Tags: 9/11, capital punishment, chong mah, death penalty, forgiveness, hate crime, johnnie baston, leroy white, liliana segura, mark stroman, Rais Bhuiyan, roger hollander, ruby white, state murder, texas, texas death, texas execution, texas justice, timothy adams
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families, but ignores the wishes of those who prefer forgiveness.
A death penalty case in Texas received a lot of media attention in the past several
weeks, as state prison authorities prepared to execute Mark Stroman, a man who
shot and killed two people in a vengeful rampage after September
11th. His victims, who he targeted because he thought they were Arab,
were a Pakistani man named Waqar Hasan and an Indian man named Vasudev Patel. A
third man survived. His name is Rais Bhuiyan. He is Muslim, from Bangladesh. He
has told his story to news outlets across the country; how he was approached at
the gas station where he worked, how Stroman, a tattooed white man, demanded,
“where are you from?” as he brandished a gun. How he had not yet answered when
he felt “the sensation of a million bees stinging my face, and then heard an
explosion” as Stroman shot him. Bhuiyan survived, somehow, and was
left blinded in one eye.
To the surprise of many, Bhuiyan devoted himself in the past several months
to fighting for Stroman’s life, pleading with Texas not to kill the man who
brutally shot him and left him for dead. After discussing it with Hasan’s and
Patel’s families, he started a petition on Stroman’s behalf asking the Texas
Board of Pardons and Parole to spare his life, and posting it on a
website in which he preached forgiveness: “In order to live in a better and
peaceful world, we need to break the cycle of hate and violence,” he wrote. “…I
forgave Mark Stroman many years ago. I believe he was ignorant and not capable
of distinguishing between right and wrong. Otherwise he wouldn’t have done what
he did.” Despite Bhuiyan’s efforts, Stroman was executed by lethal injection on July 20th.
Bhuiyan’s story is extraordinary in many ways, heavy with the symbolic weight
of 9/11. His willingness to forgive and even fight for the life of a man who
tried to murder him has moved many people, with good reason. But it’s worth
remembering that victims of violent crime oppose the death penalty more often
than we may realize, and, like Bhuiyan so far, they are often disregarded. As
much as prosecutors and politicians love to insist that the toughest penalties
are meted out on behalf of victims and their grieving family members, the
reality is that deference to the mantle of “victim” often relies on a
full-throated embrace of the harshest sentence for the people whose job it is
for them to punish. Anything less is liable to be ignored.
Take another Texas case from a few months back. An Army veteran named Timothy
Adams was put to death in the killing of his 19-month-old son during a standoff
with police. Adams was suicidal at the time; he immediately turned himself in
and expressed remorse for his crime. As Texas prepared to put him to death, his
family members begged for clemency. “Our family lost one child,” his father said. “We don’t deserve to lose another. After my grandson’s
death, we lived through pain worse than anyone could imagine. Nothing good will
come from executing my son Tim and causing us more anguish.” Adams was executed by lethal injection on February 23rd.
That same month, in Ohio, a man named Johnnie Baston faced execution for the
killing of a South Korean store clerk in Toledo. The man’s family members fought
for clemency, but were ignored by the state parole board, which voted
unanimously to put him to death. “While many members of Mr. Mah’s family favor a
commutation to life without parole, Mr. Baston’s lack of accepting
responsibility, criminal history, and the severity of the execution-style
killing of Mr. Chong Mah outweigh their personal opinions regarding the death
penalty and their wishes as to the sentence imposed in this case,” the parole
“The death of Johnnie Baston isn’t going to do anything that’s going to bring
back our father, give us any closure or gratification,” his son, Peter Mah
argued to no avail. Baston was executed on March 10th.
The same thing happened in Alabama in January. Leroy White was executed over the wishes of his victim’s family members,
who, as in the case of Timothy Adams, included family members of his own. White
was sentenced to death for the killing of his wife, Ruby, with whom he had a
young daughter, Latonya. In a signed affidavit, she described how despite years
of anger at her father for taking her mother away, she was now very close to him
and “have grown to love him just as much as any child would love their parent…I
know that he did a terrible thing by taking my mother’s life, but I have
forgiven him completely.”
