CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, May 21, 2007

Death Row Inmates are Volunteering for Execution

From Robert Comer, Christopher Newton and Elijah Page have something in common, aside from being on death row in the USA. Each of these three men is assisting their government in its efforts to kill them. They have given up their appeals and are "volunteering" for execution. Robert Comer is scheduled for execution in Arizona on 22 May 2007, Christopher Newton in Ohio on 23 May, and in the week of 9 July Elijah Page is due to become the first person to be put to death in South Dakota since 1947. In addition, on 4 May 2007, the Tennessee Attorney General requested an execution date for Daryl Holton, a former soldier with a history of depression, who has effectively waived his appeals and has been found competent to do so.

The execution of another "volunteer", Carey Dean Moore, due to be carried out in Nebraska on 8 May 2007, was stopped by the state Supreme Court on 2 May in view of concerns – not raised by Moore – about Nebraska’s use of the electric chair. In issuing its order, a divided Court noted that the "unique problem presented by this case is that Moore has not asked for a stay." It added, however, that "we simply are not permitted to avert our eyes from the fairness of a proceeding in which a defendant has received the death sentence", and that "we have authority to do all things that are reasonably necessary for the proper administration of justice".(2) It seems that not all courts have adopted such a view, and "volunteers" have gone to their deaths despite concerns about the fairness of proceedings that put them on death row or about the reliability of determinations that found them competent to waive their appeals.

About one in 10 of the men and women put to death in the USA since judicial killing resumed there in 1977 had given up their appeals. Outside of the five main executing states of Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri and Florida, this figure rises to one in five for the remaining 28 jurisdictions that have executed since 1977. Four of the first five executions in the USA after 1977 were of "volunteers". Put to death by firing squad, electrocution, and gas, perhaps their personal pursuit of execution made it easier for the USA to stomach a return to a punishment that much of the rest of the world was beginning to abandon. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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