From Ricardo Levins Morales’ Studio.
Sep 25, 2011
By Michael Daly
For the anonymous executioners of death row, the ‘high’ of pulling the lever is often followed by a lifetime of doubt.
Only a fellow executioner like 59-year-old Jerry Givens would know how crushingly hard it will continue to be for those who put Troy Davis to death last week even as he continued to insist on his innocence.
“The executioner is the one that suffers,” Givens says on the day after Davis’s execution in Georgia. “The person that carries out the execution itself is stuck with it the rest of his life. He has to wear that burden. Who would want that on them?”
During the 17 years that Givens worked as an executioner in Virginia, he put 62 men to death. And each time, he felt what he calls “the executioner high,” an adrenalized state that always imparted a merciful unreality as he sat behind a curtain and pulled the lever, releasing a fatal cocktail of three drugs that seemed to him less humane than the electricity he previously unleashed by pulling a switch. The chemicals of lethal injection always took eternal minutes longer than the deadly jolt from the electric chair.
“I had to transform myself into a person who would take a life,” Givens says. “That transformation might linger for a while. You might be on that for three weeks.”
He figures this same high visited the executioners in Georgia who dispatched Davis last week, in accordance with the state’s Administrative and Execution Procedures, Lethal Injection, Under Death Sentence. “I guess those people last night were on that emotional executioner high.” He says the high is all the more intense with cases that receive public attention, such as when he dispatched the Briley brothers in Virginia in the mid-1980s after their seven-month spree of rape and at least 11 murders.
But once the protective high wears off, the executioner is left with the reality that he has taken a life. And in the case of condemned prisoners like Davis, who maintain their innocence to the very end, there is always that lingering doubt. The only certainty is that the penalty is irrevocable.
“You take an innocent life—that means I committed murder,” Givens says.
If Troy Davis wasn’t in fact innocent, there is a near certainty that some prisoners presently on death row are. A recent tabulation by the Death Penalty Information Center showed that 138 prisoners were exonerated after being sentenced to death between 1973 and 2010. That included five in Georgia, the state that remained determined to put Davis to death despite the numerous reasonable doubts regarding his guilt and the momentous public outrage joined by such varied public figures as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.
While the prosecutors, jurors, and judge all had their say in putting a prisoner on death row, the task of actually carrying out the sentence falls to an executioner with no idea of what was said and done at trial. “You don’t know,” Givens says. “You don’t take part in the trial. You weren’t there to witness it.” And even cases of undisputed guilt can continue to haunt executioners to the end of their days. In all 62 of Givens’s cases in Virginia, the official paperwork bore a word that has stayed with him. “When you look at the death certificate it says, ‘HOMICIDE,’” he notes. “How can it leave you?”
His career as an executioner ended 11 years ago, when he was convicted on charges of perjury and money laundering unrelated to his work—going to prison himself for four years, swearing he was innocent. Givens is now a truckdriver, but the residual horror of his time as an executioner flashed back to him as he followed from afar the news reports of the Davis case. “Whenever they have an execution, I get back to when I used to do them. It’s human nature.”
Also in human nature is a cumulative revulsion to taking life even when it is legally sanctioned. Those who finally have been driven to campaign against the death penalty include not just executioners like Givens, but a number of wardens who found it unbearable even to give the order that the executioners carry out. A longtime warden of San Quentin prison in California began to choke up when asked about four executions over which she presided, particularly the execution of Manuel Babbitt, a decorated Vietnam vet who killed a 78-year-old woman in a burglary. Babbitt’s brother had turned him in after false assurances that the state would not seek the death penalty. “The brother had to come that night and watch him be executed,” Jeanne Woodford, the former warden, recalls.
The 58-year-old lifelong corrections official says that presiding over executions actually becomes more difficult over time. “You have to appear normal,” she says. “You have to appear in control … You try to tell yourself and your staff that this is the law.”
Her career of nearly four decades culminated with her 2004 appointment as the director of all of California’s prisons, but soon afterward, she resigned.
