His public defender said my testimony had saved his client from the death penalty. I’d worked with the prisoner in an ex-offenders program while I was in public life. His first incarceration was for theft. When he came to the program, I found him personable and recommended that he work as an ombudsman for people who were incarcerated. He was successful at the task. Even the crusty guards admitted he solved inmates’ problems and lowered tension in the jail.
I’d seen his best side. Until my testimony, the jury had seen his worst. And it was bad. He’d beaten a woman to death. In the end, those twelve individuals decided to give him a chance. He received a life sentence and is probably reading or joking with a cellmate today. As I believe people are capable of change, I hope he’s gained insight, too.
In the final year of Donald Trump’s presidency, thirteen people, some with cases on appeal were executed before their defenses could be heard. The slaughter broke a 17-year hiatus, the last execution having been carried out in 2003. The U. S. Supreme facilitated the executions, the majority members sweeping aside evidence that two prisoners were mentally incompetent and that a third had offered documents on appeal that pointed to his innocence.
One of the condemned, Christopher Vialva, seeing the handwriting on the wall, told his attorney to withdraw his petition. According to a reporter, “Vialva knew that Daniel Lewis, the first person to be executed by the Trump administration, waited on the gurney for four hours while his lawyers fought, unsuccessfully, to save his life. That wasn’t how Vialva wanted to spend his final hours.”
Should we be surprised that this trail of carnage would lead President Trump to incite an insurrection at the Capitol? Forensic scientist Bandy X. Lee, explains the president’s flawed logic this way: “Violence helps compensate for feelings of powerlessness, inadequacy, and lack of real productivity.” Without love or respect, she adds, all that’s left is fear.
Nearly 60,000mental health professionals have diagnosed Trump with a serious mental illness called, “Malignant Narcissism.” Feeling rejected in his bid for a second term, the president chose to execute thirteen people over a few months–breaking all records for such carnage.
The question that remains is why did the U. S. Supreme Court accommodated the president’s decisions, enabling them to go forward by sweeping aside legal aspects of these executions? One Justice spoke out regarding the last prisoner, Dustin Higgs. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor complained about fast-racking the cases “before courts had meaningful opportunities to determine if the executions were legal.”
The wonder is only one justice objected. And, at the last.
Given that executions are irreversible and that error is human, is an execution ever just? The haunting question has led many Americans to rethink their former positions. A growing number is beginning to believe the death penalty should be abolished. Joe Biden, Trump’s successor, would risk little political capital if he halted further executions and called for a review of their impact on our justice system.
Who is Donald Trump, a man charged many times with breaking the law and considered by experts to be mentally unstable, to hold the power of life or death over fellow Americans? As to the Supreme Court, two members have had sexual charges laid against them, though never proved. Even so, the complaints were creditable enough so that many felt their nominations should have been withdrawn. Have they the right to assume the god-like power to assign death?
As the death penalty falls disproportionally upon people of color, surely we, as a country, are obliged to revisit our assumptions about justice. “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” (Martin Luther King)