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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

An Unseemly Spectacle: Alva Campbell is next in line to be executed by the State of Ohio

Alva Campbell
Alva Campbell is next in line to be executed by the State of Ohio.*

For the last month of his life, Campbell will have been intensely monitored: two corrections officers watch him round the clock to ensure there is no suicide. The state is determined to do the killing itself.

In Campbell’s case the monitoring creates a particularly gruesome display for those, like Jeffrey Wogenstahl, who share death row with him. Campbell is frail: he has had portions of his lung, thyroid, prostate, colon, and intestine removed and has a colostomy bag; he has problems related to his heart (and to cancer, pneumonia, sarcoidosis and MRSA); he is frequently short of breath; and he uses a walking frame. He moves slowly: if he leaves his cell, he and his two watchers form a slow, macabre procession.

One may guess that his poor health is linked to the horrendous abuse and systematic torture that he suffered throughout childhood. A sociologist with 30 years’ involvement in capital cases refers to Campbell’s childhood home as “a place of total chaos, turmoil, pain, and deprivation” and adds that he “never witnessed an upbringing as bad as Campbell’s.” A forensic psychologist explains:

“The violence that Campbell has exhibited as an adult is… a barometer of the amount of trauma he experienced growing up.”

At his trial, however, Campbell’s lawyer neglected to make it plain that his client’s detrimental experiences continued after he left the family home at age 10; worse still, the prosecution claimed falsely that Campbell was eventually given the support needed to turn his life round. 

Campbell was failed at trial, just as he was failed during the critical years of his childhood.

Campbell’s current lawyer believes that executing this terminally ill man when he is unable to walk or breathe without assistance would result in an “unseemly spectacle.”

Governor Kasich has yet to announce whether he will grant clemency and stay Campbell’s imminent execution. But for the inmates on death row, the unseemly spectacle of his grotesque death watch has already begun.

➤ To ask Ohio Governor, John Kasich, not to execute Alva Campbell, please visit Ohioans to Stop Executions.

*Alva Campbell is scheduled to be executed on November 15, 2017.

Information for this post is taken from the minutes of the Parole Board meeting, Re Alva Campbell Jr., CCI #A354-963, on October 12, 2017, and from US News (AP), October 20, 2017: Condemned Killer’s Attorney Disappointed in Denial of Mercy.

Source: Justice for Jeffrey Wogenstahl, October 28, 2017


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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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