final meal of their choosing (a right which last month was deemed not inalienable, and removed), and to speak their last words in the form of a recorded statement. A final testimony may be a tradition inherited from Britain, but freedom of speech is a concept as hardwired into the American constitution as the right to bear arms. Approximately seven minutes after delivering their statement, the speaker is dead, so these words are their arsenal: a last opportunity for the convict to give the world their view on the crime, often horrific, and usually committed many years before.
Most of the statements, says Robert K Elder, author of Last Words of the Executed, conform in some way with the ‘five stages of grief’ theory: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. And whether there is remorse for the victims or not, there will be grief for the actions that have brought them to their own point of death. “I would like to tell my Uncle Kyle that I am sorry,” the 29-year-old convict Carlton Turner said in 2008. “I have been sorry for the last 10 years for what I did. I wish you could accept my apology… I know you can’t give your forgiveness…”
Texas death row inmate Hank Skinner is set to be executed on November 9.
Skinner (who has already come within an hour of execution) is about to be executed despite the fact that there is testable DNA from the murder weapon, the rape kit, hairs one of the victims was found clutching, and a jacket left at the crime scene similar to one worn by another possible suspect, all of which has yet to be tested.
And it’s even worse than that. The state started testing on the hairs a decade ago. When preliminary mitochondrial testing came back negative as a match to either Skinner or the victim, the state just decided to stop further testing.
It’s one thing to consider all of the evidence, find it unconvincing, and then proceed with an execution despite strong disagreement from the suspect’s supporters. It’s a whole other level of moral culpability to deliberately remain ignorant about evidence that could definitively establish guilt or innocence.
Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty. If you’re not working to change people’s minds about this issue, what are you doing?
As Human Rights Watch astutely notes:
October 10, 2011 is the ninth annual World Day against the Death Penalty, and this year marks 35 years since the United States reinstated capital punishment in 1976. In that time, 1,271 people have been electrocuted, shot, hanged, gassed, or put to death by lethal injection.
I’ve posted these next few sentences before, but they bear repeating today:
I know what death row looks like, I’ve talked with condemned men, and because of my interaction with the death penalty in this country I’ve been given a good look at the privileged life I lead.
There is nothing to applaud when people die. There is nothing to applaud when people fail to examine their own lives and the good fortune they have had. There is nothing to applaud when our leaders do not understand the difference between justice and vengeance. There is nothing to applaud when people believe that the only thing our government can do properly is inject some citizens full of poison.
[W]e cannot organize an opposition to the culture of death that seems to powerful in this country at the moment by looking for individual cases that inflame our passion. This is reactive; time and time again, the bulk of our organizing happens at the last moment, once a death warrant has been signed, and so all of our effort seems to go into last-ditch efforts like calling the Pardon Board, hoping for the Supreme Court to step in, and holding a rally or vigil late into the night while someone is strapped down and injected with poison.
It’s today that we need to organize; it’s today that we should begin to put one foot in front of the other and do the difficult work that will be required to rid ourselves of the death penalty for good, not simply to stave off one particular execution or another. There are organizations or coalitions of organizations in every state that are dedicated to legislatively eliminating the death penalty.
To sum up: It is both legal and proper in more than half of the states in this country for agents of the government to strap someone down and inject him full of poison in revenge for something terrible he did many years earlier. You can tell your legislators that this is an attack on human dignity; you can change that law.
Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death in St. Louis as an accomplice to a 1991 murder. There was no physical evidence and since allegations have arisen of police coercion, prosecutorial misconduct, and a ‘stacked’ jury in the Clemons case. Despite so many lingering questions, Missouri is still planning to execute Reggie Clemons.
Christopher Hitchens has an interesting piece on the death penalty in Lapham’s Quarterly this week. In it, he attempts to answer the question that vexes so many observers of the death penalty: Why is it that America is the only advanced industrialized Western nation to continue putting its citizens to death?
Judging by the fact that several thousand people immediately clicked a button to share the piece with their friends, the question still seems to be an important one and Hitchens’ answer seems to be one that resonates. Unsurprisingly, his position is that America is the most religious of those advanced industrialized countries and, as he frequently argues, religious belief tends to be bound up with inflicting pain and suffering on others. In his own words:
Once we clear away the brush, then, we can see the crystalline purity of the lex talionis and the principle of an eye for an eye. (You might wish to look up the chapter of Exodus in which that stipulation occurs: it is as close to sheer insane ranting and wicked babble as might well be wished, and features the famous ox-goring and witch-burning code on which, one sometimes fears, too much of humanity has been staked.)
If this is the case, then we seem to have an intractable problem on our hands. In order to do away with “this dire business” that has “become an offense both to law and to justice,” Americans will seemingly need to do away with their religious belief. And yet I think this isn’t exactly the right solution, nor would Americans need to do anything quite so revolutionary. Instead, they would need only to pay attention to what their religion actually teaches.
What I have in mind connects directly to many of the blog posts I’ve written over the past few weeks about the (presumably) pro-life audiences who cheered at Rick Perry’s execution record and at the prospect of the death of a man who couldn’t afford medical care. Now we don’t know for a fact that the audience members at these two GOP debates oppose abortion, but I’m going to proceed with it as a safe assumption. And, having made that assumption, I think it’s also safe to say that the positions they hold are hypocritical. The reason, of course, is that these audience members, when asked about abortion, will say that it’s impermissible to kill a fetus because they believe that human life is sacred. They take this position, the pro-life position that defends the unborn, because they are called to it on the basis of their religious belief. And yet, they don’t extend this pro-life position to include all of the human beings who have already been born; they see no need to defend the lives of those human beings, for example, who are on death row.
