WORLD

DEADLY RECKONINGS

DEATH-PENALTY OPPONENTS FIND NO ONE TO CARRY THEIR CAUSE IN A LAW-AND-ORDER POLITICAL YEAR

HILARY MACKENZIE May 18 1992
WORLD

DEADLY RECKONINGS

DEATH-PENALTY OPPONENTS FIND NO ONE TO CARRY THEIR CAUSE IN A LAW-AND-ORDER POLITICAL YEAR

HILARY MACKENZIE May 18 1992

DEADLY RECKONINGS

WORLD

DEATH-PENALTY OPPONENTS FIND NO ONE TO CARRY THEIR CAUSE IN A LAW-AND-ORDER POLITICAL YEAR

But for his Canadian citizenship, Texas inmate Joseph Stanley Faulder would probably be a dead man today. In one of the bizarre twists of deathrow politics in the United States, Faulder, 54, an Albertan condemned to die in 1977 for the murder of a wealthy 75-year-old Texas widow, was granted a 90-day stay of execution last week. The reasons were legalistic: Ottawa sent a strongly worded diplomatic note to Texas Gov. Ann Richards, arguing that American authorities had violated the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Services by not informing Faulder of his right to consult with Canadian government officials after his arrest. As well,

his lawyers argued that the Texas state courts had not examined family medical records showing that Faulder had suffered serious brain damage when he was three years old. But opponents of the death penalty say that whether or not Faulder’s lastditch legal challenge fails and he is killed by lethal injection, the Albertan has already become another pawn in a cruel game, where the odds are stacked against blacks, the poor and the uneducated. Faulder

Last week, as Faulder rejoined 348 other men on death row in Texas, his fellow inmate at the Huntsville prison, Justin May, 46, became

another grim statistic. May was the 12th person put to death in the United States this year, and the 171st since a 1976 Supreme Court decision sanctioned a resumption of the death penalty after a four-year hiatus. Less than 24 hours after May received the fatal injection, Steven Douglas Hill, 25, was executed in Varner, Ark., after he was denied clemency by Gov. William Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner. Among the 2,588 deathrow inmates awaiting execution by firing squad, electrocution, hanging, the gas chamber or lethal injection are two other Canadians: Ronald Smith, 34, who committed murder in 1982 in Montana, and Patrick Jeffries, 57, who was convicted of a 1983 double murder in Washington state.

Capital punishment is not likely to become an issue in the 1992 presidential election. Opponents and advocates agree that support for the death penalty has become a litmus test for whether a politician is soft or hard on crime. Because the vast majority of Americans—80 per cent in recent opinion polls—favor capital punishment, there is no political advantage in opposing it. Said Steven Bright, director of the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights: “Politicians have latched on to the death penalty as the sound bite that shows them to be tough on crime.” With the subject

_ relegated to the fringe of

American politics, opposition to capital punishment is waged by a small core of organized activists, like those who mounted a vain vigil outside California’s San Quentin prison last month to save double murderer Robert Alton Harris from a grisly 16-minute death in the gas chamber.

Opponents of the death penalty, a group that includes religious, human and civil rights activists, have seized upon the gruesome nature of executions, denouncing them as barbaric acts of primal vengeance by the state. And they continue to claim that the death penalty does not deter

violent crime, pointing out that in the United States in 1990, 23,438 people were slain, a murder rate of 9.4 per 100,000 people. At the same time in Canada—where, although the death penalty remained in effect until 1976, no one has been executed in 30 years—589 people were killed, or 2.2 per 100,000 people. That is fewer than the number of murders each year in many major American cities.

Instead of deterrence, argues Michael Kroll, director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, the American debate revolves around retribution. “They took a life, they give a life,” Kroll said of violent criminals and the public’s hardened attitude towards them. He and other death-penalty opponents maintain that it reflects an impulse deeply rooted in the psychology of American culture. Said Henry Schwarzschild, director emeritus of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project: “There is a macho undertone to the culture. It is the Wild West mentality.”

That thinking is reflected in much of the current American debate over capital punishment. Unlike the impassioned 98-hour debate in Canada in 1976, when politicians struggled with the moral implications of retiring the hangman, tearing down the gallows and jailing first-degree murderers for life instead, the debate in the

United States has focused on perfecting the method of execution. Public executions in the United States were common during the 19th century and continued as late as 1936 in Kentucky, when a hanging drew a crowd of 20,000. In the past 30 years, opponents of capital punishment argue, executions have become highly ritualized. “There has been a push to develop a means of execution that is sterile, quiet and visually painless for the witnesses,” said Leigh Dingerson, executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She added that lethal injection, used by 19 states, has been marketed to the public as a gentle method to “put people to sleep.” Dingerson says that dressing the criminal in brand-new clothes and allowing him a symbolic last meal, which often includes a shot of whisky, completes the “sacrifice.” But unlike a biblical sacrifice, where an offering was made to God to change something, she says that “nothing changes” with executions.

Opponents argue that even sanitized capital punishment is a placebo and does not address the root causes of violent crime in America. Nearly 20 years after the Supreme Court found the death penalty to be unconstitutional mainly

due to racial discrimination, they say that capital punishment still mirrors the worst parts of the justice system: racism, unfair treatment of the poor and mentally unstable, and inadequate legal defence. “White lives are valued more than blacks despite the civil rights movement and the abolition of slavery,” said Dingerson.

In Jasper, Alta., Faulder’s sister, Patricia Nicholl, 60, says that she is outraged by her brother’s treatment at the hands of the American criminal justice system. Nicholl said that the family was never given a chance to help him at his trial by producing compelling medical evidence about his state of mind. “He suffered serious brain damage when he was thrown out of a car that causes him to black out for periods,” Nicholl told Maclean’s. She added: “Certainly, he was railroaded. It was Texas justice. He is an intelligent man who suffers mental blackouts.” Medical evidence, and a legal technicality, may save the Canadian’s life. But two more Texas inmates face execution this week—a stark reminder that America’s thirst for vengeance has not beën slaked.

HILARY MACKENZIE

JOHN HOWSE