Friday, June 30, 2006

Day Two update on the Fast & Vigil

Today’s blog entry comes from NCADP intern Jonathan Sheehan. This fall, Jonathan will be a high school senior at Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland. He enjoys playing baseball and soccer and one of his career goals is “someday to run for public office.”

Which is a good thing – can you imagine what the climate will be like for abolish the death penalty if more abolitionists entered politics?

Here is Jonathan’s report from the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court:

“Equal Justice Under Law.”

These words are carved in the marble over the pillars that support our nation’s Supreme Court building. Just below the steps of this American landmark stood 30 or so protestors, holding signs and demonstrating their support for the abolition movement. Quotes from Justice Byron White, Coretta Scott King, and others could be seen on signs and t-shirts alike. As a man walked by the vigil, I heard him remark, “Take them executed people to your house and let them live with you.”

I just wish he had stayed the rest of the morning.

As I stood in the heat, I recognized death row exoneree Shujaa Graham standing in the shade listening to his walkman. Mr. Graham and I met this past week at the Death Penalty Information Center’s Thurgood Marshall awards. He gave me a big hug, and we started to discuss his many reasons for being at the vigil. Mr. Graham spent three years on California’s San Quentin death row, before being released in 1979. His experiences have prompted him to travel the country and speak to high school and university students. His message is clear and concise: “Learn what you can [about the death penalty] and understand the reality.”

Information is power. Shujaa Graham knows that if people learn all there is to learn, someday we will outlaw “the lynching that is the death penalty.”

As the morning drew on, guests spoke adamantly in favor of abolition. Kurt Rosenberg, director of the “Witness to Innocence” program, stood up with an unusual group of men behind him. They were a small fraction of the astounding 123 death row exonerees, people freed from death row since the 1970s after evidence emerged of their innocence. This lineup included Ray Krone (Arizona), Ronald Keine (New Mexico), Gary Beeman (Ohio), Harold Wilson (Pennsylvania) and Shujaa Graham (California). Harold Wilson was the 122nd person exonerated from death row, having been released on Nov. 15, 2005. He is sure his wrongful conviction was influenced by the all-white jury that convicted him.

As I stood and listened to these men give gut-wrenching accounts of the horrible injustices they faced, I couldn’t help looking repeatedly at those big marble words above the Supreme Court:

“Equal Justice Under Law.”


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Day One update on the Fast & Vigil

This report from NCADP intern Rachel Lawler, who spent part of the day down at the U.S. Supreme Court:

Today is the first day of the annual Fast & Vigil at the Supreme Court of the United States. The event began last night with a “Last Supper” at a nice restaurant close to SCOTUS. Attendees were activists, murder victims’ family members, death row family members, and even baby Isaac. The food was delicious and the company was even better. We all laughed over George recounting stories of Mike’s mishaps, while munching on hummus. This is my first Fast & Vigil and also my first time fasting for more than one day. So far I’ve been able to stave off hunger pangs with Gatorade, water, caffeine gum, and Tabasco sauce. My food/beverage intake will be limited to these three things until July 3rd at midnight.

I just returned to the NCADP office after distributing literature about the death penalty to hundreds of Hill workers, tourists, and students. Spending several hours doing this may seem redundant, pointless, even a complete waste of time to some. However, I have always believed that one of the reasons why some people support the death penalty is because they simply don’t know the truth about it. I’d think to myself, “If only they knew the real facts, then perhaps they’d feel differently about it.” So today was the perfect opportunity for me to increase the public’s awareness of the flaws inherent in our death penalty. If I handed a flyer to even one person who after reading it, decides to reexamine their views and ends up opposing the death penalty, then the day was a success. And hey, I got to work on my tan too!

The Fast and Vigil has begun!

The Annual Fast and Vigil Against the Death Penalty has begun. We will be blogging on this event and sharing our content with The Journey of Hope blog.

In addition, a brand new blog has been launched by the soon-to-be betrothed Beth and Abe. We'll be checking their site for updates -- you can see it here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One that made me go "whoaaa."

Every now and again, when reading up on the death penalty news around the country, I stumble across a story that makes me sit up and go "whoa."

Here's a perfect example:

Dyslexic doctor stays secret: Testimony persuaded judge to halt Missouri executions

Officials said Tuesday that they would not disclose the name of the dyslexic surgeon in charge of Missouri's lethal injections, whose testimony that he sometimes confuses figures helped persuade a federal judge to halt the state's executions.