“I knew I couldn’t carry out another execution,” she says. “I knew I just couldn’t do it.”
She says that, from the start, “it never made sense to me that we would believe killing a human being would make up for killing a human being.”
Woodford has concluded that capital punishment also makes no fiscal sense. She figures that her state spent $4 billion to execute 13 inmates between 1992 and 2006—money that would have been much better spent on fielding more cops. She notes that nearly half of California’s murders go unsolved. “If this is really about public safety, then the better option is to keep police on the streets,” she says.
Woodford further suggests that the ultimate sanction is unacceptably arbitrary in its application. She has joined other former wardens, along with at least one executioner, in a national effort to save others from the experiences that perpetually haunt them.
“The death penalty shouldn’t exist at all,” she says.
In the meantime, executioners in 36 states will continue with the ritual that begins with swabbing the condemned’s arm with alcohol, a ghoulish precaution against infection from the needle that will momentarily deliver death.
One recent addition to the protocol in Georgia is the “consciousness check,” instituted this year after two of the condemned were apparently administered insufficient doses of an anesthetic that precedes the two chemicals that do the actual killing. Because of the insufficient doses, the two are believed to have suffered the horror of being suffocated by the paralyzing pancuronium bromide, and then the agony of being burned from within by the potassium chloride. A shortage of the anesthetic sodium thiopental had forced Georgia officials to purchase a batch from an English firm called Dream Pharma that operates out of a storefront driving school in London.
Besides adopting a new anesthetic, phenobarbital, Georgia adopted the new check, which involves tapping the condemned’s eye and nudging his arm after the administration of the first drug, to ensure he is unconscious before the remaining two are delivered.
That was the procedure followed in the Davis execution, by a team contracted by the state through a company called Rainbow Medical Associates. Rainbow is headlined by Dr. Carlo Musso, who presents himself as a professional descendant of Dr. Guillotin, arguing that he is only trying to spare the condemned prisoner unnecessary suffering.
If Musso is untroubled by his work, he is undoubtedly an exception. The others may still be finding protection in that “executioner high” that Givens describes, and they will likely experience it again on Oct. 5, when Georgia is scheduled to execute Marcus Ray Johnson for killing a woman in 1994.
When that high wears off and reality sets in, the consciousness check will be followed by a conscience check. And, if Givens is right, the executioners will then be the ones who suffer.
Givens finds refuge from his ghosts in religion, coping more successfully than some executioners of earlier days. Two of New York’s executioners committed suicide: Dow Hover by carbon monoxide in 1990 and John Hulbert with a gun in 1929 after saying, “I got tired of killing people.”
From: Atlanta Journal Constitution
September 21, 2011
By Andrew Cohen
The Georgia execution, carried out amid so many reasonable doubts, marks a watershed in America’s grim experiment with capital punishment
In a perfect world, the execution of Troy Davis Wednesday-[last]night in Georgia would herald a new era in America’s grim history with the death penalty. It would shake the criminal justice system out of its self-satisfied torpor and force government and the governed both to face the ugly truth about capital punishment in the United States in the twenty-first century. It would propel this question to the forefront both of the nation’s political debate and the Supreme Court’s docket: How many exceptions to the rule must we allow or tolerate, how many legitimate questions must linger beyond the death chamber, before we either fix the system or end the experiment?
When the state kills those whose guilt is in serious doubt, or when the state kills those to whom it has not given fair justice, it doesn’t just perform an injustice upon the individual, the rule of law, and the Constitution. It also undermines the very legitimacy of the death penalty itself, for its continuing use as a sentencing option derives its civic and moral strength mostly from the fiction that it can be, and is, credibly and reliably imposed. Once our confidence in that credibility is shattered, as it should be now that Davis is gone, all that’s left of the death penalty is state-sponsored retribution and the hangman’s noose.
