Geschrieben am 20. April 2013 von für Crimemag, Kolumnen und Themen

Thomas Adcock: Execution, American-Style, Teil 2

Lesen Sie heute den zweiten Teil (zu Teil 1) von Thomas Adcocks Reflexionen über die Hinrichtungspraxis in den USA – und dazu ein kleines, korrektes Narrativ: Der Fall von Joseph Amrine!


Execution, American-Style

‘Tectonic Shift’ in Execution Policy
By Thomas Adcock

By October 2009, the frequency of death sentences began a clear plunging trend, even in the execution-friendly South.

That month as well, the American Law Institute disavowed its fifty-year-old policy framework addressing executions—the Model Penal Code of 1962. The policy was deemed a failure “in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”

Obstacles, a press release detailed, included racial disparities, outsize court expense, the general incompetence of assigned counsel, the distraction of politicized judicial elections, and the unacceptable risk of executing innocent people.

The Model Penal Code had been widely adopted by state legislatures as bases for supposedly evenhanded executions, as prescribed in Gregg.

Though short of the ABA’s call for a moratorium on the death penalty, the New York Times trumpeted the institute’s rejection of the Model Penal Code as “a tectonic shift in legal theory.”

Indeed, the pro-execution lobby is contracting. In January 2010, eight Internet websites were listed by the search engine Google as being in favor of capital punishment. By mid-February, half had shut down. Among the remaining four, one merely links to other sites, including “Ann Coulter’s Free Weekly Email,” offerings for complimentary books by clownish right-wing extremists Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, and, inexplicably, the considerably more temperate American Civil Liberties Union.

Arguably the most active defender of capital punishment on the national scene is Dudley C. Sharp Jr. of Houston, who created a tax-exempt nonprofit organization called Justice For All as a political action group.

“The death penalty debate in the U.S. is dominated by the fraudulent voice of the anti-death penalty movement,” Mr. Sharp maintained in a 1997 essay on his website, “The culture of lies and deceit so dominates that movement that many of the falsehoods are now wrongly accepted as fact.”

Mr. Sharp accuses death penalty opponents of flawed logic in believing that if two acts have the same ending or result, “then those two acts are morally equivalent.” In lectures and television appearances, he poses the rhetorical questions: “Is the legal taking of property to satisfy a debt the same as auto theft? Are kidnapping and incarceration the same? Are rape and making love the same?”

The son of President Eisenhower’s secretary of the Air Force from 1959-1961, Mr. Sharp was actually a death penalty opponent until 1995 when his daughter in-law was raped and murdered. In addition to his many pungent treatises, Mr. Sharp’s website also features selections by G. Edward Griffin, an officer of the fascistic John Birch Society, and former New York Governor George Elmer Pataki, counsel at the Manhattan law firm Chadbourne & Parke.

As governor, Mr. Pataki succeeded in restoring New York’s death penalty in 1995, after a hiatus of twenty-two years and during a time of public outcry against an extraordinary crime wave. In a 1997 opinion column for the newspaper USA Today, the governor claimed that in merely two years his death penalty initiative had “turned the tables on fear and put it back where it belongs—in the hearts of criminals.”

Mr. Pataki wrote further:

Within just one year, the death penalty helped produce a dramatic drop in violent crime. Just as important, it has restored New Yorkers’ confidence in the justice system. Only the most inhuman murderers are eligible for it. …The jury must consider the defendant’s prior criminal history, mental capacity, character, background, state of mind, and the extent of his or her participation in the crime.

Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals nullified Mr. Pataki’s effort in 2004 in finding the new (and never employed) statute contrary to the state constitution.

Are Prosecutors Ordained by God?

As mentioned, Professor Blume believes that the death penalty itself will die one day in America.

“Five or ten years ago I might not have believed so,” said Mr. Blume in an interview. “But DNA exonerations have played a significant role, and that’s a huge factor.”

Since 1989 and the first exoneration on the basis of Deoxyriboninucleic acid (DNA) evidence, three hundred and three prisoners convicted of murder or rape—most of them death row inmates—have been likewise declared not guilty and freed.

Moreover, Mr. Blume hopes the high cost of incarcerating capital prisoners will be a deterrent to death penalty verdicts in capital cases; by law, the condemned are entitled to near unlimited appellate petitions at taxpayer expense, either for mercy or new trials. As an alternative to execution, almost every state court jurisdiction requires judges to inform juries that they may opt for sentences of life imprisonment without opportunity for parole.

Mr. Blume has represented numerous death row inmates in clemency appeals. In so doing, he is frequently at odds with the prosecutorial religiosity.

