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Executions

Each in its own way has a distinct foul smell.

This past Wednesday the State of Texas executed Billy Joe Wardlow. He was 18 years old when he killed a man during a robbery attempt. It took the State 25 years to execute the man—despite a host of state legislators, neuroscientists and two members of his jury urging that he be spared that fate.

U.S. Attorney Bill Barr has been waging a year-long legal effort to have five federal inmates executed—one of whom was scheduled to die Monday but whose execution was postponed by a federal judge after the victim’s family, who do not support the execution, said their personal safety would be put at risk traveling through the Covid virus to attend execution process.

The three remaining federal inmates scheduled to die over the next six weeks probably will not be as fortunate as the federal inmate who just had his execution postponed. Pandemic be damn, the show must go on.

What does it say about the nation’s criminal justice system when state and federal governments find a need to execute people in perhaps the worst pandemic in our history?

It doesn’t say a lot – and that’s why choking, shooting, kicking, and beating innocent or minor offenders to death by the police in full view of the world is accepted by at least 50 million people in this country as “law and order;” and why the scolding, choking, stomping, beating, and actual murder of mentally challenged or otherwise unruly prison inmates is considered by even more people to be “effective disciplinary control” measures.

Though sanitized, lethal injection, the very method by which most condemned inmates are put to death in this country, is the cruelest, most inhumane, and most tortuous method ever devised to carry out state-sanctioned executions in this country.

Botched electrocutions (some of which set the condemned on fire), bungled hangings (some of which left the condemned dangling and kicking for as long as 27 minutes), and cyanide gas chambers (some of which left the condemned slamming their heads back against the metal pole of the death chair) pale in comparison to the methodical and indifferent protocol involved in a lethal injection—the condemned inmate strapped to a gurney as much as an hour before the execution process gets underway, IVs inserted in whatever veins are available, and a mixture of drugs sent coursing through those veins that literally paralyze and slowly suffocates the life out of the condemned inmate.

More than 132,000 people have died as a result of governmental incompetence, mismanagement, lies, and the politicization of the coronavirus pandemic—and governments at both the state and federal level are now effectively forcing the victim families to expose themselves to an execution process that could possibly kill them.

And for what?

Justice? Revenge? Or just plain human population reduction?

That is where we are, folks.

Some saying old folks should just step up to the plate, accept the virus, and get on down the road to death because they are on their last leg of life’s journey anyway. Let the young folks live and party in an open society.

May as well throw a few executions in the social mix just to show how hard, mean and callous we have become as a society.

I guess the government will be lighting the fires for the “witches” next.

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Executions

They are a dirty business. They extinguish the life of an offender and dehumanize the people who carry them out per orders of the state.

Missouri just executed its 89th person since death penalty was actually resumed with the January 1977 firing squad execution of Gary Gilmore by the state of Utah following a 10-year notional moratorium on the ultimate punishment.

The state of Missouri tried Walter Barton five times before it managed to secure the sixth conviction that allowed the state on May 19 to kill him with a lethal dose of the powerful sedative pentobarbital. Even that sixth conviction could only pass constitutional muster with a narrow 4-3 vote by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Barton maintained from the moment of his arrest until the last moment of his life that he did not murder 81-year-old Gladys Kuehler at the Riverview Trailer Park in Ozark, Missouri on October 9, 1991.  

That’s all this nation needed in the middle worst pandemic in modern history—the execution of an innocent man by a state that had seen 671 deaths from the Covid virus at the time of Barton’s execution.

Because the support for innocence was so great in the Barton case (as evidenced by his five trials, two of which resulted in hung juries, and the narrow 4-3 vote by the state’s supreme court upholding the sixth conviction), Missouri officials should have followed Texas’ lead by putting a hold on executions during the pandemic crisis.

But official decency was not in the cards for Walter Barton. He was dealing with state officials who apparently believe that executing a potentially innocent man is one of the state’s “essential services.”

