Day: May 12, 2012

Death penalty violates human rights

May 12, 2012 Source :

Section 4.1 of the draft constitution has the encouraging sub-title “The right to life”, but this fundamental human right is almost immediately erased when, in subsection (2), the death penalty is announced.

“A law may permit the death penalty to be imposed only on persons convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances . . .” reads the draft. 
Before we advocate for the death penalty, we need to take into cognisance the old adage that two wrongs do not make a right and in this case, two murders do not bring back a life.

We should not pretend that capital punishment is not murder because of the legal technicality behind it. While we do not condone criminals, including murderers, we think the death penalty is morally wrong.

Section 4.5 of the draft constitution has the sub-title “Freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment” and it clearly states: “No one may be subjected to physical or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” 

The cruel irony is that there is no worse torture than being on death row, living each day knowing that someone has the legal power to take away your life any time. By allowing the death penalty, the constitution would be presupposing the infallibility of the judicial system which is not always the case. 

Judges and juries, like any other human beings, are prone to mistakes and globally, there are documented cases where people have been wrongly executed by the State. In this country, we have had people wrongfully accused of murder; Cain Nkala’s case quickly comes to mind.

We are all aware of how the justice system is prone to manipulation by politicians in this country and it might not be surprising to have innocent people hanged for political expediency.

In a country like ours, where the police are known for lack of professional ethics, forced and falsified confessions can easily lead innocent people to the gallows.

It is also a shuddering thought that the State would employ a professional murderer in the name of a hangman. By implication, the executioner is a murderer who deserves to be executed as well.

A convicted murderer deserves severe punishment, but he or she is still a human being who deserves the chance to be corrected and rehabilitated, which is central to the modern-day prison system. 

Research has shown that although the death sentence represents a strong condemnation of brutal and violent crimes, it does not necessarily deter people from perpetrating violent crimes.
Those who clamour for the death penalty do not know that they have literally descended to ancient times where an eye for an eye was central to legislation and this, as Mahatma Ghandi once said, will make the whole world blind. It will only serve the purpose of advancing the murderous cycle.

The death penalty is a violation of human rights, especially the right to life that the constitution must safeguard

TEXAS -Texas Wants To Drug a Prisoner So They Can Kill Him – Steven Staley

may 11, 2012 source :

Can the state force a person to take drugs in order to execute him? That is the grisly question raised by the case of Steven Staley, a convicted murderer who believes polygraph machines are controlling and torturing him. Even though he’s psychotic, Staley is scheduled to be executed next week, based on a judge’s order requiring him to take medication he has refused. If Texas actually goes ahead with this deeply disturbing plan, it will be the first state, as far as I can tell, to drug someone in order to carry out a death sentence. That is a distinction that no one on the planet should want to have.

Here are the facts of Staley’s crime: In September 1989, he escaped from a Denver jail and went on an armed robbery spree, hitting up nine businesses in four states. The last one was the Steak and Ale Restaurant in Tarrant County, Texas. Just before closing, Staley and two friends came in, and Staley herded the employees into a kitchen storeroom and made manager Robert Read open the cash registers and the safe. He then took Read as a hostage, forced him into the back of a car, and shot him dead during a high-speed chase by the police.

And here are the facts of Staley’s mental illness: He has a long history of paranoid schizophrenia and depression. Staley was abused as a child by his mother, who was also mentally ill; when he was 6 or 7 she tried to pound a wooden stake through his chest. His father was an alcoholic. Staley tried to kill himself as a teenager. Doctors who have examined Staley on death row have said that he talks in a robot-like monotone yet has “grandiose and paranoid” delusions, including the beliefs that he invented the first car and marketed a character from Star Trek. He has given himself black eyes and self-inflicted lacerations and has been found spreading feces and covered with urine. Medicated with the anti-psychotic drug Haldol, Staley complained of paralysis and sometimes appeared to be in a catatonic state. He has worn a bald spot on the back of his head from lying on the floor of his cell.

Staley was found competent to stand trial back in 1991. The standard is low: A defendant has to be able to understand the charges against him and consult rationally with his lawyer so he can aid in his own defense. The standard for competency at execution was set by Ford v Wainwright, a 1986 case in which the Supreme Court said that the Eighth Amendment’s bar against cruel and unusual punishment forbids execution of the “insane.” Indeed, at the time no state permitted such an execution. The court quoted British judges in the 17th century worrying about the “miserable spectacle” of “extream inhumanity and cruelty” presented by executing a “mad man.” It served no retributive purpose, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote, to execute a person “who has no comprehension of why he has been singled out.” He also noted “the natural abhorrence civilized societies feel at killing one who has no capacity to come to grips with his own conscience or deity.”

