Tag Archives: capital punishment

Connecticut abolishes death penalty!

The movement grows – although I am a bit late in commenting.

On 25 April 2012, Connecticut became the 17th state to abolish the death penalty. Governor Dannel P. Malloy made a profound statement as he signed the legislation. It reflects his personal experience which changed his views on the death penalty. He cites the reality that as good as a system of justice is, it is imperfect as well as the “unworkability” of the law that results in appeal after appeal which brings “sordid attention that rips open never-quite-healed wounds.” He closes with the observation that family members of murder victims led the campaign to abolish the death penalty. The statement is worth reading in its entirety:

“This afternoon I signed legislation that will, effective today, replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release as the highest form of legal punishment in Connecticut.  Although it is an historic moment – Connecticut joins 16 other states and the rest of the industrialized world by taking this action – it is a moment for sober reflection, not celebration.

“Many of us who have advocated for this position over the years have said there is a moral component to our opposition to the death penalty.  For me, that is certainly the case.  But that does not mean – nor should it mean – that we question the morality of those who favor capital punishment.  I certainly don’t.  I know many people whom I deeply respect, including friends and family, that believe the death penalty is just.  In fact, the issue knows no boundaries: not political party, not gender, age, race, or any other demographic.  It is, at once, one of the most compelling and vexing issues of our time.
“My position on the appropriateness of the death penalty in our criminal justice system evolved over a long period of time.  As a young man, I was a death penalty supporter.  Then I spent years as a prosecutor and pursued dangerous felons in court, including murderers.  In the trenches of a criminal courtroom, I learned firsthand that our system of justice is very imperfect.  While it’s a good system designed with the highest ideals of our democratic society in mind, like most of human experience, it is subject to the fallibility of those who participate in it.  I saw people who were poorly served by their counsel.  I saw people wrongly accused or mistakenly identified.  I saw discrimination.  In bearing witness to those things, I came to believe that doing away with the death penalty was the only way to ensure it would not be unfairly imposed.
“Another factor that led me to today is the ‘unworkability’ of Connecticut’s death penalty law.  In the last 52 years, only 2 people have been put to death in Connecticut – and both of them volunteered for it.  Instead, the people of this state pay for appeal after appeal, and then watch time and again as defendants are marched in front of the cameras, giving them a platform of public attention they don’t deserve.  It is sordid attention that rips open never-quite-healed wounds.  The 11 men currently on death row in Connecticut are far more likely to die of old age than they are to be put to death.
“As in past years, the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut has been led by dozens of family members of murder victims, and some of them were present as I signed this legislation today.   In the words of one such survivor: ‘Now is the time to start the process of healing, a process that could have been started decades earlier with the finality of a life sentence. We cannot afford to put on hold the lives of these secondary victims.  We need to allow them to find a way as early as possible to begin to live again.’  Perhaps that is the most compelling message of all.
“As our state moves beyond this divisive debate, I hope we can all redouble our efforts and common work to improve the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system, and to minimize its fallibility.”

Work remains to do. Thirty-three states retain the death penalty. Executions are scheduled for May 16 in Texas and Arizona.

But for now, I give thanks for the legislators in Connecticut and for Governor Malloy. May his hope come true.

See you along the Trail.

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Ask for clemency in Oklahoma

Something rare has happened in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has voted to recommend clemency (mercy) for a person facing execution. They do not do that often, but they did so by a vote of 4 to 1 in the case of Garry T. Allen. The State of Oklahoma is scheduled to execute Allen on Thursday, April 12, 2012 for his murder of Lawanna Gail Titsworth. A number of reasons are cited to support the vote.

  • Allen does not recall the crime. This could result from either  extreme intoxication and/or being shot in the head when apprehended.
  • Despite this lack of memory, Allen has accepted responsibility for shooting Lawanna Gail Titsworth in a domestic dispute.
  • His behavior during the shooting when Allen asked Titsworth her if she was all right, and later, at the hospital, he asked where she was point to Allen being mentally impaired at the time of the crime.
  • Allen’s family reported instances of delusional thinking even as a child. It is also reported that he suffered head injuries during a beating. It is further reported that the “frontal lobe of Allen’s brain, the part involved in planning and moderating behavior, is damaged, perhaps because of earlier head injuries or perhaps because of the gunshot in the head, or both.”
  • Allen accepts the fact that he killed Titsworth – though he does not remember but was told by others that he committed the crime. In an effort to spare both Titsworth’s and his own family painful legal proceedings, Allen plead guilty to the crime.

I grieve for the family, friends, and all who loved Lawanna Gail Titworth. They have suffered a loss I cannot imagine.

But I fail to see how executing Garry T. Allen serves a purpose other than revenge. And the State of Oklahoma – any state – should be better than that. The State of Oklahoma should not execute this mentally ill and remorseful man. He should serve the remainder of his life in an appropriate state facility.

I signed a petition asking Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma to show mercy and, as the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommends, to grant clemency to Gary T. Allen.

You too can sign the petition.

See you along the Trail.

I regret that I have not made time to address issues of capital punishment and the death penalty over the last couple months.

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The People v. the State

In my musings on the death penalty, I have often used the expression: “the State of X will execute Y” at such a time. Tonight, I took a few moments to explore the People of Faith against the Death Penalty Website.

