Abominations Masked by Secrecy

Willie Jerome Manning first came to the world’s attention because of an article by Clive Stafford Smith, who continues to speak out against the death penalty. Stafford Smith recently described the US death penalty as a dying dinosaur – destined for extinction, but still capable of inflicting enormous damage. Pointing out that support for capital punishment is waning, Stafford Smith wrote:

“A dwindling number of politicians – either deceptively populist or determinedly delusional – continue to pretend that executing a few people each year will somehow right the wrongs that permeate US society.”

This month the Mississippi Supreme Court supported such populist or deluded politicians in Mississippi, by ruling that the state need not respond to a public records request about how executions are carried out. As Justice King noted in his dissent,* the court had been dilatory in responding to the public records request; by the time the court eventually ruled, the law had already been changed to ensure execution secrecy.

Amid a shortage of some lethal injection drugs, the main, unstated aim of the new law is probably to encourage a compounding pharmacy to make and sell a drug to the state. This angers pharmaceutical companies, which prohibit their products from being used for executions.

In Arkansas, another state where secrecy surrounds executions, legal action by pharmaceutical companies has so far failed to curb the execution spree that the state has embarked on in order to beat the expiry date of its lethal injection drugs.

The Arkansas executions highlight many abominations in the death penalty system: a “parade of the most vulnerable and broken people”,** terrible trial defense lawyering, likely innocencebotched executions. Abominations which, as Stafford Smith explains, serve no good purpose:
“There is no link between American executions and American crime: 31 states keep 
the death penalty on their books, but their crime rate tends to be higher than 
in the 19 states that have abolished the noose. Crime has far more to do with 
the 300 million guns that swamp America, the boatloads of cocaine, and the 43.1 
million Americans in poverty, than the execution of a handful of those we are 
told to hate.”

Arkansas has rightly drawn a barrage of criticism for its callous and pointless determination to kill. Mississippi can expect the same condemnation if it pursues its gruesome goals: the American public is turning against the death penalty.  The death penalty, like dinosaurs, should be extinct.

*Mississippi Department of Corrections v. The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, 2015-CA-00431-SCT. Supreme Court of Mississippi April 13, 2017.   P. 25 
** Rob Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School, said the justices must notice “this parade of the most vulnerable and broken people who come before the court with (original) lawyering that would embarrass judges in traffic court.”
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