Open up the death chamber | Arkansas Blog

Open up the death chamber



Betsey Wright, the former aide to Bill Clinton who now devotes much of her time to work against the death penalty, has written an open letter to Gov. Huckabee on behalf of Death Row inmate Don Davis, who wants to lift the veil that the state Correction Department throws over the process. It is, of course, the view of death penalty opponents that more exposure of the details of the procedure and the deaths might move more people to oppose capital punishment. But, in principle, it's hard to argue with as much openness as possible when the state takes a life. A lawsuit may yet be filed on this issue.

Read Wright's letter to Huckabee on the jump.



Dear Governor Huckabee:

Sunday, July 2, is the 30 th Anniversary of the Gregg v. Georgia decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

This decision allowed the resumption of executions in the U.S.   In 1972, the Supreme Court found the death penalty to be ‘arbitrary and capricious.’   More than 600 condemned inmates had their death sentences reduced to life. All states were required to re-write their death penalty laws, and the Gregg v. Georgia decision in 1976 upheld those new laws.

When I visited Death Row Inmate Don Davis yesterday afternoon, he asked me to submit a request from him to you to mark the 30 th Anniversary of the Gregg v. Georgia decision. It was my choice to do this by open letter. As you know, Davis did not seek clemency, and his execution is inevitable, whether it occurs on the date you selected or a future one, depending on court decisions regarding a stay for a hearing on Arkansas’ lethal injection procedures. Obviously, he gains or loses nothing by making this request of you.

Davis’s request concerns the hidden, almost secret, way executions are carried out in Arkansas.   Many Arkansans and their lawmakers support the death penalty because they believe it has a deterrent effect on future crimes.   Therefore, Davis feels strongly that it would be sensible to make the executions more open and as public as possible.  

Davis does not advocate a circus-like atmosphere like that conjured up by the old proposal to have “courthouse hangings.”   Rather, the current protocol for executions includes three media witnesses, but the Department of Correction’s internal regulations prohibit those three reporters from using tape recorders or cameras. Davis is asking that you direct the Department of Correction to allow the reporters to use tape recorders and cameras during executions so that this aspect of the people’s business is made visible and audible to the public.

The current protocol also precludes witnesses from seeing any of the initial stages of the execution, such as escorting the condemned inmate into the execution chamber, strapping him or her to the gurney, and inserting needles and tubes for injecting the lethal chemicals.   Davis requests that these parts of the execution also be open to the witnesses, since they are integral parts of the execution itself. 

Davis personally hopes that some day Arkansas will develop a method of execution that allows the inmate to donate his or her organs to people who need them, instead of the current process that poisons all organs.

Finally, Governor Huckabee, Davis asked me to tell you that he would welcome a visit from you during his final days to discuss this and other issues.   I assure you that he harbors no ill will.

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