[eDebate] August 14: a lovely day for executions
Thu Aug 29 21:27:05 CDT 2002
Three Executions, One Thought
David Elliot, AlterNet
August 22, 2002
Wednesday Aug. 14 was a very strange day, even by death penalty standards.
Three executions were scheduled in three states. This, in and of itself, is
not highly unusual. Since reinstatement in 1976, three inmates have been
executed on the same day approximately nine times. (One statistical oddity
is that most of the time when this happens, it involves the states of both
Missouri and Texas. And twice when it happened, it involved just Arkansas,
which twice has put to death three people the same evening.) What made
this particular day a little bit different is both the outcome of the
scheduled execution dates and the controversy that each one provoked. All in
all, on Wednesday, Aug. 14, one could find several quite substantial reasons
to oppose the death penalty.
The first scheduled execution was for 12:01 a.m. CST Wednesday in Missouri.
Some time between midnight and 1 a.m., however Governor Bob Holden
intervened and announced that he was very temporarily staying the execution.
A friend of Daniel Basile's had come forward and sworn in an affidavit that
she was with Basile when the crime for which he was convicted occurred and
that he therefore could not have committed the crime.
Basile was convicted of the contract killing of Elizabeth DeCaro. DeCaro's
husband, who reportedly arranged the killing, was convicted and sentenced to
life in prison. Basile's trial attorneys failed to present mitigating
evidence on his behalf during the punishment phase of his trial, including
evidence that he suffered from brain damage and a developmental disorder.
Gov. Holden announced that he would stay the execution until that same
evening to give the courts time to decide whether to put in place a more
permanent stay. From the Missouri Supreme Court to the Eigth Circuit Court
of Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, the judiciary declined to intervene
--- and Basile was executed at 10:05 p.m. that evening --- meaning he had to
wait in his holding cell for 22 hours to find out whether he would live or
die. Cruel? Unusual? Was the affidavit legit? Now we'll never know.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Walter "Buck" Fugate III was scheduled to be executed
at 7 p.m. for the 1991 murder of his ex-wife, Pattie Fugate. Fugate's
lawyer, noted anti-death penalty attorney Stephen Bright, was standing
outside the prison with the media and with death penalty protestors when he
received a phone call at 6:20 p.m. informing him that the Georgia Supreme
Court had stayed the execution. Under Georgia law Fugate could still be
executed, on the same death warrant, any up until Wednesday Aug. 21.
Fugate's case drew notoriety for a number of reasons. First, Fugate, who had
no prior criminal record, maintained that the gun used in his ex-wife's
death went off accidentally. His court-appointed lawyers failed to
investigate the case before trial and failed to introduce mitigating
evidence during sentencing. Even if Fugate purposefully shot his ex-wife ---
and he may or may not have -- it is rare for a person with no prior
convictions whatsoever to receive a death sentence, much less be executed.
In addition, Fugate personally invited Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes to witness
his execution. "Please consider this as a means to show the world you have
the courage of your convictions and attend my execution," Fugate wrote. "For
the very first time you can witness the results of our state's decision and
have the courage to look me in the eye in my dying moments knowing I am
being sacrificed only because I was too poor to afford decent lawyers and
because I live in the middle of the 'death belt.'"
(After two narrow escapes, Fugate was executed Aug. 16. Fugate was the third
condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Georgia and the thirtieth
overall since the state resumed capital punishment.)
The third execution on Aug. 14 was set for Texas at the exact same moment as
the Georgia execution -- 6 p.m. CST. Texas being Texas, this was the only
one that went off as scheduled -- no rain outs, no game delays, nothing. Up
for execution was Mexican national Javiar Suarez Medina, who killed an
undercover Dallas police officer.
This was Medina's fourteenth execution date. Cruel? Unusual? Oh, never mind.
Suarez's case drew publicity not because of a debate about his guilt or
innocence -- that was never much at issue -- but rather because Texas
authorities did not advise Suarez of his right to contact his country's
consulate when he was arrested, thus depriving him of the expert legal
counsel that his government could provide. This was in violation of Article
36 of the Vienna Convention, which the U.S. has signed.
Among those protesting Suarez's execution was Mexican President Vicente Fox,
who promptly cancelled a four-city tour of Texas which would have included a
visit to George W. Bush's Crawford ranch. White House officials publicly
acted surprised by the cancellation; privately, they must have seen it
coming a mile away because Fox's press people had been telegraphing their
intentions for several days prior to the execution.
In recent years, international attention has narrowed in on the practice of
the death penalty in the U.S. arguably to the detriment of U.S. foreign
policy interests. The United States finds itself operating in a vacuum. It
is time to relegate this barbaric practice to the dust bins of American
David Elliot is the communications director at the National Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty.
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