Officials want to protect the surgeon, called John Doe I in court documents, from "harassment of various sorts," said Brian Hauswirth, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections. He said he would not elaborate.

In October, a U.S. magistrate judge ordered the surgeon's identity concealed to protect the state's security interests and the doctor's privacy. Death penalty critics said the state had little justification to keep a lid on the surgeon's identity. "It's shameful that you would put someone who suffers from dyslexia in charge of administering chemicals that kill someone," said Gino F.Battisti, a lawyer from St. Louis who has represented death row inmates. "People have a right to know how the system works."

Kent Gipson, whose law firm Public Interest Law Center, based in Kansas City, has represented Missouri death row inmates, said he thought that the "state is worried that if this guy gets found out and gets his medical license jerked, they'll never find another doctor to help them execute people."

People...people, people, people. Can you say "Hippocratic Oath?" The one that includes the words "Do no harm."


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Carlos De Luna, Part Three

The third and final installment of the Chicago Tribune's Carlos De Luna series can be found here. Meanwhile, the pro-death penalty crowd is crowing that the Tribune hasn't actually proven that an innocent person has been executed.

If ignorance is bliss, than the life of a retentionist must truly be joyous and carefree.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Part two, Carlos De Luna

You can read part two of the Chicago Tribune series regarding the wrongful execution of Carlos De Luna here.

Another new blog in town

Three days and a number of hours before the annual Fast & Vigil and we have a new blog that will be covering the events.

Of course, Abolish the Death Penalty and The Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing blog also will be providing updated coverage. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Carlos De Luna update

As we wait for part two of the Chicago Tribune's three part series to be posted on their web site late tonight, we have this update.

The Associated Press has picked up part one of the series and moved this story:

Associated Press

CHICAGO - A newspaper investigation raises questions about the execution of a man for a 1983 slaying at a Corpus Christi service station.

Carlos De Luna was executed 16 years ago for the fatal stabbing of Wanda Lopez, a gas station clerk and a single mother. De Luna was swiftly convicted and sentenced to death even though the parolee proclaimed he was innocent. He identified another man as the killer.

The Chicago Tribune, in the first of a three-part series published Sunday, said it has uncovered evidence strongly suggesting that De Luna's acquaintance, Carlos Hernandez, was the one who killed Lopez. Hernandez died in 1999.

Hernandez's friends and relatives, ending years of silence, said the felon bragged that De Luna went to Death Row for a murder he committed.

The case was compromised by shaky eyewitness investigation, sloppy police work and a failure to thoroughly pursue Hernandez as a possible suspect, the newspaper reported.

De Luna's prosecutors maintain the right man was convicted, though the lead prosecutor acknowledged being troubled by some of the new information. A former police detective said he now thinks the wrong man was executed.

No DNA or other conclusive proof of De Luna's guilt or innocence is available. The store did not have a security camera.

The newspaper learned of the De Luna case from a Columbia University law professor who had begun to look into evidence pointing to Hernandez. De Luna was executed by lethal injection in 1989.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I read the news today, oh boy

The news we've been waiting for is out: Today the Chicago Tribune, in the first of a three-part investigative series, is reporting that Texas executed an innocent person.

You can see NCADP's press release by going here.

To read the Chicago Tribune series (and you really must) visit

Friday, June 23, 2006

Foreshadowing tomorrow's news...

Date of Execution:
December 7, 1989
Carlos DeLuna #744
Last Statement:
"I want to say I hold no grudges. I hate no one. I love my family. Tell everyone on death row to keep the faith and don’t give up."

Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Keep an eye on the blog

It's been a few days since we've updated. News sometimes feels like it moves slowly in the sweltering summer months.

That's about to change. Please keep an eye on the blog over the next 24 to 48 hours. Something significant this way comes...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

There's a new blog in town

Everyone welcome The Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing blog.

Run by Journey chairman Bill Pelke, with the backup and assistance of NCADP, the Journey blog will tell the stories of people whose lives have been touched with murder and forgiveness.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Part One: Words from Vermont

For the past few days, Rachel Lawler, an NCADP intern, has been up in her home state of Vermont, working to oppose a rare federal death penalty trial that has taken place up there. (Vermont has no state death penalty but in a case of John Ashcroft-induced federalism-in-reverse, the U.S. Justice Department has secured the first death sentence in modern Vermont history.)

