Update on the scheduled executions of Warren Hill and Yokamon Hearn.

Following up on Monday’s post regarding the scheduled executions of two mentally disabled men, Warren Hill and Yokamon Hearn:

Georgia decided yesterday to postpone the execution of Hill until next Monday, “as it makes changes to its lethal-injection protocol… switching to a single drug, pentobarbital, from a combination of three drugs.” Yokamon Hearn is still scheduled to be executed in Texas today.

If you’re in/near Georgia, here’s a list of vigil sites for Warren Hill; if you’re in/near Texas, here’s a list of sites for Yokamon Hearn.

Please go if you can. These men, mentally disabled or not, are entirely guilty of their crimes — and adding to the death toll will help no one, least of all their victims. We need to find a way to not choose death when the option to choose life yet remains.

On Warren Hill, Yokamon Hearn, and the ethics of the death penalty.

UPDATE, 7/18/12: Georgia decided on Tuesday to postpone the execution of Warren Hill until next Monday, “as it makes changes to its lethal-injection protocol… switching to a single drug, pentobarbital, from a combination of three drugs.” Yokamon Hearn is scheduled to be executed today.

When Troy Davis was executed in September, hundreds of thousands of people understood the state of Georgia to have murdered an innocent man.

Georgia now stands ready to execute Warren Hill, a man with mental retardation — coincidentally on the same day, Wednesday, that Texas plans to execute Yokamon Hearn, a man “who has, since early childhood, shown clear and consistent evidence of brain damage.”

Unlike Davis, who was almost certainly innocent, however, Hill and Hearn are guilty of the crimes for which they have been sentenced. Hill is guilty not only of killing his girlfriend in 1986, but also of killing his prison cellmate in 1991; Hearn shot a man several times in the head in the midst of a car-jacking. These crimes are horrific, and I’ll be honest: The fact of either man’s mental disability means little to me in terms of my horror.

But my horror will not be lessened, nor will anyone be made safer, if additional people are killed.

Copious studies have shown that the death penalty doesn’t serve as a deterrent, just as copious cases have shown our legal system’s frightening fallibility. The death penalty tends to be expensive for taxpayers, and legal analyst Andrew Cohen argues at The Atlantic that death penalty cases are too often used to score what amount to ideological points:

At their best, [the Hill and Hearn] cases represent warped legal reasoning. At their worst, [they] represent the cynical use of such reasoning in the pursuit of the unjust and the unreasonable.

All of these are important factors, but they matter about as much to me as does the mental capacity of the two men set to be killed on Wednesday — which is to say: Very, very secondarily.

I realize that the following is neither nuanced, nor analytic, but occasionally the ethics of a circumstance require neither:  Bottom line, the death penalty is wrong. Killing people is wrong.

In a moment of self-defense, in an effort to protect others, or while in the course of a war in which the dead wear uniforms — we have made exceptions for these cases, because sometimes we must weigh one evil against another. Such is human reality. We must sometimes accept that which is unacceptable because we have no choice.

But the death penalty is never such a case. When we execute people — whether they are innocent like Troy Davis and Cameron Todd Willingham, mentally disabled like Warren Hill or Yokamon Hearn, or just straight-up guilty like Scott Peterson — we are making a choice. We are sitting at our desks in air conditioned comfort, going home to tuck in our children and sleep in our beds, getting up in the morning and looking ourselves in the mirror.

And choosing death.

It’s never right. Never.

If you’re in/near Georgia, here’s a list of vigil sites for Warren Hill; if you’re in/near Texas, here’s a list of sites for Yokamon Hearn.

To my mind, these are not vigils simply for the men in question, but for our nation and, if you will forgive me, our soul. If you have a chance to go, please do.

Troy Davis given execution date.

Troy Davis in the Chatham County Superior Court during his trail in the shooting death of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail. (AP Photo/Savannah Morning News)

UPDATE: Many thanks to Glenn Greenwald, at Salon.com, for linking to this post in his piece “Cheering for state-imposed death.” The number of click-throughs to the various Amnesty petitions and sign-on letters has jumped exponentially since he linked, and it is my sincere hope that these additional names will serve to help Troy Davis win clemency.


Troy Davis, the death row inmate about whom I wrote last week, has been given an execution date of September 21.

I repeat: Mr. Davis is almost certainly innocent of the crime for which the state of Georgia wants to kill him.

There is no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, seven out of the nine eyewitnesses have recanted, stating that they had been pressured, coerced or frightened into testifying, and jury members have said flat out: “If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row.”

The police officer that Mr. Davis was convicted of murdering deserves that justice be done — but killing a man who had nothing to do with Officer MacPhail’s death will only compound the injustice horribly.

Please, please:

  1. If you haven’t signed the Amnesty petition yet, please do so by clicking here.
  2. If you are a member of the legal profession or clergy, please join the sign-on letters being circulated in support of Mr. Davis’s request for clemency. Legal professionals click here; clergy, click here.
  3. Write a letter to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles (address and sample letter below): Here again, it is important to focus on the holes in the case — the fact that anything less than an ironclad verdict cannot be the basis for the death penalty.
  4. Watch the following video, regarding clemency for Troy, and pass it on– “The State of Georgia does not have to execute Troy Davis and it should not execute Troy Davis,” in the words of Prof Russell Covey, Criminal Law Expert, Georgia State University. “There is one fail-safe built into the system that still exists, and that’s the clemency process.”
  5. ASK OTHERS TO DO LIKEWISE, particularly citizens of Georgia. Send a link to this post, or to any of the above information, and ask your friends and loved ones to take action. Twitter and Facebook are great ways to spread news far and wide — if you are on either, please use them in support of Troy.

