2017-04-05 15:00:09 UTC
All eyes are on Arkansas as executions for 8 people draw near----World's media
focusing in on upcoming executions
Only a few hundred people live in the town of Grady, but actions that may take
place there are drawing the attention of millions. 8 inmates are scheduled to
be executed there, leading to an unusual level of attention for Arkansas.
"Arkansas is not a major media hub, and we're not really connected to any major
media hubs, so it's sort of rare to get that national coverage in the state,"
said Professor Dylan McLemore, an associate professor in the communications
department at University of Central Arkansas. "So when it does happen, it sort
of stands out."
Reporters from both coasts and beyond have traveled to Arkansas to cover the
planned executions. Among the publications are the Los Angeles Times and Time
Magazine, but journalists have come from as Germany to share details about the
justice system in Arkansas.
"For [Germans], it is unimaginable," explained David Hammelburg, a producer for
the German broadcasting network ARD. "We then think, oh, okay, that's what they
do in Iran and Saudi Arabia. I mean, that's how bad it gets."
Hammelburg has spent nearly a year covering the execution process. His work
grew out of a story about the company that makes one of the drugs frequently
used in lethal injections, and then picked up steam when Governor Asa
Hutchinson scheduled the 8 executions for a 10-day span.
"So it just sort of fell into this perfect little story," Hammelburg added. "I
thought it was unique and compelling in every sense of the word."
"This is the sort of story that is going to attract national attention, because
of just the uniqueness of it, the uniqueness of the time span," McLemore, who
studies the media's impact on consumers, mentioned. "I mean, we haven't seen a
time span like this for executions since the death penalty was reinstituted. So
it's unique in that fact.
"There's conflict going on, there's proponents and opponents. There's interest
groups that are getting involved in this, as well. There's also the drama of,
like, there's going to be court battles up to the final hour. And we might not
want to admit it, but that drama is part of what drives news coverage."
There is also an interest in the timing of the execution schedule. Of the 3
drugs Arkansas uses, one of them, midazolam, will expire at the end of April,
leading some people to believe the state is rushing the process.
But Germans have more than 1 reason to care. Hammelburg estimated that nearly
90 % of Europeans oppose the death penalty, so they are fascinated by the fact
that so many American states still use it.
"And this one in particular, because of the fact that there was such a time
rush to use the last 8 vials that were still non-expired to kill the list of 8
people," he stated. "We found that Draconian, insane, and, really, downright
Additionally, Germans have economic reasons to learn more about the state of
Arkansas. The state's Economic Development Commission opened a special office
in Berlin last year to encourage more trade between German and Arkansan
companies. "We thought it would be only just and right that the people of
Germany could sort of understand who they're doing business with," Hammelburg
Deborah Robinson has also spent a long time with this story. She is a freelance
journalist who works in both Little Rock and Las Vegas, and has spent most of
the last 2 years writing a book about the 8 inmates.
"They were in a place where most of us will never go: knowing the day, the
time, the place, and how they will die," Robinson said. "They have to go
through something emotionally, spiritually, physically, and all of that, and I
wanted to be able to tell that story."
She has noticed the influx of out-of-town reporters, many of whom have likely
never visited Arkansas before. She said she worries that they are likely to
bring the values of their hometowns with them, which may hinder their ability
to cover the story.
"Most of the reports that are going back out are saying, 'What is Arkansas
doing,'" she noted. "Most of the op-eds that are out there, most of the letters
to the editors, most of the media coverage is anti-Arkansas on this issue."
McLemore found that much of the coverage from outlets around the country is
2nd-hand, relying on local organizations to provide the basis of their stories.
That can make their coverage less complete than if they had someone at the
scene, but he does not share Robinson's fear of bias.
"That's possible, but these are also trained professionals," he said, "and you
would hope, from the caliber of organizations we're seeing come here, we're
seeing some of the best of the best at doing this.
"And I'm not a believer in widespread media bias, and out-to-get-everybody. I
know that's a common perception, especially now, but I think most of these
reporters are trying to do an honest job to tell a complete story, and they're
going to try to do that here in Arkansas, too."
