Canadians Can’t Support State-Sanctioned Murder

§ September 4th, 2015 § Filed under Uncategorized § No Comments

cpunishmentNot too long ago, as the Earth turns, they still held public hangings in England — for such minor offences as pickpocketing. As the slavering crowds gathered round the gallows, hooting in glee, pickpockets worked the crowd, as was their profession. As the last two men ever executed by state murder in Canada hanged back-to-back in the Don Jail in Toronto, John Diefenbaker said quietly that there never again will be capital punishment in Canada. As any civilized person knows.

And the death of Stockwell Day as a prime ministerial candidate — a glib, attractive man who did not have the resolve to finish either the university or the Bible college he dabbled at — came when he actually included in his Alliance platform a national referendum on capital punishment. The new President of the United States, the richest nation in history, the only superpower left in the universe, is promoting “compassionate conservatism.” The greatest oxymoron since “military intelligence,” “giant shrimp,” “airplane meals” and “journalistic ethics.”

The new president of the greatest empire since Rome has been elected — leaving aside the pregnant chads — on a platform that included the death penalty. In his six years as governor, Texas not only led the nation but, considering its population, …

EU Takes Its Activism Seriously

§ August 31st, 2015 § Filed under Uncategorized § No Comments

eutakesitsIn February, representatives of the EU presidency presented a demarche to US Undersecretary of State for Human Rights Frank Loy, outlining special concerns regarding certain executions carried out in the United States. These include cases involving individuals who were younger than eighteen years old when they committed their crimes, those who suffer from mental illness, and those who were unable to prove their innocence due to the lack of adequate legal assistance. As of last month, EU representatives had appealed for the commutation of eleven such death sentences, eight in Texas, two in Virginia, and one in Georgia.

The EU presidency followed the demarche with an appeal to state governors, asking them to emulate the example of Illinois Governor George Ryan, who imposed a moratorium on the use of capital punishment after questions arose over the guilt of some Illinois death row inmates. In its letter, the EU pointed out that “while more than 600 people have been executed [in the US] since the reinstatement of the penalty in 1976, as many as eighty-one people in twenty-one states have been found innocent and removed from death row.” Such instances, they emphasized, reflect the inherent risk attached to carrying out a punishment that cannot be reversed.

In July, Ambassador Francois Bujon …

Exoneration: A Valuable Redemption

§ August 27th, 2015 § Filed under Uncategorized § No Comments

governorgeorgeIn 1893 John Peter Altgeld, the reform Democratic Governor of Illinois, made a decision that ended his career: to pardon three anarchosyndicalists convicted on spurious grounds in the famous Haymarket bombing of 1886. Four of their comrades had already been hanged. “Much of the evidence given at the trial was a pure fabrication,” Altgeld found. “No greater damage could possibly threaten our institutions than to have the courts of justice run wild or give way to popular clamor.”

Today, “pure fabrication” and “courts run wild” are routine descriptions of Illinois murder trials. That is the conclusion reached by Altgeld’s current successor, Governor George Ryan. Ryan does not exactly have Altgeld’s probity profile: He is mired in a spectacular bribery scandal involving the state’s issuing of driver’s licenses and his campaign fund. But in the Altgeld tradition, Ryan refuses to avert his eyes from what he calls “a shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row,” and on February 1 he imposed a moratorium on his state’s executions, the first like it in the nation’s history. “I cannot support a system, which, in its administration, has proven so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state’s taking of innocent life,” he …

Capital Punishment Is An Awful Tradition

§ August 21st, 2015 § Filed under Uncategorized § No Comments

capitalpunishmentNearly always it is a Supreme Court decision that sparks debate and political action which define us as a free people and a democratic nation. The Court’s recent denial of two petitions to review death- sentence cases has put international focus on a truly contentious issue: the often decades-long delay between conviction and execution in the United States. Normally, petitions for certiorari are denied in one sentence (for example, “The petition for writ of certiorari is denied”). But in Knight v. Florida and Moore v. Nebraska, two Supreme Court justices heatedly clashed over whether the death-sentence cases should even be reviewed.