But this isn’t a post about whether or not these conservatives should be pro-life, and it’s not a post about whether or not they ought to be religious in the first place. It is, instead, a post about the fact that if someone is going to bring his or her religious beliefs into a public policy debate, (s)he ought to at least be consistent, and ought to understand and care about his or her religion’s teachings.
These two points are, I think, very much related to one another … because it’s very difficult to be consistent about our beliefs when we don’t fully understand or care about them. Here’s what I have in mind:
Hitchens rightly points out that biblical support for the death penalty is drawn from Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. And he leaps from that claim to the claim that it is America’s religiosity that accounts for its anachronistic support for the death penalty. And yet, by this reasoning, one would expect to find support for the death penalty at its highest amongst American Jews.
According to a very recent survey, though, American Jews are one of the religious groups least supportive of the death penalty (at 57% so, like all Americans, they are still more supportive of it than not). Instead, the vast majority of support for the death penalty and the vast majority of executions take place where Christianity holds the greatest sway: the American South. Compare the percentage of Jews who support the death penalty with the number of white evangelical Christians (76%), white mainline Protestants (75%), and Mormons (69%). The only religious group whose members were less supportive of the death penalty than Jews was black Protestants, though at 53% this is pretty close.
Why don’t Jews embrace the death penalty? Because they never really have:
Faced with the clear biblical injunctions, the Rabbis … could not simply have said that capital punishment was wrong. After all, the Bible states that it is right and has to be imposed on the guilty. But the statement seems to imply that the Rabbis welcomed the development by which the Sanhedrin no longer functioned with the power to impose the death penalty and Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon speculate that even when the Sanhedrin did possess this power, various legal means could have been adopted to negate the imposition of the penalty.
There’s a good deal more on the Jewish tradition and the death penalty here, if you’re interested. But to get back to the issue at hand, we next need to ask why support for the death penalty is so high amongst Christians. And the only possible answers, I think, are either that the Christians who support the death penalty don’t understand Christianity or else that they understand it but don’t really care about what Christianity teaches about the death penalty.
I’m not a biblical scholar, but this isn’t a particularly difficult case to make since the Christian Bible is absolutely filled with injunctions against the death penalty. The most obvious, of course, is that Jesus Christ was himself unjustly put to death by the state. But if we go a bit deeper –- and only a very little bit, I promise -– we come upon the famous example of the adulteress who, according to the laws of the Hebrew Bible, should be stoned to death. Preventing the execution, Jesus tells the would-be executioners that the first stone should be cast by the one who is without sin. He doesn’t excuse the behavior that would have resulted in the women’s death -– indeed, he tells the woman to avoid sin in the future –- but he is clear to those who would kill her that mercy is more important than the letter of the law, in large part because we are all in need of it. Indeed, the ideas of mercy and forgiveness are found throughout the Christian Bible; the problem is simply that they aren’t found amongst very many Christians in America today … not because of a problem with Christianity but because of a problem with American Christians. To be a Christian who cheers for executions is, frankly, not to be much of a Christian and, indeed, to find evidence for their support for capital punishment, they have to turn to the Hebrew Bible and ignore the Christian Bible.
There are a whole lot of Christians in this country — as Hitchens notes — but it’s not their stated belief that is the problem; it’s their support for the death penalty. These are people who support the death penalty in opposition to the teachings of their religion … either because they are unaware of what their religion teaches or because they don’t particularly care. The first is not particularly likely, given the iconography in every church in America — the cross, a potent symbol of the unjust judicial murder that stands at the center of their faith — and given that virtually every major Christian denomination has a public statement in opposition to the death penalty. The second is far more likely and far more problematic; it means either that these people who profess their Christian faith believe in a version of Christianity absent its central teachings about mercy and forgiveness or that they trumpet their Christian faith when it comes to some issues and blithely ignore it when it comes to others.
Either way, it gives the lie to Hitchens’ thesis that religiosity is the driving force behind American support for the death penalty. Instead, it seems clear that Americans a) support the death penalty and b) also claim that they are religious. When the two come into conflict, their support for the death penalty wins out. Whereas Hitchens likely believes that less religiosity is needed in order to bring about an end to the death penalty in America, I think we might more reasonably argue that what could do the trick is if American Christians actually knew about the teachings of their religion and cared about them.
But it found something else: that whites and blacks also differ in their willingness to even consider arguments about the death penalty’s validity. For example, African Americans who originally supported the death penalty responded both to racial arguments (for example, “the death penalty is unfair because most of the people who are executed are black”) and non-racial arguments (“too many innocent people are being executed”) in opposition.
But whites presented with the same arguments were “highly resistant to persuasion” — in fact, were actually more likely to support the death penalty after learning it discriminated against African Americans.
Just so you understand.
The judge in his case has requested clemency, not least because he had inadequate legal representation which led to the suppression of mitigating factors in his case.
And again, for those who say that the death penalty in the United States is not about race—Derrick Mason is a Black man accused of killing a white woman.
You can contact Alabama Governor Robert Bentley to ask him to reconsider his denial of clemency in this case.
He was executed.