Monday 1 May 2017

Will the execution be justified?

Before I deal with one particular case of murder in this article, let me say that for the most part, I am against capital punishment because of one reason alone. I don’t want innocent persons erroneously convicted of murder being executed.

I was one of the significant abolitionists arguing against the death penalty who influenced the parliamentary debate in the Canadian Parliament in 1976 when I sent a report to all the members of the House of Commons and the Senate. In my report, I wrote about a case where the police helped convict a man of capital murder and admitted afterwards that the wrong man was hanged. Further in my report, I presented evidence that the lawyer who defended the man and represented him in his appeals was declared insane by another court during the client’s trial. Shortly thereafter, the parliamentarians voted to abolish the death penalty in Canada.

In 1975, 1980 and in 1985, when I addressed three United Nations Congresses in Geneva, Caracas and in Milan on the subject of capital punishment, I recommended that the death penalty should be applied to terrorists and criminals who torture a human beings to death and those criminals who are either multiple murderers mass, murderers or serial murderers.

I cannot see any justifiable reason why these kinds of killers should be allowed to continue to live. It costs as much as $117,000 a year to house a prisoner in Canada each year. If such a killer serves 25 years in prison which is the regular sentence for first degree murder in Canada, the taxpayers will have paid as much as $$2,925,000. If a killer murdered three persons, he will be sentenced to 75 years. If such a killer committed the murders when he was 20, and dies at age 95, the taxpayers will have paid out $6,750,000. What a waste of the taxpayer’s money that is. That money could be put to better use.   

Do we really want people like Richard Speck who tortured and murdered nine nurses in one evening in 1966 to enjoy his life in prison like that mass murderer did? He was gay and enjoyed his sex with other gay men while in prison. He even enjoyed his birthday parties with fellow inmates with a cake included. How would you feel if you were the parent of one of the murdered nurses and you saw the video shown on TV of that mass murderer who killed your daughter enjoying one of his birthday parties in prison and laughing throughout the video?  The creep died in prison of a heart attack in 1991 at age 49. He would have died much earlier if his sentence of death wasn’t overturned and changed to life in prison because of a problem with jury selection just before his trial.

Since 1976 when the stay of executions in the United States ordered by the Supreme Court came to an end, there had been 1,421 executions across 31 states in the US up to the end of 2015.  While many critics of the death penalty point to the high cost, limited deterrence rate and moral issues with capital punishment, many supporters vehemently defend executing dangerous offenders to wit; those convicted of first degree murder.

Now I am going to tell you about the current method of executions conducted in almost all of the States in the United States that have the death penalty on their books.

It is estimated that 3% of U.S. executions in the period from 1890 to 2010 were botched. In the 2014 book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America's Death Penalty, Austin Sarat, a professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College, describes the history of flawed executions in the U.S. during that period. He reported that over those 120 years, 8,776 people were executed and 276 of those executions (3.15%) went wrong in some way or another. Lethal injection had the highest rate of botched executions. 

Alas, there have been times when such executions have been botched because of sadistic executioners or faulty equipment or simply human error. The death penalty can be a bit of a wild card for the condemned. Assured that death will come quickly and painlessly, many prisoners are allowed to choose their own method of execution based on what best suits them, or what they assume will be the quickest way to die.  

One would think that hangings would be the quickest way to die. If done properly, death is instant when the neck bone is separated from the head. But that wasn’t always so. US Master Sgt. John C. Woods was given the job of executing major German war criminals in October 1946.  Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, who was the head of the German armed forces was heard moaning 24 minutes after he was dropped through the trapdoor of the gallows. General Jodl took 18 minutes to die and Streicher groaned for a long time after dropping through the trapdoor. Woods had hanged hundreds of men previous to those hangings and he knew how to do it properly. He intended to make those three Germans die slowly by shortening the distance of the drop. They suffered so because their executioner was sadistic.

In January 1996, John Albert Taylor chose the firing squad as his means of execution because he reasoned that it would be an inconvenience for the Utah state officials. Taylor shunned lethal injection, saying he did not want to flop around on the gurney "like a dying fish." His execution, in a mechanical sense, was a model of lethal decorum.

The death chair, painted a deep midnight blue to neutralize the color of blood into an indistinguishable glistening hue, was made of steel and mesh. Velcro strips secured the condemned's ankles, wrists, arms and body.

All the straps and harnesses used on Taylor were to keep him from moving around were considered unnecessary, because Taylor was entirely cooperative. He died instantly.

