Monday, August 23, 2004

'There is no mercy in Texas'

The state of Texas is scheduled to execute James Allridge III this Thursday, at about 6 p.m. Texas time. Many groups down in Texas, including the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, have launched a comprehensive clemency campaign on his behalf. My friend Bill Pelke, NCADP board member and director of Journey of Hope, is down in Texas, traversing the state, pleading for James' life to anyone who will listen.

In a nutshell: James is guilty of capital murder. No question about that. He also is one of those people on death row who has comprehensively turned his life around. If executive clemency exists, James should not only be a candidate for it but THE candidate.

Executive clemency is a tradition that dates back to the English kings. Kings could grant clemency for any reason, but the most common reason simply was mercy.

If you scroll back through the U.S. history of the death penalty, you can see that we inherited this tradition. Many governors in the U.S. through the centuries have granted clemency simply because of mercy. But that practice came to a screeching halt in the 1980s, as crime and the death penalty became increasingly politicized. (Even in the 1970s, Florida's governor was occasionally granting executive clemency. But as Florida became a two-party state and the two political parties found themselves scrambling for every vote, crime became more of a high-profile issue and executive clemencies became a thing of the past.)

In the past two decades, we have seen the occassional death sentence commuted to life in prison. However, the reasons largely have to do with possible innocence on the part of the person on death row, or mental retardation or severe mental illness. The possibility of rehabilitation -- the concept of mercy -- has seldom factored in.

As the Austin Chronicle put it, in the modern era of the death penalty in Texas, rehabilitation has never formed the basis of a board commutation recommendation.

This is a case where mercy should be granted. To see a letter written by James, go here. To send a message urging executive clemency, go here.

1 comment:

CarrieJ said...

David, I think you should call me on Thursday. We might both need a shoulder. This has not been a hope filled week for me. Although...this "lonely" abolitionist is feeling less lonely because of all the support I've seen for James on the internet and in the media this week.