Death Row Update: The Slaughter Continues

USA: Executions are at a 40-year high this year, with more than 60 already (59 as of 10/16), making it the highest total since 1957, when 65 people were executed. More than 3,200 people are on death row

Prompted by the rise in executions, reports of racism in use of the death penalty, and the execution of minors and mentally retarded prisoners, the United Nations is inquiring into US capital punishment and deaths while in policy custody.

Sen. Jesse Helms was furious when UN representative Waly Ndiaye spent 2 weeks interviewing death row prisoners and meeting state officials. Helms controls the purse strings when it comes to whether the US will pay its longstanding UN debt, now at $1.5 billion. The US is adamant about pushing for human rights investigations in other countries, yet imagines itself immune.

Missouri has carried out 5 more executions in the last 3 months, making a total of 29 since the death penalty resumed in 1989 with the lethal injection of Tiny Mercer at Missouri State Penitentiary (now JCCC). The other 28 men have been killed at Potosi Correctional Center, which opened in 1989.

Missouri put Ralph Feltrop to death on August 6, followed a week later by Donald Reese on August 13. Another Wednesday brought another killing with Andrew Six on August 20. Finally Gov. Carnahan called a halt and issued a stay to the execution of William "Ted" Boliek. He will select a 3-member board of inquiry into the facts of Boliek's case.

September 24 brought the premeditated murder of Sam McDonald at the hands of the state. Finally Alan "A.J." Bannister was executed on October 22 despite international opposition.

In other Missouri death row news, a new trial was ordered for Clarence Dexter by the Missouri Supreme Court on October 22. Eric Clemmons' conviction was overturned August 28 by a federal appeals court; he will get a new trial on his capital case. Walter Barton's conviction was overturned August 23; his retrial is set for November 17. On August 20 the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the death sentences of James Butler and Winston Bell, directing that they be retried.

The US Supreme Court on October 20 declined to hear the appeal of Elroy Preston. On September 11 the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of Glennon Sweet. Bruce Kilgore's appeal was rejected by the 8th Circuit during the first week of September.

At last report there were 86 men and one woman remaining on Missouri's death row, including 46 whites and 41 blacks.

In early August, Amnesty International joined the Missouri Bar, religious leaders, and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) in calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in Missouri. "The death penalty is about selling newspapers and getting people elected," said MVFR member Ricardo Villalobos. "It doesn't have anything to do with healing the family."

On October 10, Attorney General Jay Nixon said that he would push for Missouri executions to be held at 6:00 p.m. instead of midnight, saying that it would make it easier for victims' families to attend. The change has already been made in 3 other states due to complaints by state executioners. It can be accomplished by a court rule or through a change in state law.

Colorado performed its first execution in 30 years on October 13. In the first state killing since 1967, Gary Lee Davis was killed by lethal injection.

Ohio has not executed anyone since 1963, but 173 men languish on death row in Mansfield. One of them, Wilford Berry, wants to be the first to bring back executions. Called "The Volunteer," Berry has insisted on dropping his appeals, saying he'd rather die than live on death row. *On Dec 3, Berry was deemed to be competent to waive his right to any further appeals by the Ohio Supreme Court. An execution date of March 3, 1998 has been set. Currently, 174 sit on Ohio's Death Row.

On September 5 around 5:00 p.m. 2 death row inmates overpowered COs, took their keys, and freed 34 others in the segregated Death Row unit. Berry was seriously injured from a beating.

This was the 7th uprising in Ohio's state prisons since April. According to Ohio CURE member Ellen Caudill, "Problems with overcrowding, poor food, the new but very unpopular drug program, outdated facilities, continuing racial tensions, lack of any meaningful rehab programs, the parole board's new 'Superflops' of 30-40 years, and the disparity of sentences under the new SB-2 have made for a very volatile atmosphere in Ohio's prisons."

