Abused In Childhood Then Sentenced To Die: 5 Stories

 

Late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun

The late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun regretted the Court's 1976 Gregg vs. Georgia decision allowing executions to resume, saying in his dissent: "The path the Court has chosen lessens us all."

Daniel Cook, abused since infancy and now facing execution on August 8 in Arizona, is just the most current example of someone who endured severe childhood abuse only to later face execution. (Cook has a clemency hearing on Aug. 3; the prosecutor opposes his execution and it can still be stopped.)

There have been plenty of others.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In its 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, the US Supreme Court allowed executions to resume but required that juries be guided to restrict death sentences to the worst crimes committed by the worst offenders (aka “the worst of the worst”). The Court also endorsed laws “permitting the jury to dispense mercy on the basis of factors too intangible to write into a statute.” Defendants with mitigating circumstances (like youth, diminished mental capacity, or a history of childhood abuse) were supposed to receive lesser sentences.

So why do people with severe child abuse in their backgrounds keep ending up on death row?  Are they really among the worst? SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

TX Judge: No Hearing For Delusional Death Row Prisoner

Marcus Druery suffers from auditory hallucinations and “psychotic ideations”; he believes his cell has been “wired” since 2008, and that he is serving a “one month sentence”.  That’s according to health staff at the Texas prison where he is under a sentence of death (not a one month sentence).  He has an August 1 execution date.

The diagnosis, since at least 2009, has been schizophrenia, and a neuro-psychologist hired by his legal defense this year concluded that he has had paranoid schizophrenia since his mid to late 20s, and that

“delusional ideas pervade and distort his understanding of his current legal situation and his present circumstances. Because of his inflexible, psychotic, and delusional interpretation of his circumstances, Mr Druery does not have the capacity to rationally understand the connection between his crime and his punishment.”

It is a violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1986 ban on executing the “insane”  (and its 2007 update to that ruling in another Texas case) to put to death someone who has no rational understanding of the reason for his execution.  This was why Abdul Awkal’s execution in Ohio was stayed last month.

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Why Is The US Still Executing Teenage Offenders?

18 and 19 and 20 year-olds are not considered responsible enough decision makers to drink legally, yet they can be held fully responsible for their crimes and sentenced to the ultimate, irreversible punishment of death.

Texas is preparing to execute Yokamon Hearn on July 18th. If his execution is carried out, he would become the 483rd person put to death since Texas resumed executions in 1982.

Yokamon Hearn was 19 years old when he and 3 other youths set out to steal a car. They ended up shooting and killing Frank Meziere, a 23-year-old stockbroker. All four defendants were charged with capital murder, but the other three plead guilty and received deals. One got life imprisonment, the other two got ten years for aggravated robbery.

Yokamon Hearn was a teenager at the time of his crime, but not a juvenile. Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of Child lays out the international standard for not executing juvenile offenders, defined as those who were under 18 at the time of the crime. (The U.S. is the only country except for Somalia that has not ratified this treaty.)

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Sara Hickman: Why I Am Not Going to Eurovision

Policemen Man-handle Activist in Azerbaijan

Policemen man-handle a political activist during a protest in Baku, Azerbaijan, March 12, 2011. Azerbaijan is the host of the 2012 Eurovision song contest. ©IRFS

By Sara Hickman, Official State Musician of Texas

I have declined an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a beautiful country and witness the world’s most-watched cultural event. That’s because my trip to Azerbaijan for Eurovision this week would be sponsored by a government responsible for grave human rights violations.  

Amnesty International has been diligently shining a light on human rights abuses in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, which gets to host this year’s popular European concert competition – Eurovision. Azerbaijan has over a dozen recently-arrested prisoners of conscience, oppressed press, and almost no permitted political rallies.  I would love to visit Azerbaijan, but not at the expense of indirect association with human rights violations. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

How Bad Is The U.S. Wrongful Conviction Problem?

richard miles exonorated

Richard Miles was convicted of murder in Dallas in 1996 and released in 2009 after it was discovered prosecutors hid reports implicating other suspects. (Image via texasobserver.org)

Our criminal justice system is less than perfect, a non-controversial fact which is one of the reasons we oppose the use of an absolute and irreversible punishment like execution.