Arkansas has received more national attention in the last two weeks than it had
in years. Many news agencies tracked the legislative debate about concealed
carry that ended with an exemption for Razorback Stadium and other college
sporting events. Now others are shining a light on the execution process,
including the clemency hearings for 6 of the death row inmates.
Hammelburg, for his part, thinks the attention on Arkansas is not likely to
last. "Because of the rush, and the tight deadline, I think is kind of a
one-off," he explained. "But it wouldn't surprise me if people really start
paying very close attention to the state of Arkansas."
(source: KTHV TV news)
The Arkansas 8----For the 1st time in 2 decades, a state will execute 8 inmates
in 1 month.
Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson has scheduled 8 executions within 10 days in
April. The condemned are among 34 on Arkansas' death row, where legal
challenges have suspended capital punishment since 2005.
The men were convicted of murders between 1989 and 1999. Death penalty
proponents are frustrated the cases have dragged on. Gov. Hutchinson, a
moderate Republican and former federal prosecutor, is determined to
After taking office in 2015, he scheduled executions for 8 inmates, including
several set to die this month. A state court halted proceedings because of a
lawsuit over provisions shielding sources of lethal injection drugs. Arkansas
was ordered to disclose information about its supply chain.
State's attorney general Leslie Rutledge says the inmates have exhausted their
appeals. Rutledge requested execution dates after the Supreme Court declined to
review a state court ruling affirming Arkansas' protocol.
The 8 inmates are: Bruce Ward and Don Davis (April 17); Stacey Johnson and
Ledell Lee (April 20); Jack Jones and Marcel Williams (April 24); and Kenneth
Williams and Jason McGehee (April 27).
If all executions proceed, it will be the 1st time since 1997 a state has
executed 8 inmates in one month. Texas did so in May and June that year. No
jurisdiction has executed 8 in 10 days.
Arkansas' accelerated schedule will deplete its midazolam supply, which expires
April 30. Attorneys challenging lethal injection procedures in state court
urged the governor to reconsider the protocol. They believe Arkansas' standing
in the eyes of the world will diminish.
No state has executed 2 prisoners the same day using midazolam. Oklahoma tried
April 29, 2014, but postponed the 2nd procedure after Clayton Lockett???s
botched execution earlier that night. Lockett's death took an excruciating 43
minutes after midazolam was injected.
Critics claim midazolam is a sedative, not an anesthetic. Thus it is misapplied
as a 1st-round injection. Inmates may feel pain from subsequent drugs
Midazolam caused severe suffering in the executions of Dennis McGuire (Ohio),
Joseph Wood (Arizona), and Ronald Smith (Alabama). In January 2017, a federal
judge barred Ohio from using midazolam, saying it presented substantial,
intolerable risk of serious pain. Litigation challenging Arizona's protocol
following Wood's execution, halted that state's use of midazolam.
In a New York Times interview, ACLU lawyer, Brian Stull, contends odds for
error are greater when multiple executions are jammed together. To uphold
prisoners' rights, Stull says, "Each execution is a process that needs to be...
handled with care."
The inmates' attorneys concede best-case scenario likely is an alternative form
of execution. The 3-drug concoction, they claim, is unconstitutionally cruel.
Executioners may prefer electrocution. According to Jerry Givens, Virginia's
former chief executioner, the electric chair required "far less contact with
inmates" than did attaching 7 tubes for lethal injection. Over 17 years, Givens
executed 62 men - 37 electrocutions, 25 lethal injections.
Gov. Hutchinson regrets executions are so closely slated. "I would love to have
those extended over a period of months and years, but that's not the
circumstances." He adds, "Families of the victims that have endured this...
deserve a conclusion."
This unprecedented spree triggers questions of how rapid-fire executions affect
those present. Witnesses include loved ones of the victim and of the condemned.
Attending, too, are prison personnel, pastoral counseling clergy, and reporters
who function as society's eyes.
Justice may be blind, but those who execute it keep their eyes wide open.
Administering society's sanctions can scar those who do.
In an NPR broadcast October 12, 2000, Fred Allen, corrections officer in
Huntsville, Texas, reflected how participating in 120 executions affected him.
Describing post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms, Allen admits, "I can
barely talk when I think about it." He quit the prison after 16 years.