On their list of upcoming executions, they use the word “people” in place of the word “State.”

The word “State” works on some levels – the State establishes and enforces the laws. The State conducts the trial. The State maintains the prisons where those awaiting execution and held and then put to death.

But – in a democracy, laying aside for a moment the serious conversations that need to take place about the nature and reality of democracy in our country – in a democracy, the line between people and State blurs. As far as I can tell, PFDAP always uses the construction, “the people of State X.” I have pondered the words since. That plays effectively on that blurred line.

One of my prime objections to the death penalty is that when the State kills, it does so in the name of  its citizens. It does so in the name of the people it represents. It does so in my name.

Saying, as PFADP does, “Person X is scheduled to be killed by the people of State Y for and the crime is named and the person against whom the crime is committed is named,” reminds me of that reality. When the State kills, it kills in my name. It becomes tricky in the United States where individual States execute. If I live in State Y, what responsibility do I have for what happens in State Z? A good question. But we are bound together.

Much to ponder. More pondering lies ahead.

See you along the Trail.



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Two executions pend in Texas

Two executions may take place in Texas before the month ends.

On February 28, 2012, Anthony Bartee may be put to death by the State of Texas. Execution Watch reports that Bartee insists that two others committed the 1996 robbery-murder of David Cook, his San Antonio neighbor. They note that “at the time of the killing, Bartee was on parole for two aggravated rape convictions.”

The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty raises a number of concerns:

even though the Bexar County Criminal Investigation Laboratory still has not tested pieces of DNA evidence that were collected from the crime scene. Even after being ordered to test this evidence by Trial Judge Mary Román, neither the Bexar County crime lab nor the DPS lab in Austin have performed the ordered tests on all available evidence.  Bartee was convicted of the 1996 murder of his friend David Cook in San Antonio.  He has consistently maintained that although he was present at the house, he did not kill Cook.

They provide background and talking points for letters to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry.

The following day, February 29, 2012, the execution of George Rivas is scheduled. Again from Execution Watch:

Described by police as the mastermind of a seven-man escape in 2000 from a state prison in South Texas, Rivas was condemned after claiming sole responsibility for the shooting death of a police officer in suburban Dallas during a robbery the group pulled.

The Texas Seven as they are known, escaped in December 2000. They stole the workers’ clothes, broke into the prison armory to get guns and drove away in a prison truck. They robbed two Houston-area stores. On Christmas Eve, 2000, police officer Aubrey Hawkins responded to a call about a robbery. The group ambushed Officer Hawkins as he did his duty.

One of the group, Larry James Harper committed suicide when authorities captured the group. The state of Texas executed Michael Anthony Rodriguez in 2008. The Supreme Court stayed the execution of a second group member in January of this year.

I have not been able to find a place to do advocacy on his behalf. I assume the addresses of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry would work for letters. Rivas’ number appears to be #999394.

Different cases. Each raises issues about our criminal justice system. But in neither case is execution the answer. 

See you along the Trail.

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Execution in Florida

An execution took place in Florida today.

Debbie Kammerer was brutally beaten, raped and killed 32 years ago in St. Petersburg. Robert Waterhouse was convicted of the crime. He had previously been convicted of raping and strangling a 77-year-old woman in New York in 1966. I have not been able to find her name in any of the postings. He served eight years behind bars before being paroled for that conviction.

Today, the state of Florida executed Robert Waterhouse. He maintained his innocence in relation to the murder of Debbie Kammerer as recently as 1995. Through the years the courts disagreed.

Nothing can justify these crimes. I grieve for the unnamed victim and for Debbie Kammerer. I grieve for those who love them. I wonder at the system that allowed his parole.

Yet for all that, I cannot condone his execution. Violence feeds violence. There has to be another way.

See you along the Trail.

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A reversal

Life can change in the twinkling of an eye – or at least very quickly some times.

On Monday, an attorney representing Edward Hart Turner had persuaded a U.S. District Court to block, temporarily, Turner’s execution. The argument did not dispute Turner’s guilt. Rather it focused on a Department of Corrections policy that apparently prevented Turner from getting tests about his mental health at the time of killings.

It appeared that the Mississippi would step back and determine if Turner was mentally ill before it decided if it would take his life.

Today things changed. Quickly. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the stay. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to stay the execution. The Governor of Mississippi refused a reprieve.

And Turner received a lethal injection this evening – 8 February 2012 – as scheduled.

Nothing can defend the brutal murders of Eddie Brooks and Everett Curry.

However, nothing can justify execution by the state of someone whose mental health, and ability to understand what they are doing, is in question.

See you along the Trail.

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Execution in Texas

Again I am late.

The state of Texas executed Rodrigo Hernandez on Thursday, January 26. The state convicted him of sexually assaulting and strangling Susan Verstegen in 1994, leaving her body in a San Antonio trash can.

DNA evidence tied Hernandez to the brutal crime. Evidence also linked him to a 1991 murder in Michigan. One report says he confessed to both murders before his execution.

I grieve for Susan Verstegen – for her mother and son – for all who grieve for her.

I wonder at a judicial system that failed to identify Hernandez as a killer and remove him from circulation  in an efficient manner. But life imprisonment would serve that purpose. His execution by the state leaves me wondering why we believe that killing people demonstrates that killing is wrong.

See you along the Trail.

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