What cause is now served by her death besides revenge

Every facet of our death penalty system is completely arbitrary, random, and capricious

Eddie Lee Howard of Mississippi spent over twenty five years in prison and was waiting most of that time to be executed. He was convicted of the killing of an old woman named Georgia Kemp in 1992 who was stabbed to death and perhaps raped and the way they got him was they brought in a dentist named Dr. Michael West who used ultraviolet light to match what may or may not have been bite marks on the body to Howard’s teeth. There was little other evidence and DNA found on the murder weapon did not belong to him.

Last year his conviction was at long last overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court and he was released. Last week the case was dismissed.

“The reality is, there was never any evidence against Eddie Lee Howard,” his lawyer Chris Fabricant of the Innocence Project said according to the New York Times. “It’s astonishing.”

Since his conviction bite mark evidence has been largely discredited — another one of the many pseudo-scientific dog shit techniques prosecutors bring in so-called experts like West to trick juries with to help put people in cages.

“At least twenty six people in the United States have been wrongfully convicted as a result of bite-mark evidence, according to the Innocence Project,” as the Times notes.

“Dr. West became the first person to be suspended from the ABFO, and by 2006 he was forced to resign from the American Board of Forensic Pathology,” the Innocence Project wrote last year in arguing for Howard’s innocence among others. “Still, that same year, in response to an appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court wrote of Dr. West’s testimony in Howard’s case: ‘Just because Dr. West has been wrong a lot, does not mean, without something more, that he was wrong here.’”

And that’s the rigorous standard by which we send people to their death in this country. Some fucking dentist comes in and bullshits for a while in front of a jury and then a judge goes welp that’s good enough for me this person deserves to die.

“Nearly a quarter of the 2,601 people who have been exonerated since 1989 were wrongfully convicted based on false or misleading forensic evidence, like bite marks,” according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Howard got lucky in that he wasn’t killed on our behalf although lucky doesn’t really seem appropriate. He was arbitrarily spared. A coin was flipped and he won.

I kept not wanting to start this one today because I was reading about the details of the execution of Lisa Montgomery this week and it was making me feel ill. Montgomery is the first woman to be put to death by the U.S. government in like seventy years just as two more people are set to be killed in the last week of the Trump administration if he has his bloody way. I really really don’t want to think about it at the moment. It’s too immense to even think about it this way we kill people but I suppose that is in part how this barbaric practice persists people just push it out of their minds because confronting it is too awful.

“Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, made a calendar counting down to January 20 — Inauguration Day. She knew President-elect Joe Biden had promised to end the federal death penalty,” this piece in The 19th details. “‘That’s how positive I’m being,’ Montgomery told her sister Diane Mattingly during a December phone call.”

“On January 13, seven days before Biden will take office, the federal government executed Montgomery, 52.”

Although the crime Montgomery was convicted of — murdering a pregnant woman and stealing the unborn child — is indeed awful her own history of horrific rape and physical abuse at the hands of her parents and others rendered Montgomery unfit to even comprehend what she had done or often times even know where she was. What cause is now served by her death besides revenge?

The story in The 19th goes on:

Montgomery’s attorneys wanted more time to show the courts that her present mental state was connected to a lifetime of trauma, as outlined in the clemency petition they sent to Trump on Christmas Eve. The petition asked the president to commute Montgomery’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole and included written support from 41 former prosecutors, and nearly a thousand organizations and individuals working to combat violence against women, human trafficking and child abuse. Advocates for people with serious mental illness and their families also signed a letter in support of Montgomery. 

“In the past week, we have seen just how far President Trump and his administration will go in their disdain for justice and the rule of law. This failed government adds itself to the long list of people and institutions who failed Lisa,” Montgomery’s longtime attorney Kelley Henry said in a statement just before the execution took place. “We should recognize Lisa Montgomery’s execution for what it was: the vicious, unlawful, and unnecessary exercise of authoritarian power. We cannot let this happen again.”

“The Trump administration’s craven, immoral rush to execute as many people as possible has backfired and reignited the anti-death penalty movement,” Sister Helen Prejean said this week. “Bills have been introduced to end the federal death penalty forever and we will soon have a president who will sign them into law.”

“Every facet of our death penalty system is completely arbitrary, random, and capricious,” she said.

