Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Let the debate begin!

Amid the rulings issued in late June, including a ruling that affirmed marriage without regard to sexual orientation and a ruling supporting the Affordable Care Act, came a decision that the “use of midazolam as part of lethal injection protocols is constitutional.”

The ruling focused, not on the death penalty itself, but on the means of administrating the death penalty. As Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said:

“Today, the Supreme Court ruled that using a cocktail of illegal drugs, which has been proven to cause torture in the prisoners to whom it’s been administered, as a form of execution, is not ‘cruel or unusual’ punishment.”

A sign of hope came from the dissent of Justice Stephen Breyer in which he questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty and called for a renewed legal debate on the matter.

Such a debate is needed.

Reports of recent executions describe cruel and unusual circumstances.  Writing in Salon, Matthew Rosza describes three executions:

Dennis McGuire of Ohio, who took nearly 25 minutes to die after choking and struggling throughout the procedure; Clayton Lockett of Oklahoma, whose execution was halted 20 minutes into the procedure due to an issue with his vein, began writhing on the gurney, and took 43 minutes in total to die; and Joseph Wood of Arizona, who gasped and snorted for nearly two hours before his lethal injection finally ended his life.

Not only does the death penalty appear to fit the cruel and unusual criteria of the Constitution, practical concerns abound. It does not make us safer. It lowers us to the behavior of criminals. It makes executioners of us all. It runs the risk of executing an innocent person. And racial and class bias riddle the use of the sentence.

The time has come to end the practice of the death penalty. Let the debate proposed by Justice Breyer begin!

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Antiracism, Capital Punishment, Current Events, Death Penalty

1 stayed; 1 scheduled

1 stayed

Amnesty International reports that:

A judge in Georgia has granted Warren Hill a temporary stay of execution to consider a lethal injection question. A petition is still pending before the US Supreme Court on the claim that Warren Hill has “mental retardation” and that his execution would therefore violate the US Constitution. The execution warrant does not expire until noon on 20 July.

Shortly before the execution was to be carried out on July 15, the stay was issued. The hearing is to be held on July 18. If the stay is lifted before the execution warrant expires at noon on July 20, the state could conduct the execution.

1 scheduled

John M. Quintilla, Jr. is scheduled to be executed today in Texas. The execution may have already taken place. I am having trouble finding information. Quintilla was convicted of killing Victor Billings, a former sheriff’s deputy, in a robbery turned violent. Reports are that, along with two others, Quintilla “entered an action amusement center through a partially opened back door, demanded cash from an employee and advised all other patrons to get down on the floor. An adult white male [Victor Billings] attempted to disarm Quintanilla and was fatally shot three times. A second victim, and adult white female, was also shot, but the injury was not fatal.”

My prayers for those who loved Victor Billings and Myra Wright and Joseph Handspike. There can be no defense or justification of their murders.

But the execution of those who commit such acts is not the answer. It feeds the cycle of violence. There has to be a better way.

See you along the Trail.

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Filed under Capital Punishment, Current Events, Death Penalty, Human Rights

Last hope to stop execution of Warren Hill

Georgia has set an execution date of 15 July for Warren Lee Hill, Jr. This is not the first time that a date has been set.

Stays have been granted on previous occasions. Questions focus on his mental capacity.

Amnesty International reports that experts who have assessed Hill now say that he has ‘mental retardation’, which would make his
execution unconstitutional. His lawyers are asking the US Supreme Court to step in.

Hill was serving time for the murder of his girl friend, Myra Wright, when he was convicted of killing Joseph Handspike, another inmate, and sentenced to death. There is no question of his guilt.

The question in this case, beyond those in any execution, revolves around Hill’s mental capacity. His IQ is reported to be 70. This raises the question of his mental capacity and his awareness to understand his acts.

The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of capacity in the 2002 decision Atkins. v. VirginiaThe American Psychological Association summarizes that decision as follows:

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that executions of mentally retarded criminals are “cruel and unusual punishments” prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. The Court cited the growing number of states prohibiting the execution of persons with mental retardation as a reflection of society’s view that offenders considered to have mental retardation are categorically less culpable than the average criminal. The Court also reasoned that it was “not persuaded that the execution of mentally retarded criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty.”

However, Georgia has a high standard of proof for proving mental retardation: the standard of proving mental incapacitation beyond a reasonable doubt. Georgia does not believe that standard has been met in Hill’s case.

Amnesty International notes that Hill’s lawyers are asking the US Supreme Court to stop the execution. Several US law professors have filed a brief arguing that this is a case in which the Court should take this unusual step of exercising the Court’s power to consider “original habeas petitions” (in exceptional circumstances to take a case brought directly to it rather than on appeal from a lower court).

Amnesty International asks that those concerned about this case write immediately – before 15 July – to the Attorney General of Georgia. Letters should:

  • Note that  all seven experts who have assessed Warren Hill now agree that he has mental retardation, which would render his execution unconstitutional; and
  • ask the Attorney General to concede this and to support the petition for Supreme Court intervention.

The Honorable Sam Olens, Attorney General of Georgia
40 Capitol Square, SW
Atlanta, GA 30334, USA
Fax: +1 404 657 8733
Email: AGOlens@law.ga.gov
Salutation: Dear Attorney General

Copies of the letter should go to:
Governor Nathan Deal
Georgia State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334, USA
Fax: +1 404 657 7332
Email: http://gov.georgia.gov/webform/contact-governor-domestic-form

I grieve for Myra Wright and Joseph Handspike and for their family and friends.  There can be no defense for Hill’s crimes.

But that is not all the story. What does it say about our society – about us – that we resort to execution in the case of an individual with the mental capacity and awareness of Hill? Can we not find another way?

See you along the Trail.


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Filed under Capital Punishment, Current Events, Death Penalty, Human Rights