Discussion:
death penalty news----TEXAS, VA., GA., FLA., ALA., KAN., USA
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Rick Halperin
2017-10-19 13:29:38 UTC
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Oct. 19





TEXAS----stay of impending executions

'Tourniquet Killer' execution date reset to January 2018----'Tourniquet Killer'
claims death row inmate convinced him to confess to murder



The execution date for Anthony Allen Shore, also known as the "Tourniquet
Killer," has been reset for Jan. 18, 2018. He was scheduled to be put to death
Wednesday.

On the eve of his scheduled execution, Shore told investigators that a fellow
inmate attempted to persuade Shore to take responsibility for the December 1998
abduction and killing of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter.

Larry Ray Swearingen was convicted of Trotter's murder and is scheduled to be
executed on Nov. 16.

Shore, who confessed to four slayings, was scheduled to be executed Wednesday
evening, but the date has been reset while an investigation can be conducted.

Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said investigators from his
office spoke with Shore on Tuesday and he told them he decided to expose the
scheme and not cooperate with Swearingen.

The prosecutor said Swearingen tried a similar scheme before his trial for
Trotter's killing.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused an appeal from Swearingen last October. His
attorneys have long wanted additional DNA testing of evidence they say could
show he didn't kill Trotter.

During Tuesday's interview, Shore told investigators he initially refused
Swearingen's request, but the 2 eventually became friends and he decided to try
to exonerate Swearingen as a favor.

Shore told investigators that Swearingen gave him a hand-drawn map of the
location where Swearingen left physical evidence of Trotter's murder.

Ligon asked Gov. Greg Abbott to grant Shore a single 30-day reprieve in order
to process the contents of Shore's cell.

On July 21, authorities discovered a folder in Shore's cell containing
approximately 10 items pertaining to Trotter's murder, including copies of
court exhibits and scene photos, a hand-drawn page of a calendar for the month
of December 1998 with handwritten notations regarding weather conditions, and a
hand-drawn map which appears to depict the location where Trotter's body was
found. The handwriting on the map appears to be Swearingen's, authorities said.

(source: click2houston.com)

*****************************

Texas court halts execution to review claims that co-defendant lied at
trial----The execution of Clinton Young, convicted in a 2001 Midland-area
murder, was stopped by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The courts will
look into claims that Young's co-defendant lied in his testimony against Young.



The execution of a man who insists he was framed in a 2001 murder was halted by
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday, 1 week before he was set to
die.

The court sent the case of Clinton Young back to trial court to look into
claims that Young's co-defendant, a main witness for the state at trial, lied
in his testimony. Young's lawyers claim four jailhouse witnesses have sworn
they heard the co-defendant, David Page, brag about killing Samuel Petrey and
blaming it on Young.

"I'm very grateful to the Criminal Court of Appeals for granting this stay and
for giving me a chance to prove my innocence in court," Young told his
attorneys on the phone, according to a statement.

In November 2001, Young and Page, ages 18 and 20, took part in a drug-related
crime spree that involved fatally shooting Doyle Douglas and Samuel Petrey and
stealing their cars over 2 days on opposite ends of the state, according to
court documents. Douglas was shot in Longview on Nov. 24. The next day, Petrey
was killed in Midland, more than 450 miles away.

Young was convicted and sentenced to death in Petrey's murder in 2003, with
Page testifying against him. Page took a plea deal and was given 30 years in
prison under an aggravated kidnapping conviction, according to court filings.
He is currently eligible for parole but was denied release last year.

At trial, Page said Young shot Petrey, but Young has said he was sleeping off a
methamphetamine high when the man was killed. Seeking to prove his innocence
and stop his upcoming execution, Young's lawyers filed an appeal earlier this
month claiming Page's testimony was false based on the new witness statements.
The statements all include Page mentioning how the gloves he was wearing while
shooting Petrey allowed him to blame Young for the murder.

The appellate court sent the case back to trial court to resolve this new claim
of false testimony.

"We are confident the court will conclude that Page lied under oath to save
himself and that our client is innocent of the crime that put him on death
row," said Margo Rocconi, one of Young's lawyers, in a statement.