However on May 16, 1879, a lack of restraining straps resulted in the most bizarre, grotesque and horribly botched Utah execution on record. It was so disgraceful that one newspaper, the Ogden Junction, sarcastically reminded the state that "the French guillotine never fails."

It all came about when Wallace Wilkerson, who killed a man in an argument about a card game in Provo, Utah was to face the firing squad in a corner of the jail yard. As the hour neared, Wilkerson strode from his cell dressed in black broadcloth and wearing a white felt hat. In his left hand he carried a cigar, which remained with him to the last.

Witnesses noticed "he exhibited unmistakable effects of liquor." The condemned man insisted on not being tied to the chair and he refused a blindfold. "I give you my word," he said, "I intend to die like a man, looking my executioners right in the eye."

The sheriff protested but Wilkerson pleaded, and the sheriff relented.  The sharpshooters were concealed in a shed 20 feet distant. The sheriff placed a white, 3-inch patch over the condemned man's heart, stepped back and signaled the shooters.

While Wilkerson heard the muted command, "Ready, aim . . . "  he drew up his shoulders as if to brace himself for the fatal moment. ”FIRE!” The guns fired and four heavy slugs tore into the condemned man. Despite the impact against his chest, Wilkerson leaped out of the chair and jumped forward five or six feet. He crashed to the dirt on his side and turned his head towards his chest.

Wilkerson screamed, "Oh, my God! They have missed,".A doctor and several witnesses rushed forward. As Wilkerson writhed on the ground in full view of some 20 spectators, it became apparent that the bullets had not struck his heart.

By straightening in his chair, he had raised the target and the shooters were misdirected. Three slugs touched the white target, but were well above the vital spot, his heart. The fourth bullet struck six inches from the others and shattered Wilkerson's left arm. It was 27 minutes before he could be pronounced dead.

In California and other states, the use of gas in a sealed chamber was previously used. A poisonous  asphyxiant gas was introduced. The most commonly used poisonous gas was hydrogen cyanide. The executioner activates a mechanism which drops  potassium cyanide (or sodium cyanide\ pellets into a bath of sulfuric acid beneath the chair; the ensuing chemical reaction generates lethal hydrogen cyanide gas. It is a slow and horrible way to die as the condemned man slowly suffocates to death.

On September 2, 1983, during the execution of Jimmy Lee Gray in  Mississippi, officials cleared the viewing room after eight minutes since Gray was still alive and gasping for air.

During the April 6, 1992, execution of Donald Harding in Arizona, it took 11 minutes for his death to occur. The prison warden stated that he would quit if required to conduct another gas chamber execution.  Following Harding's execution, Arizona voted that all persons condemned after November 1992 would be executed by lethal injection.

Following the execution of Robert Alton Harris, a federal court declared that any execution by lethal gas under the California protocol is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual and contrary to the United States Constitution. There were often convulsions and excessive drooling. There was also urinating, defecating, and vomiting while the condemned was still alive.  By late 20th century, most states had switched to methods considered to be more humane, such as lethal injection. California's gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison was converted to an execution chamber for lethal injection.

In 1972, I was invited by the California Department of Corrections to visit most of California’s prisons. I visited San Quentin Penitentiary just outside of San Francisco. As I sat in one of the two metal chairs in the gas chamber, the deputy warden told me of one of the executions. He said that one condemned man didn’t die right away and while he was dying, he kept banging the back of his head against the metal pole directly behind the chair he was sitting in with the intention that he could kill himself sooner.

In 1982, I was invited by the Florida Department of Corrections to visit the Stark Penitentiary in the central northern part of Florida. While I was there, I sat on the electric chair and discussed with an official of that penitentiary, the procedures of putting a prisoner to death in that chair.
I will tell you what the prisoner would see when he entered the death chamber.
On his right, is the witness room. It will hold 42 persons. There is a plate glass that begins approximately four feet from the floor. Outside the window is a Venetian blind that is shut until the prisoner is seated in the chair.

To the prisoner’s left and approximate five feet from the entrance is the electric chair. It is a fairly large wooden chair. Behind the chair approximately three feet from the wall is the electric cable that has two electrodes protruding from it.

The source of power doesn’t come from the prison’s electrical system. That is because if it did, as soon as the execution begins, the lights in the prison would go dim. The source can be seen though a large window at the opposite end of the death chamber. There is a small shed ten feet from the building that houses the generator.  It can’t be heard while being in the death chamber.

On the wall behind the chair and four feet from the chair is a phone that has a direct line to the governor.

Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer was led into the death chamber  on January 24th 1989 just as the sun rose over the north Florida plains after a night of him weeping and praying,

Gone was his storied cockiness. His face was greyish as two guards led him towards the electric chair to be executed for the 1978 rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl. He murdered other young women but it was for the rape and murder of the 12-year-old girl that he was to die in Florida’s electric chair.  

While the two guards strapped his chest and arms and legs to the shiny wooden chair, Bundy's eyes searched for familiar faces behind the glass. He nodded to some of the 42 witnesses, including the men who had prosecuted him. His lips moved and he mumbled faintly.

Then his head bowed. The shaved skull glistened where an ointment had been applied. It would enhance the work of the electrode attached to the skull cap.

Supt. Tom Barton asked Bundy if he had any last words. The killer hesitated. His voice quavered when he said to two of the spectators, "Jim and Fred, I'd like you to give my love to my family and friends.” Jim Coleman, one of his lawyers, nodded. So did Fred Lawrence of Gainesville, Florida; the Methodist minister who had spent the night with Bundy in prayer.

It was now time for Bundy to die. A thick strap was pulled across Bundy's mouth and chin. The metal skullcap was bolted in place to steel supports in which a heavy black veil fell in front of the condemned man's face.

An anonymous executioner was standing in a small cubbyhole that is five feet to the right of the chair. In front of him is an open electrical panel that has several dials and switches. He had previously set the times and amount of electricity that is to enter Bundy’s body. There is also a master button so when the order is given by the Superintendent to begin the execution, he simply pushes the main button and then stands by as the mechanism takes over the execution while the executioner looks at the chair and its prisoner to make sure everything is working properly.

Barton gave the go-ahead with a nod of his head. The executioner pushed the main button. Two thousand volts surged through the wires. Bundy's body tensed and his hands tightened into a clench. A tiny puff of smoke lifted from his right leg. Ten seconds later, the voltage dropped to five hundred volts. Then it went back to two thousand volts and finally to another five hundred volts.

A medical doctor shone a small flashlight into one of Bundy’s eyes. The pupil didn’t change in size. It would have if Bundy was still alive. Bundy was dead.  I later saw a picture of the top of Bundy’s skull. It was all red from being burned.

There have been horrible stories of executions by the electric chair. One man didn’t die. He was removed from the chair and returned to a nearby cell. The Superintendent called the governor for instructions. The governor told the Super to put him back into the chair. The second time, the prisoner died. 

Other times, flames shot from the top of the prisoner`s head. One time, the skull cap wasn`t fitted properly and the man suffered terribly. Florida now uses fatal drugs as a means of an execution.   

Lethal injection is the method which involves the practice of injecting three drugs into a person  which is typically the use of a barbiturate, paralytic, and potassium solutions for the express purpose of causing almost immediate death. It first renders the person unconscious, and then stops the prisoner’s breathing and finally his heart, in that order.

Typically, there are three drugs that are used in lethal injections. Sodium thiopental  or  pentobarbital  is used as an anesthetic to induce unconsciousness,  pancuronium bromide pavulon is used to cause muscle paralysis which also paralyzes the diaphragm that causes the lungs to inhale and exhale which when paralyzed causes a respiratory arrest, and finally potassium chloride is used to stop the condemned man`s  heart from continuing to pump blood throughout his body.

There have been times when this method of execution has been botched. A prisoner named Joseph Rudolph Wood III suffered what was one of the longest executions in U.S. history. Executioners in Arizona began pumping the lethal drugs into Wood’s veins at 1:57 p.m. His death was not pronounced until nearly two hours later at 3:49 p.m. According to Michael Kiefer, a reporter with the Arizona Republic  who witnessed the execution, Wood gasped 660 times before he died. A witness from the attorney general’s office said he was merely snoring, but another attending reporter used what has become in descriptions of botched executions, a familiar metaphor, saying Wood looked “like a fish on shore gulping for air."

On January 9th 2014, Oklahoma executed Michael Wilson using the three drugs used in these kinds of executions. He cried out loudly shortly after the executioners began pushing the drugs into his arm, “I feel my whole body burning,” Obviously he wasn`t unconscious when they pumped the potassium chloride into his body.

A week later, on January 16th, Ohio executed Dennis McGuire using a new and untested two-drug combination of midazolam and hydromorphone—the same drug combination that Arizona would use to kill Wood. McGuire’s execution, lasting 25 minutes, was the longest in Ohio’s recent history—and witnesses said he gasped several times throughout. 

