Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Modern Execution: Old Age

San Quentin, CA

In 1981, Thomas Francis Edwards spotted two young girls as they were walking to a picnic at the Blue Jay Campground in San Juan Capistrano. He followed them to a secluded spot and shot them, killing 12-year-old Vanessa Iberri. He was captured nine days later in Maryland and sentenced to death in 1986.

Yesterday, almost thirty years after he was captured he died of natural causes.

In and of itself, I don't find that fact very interesting. What does grab me is that it wasn't until September, 2008 that all of his appeals finally ran out and a judge affirmed the sentence. The state courts affirmed it in 1991. The federal courts took another 17 years to get to it.

So from the time he committed the murder in 1981 to the time the government finally said, "Yeah, y'all were right the first time. Kill him," took 27 years.

Appeal after appeal after appeal. The man confessed to the shooting. One of the victims was left alive and could ID him.

The appellate system is crucial. When it works it keeps innocent men and women from being executed. But there's something wrong with a system that takes almost 30 years just to confirm that, yes, this man did something so heinous that he needs to be killed.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, forty-three people on death row have died from natural causes. Compare that to the thirteen who have been executed.

I'm having trouble with the math here.


Gerard said...

What are the average waits for execution from state to state? Does Texas have more executions because the state appeals or federal appeals courts in TX are quicker? Or, does TX have more executions because they have more people sentenced to die?

Anonymous said...

The second. The sentencing in TX tends to be harsher. Plus the courts tend to push the appeals through in that area, because it can get expensive dragging it out.