Search Results for: death penalty

The Death Penalty on Display

Longreads Pick

At The Texas Observer, Robin Ross writes on the rise of dark tourism — the macabre fascination with the Huntsville’s Texas Prison Museum — site of America’s first lethal injection.

Published: Apr 22, 2016
Length: 16 minutes (4,000 words)

The Death Penalty on Display

Fanny Carrier/AFP/Getty Images

At The Texas Observer, Robin Ross writes on the rise of dark tourism — the macabre fascination with Huntsville’s Texas Prison Museum — site of America’s first lethal injection.

The three syringes lie in a row, lined up neatly on a somber black background. Displayed with a saline drip bag and looping IV catheter, the vials are oversized, as though designed for the chubby hands of a child playing a macabre game of doctor. Below each is a typed card explaining its purpose in the December 1982 death of Charlie Brooks, Jr., the first person in the United States executed by lethal injection.

To their right is a pair of hair clippers used for shaving inmates’ heads before electrocution as well as a sponge that was soaked in salt water to conduct electricity. The last thing to touch dozens of men’s shaven skulls, the sponge sits on a plastic riser, its face pale and pockmarked like the surface of a distant moon. A second sponge is in a baggie on a shelf a few steps away in the Texas Prison Museum’s vault. The objects sit there matter of factly, their subtle presentation belying the roles they’ve played in execution, Texas history and making Huntsville — with its five prisons and the headquarters for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) — shorthand for the death penalty all over the world.

Last year’s visitors came from all over the world. They arrived alone, with their kids on vacation, on school field trips, on charter buses loaded with senior citizens, with their motorcycle clubs, and on the way to visit spouses on death row. Some showed their prison ID cards, mentioned where they’d been incarcerated and cracked jokes about former residents getting discounted admission.

People like to play outlaw, walking into the replica of a cell, and for a dollar per person, visitors can borrow striped shirts and snap selfies behind bars.

Read the story

Another Supreme Court Death Penalty Ruling, Issued 43 Years Ago Today

Executions in the United States from 1930 to 2009. Graph via Wikimedia Commons

In a headline-making decision issued earlier today, the Supreme Court ruled against three Oklahoma death row inmates in Glossip v. Gross, upholding the use of a sedative called midazolam for lethal injections. Interestingly, Glossip v. Gross isn’t the first time the court has issued a major death penalty decision on June 29.

43 years ago today, the Supreme Court issued another 5-to-4 death penalty opinion, albeit one with very different results: 1972’s Furman v. Georgia ruling found a number of death penalty statutes to be unconstitutional, effectively halting executions in America for four years. Some context on the landmark case, from a 2013 New York Times article by David Oshinsky:

Furman v. Georgia is among the oddest Supreme Court cases in American history. Decided in 1972, it struck down every death penalty statute in the nation as then practiced without outlawing the death penalty itself. The ruling, based on the constitutional protection against “cruel and unusual punishment,” stunned even the closest court watchers. The death penalty seemed impregnable. It was part of the bedrock of America’s legal system, steeped in the intent of the founders, the will of most state legislatures and the forceful — if occasional — rulings of the courts.

The 5-4 vote in Furman reflected a striking political split: all five members of the majority were holdovers from the Warren Court, known for its liberal decisions, while all four dissenters were recent appointees of Richard Nixon, who had won the White House with a carefully orchestrated law-and-order campaign. And notably, each justice wrote his own opinion in Furman, meaning there was no common thread to the case, no controlling rationale. The decision ran to several hundred pages, the longest handed down by the court at the time.

Read the story

More on the death penalty from the Longreads Archive

The Death Penalty Has a Face: A DA’s Personal Story

Longreads Pick

A former Texas district attorney considers the death penalty, examining his own experience with seeking it in court, and why he now believes “the time for the death penalty has passed”:

“The decision to seek death is the district attorney’s call. No one controls his or her decision. But there also is no question, at least in my mind, that there are factors that shouldn’t sway the decision yet do. As one simple example, I give you peer pressure. A death penalty case is akin to the Super Bowl or World Series for prosecutors. The stakes can never be higher than this. No district attorney wants to be known as the weakling who was afraid to take on the biggest case of his or her career. Some will say I’m oversimplifying it. But I’ve been there. I have faced the pain and anger of victim’s families as they talk of their expectations. In all those cases, I wondered how my decision would be judged. By those families, by the public who elected me, by my fellow district attorneys, and most of all, by the person I see in the mirror.”