The Midland District Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to comment
on Young's case Wednesday.

(source: Texas Tribune)

**************************************

Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----26

Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----544

Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #

27---------Nov. 8------------------Ruben Cardenas---------545

28---------Nov. 16-----------------Larry Swearingen-------546

29---------Dec. 14-----------------Juan Castillo----------547

30---------Jan. 18-----------------Anthony Shore----------548

31---------Jan. 30-----------------William Rayford--------549

(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)

*********************

Death row inmate Petetan wins rehearing for sentence



A death row inmate convicted of murdering his estranged wife in 2012 will
receive a new hearing to determine if his death sentence was constitutionally
appropriate following a U.S. Supreme Court decision questioning how the state
determines intellectual disability.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals awarded Carnell Petetan Jr., now 41, a new
hearing Wednesday after he was found guilty and sentenced to death in 2014 for
the 2012 murder of his estranged wife, Kimberly Farr Petetan. The rehearing was
ordered after a recent Supreme Court ruling questioning the state's definition
of "mental retardation" in the 1980 conviction of Bobby James Moore, who
murdered a store clerk in Houston in 1980.

In late March, the Supreme Court ruled Moore's guilt is apparent, but his death
sentence is considered cruel and unusual punishment since he suffers from an
intellectual disability.

The death penalty has long been off limits for people with intellectual
disabilities. The Supreme Court decision in the Moore case calls into question
Texas' methods for determining who meets the definition.

During his trial and sentencing, Petetan's attorneys, Russ Hunt and Michelle
Tuegel, argued Petetan suffered from a mental deficiency and that the death
penalty would be unconstitutional.

Petetan appealed his sentence, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed
it in early March, while the Supreme Court was still considering on the Moore
case.

8 judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals voted to reject Petetan's 30 points
of appeal, while 1 judge dissented, saying she preferred not to rule on
Petetan's case while the Texas standard for determining whether someone is
intellectually disabled is in legal flux.

"The United States Supreme Court agreed in the Moore case that the Texas
standard for determining intellectual disability violated the Eighth
Amendment," Tuegel said. "This was something that we argued and objected to in
Mr. Petetan's trial.

"The rehearing granted by the Court of Criminal Appeals today is encouraging
and a validation of our work and the fight we put up for a client we believed
to be intellectually disabled."

Petetan, a Port Arthur native, was convicted of breaking into his estranged
wife's Lake Shore Drive apartment and shooting her in front of her daughter and
2 men who rode from South Texas with him in September 2012. He was convicted of
capital murder in 2014.

(source: Waco Tribune)

*********************

Court: Examine if Austin crime lab botched death penalty evidence----State's
highest criminal court orders examination of questions raised about DNA
evidence in Austin murder.



Areli Escobar was sentenced to die for the 2009 stabbing death of his neighbor,
Bianca Maldonado, 17.

The state's highest criminal court on Wednesday ordered a closer examination of
death row inmate Areli Escobar's claims that shoddy work by the Austin police
crime lab compromised evidence in his case.

Escobar is seeking to have his conviction overturned, and a new trial ordered,
after a Travis County jury sentenced him to death in the 2009 sexual assault
and stabbing of his neighbor, 17-year-old Bianca Maldonado, an LBJ High School
student who was attacked at her East Austin apartment with her year-old son,
who survived, nearby.

In a brief order issued Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals directed
state District Judge David Wahlberg to examine claims that the crime lab
produced false or misleading conclusions from DNA evidence in the case,
particularly on tests performed on the shirt, jeans and shoes that tied Escobar
to the murder.

Defense lawyers also argued that problems discovered at the crime lab after
Escobar's trial - including poorly trained analysts, reports of
cross-contamination of samples and questionable analytical methods - tainted
the DNA results used to convict Escobar of capital murder.

"Areli Escobar's capital murder conviction rests on forensic evidence developed
by incompetent scientists using bad science," defense lawyers with the state
Office of Capital and Forensic Writs said in his latest appeal.

