The Truth About Choosing Between Life and Death

Serving life without parole is not the big easy. Prisoners who are sentenced to live behind bars every day until they die are not spending their hours watching football games in air-conditioned cells.

But imagine if you didn't know that. Imagine that all you ever heard was the false tale, so often depicted in the media, that incarceration until death is like being locked in a country club. If you'd never heard the truth that being sentenced to a small, sometimes crowded and sometimes painfully isolated cement cell means suffering every day, it would be hard to know that life without parole is an extreme and excruciating punishment.

In Mississippi and at least three other states, juries don't get to hear testimony about the true conditions of life behind bars. In a data-driven society where we demand information for the most mundane of choices, this artificial suppression of important facts reminds me of the old Pepsi Challenge, but with a patently unfair twist: this time the taster has to pick between Pepsi and Coca Cola without even tasting the Coke. That's no way to pick a cola, and it's certainly no way to pick who should live and who should die.

In a petition for certiorari we recently filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, we challenge a death sentence the State of Mississippi obtained against our client, Leslie Galloway III, by artificially tilting the scales of justice in the state's favor. The State convinced the jury to have Mr. Galloway executed by forbidding it from hearing anything about the harsh conditions Mr. Galloway would face in a Mississippi prison if the jury chose a sentence of life imprisonment without parole instead of execution.

Mr. Galloway was convicted of capital murder in 2010. Upon convicting him, his jury became responsible for the single most difficult task we ask of juries in this land – to decide if he should live out the rest of his days locked in prison, or if the State should strap him to a gurney and execute him. When the prosecutor stands up and tells the jury that only execution would be just (as the prosecutor claimed in this case), the jury needs an answer to the question: in comparison to what? Juries should get enough information to understand not only the crime and the details of the defendant's life leading up to the crime, but they should also get to know what a life sentence looks like to assess if it is the appropriate punishment – would the prisoner be sitting in an air conditioned cell watching ESPN all day, with privileges and freedoms that would give him opportunities to hurt others, or would he truly suffer in prison and be kept under close guard?

At Mr. Galloway's trial for his life, his defense team was prepared to present the testimony of Donald Cabana, who had long served as superintendent of the Mississippi State Prison at Parchman. If permitted to testify, Cabana would have set the record straight by telling the jury that Galloway "is not going to be in an air conditioned cell, he is not going to [get his own cell,] and he is going to be suffering every day, a horrible existence, and they need to know that." But, on the prosecutor's motion, the Mississippi courts blocked this testimony completely.

Many jurors and a substantial portion of the public believe that life imprisonment without parole can be adequate punishment, even for very heinous crimes. In many states that still have the death penalty on the books, testimony about the prison conditions that life imprisonment entails is an important part of capital trials. By artificially excluding from the jury's consideration the true conditions of imprisonment, Mississippi turned Lady Justice on her head in order to secure a death sentence for Mr. Galloway.

Death sentences based on misinformation are sadly a part of our broken death penalty system, leading to reversal after reversal. This petition gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to fix a death sentence based on a lack of information crucial to the jury's verdict. For the sake of Leslie Galloway, let's hope the Court grants it.

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Anonymous

This is bull crap. The death penalty, if allowed to function rather than causing years of delays, actually works!

Anonymous

Look up the Richard Speck. Familiarize yourself with his crimes, then look up the Richard Speck tapes.

Anonymous

Look up Richard Speck. Familiarize yourself with his crimes. Then Google Richard Speck Tapes and watch the video.

Anonymous

The years of delays are to make sure more innocent people aren't executed like Cameron Todd Willingham was in Texas. And I agree with the article that if we expect juries to make these tough calls, they have to get all the information about what the options are, not just information designed to make them fall back on stereotypes about prisoners lazing the days away on the taxpayers' dime.

Anonymous

Sure it works to kill.... and on the death certificate it says"homicide" which makes all of us murderers because we allow the state to kill in the name of "the people".... killing does not bring back the victim.

Vicki B.

Well, I'm sorry but I don't believe it and I have firsthand knowledge of the prison situation. I'm a gunshot victim who's been sentenced to a life - which Emergency Medical personnel brought me back into (they should have let me stay dead over THIS garbage but never mind) - of physical pain that's so intense it's practically crippling, missed occupational opportunities b/c of the pain that never diminishes and no spiritual opportunities after everyone got sick of my questioning what kind of "god" brings you back to this if death really WAS "the better place that everyone insisted it was when my daughter's dad was ripped out of the physical realm with a merciless brutality I'd never seen before or since.

I once visited the prison the guy who PUT me in this condition spends his time in, and I asked questions as I went through the tour they gave me. The only thing I didn't want to do was actually see him but about most other things, I was curious to know.
Well what I discovered was that he had almost more rights than *I* did. They even gave him computer classes so that when he was able to get Parole, he'd be able to make a transition into society more easily than if he had no skills at all.
What he did with the computer skills they taught him, which I didn't know at the time I made this visit, was use them to look up both mine and the other guy he shot's addresses and write both of us the most hideous hate letters you ever SAW. Either thinking we'd be way too terrified to do anything about it or not caring if we DID b/c he sent us the letters from prison, and no I don't know how he got them past the guards who supposedly inspect his incoming and outgoing mail. They never cared to enlighten me as to how that occurred. But he got BOTH of them past and sent us threatening mail the year he was being considered for Early Release onto Parole.

His request for Early Parole was unsurprisingly denied, but I've lived every day since then in fear that he'll somehow find my address once again, after he's ready to be released the next time, probably in a year that has exceeded the judge's allotted time. And after finding out what you can do on computers and knowing how to get people's exact addresses via online efforts the fear has increased 400-fold so that I now believe that the date of my own death will occur not long after he's released from prison.

Even people who have spent lots of time in prison have told me: there are some really NOT-nice people in prison. They don't deserve Early Parole, and some of them don't even deserve to escape the Death Penalty in my opinion, and I don't GIVE A FLYING DUTCHMAN'S DAMN if killing them does or DOESN'T "bring them back."
NOT killing them doesn't bring them back EITHER. Nobody, who agrees with capital punishment in extreme cases is so goddam stupid that they think it's going to "bring them back," so why would anyone who DOES agree with it ever in their wildest dreams use THAT as the reason they believe in capital punishment.
I agree that the system's broken. I agree that the wrong people die sometimes, and I DON'T think they should "have capital punishment and sacrifice those people for the continued existence of the death penalty." Like one of my plain stupid friends thought, who is no longer my friend anyway so I don't really care what I say about her.
But I sure as hell don't think the guy who shot ME should be allowed out of prison into a world where he can find me without even TRYING that hard to do it. And into a world where the way he got his guns the first time he shot someone, which wasn't me, can still get them the same exact way without alerting police, without alerting ANYbody until it's once again too late. Which, if he does this again, will be the THIRD time he's done this. Not the first or second.
If he gets out, I'm dead unless they find a way to stop all this mass surveillance by computer crap. That's all I'm saying. I'm a dead woman walking if he gets out before then.

Joel Nathaniel

On debate.org I penned a draft constitution amendment requiring all sentences be the same for everyone, depending on the charge. What the sentencing will be is up to the state. At last look it had a 70% approval rating. Above the 65% requirement.

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