Rachel is a pre-law student at Woodbury College in Vermont with aspirations of working as a public defender. She currently serves as Amnesty International USA’s State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator (SDPAC) for Vermont, is a founding member of Vermonters Against the Death Penalty, and sat in on the entire US v. Fell trial during the summer of 2005. She loves hot sauce.

This is part one of Rachel's report:

On Friday, June 16th a man was sentenced to die in Vermont. The defendant and a now-deceased codefendant (who committed suicide while in prison) were charged with two death-eligible crimes: carjacking resulting in death and kidnapping resulting in death. The victim was a woman named Terry King.

You may be thinking to yourself, “What? A death sentence in Vermont?” But it’s the truth and it was made possible thanks to the Federal Death Penalty Act (FDPA) and in this case specifically, Fmr. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Back in 2001, the prosecutors drafted a plea bargain that would have sentenced the defendant to life without possible release in exchange for a guilty plea. But when that was submitted for Ashcroft’s approval, he decided to ignore the Government’s proffer that the defendant’s terrible childhood was enough to mitigate circumstances away from being a death penalty case. The defendant had a childhood that most of us cannot even begin to imagine living through. He suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from practically everyone in his life, witnessed his parents stab each other during a drunken argument, he was abandoned by both of them by the time he was 13. Everyone in his life gave up on him. And then society did by condemning him to die.

Why did the Attorney General choose to dismiss this evidence? Perhaps it was because the case could have been tried in either New York or Vermont and at the time, New York’s death penalty statute had not yet been declared unconstitutional, whereas Vermont hadn’t had a death sentence handed down in its state since 1954. Perhaps it was because a report had just been released by the Department of Justice that cited disturbing statistics about the federal death row. Pursuing a death sentence in this case enabled him to even out some less-than-favorable statistics. Who knows.

Part Two: Words from Vermont

This is part two of NCADP intern Rachel Lawler's report on recent events in Vermont:

Two events were organized by a group I belong to, known as Vermonters Against the Death Penalty (VTADP). The first event was a vigil on Thursday evening to remember victims of homicide. We thought that framing the vigil around this subject was especially important given the fact that revictimization of the victims family members is one of the most disturbing consequences of our broken death penalty system. We were able to draw a modest crowd of 50 people to City Hall Park in Burlington. A notable fact, however, is that we were joined by people from all throughout the Northeast: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The same group of people was featured in the 2nd event, a press conference held on Friday after the sentencing. Each speaker addressed a different aspect within the abolitionist movement including regional trends, their own state’s struggle against the death penalty, and two speakers addressed their own personal experiences with losing a loved one to homicide – refuting the misconception that the death penalty system will help them heal.

The revictimization that VTADP wanted to bring to the public’s attention was glaringly obvious in the victims’ family members’ statements in Friday’s court proceedings. Many, if not all of them cited how grueling the past six years were for them, how they had to endure litigation, uncertainty, compounded with the immense and unimaginable pain of losing someone they loved so dearly. If anyone spoke to the fact that the death penalty system does not provide healing, it was the family members. With every motion that was filed, with every media story, the family was forced to defend the memory of the one they lost. Had the plea bargain been accepted six years ago, they could have been on their way to healing. But we as a society have forced them to endure additional pain, pain that will continue for the next decade as the appeals process begins.

The defendant’s speech was short and almost inaudible over the hum of the air conditioning system. He apologized for what he did and accepted his punishment as “no less than what [he] deserved”. The response of the family members was that it didn’t matter to them; nothing he could say or do would ever elicit forgiveness from them. It is terrible to think that they had to endure losing someone so close to them, and their hearts remain so hardened by the experience. No one should ever have to feel this way.

I can’t imagine having society judge and condemn me based only upon one thing that I’ve done in my lifetime. Can you imagine it? I, myself, along with many reading this have probably done something in their lifetime that they deeply regret doing. I know that I certainly have learned from my mistakes and have allowed such experiences to change me for the better, and I have gained insight from them. Who are we to say that others are incapable of this same process? Does a person’s worst action negate the humanness within them? Their capacity for redemption? The death penalty system wants to convince us that it does.

Well, I’m back in Washington, DC now. Away from the reporters, away from the court room that made me physically ill. Yet, the struggle towards abolition continues. My work with this one case has taught me so much about the death penalty, our legal system, and the injustices that are perpetuated by both. Ever since I became aware of these things, I’ve been unable to cease in my abolition work. I encourage everyone reading this to learn everything they can about the death penalty, because knowledge is empowering. This trial was just one amongst so many with similar, pervasive injustices. This work is disheartening, frustrating, and disappointing. But let me be clear in saying that it is worth it. Nationwide abolition will happen. But only if we persist in our efforts and do not falter. We must never let this be simply work. It must remain our passion, as we continue putting our heart into what we do. It is that which will keep us going when all odds are against us.