I understand there is probably little social empathy for the callousness of Walter Barton’s execution at a time when the number of Covid deaths in this nation will pass 100,000 before this holiday weekend passes.

But, hopefully, in the midst of so much death and the soul-crippling grief it produces, some will understand not only the callousness of Walter Barton’s execution but the pale beyond which it places all our humanity.

God forgive us all if executing people in the middle of a pandemic is considered an “essential service.”

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Keith Tharpe

He died quietly and almost unnoticed on Georgia death row on January 24, 2020.

Roughly one in four people sentenced to death will die of natural causes before they can be executed.

News accounts reported that Tharpe died from “complications of cancer.” His death gained national media notice only because his case raised serious questions about his death sentence being the byproduct of institutionalized racism.

Tharpe was convicted for the September 1990 murder of his sister-in-law and sentenced to death on January 10, 1991.

Like most death penalty cases, Tharpe’s case began a convoluted legal odyssey in the state and federal court systems to have his conviction and sentence reviewed for possible constitutional reversible errors.

These reviews can lead to men spending anywhere from 5 to 41 years on death row, like Raymond Riles who has spent 41 years on Texas’s death row. He will also die, more likely than not, just as Tharpe did in Georgia.

Seven years after Tharpe was sentenced to death, the Georgia Resource Center conducted interviews with his jurors as it does in all capital cases. These interviews discovered one juror, Barney Gattie, who “harbored very atrocious, racist views about black people”

In the wake of these revelations Gattie signed an affidavit in which he said, “In my experience I have observed that there are two types of black people: 1. Black folkts and 2. ‘N….ers.” He would later say that since he did not believe Tharpe fell into the “good black folks” category, he should be executed in the electric chair for the crime he committed.

The lower state and federal courts did not see much harm caused by Gattie’s racist views, and, therefore, repeatedly upheld his conviction and sentence.

Finally, in 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed an execution date set for Tharpe, saying he has presented a “strong factual basis” that he did not receive a fair and impartial jury verdict. The high court sent his case back to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals for additional review.

Unimpressed, the 11th Circuit refused to hear the case, saying he had delayed too long in presenting the racial juror bias claim.

Last May the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene, paving the way for Tharpe’s execution. Justice Sotomayor concurred with the court’s decision but issued a lame, sophomoric statement that she was “profoundly troubled” by the “truly striking evidence of juror bias” in the case, but she felt the execution should be carried out.

Put simply, it may be a tad troubling to execute a man whose death sentence was infected with juror bias, but it’s constitutionally okay to kill him anyway.

But Keith Tharpe escaped the State of Georgia’s final indignity. He died before the State could kill him. Perhaps prison officials knew he was dying and just let nature run its course.

It has been said that Keith Tharpe was a Christian—a “God-fearing” man, as Christians are commonly referred to. I do not accept that. A Christian is a “God-loving” person because Jesus Christ walked this earth, if for no other reason, than to teach love, not fear; that God’s children should love, not fear, Him.

Whatever passageway, if any, that opens on the other side of death, it should not be feared, rather embraced as a new journey in a different life form.

The people who knew, and loved Keith Tharpe, can sleep well knowing he is now beyond the suffering caged life inflicts.

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The Death Penalty

This past June the state of Georgia executed Marion “Murdock” Wilson, Jr. He became the 1500th person put to death in the United States since Gary Gilmore’s January 17, 1977 execution—an execution he requested—that effectively reinstated the death penalty following a ten-year moratorium on executions throughout the nation.

America has always had a special, although somewhat peculiar, affection for the death penalty.

Between the nation’s Declaration of Independence in 1776 and over the next 23 years through 1799, some 618 persons were executed in this country. The death penalty affection intensified in the 1800s as the nation executed 5,381 persons, a significant proportional increase from the previous two-plus decades. By the 1900s America was in a full-blown love affair with the death penalty, marching 7,980 persons into death houses between 1900 and 1967.

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