US set to execute 13 death row inmates this month

After a pause in executions in the US since before the Christmas holidays, 13 people are scheduled to be put to death between now and the end of the month. Seven of these executions are set to take place in Oklahoma, which executed 11 men last year. The state was second only to Texas, which carried out a record 40 executions in 2000. The other states scheduled to send condemned inmates to their deaths in January are Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Scheduled to die are: Eddie Trice, January 9, Oklahoma; Jack Clark, January 9, Texas; Robert Glock II, January 10, Florida; Wanda Jean Allen, January 11, Oklahoma; Floyd Medlock, January 16, Oklahoma; Dion Smallwood, January 18, Oklahoma; Alvin Goodwin, January 18, Texas; Bobby Harris, January 19, North Carolina; Steven Butler, January 22, Texas; Mark Fowler, January 23, Oklahoma; Billy Ray Fox, January 25, Oklahoma; Loyd Lefevers, January 30, Oklahoma; Philip Workman, January 31, Tennessee.

There are more than 3,700 prisoners on death row in the US, including 25 federal inmates. Although 85 people were put to death last year alone, there has not been a federal execution since 1964. When George W. Bush is sworn in as president on January 20 he will assume final responsibility for the fate of these federal death row prisoners.

Opposition to the death penalty within significant sections of the population has continued to grow in the US, encouraged by revelations of wrongful convictions and the execution of individuals whose guilt is highly questionable. But it is unlikely that the new administration, which achieved victory by running roughshod over the democratic rights of voters, will be influenced by this opposition. In fact, death penalty proponents in states across the country will be emboldened with the “executioner in chief” in the White House.

In his five years as governor of Texas, George W. Bush presided over 152 executions, indisputably the highest number of any US governor. Numerous studies have revealed that Texas has routinely put to death inmates who have received inadequate counsel, who are mentally ill, who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately comprised of minorities.

The US Supreme Court, which handed the presidency to Bush, supports the death penalty and has also demonstrated that it is in favor of the execution of juvenile offenders, the mentally impaired and foreign nationals. The new administration is also expected to appoint fervent death penalty supporters in the event of new vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Bush's choice for attorney general, Senator John Ashcroft—an arch-reactionary and death penalty proponent—will head up the Justice Department if his nomination is confirmed by the Senate. Just next month the new president and attorney general will be faced with a decision over whether to grant a reprieve to David Paul Hammer, a federal prisoner being held in Indiana who is scheduled to be put to death on February 21.

But while Texas has led the way, January's roster of impending executions shows that the barbaric practice is supported and embraced by a majority of the ruling elite in America—both Democrats and Republicans. Despite criticism from human rights organizations and foreign governments, the rate of executions has continued unabated, and there has been no outcry against this month's scheduled state killings. Those muted criticisms of the death penalty made by a small number of politicians have generally been confined to “fixing the system”—not abolishing it.

The cases of some of the condemned inmates who will be sent to their deaths over the next three weeks are representative of the death row population as a whole. They are overwhelming poor and working class; in many cases they are mentally ill or impaired; they have often grown up abused or neglected. The majority have received inadequate counsel, have faced unscrupulous prosecution or their appeals have been arbitrarily denied by higher courts. Their stories bespeak a system which tramples on basic democratic rights and renders the ultimate punishment to the most oppressed and defenseless segments of society.

Profiles of condemned death row inmates

A last-minute 30-day stay of execution was granted to Oklahoma death row inmate Robert William Clay, who had been set to die by lethal injection on January 4. If his execution had proceeded, Oklahoma would have been on schedule to carry out eight executions in a single month, a record number for any state in modern history. The execution of Clay, sentenced to death for a 1985 murder, was halted to allow DNA testing of “misplaced” evidence in his case that suddenly turned up in the district attorney's office.

Eddie Trice, 48, was scheduled to be executed Tuesday night, January 9, by lethal injection at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Trice was sentenced to die for the 1987 murder of Ernestine Jones, 84.

Trice was born to a teenage mother who had been raped. A psychologist who testified at his clemency hearing presented evidence that Trice had grown up abused and deprived, and had experienced physical and sexual abuse throughout his life. He was raped at the age of 15 while incarcerated in an adult prison. Trice has numerous learning disabilities and suffered head injuries. He had little formal education and abused alcohol.

Trice contends that he requested an attorney several times while being interrogated about the murder. He also says that he received ineffective counsel. His lawyers failed to investigate theories of innocence, did not present an opening statement and conceded his guilt in court. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that these were strategic choices made by his counsel and were not the basis for overturning his conviction. The state's Pardon and Parole Board—which has never granted clemency to any death row inmate—denied his request.

