When Robert Gleason Jr. was put to death in Virginia on January 16 (he chose the electric chair) he became the 140th so-called “volunteer” for execution since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976. In fact, over 10% of US executions have been “voluntary,” usually meaning that the prisoner has given up his appeals.
But in Gleason’s case it was more than that. He specifically killed to get the death penalty. He strangled his cellmate and vowed to keep on killing unless he was executed. And this is not the first time someone has committed murder in order to get the state to kill him. In Ohio in 2009, Christopher Newton was put to death for killing his cellmate. He had refused to cooperate with investigators unless they sought the death penalty.
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Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, a former prison psychologist, admits that he recognizes the irony. His state is keeping Lawrence Reynolds alive, on suicide watch, so they can execute him Tuesday morning. Reynolds attempted suicide by overdosing on pills on Sunday and was rushed to the hospital where his life was saved. The Governor postponed his execution, original scheduled for March 9, to give him sufficient time to recover so that the Buckeye state can kill him properly.
“It is ironic, obviously, that you would work to keep someone alive when they are scheduled to be executed,” the Governor said. “Ironic” may be putting it mildly. When you adopt a policy (state killing) that directly contradicts basic values (life is precious), absurd and morally dubious practices like this are inevitable.
What is ironic is that, back in May 2007, the state of Ohio executed Christopher Newton, who “volunteered” to be put to death by giving up his appeals. He even refused to cooperate with those investigating the crime he committed unless they promised to seek the death penalty. The state of Ohio was surely assisting Newton in committing suicide on that day, though they nearly botched it by taking 90 minutes to find a vein to administer his lethal injection.
(Nationally, there have been 135 of these “voluntary” executions, representing over 10 percent of all executions since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.)
The Governor’s lame excuse for this current predicament is that his government is required to “observe the law as we understand it.” Of course, the law also allows the Governor to commute death sentences, or even impose a moratorium on all executions in his state, as many, including Amnesty International, are urging him to do.