"Everybody has a stopping point. Somewhere down the line something will trigger
memories..." Allen stops short, not wanting to dredge up flashbacks of inmates'
eyes that haunt him still.
Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, recalls admonitions given
witnesses at Louisiana's Angola Prison. Wardens caution against "emotional
outbursts." No one wants witnesses celebrating executions. Strong reactions are
Lee Ann Gideon who covered executions for The Huntsville Item told NPR, "You'll
never hear another sound like a mother wailing whenever she's watching her son
be executed ... No other sound like it. That wail surrounds the room." She
adds, "Afterward I felt numb."
Gov. Hutchinson has discussed concerns about stacking executions and potential
ill effects on prison staff, with Wendy Kelley, state corrections director.
"The answer is it's not any easier to string it over 4 or 5 months than to do
it in a measured and separated fashion," he said.
The executions come at an unsettled moment for capital punishment. Nationwide,
executions have declined. While many Americans favor the sanction, polling
indicates support for capital punishment waning since the mid-90s.
Evolving Community Standards
Sensibilities surrounding executions have evolved, imparting a different
significance to capital punishment over time. The trend is to remove ourselves
from the violence. First, physically. We no longer throw stones, the communal
custom of Biblical days. Then, existentially. Average citizens have no
meaningful place in the process.
This reflects growing awareness of others' humanity, making it harder to kill
criminals even if we're convinced of guilt. Executions are formal procedures
detached from community life. Once public events, executions are now the
private preserve of prison personnel.
Eliminating public executions hid their cruelty.
"People that recommend the death penalty - the jury, the judge - if they had to
perform the execution... they'd enlighten a different story on giving the death
penalty to anyone," says former executioner Givens.
Public executions, banned in New England and the Mid-Atlantic by 1845, were
replaced by private, in-prison hangings. Executions were conducted before small
audiences of elite citizens, obligated by etiquette to comply with decorum.
Eliminating public executions hid their cruelty. Shifting from public,
passionate proceedings to cold, clinical private affairs foreshadowed modern
Executions Behind Prison Walls
Executions are scripted so witnesses might consider them humane. Officials want
proceedings to be quick, painless, private. Efficiency and speed curtail
emotional clout. Executions can take minutes. Observers barely realize killing
Lethal injection seemingly is the least painful technique yet used. This
method, however, is not controversy-free. Some anesthesiologists claim
injections produce paralysis that masks slow, agonizing suffocation.
In 1983, the Supreme Court [Chaney v. Heckler (718 F. 2d 1174)] commented
"known evidence concerning lethal injection... indicates that... drugs pose a
substantial threat of torturous pain." When using the prescribed cocktail, the
court noted, "even small error in dosages" can turn a prisoner into "a sentient
witness to his own slow, lingering asphyxiation."
Contemporary procedures reflect moral void. Former San Quentin chaplain Byron
Eschelman, spiritual advisor to condemned inmates, observes: "Society is expert
at cold-blooded... businesslike... killing. The death penalty is routine,
ritualistic... assembly-line annihilation... serving respectable citizens who
pay taxes to get the job done."
Bureaucratic protocol stifles real-life responses. Emotions distract from
efficiency. Such reactions draw unwanted attention to the event's violence.
Executioner and condemned are dehumanized. Morally numb, both reciprocate moves
in a macabre dance Albert Camus called "administrative murder."
A paradox of capital punishment is that, having attained appreciation of the
condemned's humanity, society suppresses awareness to conduct executions. The
condemned is first killed by dehumanization. Then the justice system kills and
disposes the body. This may be an efficient procedure. But can it be a just
(source: Richard Stack, Contributor Professor, American University; Author,
"Dead Wrong: Violence, Vengeance, and the Victims of Capital
Poll: About 87 % of readers approve of Arkansas execution plan
A series of executions planned by the State of Arkansas has received
overwhelming support from magnoliareporter.com readers.
Beginning Thursday, we invited readers to select 1 of 4 responses to the
"What do you think about the State of Arkansas' plan to execute 8 convicted
murderers during a 10-day period in April?"