Austin police officials closed the DNA portion of the crime lab in June 2016
after an audit by the Texas Forensic Science Commission, a state agency that
includes leading forensic scientists, found that some staff members were not
properly trained and that incorrect methods had been used to examine DNA
samples.

"In light of these developments, a comprehensive, independent review of ... Mr.
Escobar's case is critical," defense lawyers told the Court of Criminal
Appeals.

The appeals court also ordered Wahlberg to examine 2 other claims raised by
Escobar's lawyers:

-- Whether a fingerprint examiner relied on scientifically invalid methods to
link a partial bloody print, found on a lotion bottle 2 feet from Maldonado's
body, to Escobar.

-- Whether prosecution experts overstated the significance of cellphone
activity - said to put Escobar in the vicinity of Maldonado's apartment when
she was killed - based on calls and texts routed through nearby cell towers.

The case next returns to Wahlberg's court, where Travis County prosecutors will
have a chance to respond to the claims raised by defense lawyers.

Wahlberg can order hearings and briefings to help him form a recommendation on
whether he believes the Court of Criminal Appeals should toss out Escobar's
conviction and order a new trial. There is no deadline for the judge to issue
his findings or for the appeals court to issue its ruling.

During Escobar's 2011 trial, prosecutors argued that DNA evidence established
his guilt after tests found Maldonado's blood on his shoes and shirt. In
addition, blood on the inside of the victim's door was linked to Escobar, while
tests on blood found in Escobar's car could not exclude the victim as the
source, prosecutors told the jury.

However, tests performed last year on the same evidence were less certain -
finding, for example, that the blood on the door could not be interpreted
without additional testing, or the samples on the shirt and shoes were
inadequate for comparison techniques, defense lawyers said.

"In stark contrast to what the jury heard, the (new testing) demonstrates that
the results for these items are inconclusive and do not connect Mr. Escobar to
the crime," the lawyers said.

In addition, the lawyers argued that Escobar, 38, deserves a new trial based on
recent information detailing "gross incompetence and negligence at the APD
lab."

Documents showed 11 "contamination incidents" of samples at the lab between
2005 and Escobar's 2011 trial, they said, including seven by the analyst who
tested items in the Maldonado case and 3 by the forensic scientist who screened
evidence for the presence of DNA.

When combined with the forensic science commission's criticism of the lab's
training and practices, the information raises significant doubts about
Escobar's conviction, they told the appeals court.

"The widespread problems at the lab ... call into question all of the DNA
evidence in Mr. Escobar's case," the lawyers said.

(source: Austin American-Statesman)

********************

death penalty sought for 3 murder suspects



Nueces County prosecutors announced Wednesday that they will be seeking the
death penalty against 3 suspects accused of capital murder.

30-year-old Adan Pena, 29-year-old Daniel Venegas, and 40-year-old Melissa
Venegas are accused of killing 24-year-old Robert Flores in July of this year
during an attempted robbery.

Bond for each suspect remains at $1 million.

(source: KIII news)








VIRGINIA:

Henrico man facing death penalty for fatal shootings of his parents still not
competent to stand trial



A Henrico man charged with murdering his parents has not yet been found fit to
stand trial.

Henrico Circuit Court Judge James Stephen Yoffy said at a Wednesday hearing
that officials at Central State Hospital in Petersburg informed the court in a
letter that William Roy Brissette, 24, remains incompetent but that the mental
hospital believes further treatment can bring the defendant back to the point
where court proceedings in the capital murder case can continue.

Brissette, who is facing the death penalty, has been diagnosed with
schizophrenia, a psychosis that includes hallucinations and delusions.

In April, the defendant was found to be incompetent, meaning he does not have
the ability to fully understand the proceedings or effectively help his
attorneys with his own defense.

Daniel Sheneman, the assistant medical director at Central State, said at a May
hearing that staff at the hospital suspected Brissette had been hearing voices
although Sheneman said the defendant denied that was the case. Sheneman also
said that the longer the defendant's psychosis went untreated, the more
enduring his mental illness would become.

At a follow-up hearing a couple weeks later, Yoffy ordered staff at the mental
hospital to begin administering anti-psychotic medication to Brissette to treat
his mental illness so he can be made competent and the case can proceed. The
staff began the involuntary administration of the drugs to the defendant on May
30.

