Thursday, May 16, 2013

Update: Making progress

While the State of Texas continued its barbaric ways of strapping down inmates and killing them, there are developments outside the Lone Star State that should give us hope that one day this practice will end.

Jeffrey Williams was murdered at the hands of the state last night. He had been sentenced to die for the murder of Troy Blando, a Houston police officer. Mr. Williams never denied shooting Mr. Blando, but he claimed he thought Mr. Blando (who was in plain clothes the night of his death) was trying to rob him so he shot him in self defense.

Once again, the killing of an inmate did not lead to the resurrection of his victim and did not do anything to erase the loss of a family member or loved one. It only served to demonstrate the the state has the power to take a life.

Earlier this month the governor of Maryland signed a bill repealing the state's death penalty. Maryland is the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to repeal the death penalty in nearly 50 years and joins its neighbor, West Virginia, in putting a halt to capital punishment.

Maryland is also the sixth state in the last six years to repeal capital punishment. State by state we are reaching a point at which the death penalty will one day be recognized as "unusual." Thus far 18 states have abolished capital punishment and a bill repealing Delaware's death penalty has passed the state senate.

A similar bill, HB 1703, was introduced in Texas by State Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) and co-authored by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) and Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth). The bill would repeal the death penalty in Texas and make life in prison without the possibility of parole (what Jeff Gamso calls "death in prison") the maximum punishment one could receive. The one problem with the bill is it would only repeal the death penalty going forward and would do nothing to stop the murder of those currently on death row in Texas.

In a fiscal analysis of the bill, the Office of Court Administration stated that repealing the death penalty would save money because non-death penalty capital felonies cost far less to prosecute (including fees for appointed counsel, investigators and experts since defendants facing the death penalty are disproportionately poor) than death penalty cases. However, the OCA couldn't state how much would be saved since no one keeps tabs on the money we spend to kill inmates.

Unfortunately, the bill died in committee.

In other news, London-based Hikma, a drug company, has halted sales of phenobarbital to Arkansas. The drug, used to prevent convulsions and epileptic seizures, was being used by Arkansas as part of its lethal cocktail.

The drug has never been tested for its efficacy in killing inmates and could cause permanent damage as well as lead to inhumane executions according to death penalty lawyers in Arkansas.

Between states repealing the death penalty and foreign drug companies refusing to sell drugs used for lethal injections in the United States, the death penalty is slowing being squeezed from both sides. Add the extraordinary numbers of exonerations that have taken place over the last ten years and you have a mix that could spell the end of legalized murder in the United States.

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