Friday, June 16, 2006

"Human Kind"

In Gloucester, Massachusetts, high school students have written and are performing an original play based in part on the true story of NCADP board member Bud Welch, whose daughter, Julie, died in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City:

Death penalty foe flying in to see play
By Douglas A. Moser, Staff writer
Gloucester Daily Times

Bud Welch has gotten phone calls from students before, he said Wednesday, mostly college students researching term papers.

But the Oklahoma City man said he got his first call from actors inspired by his story in March, when members of the Gloucester High Drama Club contacted him about his daughter Julie. The call led Welsh to fly to Boston yesterday afternoon to visit Gloucester for an encore performance of the club's original production, "Human kind," tonight at 7 in the high school auditorium.

The students called him because their play about the compassion of a murder victim's family and their reconciliation with the murderer echoes Welch's experience. Julie Welch died in the domestic terror attack that destroyed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Bud Welch had been a death penalty opponent but had a quick change of heart after the attack. "There were a couple months when I wanted the (bomber) fried, no question about that," he said in a telephone interview. But after the heat of the tragedy cooled, Welch said, he believed Timothy McVeigh, the man convicted of engineering and conducting the attack, should not be put to death.

"I was finally able to recognize that taking somebody out of a cage and killing them doesn't help the healing process," he said. "In fact, it retards it. It revictimizes the family members and creates a whole new set of victims" in the family of the condemned.

"Human kind," collectively written over the winter by members of the Drama Club, is about the family of a murder victim, the murderer on death row and the murderer's family. After the play was written, cast members researched the death penalty and came across the story of Welch, who campaigned against the death penalty during the trial, conviction and condemnation of McVeigh. The bomber was executed June 11, 2001, the first prisoner executed by the federal government since 1963.

Welch, who cofounded the Cambridge-based organization Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, which opposes the death penalty and counsels the families of victims, said he was honored to have inspired the Gloucester students. He said he had been invited to a show earlier in the year he could not make.

Members of the cast said they were thrilled to have Welch fly east to see the play. "We wanted him to come for so long, and we didn't think it was possible," said Willie Norris, a cast member. Director Christine de Lima, a Gloucester High alumna and veteran of the Drama Club, said she talked to Welch while the cast was performing the play in a state competition. "He contacted us the day after the preliminary round" March 4, she said. "We actually kept it a secret, which was really hard to do. When we sat them down and told them, some of them cried. It was an awesome moment."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

In Texas, the stonewall continues

From today's Houston Chronicle:

Conflict of interest
San Antonio district attorney should step aside and allow an independent probe of Cantu's execution.

When she was a judge more than a decade ago, Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed reviewed the appeal and then scheduled the execution of Ruben Cantu, whose guilt has been cast in doubt by an extensive Houston Chronicle investigation. In response, Reed re-opened the case but declined to recuse herself from the probe, even though she is an elected official who has a clear interest in its outcome.

Cantu was executed in 1993 for a murder he allegedly committed in San Antonio as a teen-ager. Since then a key eyewitness, Juan Moreno, has recanted his testimony, claiming he was pressured by police. Another person corroborates Cantu's claim that he was out of the city when the crime was committed. Cantu's co-defendant, David Garza, who has changed his account, now claims Cantu was innocent.

Last week a San Antonio judge ruled he had no authority to grant Garza's request that he replace Reed with a special prosecutor. During the hearing Reed testified as a witness and demonstrated why she should step down and allow an independent investigation.

Asked by Garza's lawyer, Keith Hampton, if investigators should examine her role in the case, Reed snapped, "I didn't do anything criminal in this case. Don't look at me like that, counsel." Reed referred to Moreno by saying, "I didn't sit in the witness chair and lie." Such statements indicate Reed has strong personal feelings about the Cantu case that might color the outcome of an investigation.

Attorney Hampton attempted to present a letter signed by 22 law professors and other legal experts who contend that Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit lawyers from participating in cases in which they had ruled as judges. One of them, University of Houston Law Center Professor Robert P. Schuwerk, told the Houston Chronicle that if Reed was exposed as a person who had made a fatal error as a judge, it would clearly conflict with her interests.

