December 19, 1998

Column 21

On November 17th, there was an execution scheduled, here at San Quentin. Fortunately, it didn't happen. The man they were going to execute, Jaturun Siripongs (or Jay), had been giving his last meal and was in the deathwatch cell, next to the Execution Chamber. A few hours before the execution was to take place, the Court stepped in and stopped it. The reason the execution was stopped is because the current Governor of California tried to pull a fast one. Since the current Governor is going to be kicked out of office in January, this was his last chance to kill someone, before forced to leave office, so he didn't want anything to ruin his last little thrill before that happens. The reason the courts stopped the execution is because of the way the Governor conducted the Clemency hearing.
Governor Wilson told Jay's lawyers (for the clemency hearing) he didn't want any new information that would argue anything about Jay being innocent. So the Governor eliminated the chance for Jay's attorneys to argue Jay's innocence. Then, when the Clemency hearing took place, Governor Wilson denied the Clemency hearing and ordered the execution to go forward on the grounds there WASN'T any information to prove that Jay was wrongly convicted, or would point to his innocence. The very information the Governor instructed the lawyers not to present. Once the Courts saw this, they stopped the execution and will have a hearing on this, on December the 3rd. If the Court does order the execution to go through, there will be a new Governor in California, so maybe he (Davis) will be more reasonable.

Jay presents a real dilemma for politicians, especially the one's who campaign on how tough they are on crime, or how much they support the Death Penalty. Jay is a Buddhist Monk who was born in Thailand. There is compelling evidence that he is innocent, but since Jay won't snitch (how un-American) on the one who is guilty, he was sentenced to die for the crime. Because of his Buddhist beliefs, Jay will not name the person who actually did the crimes, but he readily admit his parts in what happened (a murder robbery).
What makes Jay's case so unique is the fact that the Victim's family has asked that Jay's life be spared. Not only that, but a former Warden of the San Quentin Prison, numerous prison guards and the Government of Thailand have all asked the State of California to grant Clemency. But Governor Wilson wasn't going to let anyone ruin his fun and ignored all this. When Jay's next date comes up, the new Governor of California (Davis) will be in office and it will fall on his lap. What a dilemma for a Governor, who during his election campaign, used his support of the Death Penalty as one of his qualifications for being elected.
Let's just hope that Davis won't let his desire to prove what a tough Governor he is, get in the way of doing the right thing and commuting Jay's sentence to Life In Prison Without Parole.

On the subject of the innocent being sentenced to death. On the weekend of November the 14th, there was a conference held in Chicago. (Thanks to whoever it was that sent me the article on that) It was a conference on wrongful convictions and the Death Penalty. At this conference were 30 former prisoners (both men and women) who had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Many had spent years sitting on Death Row, awaiting execution, until they were proved innocent of the crimes they had been sentenced to die for.
Since 1977, when the Death Penalty was reinstated in the USA, there have been 75 men and women who have been proved to be innocent of the crimes they were sentenced to die for and set free.

While this conference is interesting, I don't want to talk about that. What I do want to talk about is another aspect of sentencing the innocent to die. In the USA, (since reinstating the Death Penalty in 1977) there have been a ratio of 6 executions carried out, for every person who has been found to have been innocent, after being sentenced to die for something they didn't do. As horrible as this statistic is, I think it is a bit misleading. One innocent person for every six executed is bad enough on it's own, but I think the number of innocent people should be higher than this. My reason for saying this is because once a person is executed, there is no further investigation in the case. To take the case of Tom Tompson as an example. There was ample evidence of his innocence, to warrant further hearings and to investigate further, but once Tom was executed, all efforts to prove his innocence stopped. So he becomes one of the 6 that are executed, rather than one of those that had been proven to be innocent. With Jay, it is the same thing, if he is executed, he becomes one of the 6 executed, rather than part of the 1 that was proved to be innocent. I have heard numerous other cases (around the USA) where the various States have executed people with enough evidence to investigate if they were innocent, but the Courts would not allow time (or the means) for the prisoner to prove it. So who knows what the real number of the innocent are who have been sentenced to die. Evidentially the States do not want the number of those, who are found to be innocent to grow in number. I suppose it does make the system look bad, and the States know that once they execute someone the case is closed and no more efforts will be made to prove the State convicted someone who is innocent. So politically (for the State), it is safer to execute an innocent person rather than get to the truth of the matter. That's why I suspect the ratio of innocent to the ones executed should be much higher on the side of the innocent. I might be wrong and I would challenge everyone to prove it. The disturbing thing is, there are all these efforts (successful ones) for the appeal process to be speeded up and less efforts put into a prisoners ability to prove they are innocent once they are sentenced to death. I guess it is more important that someone dies (for these self proclaimed "Victim's Right Advocates") and the fact that they may be innocent is not so important to them. So they create more victims in the process. But, like most self centered and self-serving people, feel they are the only victims that are important.

I will go ahead and end this one here. Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope it helps you to look at the Death Penalty in a different light. I hope to write some more soon. If you have any comments, feel free to write to me, my address is here on this website.