At Wednesday's hearing, the judge ordered that treatment to continue for
another 6 months.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Brissette on capital murder
charges in connection with the deaths of his mother, Martha B. Brissette, 56,
and his father, Henry J. Brissette III, 59, on March 27, 2016.

Brissette's defense attorneys have objected to him being medicated, arguing in
court papers that prosecutors want to restore his competency so they can
ultimately ask a jury to sentence him to death.

Brissette's legal counsel has appealed Yoffy's original medication order to the
Supreme Court of Virginia, asking that the judge's ruling be thrown out.
Brissette's defense team contends the circuit court didn't follow proper
procedures when ordering the involuntary administration of drugs. Prosecutors,
in their own response to the state Supreme Court, rejected those arguments. The
appeal is pending.

(source: richmond.com)








GEORGIA:

Man avoids death penalty in shooting of retired priest



He was sentenced to life in prison for the death of the Rev. Rene Robert.

The shooting happened in April 2016.

A man pleaded guilty Wednesday to the deadly shooting of a Florida priest in
east Georgia, according to a prosecutor's spokeswoman, which will allow him to
avoid the death penalty.

Steven Murray, 30, made the plea in Burke County Superior Court, according to
Natalie Paine of the Augusta Judicial Circuit. The Waynesboro courthouse is
near where Murray said he shot to death the Rev. Rene Robert, 71, of St.
Augustine, Fla., in April 2016.

Prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty if Murray was convicted.

Murray was sentenced to life without parole, Paine said. He pleaded guilty to
malice murder, 2 counts of felony murder, possessing a firearm during the
commission of a crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Murray told the Florida Times-Union last year that Robert, who spent his
retirement ministering to the poor and misfits, was one of the few men who was
good to him.

Murray abducted Robert in the priest's car, locking him in the trunk, during a
trip to see family in South Carolina on April 10. He said he marched Robert
into the woods in Burke County and shot him because he was afraid of going back
to prison.

Murray was taken into custody a few days later, according to reports. On April
18, Murray led officers to Robert's body, the Augusta Chronicle reported.

(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)








FLORIDA:

Prosecutors cleared to seek death penalty in slaying where victim baited by
escort ad



Prosecutors will be seeking the death penalty against two men in the 2013
murder of a Coconut Creek man allegedly lured to his death by an escort's ad.

The decision follows a Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling on Wednesday
clearing the way for possible death sentences in that case.

Jefty Claude Joseph, 24, Ilmart Christophe, 23, and Koral Benshimon, 24, were
arrested in the slaying of Gustavo Mora Falsetti Cabral, 31.

Detectives say Cabral was shot once in the head inside the garage of an
abandoned home west of Lake Worth, hours after he showed up at a Super 8 Motel
in Pompano Beach in response to an escort service listing by "Belle Ayrab
Barbie/Sexy Angeline Latina."

Benshimon, who is accused of posing as the escort, last week was sentenced to
10 years in prison plus 5 years of probation after admitting to her role in the
deadly episode. The Greenacres woman pleaded guilty to kidnapping and robbery
counts, and the State Attorney's Office dropped a charge of 1st degree murder
with a firearm.

Benshimon, who got credit for nearly 4 years already spent in jail, agreed to
testify if called upon by prosecutors for the trials of Joseph and Christophe.

Before resolving her case with the plea deal, Benshimon's attorney, Douglas
Duncan, told the court the defense planned to argue at trial that she was
forced into prostitution by the 2 men, who lived west of Lake Worth. Now she
must cooperate with prosecutors or see her deal voided.

Joseph's trial had been postponed since February, when prosecutors appealed an
order from Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes that took the death
penalty off the table.

Wednesday's appellate court ruling followed decisions in other cases where
death penalty prosecutions were halted temporarily over arguments about grand
jury indictments. Florida has since updated its death penalty law so that
unanimous jury votes now are required to impose capital punishment.

Joseph's attorney, Robert Gershman, said he expects the trial to begin in the
next few months.