Virginia executed a Mexican citizen, Mario Murphy, in September despite a plea for clemency from the Mexican government. Also protesting the execution were the State Department and the Southern Baptist Convention's missions group, which asked Gov. George Allen to spare Murphy, as he was denied the chance to contact the Mexican consulate after his arrest, violating a 1963 treaty. **On Nov 13, Dawud Majid Mu'Min and on Dec 9, Michael Charles Satcher were killed by lethal injection. Dec 11, Virginia executed Thomas Beaver who had been convicted in 1991 of the rape/murder of an elderly woman.

Texas continues its mass slaughter with a record 31 executions this year by October 8, more than all other states put together. At least 5 more are planned this year. The execution in June of a Mexican citizen, Irineo Montoya, was protested by 300 hundred angry demonstrators who blocked the bridge linking Brownsville TX and Matamoros, Mexico, even as the Mexican government pleaded for his life to be spared. Scores of Mexicans screamed and cried when their countryman was put to death. Montoya was convicted of holding a man while another man, Juan Villavencencio, stabbed him at least 22 times. Villavencencio avoided a death sentence by testifying against Montoya. ***On Oct 28, Nov 4, 6, 19, and 21, and Dec 9, six more men met the end of their road by lethal injection. Texas also houses the first woman who may be executed in the U.S. in years.

Missouri ranks behind Virginia and Texas for highest rate of state killing. Fourteen states have executed people this year, also including Arkansas, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Oklahoma, Oregon and South Carolina. ****Add Nebraska to the list with the electrocution death of Robert E. Williams, who died on Dec 2. Also, Indiana joins the death wagon as Nov 20 ended life for Gary Burris by means of lethal injection. And Illinois, on Nov 19 sent two to their death by lethal injection. A total of 17 states have sanctioned the state murder of another human being thus far in 1997 -- to what end??

According to a recent study by the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, DC, 69 people have been released from death row since 1973 after evidence of their innocence emerged -- an error rate of 1 out of 100 .

*,**,***, and **** Updated info added after article publication. Thanks Marianne for reading my mind.

Thanks go out to Edna Silvestri, coordinator of the Missouri Cure chapter and long-time prisoners' rights activist. If you have any Death Penalty info you want published, email FADS at:

The following was also submitted by Edna following the execution of A.J. Bannister, a prisoner in Potosi Correctional who was featured in "Execution Protocol," a BBC production about the practice of the death penalty in the U.S.

About Bannister: Yes, he was executed at 12:01 a.m. yesterday, despite mass international protest. I was at the candlelight vigil in downtown St. Louis. There were similar demos throughout the state, which is done for all executions, but the numbers were up for this one -- there were more than 70 people downtown. Also the midnight vigil at the prison (where my Donnie is) was attended by at least 100. Press were there from New Zealand as well as local.

Donnie and I are still mourning his friend Sam McDonald who was executed last month (9/24). Sam didn't have any international support, but more than 50 people were at the prison vigil, including 2 vanloads of school kids from St. Louis. It was storming, and as usual, protesters had to stand around in the mud in the small area allotted by the prison. One of the vans got stuck in the mud. State patrols were there but refused to help, but the protesters got the van out of the mud. Sam was a Vietnam vet with PTSD who killed a cop (who'd pulled a gun) during a robbery. (Donnie wrote an article about him for the newsletter, which should be out in early November. If anyone wants a copy, send me yr address. It's in Pagemaker (Macintosh) and I doubt you could get it electronically but if anyone thinks they can get it that way they can let me know.)

By contrast, at AJ's vigil, prison officials significantly enlarged the cordoned off protest area and put down gravel. Protesters (and press) were given a larger and better place to park their cars. The state patrol was everywhere, directing traffic ("herding us" as one woman said). By 11:00 when most of the protesters arrived, all but one press van were gone. The local press reported only 25 protesters. They always seem to do that.

Alice Bannister (AJ's mother) was there with 7 or 8 of her grandchildren.

Thanks again, Edna. Keep up the great work with Missouri CURE!

WE are FADS.
We shall remain in force until the CHANGES we seek are Accomplished.