Inmates With Severe Mental Illness Underscore Broader Death Penalty Problems

In his final article for 2006, columnist Richard Cohen chose to highlight the "madness of the death penalty" and to draw attention to the execution of those with mental illness. Cohen used the case of Gregory Thompson, a severely mentally ill Tennessee death row inmate, to illustrate some of the broader problems with the death penalty.

Thompson is delusional, paranoid, schizophrenic, and depressed. He takes 12 pills every day and receives twice-monthly anti-psychotic injections. Cohen notes that although there is no doubt about his guilt, there is grave doubt "about the constitutionality, not to mention the decency, of executing an insane man. . . . The idea, according to a recent account of his case in the Wall Street Journal, is to make him sane enough to be put to death." Cohen voices concern about a broad range of uncertainties with the death penalty, including the danger of convicting innocent people. He notes that Americans are growing more skeptical of capital punishment and that they may be "beginning to understand that we just don't need the death penalty, that it makes us no safer and demeans us as a people."

LETHAL INJECTIONS: Executions in California Carried Out in a Dark and "Chaotic" Atmosphere--Federal Judge Asks for Further Briefing

A Los Angeles Times article on the recent hearings in federal District Court regarding the California's lethal injection process was entitled "The Chaos Behind California Executions."  Excerpts from the article follow:

The Chaos Behind California Executions

Monday, October 2, 2006

The Chaos Behind California Executions
Trial testimony paints lethal injection methods as haphazard, with little medical oversight.

By Maura Dolan and Henry Weinstein
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

SAN JOSE — "Operational Procedure No. 770," the state's name for execution by lethal injection, is performed in a dark, cramped room by men and women who know little, if anything, about the deadly drugs they inject under extreme stress.


NEW VOICES: The Death Penalty 30 Years after Gregg v. Georgia

Stuart Streichler served as a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Gregg v. Georgia.  He observed many capital cases and now concludes:  "A fundamental idea of American law is that all defendants should receive fair trials all of the time. The persistent failure to come close to that in death penalty cases undermines the integrity of the legal system." Streichler's op-ed appreared recently in the Miami Herald: 

OP-ED: At the 30th Anniversary of Gregg v. Georgia, Death Penalty Remains Arbitrary

Professor Michael Meltsner, who worked as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in its efforts to challenge the death penalty in the 1960s and 70s, recently assessed the U.S.'s application of the death penalty over the past 30 years. He noted that today's death penalty system is "broken" and fails to make the nation a safer society. Writing in the Boston Globe, Meltsner wrote:

NEW VOICES: Former Publisher of the Chicago Tribune Calls for End to Executions

In a recent op-ed, Jack Fuller, former editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, called for an end to capital punishment.  Citing a series of mistakes by eyewitnesses, police and forensic experts, he stated that the criminal justice system is too deeply flawed to entrust with carrying out executions. Pointing to the likely innocence of Carlos DeLuna, a Texas man who was executed in 1989, Fuller concluded that the death penalty should be abolished because "no goverment is good enough to entrust with the absolute power that capital punishment entails." His article was entitled NOT IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE:

Death-penalty opponents advance various arguments for abolition, but the most powerful of them all finds embodiment in the person of Carlos De Luna.

Texas executed De Luna in 1989 for the murder of Wanda Lopez in a gas station knife attack. Something went terribly wrong at the execution by lethal injection. De Luna did not slip quickly into unconsciousness as he was supposed to. Instead, he reared up on the gurney against the restraints and seemed to try to say something.

Perhaps it was to cry out in pain as the killing medications began to course into his veins before the anesthetic took hold. The possibility that lethal injection subjects its recipients to excruciating physical agony has become the focus of a great deal of attention lately among death-penalty opponents.

Anesthesiologists Advised to Avoid Lethal Injections

Dr. Orin Guidry, president of the 40,000-member American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), issued a public statement strongly urging members to "steer clear" of any participation in executions by lethal injection. In a four-page "Message from the President," Guidry noted that anesthesiologists have been "reluctantly thrust into the middle" of the legal controversy over lethal injections. In recent months, the procedures being used around the United States have been challenged because they may result in unnecessary and excruciating pain in violation of the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

"For survivors' sake, abolish the death penalty" by Richard Pompelio

From the Star Ledger.

For survivors' sake, abolish the death penalty
Monday, June 12, 2006

When capital punishment was reinstated in New Jersey more than a quarter-century ago, it was applauded as a declaration by our elected officials that they were going to be tough on crime. It has evolved, however, into an ideological war between the courts and the Legislature. It is a war with many casualties, including crime victims who are constantly caught in its crossfire. It is time to end this war. The death penalty process in the courts of New Jersey revictimizes crime victims by keeping them in the criminal justice system for as many as 20 years, with the re sult being the same: a reversal of the trial jury's death penalty verdict. This judicial process is an insult to survivors of murder and a disservice to the taxpayers who fund this travesty. It is time to bring some sanity to a law that by virtue of its implementation by those in power has no sanity.