District attorneys are elected officials. If Reed runs again, she would have to appeal to a heavily Hispanic electorate. It clearly would not be to her advantage as a San Antonio politician to be known as the person who wrongly sent a Hispanic teenager to his execution. Even if she were able to conduct an impeccable and impartial re-examination of the Cantu case, the district attorney's history would create the appearance of conflict and taint the eventual findings.

Reed apparently is unable to apply a fairly straightforward principle of jurisprudence, avoidance of conflict of interest, to herself. Perhaps that is the most potent argument for her removal from the investigation.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Kaine did it.

He did it. He stayed Walton's execution for six months, pending an independent review of Walton's mental capacity.

Which is exactly and precisely as it should be. Which is exactly and precisely what has been called for all along.

When the state and the courts cannot or will not do their jobs, executive clemency is the proper and just course.

Of course, some folks in the right-wing blogosphere are going nuts. And Kaine is taking major hits for this, with opportunistic politicians (excuse the oxymoron!) taking potshots.

But today, Virginia has a governor it can be proud of.

A governor with guts. A governor who did the right thing.

Kaine did it.

He did it. He stayed Walton's execution for six months, pending an independent review of Walton's mental capacity.

Which is exactly and precisely as it should be. Which is exactly and precisely what has been called for all along.

When the state and the courts cannot or will not do their jobs, executive clemency is the proper and just course.

Of course, some folks in the right-wing blogosphere are going nuts. And Kaine is taking major hits for this, with opportunistic politicians (excuse the oxymoron!) taking potshots.

But today, Virginia has a governor it can be proud of.

A governor with guts. A governor who did the right thing.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Regarding Percy Walton

Tonight at 9 p.m. EST the state of Virginia is scheduled to execute Percy Walton.

There is no doubt that Walton committed the crimes for which he was convicted -- he pleaded guilty in 1997 to shooting Jessie and Elizabeth Kendrick, an elderly couple, and later killing his neighbor, Archie Moore, stuffing his body in a closet and sprinkling it with cologne.

There is also no doubt that Walton is profoundly mentally ill and possibly mentally retarded. His attorneys say he believes that his execution not only will bring his victims back to life (if only!) but it might also secure him a spot on national television, raise his grandfather from the dead and earn him a trip to Burger King on a motorcycle.

Walton's attorneys say that Walton, 27, who experts have testified is mentally retarded and schizophrenic, has spent most of his time on death row pacing his cell, collecting piles of salt and pepper packets and babbling nonsensically to himself.

As has been frequentally noted on this blog, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Ford v. Wainwright that in order to be executed, one simply must understand that one is being executed and why one is being executed.

This bar is too high. But that notwithstanding, Walton would appear to not wholly grasp the concept of execution (unless there is some religion out there that I am unaware of that says when you die, you go to Burger King on a motorcycle).

There is also the question of mental retardation. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 in Atkins v. Virginia that states can't execute mentally retarded people. Unfortunately, the Court left it to the states to define mental retardation -- and all of a sudden, lo and behold, there was hardly a single mentally retarded person among the nation's approximately 3,400 people on death row.

(Two interesting side notes. First, the state of Virginia continues to try to execute Atkins. Remember: the Supreme Court did not say that Atkins is mentally retarded. They simply said you can't execute mentally retarded people. Second, the state of Texas decades ago tried to argue "future dangerousness" in the case of one person facing a death sentence by pointing out that he was mentally retarded. Then, after Atkins v. Virginia came down the state reversed itself and argued that the inmate was not mentally retarded, even though the state had used this very argument to secure a death sentence! I'm not sure what word I'm looking for here, but perhaps "dissembling" comes to mind.)

Anyway, back to Walton. He has been measured with an IQ of 66, but according to the courts he has not proved he is mentally retarded.

Severe mental illness, and an argument for mental retardation, and yet in less than 12 hours, this execution is scheduled to go forward.

You know what? If I were a supporter of the death penalty, I would be fighting with every bit of power in me to stop this execution. It plainly demonstrates what a mockery the death penalty system (and appellate system) is.

We're really about to execute someone who thinks that after the execution he is going to ride to Burger King on a motorcycle?

Come now.

Governor Kaine, are you listening? You now have 11 hours to stop this madness.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Happy birthday to Blog

Somehow we missed the blog's birthday last Friday -- must be all the excitement we're having around here!

This blog was born on June 2, 2004. Since then, a little more than 67,000 of you have stopped by for a visit.

We appreciate it, and we'll try to keep the blog interesting, fresh and vital.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A third way on the death penalty?