Indeed in Virginia for example governor Ralph Northam is set to introduce a bill that would abolish the death penalty there making it the first southern state to do so.

“Virginia has conducted 113 executions since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume in 1976, a toll second in the country only to Texas with 570,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Since 1608, there have been nearly 1,300 executions in Virginia, the most in the country.”

In the past six months alone the Trump administration has executed eleven people. In the century prior the federal government only killed thirty seven although that doesn’t include the hundreds states have killed as Wesley Lowery points out in this piece in GQ.

Among the two others Trump wants to kill is Dustin Higgs

“There is no disputing the horror of the January 1996 murders of Tanji Jackson, Tamika Black and Mishann Chinn,” the crime for which Higgs was sentenced to death Lowery writes. “There is also no dispute that Dustin Higgs was not the one who shot them.”

Willis Haynes the man who admits he actually pulled the trigger was given life in prison.

“Now that the world has taken an interest in my cause, maybe they will be forced to be more transparent,” Higgs told Lowery. “I will not hold my breath, though.”

Hold on though because some good news has just arrived since then in the form of a stay in the executions until March by a federal judge due to Higgs and a third death row inmate Corey Johnson have contracted the coronavirus. That seems like a weird reason not to kill someone the fact that they are sick but nothing makes sense about any of this system. With Biden expected to turn off the federal execution faucet it’s possible Higgs may be spared just in time which is a last minute reprieve Montgomery was not afforded.

I don’t want to think about it anymore. I do but I don’t. I wrote about the death penalty in here a number of times previously but I was reminded of this Hell World piece as it shows how vengeance and bloodlust have bookended Trump’s emergence into the national political conversation and his hopeful forthcoming exit.

There are around 50 countries in the world that still use capital punishment including — you guessed it — this fucking one you’re probably reading this in. Every European country besides Belarus has abolished it but other countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Iran, and Jamaica still kill their own citizens for shit they did and other shit they often didn’t do.

Hours after the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue in which eleven people were killed the president went to a campaign rally and said we have to bring back the death penalty. We still have it but he probably meant we have to use it more frequently.

“And when you have crimes like this, whether it’s this one or another one on another group, we have to bring back the death penalty. They have to pay the ultimate price,” he said. “They have to pay the ultimate price. They can’t do this. They can’t do this to our country. We must draw a line in the sand and say very strongly: Never again.”

You probably remember that Trump had called for the death penalty in the Central Park Five case after a group of black and hispanic teens were convicted of a sexual assault in New York City in 1989. Trisha Meili, a 28 year old jogger, was left in a coma for two weeks after she was attacked one night. Trump took out advertisements in four newspapers demanding as much.

Years later when the group of young men were released from prison and awarded a $41 million settlement from the city for being wrongly imprisoned Trump didn’t back down calling it “a disgrace,” and “the heist of the century” and now today he’s saying poor migrants fleeing violence are hardened fighters coming to kill us so we gotta send the troops down there to scare them off with helicopters and tanks and such.

If you’d like to support or get involved with anti-death penalty causes you might look into the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Journey of Hope, the Equal Justice Initiative, or the Innocence Project.

Update:

Jesus fucking Christ. We gotta come up with a name for this place.

On Monday I sent out to paid subscribers this piece on the fallout of the riots or insurrection or failed coup attempt or whatever you want to call it and in particular how it almost instantly devolved into the same tired conversation about freedom of speech and tech censorship we’ve been having every day for the past couple years.

Subscribe to read it and make sure you get every issue of Hell World as well as access to everything else in the archives.

It went in part like this:

Every time anything happens we gotta immediately shift to talking about what if the opposite thing happened. Hmm well you won’t like it when they take your posts down will you? No of course not. I’ll think well this sucks then whine about it like a huge fucking baby if they do and then I’ll go about my life. Start a…fuckin… zine or something. Or just shut the fuck up for while. Who cares! People aren’t having their speech constrained right now they’re having their ability to be unnaturally amplified constrained. People can say whatever they want still they just don’t have access temporarily to one or two specific massive recruitment platforms for organizing crimes and hate. Who cares!

Trump not being able to post lies to 100 million people every single day is a net good for the world. The entire network of worms who worship him not being able to organize and gas each other up as easily as they have been for years is a net good. These seem like easy distinctions to make to me in the same way that saying rallying and protesting and occupying government buildings for the cause of good is good and doing it for the cause of bad is bad.

