Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Death Penalty Roundup

Two capital punishment stories making news this morning. First, from the state of Georgia, regarding the case of Troy Anthony Davis.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for Troy Anthony Davis’ execution, declining to enter a contentious debate as to whether the condemned inmate was the real killer of a Savannah police officer in 1989.

The court, without explanation, refused to hear his appeal even though seven of nine key prosecution witnesses have recanted their testimony since the 1991 trial. Just three weeks ago, the high court had halted Davis’ execution with less than two hours to spare.

Davis’ innocence claims attracted international attention, with Pope Benedict XVI and former President Jimmy Carter among those challenging the fairness of his execution.
I also believe Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, and Libertarian candidate for president Bob Barr, have written on Davis' behalf as well.

When he received the stay from the Supreme Court several weeks ago, most believed the court would take his case to re-examine the issue of whether "a demonstration of actual innocence, after conviction and sentencing" is reason enough to void a capital sentence (as ludicrous as that sounds, the court ruled in 1993 in Herrera v. Collins that it isn't).

With that stay lifted, Davis' execution here in Georgia seems imminent, despite the recantation of almost every witness who testified against him originally.

Also making news was the execution yesterday in Ohio of an inmate who had sought a ban on lethal injection because he was too obese.
Ohio executed a 5-foot-7, 267-pound double murderer Tuesday who argued his obesity made death by lethal injection inhumane.

Richard Cooey, 41, had argued in numerous legal challenges that his weight problem would make it difficult for prison staff to find suitable veins to deliver the deadly chemicals, a problem that delayed previous executions in the state.

During preparations, though, Cooey shouted for one of his attorneys as prison staff tried to insert a shunt in his left arm. He was worried the staff would botch the execution, said Greg Meyers, an attorney with the Ohio Public Defender's Office.

Cooey, who killed two University of Akron students in 1986, walked into the death chamber wearing gray pants and a black short-sleeve shirt and was strapped onto the gurney.

''For what? You (expletive) haven't paid any attention to anything I've said in the last 22 1/2 years, why would anyone pay any attention to anything I've had to say now,'' Cooey said looking at the ceiling. He made no other comment.

The occasional unrepentant inmate at an execution is always noteworthy, simply because it tends to violate the "death chamber decorum." Witnesses and staff expect the condemned to be "dead already" and meekly subservient to their fate. Major disruptions (such as struggling against the restraints, vulgarity, etc.) tend to be quite upsetting to witnesses. This seems evident in the comments made in the article.

Assuming Cooey was guilty of the crime for which he was executed (and still acted out), I wonder what Troy Anthony Davis' last words will consist of, and what tone the death chamber decorum might take on with real questions of innocence hanging over the procedure?

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