The State of Ohio is scheduled to execute Abdul Awkal on 6 June. Awkal was convicted in 1992 for the murders of his wife, Latife Awkal, and his brother-in-law, Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz. The murders took place inside the courthouse on Lakeside Avenue in Cleveland.
The Awkals were scheduled for a meeting on 7 January 1992 in the family conciliation services office of the Domestic Relations Court over custody of their 15-month old daughter. Latife Awkal had filed for divorce from her husband.
For some reason or reasons, the situation took a violent turn. Awkal shot and killed his sister and brother-in-law. He then tried to flee with his daughter before a sheriff’s deputy shot and wounded him.
There appears little doubt of Awkal’s guilt. There appears no doubt. Guilt is not the question. The question is responsibility. Awkal has a long, well-documented history of severe mental illness that predates to before the murders. One source describes his illness as “a severe depressive/delusional disorder that results in audio and visual hallucinations, delusions of grandiose and paranoid themes, and suicide attempts.” Does that matter? While different courts have taken different views of the impact of his mental illness and his mental competence at different times, I believe there exists a reasonable doubt as to his level of responsibility.
On Friday 18 May, the parole board in Ohio recommended to the governor that he not grant clemency to Awkal. One member dissented from the decision.
I grieve for Latife and Mahmoud. I grieve for a child who lost one parent to death and another to incarceration. The use of violence in a courthouse and before an effort at reconciliation disturbs me greatly. I give thanks for the actions of the law enforcement officer who may well have prevented a greater loss of life. Nothing justifies Awkal’s actions. Nothing minimizes their brutality. And yet …
What is gained by the execution of Abdul Awkal? It does not bring his wife and brother-in-law back. It does not make our society any safer than we would be if Awkal remained in prison for life. It would be an act of revenge – an act of violence – that further dehumanizes our society. Can we not do better?
See you along the Trail.