Author: Tim Cole
Source: Texas Monthly
Published: Mar 18, 2013
Length: 14 minutes (3,714 words)

The Death Penalty: An Eye for an Eye

Longreads Pick

The chair is bolted to the floor near the back of a 12-ft. by 18-ft. room. You sit on a seat of cracked rubber secured by rows of copper tacks. Your ankles are strapped into half-moon-shaped foot cuffs lined with canvas. A 2-in.-wide greasy leather belt with 28 buckle holes and worn grooves where it has been pulled very tight many times is secured around your waist just above the hips. A cool metal cone encircles your head. You are now only moments away from death.

Source: Time
Published: Jan 24, 1983
Length: 24 minutes (6,219 words)

You’re On Death Row, You’ve Asked to Die, But the State Won’t Kill You

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

At the Marshall Project, Maurice Chammah reports on convicted murderer Scott Dozier who sits on death row in Nevada. Called a “volunteer” for abandoning his appeals, in October, 2016, Dozier hand-wrote a letter to a judge asking to be put to death. His actions have sparked controversy in the justice system, creating “a dilemma for states that want the harshness of death sentences without the messiness of carrying them out.” Meanwhile, as the wheels of justice spin in circles, Scott Dozier still waits to die.

On the day he had been scheduled to die, Scott Dozier arrived at the visiting room inside Ely State Prison looking edgy and exhausted. He’d been thwarted. For more than a year, he had worked to ensure his own execution, waiving his legal appeals and asking a Las Vegas judge to set a date. But with just days to go, the judge had issued a stay amid questions about the drugs Nevada planned to inject into him.

Of the more than 1,400 men and women who have been executed in the U.S. in the last four decades, roughly one in 10 have abandoned their appeals. In the legal community, they’re known as “volunteers.” But few volunteers have set off as much legal and political upheaval as Dozier. Like many death penalty states, Nevada hasn’t actually executed anyone in years. Dozier’s request spurred a frenzy of preparations involving state and federal lawyers, judges, political leaders and prison officials, who had to rev up an execution apparatus that had been dormant for a decade.

That a man deemed unfit to live in society — indeed, to live at all — could wield such influence is a testament to our country’s conflicted views on the death penalty. We have a president who has extolled capital punishment in tweets and full-page newspaper ads, while exonerations have fueled unease about the system’s flaws. Death sentences have plummeted, and as appeals drag on for years, many condemned prisoners die of old age before they can be executed. It can seem as though we like the idea of the ultimate punishment just so long as we don’t have to kill anyone. And then comes Scott Dozier, calling our bluff.

Read the story

The Bureaucracy of Death: A Reading List

Longreads Pick

Although more and more countries are abolishing capital punishment, over half the world’s population lives in four of the countries that continue to use it: India, Indonesia, China — and the United States. U.S. public opinion continues to move against the death penalty, but while some states have overturned capital punishment (or never had it), most still sentence people to die. These four pieces examine the range of flaws in a system whose irreversible outcome can ill afford them.

Source: Longreads
Published: Nov 19, 2014

The Bureaucracy of Death: A Reading List

Kemmler_exécuté_par_l'électricité

Although more and more countries are abolishing capital punishment, over half the world’s population lives in four of the countries that continue to use it: India, Indonesia, China — and the United States. U.S. public opinion continues to move against the death penalty, but while some states have overturned capital punishment (or never had it), most still sentence people to die. These four pieces examine the range of flaws in a system whose irreversible outcome can ill afford them.

Read more…

The Wrong Carlos: How Texas Sent an Innocent Man to His Death

Longreads Pick

Inside the groundbreaking investigation by Columbia professor James Liebman, on the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed in 1989 for a crime he didn’t commit:

“At the trial, DeLuna’s defence team told the jury that Carlos Hernandez, not DeLuna, was the murderer. But the prosecutors ridiculed that suggestion. They told the jury that police had looked for a ‘Carlos Hernandez’ after his name had been passed to them by DeLuna’s lawyers, without success. They had concluded that Hernandez was a fabrication, a ‘phantom’ who simply did not exist. The chief prosecutor said in summing up that Hernandez was a ‘figment of DeLuna’s imagination.’

“Four years after DeLuna was executed, Liebman decided to look into the DeLuna case as part of a project he was undertaking into the fallibility of the death penalty. He asked a private investigator to spend one day – just one day – looking for signs of the elusive Carlos Hernandez.”

Source: The Guardian
Published: May 14, 2012
Length: 7 minutes (1,832 words)

On the Death Sentence

On the Death Sentence