Were it not for last minute action by a federal appeals court on Aug. 15 the state of Texas would likely have executed Dexter Johnson for the murders of Maria Aparece and Huy Ngo in Harris County in 2006.
Earlier in the week, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his motion for a stay of execution and his habeas petition without reviewing the merits of the claims he raised, including evidence of his intellectual disability and the false and misleading testimony of a state’s witness at trial.
Unlike the Texas justices, the federal court did consider the evidence suggesting intellectual disability and sent the case back to state courts for further review on that issue.
Over the next four months, 12 other Texas inmates are scheduled for execution. Next week, on Wednesday, Aug. 21, the state of Texas is scheduled to execute Larry Swearingen. Since his conviction in 2000, he has consistently maintained his innocence of the 1998 murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter. Swearingen was convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence alone, there is no forensic evidence tying him to the murder, nor eye witness testimony.
Since 1973, 166 people have been exonerated from death row on innocence grounds. The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights. That’s about one exoneration for every hundred executed.
How many of those who were executed weren’t exonerated simply because they didn’t have adequate representation? How many were like Larry Swearingen and just didn’t have an alibi to prove they didn’t commit the crime? Once again, Texas is at risk of executing an innocent man. It is unacceptable for the state in service to the people to kill someone when so many doubts about his guilt exist.
Many supporters of the death penalty claim it is a deterrent, however, criminologists will tell you it isn’t because either the murder is committed in a moment of passion when such considerations aren’t in play or the perpetrator simply doesn’t believe they’ll get caught.
Other supporters of the death penalty claim it is the ultimate punishment. But, think about this a moment, as soon as the prisoner is executed they are free of all hunger, pain, loneliness and fear. They no longer suffer punishment at all.
Ask someone like Anthony Graves, a man who was exonerated after spending 18 years on death row, he’ll tell you that many of those with life sentences longed for execution so it would end their misery.
If this was truly about punishment, we’d just hand out life sentences knowing that the suffering would last for decades. A death sentence just lets the worst criminals off the hook while not giving society a chance to walk back injustices when innocent people are executed for crimes they didn’t commit.
Finally, some death penalty supporters claim that it gives closure to the families of victims.
In reality, most families get no such closure regardless of the penalty imposed on the convicted individual. In fact, some find peace in forgiving the murderer after meeting with them and sharing their grief.
Since none of the so-called justifications for the death penalty actually exist neither should the death penalty.
It is time for Texas to join much of the rest of the United States and developed world and end the barbarous practice of state sanctioned murder.