Amnesty International Begins 200-Minute Vigil Against The Death Penalty
Amnesty International has just begun a 200-minute vigil outside the Harris County Criminal Courthouse to protest the upcoming 200th execution under Governor Rick Perry.
The original rally title, "Help Rick Perry Win The GOP Primary," was apparently discarded.
But holding an anti-death-penalty vigil in Harris County? Why? We don't execute people anymore. Well, at least not as much as we used to.
AI will also be issuing a report calling for Perry to commute the death penalties of 2 inmates scheduled to die who they say are schizophrenic, including one who ate his own eyeball in jail. (We don't want to guess what his last meal request will be.)
Expect Perry to jump right on that.
But AI does make a good case that much of the rest of the country is moving beyond the death penalty, for whatever reason.
"The state's cavalier attitude toward capital punishment is fast becoming an anachronism in the rest of the United States," said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign director for AIUSA. "At a time when Texas' neighbor to the west has demonstrated considerable leadership in abolishing the death penalty, Texas continues to execute without mercy. The 200th execution is a macabre milestone that should give pause to Gov. Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, who have the power to chart a new course, rather than mindlessly following standard operating procedure."
As to whether a "macarbe milestone" will ever affect Rick Perry....probably not. But points for trying, AI.
(source: Richard Connelly, Houston Press)
Amnesty International USA Press Release
As Gov. Perry's 200th Execution Approaches, Amnesty International Report Cites "Future Dangerousness" of Texas Capital Punishment
---- Racial Disparities, Inadequate Representation Revealed in Report; 200 the Largest Number of Executions Under One Governor in Modern U.S. History
As the 200th execution under Texas Gov. Rick Perry approaches - the largest number of executions under one governor in modern U.S. history - the state's death penalty system remains one that is fatally flawed and not reserved for the so-called "worst of the worst," charged Amnesty International (AI). This is in part due to "future dangerousness," a capricious sentencing scheme that leaves "experts" and jurors to predict whether a defendant will remain criminally violent, the human rights organization reported today. The 200th execution is scheduled for June 2.
"Future dangerousness allows junk science and irrational fears based on race, youth or mental illness to affect the outcome of death penalty cases," said Jared Feuer, southern regional director for Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "Texas state leadership has made no effort to reform the deep flaws in the system unless mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court, and even then only reluctantly. With no sign of remorse or real efforts to reform, Texas capital punishment clearly represents an affront to justice."
In its report, Too Much Cruelty, Too Little Clemency, released today at a 200-minute vigil and rally co-sponsored by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP), AI noted that "future dangerousness," rarely used outside of Texas, has contributed to dubious prosecutorial tactics. The personal biases of the witnesses and the jury can have an irrevocable impact on the outcome of a case; for example, that of Carlos Granados, who was put to death on January 10, 2007, after the trial testimony of a clinical psychologist included race and ethnicity in his list of factors predicative of "future dangerousness."
Texas, where about 7% of the U.S. population resides, and where fewer than 10 % of murders occur, has accounted for 37 % of the country's executions since 1977, and 41 % since 2001, when Gov. Perry came into office. The human rights organization noted that Texas lags behind other states when it comes to taking seriously the flaws in the application of the death penalty. At the report launch, AIUSA called on Texas leaders to revamp their approach by granting clemency in cases involving mental illness and borderline mental retardation, those with compelling claims of innocence that have not been adequately reviewed by the courts, and offenders under the age of 20 at the time of the crime.
Such a move would be in keeping with an evolving national understanding of juvenile development. In 1993, in the case of a Texas death row prisoner who was 19 at the time of the crime, the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized that "youth is more than a chronological fact. It is a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage." 4 years earlier, 4 Supreme Court justices noted that, "Many of the psychological and emotional changes that an adolescent experiences in maturing do not actually occur until the early 20s." In 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the practice of executing juvenile offenders.
Despite the court's clear decisions, Gov. Perry reluctantly commuted the death sentences of 28 Texas prisoners for crimes committed when they were 17 years old, emphasizing that his hand had been forced by the Supreme Court ruling. Equally as disturbing, there is some indication that race may play a role when teenagers are given death sentences; of the 46 prisoners who are currently on death row for crimes committed at ages 18 or 19, only 8 are white, while 27 are black, 10 are Hispanic and one is a Cambodian national.
There have been indications that this type of sentencing is more than coincidence. John Luttig, a white man, and Ivan Holland, a black man, were both 63 when they were gunned down in Tyler, Texas, 2 years apart. While Holland's assailants, white youth in their early 20s described as having a "Hitler fetish," were both eligible for parole within 23 years, Luttig's shooter, a black 17-year-old Napoleon Beazley, has already been executed. Beazley's co-defendants, who later said Beazley was so remorseful after the shooting that they had to stop him from committing suicide, were sentenced to life imprisonment for their role in the crime. They will be eligible for parole about 6 decades after Holland's white assailants. Thus far, in 2009, every person executed in the state of Texas has been black or Hispanic.
AI is also concerned that Texas has failed to implement a mental retardation statute, seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. Gov. Perry also has a disturbing track record with the severely mentally ill; in 2004 he rejected a rare recommendation from the Board of Pardons and Paroles that Kelsey Patterson's sentence be commuted or, at minimum, that he be granted a 120-day reprieve due to paranoid schizophrenia.
AI called on Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to take charge and grant clemency, before execution dates are set, in 2 highly publicized cases: that of Andre Thomas, a schizophrenic who recently ate his own eyeball, and Scott Panetti, another schizophrenic who was allowed to represent himself in court dressed as a cowboy. Both men were delusional, heard voices and had multiple indications of severe mental illness before they committed their crimes. In 2005, the Texas affiliate of the National Mental Health Association revealed that Texas ranked 49th out of 50 in terms of its per client spending on mental health care; on several occasions family members of Texas defendants recounted their futile struggles to obtain help before it was too late.
"The state's cavalier attitude toward capital punishment is fast becoming an anachronism in the rest of the United States," said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign director for AIUSA. "At a time when Texas" neighbor to the west has demonstrated considerable leadership in abolishing the death penalty, Texas continues to execute without mercy. The 200th execution is a macabre milestone that should give pause to Gov. Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, who have the power to chart a new course, rather than mindlessly following standard operating procedure."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries who campaign for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
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(source: Amnesty International)