Back in those long-lost days when I was a kid in New York City, a trip to see the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team play at long-lost Ebbets Field was eagerly awaited. Even more eagerly awaited was the occasional Dodgers double-header, two baseball games played back-to-back. Now, living in the State of Georgia for part of each year, I am not at all eager for Georgia's version of the double-header: the first back-to-back executions of 2015.
The first of these executions has already taken place: on January 13, 2015, cop-killer Andrew Brannan was put to death at a Georgia prison, after numerous stays of execution because Brannan, a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran, clearly and demonstrably suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, with war flashbacks and depression among other symptoms. Were he not afflicted with that awful condition, it is highly unlikely that he would have tragically taken the life of a young deputy sheriff during what should have been a routine traffic stop. Still, Brannan was granted numerous stays-of-execution due to his mental deficiencies, but the State of Georgia persevered until he could be killed on the Ides of January. If only the young sheriff could be brought back by this--but, regretfully, he cannot.
Now, on January 27, 2015, the State of Georgia desperately wants to take the life of Warren Lee Hill, a retarded man whose IQ of about 70 would exempt him from the death penalty in most states which still practice that barbaric ritual -- but not in Georgia, which happily executes the mentally incompetent and retarded, and used to execute juveniles. Hill took the life of a girlfriend many years ago, and then later killed a fellow prisoner in a gruesome fashion. Many psychologists and other professionals have found Hill to be mentally incompetent, but that matters little to Georgia. Here, the standard for determining eligibility for execution is that the person be competent "beyond a reasonable doubt" -- whereas in most death-penalty states, the standard is "preponderance of the evidence." There are many cases, in general, which meet the lower preponderance standard but not the higher beyond a reasonable doubt test. The same person often could not be executed in those states, whereas Georgia is happy to put him to death. Indeed, Georgia will fight up to the Supreme Court to be able to kill him.
So, as the number of death-penalty states continues to shrink, those which remain generally will not execute those with mental incapacity or infirmity, if there is a preponderance of the evidence for those incapacitating conditions. The State of Georgia, however, seems to love executions, and indeed is perfectly happy to read the evidence in such a way that the person waiting for execution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he has mental issues. In Georgia, the Governor cannot grant clemency, which is only provided by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles -- provided rather rarely, as matters have stood for years.
Since the death penalty was once again allowed by the United States Supreme Court in 1976, after being banned as a violation of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the United States Constitution, 1397 executions have been carried out in the United States, mostly by the lethal injection method, which can be primitive and painful. That is why no European drug manufacturer will knowingly sell lethal injection drugs to the American penal system; Europe has banned the death penalty for decades. Thirty-five percent of those executed have been Black, three times the U.S. Black population percentage -- while 76% of the victims were White, considerably more than the White percentage in the nation. So, if a Black person kills a White person, he is much more likely to be executed than the other way around.
While there is no way of determining definitively what percentage of those executed were actually innocent, the exoneration rate via DNA evidence runs up to ten percent, so it may well be that some 140 of those executed were in fact innocent of the crime for which they suffered the death penalty. America, and Georgia: where is your shame?
Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)