A Long Ride: Rev. Reynolds and Vera Thomas’ Journey Seeking Justice For Their Son

Reggie Clemons (Photo Credit: Private).

Reggie Clemons (Photo Credit: Private).

By Meredith Reese, Amnesty International USA’s Missouri State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator 

In the early morning hours of February 4th, Reggie Clemons’ parents found themselves once again preparing for a long ride across the state of Missouri to yet another court hearing. This one was to be held in Jefferson City in front of the Missouri State Supreme Court and has been a long time coming.

Reggie’s parents were joined by a large enthusiastic group of supporters who gathered 130 miles away in Saint Louis, in the gray, pre-dawn light to board a bus for the long ride to Jefferson City. Many of them taking off work, skipping school and losing countless hours of precious sleep between them, just to be there for this crucial moment.

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“Anyone Who Witnessed That Execution Will Never Forget”

An activist fasts with other death penalty opponents in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. (Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

An activist fasts with other death penalty opponents in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. (Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

By Abraham J. Bonowitz, State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Delaware & Ohio for Amnesty International USA

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty as a violation of the right to life. Further, AI considers death row itself to be cruel and unusual, setting aside that an execution method which does not deliver death within seconds might be better termed “death by torture.”

What else can you call it when witnesses describe a prisoner coughing, snorting, and heaving against his restraints for upwards of 20 minutes before finally dying? This is exactly what happened last week when Ohio executed Dennis McGuire.

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The State of Missouri Has a Secret…

Missouri law provides members of an execution team with anonymity, and the pharmacy for Joseph Paul Franklin’s execution has been added to the team. Without knowing which pharmacy is providing the execution drugs, the drugs’ efficacy cannot be guaranteed (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers).

Missouri law provides members of an execution team with anonymity, and the pharmacy for Joseph Paul Franklin’s execution has been added to the team. Without knowing which pharmacy is providing the execution drugs, the drugs’ efficacy cannot be guaranteed (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers).

Legend has it that more than a century ago, a Missouri Congressman stated at a banquet that he was not impressed by fancy speeches or “frothy eloquence,” concluding “I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” Since then, Missouri has been known as the “Show Me” State.

One thing the people of Missouri are not being shown is how their state is killing prisoners.

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U.S. Death Penalty: Botched Executions And Suicide Attempts

Billy Slagle died in a holding cell, like the one in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility featured here, three days before the state of Ohio was to execute him (Photo Credit: Mike Simons/Getty Images).

Billy Slagle died in a holding cell, like the one in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility featured here, three days before the state of Ohio was to execute him (Photo Credit: Mike Simons/Getty Images).

Back in 2010, the cruelty – and absurdity – of the death penalty was on full display when Brandon Rhode tried to commit suicide just days before he was to be executed by the state of Georgia. The state rushed him to the hospital and saved his life – only to execute him a week later.

The suicide attempt reportedly left Rhode brain damaged. He was shackled to a restraint chair for the next 7 days, and then the execution proceeded. The lethal injection may have been botched, as Rhode’s eyes remained open the entire time.

This weekend, Billy Slagle was found hanged in his cell on Ohio’s death row. Slagle died three days before the state of Ohio was to execute him. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has promised a “complete investigation.”

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The Cruel And Pointless Effort To Execute John Ferguson

Despite several diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia and even though the Supreme Court has declared executing the severely mentally ill unconstitutional, John Ferguson is scheduled to be executed in Florida on August 5th (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers).

Despite several diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia and even though the Supreme Court has declared executing the severely mentally ill unconstitutional, John Ferguson is scheduled to be executed in Florida on August 5th (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers).

John Ferguson, a 65-year-old man with a long history of mental illness, including several diagnoses of paranoid schizophrenia by prison doctors, and who refers to himself as the “Prince of God,” is set to be executed in Florida on August 5th. His crimes were horrific, no question. Ferguson was convicted of a total of eight murders committed near Miami, earning him a total of eight death sentences.

But executing the severely mentally ill, or “the insane,” has been unconstitutional since 1986 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled so in Ford v. Wainwright (a Florida case, as it turns out). In its decision, the Court, led by Thurgood Marshall, reasoned that it is cruel and pointless to put prisoners to death who don’t understand why (or in some cases even that) they are being killed.

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Warren Hill Execution Stay Extended

Warren Hill

Warren Hill

A challenge to Georgia’s “Lethal Injection Secrecy Act has led the Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta to extend Warren Hill’s stay of execution. An appeal from the state of Georgia won’t be filed in time and his execution warrant will expire.

The secrecy law, which went into effect July 1, allows the state to withhold from the courts information about the drugs they intend to use in executions. This, of course, makes it impossible for the courts to determine if said drugs will be effective enough to prevent excessive pain and suffering that would render the execution a “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the constitution.

