Thursday, December 08, 2005

From the front lines to the intervaneous lines

As many people know, the U.S. recently witnessed its 1,000th execution since the 1970s. Kenneth Lee Boyd, a Vietnam veteran, was executed by the state of North Carolina.

A long time ago, at least it seems that way, the 56th execution since the mid-1970s took place in the state of Florida. That person's name was David Funchess.

Michael Mello, a law professor at the University of Vermont Law School and a former death penalty appellate lawyer in Florida, writes movingly about that time:

Capital punishment in our time has always reminded me of the Vietnam war.
"Certain blood for uncertain reasons," as Tim O'Brien wrote of his war. The only measure of success was the body count. No front lines, and no rear areas. No epic battles, only a series of brutal firefights against a largely invisible enemy. No lasting victories. Only casualties.

At 2 a.m. this morning, a Vietnam veteran became the 1,000th person executed in the U.S. since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Kenneth Lee Boyd had served as bulldozer operator in Vietnam, where he was shot at by snipers daily. Boyd's execution gave me flashbacks.

Nearly two decades ago, I had the honor of serving as counsel for David Funchess, the first Vietnam veteran executed in America. David was execution number 56. There is a mordantly appropriate symmetry here. We are now, again, engaged in an unpopular war against an unconventional enemy.

Through David's case I first learned about a new illness called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). David had it bad. At the time of David's capital murder trial in the mid-1970s, virtually no one had ever heard of PTSD. By the time David was scheduled to die, in spring 1986, much more was known about PTSD. We tried to tell that to the courts. The courts refused to listen, telling us we should have raised PTSD at the time of David's trial.

David Funchess was a war hero. For his service in combat in Vietnam he received the Purple Heart, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Campaign Medal (with device). The Vietnam War also destroyed David Funchess.

To read the entire column -- and this one's a must-read, folks -- go here.

We're still seeing a lot of veterans on death row -- Mississippi has a World War II veteran scheduled for execution later this month, incredibly enough. We see lots of Vietnam veterans and some veterans from Gulf War I. Now I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing Gulf War II veterans arriving on death row to await execution.

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