The judge is expected to pick a trial date for Christophe at a Jan. 31 hearing.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for him as well.

Koral Benshimon, 24, of Greenacres, on Oct. 12 pleaded guilty to kidnapping and
robbery counts.

According to arrest reports, the victim called Benshimon several times before
arriving at the parking lot of the Super 8, in the 2300 block of N.E. 10th St,
at 5:08 p.m. on Dec. 1, 2013. She told detectives she advised Cabral her price
was $100 for an hour and for him to come up to room 226 in a few minutes.

When Cabral entered the room, Joseph and Christophe were waiting and ordered
Cabral to the ground at gun point, tied him up and took $400 in cash, credit
cards and his cell phone, an arrest report states.

Cabral was "so scared he could hardly talk," and his life was threatened unless
he provided his debit card PIN and complied with demands to call his credit
card companies to increase his spending limits, according to the account that
Benshimon gave investigators.

Christophe and Joseph then forced Cabral at gunpoint into the backseat of his
black Toyota Camry for a ride to several banks in attempts to withdraw money,
records show. Benshimon followed in another car, and was later advised to wait
for them outside Christophe's mother's residence in the Indian Pines
neighborhood north of Lantana Road.

A witness told deputies that 3 men entered the abandoned house on the 5900
block of Ithaca Circle West and minutes later there was the sound of a gunshot.
Only 2 of the men left the house.

At about 9:30 a.m., deputies found Cabral dead in the garage and minutes later
caught up to Joseph and Christophe in the same neighborhood.

A search of Joseph's pockets yielded the Super 8 room keycard and 2 of Cabral's
credit cards and driver's license, records show.

(source: Sun Sentinel)








ALABAMA----stay of impending execution upheld

Federal appeals court will not allow Alabama inmate's execution



A federal appeals court Wednesday denied a request by Alabama to lift a judge's
order so it can execute death row inmate Torrey Twane McNabb on Thursday.

Chief U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins in Montgomery had issued a stay of
execution for McNabb on Monday. But the Alabama Attorney General's Office, on
behalf of the Alabama Department of Corrections, had quickly appealed to the
U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to unblock the stay so the execution could
take place.

The appeals court on Wednesday said it could find no cause to lift Watkins'
order.

The execution was scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Hollman Correctional
Facility in Atmore.

McNabb has spent the last 18 years on death row, after being convicted of
fatally shooting Montgomery police officer Anderson Gordon in September 1997.
McNabb was convicted on 2 capital murder counts-- 1 for killing Gordon while he
was on duty, and 1 for killing him as Gordon sat in his patrol car. McNabb also
was found guilty of 2 additional counts of attempted murder.

The Attorney General's Office could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is the 2nd time an execution has been stayed this month.

Death row inmate Jeffrey Lynn Borden, 56, was granted a stay of his Oct. 5
execution. Borden was sentenced to death for the Christmas Eve 1993 shooting
deaths of his estranged wife and her father in Gardendale.

Both McNabb and Borden are part of an inmate lawsuit challenging the
constitutionality of Alabama's lethal injection drug combination. The 11th
Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 6 had ordered Watkins to hold an evidentiary
hearing in that lawsuit regarding the claims.

Watkins has not yet set a date for that hearing.

(source: al.com)

*******************

Alabama seeks to proceed with execution Thursday



Alabama is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to let it execute an inmate convicted
of killing a police officer 2 decades ago.

The attorney general's office plans to ask justices to lift a stay blocking
Thursday's scheduled execution of 40-year-old Torrey Twane McNabb.

McNabb was convicted in the 1997 shooting death of Montgomery police Officer
Anderson Gordon. Prosecutors say McNabb shot Gordon multiple times after he
arrived at a traffic accident that McNabb caused while fleeing a bail bondsmen.

A federal judge stayed the execution after an appellate court ordered more
proceedings in an inmate lawsuit claiming the state uses an unreliable sedative
at the start of lethal injections.

The attorney general's office argues the high court has allowed 4 executions
with the drug.