Barring any last-minute reprieves, Oklahoma will also put to death Wanda Jean Allen on Thursday, January 11. Ms. Allen, an African-American, would be the first women executed in the state in nearly a century. Dora Wright, also black, was hung in Oklahoma in 1903. Since the US resumed executions in 1977, five women have been put to death. Of the 7,729 executions documented worldwide since 1900, only 41 have been of women.

Wanda Jean, was convicted of the 1988 murder of her partner, Gloria Leathers. Allen's supporters say that her sexual orientation was exploited by the prosecution during her trial, who relied on negative stereotypes of lesbians in an effort to convince the jury that she was dominant and over-aggressive.

Ms. Allen's IQ tested at 69 when she was 15 years old, and doctors who examined her at that time recommended a neurological assessment because she manifested symptoms of brain damage. However, no evidence of her mental impairment was presented at trial. Wanda Jean's trial attorney, Bob Carpenter, agreed to represent her without knowing that it was a capital case. Allen's family only paid him $800. Carpenter asked that he be allowed to withdraw from the case after he learned she faced the death penalty, but the presiding judge refused his request.

Steve Presson, one of the attorneys handling Allen's appeal, told the Tulsa World, “This was a horrendous constitutional violation in the denial of effective counsel for her.... The state district court forced her to be represented by an attorney not being paid and then forced the attorney to trial without giving him the tools—no experts, doctors or investigators. No one discovered she was borderline retarded until the trial and appeals were over. By that time, it is too late.” The US Supreme Court declined to review her case and her last resort is the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.

Floyd Medlock is scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma on January 16. He was convicted of the beating and murder of seven-year-old Katherine Busch in February 1990. Medlock, who was 19 at the time, confessed to the brutal crime, but he was apparently in a psychotic state when it occurred.

A psychotherapist testified at Medlock's trial that an alternate personality—“Charlie”—took over and caused Medlock to attack the young girl. According to his testimony, “Charlie” was the personality of a 12-year-old boy who was the product of Medlock being sexually and emotionally abused as a child.

Medlock was locked in a closet as a child by his mother and beaten with a garden hose by his stepfather. He had attempted suicide at least twice. He was obviously an extremely disturbed individual who did not receive the help he needed and lashed out against an innocent child, with tragic consequences. While Katherine's mother, Judy Busch, has continually fought for Medlock's execution, Johnnie Busch, the child's grandmother, has asked that his life be spared.

Dion Smallwood was denied clemency by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and is scheduled to be put to death on January 18. He was sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of Lois Frederick, his girlfriend's adoptive mother. Smallwood has a history of mental illness and was initially found incompetent to stand trial on the grounds that he would be unable to assist his attorneys in the preparation of his defense. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital for three months, but was released when the hospital determined that he could stand trial, despite noting that he remained a danger to himself and others.

An assessment by a clinical psychologist after his conviction found that Smallwood suffered from bipolar disorder (manic depression), a psychiatric disturbance that can disrupt social, occupational and other mental functioning and often requires hospitalization. Dion Smallwood sought psychiatric help about a month before the murder, but was told to return to the mental facility when they were less busy.

In addition, according to Smallwood's therapist, “His childhood was marked by poverty, violence, abuse, deprivation and parental abandonment. His father (Native American) and mother (Hispanic) suffered from mental problems, and his oldest brother has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and mania.”

Tennesse will execute Philip Workman on January 31 unless Governor Don Sundquist intervenes. Workman received a stay of execution on April 4, 2000 due to revelations pointing to his innocence. He was convicted of the August 1981 murder of a policeman outside a fast-food restaurant in Memphis following a robbery.

The public defenders representing Workman at trial told him his guilt was a foregone conclusion. They did not procure expert assistance on ballistics evidence, which cast doubt on the possibility of Workman firing the fatal shot. The testimony of the prosecution's only witness, Harold Davis, a drifter with a history of drug abuse, was later contradicted by a friend. In 1999 Davis suddenly recanted his statement and said that Workman was not guilty.

Five of the twelve jurors at Workman's trial have now gone on record saying they would not have sentenced him to death if they had known that recently-conducted ballistics analyses cast doubt on whether he fired the fatal shot.

Despite all this, the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled in May 1999 if Workman has “claims of actual innocence, they were discovered too late in the day for a new trial motion.” If Tennessee proceeds with the execution of Philip Workman he would be the first person put to death in the state since the Eisenhower administration.