Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Killing, just because

How much fun can it possibly be to exact revenge when the target of your wrath hasn't the slightest clue why?

In 1985 Vernon Madison went to his ex-girlfriend's house in Mobile (AL) to pick up his possessions. After he left her house he shot and killed a police officer who was outside providing protection to her. Mr. Madison was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. That verdict was overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct.

He was convicted a second time after the retrial. But, once again, the conviction was reversed due to prosecturial misconduct. So the state tried him a third time.

The third time he was convicted (again). The jury recommended life in prison. But, because Alabama law said the jury's verdict on sentencing was only advisory (which raises the question of why even bothering to go to the jury for punishment), he was sentenced to die by the judge.
"This involved the literal execution of a police officer and at some point the state looks forward to being able to obtain the punishment that the trial judge believed was appropriate in this case." -- Alabama Deputy Atty. General Thomas Govan, Jr.
Over the last 30 years Mr. Madison, 68, has been on death row in solitary confinement. During that time he has suffered multiple strokes. He suffers from dementia and part of his brain has been shown to be dead. He is legally blind. He has trouble walking and has slurred speech.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, represents Mr. Madison. According to Mr. Stevenson, Mr. Madison is so delusional he doesn't know what day of the week it is, nor does he know what year it is. He has no memory of the murder for which he was convicted.

Yesterday Mr. Stevenson went before the US Supreme Court asking them to halt Thursday's scheduled execution on the grounds that killing Mr. Madison would constitute cruel and unusual punishment because of his dementia.

Despite his dementia, lower courts have consistently ruled that Mr. Madison was not delusional, nor psychotic, and therefore he could be strapped down to a gurney and killed by the state. Mr. Stevenson argued before the Court that because Mr. Madison's dementia is the result of a brain injury, and that the brain injury has rendered him incapable of producing memories of the murder, executing him would be unconstitutional.

Mr. Stevenson told the Court that, unlike other constitutional provisions such as the 4th and 5th Amendments,which are windows to view a series of actions, the 8th Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment provides us with a mirror that reveals something about us.

Alabama's Deputy Attorney General Thomas Govan, Jr. countered with saying the state needed to exact its revenge.

Justice Kennedy tended to be the deciding vote in these types of cases and with him off the bench, the calculus for Mr. Madison is a bit more daunting.

I think it speaks volumes that the state's primary argument in this case is the need to get revenge for a person's past acts. The argument fails to take into consideration what has taken place during the time an inmate has been behind bars. It also fails to take into account the state of the inmate's mind. That state got its revenge by cutting Mr. Madison off from the rest of the world by placing him in solitary confinement for the last three decades.

And what purpose is served by executing a man who has no memory of the crime that landed him on death row? What purpose is served when his brain will not allow him to create any memories? Isn't the point of punishment for the target of the punishment to know why he is being treated the way he is? Outside that knowledge, isn't punishment just another word for torture?

See also:

"US Supreme Court hears case of Alabama death row inmate Vernon Madison" (10/2/2018)

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