In April of that same year, Oklahoma carried out what may have been the worst lethal injection in U.S. history. Executioners pushed an IV catheter straight through a vein in Clayton Lockett’s groin, so that the drugs filled his tissue and not his bloodstream. As Lockett writhed and grimaced, the executioners closed the curtains and tried to call off the execution—but it was too late as he eventually died of a heart attack.

Arkansas  attempted to do something that’s never been done in the U.S before—execute seven death row inmates in a short span of only 11 days. The reason for this haste was that   the scheduled spate of executions comes after Govenor Asa Hutchinson announced last March that one of the state’s execution drugs was set to expire by the end of April. In the modern history of the death penalty, no state has ever attempted to carry out this many executions in this short a timeframe.

The plan to beat that deadline had set off last-minute court proceedings, protests from anti-death penalty groups, legal challenges from pharmaceutical makers, and letters from religious leaders and former corrections officers urging the governor to reconsider. Family members of the victims, meanwhile, were looking for closure after decades of waiting for the executions to move forward. If the executions went ahead, it would represent one of the most active periods for capital punishment in the U.S. since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The governor, a Republican, said he made the decision to plan the executions within days of each other because the state’s supply of the sedative midazolam, one of three drugs used in lethal injections in Arkansas, would expire by the end of April.

If the state had conducted these seven executions, it would have been the first in Arkansas since 2005. The state has executed 27 inmates since 1976, a fraction of the more than 1,400 that have taken place in the U.S. in the last four decades.

I will tell you something about the crimes committed by one of these condemned prisoners.  He was one of the first two inmates who received lethal injections on the same gurney on the night of April 24th about three hours apart.  Arkansas had completed the nation’s first double execution since 2000, just days after the state ended a nearly 12-year hiatus on administering capital punishment.

Jack Jones 52
On the afternoon of June 6th, 1995, seventeen-year-old Darla Phillips dropped her eleven-year-old sister Lacy off at Automated Tax and Accounting Service in Bald Knob, Arkansas where their mother, thirty-four-year old Mary Phillips, worked as a bookkeeper. Mary was planning to take her daughter to a 3:00 p.m. dentist appointment. Darla and her fifteen-year-old brother Jessie were expecting their mother and little sister to return to their home in Bradford around 4:30 p.m. or 5:00 p.m. They never arrived.

A black-haired male entered the business before Lacy and her mother could leave for the dentist's office. According to Lacy's testimony at trial, the man had a teardrop tattoo on his face and more tattoos on his arm. The man had come into the business earlier that day to borrow some books. When he returned, he complained that he had been given the wrong book. He then told Lacy and her mother that he was "sorry," but that he was "going to have to rob them."

He ordered Mary to lie down on her stomach, and then made Lacy lie down on top of her mother. After retrieving the cash out of the register, he took them into a small lunch room.  The man took Lacy into a bathroom off of the lunch room, tied her to a chair, then left. When he returned, Lacy, now crying, asked the man not to hurt her mother, to which he replied, "I'm not going to hurt you." He lied.

He began to choke Lacy until she passed out. After Lacy lost consciousness, Jones struck her at least eight times in the head with the barrel of a BB pistol, causing severe lacerations and multiple skull fractures with bone fragments penetrating into Lacy's brain. Fortunately, she didn’t die.

When Lacy woke up, she saw blood and began to vomit. She went back to sleep and awakened later when police, seeing her bloodied body and thinking she was dead, were taking photographs of her. Police found Mary's body nude from the waist down.

A cord from a nearby Mr. Coffee pot was wrapped around Mary’s neck and wire was tied around her hands, which were positioned behind her back. Bruises on her arms and back indicated that she had struggled with her attacker prior to her death. According to autopsy results, Mary died from strangulation and blunt-force head injuries. Rectal swabs indicated that she had been anally raped before she was killed.

As to the crimes committed in Arkansas, Jack Jones Jr.  43, was convicted in White County Circuit Court of capital murder and rape in the June 1995 slaying of Mary Phillips and attempted Capital murder of her young  daughter. He also pleaded guilty of the murder of another woman in Florida but he wasn’t being executed for that murder but it would have influence on the governor and the Parole Board that can reverse the sentence of death to life in prison.  Phillip. Jones, then 42 was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

In the next article, I will give you more details about the murder and attempted murder of the two victims. You can about read about them in the judgement of the Arkansas Supreme Court where Jones appealed. It will be published in my blog on Wednesday, May 3rd.

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