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Death Penalty Resumed with Georgia Execution Tonight

Christopher Hill,
Capital Punishment Project
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May 6, 2008

Georgia will kill a man tonight. When it injects poison into the veins of William Earl Lynd, Georgia will end the longest period of time between executions since Furman v. Georgia.

A lot has happened since September 25, 2007, when Texas killed Michael Richard. There were many lessons to learn while we shut down the machinery of death. In fact, Richard’s execution caused some controversy. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in the case of Baze v. Rees which started this de facto moratorium. Richard’s lawyers tried to get a stay based on the Supreme Court hearing. Unfortunately, their computers had problems and they would not be able to file to necessary paperwork by 5:00 pm. When Richard’s attorneys called the court to ask for 20 more minutes, the Hon. Sharon Keller, Chief Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, told the lawyers the courthouse closes at 5:00 p.m. Richard was dead three hours later. We should have learned that there is an inherent cruelty in a system that can’t wait for 20 minutes for a person to get access to the courts.

Georgia will execute a man even though New Jersey abolished its death penalty during this moratorium. We could have learned from New Jersey that, as the state’s study commission said, “[t]he alternative of life imprisonment in a maximum security institution without the possibility of parole would sufficiently ensure public safety and address other legitimate social and penological interests, including the interests of the families of murder victims.”

Georgia will kill Lynd despite the fact that five men have been released from death row because they were innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. Four of the five were black and all were poor. We should have learned that our death rows are populated with people preparing to die for crimes they did not commit.

Georgia will resume executions even though a recent study by the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice showed that capital punishment is “irrelevant to homicide.” This study, once again, proves that there is no proof the capital punishment is deters murder. Lynd will die tonight despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Snyder v. Louisiana that a prosecutor impermissibly struck a black juror in a death penalty case. That left an all-white jury to decide the fate of a black man, who was repeatedly compared to O.J. Simpson. We should have learned that racism is still prevalent in our criminal justice system and that there is no way to guarantee a fair trial in a death penalty case.

William Earl Lynd will die tonight in spite of problems with his own case. Lynd was accused of shooting his girlfriend and putting her in the trunk of her car and, according to the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, Lynd shot her twice more after he moved the car because she was still alive. He was eligible for the death penalty because when she was put in the car, he received a charge of kidnapping. Another aggravating factor in the crime was that his girlfriend did not die immediately which, along with the kidnapping, made this a capital crime. It seems that Lynd’s girlfriend was dead before he put her in the car. This would remove the aggravating factors from the crime and thus remove the death penalty. The information that the girlfriend was dead before she was placed in the car was discovered by a licensed doctor. The person who performed the autopsy used at trial was not licensed. We should learn that junk science and bad forensic work can place a person on death row.

The obvious question is why should we care if Georgia kills a murderer like Lynd? The answer is well-stated in the opinion of the Nebraska Supreme Court when it ruled the state’s electric chair was cruel and unusual punishment based on the state’s constitution, which also happened during the moratorium. Judge William Connolly of the Nebraska Supreme Court said “[w]e recognize the temptation to make the prisoner suffer, just as the prisoner made an innocent victim suffer. But it is the hallmark of a civilized society that we punish cruelty without practicing it.”

If Lynd is does not receive a stay, executions will resume tonight in Georgia. We have not learned from the information gathered during the moratorium. When the death chambers were silent, we should have listened to the screams of the evidence that this capital punishment system is broken. We should have enjoyed our time as a civilized society that does not practice cruelty. Instead, we just waited for word from the High Court and filled up death dockets as fast as we could.

Georgia will kill a man tonight. The machinery of death will crank up again, proving we have learned nothing.