I am deeply opposed to my father’s
execution. He is the only thing that I have left that’s a part of me. Taking
away my only remaining biological parent will hurt me more than I can say.
Executing my father will do nothing to bring my mother back. I would do anything
in my power to stop this execution from taking place.
Leroy White was executed on January 13th.
Some would argue that cases like White’s and Adams’s are different, that
of course family members of murderers will argue to spare the life of a
relative, even if they have taken one of their own. To do so sets up a strange
hierarchy of victimization—who are the “good” victims?—but one that is all too
real. The family members of death row prisoners are rarely included under the
banner of “victim’s family,” but when the state has killed your loved one, what
are you then?
As we were so aggressively reminded after the death of Osama bin Laden, the
killing of killers is celebrated as a way to bring “closure” to people who have
suffered terrible losses at their hands. There are many reasons to question this notion, but whether this is ever
true can only depend on individual experiences. What is clear is that, when
those in a position to carry out the death penalty stand upon the moral pedestal
bestowed to them as a defender of victims’ rights, such “rights” have limits.
As Jeff Gamso, a criminal defense attorney in Ohio who has worked on capital
cases, wrote a few days before Stroman’s
execution: “Texas, of course, like Ohio, like other states, like the feds, is
deeply committed to ensuring the rights of crime victims. Their voices will be
heard. Their needs will be met. They will be offered support and comfort and
help. As long as they seek vengeance. The rights of victims don’t extend to
seeking mercy. At least, not so far.”
editor with a focus on social justice, prisons & harsh sentencing
My Account March 1, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice.
Tags: cruel and unusual, john kelso, judicial conduct, lethal injection, michael richard, rick perry, roger hollander, sharon keller, texas, texas court criminal appeals, texas execution, texas justice
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She was waitin’ on the repair guy
BY JOHN KELSO COX NEWSPAPERS
http://lookinferlearnin.wordpress.com, March 1, 2009
One thing you can say about Sharon Keller, presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: She sure understands the importance of quitting time.
Keller is facing ethics charges that could cost her her job. They were filed last week by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for closing the office right on schedule when the attorneys for death row inmate Michael Richard were trying to file a stay of execution for Richard. He was scheduled to be executed that evening.
And even though that morning the U.S. Supreme Court had announced it would look into whether lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment, Keller pointed out that the clerk’s office didn’t stay open past 5 p.m.
Richard was executed at 8:20.
Hey, maybe American Idol was on that night.
Anyway, on the morning in question, September 25th, 2007, the thinking was that courts across the country would wait until the Supreme Court decided on the lethal injection question before proceeding with more executions.
Keller, however, apparently had a pretty tight schedule. So that afternoon she left work early to meet a repairman at her house.
That might seem a bit callous under the circumstances, but we all know how hard it is to get some of these Mister Fixit types to come back later. Meanwhile, Richard’s lawyers, who wanted to file that stay, were having computer problems. So, according to the ethics charges against Keller, around 4:45—15 minutes before quittin’ time at the appeals court—Richard’s lawyers asked the court clerk’s office to stay open a few minutes late to accept the request.
Ed Marty, the appeals court’s general counsel, got on the phone to relay the request to Keller. Marty says he told Keller that Richard’s lawyers “wanted the court to stay open late.” Keller says Marty asked only about keeping the clerk’s office open past 5 p.m. And that she said, “No.” The clerks, you see, went home on schedule every day at quittin’ time.
No sense inconveniencing the help just ’cause some inmate’s about to get offed, right?
A friend wondered why Richard’s lawyers didn’t call Governor Rick Perry for help. Hey, if they had, instead of being executed at 8:20, Richard would have been executed at 6:01.
During all this, I wonder what kind of work Keller was having done at her house. I also wonder whether she called her doctor to get something to help her sleep.
• –––––—John Kelso writes for the Austin American-Statesman.
Texas Meets a Death Penalty It Dislikes February 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice.