The new National Registry of Exonerations, produced by the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools, provides a glimpse of just how imperfect.  It lists almost 900 known exonerations since 1989.  Around 100 of those listed had been sent to death row; the remainder had been sent to prison for everything from homicide to white collar crimes.

The Registry’s accompanying report (p. 84, Table 18), documents another 1,170 exonerations from a group of major law enforcement scandals, mostly involving drug crimes.

This snapshot of known exonerations is revealing.  According to the report summary, the chief causes of the wrongful convictions were faulty or perjured witness testimony and official misconduct, though almost a quarter involved bad forensic science, and 16% of those exonerated had initially falsely confessed.

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Killing The Innocent With Indifference

Carlos-De-Luna

Carlos DeLuna was executed by the state of Texas in 1989. A new study by Columbia University could prove his innocence.

The USA has almost certainly executed innocent men in the so called “modern” era of capital punishment, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. One of them may have been Carlos DeLuna, who was put to death in Texas in 1989 for the killing of gas station attendant Wanda Lopez in Corpus Christi.

Today, a comprehensive report and website by James Liebman and a team of students in the Columbia University Human Rights Law Review makes a compelling case for DeLuna’s innocence.

To explain how this wrongful conviction and execution could have happened Liebman et al. point to the

“failure of lawyers on the defense as well as the prosecution side to have the curiosity and gumption to look just an inch or two below the surface.”

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Death Penalty Downward Spiral Continues

Exonerated Gary Drinkard death penalty

Gary Drinkard was on death row in Alabama for 6 years before he was exonerated. © Scott Langley

As we approach the end of another year, the time for annual reports is at hand.  For the death penalty, this means the yearly report from the Death Penalty Information Center, as well as the year-end report from the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.   Both reports show that in 2011 the downward trends we have been observing for several years in the United States continued or even accelerated.

Texas carried out its lowest number of executions (13) since 1996.  Nationwide, the 43 executions carried out represented about half the number that were put to death in the year 2000, and U.S. death sentences dropped well below 100 for the first time since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

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Texas Death Penalty Two-Step

Texas FlagOne step forward, one step back.  Usually, the U.S. Supreme Court has been the one to scrutinize the shenanigans of Texas capital punishment, and to step in when local courts go too far.  But yesterday was opposite day.  It was the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that did the right thing in staying an execution, and the U.S. Supreme Court that refused to intervene despite an obvious and disturbing injustice.

In the Supreme Court case, Buck v. Thaler, Duane Buck was sentenced to die by a jury that heard an “expert” – Dr. Walter Quijano – testify that African Americans are more inclined to commit crimes and be a danger to others.  (Buck is African American and you have to be considered a “future danger” to get a death sentence in Texas.)

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All Executions Are Wrong

The morning after Troy Davis was executed, the state of Georgia set another execution date.  Marcus Ray Johnson is slated to be put to death on October 5.  The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles should hear from us (fax: 404-651-6670;  email: Clemency_Information@pap.state.ga.us) about this case too, because all executions are wrong.

Even if there are no doubts about guilt (as there was in the case with Troy Davis, and as there is in the case with Reggie Clemons), even if there are no horrifying mitigating circumstances (like the ones that led Ohio’s Governor John Kacich to commute another death sentence), and even if the crime is particularly heinous (as was the case with the execution last week of Lawrence Brewer in Texas) the deliberate putting to death of a human being is not justice and is a fundamental violation of basic human rights.

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Rick Perry By The Numbers

Rick Perry

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Amnesty International does not comment or take sides on elections.  But everyone knows that Rick Perry, Texas Governor for over a decade, is now running for President.  And everyone knows that during his tenure as Texas Governor, he has presided over a lot of executions. The total now sits at 234 (40% of all US executions carried out since Perry became Governor in December 2000).

Many folks also know that at least one of those, Cameron Todd Willingham, was probably innocent, and that evidence of his innocence was ignored by Governor Perry in the days and hours before Willingham was put to death.  And that an investigation into the dubious forensics that led to Willingham’s conviction was sidetracked when Perry suddenly put Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley in charge (Bradley is now being accused of withholding evidence of innocence in a case in his home county).

But there have been other cases of possible innocence, and, as currently scheduled, Perry’s 240th execution would be of Henry Skinner, a man whose innocence claim the Lone Star State is refusing to examine.

BY THE NUMBERS

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