Archive for September, 2010
A shortage of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic used during lethal injections, has caused states across the country to postpone executions until they are able to acquire more of the drug. The drug’s sole U.S. manufacturer, Hospira Inc., has publicly stated that the drug may be ready in January, but has been making similiar claims since June. While the company maintains the shortage is due to a lack of raw materials, some speculate that Hospira’s opposition to the drug’s lethal use may be a factor in the shortage. The shortage has led states such as Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, and California to halt executions until either more of the drug is produced or another method is approved. With four executions scheduled in the next five months, Tennessee has only enough sodium thiopental for the upcoming November execution of Stephen West. The Tennessee Department of Corrections has not released a statement about how it will respond to the shortage, but has said the state expects to carry out all executions as scheduled.
In a story reported by the Associated Press, Tennessee Senator Jim Tracy brought to light a group often lost in this discussion, members of victim’s families. Senator Tracy is quoted as saying,”Many of these cases, the victims have waited for 20 years, some of them longer than that. If we’re out of that drug, we need to have an alternative.” Senatory Tracy is absolutely correct, we do need an alternative. These families deserve better than having to wait 20 years for an execution, only to find out days before that the state is unable to go through with it. While Sentor Tracy may have been referring to an alternative method of execution, I believe we must adopt an alternative to exectution. Thankfully, such an alternative already exists. In sentencing capital offenders to life without the possiblity of parole, families, rather than being emotionally jerked around by the state, would be able to move on to the extremely difficult task of trying to heal.
For more information on the drug shortage and how other states are reacting click here.
Following a decision by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Leonard Smith will once again be removed from death row after his case was remanded for re-sentencing. Leonard Smith’s third such removal from death row is a direct result of his trial attorneys’ failure to adequately investigate and present evidence that could have led to the recusal of 1st Judicial District Judge Lynn Brown. While a district attorney, Judge Brown had prosecuted Leonard Smith on a robbery charge. The court found that while Leonard Smith’s trial attorneys could be “commended for their perseverance … the proven constitutional deficiency cannot be overlooked.”
For more information, please click here.
At 9:13 p.m. last night, 41-year-old Teresa Lewis was executed by the state of Virginia, the first woman to be executed in that state since 1912. With an IQ of 72, a personality disorder, and an addiction to prescription pain medication, Lewis was portrayed by the state of Virginia as “the mastermind” behind the murder of her husband and stepson in 2002. The triggermen in the case both received life sentences.
Prior to the execution, Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, stated, “Executing Teresa would be more evidence that the death penalty system in Virginia is woefully broken.”
Sadly, Virginia is not the only state that continues to sentence and execute those with severe mental disability to death. Today, in Virginia, the tragedy of the violent act which led to Teresa’s execution has not ended but continues, as now even more people grieve, as another body is buried, and as the citizens of Virginia, and all of us, reflect upon what has been done in our name.
While being the new person is never easy, I can thankfully report that my first three weeks as Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty’s Young Adult Volunteer have proven to be a success. My name is Victor Short and I recently moved to Nashville from Denver, CO, to serve as a Presbyterian Church (USA) Young Adult Volunteer. Having just graduated from Hastings College, I will be spending a year in Nashville working with TADP and could not be more excited for this opportunity.
With this excitement comes the sobering realization that there is a great deal of work to be done around this issue. Disparities and inconsistencies exist throughout Tennessee and the country. Once such inconsistency is the unequal treatment of two women recently scheduled to be executed for the murders of their respective husbands. As many Tennesseans know, Governor Phil Bredesen recently commuted the death sentence of Tennessee death row inmate, Gaile Owens, to life. Owens was scheduled to be executed on September 28.
However, Teresa Lewis, convicted of plotting to murder her husband and stepson, is scheduled to be executed tomorrow in Virginia. Unlike Governor Bredesen, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell refused Teresa’s lawyers’ plea for clemency even after evidence revealed that Teresa Lewis has an I.Q. of 72, suffers from a psychological dependency disorder, and had an addiction to prescription pain medication at the time of the crime. Despite her extremely low I.Q., Virginia is still allowed to execute her because the threshold for exclusion from the death penalty for intellectual disability is 70.
