Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Sick and surreal

We've gradually come to understand that too many people condemned to death for heinous crimes in this country turned out to be innocent. (One hundred sixty one since 1973 at this writing.) We know that, because the justice system itself is overwhelmingly structured and staffed by white officials, convicted blacks are more likely to get the death penalty than whites; bias remains built in, despite earnest efforts in some areas to correct it. (Ninety-eight percent of District Attorneys in counties that use the death sentence are white.) Increasing numbers of small jurisdictions have decided that seeking death verdicts is too expensive and too prolonged to advance the cause of justice. Because execution is irrevocable, appeals are complex and lengthy. The condemned linger in prison on death row for decades. (California currently holds 746 convicts under sentence of death.)

And so, inevitably, states that still execute (19 states no longer do) find themselves struggling with killing prisoners whose old age has already rendered them infirm or demented. Adam Liptak reports:

The nation’s death rows are starting to look like geriatric wards.

The article goes on to describe how executioners in Ohio and Alabama were unable to find suitable veins into which to inject their fatal poisons in a couple of old men.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of 67 year-old Vernon Madison, who, thirty years after he was convicted,

has suffered at least two severe strokes, and ... is blind and incontinent. His speech is slurred, and what he says does not always make sense.

He has asked that his mother be told of his strokes, but his mother is dead. He soils himself, saying “no one will let me out to use the bathroom,” though there is a toilet in his cell. He says he plans to move to Florida. He can recite the alphabet, but only to the letter G.

Mr. Madison also insists that he “never went around killing folks.”

Our sick and surreal attachment to killing those who have killed means that next fall our highest court has to decide whether we can execute someone who has lost his marbles to old age.

Who's crazy anyway?

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