Tags: bush death penalty, christopher brauchli, Criminal Justice, death penalty, judge sharon keller, judicial conduct, lethal injections, roger hollander, sleeping counsel defense, texas death penalty, texas justice
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— Sophocles, AntigoneIt’s hard to believe it’s Texas. There is no state in the United States that has proved itself a better friend to the death penalty. It has executed 431 people since the death penalty regained respectability in American culture in 1976, 137 of them while George Bush was its governor. (Mr. Bush said that all those executed while he was governor were guilty which distinguishes Texas from other states were occasional mistakes have occurred.)
There have been countless examples of death penalty justice in Texas. Among the favorites is the notion subscribed to by some Texas courts, that the mere fact that a defendant in a death penalty case is represented by a lawyer who occasionally naps during the proceedings does not affect the defendant’s right to be represented by counsel. One such defendant was George McFarland who, while being tried for a robbery-killing, was represented by a lawyer described by court room witnesses as being in a “deep sleep” for much of the trial. The lawyer, John Benn, explained that that he was 72 years old and “I customarily take a short nap in the afternoon.” The trial judge observed that the requirement that a defendant be furnished counsel did not mean the lawyer had to be awake during the proceedings. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with that result even suggesting that the fact that the co-counsel in the case did not persist in trying to awaken the sleeping lead counsel was “reasonable trial strategy.” Judge Charles Baird, a member of that court at the time described his colleagues’ conclusion that this was “reasonable trial strategy” as ridiculous.
Calvin Burdine was another victim of the “sleeping counsel” defense. In his appeal, based on ineffective assistance of somnambulant counsel, not only the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals thought nothing wrong with that kind of representation but Edith Jones, writing for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said: “We cannot determine whether [defense counsel] slept during a critical stage of Burdine’s trial.”The foregoing serves to make all the more significant a recent turn of events in Texas that suggests even in that state, some kinds of conduct are unacceptable. The conduct in question pertains to the chief judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, Sharon Keller. The conduct occurred in connection with the execution of Michael Richard on September 25, 2007. Mr. Richard’s timely execution was an affirmation of Judge Keller’s belief that court house hours were more important than human life.
Michael Richard’s execution by lethal injection was scheduled to take place on September 25, 2007. On the morning of that day the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case from Kentucky that involved the question of whether the cocktail that was used in lethal injections constituted cruel and inhuman punishment because of the pain inflicted by one of the ingredients in the cocktail. (The particular drug was one whose use in euthanizing animals had been banned by the Kentucky legislature because of the pain it inflicted on animals. The Supreme Court of the United States held in 2008 that there was nothing wrong with the cocktail and it continues to be used in Kentucky and other states when dealing death to humans. It remains banned in Kentucky for use in euthanizing animals.)
When Mr. Richard’s lawyers learned of the Supreme Court’s willingness to consider this question they decided to seek a postponement of his execution in hopes of riding on the coattails of the Kentucky case. Because of computer failure, however, they were unable to get the necessary papers filed with the Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas before 5 PM, the official court closing time. Judge Keller was notified that the papers would be ready to be filed shortly after 5 PM but Judge Keller permitted the court to close promptly at 5 PM. Mr. Richard’s life closed at 8:23 PM. Here’s the surprise.
On February 20, 2009 it was announced that the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct has started an investigation into Judge Keller’s refusal to keep the court open for an extra few minutes when she knew a death row appeal was imminent. The investigation is unusual in that normally such investigations involve alleged criminal offenses by the judge being investigated or other egregious conduct. It is unusual to have an investigation because a judge refused to keep the court house open a few extra minutes to permit an appeal to be filed. In its inquiry the commission found that Judge Keller knew it had “been common in the past to receive late pleadings on execution days after the clerk’s office closed” and that the designated judge should “remain available after hours to receive last-minute communications regarding the scheduled execution.”
A trial will be conducted at the conclusion of which Judge Keller may avoid punishment, be censured or be removed from office. No matter the outcome, it’s nice that Texas noticed.