Capital Punishment: A Crime Against Humanity
Capital punishment is unjustifiably legal in 29 US states. It’s permitted under the US criminal justice system.
Critics maintain that it violates the Eight Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments” — people of color in the US harmed most, especially when too poor to afford a proper defense.
Time and again in the US, innocent victims of judicial unfairness are imprisoned or executed for offenses they didn’t commit.
In 2000, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on capital punishment after 13 prisoners on death row were found innocent and released.
On January 11, 2003, two days before leaving office, he cleared death row, commuting sentences for 163 men and four women to life imprisonment – declaring a moratorium on future executions, saying:
“The facts that I have seen in reviewing each and every one of these cases raised questions not only about (their innocence), but about the fairness of the death penalty system as a whole.”
“Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error: error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die.”
Calling Illinois’ death penalty system “arbitrary, capricious, and therefore immoral,” he ended his gubernatorial tenure by pardoning four men and issuing a blanket commutation for all state prisoners on death row, adding:
“The legislature couldn’t reform it. Lawmakers won’t repeal it, and I won’t stand for it. I must act.”
In January 2011, both Houses of Illinois’ legislature voted to end capital punishment, Gov. Pat Quinn officially abolishing it in March, saying it’s impossible “to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system.”
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty calls itself “the nation’s oldest organization dedicated exclusively to the abolition of” capital punishment, adding:
“We are families of murder victims, persons from all points on the political and religious spectrums, past and present law enforcement officials and prominent civil and racial justice organizations, who are working to repeal the death penalty state by state.”
In Furman v. Georgia (1972), the Supreme Court held that imposition of the death penalty was unconstitutional for breaching the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments.”
The 5 – 4 ruling was supported by Justices Brennan, Douglas, Marshall, Stewart and White. Opposed were Justices Blackmun, Burger, Powell and Rehnquist.
Brennan and Marshall alone believed that capital punishment is unconstitutional no matter the circumstances.
Marshall at the time said the following:
“The death penalty is an excessive and unnecessary punishment that violates the Eighth Amendment…(It’s) morally (and legally) unacceptable.”
“(T)he burden of capital punishment falls upon the poor, the ignorant, and the underprivileged members of society.”
“We achieve ‘a major milestone in the long road up from barbarism’ and join the approximately 70 other jurisdictions in the world which celebrate their regard for civilization and humanity by shunning capital punishment.”
Four years later, the High Court reinstated the death penalty “under revised laws,” the Death Penalty Information Center explained.
Ignored was Gandhi long ago saying “(a)n eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
According to Martin Luther King, “(r)eturning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”
On March 5, Alabama executed 44-year-old African American Nathaniel Woods by painful lethal injection, taking 23 minutes to kill him, despite no credible evidence of guilt.
In US criminal cases, prosecutors are required to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
In Nathaniel Woods v. State of Alabama, overwhelming doubt existed, no doubt whatever of his innocence.
In 2005, he was wrongfully convicted on four counts of capital murder and attempted murder, unjustifiably sentenced to death, his sentence upheld on appeal.
Despite two jurors opposed to capital punishment, he was sentenced to death and executed — Alabama the only state permitting this injustice.
According to attorney Lauren Faraino who handled Woods’ clemency petition, “(a)t literally every step of the way, Nate’s counsel has let him down,” adding:
“Alabama executed an innocent man, and I think everyone involved—the governor, the attorney general, the DOC commissioner—everyone knew it.” Yet they killed him anyway.
He was falsely charged with killing three police officers in 2004, convicted the following year.
Though firing no shots, prosecutors falsely claimed he masterminded what happened — a Big Lie, believed by 10 of 12 jurors, enough in Alabama to convict.
His sister Pamela Woods said Alabama’s governor and attorney general “ignore(d) the facts…to murder Nathaniel.”
No evidence proved it. There was plenty of evidence of police misconduct and deeply flawed legal representation.
Ahead of his execution last Thursday, sister of one of the killed police officers Kimberly Chisholm Simmons attempted to reach Governor Ivey.
By written statement to the governor sent to attorney Faraino, she said the following:
“I do not think that Nathaniel is guilty of murder. Please do not move forward with the hasty decision to execute Nathaniel. My conscience will not let me live with this if he dies. I beg you to have mercy on him.”
Her plea was ignored. Woods strongly contested charges against him, stressing that he never plotted to kill the police or anyone else. Nor was he involved with what happened.
He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, was charged, convicted, sentenced, and executed for being Black in a racist state, in a racist nation with a racist system, by a racist judge, jury, prosecutor and governor.
Capital punishment is state-sponsored barbarism — multiplied infinite-fold when state-sponsored by one nation against another preemptively — how the US and its imperial partners operate.
Law Professor/constitutional expert Charles Black (1915 – 2001) denounced the death penalty as fatally flawed, saying:
There are “hanging prosecutors, hanging juries, hanging judges, and hanging governors.”
“But, overwhelmingly, the trouble is not in the people but…the system – or nonsystem.”
Separately, he said “(t)he possibility of judicial fairness for accused minorities (in the US) is as likely their “learn(ing) to speak decent Japanese by the end of the month.”
My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”