There is also a “separation of powers” question: can the executive and legislative branches of government set up a system that keeps the judicial branch in the dark about the most awesome and extreme power the state can wield? In other words, is it OK that the public and the courts are denied information they need to ensure that the law is upheld and that human rights and constitutional rights are protected?

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Warren Hill Gets A Stay Of Execution

Warren Hill – an African American man with an IQ of 70 who was convicted of murder in 1991 – was set to be executed at 7 p.m. tonight. He has been found intellectually disabled by all the doctors and experts who have examined him. The carrying out of his execution would directly contradict the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Atkins v. Virginia, in which the Court found the execution of the “mentally retarded” to be ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ Several jurors as well as the victims’ family have expressed their opposition to the use of the death penalty in this case and have asked that his sentence to be commuted to life without parole.

Hill was granted a stay today, not on those grounds, but on the grounds that the secrecy surrounding Georgia’s lethal injection drugs violates Hill’s constitutional rights. Georgia’s new “Lethal Injection Secrecy Act” shields from the courts and the tax-paying public how Georgia has managed to obtain its lethal injection drugs. This prevents Hill from know whether or not the drugs to be used will be effective or whether they will cause serious pain and suffering in violation of the Constitution.

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GA Determined To Execute An Intellectually Disabled Man

Late afternoon on July 3 when the least possible number of people would be paying attention, using a new law that makes the acquisition of execution drugs a state secret,  Georgia scheduled the execution of Warren Hill, who is now set – barring intervention from the US Supreme Court or the Georgia Attorney General - to be put to death on July 15.

Georgia authorities did this despite the fact that:

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Texas’ 500th Execution Highlights Need for Change

The Wynne Unit in Huntsville, one of the seven prison units in Walker County, Texas. Texas is preparing to execute its 500 convict since the death penalty was restored in 1976, a record in a country where capital punishment is elsewhere in decline. (Photo Credit: Chantal Valery/AFP/GettyImages).

The Wynne Unit in Huntsville, one of the seven prison units in Walker County, Texas. Texas is preparing to execute its 500 convict since the death penalty was restored in 1976, a record in a country where capital punishment is elsewhere in decline. (Photo Credit: Chantal Valery/AFP/GettyImages).

By MbaLuka Michael Mutinda, Youth Activist and AIUSA Ladis Kristof Fellow.

On Wednesday, Kimberly McCarthy may eat her last meal. Barring a last-minute stay, she will be led down the hallways of Huntsville Penitentiary, make a last statement, and be given a lethal injection that will stop first her breathing and then her heart. She will be Texas’ 500th execution.

The death penalty is emblematic of the many problems still prevalent, not only in the American justice system, but in society as a whole. Capital punishment is racially and economically biased. It places more value on some victims over others. Since 1976, 260 black defendants have been executed for murdering white victims, but only 20 white defendants have received the same sentence for murdering black victims. Death sentences also depend more on geography than the severity of a crime.

And yet, death sentences can be wrong. In the last 40 years, 142 death row inmates have had their innocence proven. This margin of error alone should awaken us to the deep flaws in the system. You cannot have absolute punishment without absolute certainty.

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Harmful Errors: Texas Approaches Its 500th Execution

A cemetery for prisoners in Huntsville, Texas. Grave markers with an "X" or the word "Executed" indicate the prisoner was put to death (Photo Credit: Chantal Valery/AFP/Getty Images).

A cemetery for prisoners in Huntsville, Texas. Grave markers with an “X” or the word “Executed” indicate the prisoner was put to death (Photo Credit: Chantal Valery/AFP/Getty Images).

On July 30, 1964, the state of Texas executed Joseph Johnson Jr. He was one of the 21 African-Americans put to death in the Lone Star State in the 1960s, out of 29 executions overall. But his was also to be the last execution in Texas for 18 years.

In the late 1960s, executions in the United States dwindled and in 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all U.S. death penalty laws. New death penalty laws were permitted in 1976 and executions resumed the next year. However, it was not until late 1982, more than 18 years after Johnson’s execution, that Texas would restart its machinery of death.

Since then, Texas has been responsible for, by far, more executions than any other state. On June 26, Texas is scheduled to put Kimberly McCarthy to death – in the process carrying out its 500th execution since reinstatement.

The continued high use of the death penalty in Texas (though at a lower rate than in the so-called “zero tolerance” (1990s), flies in the face of the overall U.S. trend, which has seen death sentences, executions, and public support for capital punishment dropping steadily. Texas itself is not immune from that trend, as death sentences in the Lone Star State are now at historic lows.

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