This Week in Pointless Executions

June 17, 2010

On Monday, June 14th, Ronnie Lee Gardner was denied clemency by the Utah Board of Pardons and Paroles.  Much of the attention since, and really before, has been on Gardner’s chosen method of execution – the firing squad. 

Yet there are many other issues that we should not lose sight of in our morbid fascination with old timey methods of state killing.

Following the Utah Board’s decision, Gardner’s attorneys filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court questioning the fairness of the clemency process, because the state Attorney General’s Office was simultaneously pursuing Ronnie Gardner’s execution while serving as legal advisor to the Board.

In addition to the civil rights suit, three jurors from Gardner’s trial in 1985 have come forward and signed statements expressing that they no longer support his execution.  One juror, Pauline Davies, wrote that she “felt coerced into voting for death.”

Another juror, Colleen Cline, in a phone interview said, “I think we all would have gone for life without parole if that had been an option. But in the state of Utah, it was not an option at that time.” Instead the jurors were forced to choose between capital punishment and a life sentence with the possibility of parole.  Gardner, who has the support of friends and family of the victim and who has spent 25 years on death row, faces execution this Friday, though there is still a chance Utah’s Governor could intervene. Amnesty International is urging him to do so

On Tuesday, June 15th David Lee Powell was executed in Texas for the murder of a police officer committed in May 1978. He had been on death row for more than half of his life.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against clemency, unanimously rejecting Powell’s powerful case of rehabilitation and change. He was in the midst of a methamphetamine addiction when the crime occurred, but Powell cleaned up in prison where a noted psychologist stated, “David Powell ha[d] an exceptional ability to reach out and educate others. He [could] trace his own untoward footsteps and paths with great clarity and wisdom.” Powell’s years in prison changed him and it became clear that he no longer posed a danger to anyone and no longer qualified for execution under terms of “future dangerousness“.  Texas was given a chance to change as well and grant clemency for once, but the execution was carried out as scheduled.