USA: Texas to carry out 250th execution under Governor Rick Perry

News
October 31, 2012

USA: Texas to carry out 250th execution under Governor Rick Perry

The US state of Texas is set to carry out its 250th execution under the governorship of Rick Perry.

The execution – of 41-year-old Donnie Roberts, convicted of murder in 2004 – is scheduled for 6pm on 31 October.

In less than a dozen years, Texas has executed more than twice as many prisoners than any other state in the USA has executed in three-and-a-half decades.

“Capital punishment is inescapably cruel and incompatible with human dignity wherever and whenever it occurs,” said Rob Freer, USA Researcher at Amnesty International.

“Any jurisdiction that still employs the death penalty is utterly at odds with the global abolitionist trend.”

Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized the Texas authorities for failing to lead their state away from the death penalty and has highlighted arbitrariness, discrimination and error in the application of the punishment in this and other states of the USA.

In his first "State of the State" address on 25 January 2001, a month after becoming Governor, Rick Perry said: "Like most Texans, I am a proponent of capital punishment because it affirms the high value we place on innocent life."

Since then, the exercise of his power of reprieve has been vanishingly rare, and clemency recommendations from his appointees on the state Board of Pardons and Paroles have been few and far between.

In 2004, in the case of a prisoner suffering from serious mental illness, Governor Perry allowed the execution to proceed despite a rare recommendation from the Board.

“Even if one were to accept the notion that taking a prisoner from his or her cell, strapping them down and killing them, can somehow promote respect for life rather than erode it, the state’s ‘high value’ label apparently attaches only to the lives of a few murder victims,” Freer pointed out.

Under a US Supreme Court precedent, the death penalty is supposedly reserved for the “worst of the worst” crimes and offenders.

Since January 2001, there have been about 15,000 murders in Texas and 249 executions.

“If the ‘worst of the worst’ claim conjures images of rational, calculating, remorseless killers going to their execution under a capital justice system that reliably weeds out errors and inequities, this picture rapidly dissolves when one takes a look at who ends up in the death chamber and how they got there,” said Freer.

In a report to mark the upcoming 250th execution, Amnesty International highlights the executions in Texas this year of another man with serious mental illness, one with a strong claim that he had “mental retardation”, and another who was 19-years-old at the time of the crime and sentenced to death by a jury which had only a partial picture of the severe abuse, poverty and neglect he had endured as a child.

One in six of the prisoners put to death in Texas since January 2001 was aged 17, 18 or 19 at the time of the crime.

“After he took office in 2001, Governor Perry acknowledged there was room for improvement in the Texan justice system – a dozen years and 249 executions later, it is still doing its worst," Freer said.

“All Texans – including authorities at all levels and the electorate – should recognize that the only way to eradicate the discrimination, error, unfairness and cruelty associated with the death penalty is to abolish it."

Texas accounts for 38 per cent of executions carried out in the USA since the US Supreme Court – in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976 – allowed executions to resume under revised capital laws.

Texas has carried out 11 of the 34 executions so far this year in the USA and is heading for its 500th since the Gregg ruling.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as being the ultimate cruel and unusual punishment.