Texas death penalty out of step.....

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Texas death penalty out of step.....

Post  Jennie on Thu Jun 19, 2008 11:45 am

Texas death penalty out of step with public attitudes in post-Baze America

Bryan McCann [member, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Austin, TX
Chapter]: "When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Baze v. Rees case that
Kentucky's lethal injection protocol did not constitute cruel and unusual
punishment, death penalty opponents everywhere braced for the resumption
of state-sanctioned killing. Those of us who organize against the death
penalty in Texas were particularly expecting our state government to
resume executions in earnest, given the Lone Star State's reputation for
the busiest death row in the nation. Following an 8-month de-facto
national moratorium on executions as states awaited the Baze decision,
Texas planned to resume its macabre style of frontier justice on June 3
with the execution of Derrick Sonnier.

Yet, as June 3 came and death penalty opponents gathered before the State
Capitol to protest, we learned that Mr. Sonnier would not die. His lawyers
successfully argued before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that that
states own changes in its lethal injection procedures had not undergone
sufficient judicial scrutiny. This fleeting moment of relief, however,
would change to an all-to-familiar sadness and outrage as Karl Chamberlain
entered the execution room in Huntsville, Texas as his mother stood
outside the infamous "Walls Unit" to protest her sons death.

Karl Chamberlain was sentenced to death for the 1991 rape and murder of
his neighbor. A white male, Chamberlain expressed remorse for his crime as
he lay on the gurney. The presence of protesters in Huntsville, Austin,
and other locations in Texas notwithstanding, his was not a high profile
execution. Yet, as Texas machinery of death appears once again to be fully
functional with fourteen scheduled executions through October, the
occasion of Mr. Chamberlains death requires analysis. Now that Texas has
ended its 406th life since 1982, how might we speculate on the future of
capital punishment in Texas and elsewhere?

As I stood at the rally for the scheduled execution of Derrick Sonnier,
having already heard the news of his stay, I spoke with Akwesi Evans of
the African American community newspaper Nokoa. He commented that he
doubted Texas would have treaded so carefully if Sonnier had faced the
needle several years earlier. While there is no telling whether Sonniers
lawyers' arguments would have been more or less successful in, say, 2005
than 2008, I believe there is an underlying truth to Evans remarks. Things
are changing in Texas, as they are throughout the nation. Public opinion
continues to turn against the death penalty. While a majority of Americans
continue to support the sanction, they represent a far smaller percentage
than in previous decades. Since former Governor George Ryan cleared
Illinois' death row in 2003, the public is acutely concerned about the
possibility of sending an innocent person to their death. Though the
Supreme Court appears to have affirmed the use of capital punishment
across the nation, other states have begun to question their use of the
sanction. Most notably, the New Jersey legislature passed and the governor
signed a bill abolishing the death penalty.

Even the Texas death penalty has shown signs of weakness. Last summer, a
small group of family members and anti-death penalty organizers waged an
unlikely battle against the impending execution of Kenneth Foster, Jr. We
captured international attention and won. Kenneth is now serving a life
term and may one day be paroled. The same Court of Criminal Appeals that
granted Derrick Sonnier a stay has been under intense national scrutiny,
especially after Presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused on September 25 to
keep the court open 20 minutes late to allow Michael Richard's attorneys
to recover from computer problems and file his last appeal. This appeal,
of course, was based on the pending Baze case that would temporarily halt
executions across the country. Richard would die at precisely the moment
when the rest of the nation was halting executions and awaiting the High
Courts decision on lethal injection. Individual high profile cases like
those of Rodney Reed - a black man sentenced to death [news report] for
murdering the white fianc of a notoriously violent white police officer,
and the so-called "Yogurt Shop Murders" - 2 men convicted for a quadruple
homicide after a reckless and politically-charged 8-year investigation, as
well as the disgraceful resignation of Houston's District Attorney Chuck
Rosenthal, continue to highlight deep flaws in the structures of criminal
justice in Texas.

Since receiving his stay, Derrick Sonnier learned his new execution date
is July 23. This chilling fact, the haunting image of Karl Chamberlain's
mother grieving her son just feet away from his ritualistic death, and the
unwavering pace at which Texas plans to reclaim its status as the "Belly
of the Beast" all seem causes for pessimism and defeat. Yet, embedded
within the obvious tragedies that take place as a matter of public policy
on Texas' death row and others are reasons to be hopeful. As I type this,
an email appeared in my inbox announcing that a State District Judge has
withdrawn the execution order for Charles Dean Hood, who was scheduled to
receive a lethal injection in about half an hour. The death penalty is on
the defensive in a way it has not been since it was ruled unconstitutional
by the Supreme Court amid the movements and struggles of the early 1970s.
Slowly but surely, ordinary people are recognizing the death penalty for
what it is: a barbaric, racist practice that almost always punishes the
poor, sentences the innocent to die, and fails to prevent crime. Though we
are right to mourn the loss of Karl Chamberlain and others that Texas will
poison in the name of justice, we should remain encouraged and motivated
by the fact that even the state that executes more than the rest of the
states combined is doing so with more caution and more fear of an
increasingly disapproving citizenry."

(source: Opinions expressed in JURIST's Hotline are the sole
responsibility of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views
of JURIST's editors, staff, or the University of Pittsburgh)

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Re: Texas death penalty out of step.....

Post  Scouse on Thu Jun 19, 2008 3:02 pm


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