That said break up and nationalize Facebook and punt Twitter’s servers into a bottomless pit. Who cares! We do not need any of this shit to live or thrive personally or as a society.

Not everything is bad right now to be clear. Some things are still very funny. Like this:

During the day, Mr. Trump periodically watched the impeachment debate in the House and told advisers he was furious with Mr. McConnell and felt blindsided by him. Yet his deeper anger was at the House minority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, for publicly condemning him, people close to him said.

His relationship with his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who encouraged him to believe conspiracy theories about widespread election fraud, has frayed, one adviser said. The president was offended by Mr. Giuliani’s request for $20,000 a day to represent him in the election fight, which Mr. Giuliani denied making but which was in writing, and told aides not to pay him at all, an adviser to Mr. Trump said, confirming a report by The Washington Post.

White House officials have started blocking Mr. Giuliani’s calls to the president, another adviser said.


I went on the If You’re Listening podcast to talk about and listen to Elliott Smith's Either/Or. Wait it was more fun than that sounds. Check it out here. For a couple of previous Elliott Smith-centric Hell Worlds please go here or here.


Speaking of Wesley Lowery if you missed it we had what I think was just a great conversation about the media’s failure to cover the Trump era as it actually is a few months ago (also pay-walled now). We talked about how neutrality is in fact a political bias that impacts every decision made about how we present the news.

Whether or not it’s appropriate for the Post or Times to call, insert whatever statement, racist, is a subjective decision. If you got 100 people you might have 100 different points on the scale where they draw the line. Some of them might be grouped together, but there would be cases like, ok this one yes, maybe not that one. Even people of the same politics. I think we have to acknowledge it is a subjective decision, and so therefore who should be involved in making that decision? Should a group of white guys be talking about whether or not it’s racist to talk about crime-infested and rat infested Baltimore, or perhaps should a Black person be involved. Not even a black person, many. I think that’s the structural failing in most of our newsrooms, that we have a presidential administration and prior to that a campaign that has nakedly played on white racial grievance. Explicitly. There are stories where Steve Bannon talked about why they did this and how they did this. It’s not even an accusation against them, it's a fact. 

I found this collection of reactions to the My Lai massacre from an issue of Life magazine in December of 1969 absolutely fascinating to read. So much of the way people talked about the war then echoes the way we talk about anything now. Also there was way more righteous indignation than I was expecting.

That’s right Mrs. Kay Hobbs, 35, Oklahoma City housewife.

I’m not entirely sure how to read this guy though. On the one hand everything he says is true but then again he’s a “business executive” and also might be doing a “What about Chicago!?” so it’s a bit confusing.

A reader named Susan sent in this poem a while ago and I wanted to pass it along.

Snow

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Once with my scarf knotted over my mouth
I lumbered into a storm of snow up the long hill
and did not know where I was going except to the top of it.
In those days we went out like that.
Even children went out like that.
Someone was crying hard at home again, 
raging blizzard of sobs.

I dragged the sled by its rope, 
which we normally did not do
when snow was coming down so hard,
pulling my brother whom I called by our secret name
as if we could be other people under the skin.
The snow bit into my face, prickling the rim
of the head where the hair starts coming out.
And it was a big one. It would come down and down
for days. People would dig their cars out like potatoes.

How are you doing back there? I shouted,
and he said Fine, I’m doing fine,
in the sunniest voice he could muster 
and I think I should love him more today
for having used it.

At the top we turned and he slid down,
steering himself with the rope gripped in
his mittened hands. I stumbled behind
sinking deeply, shouting Ho! Look at him go!
as if we were having a good time.
Alone on the hill. That was the deepest
I ever went into the snow. Now I think of it
when I stare at paper or into silences
between human beings. The drifting 
accumulation. A father goes months 
without speaking to his son. 

How there can be a place 
so cold any movement saves you.

Ho! You bang your hands together,
stomp your feet.  The father could die!
The son!
Before the weather changes.


Ok that’s all for today. One year ago yesterday this Journey Into the Mind Caverns transpired. Check it out if you never saw it. Man things were looking up back then! It was gonna be my year baby lol.