In a perfect world, the haunting execution of Troy Davis would spawn vital reforms to the clemency and parole process in states like Georgia and Texas, where such proceedings routinely make a mockery of the idea of reasoned justice. It would light a fire under local prosecutors to ensure that witnesses in capital cases are not coerced by law enforcement officials. It would cause jurors to think twice about rushing to judgments. It would force a supine Congress to reevaluate its so-called “effective death penalty” statute, which neuters legitimate post-conviction appeals. And it would at long last shame state court judges to cast off the yoke of their campaign contributors, who push them to be “tough on crime” at the expense of fealty to the Bill of Rights.
Georgia says that it has given Davis more due process than any single man would have a right to expect. Up the state appellate ladder and down again. Up to the Supreme Court and back. Hearing upon hearing. Brief upon brief. At some point, Georgia says, there has to be finality in capital cases. At some point, the justice system has to accept the work of judges and juries and impose the sentence that was initially given. There is truth to all of this. And there is both rhyme and reason to many of the rules which govern appellate law and practice in capital cases. But those rules almost always place the state’s interest in finality ahead of the condemned’s interest in accuracy. “Enough is enough” is a great campaign slogan — but it’s hardly a worthy motto for a civilized nation’s death penalty scheme.
Here’s what Davis was up against, to cite just one example. Last summer, at the request of the United States Supreme Court, U.S. District Judge William Moore held an evidentiary hearing to examine the new claims, and new evidence, presented by Davis and his attorneys. Under federal law, Judge Moore reminded the litigants and the world, Davis had the nearly insurmountable post-conviction burden of establishing by “clear and convincing evidence” that no reasonable juror would have convicted him based upon the new evidence. Applying that standard, which flips on its head the standard applied at trial, Judge Moore unsurprisingly held that Davis had failed to meet his burden.
In a perfect world, Davis would have had his new evidence evaluated under a legal standard more tuned to ensuring the reliability and accuracy of his conviction rather than upon the timing of his execution. His case wouldn’t have been shoved like so many of the rest down a sterile and formalistic legal hole forced upon the federal courts by the Clinton-era Congress. And, even if it somehow were, even if the justice system failed, Davis would have had a parole board willing to acknowledge what seems so self-evident; that an uncertain death sentence harms more than just the executed.
Last week, in an op-ed which appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, William Sessions, the former federal judge and FBI director, and a man not known for willy-nilly considerations, once again called upon Georgia to halt Davis’ execution. His view of the 2010 hearing is the most accurate view I’ve read yet and is quite chilling. Judge Sessions wrote:
What the hearing demonstrated most conclusively was that the evidence in this case — consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements — is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis’ guilt or his innocence. Without DNA or other forms of physical or scientific evidence that can be objectively measured and tested, it is possible that doubts about guilt in this case will never be resolved.
Alas, the world, and the world of capital punishment in America, are far from perfect. When Georgia executed Troy Davis, despite the grave doubts cast upon his capital conviction, it wasn’t just thumbing its nose at the new evidence which tends to exonerate him. It wasn’t just ignoring the considered judgments of experts in criminal justice and capital cases. It wasn’t just winking and nodding at the protections of the “cruel and unusual” clause of the Eighth Amendment. It was instead declaring war on all of that. It was proudly proclaiming its infidelity to a fundamental premise of American law — that the courts, and the state, will always try their best to get things right no matter how long it takes.
Now that’s he gone from the face of the earth, and whether he was guilty or not, Troy Davis will leave one of two legacies. Either his story will fade with time, as have the stories of so many other men executed under a cloud of questions about their guilt, or his story will propel meaningful change in this area of the law. His many supporters, in and out of public life, hold in their hands the ability to determine that legacy. What they could not accomplish during his lifetime they may still try to accomplish in his death; a renewed appreciation for the notion that no man, neither the high nor the low, neither the rich nor the poor, neither white nor black, deserves the lamentable injustice done this day.