These men must suffer the legal consequences of their actions, 119 votes, 48.97
This is good - families are finally receiving long-overdue justice, 92 votes,
This is not the type of attention Arkansas wants, 23 votes, 9.46 %.
This is abominable - Arkansas should abolish the death penalty, 9 votes, 3.7 %.
Total votes: 243.
magnoliareporter.com online polls are not scientific. They are conducted for
the information and entertainment of our readers.
(source: Magnolia Reporter)
It's easy enough to be in favor of the death penalty for abstract reasons.
There's revenge, for one, which goes under the alias of justice. There's
obedience to the letter of the law rather than its spirit. There are at least
as many reasons to favor the death penalty in legalistic debate as there are
prisoners waiting to be lined up and killed, all of whom have names, families,
friends and a grave waiting to receive their lifeless bodies once they're put
--Don Davis and Bruce Earl Ward, whose executions have been set for April 17.
--Ledelle Lee and Stacey Johnson, who are due to meet their maker 3 days later.
--Marcell Williams and Jack Jones Jr., who now have till April 24 to live, at
least according to the state's crowded schedule.
--Jason McGehee and Kenneth Williams, set for execution on the 27th of what the
poet called the cruelest month, mixing memory and desire. Not to mention
old-fashioned blood lust. Just as the earth returns to life, it is to receive
their bodies as dust returns to dust.
What a cruel fate: to awaken each morning from troubled sleep, if the condemned
can get any rest at all, to know that one's days are numbered -- not in the
general sense but to exact time and place. Like sunrise on death row of the
state's maximum-security wing at Varner, Ark., United States of America, in the
sight of God, may He have mercy on their souls and on all of us in whose name
this terrible deed is to be done.
Long ago and in a land far away in time and place, an ancient legal code
decreed the death penalty for heinous crimes -- but only in the abstract. And
any session of the court that dared carry it out would be assigned the damning
name of Bloody Sanhedrin for all time. How little progress our so-called
civilization has made since those ancient times, which might look quite
enlightened when compared to ours.
Even finding witnesses to such a macabre sight has turned out to be a major
challenge. The director of this state's department of correction and/or
execution, Wendy Kelley, was reduced to appealing to a Rotary Club in Little
Rock in her search for qualified witnesses: "You seem to be a group that does
not have felony backgrounds and are over 21. So if you're interested in serving
in that area, in this serious role, just call my office." And serious this role
is -- deathly serious.
1 volunteer for this role comes immediately to mischievous mind: the state's
governor, the Hon. Asa Hutchinson, for his administration has put all those
executions on the official calendar; wouldn't he like to be in attendance when
his orders are executed, literally?
Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves doesn't seem to have a
current account of any witnesses that have stepped forward, but he's beating
the bushes for them. So hurry, hurry, hurry and sign up for the big show. No
waiting! Immediate seating is available! If you've got the stomach for it.
It won't be easy to find volunteers for this grisly job, says Bill Booker,
acting president of this Rotary Club. "What I suspect," he says, "is that some
people might support the death penalty, but when it comes to witnessing
something like that, it's a different story. It may cause emotional trauma for
quite a while. It would be one of the most significant things you'll ever see
in your life. ... At this point in my life, I don't know if I'd want to risk
being traumatized by it. That doesn't mean that I oppose the death penalty."
It's watching it being carried out that he'd like to avoid, though he's a
funeral director by profession, on familiar terms with the angel of death. He
recalls watching a young man die at the scene of a traffic accident years ago,
and that was bad enough.
One member of this Rotary Club, one Charlotte Gadberry by name, says she has no
interest in volunteering as a witness for the execution. "I can't imagine," she
says, that Director Kelley "will get a lot of volunteers. I don't think I could
handle it. I'm not real sure how I feel about the death penalty, but it seems
like there should be a better way of treating our fellow man." There is. It's
called life imprisonment without parole. Who knows, what with redemption being
eternal, it may be a good thing for both the condemned and the conscience of
the society that has condemned him.
Arkansas is set to start executing 8 people the day after Easter
Arkansas is set to execute 8 people over a stunning pace of 11 days.
