Not 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, the world — beating out China and Russia — even South Africa having abolished the sport.
The Texas prison population leaped from 92,669 to 149,684 while Dubya was governor. Some 4,511 of the guys in state jails in 1998 were drug offenders. And 2,800 of them were jailed for possession of a gram or less of cocaine or heroin. Of those guys in jail, 28 per cent were black, 29 per cent were Hispanic, 43 per cent were white. Compassionate conservative?
Dubya, in his innocence — he reminds me of The Stock — has said he strongly believes that no innocent person has been executed in his state. Well. Last year Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican who happened to be pro-death penalty, found to his astonishment that 13 convicted murderers had been exonerated by new evidence — after they had been sent to death row.
Last year, a national survey in the United States found support for the death penalty was down to 66 per cent, its lowest level in 19 years. Since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume 24 years ago, 38 states have made the death penalty legal, while 12 have not.
An investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that of the 131 inmates executed under Gov. Dubya — alias “Shrub” — 43 had defence attorneys who were disbarred, suspended or otherwise sanctioned for misconduct by the state bar of Texas either before or after their work on these cases. Forty cases involved trials where the defence attorneys presented no evidence or only one witness during the sentencing process, 29 included a psychiatrist who gave testimony that the American Psychiatric Association condemned as unethical and untrustworthy — and just to finish off, 23 included jailhouse informants, considered to be the least credible of witnesses.
Not to mention the Southern Center for Human Rights, an Atlanta-based body, that found “in recent years the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld death sentences in at least three cases in which the defence lawyers slept during trial.” The justice system in Texas is a joke. In its Republican-controlled legislature, a bill was introduced that indigent defendants be assigned a lawyer within 20 days after arrest. (In most of the U.S., a lawyer is provided within 72 hours.) Shrub, as governor, vetoed the bill.
Canadians now know, thanks to Donald Marshall and David Milgaard and others, how many innocent people have been sent to prison. Ninety-five people on death row in the United States have been freed with proof of innocence since 1973.
State murder is insane. The world is crazy.