2017 Poster Campaign
The following four posters can be seen around campus. This campaign highlights the stories of four of the twenty individuals who were executed on death row in 2016. Especially in light of the upcoming mass executions in Arkansas, it is more important now than ever to raise awareness about the death penalty. Hopefully, the stories of the following four men help illustrate the flaws in our criminal justice system and underscore just how unjust capital punishment is. It is important to note that these individuals represent a fraction of the people who were executed on death row last year and their experiences do not paint the full picture of our broken criminal justice system.
A couple of facts:
- Innocent people are put to death. Since 1976, 157 innocent men and women have been released from death row, including some who came within minutes of execution. In other words, for every 10 people executed since the death penalty was reinstated, 1 was found to be innocent
- Death Row discriminates. According to Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an individual is 11 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white and an individual is 22 times more likely to get the death penalty if the defendant is black and the victim is white
- Death Row is expensive. The death penalty system is far more expensive than life imprisonment, when accounting for the high costs of death-penalty trials, appeals, and housing for individuals on death row. In California, for example, keeping an individual on death row costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than maintaining the general incarcerated person in prison. This is not to say that life imprisonment without parole is the preferred alternative. Instead, we offer this data to quell the myth that using capital punishment on individuals is cheaper than retaining them in prisons
- The death penalty has not been proven to deter crime. According to the National Research Council Board, there is no reliable research to determine whether capital punishment deters crime.
Adam Kelly Ward was executed at 6:34 PM on March 22, 2016.
Mr. Ward was convicted of killing a city worker in 2007 over an argument about large piles of trash accumulating outside of his residence in Commerce, Texas.
During his trial, Mr. Ward's lawyers brought fourth evidence of his mental illness--specifically, his delusions, paranoia, and bipolar disorder. A psychiatrist at Mr. Ward's original trial testified that the defendant suffered from a mental illness which caused him to experience "paranoid delusions such that he believes there might be a conspiracy against him and that people might be after him or trying to harm him,” according to an article in the Texas Tribune. Further, the appeals court recognized Mr. Ward's mental impairment and determined that he has been aggressive and easily agitated since age four, and developed delusions as early as 12. According to Judge Edward C. Pardo, Mr. Ward “interpreted neutral things as a threat or personal attack.”
Before the execution, The US Supreme Court rejected an appeal that asserted Mr. Ward's mental illness should have barred him from receiving the death penalty. His attorneys argued that executing Mr. Ward would be a violation of the eighth amendment to the US Constitution which prohibits the government from inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on an individual. The state carried out the execution a couple of hours later.
Brandon Astor Jones was executed at 12:46 AM on February 3rd, 2016.
Psychologists have described Mr. Jones as exhibiting a “lifelong pattern of behavior consistent with childhood-onset bipolar disorder.” He showed signs of PTSD rooted in “physical, sexual, and emotional trauma” from persistent child abuse at home and in a notorious state reformatory he attended as a teen. Brandon Astor Jones was sentenced to death for the murder of a white manager of a gas station that he and an accomplice were trying to rob. He spent 38 years on death row before becoming the oldest man to be executed by the state of Georgia in 2016. The executioner team struggled for an hour to put in the IV, which was finally inserted into Mr. Jones’ groin area. Mr. Jones was a writer, and while on death row, became a prolific pen pal correspondent with a worldwide following. His writings can be found on this blog: https://brandonswriting.wordpress.com/about/
Mr. Jones’ lawyers fought to stay the execution by pointing to the unconstitutionality of Georgia’s secrecy law. The law prohibits the state from identifying the manufacturers of the lethal drugs involved in the execution process, allowing the state to withhold any information on the drug—quality standards for production, credentials of the people involved, how it was tested and when the state acquired it. Mr. Jones’ lawyers criticized the statute, arguing that it violates the Constitution and enables cruel and unusual punishment during the execution process. More about this can be read here: https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2016-01-29/death-row-inmates-case-targets-georgias-strict-secrecy-law
At 11:49 PM, Wednesday, October 20th of 2016, the state of Georgia carried out the execution of Gregory Lawler.
19 years prior, Mr. Lawler was convicted for shooting at Atlanta police officers, killing one and critically injuring another.
The execution was originally set for 7:00 pm, but was delayed nearly five hours while the courts reviewed Mr. Lawler’s appeals for a stay. Mr. Lawler’s defense attorneys asked both to the Supreme Court of Georgia and the Supreme Court of the United States for a stay on the grounds of Mr. Lawler’s mental health status. The attorneys pointed to the fact that, just last month, Mr. Lawler was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. They argued that executing a man with chronic autism would violate the 8th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlaws cruel and unusual punishment. The Georgia Supreme Court rejected the appeal just before 7:00 pm last night, at which point the attorneys took the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Just after 11:00 pm, the higher court denied the appeal. Soon after, Gregory Lawler was injected with the barbiturate pentobarbital and was pronounced dead at 11:49 pm.
Mr. Lawler was the seventh man put to death in Georgia this year. This is the highest number of executions to take place in any state this year. Furthermore, it is also the greatest number of executions performed in a calendar year in Georgia since the death penalty was reinstated nationwide in 1976.
At 10:31 PM on December 8th, the state of Alabama began what would be a 34-minute execution of 45-year-old Ronald Smith. Mr. Smith was pronounced dead at 11:05 PM. Disturbingly, during 13 minutes of the execution, from 10:34 to 10:47, to Mr. Smith’s chest heaved, he coughed, and clenched his fist, suggesting he suffered as he died.
On November 8th, 1994, Mr. Smith entered a convenience store and shot the store clerk, Casey Wilson, to death during a robbery caught on camera. The following August, the jury unanimously convicted Mr. Smith of capital murder. The jury recommended a sentence of life imprisonment by a 7-5 vote, but the judge overruled the jurors’ findings and sentenced Mr. Smith to death. Alabama is the only state in which a judge can overrule a jury’s verdict and inflict the death penalty on an individual.
The override rule stands in direct opposition to the social consensus of the rest of our nation—and for good reason. According to legal experts, the overwhelming discretion afforded to judges by this rule increases instances of injustice. Already in Alabama, there have been three cases where an innocent—and later exonerated—person was sentenced to death after the judge overrode the jurors’ recommendation for life without parole.