Why the rush? State officials discovered that the lethal injection drugs will
As Christians around the world remember the most famous execution in history
and one of the most holy of Christian days, Arkansas will be preparing for the
bloodiest week of executions in the state's history.
And Arkansas consistently ranks at the top of the most religious states in
America, sitting comfortably in the middle of "the Bible Belt." Arkansas Gov.
Asa Hutchinson often speaks of his faith, and on Sundays he often posts some of
his favorite Bible verses on Twitter.
8 executions in 10 days ...
Beginning the day after Easter ...
At the heart of Christianity is a savior executed by the state. How we
understand what happened on the cross 2,000 years ago shapes how we understand
capital punishment today.
Over the past 3 decades, 86 % of executions have taken place in the Bible Belt
(perhaps we should rename it "the death belt"?), according to author Dale
Recinella. White Christians are the most supportive of the death penalty: Clear
majorities of white evangelical Protestants, white mainline Protestants and
white Catholics favor the death penalty, according to a 2015 Pew Research
survey. By contrast, 58 % of black Protestants oppose the death penalty.
What Jesus did on the cross was make a spectacle of death. He exposed the
violence of the state and the violence of the human heart, not to celebrate
death, but to triumph over it. He died with grace on his lips, forgiving the
very people who were killing him, and all of us whose sins helped land him
there. Jesus' death broke the cycle of violence.
As theologian James Cone put it, "The cross was God's critique of power ...
snatching victory out of defeat." He countered the power of death with the
power of grace. In the face of unimaginable evil, grace gets the last word.
Jesus was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. He stole the show with love.
Beyond bunnies, egg hunts and chocolate, Easter is about how Jesus died to save
us from death. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. In his own
words, Christ came "not for the healthy but for the sick" (Mark 2:17). We have
a God who promises that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:1) and a God who
says, "I desire mercy not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6).
And what about those people facing death row? The Bible promises, "Where sin
abounds, grace abounds all the more" (Romans 5:20). The Bible is filled with
murderers who were given a 2nd chance including Moses, David and Saul of
Tarsus. The Bible - a love story with the climax of Easter - would be much
shorter without grace.
Arkansas, as religious as it may be, will miss the point of Easter if it does
not stop the executions.
God gave us grace when we didn't deserve grace, and we disgrace the cross every
time we call for the execution of another person. We undermine the redemptive
work of Jesus on the cross and rob our fellow sinners of the possibilities of
redemption. How can we, who have been extended grace, now call for the death of
Death is the disease, not the cure. When we kill those who kill to show that
killing is wrong, we legitimize the very evil we hope to rid the world of, the
evil that sent Jesus to the cross.
Organizers are planning prayer vigils and worship services outside the
governor's mansion next week, culminating with a Good Friday vigil at the state
capitol. And I've heard from pastors around the country who will be celebrating
what Jesus did on the cross, as well as calling for an end to the death
penalty, in the name of the executed and risen Christ.
I pray Hutchison will be moved deep in his heart with compassion and mercy -
the stuff Easter is made of - and stand on the side of life. As I scrolled
through the governor's Twitter feed, I read verse after verse from the Old
Testament and some from the New Testament Epistles, but didn???t see one quote
from the Gospels. It was Jesus who halted an execution centuries ago, telling
the armed men ready to stone a woman: "Let the one who is without sin cast the
Any pro-death-penalty Christian has the nagging problem of Jesus to deal with,
and I pray Jesus will keep the governor up at night. Perhaps he'll consider
posting this tweet on Easter Sunday: "Blessed are the merciful for they will be
shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7)".
That would truly be Easter in Arkansas.
(source: Shane Claiborne is a speaker and author of many books, including
"Executing Grace."----Washington Post)
Nevada's death penalty not worth the cost
4 years ago, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 444 which directed the
Legislative Auditor to conduct a study of the fiscal costs of the death penalty
in Nevada. The primary findings of the 2014 report are the basis for AB237,
cosponsored by Assemblyman Ohrenschall and Sen. Segerblom, to abolish the death
The statistics speak for themselves. In Nevada, a death penalty conviction
costs about $532,000 more than other murder cases where the death penalty isn't
sought. Since 1977 when the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty,
Nevada has sentenced 153 persons to death. Of those, 12 have been executed; 43
inmates had their sentence and/or conviction reduced. Statewide, there are now
80 persons on death row. Imposing the death penalty is more costly to the state
than life without parole because of the mandatory appeals process and need for
specialized death penalty attorneys.
