blogadmin | 26 November, 2009 20:56
I found a message in my inbox from a dear friend whose
loved one, a law-of-parties prisoner on Texas Death Row, is uncharastically depressed. I can relate, because I have been depressed about the latest round of
For me, Khristian Oliver's -- three weeks ago today -- was among the toughest to take in. The evidence indicated he killed someone. But the devil is truly in the details.
Oliver, who was 20 at the time, went with several juveniles to break into a farmhouse in East Texas. The farmer came home unexpectedly, grabbed his gun, cornered Oliver and one of the juveniles as they tried to flee, and shot the juvenile. Oliver returned fire, hitting the rancher, and then beat him. Oliver's crime was terrible, but it was far from the worst-of-the-worst murders the public imagines antecede the death penalty.
Cases like Oliver's convince me that, if Texans were constantly confronted with the unfair, arbitrary way the death penalty is administered in their names, even those who support capital punishment in the abstract would disavow Texas' system immediately. Hence, Execution Watch.
I sensed all of us at Execution Watch were in some level of shock that we did a show last Thursday. Like many observers, we thought Robert Thompson would get a stay. Gov. Rick Perry's refusal to grant clemency to Thompson, a law-of-parties defendant who was factually innocent of a murder in which the guilty party got life in prison, set a new standard for executive inhumanity.
When Perry's decision came down, I was still recoiling from the execution the previous day of Danielle Simpson. There's no doubt his crime was awful. Another interrupted burglary case, it involved the horrific abduction-murder of an elderly homeowner. But Simpson was so clearly mentally ill, the district court judge who heard his request to drop all appeals wrote that Simpson had "a mental disease, disorder or defect."
Executions scheduled during the next few months will be no easier to abide:
-- Bobby Wayne Woods, Dec. 3, retarded to the point of childishness.
Mosley, Jan. 7, represented by ineffective counsel and condemned for a killing that resulted from a struggle for
Mosley's weapon. Were the victim not a police officer, it might have
been prosecuted as manslaughter.
-- Gary James Johnson, Jan. 12, who received the death penalty for two killings that occurred in another burglary-gone-bad in which his fall partner, who is also his brother, escaped the death penalty by testifying against him.
-- Hank Skinner, Feb. 24, a likely case of actual innocence containing many of the same elements of small-town prejudice and ignorance that made Todd Willingham's story so disturbing.
-- Franklin Alix, March 30, convicted on evidence later called into question by HPD crime lab investigators, who found that analysts failed to report exculpatory findings and claimed tests that did not implicate Alix were inconclusive.
These are the people being executed by my state? It's a struggle to sustain equanimity in the face of such cruel, capricious use of a penalty that is so ineffective and subject to error, it has no place in our code of laws.
I can understand why a person on death row -- even one whose case sees like a good candidate for commutation -- would feel discouraged lately. It's one of the things we have in common. I hope our mutual despair over the death penalty will be transformed into purposeful action. I know it should.
Elizabeth Ann Stein produces EXECUTION WATCH on KPFT FM Houston 90.1, HD-2 and www.executionwatch.org. The program, hosted by Ray Hill, airs at 6 p.m. Central Time any day Texas executes someone. It is designed to counteract the virtual news blackout in the mainstream media when prisoners are executed. She has worked as a political reporter for United Press International, police reporter at a daily newspaper, and an editor for PC Week.