The problem with Ford is that the justices’ holding didn’t match their rhetoric. A defendant can be executed as long as he shows some rational understanding that he is about to die and why. Many people with serious mental illness can grasp those basic facts, at least on some level. Among the many examples of seriously mentally ill people who have been found competent to be tried and executed is Scott Panetti, a delusional schizophrenic who represented himself in 1995 dressed in a purple cowboy suit. Panetti tried to call Jesus Christ and John Kennedy as witnesses. Then there’s the case of Andre Thomas, which is so horrific that I’m sorry to ask you to read the next two sentences. Thomas was tried and sentenced to death, for triple murders in which he cut out the hearts of his victims, six weeks after gouging out his right eye. In 2008, on death row, he gouged out his left eye and ate it. (Both Panetti and Thomas’s executions are on appeal in the Texas courts.)

OK, deep breath. In 2006, after Staley stopped his medication, Judge Wayne Salvant, in a moment of mercy, found him incompetent to be executed. The District Attorney for Tarrant County, Joe Shannon, Jr., unmercifully asked Salvant to order Staley to be forcibly medicated. Salvant entered the order, finding that medicating Staley was the only way to ensure his competency to be executed, and that “the State has an essential interest in ensuring that the sentence of this Court is carried out.”

What is behind Judge Salvant’s chilling decision? In two cases in the 1990s, the Supreme Court said that the government can forcibly medicate a mentally ill inmate if he is dangerous to himself or others, the treatment is in his medical interest, and there is no less intrusive alternative. In 2003, the court acknowledged concerns about side effects of the drugs, and emphasized that the treatment had to be medically appropriate. None of these cases involved pending executions, however. When death is the state’s end goal, how can anyone argue that forcible medication is in a prisoner’s medical interest? TheLouisiana and South Carolina supreme courts have both rejected that macabre contention in ruling that to drug someone in order to execute him would violate their state constitutions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit cracked open the door to forcible medication in 2003, in ruling that the state could execute a man who’d regained competency by taking medication on death row. The constitution doesn’t preclude executing someone who is “artificially competent,” the court said. In that case, the prisoner wasn’t refusing to take his meds, so the scenario is different than Staley’s. But this is the legal precedent that Judge Salvant cited when he ruled that forcing Staley to take Haldol would be “medically appropriate”—even though the purpose of drugging him is to make him rational enough to kill him. 

I will pause in this grim tale to note, with relief, that the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association hold that it is ethically unacceptable for doctors to prescribe drugs to restore competency for the purpose of execution. This should be an easy call for the Texas courts as well. If it’s awful to imagine psychotic prisoners going without their meds, it’s more awful to force shots on them so the state can kill them. If Texas fails to grasp this, other inmates will follow Steven Staley. Mental illness is common on death row. The only reason that the issues raised in Staley’s case haven’t been decided before, defense lawyers tell me, is that humane prosecutors and judges don’t insist on executing people whose sanity is so uncertain.

There’s a larger question here, beyond the one about forcible medication. It’s about halting the execution of the seriously mentally ill in the same way, and because of similar concerns about a defendant’s impairment, that the states have stopped executing the mentally disabled. Kentucky recently considered such a law and Connecticut has one. If Texas and other states followed suit, we would be spared the miserable spectacle of executing people who commit terrible crimes, but also have terrible deficits. People like Steven Staley and Scott Panetti and Andre Thomas.

Nevada Department of Corrections lacks plan for executions due to prison closure, drug shortage

may 10, 2012 source :

4 months after shutting down Nevada State Prison in Carson City, site of the state’s only death chamber, officials have no solid plan for carrying out executions and no access to a lethal injection drug.
As Nevada’s death row inmates continue to appeal their convictions and sentences, the Nevada Department of Corrections has continued to lose its ability to hold an execution.
Corrections officials shut down the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, site of the state’s only death chamber, early this year, and they have no solid plan in place for transporting and holding an inmate who is about to be executed, the Reno Gazette-Journal found.
In addition, 1 of the drugs used during a lethal injection has not been available for more than a year, and the state’s execution protocol has not been updated to address the drug shortage, the Gazette-Journal found.
The department plans to submit a bill draft request to the Legislature next year asking for $385,000 to build a new execution chamber at the Ely State Prison, said Steve Suwe, a department spokesman.
The Nevada Attorney General’s office sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder early in 2011 seeking help to deal with the lethal injection drug shortage, spokeswoman Jennifer Lopez said. But no resolution has been found.
“Should any executions be scheduled, we will do the best to help the Department of Corrections have the drugs necessary to carry out a lawful execution order,” Lopez said.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the lack of a solid plan could be problematic, especially if an inmate were to suddenly stop the appeals process and ask to be killed. Eleven of the 12 inmates executed in Nevada since 1976 “volunteered” to be executed.
“When it comes time, they just can’t say, ‘Trust us,’” Dieter said of corrections officials. “They have to have a very specific protocol. Either a state or federal court would want them to produce that information. They’ll want to make sure this isn’t done in a slipshod way.”
Source: Reno Gazette-Journal, May 10, 2012