There is no other way to put this: There is a very real possibility that Troy Davis will be dead before the month is out, killed for a crime that he didn’t commit. Please do whatever you can to save his life.


IMPORTANT UPDATE: Please note that as of today (9/14/11) snailmail will likely take too long to reach the board. Commenter AndyHall provides this email address for forwarding letters to the board: Clemency_Information@pap.state.ga.us (and suggests that, if you can, attach it as a .pdf as well, with a signature), and this site for more contact information: http://www.pap.state.ga.us/opencms/opencms/

Sample letter to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles (if you are a member of the legal profession or clergy, please say so in your letter):

Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles
2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, SE
Suite 458, Balcony Level, East Tower
Atlanta, Georgia 30334-4909.

To the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles,

In the interest of justice, I appeal to you to grant clemency to Troy Davis, who is currently scheduled to be executed on September 21.  He was sentenced to death in 1991 for the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail.

I am deeply concerned that Mr. Davis may be executed despite serious doubts regarding his guilt, and the fact that the case against him has steadily unraveled over the years. There is no physical evidence linking Mr. Davis to the crime, seven out of nine eyewitnesses have recanted, and many witnesses have implicated another man all together, someone reported to have boasted of the crime to friends — one of the original witnesses. There are scores of unresolved questions about what happened the night of the murder, and only one thing is clear: There is overwhelming doubt.

The murder of Officer MacPhail was tragic, and I in no way seek to deny or diminish the pain and suffering the MacPhail family has endured, but executing Troy Davis will not bring them justice. Please act quickly to grant Mr. Davis clemency.




UPDATE: Edited to remove an action step that has since been deemed counter-productive.

UPDATE: Calling legal professionals and clergy for Troy Davis.

Yesterday I wrote about Troy Davis and the fact that he has been sentenced to death for a murder that he almost certainly did not commit. Despite copious evidence pointing to Mr. Davis’s innocence, the state of Georgia will likely give him an execution date in September.

In that post, I asked that you watch a video and sign the Amnesty petition, but Jen Marlowe pointed out that if you are a legal professional or member of the clergy, you can take an extra, crucial step: Joining a sign-on letter to demonstrate that those most familiar with the law, and those most intimately attuned to this nation’s spiritual and ethical standards, support Mr. Davis in his request for clemency. Legal professionals can sign the appropriate letter by clicking here; members of the clergy can add their names by clicking here.

This cannot be stated baldly enough: Troy Davis may soon be put to death for a crime he almost certainly did not commit.

Please ask someone you know to join you in taking a stand.

“A verdict that is not ironclad is not good enough to support the death penalty.”

UPDATE: If you are a legal professional or member of the clergy, please click here to read an important update.

Let me get this out of the way: I am opposed to the death penalty under any circumstances. I think that Adolf Eichmann should have been allowed to rot in prison. I don’t think that killing people helps society in any way, if it’s not absolutely necessary for reasons of defense, and I don’t believe that the death penalty acts as any kind of deterrent.

And yet, I do understand the impulse behind the death penalty. Some people really have done monstrous things, and I can understand the desperate feeling that such monsters produce in our hearts, the horror, the sense that monsters do not deserve to live.

But at the very least, should we not be absolutely certain that the person about to be executed is, in fact, a monster? Did, in fact, do what we’re killing that person for doing?

Twenty years ago, Troy Davis was convicted of murdering Mark MacPhail, a police officer in Savannah, Georgia. There is no physical evidence tying Mr. Davis to Officer MacPhail’s murder, and seven of the nine non-law enforcement witnesses have recanted, saying, time and again, that they were frightened and coerced by police, and that moreover, they were terrified by the man they believe to have actually committed the crime. Mr. Davis has himself always maintained his innocence, and jurors have said, flat out: “If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on death row.”

In spite of all of this, and much more, Mr. Davis remains on death row. He has already lived through execution dates (once coming within an hour or so of death — stop and imagine that for a minute) only to win a stay each time — but a stay of execution is procedural. Mr. Davis is still in danger of being killed for a crime that, at the very least, it is entirely possibly that he did not commit — and he will likely be given a new execution date in September.

If you have 73 seconds to spare, please watch the following video, made by my friend Jen Marlowe, who has done holy work in bringing Mr. Davis’s case to the public eye for years (if you have a bit more time, you can watch the series of four videos in which the shorter clip’s themes are fleshed out and more details provided). Please, please: Sign the Amnesty petition — Amnesty has wisely taken no stand on Mr. Davis’s guilt or innocence, maintaining only that in a case this riddled with doubt, no one should be put to death.

There is one chance remaining for Mr. Davis: The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles. The Parole Board can consider information that the court system cannot, and exercise clemency. In the words of Prof. Anne Emanuel, a death penalty expert at Georgia State University:

Because I find this conviction and this sentence so troubling, what I would like to see the Parole Board do is not only exercise the power of clemency to set aside the death penalty — I think that is an absolute moral and legal necessity in this case, if for no other reason than it is so terribly unfair to the jurors themselves who allowed this death penalty to proceed when the evidence on which they relied has now been disproved and some of it withdrawn by the state itself…. A verdict that is not ironclad is not good enough to support the death penalty.

Please do these two small things — watch the following video, and click here to sign the petition — and then do one more thing: Tell someone else.

Simply put, there is nothing on earth that justifies putting Troy Davis to death. Please do what you can to save his life.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.