Texas prepares to execute oldest death row inmate

published on Monday 18 April 2022 at 07:36

Texas is scheduled to execute its oldest death row inmate, Carl Buntion, on April 21, convicted of killing a police officer more than 30 years ago but, at 78, no longer a danger to society. say its officials.

By June 1990, this man, raised by a violent, alcoholic father, had already been convicted 13 times and was on parole for sexual assault of a child.

During an intervention for a common traffic violation in Houston, Carl Buntion shoots and kills policeman James Irby.

Sentenced to the death penalty, this verdict was annulled in 2009 by the highest court in Texas, which considered that the defense had not been able to be properly heard by the juries.

But in 2012, he was again sentenced to death.

In this case, Carl Buntion’s defenders are not seeking to prove his innocence. “Every day for the past 32 years I have regretted what happened,” she said during an interview with channel KHOU 11 this week.

But in this large conservative southern state, the most executed in the United States, a person can only be sentenced to death if a jury determines that he or she poses a future danger to others.

However, Carl Buntion, who suffers in particular from osteoarthritis, dizziness, hepatitis and cirrhosis, “can no longer be dangerous”, argue his lawyers in an appeal before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which decides two days before the execution date.

– ‘Ethical question’ –

Carl Buntion, who has only been convicted of three disciplinary offenses during his decades of incarceration, has been isolated in his cell 23 hours a day for 20 years.

“In Texas, people on death row are put in a tiny cell with just a small slit at the top for a window,” Burke Butler, director of the Texas Defender Service, told AFP. .

“They can’t see their loved ones except if they’re separated by glass, talking on the phone,” he adds.

Being in solitary confinement for 30, 40 or 50 years constitutes “torture”, says Burke Butler.

Last year, the US Supreme Court refused to overturn Carl Buntion’s conviction, but progressive Justice Stephen Breyer said the length of his imprisonment “casts doubt on the constitutionality of the death penalty.”

“C’est une vraie question éthique et humaine sur l’obsession de l’État du Texas à vouloir exécuter coûte que coûte, quelles que soient les conditions”, réagit de son côté Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, director of l’Association Ensemble contre the death penalty.

– firing squad –

In Texas, 192 men and six women are waiting on death row. Three are over 70 years old and five are there for crimes dating back over 40 years.

Following that of Carl Buntion, the execution of Melissa Lucio, accused of having killed her 2-year-old daughter in 2007, is scheduled for April 27.

Sentenced after a controversial trial, she has the support of many elected Democrats and Republicans, as well as reality star Kim Kardashian, who helped publicize what her defenders call a miscarriage of justice.

Since the 2000s, Texas has seen a marked decline in executions. From 137 between 2000 and 2004, their number fell to 35 between 2017 and 2021. A total that is still much higher than that of other American states.

For Burke Butler, this decline is explained by the finding, among prosecutors, “that the death penalty is an excessive and cruel punishment”, but also by the fact that “people have better lawyers”.

Because before capital punishment, not everyone is the same. “We end up on death row because we’re poor and poorly defended,” says Burke Butler.

In Texas, 45% of those awaiting execution are black, compared to just 13% of the population.

Inequalities and an ethical debate that go far beyond the borders of the State. In South Carolina, Richard Moore, who will be executed on April 29, was the first convict to have to choose between the electric chair…and the firing squad.

The inmate chose the second option. Introduced there in May 2021, this method exists in three other American states, although it is very little used.

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