In 2016, Nevada spent more than $800,000 to build an ADA compatible death
chamber at the prison in Ely, replacing the antiquated execution facility at
the Nevada State Prison in Carson City. Cognitive dissonance aside, there's an
additional challenge. States are finding it hard to obtain lethal injection
drugs from pharmaceutical companies.
How difficult? This month, Arkansas has scheduled eight executions between
April 17 and 27. The condemned are being hustled to their death because the
state's supply of its lethal drug expires at the end of April (no joke). The 8
death row inmates have sued Arkansas to block the four double executions.
The Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty cites major reasons to oppose
the death penalty. It's irreversible. Consider more than 150 death row inmates
since 1973 have been found innocent and released. Like the justice system
itself, it discriminates against the poor and is racially biased. Almost 40 %
of Nevada's death row inmates are African-American, while only 9 % of Nevada's
population is African American. The 1990 U.S. General Accounting Office study
found a "pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging,
sentencing and imposition of the death penalty."
Assemblyman Ohrenschall cited a 2012 National Academy of Sciences study which
found the death penalty isn't a deterrent to crime. Closer to home, the
Assemblyman referenced the Fairness Project's 2016 study Too Broken to Fix: An
In-depth Look at America's Outlier Death Penalty Counties, which examined 10
years of court opinions and records from 8 "outlier counties," including
Nevada's Clark County. Between 2006-15, the study found approximately 1 in 7
cases in the outlier counties involved a finding of prosecutorial misconduct
but Clark County had prosecutorial misconduct in 47 % of cases. More than 80
capital cases are pending in Clark County today which increases costs by at
least $15 million more than without the death penalty.
In a 2015 article in the Washington Post, University of North Carolina scholars
Frank Baumgartner and Anna Dietrich concluded, "Ultimately the American system
of capital punishment arguably creates unnecessary suffering for both those
defendants sentenced to death and the surviving family members of the victims
of the crimes for which the defendants were convicted. A system that ensures
prolonged court time, automatic appeals for the convicted inmate - most of whom
are eventually successful - and only a small chance of actual execution is a
system built on false promises for everyone ..." And by everyone, we should
include not just the defendant and the victim's family but the taxpayer too.
19 states have no death penalty. The evidence shows the death penalty is
costly, unfair, doesn't deter crime and is racially biased. The Legislature
should approve AB237 by a veto-proof margin and make Nevada the 20th state to
abolish capital punishment.
(source: Abby Johnson; Nevada Appeal)
Mentally ill should be exempt from death penality
On April 25, 1980, it was a regular scorching afternoon in Houston, where the
70-year-old store clerk James McCarble was tending the register, alongside
employee Edna Scott, just as he did every day in the past - only this time
would be his last.
"Fill it up man, you're being robbed!" yelled a Willie Albert Koonce, who had
entered the courtesy booth, accompanied by Everette Anthony Pradia and Bobby
James Moore, with a duffle bag and a loaded gun.
In a panic, Scott shouted that a robbery was taking place and dropped to floor,
meanwhile McCarble, jumping to the left of Scott to get out of the way, was met
by Moore brandishing a loaded shotgun aimed right for his face.
A gunshot sounded as McCarble fell to the floor - the 3 men making their escape
Jumping ahead 37 years later, Bobby James Moore was convicted of the 1980
murder of James McCarble and eligible for the death penalty, according to the
lower circuit courts of Texas.
There's only 1 issue in all this: Moore's IQ score indicated that he had the
mind of a 9 year old.
People clinically proven to have a mental disability, like Moore, should be
exempt from the death penalty.
According to the UN Commission on Human Rights, all states that maintain the
death penalty are urged "not to impose it on a person suffering from any form
of mental disorder; not to execute any such person."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the 5-3 opinion holding that the lower court
that ruled against Moore had relied upon outdated standards, according to CNN.
