Supreme Court denies John B. Nixon, Sr. death sentence appeal

It looks like John B. Nixon, Sr. will be executed today at 6:00 PM at Parchment Farm in Mississippi. Nixon is the oldest inmate on death row at age 77. His appeal was denied by the United States Supreme Court. He is the second person this month to be executed in the Unites States since Stanley "Tookie" Williams was executed yesterday in California.

My daughter, Kelly, a journalist for the NPR station in Jackson Mississippi, has been selected to witness the execution. Her comments are attached to my post on 12/11/05 about oldest inmate on death row.

Please pray for everyone involved in this situation.

Link: Supreme Court denies Nixon appeal - The Clarion-Ledger.

Oldest inmate on death row scheduled to die on December 14, 2005

I was talking to my daughter, Kelly, today, Sunday, December 11, 2005, and she told me she has been randomly selected to witness the execution of John B. Nixon, Sr. at Parchment Farm in Mississippi on December 14th.

Mr. Nixon is the oldest person on death row in the United States at the age of 77. He has been on death row for 19 years after being found guilty in a death for hire scheme in which he was paid $1000.00 to kill the ex-wife of the person who hired him.

The supreme court has refused to hear the case, and it is up to the Mississippi State supreme court to intervene or for Gov. Haley Barbour to grant clemency.

"How did you get this assignment?", I asked Kelly.

Kelly said, "They pulled my name our of a hat."

Kelly just moved to Jackson Mississippi in early November to take a job with the NPR station there. She never expected in her wildest dreams to get such an assignment.

"It's a professional obligation I have as a journalist", Kelly said.

I am against the death penalty and have been for years, and to have a daughter get drafted into such a role seems a cosmic irony for me.

Please pray for the victims of this crime and their families and friends, for the perpetrators and their families and friends, for the systems of government which engage in such activities, for the voters who support such a practice, and for my daughter, Kelly, who is a witness to the ways of human beings on planet earth.

Link: Oldest inmate on death row wants clemency - The Clarion-Ledger.

Connecticut Executes Serial Killer

Connecticut has executed the first death row inmate in all of New England in 45 years. He was a Cornell graduate, a former insurance agent, and 45 years old having been on death row for most of the last 18 years.

The inmate, Michael Ross, was convicted for killing 4 young women, and he confessed to killing four more.

Mr. Ross said that he wanted to die and refused to participate in any more appeals. Because of his desire to die, many critics believed that he was suicidal and incompetent. Mr. Ross said that he wanted to bring closure for the families he had harmed in killing their relative.

This execution raises again the whole question of offender accountability and whether the best justice is retributive, killing justice? I personally don't see how the state killing offeneders teaches the members of society the lesson that killing is wrong. It is like spanking a child for hitting a sibling.

Link: Connecticut Executes Serial Killer - Yahoo! News.

Reflections on the Death Penalty in America

Angolainjection_thumb For all the sanctimonious rhetoric the last few weeks from the religious right and the politicians trying to ride the coat tails of the Schiavo case and the death of the pope, there is a huge inconsistency in what Catholics call the "consistent life ethic" meaning that people who respect and honor life, if they are to be consistent, need to be against abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and war. And yet, the Protestant right seems to take a cafeteria approach to the life issues which undermines their positions on these issues and lends to the the accusation of hypocrisy.

So, while the President tried to cozy up to the Pope, he apparently overlooks the fact that the Pope reprimanded the Unites States for its foreign aggression with its pre-emptive war policy overlooking centuries of Catholic teaching on the just war theory, and Pope John Paul II's strong objection to the United State's War in Iraq.

The Pope has also consistently objected to the death penalty and has called for its end in the world.

This week on Speaking Of Faith, Krista Tippet has some interesting interviews with Debbie Morris, who wrote Forgiving the Dead Man Walking. Debbie was brutally raped, and her rapist was executed in Louisiana. Krista also interviews Rabbi Elie Spitz who discusses the real biblical meaning of "eye for an eye" often used to justify capital punishment, and Sister Helen Prejean who wrote the book Dead Man Walking from which the movie was made.

This is an excellent 55 minute show which you can listen to on line. There is also a lot of information on the Speaking Of Faith web page that further explores this issue.

Link: Speaking of Faith | Reflections on the Death Penalty in America.

Job as executioner not conducive to good mental health

Electric_chair Ever wonder what it's like to kill people for a living? Have you ever considered the fact that your tax dollars go to pay a person to kill people in your name?

In this week's Village Voice there is an interesting story about Dow B. Hover, New York States executioner who killed people in the 50s and 60s and actually killed the last person on death row in New York State in 1963. Hover executed 44 people between 1954 and 1963 for $150.00 a piece plus expenses.

Hover, like other executioners, wound up eventually killing himself.

Executing people is a dirty business and makes the state no better than the killer they are killing. George Pataki, New York State's Governor, campaigned on restoring the death penalty when he was running for election against Mario Cuomo who had vetoed death penalty legislation annually for many years. Pataki finally signed it in 1995 but it has yet to be used, and last year was ruled unconstitutional.

Interestingly, for all the brouhaha about the death penalty being a deterrent, there is no evidence that it is and in fact the states with the death penalty have higher homicide rates than states that don't.

It is interesting that our god fearing President and his brother, Jeb, the governor of Florida, have presided over more executions as governors, George in Texas, and Jeb in Florida than most other governors.