As someone who has followed the death penalty for a number of years, I cannot help but be struck by the capricious nature of these two outcomes. Considering the mental capacity of Teresa Lewis and the circumstances of her arrest and conviction, I would argue that Teresa’s case has at least as many mitigating factors at play as did the Owens’ case. And yet, what remains consistent is the continued arbitrariness of death penalty in our country. Certainly, in neither the Owens nor the Lewis case are we dealing with the worst of the worst. Isn’t that supposedly who the death penalty is reserved for? Unfortunately, even as a new intern, it hasn’t taken me long to find out that the death penalty is often reserved not for the worst of the worst, but for the least of the least.
To act to stop the impending execution of Teresa Lewis, click here.
The state of Tennessee has set yet another execution date. Edward Jerome (E.J.) Haribson now has an execution date of February 15, 2011. You can read more about his case on our website under the “Cases” heading.
Tennessee has executed only 6 people in the past 50 years and now plans, within a 4 month period and during a gubernatorial transition, to execute 4 more–Stephen West (November 9), Billy Ray Irick (December 7), Edmund Zagorski (January 11), and E.J. Harbison (February 15).
And, as if the system wasn’t flawed enough, it seems that the state only has enough of the lethal injection drug cocktail for one execution because one of the three drugs is not currently being manufactured. The company that produces the drug said it hopes to have it ready by winter 2011 but has not filled some back orders dating back to February.
If the system is not capable of planning and coordinating these executions that have been in limbo for 20 years, how can we trust that the system is capable of determining whose crimes merit death and whose don’t? How can we trust the system to determine that those who are sentenced to death are actually the most culpable or even the guilty party?
This most recent gaffe is just one more indication that the death penalty system is broken and needs to be repealed. With less costly and more effective alternatives, such as life without parole, why do we continue to trust a system that clearly doesn’t always get it right?
Picture provided by JAStacey128
The state of Tennessee has set an execution date of January 11th, 2011, for Edmund Zagorski, who was convicted in 1984 for the murders of John Dale Dotson and Jimmy Porter in Robertson County. This execution will follow on the heels of the the slated 2010 execution dates for Stephen West on November 9th and Billy Ray Irick on December 7th.
Tennessee has only carried out 6 execution since 1960, all occurring in the last ten years. Now Tennesseans face the real possibility of three executions in just a 3 month period.
With New Jersey and New Mexico having recently abolished the death penalty and with a number of states considering repeal in 2011, Tennessee’s move toward more executions is disturbing, particularly given the strong evidence that our system here is flawed with grave potential for error.
The American Bar Association’s assessment of Tennessee’s death penalty released in 2007 showed that of 93 guidelines for a fair and accurate death penalty system, Tennessee fully complied with only 7. Furthermore, though Tennessee has executed 6, the state has also released 2 who were wrongfully convicted, men who fought their convictions and death sentences for 20 years each. And most recently, the Governor had to intervene to stop the execution of Gaile Owens, a victim of domestic abuse with serious process issues at play in her case who spent 24 years exhausting all her appeals with no remedy from the courts.
Though our hearts go out to the families of these victims who have suffered for years waiting for these sentences to be carried out, we believe that alternatives already exist that can hold offenders accountable, keep society safe, not drag these families through all this agonizing waiting, allow precious dollars to be utilized more effectively for crime prevention and victims’ family support, and not risk a wrongful execution.
TADP will inform you about actions you can take as these new execution dates draw closer.
Read more here.
Picture provided by JAStacey128
Saying that Tennessee’s New Abolitionists “should be required reading for all Tennesseans”, Paul Griffith and Chapter16.org give a great review of this newly published book edited by TADP board member, Dr. Amy Sayward, and active supporter, Dr. Margaret Vandiver.
Particularly the review highlights the chapter by former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Penny White as well as the final section giving voice to those personally impacted by the system, including surviving family members of murder and those on death row.
This is a must read for all those interested in learning more about the history of Tennessee’s death penalty and the movement to repeal it.
Read the whole review and order your copy of the book.
Today, Justice Cornelia “Connie” Clark was sworn in as the Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, the second female chief justice in the court’s history. She has served on the Tennessee Supreme Court for the past five years and also has the distincition of serving as a trial judge in the 21st judicial district from 1989 to 1999 — the first woman to do so.
Read more about the newest Chief Justice here.
Picture courtesy of VaXzine