Ginsburg said the lower court's conclusion that Moore's IQ scores established
that he is not intellectually disabled are "irreconcilable" with Supreme Court
While it's good that the Supreme Court didn't execute Moore, it's shameful that
it took so long to reach an understanding when all along he could have been
helped rehabilitated with some sort of mental health services.
During the 1970s, Massachusetts prisons were like war zones. There was an
epidemic of homicides, suicides, gang rapes and other acts of extreme violence.
An investigation into the conditions of the prisons and its inmates determined
that most of the violence was precipitated by untreated, undiagnosed mental
illness, according to James Gilligan, director of mental health services for
the prison system.
Gilligan, with a team of mental health professionals, were called on to direct
a program setting up mental health clinics and psychiatric emergency rooms
within the prisons. During his program emphasizing mental health treatment for
inmates, homicides and suicides fell from an average of once a month to only 8
during the 10 years his program was in place.
Judging by the dramatic decline in homicides after implementing mental health
services, it's obvious that Gilligan's approach is far better than retribution
In 2014, San Quentin is following suit under court pressure to improve
psychiatric care for deeply disturbed death row inmates, according to the Los
Angeles Times. The court-appointed monitor of mental health care in
California's prison system reported to judges that about 3 dozen men on death
row are so mentally ill that they require inpatient care, with 24-hour nursing.
Mental Health America, a leading mental health group, estimates that 5 to 10 %
of all death row inmates suffer from a severe mental illness.
The sooner the courts, the prison systems and society as a whole addresses
mental illness as the serious issue that it is, the sooner we can develop
(source: Opinion, Matthew Koch, Sonoma State Star)
The Supreme Court Decision to Protect People With an Intellectual Disability
From Execution Was Long Overdue
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that the government
could no longer execute people with an intellectual disability, then called
"mental retardation," because the practice violated the Eighth Amendment. Texas
skirted the ruling by creating wholly unscientific criteria to determine
intellectual disability, based on, of all things, the fictional character
Lennie from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. A new ruling last week by the court in
Moore v. Texas should put an end to that and other unscientific measures states
have used to execute people with intellectual disabilities.
This is a victory. But as with many victories in modern Supreme Court
jurisprudence, they come after many defeats that saw a great human toll.
I think of my executed client, Robert Ladd. He had an IQ of 67, and had been
identified by the Texas Youth Commission as "fairly obviously" intellectually
disabled. As he awaited execution in 2015, he still had hope. He knew our
Supreme Court petition showing he was intellectually disabled would succeed. I
could see hope in Robert's eyes, as we said goodbye through the death-house
bars. Robert was right. The Supreme Court would see the light. Just too late
The court had established the protection for people with intellectual
disabilities like Robert in Atkins because "of their disabilities in areas of
reasoning, judgment, and control of their impulses." People with intellectual
disabilities, as the court recognized, "do not act with the level of moral
culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct." As
defense lawyers, we felt the court had provided us with a shield to protect
some of our most vulnerable clients.
Unfortunately, this feeling was premature. Prosecutors cynically argued - and
many courts agreed - against the application of established medical standards
to determine intellectual disability. They argued that our clients were not
intellectually disabled because their real problem was mental illness
manifesting as a personality disorder - a concept distinct from intellectual
disability. They argued for execution of clients whose IQ fell on the wrong
side of a 70 score. They argued for execution of clients who showed
"strengths," such as the ability to follow basic directions in prison or hold a
Texas took it a step further. In 2004, their high criminal court came up with a
list of non-scientific factors to find that a man named Jose Briseno was not
intellectually disabled. The court created the list based on the gentle-giant
character Lennie in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, reasoning that "most Texas
citizens might agree" that the only people who should be saved from execution
must resemble Lennie Small in their disability, or worse. Though a figment of
Steinbeck's imagination, Lennie had obvious disabilities, couldn't hold down a
job, and had foibles that constantly landed him in trouble, including
ultimately for a homicide.
Relying on fiction in place of science allowed executions of
intellectually-disabled Texas prisoners to continue, even though in other
states they would be spared. This became the law of our nation's largest
Now, 15 years after Atkins, the Supreme Court has rendered a decision that can
protect these prisoners.
