The Death Penalty And Bush - Justice Or Bloodlust?


At long last! An event that I thought beyond the ability of any Republican politician has come to pass. The Republican Governor of Illinois, Gov. George Ryan, has halted all executions in his state. Why, one might ask, would a member of the most blood thirsty political party in America's history put an end to the effortless method of sating that lust?

Well, maybe it's because it was pointed out to him that, since 1977, one more person has been exonerated (that means found to have been judged guilty in error and thus released from prison) than the state has successfully murdered through the death penalty.

In fact, Gov. Ryan stated, "I now favor a moratorium because I have grave concerns about our state's shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row." He added that he will appoint a commission to study whether the death penalty can be applied in any way that can be considered fair in the future.

The Governor cited numerous reports that innocent Americans wound up on death row not through any hint of guilt but due to incompetent lawyers, corrupt police, false testimony from jailhouse informants and investigative errors and sloppiness.

The governor pointed to two recent cases to prove his point; the first that of Steve Manning, an ex-Chicago policeman, who was sentenced to death on the testimony of a jailed informant with a long history of giving false testimony. The second was an Illinois prisoner, Anthony Porter, who had come within 48 hours of being executed before evidence was finally allowed to be heard that proved his innocence.

Sadly, in the 37 other states that happily execute human beings, 85 other death row prisoners have been discovered to have been innocent and released since 1973.

The Los Angeles Police Department has offered another magnificent reason to cease murdering Americans. More than twenty officers, with another ten under investigation, have been suspended, fired or have resigned due to disclosures that have shown that these officers have planted evidence on suspects, placed guns in the hands of unarmed individuals they had killed and lied over and over on the witness stand, sending an unknown number of innocent Americans to prison and onto death row. So far, eleven prisoners have been released in connection to the misconduct of these officers and many more cases are being reviewed.

Now let's consider "Tumbleweed" Bush's miserable record as the governor of Texas, shall we?

(I call Georgie "Tumbleweed" because he rolls along wherever the Republican Party blows him but he has absolutely nothing of any substance below his shallow surface. Sadly, what you see is what you get, and that isn't much.)

Since Tumbleweed took office as the governor of Texas five years ago, he has gleefully allowed 112 people to go to their deaths, a record for any governor since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

In fact, under Bush, Texas has become so proficient at murdering people that other states are sending representatives to study his system for use back home. Their lessons include how to overcome last minute appeals, handling the media throughout the death process and even the finer points of administering the lethal injections.

Florida state representative Chris Smith offered Texas and Bush the ultimate Republican compliment when he spouted, "Texas is our role model for killing people."

How has Bush accomplished the monumental task of killing so many in a such a short period of time? Since 1995, he has pushed through a law accelerating the appeals process in Texas, a law nicknamed the "speed up the juice law" by defense attorneys. The Republicans in Washington and that nasty old Republican Bill Clinton, doing their part, have succeeded in obliterating the once powerful safeguards for the accused by shortening and restricting greatly the appeals process through the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Penalty Act which strictly limits habeas corpus appeals to federal courts.

Of course, simply speeding up the process wouldn't have resulted in this slaughter all by itself. Bush has also been successful in assuring that indigent murder suspects are given the very lowest quality of defense attorneys by paying the lawyers less than five thousand dollars total for each case from pretrial to the sentencing phase (a process that even California will budget over $200,000 for), allowing disbarred attorneys to act as defense attorneys in capital cases, killing all funding for legal resource centers (a move assisted and abetted by Congress and Clinton), never granting clemency and, in one lightly reported instance, murdering a man whose defense lawyer had slept during most of the trial and who had not cross-examined even one witness. In that last case, the appeals judge, a Bush appointee, had the nerve to state that the defendant had no right to any better representation than a sleeping lawyer because, "the Constitution doesn't say the lawyer has to be awake."

In fact, the mere act of missing a deadline for the appeals process will end any further reviews of the sentence and for the accused.

An excellent example of the low level of decency that Bush exhibits in his lust for murder is his exclamation that having a staff of attorneys to defend in capital cases would not "better the quality of representation." Apparently, disbarred and somnambulant lawyers are as good as he thinks suspects deserve when their lives are stake.

Since Tumbleweed took office, though, he has constantly claimed that not one innocent person has been murdered in Texas under his watch. This claim only holds in that there has been little in the way of an appeals process or qualified lawyers so, once the American is dead, the case is closed and innocence or guilt no longer matter. Nevertheless, four prisoners on Texas' death row who were fortunate enough to eventually be represented by outside (not assigned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) and were determined to be innocent and were released from prison. As Stephen Bright, one of the nation's top death penalty lawyers and the director of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta so succinctly put it, "If any of those men had been represented by some of the lawyers assigned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, they would have been executed."

The possibility for justice in Texas has, if one can believe it, deteriorated even further in the last year in that the last two voices for reason and justice on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have been replaced, creating a system completely controlled totally by Republicans whose lust for the death penalty is, obviously, second to none.

Gentle readers, America is faced with the possibility of the election of a rather stupid, superficial and mean spirited individual to the office of the Presidency. Tumbleweed and his party have elevated the art of blood lust to such an extreme that America is now murdering the mentally ill and is in the process of creating a system to murder even children and teenagers. America must cease all executions until a system has been devised and permanent safeguards put in place that will assure that the innocent will not be a victim of the murderous judicial system currently ruling this nation. The needless death of even one American is absolutely one too many and the needless death of possibly many, many more should be unthinkable to any decent human being. The blood lust that rules must be exposed for what it is; just pure and utter murder in a state sanctioned sideshow.

To commute all death penalties to life without possibility of parole will mean that those who are truly guilty will be punished while allowing for the possibility of exoneration of those convicted by false testimony or incompetent attorneys or over eager district attorneys or just the debasement of the system by those who just want to kill and kill and kill. To stop all state sanctioned murders allows for the possibility of correcting errors. To kill, though, is to never have the opportunity to say we're sorry, we were wrong. (1, 2, 3 & 4)

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Copyright 2/10/2000