The two petitions (consolidated by the Court) requested that the Supreme Court consider whether the Eighth Amendment prohibits as “cruel and unusual punishment” the execution of prisoners who have spent nearly 20 years or more on death row. The quick reaction to this question, by some, is that a prisoner should not be allowed to take advantage of the “full and generous avenue of appeals” (which often take years, even decades, to exhaust) and then turn around and complain that the delay in execution violates his fundamental rights. Indeed, both Knight and Moore took full advantage of every appellate right they had. Nearly half their time on death row …

Can Anything Kill The US Death Penalty?

§ August 18th, 2015 § Filed under Uncategorized § No Comments

usdeathpenaltyThe reforms that death-penalty opponents cheer might actually strengthen Americans’ faith in the practice they so despise.

It wouldn’t be the first time. In the early ’80s, when states began abandoning the electric chair for the more humane method of lethal injection, some anti-death-penalty activists cheered. But, by sanitizing capital punishment, states robbed the abolitionists of one of their strongest arguments: the practice’s barbarity. Henry Schwarzchild, the late dean of the American anti-death-penalty movement and a fervent opponent of lethal injection, used to quote the critic Alexander Woollcott: “The worst sin of all is to do well that which shouldn’t be done at all.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the first state to use lethal injection–Texas–now accounts for more than one-third of all the executions in America.

Something similar happened during the previous decade as well, when opponents of the death penalty, by challenging its constitutional basis, achieved a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment, beginning in 1967. In 1972, with its ruling in Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court lent its imprimatur to the halt in executions, declaring that the arbitrary and discriminatory implementation of the death penalty constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.” University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Anthony Amsterdam, a leading death- penalty abolitionist who argued the case before the …

Europe’s Direction Seems The Best For The US

§ August 15th, 2015 § Filed under Uncategorized § No Comments

europesdirectionFew, if any, observers are suggesting that there is any chance of reviving Europe’s grim use of the guillotine, garrote, firing squad, or noose for those condemned by the courts. Most EU member states stopped executions decades ago; Portugal last executed a condemned prisoner in 1849, Sweden in 1910. Nearly forty European states have signed or ratified Protocol 6, the provision in the European Convention on Human Rights that outlaws the death penalty. Signing and ratification of the protocol is now a prerequisite for membership in the EU and the Council of Europe, which now comprises forty one nations, including Russia which signed, and Turkey which declined.

Nearly one-hundred countries, mainly in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, continue to impose death sentences or have kept the death penalty on the books. European heads of state and government, parliamentarians, and human rights groups regularly press the case for abolition in these nations, often in specific cases and particularly in the United States. According to Amnesty International, the number of executions in the United States last year reached ninety-eight, compared to 1,077 executions in China, and 165 in Iran, out of a total of 1,813 executions in thirty-one countries. In the view of Robert Badinter, who in 1981 as Socialist justice …

Women On Death Row: A Scary, Scary Thing

§ August 12th, 2015 § Filed under Uncategorized § No Comments

womenondeathA clear double-Plexiglass window separates us, with little holes at mouth level to speak through. This is the first time we’ve met, though we’ve been corresponding for more than a year. As she brushes a strand of her long sandy-brown hair from her eyes, I notice that her arms are horribly scarred, and some of her fingers are missing.

“The fire happened when I was five years old,” she explains. “The house burnt to the ground. My mother and I were the only two they couldn’t get to. I tried to beat the fire off of her, and ended up with burns on my face, arms, hands, back, buttocks, and thighs. She died of smoke inhalation and severe burns. She was twenty-four.”

Speaking about her mother’s death recalls the grief Kelley feels about her own children. At the time of her incarceration, they were nine, seven, five, three, and eight months. Three now live with relatives, one with a friend, and the youngest was put up for adoption. “I’ve made some bad choices in my life. I’ll admit that. But I was a good mother. I always watched after my kids and provided for them.”

Kelley’s children still visit occasionally, but she believes they are “pulling away.” She tells me …