The court ruled that Texas's unscientific criteria were inconsistent with
medical practice, the Eighth Amendment, and Atkins itself. The court found that
Texas had improperly used the Lennie standard to deny Bobby Moore Atkins
It also went beyond the Lennie problem to overrule two more of the Texas
court's unscientific and incorrect approaches. First, the Texas court
improperly rejected Moore's 70 IQ score because statistical error meant it
could have been above that score (ignoring that it could also be below). Second
the court incorrectly counted the trauma, abuse, discrimination, and mental
illness Moore suffered as better explanations for his mental deficits than
intellectual disability - explanations not exempting Moore from execution. The
Supreme Court rejected both conclusions as unscientific.
The court has now provided the protection for this population that attorneys
like me have fought for over our entire careers. My relief is tinged with
Why couldn't we convince the court earlier?
How many prisoners with intellectually disability had to die because we did
Can this decision be used once and for all to stop Georgia from executing those
with intellectual disability?
These are haunting questions that should hasten our fight for justice for those
who face the government's ultimate punishment.
The Death Penalty in America Exacts Double Punishment
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has long campaigned to get the high court
to declare America's death penalty unconstitutional. Recently, he offered
another powerful argument for ending capital punishment.
Dissenting from the court's refusal to stop a Texas execution, Breyer
highlighted a cruel irony of America's death penalty system: those condemned to
death are almost as likely to die of old age or natural causes as to be
Breyer called on the court to halt the execution of Rolando Ruiz, sentenced to
death for fatally shooting Theresa Rodriguez in 1992. Not long ago, few would
have paid much attention to Ruiz's case. His execution would have been just
another in a series that made Texas the country's death penalty capital. But,
as death sentences and executions have dramatically declined across the
country, so too have they in Texas.
The Ruiz execution was Texas' 3rd this year and the 5th nationwide. Ruiz had
spent 22 years on death row, most in solitary confinement. Such a prolonged
period living under the threat of death is a regular feature of our death
penalty system. Today about 40 % of condemned prisoners have spent more than 20
years on death row.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the average length of time
which someone sentenced to die can expect to elapse between sentencing and
execution has grown from more than 6 years in 1984 to over 15 years today. This
change resulted from multiple factors, including extended appellate processes.
Also, doubts about the death penalty system's reliability have made states
reluctant to carry out the ultimate punishment.
Several efforts to shorten the period between death sentences and executions
recently have been made, most notably the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the passage in November 2016 of California
The AEDPA placed strict time limits on the filing of petitions for habeas
corpus relief and disallowed successive habeas petitions, absent extraordinary
circumstances. California's Proposition 66 shortens the time for legal
challenges to death sentences to a maximum of 5 years.
The AEDPA did not succeed, and Proposition 66 will likely not succeed, in
achieving their goals. In light of the frequency of false convictions in death
cases, both increase the likelihood of executing innocent people.
Moreover, extended time on death row undermines the penological justifications
for capital punishment. It cannot serve as a deterrent or provide closure to
the families of murder victims.
What Breyer called an extended period of "uncertainty before execution" is just
another way in which our use of capital punishment puts us out of step with
other countries which retain capital punishment, and with human rights norms.
Most other nations that use the death penalty execute quickly. Those where
execution follows extended periods of time on death row have seen the practice
In his 2015 dissent in Glossip v. Gross, Breyer noted that death row inmates
generally are kept in isolation for 22 hours per day. Combined with extended
time on death row, inmates endure "decades of especially severe, dehumanizing
conditions of confinement." This is aggravated, Breyer said, by uncertainty
about whether, and when, execution will occur. If it does, it constitutes
double punishment - the exact fate that Ruiz experienced.
Despite Breyer's urging, the Supreme Court has never ruled on this issue or on
whether the length of time someone spends awaiting execution constitutes cruel
and unusual punishment.
It should follow Breyer's lead and reject this practice, as well as America's
unique brand of double punishment that harms the condemned and diminishes the
Eighth Amendment's promise that when we punish we will do so humanely.
(source: Austin Sarat is Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at
Amherst College and author of "Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and
America's Death Penalty."----nationallawjournal.com)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
DeathPenalty mailing list