Killing people with state power has become sanitized. It's like taking a shot and going to sleep, but make no mistake, it is a barbaric practice that the United States, alone, of all civilized first world countries continues. So much for claims about enlightened freedom, liberty, and democracy that President Bush thinks the US should bring to the rest of the world. Many European countries look at the US in disdain because of our capital punishment practices which includes the executing of mentally disabled people and adolescents. They fail to cooperate with us extraditing offenders, etc.

It is interesting how distorted our top governmental leaders views are of the regard the United States is held in by the rest of the world.

It is pathetic that we can get people to legally, premeditatively kill other people for $150.00. Of course, they are desperate to keep their identities secret because of the shame and guilt involved. They often suffer symptoms of depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Several have ended their lives by suicide.

In appears that such a career is not conducive to developing and/or maintaining one's mental health.

If you are interested in Dow Hover, New York's last executioner, the Village Voice article is worth a read. Click on the link below.

Link: village voice > news > The Last Executioner by Jennifer Gonnerman.

Red states perform 96% of excecutions in the US since 1976

Bush_and_electric_chair According to the pundits, exit polls from the 2004 Presidential elections indicate that voters chose candidates based on "values". What values?

Evangelical Christians are given a lot of credit for swinging the election for George Bush and they claim to be pro-life and yet when we look at the data regarding capital punishment we find some very interesting things which contradict that claim.

True pro life Christians espouse what is called a "consistent life ethic" meaning that they are opposed to all forms of violence against human beings including abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, and militarism.

So, a naive observer might think that Red states would be consistent in their pro life moral values and hypothesize that executions would be lower in Red states than blue states since they are pro life. The data tells quite a different story.

In the United States capital punishment is a state issue and 38 states provide for capital punishment although six of those 38 states have not used it since 1976. Of the 32 states that have executed people since 1976 25 are Red states and 7 are Blue states so over 3 times as many Red states have executed people than Blue states.

Of the 12 states that don't allow capital punishment 8 are Blue States and 4 are Red states so twice as many Blue states as Red states don't have capital punishment.

What is even more startling is that if we look at the 931 people killed since 1976, 893, or 96% have been in Red States while 38, or 4% have been in Blue States.

The States with the most executions are Texas with 336 which is over 3 times as many as any other state and where President Bush was governor and presided over many of these executions. Texas is followed by Virginia with 94, Oklahoma with 75, Missouri with 61, and Florida with 59 where George W. Bush's brother, Jeb is governor.

Clearly, Red states execute overwhelmingly the majority of prisoners.

Hypocrisy is staggering when we look at the practice of Red states and not the rhetoric.

Further, other research has shown that capital punishment is not a deterent to violent crime, but just the opposite. States with capital punishment in general have higher murder rates that states without capital punishment. Also, the United States is the only industrialized first world country which executes prisoners who committed their crimes as minors and which executes mentally retarded people. The United States has been cited by many human rights groups including Amnesty International for its use of capital punishment. Many European countries view American attitudes toward capital punishment as inhumane and barbaric and refuse to extradite criminals when they could possibly face execution.

And yet, President Bush says that he believes that the United States has a mission from God to make the world safe and to bring freedom and democracy. Is it any wonder that other countries are skeptical about these claims?

Link: Number of Executions by State and Region Since 1976.

Death penalty decision a form of vicarious trauma?


I have been against capital punishment my whole life. As Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye makes us both blind." The State killing an offender to punish them for killing seems contradictory, and counterproductive to me.

A new book out by Benjamin Fleury-Steiner, a sociology and criminal justice professor at the University of Delaware describes the vicarious trauma that many death penalty jurors experience. They are put in the position by the State of possibly authorizing the death of a human being. These jurors then become the instrument of death for the State. How do individual human beings deal with being put into such a God like position of being able to decide whether a fellow human being lives or dies, and does that not put them into the same position of the murderer that they sit in judgement of? They are condemning that person to death for the very thing that they themselves are doing. Could you authorize the killing of a person as a juror in a death penalty case?

The death penalty is the underbelly of the American democracy’s criminal justice system and the citizens who are asked to serve as jurors in capital cases find it a demanding and often tormenting experience, Benjamin D. Fleury-Steiner, University of Delaware assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice, finds in his new book Jurors’ Stories of Death: How America’s Death Penalty Invests in Inequality.

The book, published by the University of Michigan Press, draws on interviews conducted with jurors over the last decade through the Capital Jury Project and represents one of the first systematic surveys of the ways in which death penalty decisions are made.

What Fleury-Steiner discovered is that capital case jurors understand their responsibilities, that they are burdened by the awful truth that they hold the life of a fellow human being in their hands and that race is almost invariably a factor in sentencing.

“They fully understand the magnitude of what they are doing, and they take the work very seriously,” he said, “despite the fact that this is an incomprehensible exercise the state has required them to be a part of.”

Fleury-Steiner also discovered that the jurors were not at all reluctant to discuss the cases they heard and the deliberations that went into their decisions. For some, in fact, the interviews were therapeutic. “Many of the jurors interviewed wanted to talk,” he said. “They found that family members and friends simply could not comprehend what they had been through.

“What I try to do in the book is take the reader inside the world of the juror, through the stories of their experiences,” he said.

Link: Death penalty decision-making detailed in prof’s new book.