Slamming the door on defendants
November 02, 2007
David Dow, the author of Executed on a Technicality: Lethal Injustice on America's Death Row, is a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. He is also the founder and director of the Texas Innocence Network (TIN), which helps inmates, including many convicted of capital crimes in a state where the death penalty is enforced far more often than in any other state, appeal their convictions.
TIN and other groups like it have helped to overturn numerous death penalty convictions, but earlier this week, one of Dow's clients, Michael Richard, was executed when a judge refused to accept a last-minute appeal. Dow weighs in on this case, and about the Kentucky lethal injection challenge before the Supreme Court, which has prompted a virtual moratorium on lethal injection, in the Washington Post. While the judge in question, Sharon Keller, has rightly come under fire, Dow asserts that there is plenty of blame to go around.
The Texas attorney general's office... knew of our intentions that day. Officials there also knew about the delay. Attorney General Greg Abbott could have advised the warden not to proceed with Richard's execution, but he elected not to. Gov. Rick Perry (R) knew what was happening but did not act. The district attorney's office... also declined to act.
Finally, there is the Supreme Court. For half a decade lawyers have been trying to get the high court to review the constitutionality of the prevalent protocol for lethal injections. The justices knew what they had done that morning in the Kentucky case. They also knew -- because we told them in a last-minute pleading -- that the state court had closed its door on us.
Yet the justices did nothing. They allowed the execution to proceed. Judge Keller's decision, effectively consigning Michael Richard to death, was reprehensible. But it was also typical of the arbitrariness and brazen disregard for legal principle that characterizes most death penalty cases. Since the Supreme Court set this moratorium in motion with its announcement in September, nearly all of the more than 3,000 death row inmates in America have had their lives extended -- all, that is, except one.
In the aftermath of the execution, judges and lawyers alike have been calling for electronic filing as a way to avoid delays, and even Harris County, the nation's death penalty leader, "will withdraw all execution dates and seek no more until the Supreme Court rules in a pending case on lethal injections."