NEW VOICES: Veterans and the Death Penalty

Two former military servicemen raised concerns about the use of the death penalty for war veterans who have endured traumatic experiences while serving in the United States military. Karl Keys, a former Marine, and Bill Pelke, a former sergeant in the First Air Cavalry, cited the examples of James Floyd Davis and Manny Babbitt, veterans who received Purple Hearts for their service in the Vietnam War but were sentenced to death nevertheless. Davis and Babbitt were both suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when they committed the crimes that resulted in their death sentences. Babbitt was executed in 1999 in California shortly after he received his Purple Heart.  Davis currently resides on North Carolina's death row.  Keys and Pelke wrote, "Soldiers are coming home traumatized by the carnage they've seen. As veterans, we believe those who commit crimes due to severe mental problems should be treated, not killed." They go on to say, "Capital punishment's costs to states drain our tax dollars away from smarter and more effective approaches to law enforcement and crime prevention and from additional quality, affordable mental health services."  Read the entire article below.

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Vietnam Vet on Death Row Receives His Medals and Waits for Execution

A recent article in the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina captures the poignant story of one man's life on death row.  James Floyd Davis is a Vietnam veteran who lashed out with a burst of violence fourteen years ago, killing three people including his boss who had fired him a few days before.  He suffers from mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder.  Through the intervention of a therapist who also served in Vietnam, it was learned that Davis was entitled to a Purple Heart and other medals earned during his service.  The army agreed to award him the medals and the prison eventually agreed to let him receive them.  The reporter, Chick Jacobs, sums up the story this way: "This is a story of how one veteran, wounded in body and spirit, reached into the demon-filled darkness of a fellow veteran who lost his way long ago. It's the unlikely tale of how a medal earned in one horror helped bring a touch of humanity to another."  The entire article can be read below:

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STUDIES: "Double Tragedies": Mental Illness and the Death Penalty

A new report, “Double Tragedies,” addresses the question of whether people with severe mental illness should face the death penalty.  The report was authored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR) and called for treatment and prevention instead of execution for such offenders.  The report, based on extensive interviews with 21 family members in 10 different states, calls the death penalty “inappropriate and unwarranted” for people with severe mental disorders.  Families of murder victims joined with families of persons with mental illness to speak out against the death penalty at NAMI’s annual convention on July 6 in San Francisco. “Family opposition to the death penalty is grounded in personal tragedy,” said MVFHR executive director Renny Cushing. “In the public debate about the death penalty and how to respond in the aftermath of violent crime, these are the voices that need to be heard.” “Most people with mental illness are not violent,” added NAMI executive director Mike Fitzpatrick. “When violent tragedies occur they are exceptional—because something has gone terribly wrong, usually in the mental health care system. Tragedies are compounded and all our families suffer.”

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Texas Court Rejects Appeal Calling Inmate "Crazy" but "Sane"

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently ruled that a death row inmate who removed his only remaining eye and ate it “is clearly ‘crazy,’ but he is also ‘sane’ under Texas law,” rejecting his appeal.  Death row inmate Andre Thomas had stabbed some of his family members and ripped their hearts out. He then walked into the Sherman Police Department, admitted to the killings, and said God told him to commit them. Shortly after his arrest, he removed his right eye in 2004.  In December 2008, a death row officer found Thomas with a bloody face and it was determined that he had removed his left eye and eaten it.  Thomas had been to hospitals twice prior to his arrest for mental health issues, but had not received treatment. Judge Cathy Cochran, writing for the court, said, "This is an extraordinarily tragic case,'' because the deaths could have been avoided if Thomas had been treated.

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