Saturday, September 10, 2016

He handed his brother to his killers

The Last Day of Freedom is an animated film that was nominated for Best Short Documentary in the 2016 Academy Awards. In his own words, Bill Babbitt tells the story of his little brother Manny, one of the only 13 men executed since California resumed killing offenders in 1976. Seven hundred and forty-six condemned men currently await execution on death row, although California has not actually killed any prisoner since 2006. We will be voting on the death penalty again in November. Prop. 62 would end the practice; Prop. 66 would attempt to streamline the machinery of legal death.
The two brothers grew up together, went clamming together, played together. But Manny was injured in an accident, bounced out of school, and ended up in the Marines in Vietnam. He was shot up.

Manny came home [from Khe Sanh]... they were able to patch up his physical wound, but they never got around to patching up that wound in his head ... he came home from another tour of duty. ... he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia ... so Manny traded his hooch in Vietnam for a cardboard box on the street of Providence, Rhode Island.

So brother Bill took his lost brother into his Sacramento home. But all was not well.

I knew there was something wrong, but I couldn't put my hand on it ... I let Manny get away from me .. . my little brother was out there fighting these battles [in his head]

When Bill found a lighter with the initials of a recent, highly publicized murder victim among Manny's stuff, he knew his brother had done something awful. He reported what he had found to the cops. He explained that his brother was a mentally-damaged veteran. He even led the cops to pick up Manny.

I come here this morning because somebody died. I want that to be the end of death. Don't shoot my brother ...

The police didn't shoot Manny. Bill seems to believe that the cops really expected Manny would end up in a mental institution. But a local prosecutor wanted a notch in her belt. The jury was all white. Manny's lawyer was drunk during the penalty phase, and Manny got a death sentence.

This being modern California, appeals and delays lasted nearly twenty years, but Manny was executed in 1999. While on death row, he was awarded a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam. He was buried with full military honors.

The little film is a tour de force of animated story telling and crisp narrative. only 30 minutes long, it is a wrenching window on a terrible practice.

It is easy to believe that, however dreadful his crimes, Manny would never have faced execution if he'd been white, if anyone cared that our soldiers are driven mad, or if he'd had competent lawyering. But he didn't enjoy those advantages. His execution is testimony to the racist and arbitrary character of California's enormously expensive and dysfunctional death system. We can stop this by passing Prop. 62 in November.

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