(source: Associated Press)








KANSAS:

Oral arguments scheduled in Thurber death penalty appeal before Kansas Supreme
Court



The Kansas Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the death penalty case
of Justin Thurber.

A Cowley County jury convicted Justin Eugene Thurber in 2007 of capital murder
and aggravated kidnapping for the abduction and murder of 19-year-old Jodi
Sanderholm near Arkansas City.

In a separate sentencing proceeding, the State alleged that the murder had been
committed in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner.

The jury found that the State proved this aggravating circumstance beyond a
reasonable doubt and that mitigating circumstances did not outweigh it.

Accordingly, the jury returned a verdict for death. In this direct appeal,
Thurber raises 27 issues regarding alleged errors during the guilt-phase and
penalty-phase proceedings.

Both the defense and the state will be allotted 60 minutes for argument. The
oral arguments will begin at 9 a.m. October 27th in Topeka.

(source:Nick Gosnell is the News Director for WIBW News and the Kansas
Information Network.








USA:

Abolish the death penalty and support the survivors----Survivors need healing
and support services over the course of their lives.



Whether it's the latest mass shooting or a robbery gone awry, whenever I hear
about a murder, my heart breaks again. I know what it's like to learn that the
person you love and need the most is never coming home again. That pain and
despair are real to me, because my pregnant mother was murdered when I was 5
years old.

I was raised by my grandmother, a smart woman who shared details with me as I
got older. My mom was 26 when she was murdered in Alvin by two teens with car
trouble whom she tried to help. Because the killers were juveniles, they were
not eligible for the death penalty.

I've thought a lot about my mom and what our lives might have been like had she
not been murdered. I've also thought a lot about the teenagers who killed her,
and I have participated in a victim-offender reconciliation program that
allowed me to meet with one of them in prison.

Looking one of my mom's killers in the eye helped me understand that they were
people, too. They made a terrible mistake for which they have paid the price.
One died in prison, and the man my grandma and I met with was paroled. I
recently received a message from his pastor, sharing that he is active in
church and paying back to society. We're OK with that. There should be room for
forgiveness and reconciliation.

I know some will disagree, and I don't speak for everyone who struggles with
the aftermath of murder. I have no problem with a sentence of death by
incarceration, which is what most killers get these days. We can be safe from
dangerous offenders and hold them accountable without killing them.

I also recognize that those in prison or on death row and those who have been
executed have families too. Those family members, especially those who were
children when their loved one was arrested, experience pain and devastation
similar to that which I felt. They, like me, didn't do anything wrong, but
society need not make it worse by making them homicide survivors too.

As much as I've missed my mom, I'm fortunate that my grandma provided
leadership for our family that steered us away from revenge. She understood
that executing the killers wouldn't bring her daughter back. Given how long
death cases take, I believe that not having to wait decades for executions
allowed us to move on with our lives, and on some level, to heal. This is one
reason I now advocate for ending the death penalty.

In our experience the death penalty system is not victim-friendly. It consumes
huge sums of money which could be better used for direct victims' services,
such as counseling, funeral expenses and educational help for the children left
behind. These and other things would have been useful to my family.

Additionally, executions focus attention on the offender rather than on the
victims. The headlines are always about the killer. We all know the name of the
shooter in Las Vegas. Can we name one of his victims?

The biggest myth about the death penalty is the one promised by politicians and
prosecutors. They say that victim's families need executions so that they can
have "closure." That is a false promise, because no amount of killing will
bring my mom back.

Worse, by holding up the death penalty as a commodity for victim's families,
they are really saying that most homicide victims aren't valuable enough. The
majority of murder cases are not death-eligible, and only a tiny percentage of
those cases where death is possible actually end with an execution.

Anyone with a relative who has been murdered wants the right person to be held
accountable. Beyond that, we need healing and support services over the course
of our lifetimes. It's been decades since my mom was killed, but the trauma of
losing her is triggered again almost daily.

The death penalty should be abolished and the funds currently used for killing
should be redirected to better services for homicide survivors.

