Thursday, August 4, 2011

THE EXECUTION OF WANDA JEAN

Gentle Readers,

I watched an excellent documentary recently called The Execution of Wanda Jean. It was very well made, and of course, it reinforced my belief that our country should do away with the death penalty.

The movie came out in 2002, and it's not easy to watch Jean's (the name she used most often) family go through the ups and downs of appealing her death sentence.

Wanda Jean Allen was in a lesbian relationship. She shot and killed the woman she loved because Gloria Leathers was leaving her. Jean had also killed once before and had received a very lenient sentence. But the second time, she received the death penalty. The lawyer who represented her during the trial openly admitted that he was not qualified to do so, and he did not present evidence of her brain damage and low IQ.

Evaluations revealed that the brain damage (she had been hit by a truck and suffered a head injury as a teenager and had been stabbed in the head) kept her from processing everyday logic that most of us take for granted, and she did not understand cause and effect relationships. Her IQ was 69.

Jean also lied and said she had graduated from high school and completed two years of college. Maybe she was accustomed to telling these stories to try to feel smarter. I don't know; the clemency board didn't seem to care that she was actually a high school dropout. They decided that if she had that education then she couldn't have such a low IQ.

By the time more qualified experts took on the case and presented the evidence that should have been provided during her trial, it was too late. No one had any mercy for Jean. Even Jesse Jackson could not convince the governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating, to spare Jean, who was upbeat and seemingly more happy with her life as a prisoner than most people would be. I suspect the routine was reassuring to someone who had difficulty with day-to-day life.

Jean was sentenced in 1988, but not executed until 2001. As she went to the table where she would receive her lethal injection, she danced and stuck out her tongue at her lawyer, whom she liked. She believed she would return to her cell in the morning.

One of Leathers' family members was aghast at her behavior, which I can understand. He lost a loved one.

But it seems pretty apparent that Jean, despite all the coaching she received from her lawyer, really didn't know what was going on.

How can we execute people who don't know they are being executed, who do not understand the consequences of firing a gun? When I lived in another state, there was a lovely woman with whom I was acquainted. She had three children, all elementary school age. Her husband kept hunting rifles in the house. One evening the children were playing upstairs and their eight-year-old son shot and killed his six-year-old sister. Should that child be executed for killing his sister?

I don't believe that Wanda Jean Allen knew what she was doing any more than that eight-year-old child did.

The United States should not execute people for the following reasons:

1. Too many innocent people have been executed or sentenced to death. The Innocence Project has proven this and it was well known even before DNA evidence came into use. The execution of even one innocent person is too many.

2. The former chaplain at Huntsville State Prison in Texas, Rev. Carroll Pickett (where they carry out the highest number of executions in the nation), accompanied 95 men and women on their journey toward death. He states in At the Death House Door -- another excellent documentary -- that prisoners who are placed in solitary confinement are so miserable they beg to be executed. So wouldn't society achieve a "higher" level of punishment by letting killers rot in prison?

3. Where there is life, there is hope. When we kill people, all hope for redemption is lost.

We can achieve separation of church and state and still behave as if we are a Christian nation.

Infinities of love and life,

Lola

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