In an article published in 2000 by the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal—“Don’t Take His Eye, Don’t Take His Tooth, and Don’t Cast the First Stone”—Mr. Blume and Professor Sheri Lynn Johnson, co-director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project, cite numerous instances of biblical suasion in the cause of execution.

The Cornell Law professors wrote of the reasoning behind this tactic:

…God gave the ‘sword of justice’ to Noah, who represents the government, thereby giving the government the power to decide who dies, or that he, the prosecutor, ‘is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer. …[I]n three cases, the prosecutor cited the Bible in arguing that because police and prosecutors are ordained by God as His representatives, to disobey them is to resist God Himself, and that ‘he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God…and will receive condemnations.’

The article cites “conflicting judgments about the propriety” of religious debate in court—for or against the death penalty.

Rules in the state of Pennsylvania, for instance, now hold that “reliance in any manner upon the Bible or any other religious writing in support of the imposition of a penalty of death is reversible error per se and may subject violators to disciplinary action.” In North Carolina, prosecutors have some leeway: it is permissible to offer certain biblical quotations—“If he smite him,” for instance—but improper to argue that law officers are ordained by God.

As an attorney who once considered ordination as a career path, Mr. Blume was asked if the need for rules restraining sermons in court seemed crazy. He hesitated before answering, “The only reason I won’t react strongly is that I’ve been traumatized.”

Likewise, Mr. Blume said he has grown numb by the parade of incompetent lawyers assigned in capital defense cases. Incompetence—notably in the instance of one psychotic defense counsel committing suicide—is the common thread of “Death Penalty Stories,” published last year by Foundation Press, co-edited by Professors Blume and Jordan M. Steiker of the University of Texas School of Law.

Mr. Blume said the suicide case “is not that exceptional.”

In addresses to bar groups and law firms interested in volunteer capital defense work, Mr. Blume tells the stories collected in his book.

“Sometimes the reaction is almost disbelief. The lawyers are shocked,” said Mr. Blume. “But then when someone does pro bono they quickly agree with me.”

Of course, lawyers who represent destitute defendants in capital cases are not uniformly useless.

Robert Knightly, a solo practitioner in the New York State capital in Albany, and a former criminal defense attorney for the Manhattan and Queens offices of the Legal Aid Society of New York City, distinguishes between assigned counsel and reasonably financed public defenders.

Outside of a handful of big cities with Legal Aid services and the like, lawyers for poor defendants are likely to be assigned by the courts.

“They’re not volunteers, they usually don’t know criminal law—and they might not even have trial experience,” said Mr. Knightly. “This is some lawyer they take off a bar list. What’s a real estate lawyer know about criminal law? This guy’s clients may not appreciate his doing criminal defense.”

The difficulties of defending an accused murderer, say, tend to smack down an amateur in the field.

“Nobody’s on his side,” said Mr. Knightly, who joined the Legal Aid Society after retiring from the New York City Police Department at the rank of lieutenant. “The prosecutor won’t give him anything, and no cop will give him anything.”

The truth as Mr. Knightly sees it: “You get trial experience by making mistakes.”

Succumbing Naturally on Arizona’s Death Row

“It is very difficult when a client is executed,” said Professor Blume, who tends toward understatement.

“Although some clients do seem ‘ready to go,’ and in some cases end up, ironically, trying to make you feel better,” he said.

“One minute you’re talking to someone who is perfectly ‘fine’ and then they’re whisked into an execution chamber, strapped down, and they die. Then fifteen minutes later you’re standing outside a prison. It’s surreal.

“I try to be philosophical about it,” said Mr. Blume, “and understand that some clients will die, that it’s the nature of the work. But there is a lot of second guessing as you think back about what you could have done differently.”

No second thoughts are needed in Mr. Blume’s involvement in the case of the oldest man on death row—until February 15 when 94-year-old Viva Leroy Nash died in the Arizona state prison complex at Florence, having been incarcerated nearly his entire adult life.

At the time of his death by natural causes, Mr. Nash was fighting a petition to the Supreme Court by Arizona’s prosecutors in opposition to a federal district court ruling that he was mentally incapable of assisting in his defense at a new trial for the fatal shooting of a store clerk after his escape from a Utah prison. Professor Blume had been consulting with Mr. Nash’s attorney in preparing a response to the Arizona petition.

The Nash case, said Professor Blume, “demonstrates the waste of the system. The state spent millions of dollars trying to execute Nash when it should have been obvious that he posed no danger to anyone and would die in prison before he would ever be executed.”

‘Would Jesus Pull the Switch?’

As a sign of changeable standards of decency, the Supreme Court ruled in 2004. in Atkins v. Virginia, that executing mentally retarded persons violates the Eighth Amendment. The question of executing juveniles, however, remains in evolutionary process. And the high court may never entertain the symbiosis of poverty and death row.