This article available online at:
From: Teach Troy Davis – an emergency curriculum by Chicago Educators
Georgia Death Row prisoner Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, September 21 despite overwhelming doubts about his guilt. In light of this imminent execution date, Educators for Troy—a Chicago-based ad hoc group of educators, activists and artists—is calling on all educators to interrupt their regular teaching schedules this week to dedicate a class period to “Teach Troy.”
Please use this emergency “Teach Troy” curriculum to educate your students about the case of Troy Davis. We are providing links to readings and videos about Troy’s case in addition to suggestions for student projects and assignments. We have also included a page that allows your students to take some simple independent actions to help save Troy’s life.
Share your experiences here on the “Teach Troy” blog (on the Feedback page) and ask your students to do the same. Educators and students can also e-mail their work to us directly at email@example.com. We will keep an archive of all contributions here on this blog.
Friday, September 16 – International Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis
Monday, September 19 – Troy Davis’ clemency hearing before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole
Wednesday, September 21 – Troy Davis’ execution date
I found this article fascinating, albeit troubling as well. You really can’t take the American Correctional Association seriously as an accrediting agency now, seeing him at the helm after getting a great score. They don’t calculate prisoner mortality rates into their evaluations and equations, I guess. How can they have any accreditation at all? Don’t any of those ACA people have a clue about what was happening in Parchman? It ‘s as bad as what’s been going on in the prison Jamie and Gladys Scott have been buried in. Who do they think is responsible for all this if not him? Is the MDOC now the national gold standard for the ACA? That’s pathetic.
I wonder how many of those ACA people even care that this man was fired early in his career, back when he was a corrections officer, for violating the civil rights of an escapee as part of a group of MDOC staff who beat the guy senseless after apprehending him. That’s all according to court records easily enough located on the internet.
They got their jobs back after a fight (no big surprise) – and as we all know he went on to preside over one of the most brutal, negligent departments of corrections in the country. Under his watch, mortality rates among prisoners have skyrocketed to where Mississippi’s is the second highest in the nation. That has also occurred since Wexford took over the health care. I suspect it has something to do with whether or not they’re properly treating – or even bothering to prevent or screen for – illnesses like Hep C, Diabetes, and heart disease and their secondary complications.
I hope a team of investigative journalists or some top notch college students out there in Mississippi pick up on this and run with it – look at all those deaths and try to find out what caused them. Were they from chronic or acute illnesses? Were people getting adequate care or were their pleas for medical attention going unanswered? What’s the mortality rate in the prisons among dialysis patients? Is there a high incidence of Hep C infection among them (much non-IV drug transmission occurs through poorly maintained medical equipment, like dialysis machines. Do you think Wexford would even tell a patient if they ever got infected through dialysis? Do you think the MDOC would?)
What’s the prevalence of diabetes and complicating factors, like kidney disease, among Mississippi prisoners? How about among African American prisoners? I bet you’ll find that a lot of people are dying from illnesses like diabetes related to “lifestyle” (including things the prisons have total control over, like diet) or from secondary complications of disease processes that could have been manged – as in Jamie Scott’s case. I bet it’s pretty high among minority women in prison in particular. I think it’s pretty fair to say that prison life had a lot to do with her developing diabetes and severe kidney disease this early in life.
I have good reason for asking those questions. I was going to embed links that led to some of the answers, but I’ve already covered a lot of that ground – someone else needs to move this from blog to paper. Someone from Mississippi. There’s a whole prison full of women wiling and ready to talk – probably the men are, too. All they need is someone willing to listen and then do something with it.
In the meantime, think on this, America. The man who runs the Mississippi Department of Corrections just became the president of the American Correctional Association, which is supposed to be accrediting all of our jails and prisons. Think any prisoners in Mississippi are going to see justice now? Think any prisoners in ANY state will get what they need in terms of medical care from the directors who now look to him for leadership?
