Monday, January 25, 2010

Comments on California's procedures, part 1

Last week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was accepting public comment on its revised procedures for carrying out executions. Over 1,200 people from California and across the country submitted comments, according to the ACLU's press release. Here are some excerpts from MVFHR members' comments on the issue of how families of the executed person are treated; we'll post other comments tomorrow:

From Bill Babbitt's comments:

It is certainly a step forward for the CDCR to recognize that all execution witnesses should be treated equally -- with the same dignity and respect -- whether they are family of the person being executed or family of the victim. But the revised lethal injection procedures still fail to achieve this goal. As the brother of an inmate who was executed in California, I have these concerns about the revised procedures:

The victim’s family is allowed an unlimited number of witnesses at the execution, while the person being executed is limited to five individuals other than her or his spiritual adviser. Also, the regulations do not make it clear whether the inmate’s attorneys must be included within the total of five permitted witnesses. If, for example, three members of the legal team need to witness the execution, and the family of the person to be executed includes his or her father, mother and three adult children or siblings, will the CDCR make the person being executed choose among his or her loved ones? The regulations are unclear and do not answer this question.

Similarly, in the event of limited space, the victim’s family is provided with the option of remote viewing of the execution, while the same option is not extended to the family of the person being executed. If this technology is available, it is unfair and unreasonable to limit its use to only witnesses for the victim’s family. The regulations should clearly state that accommodations will be made for every immediate family member of the person being executed to witness the execution, including via remote viewing if space is needed. The regulations should also provide that legal observers are allowed to witness the execution regardless of the number of other witnesses for the person being executed.

When I witnessed my brother’s execution, I was forced to stand on the riser because no seating was provided, though seating was provided for the victim’s witnesses. Witnessing an execution is difficult, even traumatic, for any witnesses, and seats should be provided for all, especially the elderly and infirm. I have not seen this issue addressed in the procedures.

I cannot undo my brother’s execution or the specific procedures that were in place at that time, but my concern about the impact of the death penalty on families of the executed demands that I care about the suffering of subsequent inmates’ family members. Families of the executed are innocent people going through an intensely traumatic experience, and all care must be taken to address the harm they suffer.

As the brother of an executed inmate and as a member of the Board of Directors of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, which represents families of victims and families of the executed throughout the U.S., I object to implementing the regulations as currently written.

From Robert Meeropol's comments:

In my comments on the earlier draft of the proposed regulations, I summarized the unusual perspective I have as a child who survived his parents' execution; my parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, were executed in 1953, when I was 6 years old. I am writing again because I remain acutely concerned and feel compelled to reiterate the general concerns I expressed because the new regulations fail to address the issues I raised.

To repeat, as far as I know, no one has studied how the execution of an immediate family member impacts children. There is an apparent disregard for children who have had a family member executed. We don't even know how many children have an immediate family member on death row in the United States today. (Do you know how many children have an immediate family member on death row in California today?) Worse, we don't know the effect that having a parent executed will have upon their impressionable lives, and the cost society may pay for that impact. As far as I can tell no one has bothered to study this even though these children are all innocent victims of the state's efforts to kill their loved ones.

This raises a disturbing question: If California promulgates a new set of lethal injection regulations, what will the impact be on children whose immediate family members are executed or are placed on death row? No one can deny that it is qualitatively worse to have a family member on death row or executed than to have a family member in prison. But that's not much of an answer. The State must have a better answer to this question, because its agents have a solemn obligation before passing regulations to understand their impact. That obligation becomes even more serious when you are dealing with matters of life and death as you are here.

The fact that the modified regulations ignore these questions renders them irresponsible. Moreover, this neglect raises the possibility that those promulgating the regulations are actively seeking to avoid consideration of this life and death matter that could have a lasting negative impact on innocent children. Such neglect borders on the despicable.

Once again I urge those who are considering restarting state-sanctioned ritualized killings to consider this question first. It is past time to realize such "collateral damage" is yet another powerful reason to abolish the death penalty.

As the child of two execution victims and as a member of the Board of Directors of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, which represents families of victims and families of the executed throughout the U.S., I object to implementing the regulations as currently written.

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