Amy Goodman

Pardons and Pentobarbital

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Pardons and pentobarbital are defining the waning weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency. Speculation is rampant over whether Trump will grant himself a preemptive pardon, along with his three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric; his son-in-law Jared Kushner; and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. If Trump does, he’ll be the first president in U.S. history to pardon himself.

Meanwhile, the 54 people on federal death row can expect no such mercy from Trump. He has already executed eight federal prisoners, ending a 30-year hiatus in federal executions, and intends to kill five more before he leaves office on Jan. 20. Four of those scheduled to die are African American men and the other is the only woman on federal death row. She would be the first woman executed by the federal government in nearly 70 years. These will be the first federal executions to occur during an outgoing president’s “lame duck” period in more than 130 years, since President Grover Cleveland executed three men of color. Cleveland lost the election, but would be the only president to win again, four years later.

The federal government’s only death chamber, at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, is equipped to kill only by lethal injection. In order to expedite the killing spree, the Trump administration has issued a rule change, authorizing federal executions to take place by firing squad, poison gas or electrocution as well. The change was to take effect on Christmas Eve, highlighting how cruel and barbaric the death penalty is. The effective date was quietly shifted to Dec. 28.

The next federal prisoner scheduled to die is Brandon Bernard. All but one of his jurors was white, and now, five of them say he should not be executed. The next day, Dec. 11, Alfred Bourgeois is set to be killed. Cory Johnson, whose attorneys say has an IQ of 69 and thus falls below the Supreme Court’s standard allowing the death penalty, has an execution date of Jan. 14. Dustin Higgs is the final of the four African American men Trump intends to execute just days before he leaves office. Higgs is slated to die on Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Study after study has confirmed deep racial bias in the application of the death penalty, primarily targeting African American defendants in crimes with white victims.

“It’s a paroxysm of violence,” Cornell law professor Sandra Babcock said. She is an advocate for Lisa Montgomery, the sole woman on federal death row. Babcock described the horrific childhood that Montgomery suffered:

“She was a victim of incest, of gang rape, of child sex trafficking, of unimaginable violence for her entire life before she committed the crime for which she was sentenced to death. She is profoundly mentally ill… her stepfather built her a special room off the side of their trailer so he and his buddies could go in and rape her. Her mother sold her to the plumber and to the electrician, told her that she had to earn her keep.” Babcock added, “The jury never heard about the scope of her abuse or its impact. She is the most broken of the broken.”

Montgomery was sentenced to death in 2008 for the murder of a pregnant woman named Bobbie Jo Stinnett. Montgomery lives, imprisoned, under constant sedation with powerful antipsychotic drugs to treat her severe mental illness. “There are at least 16 women who have committed very similar crimes, and prosecutors in those cases recognized that these crimes are the product of trauma and mental illness,” Babcock explained.

Trump has used the power of clemency far less than any president in modern history, granting only 28 pardons and 16 commutations, including several to his political allies—less than one-half of one percent of clemency requests. President Barack Obama granted clemency 1,927 times, by comparison.

Renowned anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, said. “There’s no need for these executions to happen. She added, “You can’t let frail, politically driven individuals decide ‘You, you and you are going to die.’”

President-elect Joe Biden has said he supports ending the federal death penalty. It is outdated, racist and ineffective. Like Donald Trump’s presidency, it is time for the death penalty to end.

Past Columns
Trump’s insurrection

January 13, 2021

Food for the hungry

December 2, 2020

Lost Causes

November 18, 2020

Infection Election

October 21, 2020

Amoral Universe

September 2, 2020

COVID Care

August 12, 2020

Tests, not troops

July 29, 2020

Defund the Police

June 17, 2020

Racism in America

June 2, 2020

Live and Let Die

May 13, 2020

Unpredictable Trajectory

April 22, 2020

M4A

February 26, 2020

Suffrage

January 22, 2020

Free Press 2020

January 1, 2020

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Sunday
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10:00am

Registration is currently open for an online “Grow Your Groceries Winter 2021” series starting Feb. 2 with WSU Skagit. The 12-week series will cover all aspects of home gardening for food…

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference

5:00pm

Whatcom Human Rights Task Force presents its 23rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference from Fri., Jan. 15 to Sun., Jan. 17. “Recapturing the Revolutionary Spirit:…

Bellingham Winter Farmers Market

10:00am

A variety of vendors will have edible and homemade offerings for sale from 10am-2pm at the first Winter Market of the season at the Bellingham Farmers Market’s Depot Market Square, 1100…

Share Spot

12:00pm

Birchwood Food Desert Fighters hosts a Share Spot from 12pm-2pm Saturdays in the parking lot of the Industrial Credit Union, 3233 Northwest Ave. Thanks to a collaboration with the Miracle…

Family Book Group

4:00pm

Kids in grades K-5 and their families are invited to register for a Family Book Group from 4pm-5pm via Zoom. The monthly event is led by Whatcom County Library System youth staff, and…