Sister Helen Prejean, a Roman Catholic nun and death penalty abolitionist, is a leading death penalty abolitionist. A white southerner and author of “Dead Man Walking,” made into a motion picture of the same title, Sister Helen left what she termed her “ethereal” religious life some years ago and moved to the impoverished, all-black St. Thomas Public Housing Project in New Orleans, which has sent its share of residents to Louisiana’s hangman.

In a recent article for Salt of the Earth magazine entitled “Would Jesus Pull the Switch?” she recollected a principal lesson resulting from the move: “It didn’t take long to see that for poor people, especially poor black people, there was a greased track to prison and death row.”

The theme of George Bernard Shaw’s 1905 play “Major Barbara,” ever in production somewhere on the world’s stages, is poverty as the greatest of all crimes—if not the only crime.

“I don’t know if it’s the only crime,” said Mr. Blume. “But I know that you have to look long and hard to find a rich person on death row.”

 ‘Man, Man, Man — You Just Don’t Know’

EDITOR’S NOTE: In April of 2003, the state of Missouri Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Joseph Amrine, an African American death row inmate at the penitentiary in Jefferson City since 1986 when an all-white jury found Amrine guilty of fatally stabbing another black prisoner. Prior to the 2003 decision, Amrine lost four appeals based on ineffective counsel, recantations of three inmate snitches who testified for the prosecution, and eyewitness testimony for the defense by a prison guard. Writing for the majority, Supreme Court Judge Richard Teitelman said Amrine’s case “presents the rare circumstance in which no credible evidence remains…to support the conviction.” The Jefferson City prosecutor declined to appeal the high court’s decision, based on new DNA evidence, unavailable at trial, proving Amrine’s innocence. Shortly before the 4-3 decision by a partisan Missouri Supreme Court—four Democratic-appointed judges appointed by governors of the Democratic Party prevailed over three appointed under Republican Party administrations—Amrine had selected music for a funeral service scheduled to follow his lethal injection.

Following is an edited condensation of a telephone interview with Mr. Amrine, conducted by Thomas Adcock, the New York-based America correspondent for CulturMag.

I was born and raised in Kansas City. In the projects. My old man was a pimp.

If there was child abuse arrests when I was coming up, my father would still be doing ten life sentences. That’s how it was. Beatings——you name it. Out of my five sisters, every one of them claim they’d been molested by my father.

They locked me up at twenty-one. I was serving a fifteen-year term [for burglary and robbery] at the time when I was accused of murder. I had maybe eight months to go before parole.

Penitentiary murder is like—You killed him, we going to kill you. The [prosecutor], the prison investigators—they all figure, We’re going to kill two birds with one stone. See, we were both convicts and both black.

I been out now six years, almost seven. I’ll be fifty-four in October. Having a job and the responsibility of rent and stuff like that——I never experienced that ‘til I got out.

Guys who get convicted of murder who actually did it are out there on parole and have a lot of things given to them—Medicaid, mental health care, Section 8 for an apartment, food stamps. But guys who been exonerated, like me, we get none of that since we’re not on parole.

It was easier for me on death row than it is now being on the outside.

I have a lot of animosity. When they convicted me and give me the death sentence, I said to myself, I hope they do execute me and after they do it I hope they find out I was innocent. That’s how bitter I was to society.

Man, I got to deal with it like I did on death row—one day at a time.

My brothers and sisters, they put a lot of distance between me and them. In this society, basically all it takes is for the authorities to say you did it. Since I was in prison already they think—Well, Joe did it.

What people should do is make sure that guys facing the death penalty have a lawyer who’s qualified and knowledgeable. I had a public defender. But in penitentiary terms, he would be defined as a public pretender.

When I got out, I was like Rip Van Winkle. Everything was new to me. Everything was difficult. I have so much missing from me. I had a twenty-six-year-old son who I hadn’t seen since he was two.

Seventeen years on death row, I watched sixty-three people get executed. Some of them I knew since the third grade. Some of them I was in a cell with when [guards] come and said, You need to turn around and cuff up because we got a warrant for your execution. Then they took him away.

Man, man, man—you just don’t know.

It’s not difficult for me to talk about all this. I don’t consider it no therapy. The way I see it, I don’t want nobody else to go through what I been through.

I look forward to life. Period. I’m not saying a job or a wife or whatever. Just life. Life itself.

Thomas Adcock

Zu „Execution, American-Style“, Teil 1.

Thomas Adcock is American correspondent for CulturMag. Zum Essay: Suicide by Stupidity: How the Republican Party is Killing Itself.

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