Crucifying Jesus Christ
Rickey Ray Rector's prison guards called him 'the Chickman' because he thought the guards were throwing alligators and chickens into his cell. Rickey, a forty-year-old black man had killed a black police officer during a shoot-out, then put his own gun to his head and fired, leaving himself severely brain-damaged.
He was convicted of murder, and after ten years on Death Row was sentenced to die by lethal injection in February 1992, in the state of Arkansas. The state governor, Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party's presidential candidate, was canvassing in New Hampshire. According to opinion polls he had just lost twelve points as a result of the Gennifer Flowers' sex scandal. He flew back to Arkansas in the middle of his campaign to uphold Rector's execution and to show that he was tough on crime.
Just how much Rector understood about what was going on can be gleaned from the fact that after he had eaten his last meal he asked to save the pecan pie dessert for bedtime, later. Strapped to a stretcher he tried to help his executioners find a viable vein for the lethal injection, apparently believing they were trying to help him. They couldn't find a vein so they slashed the crook of his arm with a scalpel to insert a catheter. That took an hour.
Rickey Ray Rector told his attorney that he was going to vote for Bill Clinton in the following November's presidential election.
After the execution the chaplain resigned, saying: "I hate murder and murderers. But to execute children? What was done to Rickey Ray Rector was in itself, absolutely, a crime. A horrible crime."
John Paul Penry suffered cerebral damage at birth. He has a mental age of less than seven and suffered serious child abuse. He was sentenced to death in Texas for the rape and murder of a 22-year-old woman. He has spent twenty-one years on Death Row. He spends his day colouring with crayons and looking at comics he cannot read. He thinks there are six hours in a day and believes in Santa Claus. Governor George Bush, who will probably be the next President of the United States, signed the consent form for Penry's execution last week but the US Supreme Court granted a stay just hours before he was due to be killed. He would have been the 150th person executed in Texas during the five years of Bush's tenure.
In Florida, his brother Jeb, a so-called practising Catholic, is the governor. Earlier this year he introduced a new electric chair, Sparky II. He has also limited the appeals of condemned inmates in a bid to speed up executions. One man, Thomas Provenzano, put to death last June, had been declared insane. Bush's colleague, Republican Senator Howard Futch said, "Doesn't he think he's Jesus Christ or something? Why don't we just crucify him."
George Bush devotes no more than fifteen minutes considering last-ditch appeals, and during the recent election campaign on occasions took just four minutes to consign prisoners to eternity. Penry's lawyer, Kathy Puzoni, said: "It's a disgrace. The only other country that executes the mentally retarded is Kazakhstan. What does that tell you about our supposedly great nation?" In 1999 'Talk' magazine caught Bush making fun of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman executed in Texas since the civil war. Prior to her execution by lethal injection Tucker had been asked on Larry King what she would say to George Bush. Mocking her desperation, Bush pursed his lips and whimpered, "Please, don't kill me."
The USA has five methods of execution: lethal injection, lethal gas, hanging, firing squad, and electrocution. When Alpha Otis Stephens was being put to death in Georgia in 1984 the first jolt of two minutes of electricity failed to kill him. He struggled for six minutes, strapped to the chair, until his body cooled down sufficiently to allow doctors to declare that he needed a second jolt to finish the job.
During the 1992 presidential race, Clinton (who once was an opponent of capital punishment) outmanoeuvred the republican candidate, George Bush Senior, and deprived him of accusing Clinton of being soft on crime by executing Rickey Ray Rector. Bush, playing to the capital punishment gallery, then called for "stronger death penalties"!
Commenting on this, one journalist, Barry Crimmins, speculated facetiously on what a stronger death penalty would entail. Inside a gas chamber the electric chair sits on a trapdoor of a gallows. Headphones are placed over the prisoners ears playing, on a continuous loop, Clinton's anthem, 'Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow' by Fleetwood Mac. A noose is placed around the prisoners neck and a bull's eye pinned to his heart. A lethal injection is inserted in the prisoner's arm, timed to take into account the drop from the gallows in the electric chair. At the strike of midnight the electric switch is thrown, the trapdoor is opened, the gas is released, the prisoner is injected and America's finest marksmen shoot the prisoner through the heart.
"If all goes as planned the condemned man will be simultaneously shot, hung, electrocuted, gassed and lethally injected. That'll teach him!… America did not become the great nation it is because it molly-coddles the doomed," said Crimmins.
Under Bill Clinton's administration Congress in 1996 eliminated funding for the twenty Death Penalty Resource Centres which provided legal services for poor defendants. Currently, there are 3,600 people on Death Row, more than were killed in over thirty years of conflict in Ireland.
An e-mail pal of mine, a very successful American business man, always points out to me when I rail against the US the good that country also does and the contribution that Clinton has made to peace in Ireland, which is a fair point. But good deeds can never be allowed to buy silence on bad deeds. And the reason I get more angry with the US than, say, with China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Congo (which execute more than the United States) is because the US claims to be a bastion of human rights, and, as the most powerful nation on earth, has the potential to be such a bastion.
Capital punishment does not deter people from killing, as the statistics show an increase in the murder rate in states which use the death penalty. On the other hand, the murder rate in Canada dropped after its abolition there. A state which uses legal murder only encourages a culture of murder. The poor, the uneducated, the insane, and disproportionately more blacks, are being put to death largely to satisfy a lust for revenge.
As Doestoevsky, himself no stranger to jail, once wrote: "A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals."
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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison