Saturday, April 22, 2017

In Arkansas, the Beginning of "Rapid-Fire Flurry of Executions Unprecedented in Modern U.S. History": Why All Americans Should Care

The attorney representing Ledell Lee, the first man put to death in the current killing spree of Arkansas GOP Governor Asa Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, and the Arkansas Supreme Court, posted a statement yesterday on Facebook about Ledell Lee's final hours. Attorney Lee Short writes (by way of Leslie Newell Peacock), 

At 630 he [Ledell Lee] frantically began dividing his belongings, which fit in a cardboard box. He gave his potato chips to Stacey Johnson who continued to say uplifting messages to Ledell throughout the night. Ledell willed away his property, which included saltines, cups, and even his condiments.  That moment was more than I could take. As tears rolled down my cheeks, there was a friendly face who offered me a Dr. Pepper and said no more.

At the behest of Governor Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and with the stamp of approval of the Arkansas Supreme Court, the state killed Ledell Lee shortly before midnight.

If he gets his way, Arkansas' Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson will execute eight men in 11 days this month. On Feb. 27, he issued the death warrants for the prisoners, with "doubleheader" executions on April 17, 20, 24 and 27, because the state's supply of one of the three drugs in the execution 'cocktail,' midazolam, is set to expire at the end of April. As this is written, three of the eight executions have been temporarily halted; the other five are scheduled to take place in what would be a rapid-fire flurry of executions unprecedented in modern U.S. history. . . . 
The eight men scheduled for execution by Gov. Hutchinson each have unique circumstances, but fall into categories that are common on America's death rows: poor, disproportionately people of color, most likely to have been found guilty of a crime that had a white victim, and incapable of mounting the type of vigorous defense that wealthier defendants can.

Two men who had been scheduled to die Monday were granted stays over mental health concerns. A staggering six of the eight people slated to be executed have low IQs or histories of mental illness, including diagnoses of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to a study carried out by the Fair Punishment Project, a project of Harvard Law School
Don Davis, who was scheduled to die Monday, received a last-minute stay over his lack of access to an independent mental health expert. In the course of his 25 years on death row, he had never been given an independent mental exam, and IQ tests from his childhood indicated that he falls in the range of being mentally impaired. 
U.S. residents often imagine prisoners only end up on death row if they are "the worst of the worst," said legal director of the Fair Punishment Project, Jessica Brand. But none of these men is the portrait of a calculated, cold-blooded killer, she says, even if some of their crimes have been heinous
"These are among the most vulnerable men in society: people who [hallucinate] dogs in prison, people who watched multiple pets be murdered by their parents, paranoid schizophrenics, people with a 70 IQ — that's not the most culpable. That's not the worst of the worst," she said.

In short, the first significant decision by Justice Gorsuch, who was sworn in to office less than two weeks ago, was the most consequential any justice can make — to approve a man’s killing by the state. 
That man, like so many others condemned to die around the country, was a walking catalog of reasons the American death penalty is a travesty. Evidence that Mr. Lee was intellectually disabled and suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome was never introduced into court, mainly because he had egregiously bad representation. One of his lawyers was so drunk in court that a federal judge reviewing the case later said he could tell simply by reading the transcripts. . . . 
Neil Gorsuch held the power of life and death in his hands Thursday night. His choice led to Ledell Lee’s execution, and gave the nation an early, and troubling, look into the mind-set of the high court's newest member.

The candidate placed in the White House by "pro-life" U.S. Christians, whose election resulted in the placing of Mr. Gorsuch on the bench of the Supreme Court, is emboldening a "killing spree" in one American state — with that new Supreme Court member providing his stamp of approval for that killing spree. This should concern all Americans, since the barbaric behavior now on full display in the state of Arkansas is not likely to be confined to one state, and the signal given by the new Supreme Court member suggests that, if and when the barbarism spreads, American citizens cannot look to the Supreme Court for protection against it.

Nor to their churches: to the contrary . . . .

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