This week Gallup released new poll numbers on the death penalty. A plurality of Americans now prefer life sentences (48%) over the death penalty (47%), even though 65% of Americans do not oppose the death penalty in the abstract. The difference between these two numbers is arguably the most important statistic in the Gallup poll and in the current discussion on the death penalty, the growing number of Americans who favor the death penalty in the abstract but would not themselves impose it and do not believe it is necessarily good policy.

The coordinating efforts by such groups as NCADP, Equal Justice USA, and their financial backers, have helped grow this new demographic by opening up dialogue between groups who have historically opposed the death penalty and others such that may share a common interest, such as pro-life groups, evangelicals and libertarians. Gallup's questions indicate that this group of "morally support but in practice favor life" consists of approximately 1 in 6 Americans. This numbers has been growing every year. Perhaps the Gallup poll's findings could be best summed up in the words of the Cato Institute's founder, Edward H. Crane, "[m]y own view on capital punishment is that it is morally justified, but that the government is often so inept and corrupt that innocent people might die as a result. Thus, I personally oppose capital punishment."

The results of this outreach are being felt beyond polls like Gallup. Death row today is almost 10% lower than it was at the turn of the millennia due chiefly to a lower number of new death sentences. While part of that reduction may be due to other factors, the decline in death sentences seemingly buttress Gallup's findings, a third way on the death penalty, those who are not opposed morally to the death penalty but think that there is a better way than governments killing what they deem to be its worst miscreants.

DPIC, the Travelling Jesuit over at the TCASK & my own blog have more.

Friday, June 02, 2006

What do Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have in common?

Each state is preparing to execute a severely mentally ill person. We're not talking about run-of-the-mill mental illness. We're talking totally whacked.

Okay, so "totally whacked" isn't a medical or scientific term. But consider:

  • In Tennessee, Paul Dennis Reid faces a June 28 execution date despite the fact that a neurologist found that Reed has a "chronic, schizophrenia-like psychosis which has severely impaired his ability to weigh, deliberate, inform, and cooperate.”
According to a case summary prepared by the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, Reid
believes that he is the target of surveillance and abuse by the “military government” which has manipulated his life and decisions since the 1980s. Reid writes that since 1985, “most every person who has any type of association or contact with me, usually first has to go through the military government.”

This includes, according to Reid, his attorneys, who he believes are under the control of the military government, and nearly every other person he has ever met. He believes that the “military government” has been using him as a lab rat, denying him success to try to force him to commit crimes. Without this interference, Reid says, he would have several law degrees, practice in a huge Houston firm, have a beautiful wife, and be rich. He even believes that the government possesses surveillance tapes that would exonerate him, but that it refuses to release them.

  • In Texas, Scott Panetti is down to his final appeals and an execution date could be set soon. Panetti represented himself at trial and wore cowboy costumes to court, delivered rambling monologues, put himself on the witness stand and sought to subpoena the pope, Jesus and John F. Kennedy. David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has met more than 75 death row inmates, visited Panetti at his lawyers' request. "Of all the people I have met on death row, he's the gold-medal-crazy winner," Professor Dow said.

  • In Virginia, Percy Walton faces a June 8 execution date despite the fact that, according to his lawyers, he is a shell of a human being, severely mentally ill and cognitively impaired and completely unaware that he faces imminent execution.

While awaiting trial, Walton expressed his belief that he could not be seen if he had his eyes closed. He also told his relatives he was Jesus Christ and that he was a millionaire. He told others he looked forward to his execution because then he would be able to return to life immediately and resurrect his dead family members. In 1999, a psychiatrist, a neuropsychologist and a neurologist assessed Walton's mental health for his appeals and found that he suffers from severe chronic schizophrenia.

Years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Ford v. Wainwright that a person could be executed as long as he understands that is being executed and why he is being executed. Putting aside for a moment the fact that all three of these men should be spared under the Ford v. Wainwright standard, the bar set by the U.S. Supreme Court for establishing mental illness is simply too high.

Culpability is a cornerstone of our criminal justice system. If I commit murder, I am much more culpable for my actions than a person who is severely mentally ill, severely mentally retarded, etc. Put another way, an 8-year-old who does something wrong is less culpable than an adult who does something wrong -- that is why we do not send 8-year-olds to prison.

Many people don't realize that of the 3,300-plus people on death rows across the country, hundreds of people are severely mentally ill. The New York Times has a front-page story that examines this issue. It's worth a read. You can find it here.