Day: June 26, 2013

Ex-Virginia executioner becomes opponent of death penalty – Jerry Givens


Jerry Givens executed 62 people.
His routine and conviction never wavered. He’d shave the person’s head, lay his hand on the bald pate and ask for God’s forgiveness for the condemned. Then, he would strap the person into Virginia’s electric chair.
Givens was the state’s chief executioner for 17 years — at a time when the commonwealth put more people to death than any state besides Texas.
“If you knew going out there that raping and killing someone had the consequence of the death penalty, then why are you going to do it?” Givens asked. “I considered it suicide.”
As Virginia executed its 110th person in the modern era last month, Givens prayed for the man, but also for an end to the death penalty. Since leaving his job in 1999, Givens has become one of the state’s most visible — and unlikely — opponents of capital punishment.
Givens’s improbable journey to the death chamber and back did not come easily or quickly for the 60-year-old from Richmond. A searing murder spurred his interest in the work, but it was the innocent life he nearly took that led him to question the system. And he was changed for good when he found himself behind bars.
His evolution underscores that of Virginia itself and the nation. Although polls show that the majority of state residents still support the death penalty, Virginia has experienced a sea change on capital punishment in recent years that is part of a national trend.
Givens grew up in the Creighton Court housing complex in Richmond, where he also graduated from high school in the early 1970s. By 1974, he had gotten a job at a Philip Morris plant and then lost it after fighting with a co-worker.
He recalled someone telling him that he should apply for a job at the state penitentiary before he got sent there. Givens did just that.
After two years as a prison guard, he said, a supervisor approached him about working on death row. He would not be paid extra, but he accepted the job.

“If you knew going out there that raping and killing someone had the consequence of the death penalty, then why are you going to do it?” Givens asked. “I considered it suicide.”

As Virginia executed its 110th person in the modern era last month, Givens prayed for the man, but also for an end to the death penalty. Since leaving his job in 1999, Givens has become one of the state’s most visible — and unlikely — opponents of capital punishment.

His evolution underscores that of Virginia itself and the nation. Although polls show that the majority of state residents still support the death penalty, Virginia has experienced a sea change on capital punishment in recent years that is part of a national trend.

The state has had fewer death sentences over the past five years than any period since the 1970s. Robert Gleason, who was put to death Jan. 16, was the first execution in a year and a half. As recently as 1999, the state put 13 to death in a single year.

Nationwide, the number of death sentences was at record lows in 2011 and 2012, down 75 percent since 1996, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five states have outlawed capital punishment in the past five years, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) affirmed plans to push for a moratorium there. Gallup polls show support for capital punishment ebbing.

Givens’s improbable journey to the death chamber and back did not come easily or quickly for the 60-year-old from Richmond. A searing murder spurred his interest in the work, but it was the innocent life he nearly took that led him to question the system. And he was changed for good when he found himself behind bars.

His story helps explain how a state closely associated with the death penalty for decades has entered a new era.

“From the 62 lives I took, I learned a lot,” Givens said.

The first execution

Friends and strangers regularly ask Givens the essential question: What is it like to take another man’s life? In answering, he vividly recalls his first execution, in 1984.

A history of capital punishment in Texas


Milestones in capital punishment in Texas:

1819 — George Brown is first person executed in Texas, by hanging.

1863 — Chipita Rodriguez is first woman executed in Texas, by hanging.

1923 — Lee Nathan becomes the last of 394 people executed by hanging.

1924 — Charles Reynolds becomes first inmate to die in the electric chair in Huntsville as state takes over executions.

1963 — Joseph Johnson is the last of 361 Texas prisoners to die in the electric chair.

1972 — U.S. Supreme Court finds death penalty “cruel and unusual;” death sentences of 52 people in Texas are commuted to life in prison.

1976 — U.S. Supreme Court holds Georgia death penalty statute constitutional, setting stage for resumption of executions.

1977 — Texas adopts lethal injection method.

1982 — Texas inmate Charlie Brooks becomes first in U.S. to receive lethal injection.

1998 — Karla Tucker becomes first woman executed in Texas since Civil War.

2000 — Texas executes a record 40 prisoners in one year.

2013 — Texas schedules execution of Kimberly McCarthy, number 500 by lethal injection.

__

Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “Espy File” database compiled by historians M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smykla.

Execution Watch: RACISM STALKS HALLS OF DEATH HOUSE AS TX PREPARES TO TAKE WOMAN’S LIFE


HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Kimberly McCarthy says jury selection in her trial was tainted by racism.

The courts have told her, in essence, “Drop dead.”

They say they won’t consider the merits of McCarthy’s appeal because her lawyers should have raised the issue sooner.

Despite the unheard claims, McCarthy remains on track to become the 500th person, and only the fourth woman, executed in Texas during the modern death-penalty era.

Execution Watch will provide live coverage and commentary of McCarthy’s execution, as well as the protests expected to take place outside the death house.

Unless a stay is issued, EXECUTION WATCH will broadcast live:
Wednesday, 26 June 2013, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT FM Houston 90.1 and Online…
http://executionwatch.org/ > Listen

TEXAS PLANS TO EXECUTE:
KIMBERLY McCARTHY, who has the gruesome distinction of holding ticket No. 500 in the Texas death-penalty lottery. The ex-crack addict was condemned in a 1997 robbery-slaying near Dallas. McCarthy is the former wife of New Black Panther Party founder Aaron Michaels, with whom she has a son. She is one of 10 women on Texas death row.

SHOW LINEUP
Host: RAY HILL, an ex-convict and activist who founded — and hosted for 30 years — The Prison Show on KPFT. His internet radio show airs Wednesdays at 2 PM CT.: hmsnetradio.org.

Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a legal educator, retired attorney and native Texan who has seen capital trials from both the prosecution and defense tables. Joining him will be Houston criminal defense attorneys SUSAN ASHLEY, LARRY DOUGLAS, MICHAEL GILLESPIE & JACK LEE.

Reporters Outside the Death House will include GLORIA RUBAC, member, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, abolitionmovement.org, and DR. DENNIS LONGMIRE, professor of criminal justice, Sam Houston State University, shsu.edu.

Reporter, Vigil, Houston: DAVE ATWOOD, founder and former board member, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, tcadp.org.