June 22, 2000, a day when technology such as computers, cameras, worldwide contact, and space shuttles, is a part of daily life. Still, this is a day to grieve. This is the day that the 36-year-old American, Gary L. Graham was executed. According to Amnesty International, who thoroughly researches the death penalty because they oppose it, Gary Graham was exposed to several types of violence in his youth. Growing up with a mentally ill mother and an alcoholic father drug and alcohol abuse were a part of his life. Under the influence of both and in order to survive, Graham started to steal food, money, anything. Although his life is what America could grieve, because nobody needs to grow up like this; America should grieve for his death. When he was 17 years old Gary had apparently fired the fatal shot that killed Bobby Lambert. Although real evidence was never found, Gary was found guilty. In his trial, his lawyers were either too busy, not interested, inexperienced, or convinced that he was guilty, because they failed to interview those who could have plead him innocent, because they did not identify him as the murderer. Because of inadequate legal representation, on June 22 this year, Gary Graham was executed in Texas. “One of his lawyers has admitted:” I have serious questions whether we presented a fair trial and adequate defense”” (USA Concern over execution of the innocent 1).
The first juvenile execution in the United States of America was in 1642, when the states, or colonies, were not even united. In the Plymouth colony of Massachusetts, Thomas Graunger was executed (on the wrong side of history 1). Since then at least 361 people have been executed in the United States of America for a crime that they committed when they were under the age of 18. People refer to the time between 1973 and now as the “last era”. In that era through August 2000, 17 men have been executed for crimes committed as juveniles. Of those 17 men one, Sean Sellers, was 16 at the time he committed his crime, while all the others were 17. Although they were all teenagers when they made the mistake that sentenced them to death, the actual execution was and still is 6 to 20 years later (Streibe 1). From the numbers of executed juveniles as well as adults the state of Texas “leads” with the amount of people executed. The real peak occurred when George Bush became governor of Texas in January 1995. Since then over 120 prisoners were executed, several of whose cases left serious questions about the guilt of the executed person. Besides Texas, 37 other states include the death penalty in their system of justice. From those 38, 23 states, including Texas, also murder those who committed a crime while being a juvenile. To name all 17 men, I would feel obliged to tell you their story so you could understand what happened. But that is not what I want to focus on during this speech. If you are still curious about them, feel free to come and ask me. What I can tell right now is that in the last era from those 17 I mentioned before, 3 were executed in Virginia so far (Streibe 2,6 &7).
When the death penalty is used to punish many questions rise among people. In the United States of America, the majority agrees that it was a necessity to enforce this law. Although it does seems that killing a person that is dangerous for society is the right thing to do to protect the society, the effects that the death penalty can have are astonishing. Jerry Mooney, waiting on death row, once reacted: “To condemn me to death solves nothing. To be condemned is to say my life has no positive value, I’m beyond correction or rehabilitation. That’s not true” (Story of Sean Sellers 2). This one statement he made explains the government’s reason for practicing the death penalty. These kind of people are not able to live in this society. They are dangerous, and nothing can make them better, so therefore they should die. But the history, and mental history of the accused juvenile Alexander Williams, who is facing the death penalty in Georgia, sheds another light on this reasoning. His story is very similar to that of Gary Graham. Only in this case his lawyer failed to convince the jury that Williams should not be executed because of his mental illness. He was abused throughout his whole childhood. “When he was toddler, she (his mother) struck him with cooking utensils, sticks, branches, and the spiked edge of her glass shoes”(Urgent Alert 1). Should his right to life be taken away because of something his mother had done to him when he was little? His story shows how much influence the government can have on the people. Because of the government being the one to justify something so simply as murder, the government is actually saying that group of people can decide by the facts presented whether somebody should be killed or not. If Alexander Williams becomes convicted, he will be a part of the two-third black men who have to face death penalty for their crime instead of any other solution. This is significant because “although African Americans constitute almost half of all juvenile homicide victims, two thirds of the victims in juvenile death penalty cases are white (Question and answers 2). Since May 1, 2000, A child sentenced to death will get a lethal injection instead of being electrified. Although that may seem less painful, the story of a man whose execution was broadcasted on TV showed the opposite. The reason why nobody knows, maybe the executer was very nervous, but whatever the reason may have been, it took 18 whole minutes for the man to die. In the mean time he could feel the pain of the injection going in his blood, thinking every good thing he had done in is life didn’t count anymore, all that counted was that he was needed nor wanted in the society anymore. And his family had no other option, than watch and cry (Amnesty International questions and answers 7).
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