(source: Commentary; Ami Lyn White lives in Cleveland. She is a featured
speaker on the Texas Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing in the
Houston area which ends today. Details at
www.DeathPenaltyAction.org/JourneyofHope.----Houston Chronicle)






************

Death Penalty Resolution: U.S. Vote Betrays American Values



On Sept. 29, the United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Council passed a resolution
condemning the unjust application of the death penalty worldwide. At the vote
in Geneva, 13 of 47 council members voted against the resolution, including the
United States.

Coverage of this resolution has mainly focused on its language opposing the
death penalty as punishment for homosexuality. Major news outlets such as CNN
and the Independent all ran incredulous headlines highlighting the apparent
anti-LGBTQ+ elements of the vote.

But there's more to this resolution: it also asserts that religious crimes such
as blasphemy, speaking against one's religion and apostasy, renouncing one's
religious or political beliefs, are never capital offenses and condemns
executions of pregnant women, minors and the mentally ill and the
disproportionate use of capital punishment against the poor, minorities and
political dissidents. The United States' failure to support this last point is
particularly frustrating. Voting against this resolution goes against a
fundamental tenet of American democracy: religious freedom.

This vote has inspired considerable backlash, and, in response, State
Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement, "We had hoped for a
balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the positions of
states that continue to apply the death penalty lawfully, as the United States
does."

Nauert cited the resolution's advocacy for total abolition of the death penalty
as a reason for the "no" vote - despite none of the resolution's text
explicitly calling for complete elimination, only referencing a moratorium
supported by the U.N. since 2007. This unsubstantiated justification only makes
the vote more disturbing. The United States prides itself on freedom of speech
and religion, and seeks to promote human rights abroad. So why is it so wedded
to the continued use of the death penalty that it prioritizes its ability to
kill its citizens over protecting people persecuted by oppressive, bloodthirsty
regimes around the world?

This sort of vote is nothing new; similar votes were made during the Barack
Obama administration. This precedent doesn't excuse this vote, but rather
highlights the hypocrisy of the nominally pro-LGBTQ+ Obama administration. Such
votes have harmful consequences for LGBTQ+ people and other persecuted
minorities, which can't be hand-waved away. If the United States sincerely
"unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such
as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery and apostasy," as Nauert claimed, passing
up these opportunities to take concrete actions to that effect is baffling and
upsetting.

Moreover, capital punishment will only breed more injustice upon its practical
application, as evidenced by the goals of the UN resolution - to protect those
most vulnerable from being unfairly affected.

"The color of a defendant and victim's skin plays a crucial and unacceptable
role in deciding who receives the death penalty in America," the American Civil
Liberties Union said in an analysis of race and capital punishment. This
analysis showed that 77 % of inmates on the U.S. government's death row are
people of color. Not only is the death penalty more likely to be applied when
the convict is a minority, it's also more likely when the victim is white. It's
unsurprising, then, that the United States would vote against a resolution
"[d]eploring the fact that, frequently, poor and economically vulnerable
persons and ... religious or ethnic minorities are disproportionately
represented among those sentenced to the death penalty[.]" Even under a
president whose campaign made deplorability a rallying cry, why would a state
vote to deplore its own conduct?

I personally oppose the death penalty unconditionally; I believe that killing
is always wrong, that capital punishment only increases total suffering and, in
Pope Francis' words, "attacks the inviolability and the dignity of the person."

But even if the United States doesn't share this view, it should still
recognize human rights as more important than the option to execute. At the
very least, it should stand for its apparent values, rather than grandstanding
one way and acting another.

This vote exposes a hollow and moldering pit where the heart and backbone of
America's moral leadership should be. Every nation on Earth has a duty to
advocate for human rights. Because America's influence and affluence increase
the potential effectiveness of its advocacy, the severity of that moral
imperative is also increased. Choosing not to join the U.N. in condemning
unjust executions is a failure of that duty, and a cruel and unusual hypocrisy
that undermines American posturing as a defender of human rights.

If the United States wants to be a part of the humane, optimistic future that
the rest of the world dares to envision, we can start by reforming or, even
better, abolishing our use of the death penalty - and then advocating for
similar reform abroad. It's the right thing to do.

(source: Opinion, Carl Lewandowski; loyolaphoenix.com)

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