Thursday, February 6, 2014

Update: Texas executes wheelchair-bound woman

Last night the State of Texas murdered its 510th inmate since the US Supreme Court decided it was okay for states to kill inmates again. Suzanne Basso was the latest victim.

She was executed for the murder of a developmentally challenged man she allegedly lured to Texas with the promise of marriage. She and her associates savagely beat the man to death. When the police discovered the body it had been beaten beyond recognition. Her accomplices are still serving prison sentences for their roles.

The facts in Ms. Basso's case were horrific. There was no doubt as to what happened. The only possible question may have been who delivered the actual death blow.

In such a case the only thing left for the attorneys is to attempt to mitigate the damage as much as possible. When death is on the table that means using a mitigation specialist to gather up as much evidence as possible to give a jury a reason to spare the defendant's life. Medical and mental health records, school records, CPS records and interviews with those familiar with the defendant's upbringing.

When the state puts on evidence during the punishment phase of a trial that exposes the defendant as a sexual deviant who abused and mistreated her kids, the only hope is to show a jury that the conditions under which the defendant grew up were so bad that she never had a chance to have anything resembling a normal existence.

In Ms. Basso's case her attorneys, one of whom was Jim Leitner who carried the water for former District Attorney Pat Lykos, decided not to put on evidence of Ms. Basso's upbringing - which was anything but normal. The decision was made because her attorneys thought that the mitigation evidence they uncovered would only make Ms. Basso seem even less sympathetic to the jury given the testimony of her children about their mom's deviant sexual behavior.

After her conviction was upheld on direct appeal, Ms. Basso's habeas attorney, Galveston County solo Winston Cochran, pursued federal habeas relief on the grounds that Ms. Basso wasn't competent enough to be executed. Given the horrific facts, and the word of two psychiatrists called by the state, Mr. Cochran's claims were denied.

Ms. Basso was not a sympathetic character. The only people who fought for her life were her attorneys (and anti-death penalty activists). There were even folks who opposed the death penalty who had no objections to Ms. Basso getting the needle.

It's hard to argue that Ms. Basso didn't deserve to die. There's not much there on which to hang your hat. But these are the cases that must be fought the hardest if we want to one day see a world in which we don't allow the government to kill in our name.

What Ms. Basso did was indefensible. But strapping her to a gurney, sticking a needle in her arm and pumping her full of poison doesn't change what happened. It doesn't undo the past. It doesn't heal any wounds. No, there is very little (if any) sympathy out there for Ms. Basso, but she doesn't deserve t die at the hands of the state (and the medical professionals who showed their utter contempt for the oath they took upon becoming doctors or nurses).

We cannot allow the state to continue to exercise its illegitimate power to decide who lives and who dies. The death penalty distorts our criminal (in)justice system. It imposes unnecessary costs on our society. It serves to cheapen our respect for human life. It's barbaric and it's a relic from a past we should have long since outgrown.

The way we treat the most undesirable people in our society speaks volumes about the value we place on human life.

1 comment:

Lee said...

Something I noticed that didn’t seem to make since (though little does with the death penalty). I thought that the person had to be certified by a physician that they are in fact healthy enough to execute. Since she had some paralysis and required a wheelchair did that ever happen? Did she have to be wheeled or limped to the gurney? Little more than a detail to the state but just wondering if they followed their own policy.