What a reflection of cowardice and self-interest on the part of the membership of the American Correctional Association (dominated and kind of sponsored by the private prison industry, by the way) to put that guy out as their president. Why would they choose him? Certainly not because of his stellar ethical foundation. But I guess every single one of them is knowingly letting people die, too, trying to keep them from making too much noise in the process. That’s what happens here in Arizona. I haven’t heard one prisoner rights activist from any state in the country say that their DoC director is a decent human being who takes full responsibility for the treatment of prisoners in his (her) custody.
I sure hope the Scott Sisters keep making noise, bringing what’s happening there to the world’s attention. We’ll try to keep amplifying your voices – and those of any other prisoners and family members who write to us – as much as possible. We’ve haven’t been posting a lot, but believe me, we’re still out here for you. We haven’t been fooled a bit…
This is from the end of May . The article was in the MS Digital Daily, which I believe is the state of Mississippi’s PR “news” line, not to be confused with a real journalistic venture. If I’m wrong about this being anything other than a press release for the MDOC – or if I’ve erred about facts in my remarks above – then please correct me by leaving a comment at the end of this article, and we’ll look into it. We can execute Troy Davis even if he’s factually innocent, but god forbid we lambaste an abusive man in power.
|Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher B. Epps Elected American Correctional Association President|
|posted by Baxter Cannada | 5/25/2010|
By KENT CROCKER
Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher B. Epps has been elected as president of the prestigious American Correctional Association. Commissioner Epps will be the 102nd president of the organization. The first ACA president was Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes later became the nineteenth president of the United States.
The American Correctional Association (ACA), originally founded in 1870 as the National Prison Association, is an international organization of correctional administrators and professionals in various correctional disciplines. At the 1954 Congress of Correction in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the name of the American Prison Association was changed to the American Correctional Association. The organization is composed of more than 20,000 members from 60 countries. Approximately 450 Mississippians are members of the organization.
As ACA president, Commissioner Epps will head a major publishing operation. The ACA magazine Corrections Today is the leading correctional publication. It is accompanied by over 300 other ACA publications, training curricula and videos. The ACA is a primary source of training for correctional professionals. In recognition of the growing correctional health care profession, ACA also publishes Correctional Health Today.
Mississippi is a long term beneficiary of the ACA. Through the American Correctional Association accreditation program, under the leadership of Commissioner Epps, the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has developed and or enhanced institutional programs, agency operating procedures and overall safety. This improvement is partially responsible for a decrease in recidivism from 34 percent 2003 in to the current 30 percent. Through the accreditation process, Mississippi became the 14th state to receive the ACA Eagle Award. The Eagle Award signifies that every aspect of a correctional agency that can be accredited has been accredited. Since Mississippi received the Eagle Award on August 11, 2008, one other state has received the award. Apart from the agency’s accreditation, several MDOC employees have become accredited through the ACA thus enhancing their value to the taxpayers of Mississippi.
Governor Barbour praised the Mississippi Department of Corrections, under the leadership of Commissioner Christopher Epps, for improvements in agency management and fiscal responsibility. Governor Barbour stated “It is a testimony to the leadership of the MDOC that the agency received full accreditation by an international association that Chris Epps later became president of, even while MDOC reduced its operating costs by more than $100 million during a 5-year period.”
(Interjection: I think this is the magic this man works, folks – cutting costs with lives.
It makes his boss real proud, too. -PA)
Commissioner Epps states, “The American Correctional Association has provided me with the professional network to understand the approaches that are working in the other states and various member nations. This has been a valuable component in Mississippi’s endeavor to improve quality while reducing expenditures.” He went on to express his heartfelt appreciation for Governor Barbour’s support, the support of James Gondles, and for the membership of the ACA as a whole. He said, “In my 28 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections and my 8 years as Commissioner of Corrections, I have always known my fellow employees as a second family and have never questioned their support. Each and every one of them knows that this wasn’t just an election of Chris Epps: It was recognition of the Mississippi Department of Corrections as the best corrections agency in the U.S. and the best state agency in Mississippi. As proud as my other family is of me, I am doubly proud of them.”