Georgia’s shameful record on executions
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Peanuts, pecans, peaches, even morality takes a backseat to the death penalty in Georgia.

Indeed, Georgia tellingly ranks among the worst states to be a kid in 2016, according to the Anne E. Casey Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on improving the well-being of American children.

One reason for this, as noted in a January 2015 article in the Atlantic titled, “What’s Wrong With Georgia?,” is Alana Semuels observation that, “[w]hile many other states are recovering [economically], Georgia’s unemployment rate has risen.”

Since then, the state’s economy has not, appreciably improved. In fact, just three months ago, Phil Hudson wrote in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, it’s the “global economy [that’s continuing] to weigh [Georgia] down.”

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Piling on, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports, “Georgia ranked near the bottom among U.S. states when it came to investing in education after the Great Recession. [It] spent less [per student] than any of its adjoining states except Florida, ranking 40th.” In stark contrast to its sputtering economy and sagging school system, however, when it comes to the state-sponsored killing of death row inmates in the U.S. – after last night’s execution of 54-year-old Steven Frederick Spears – Georgia holds the dubious distinction of leading the way.

Georgia has performed a record eight executions in 2016, more than in any year since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty (in 1976). 

Before killing Spears, the “Empire State of the South,” as Georgia is called, was tied only with the “Lone Star State” of Texas for the most executions (both having, before yesterday, executed seven otherwise reasonably healthy, human beings).

In killing Spears, its eighth condemned defendant this year, Georgia proved, however, when it comes to perpetrating and perpetuating capital punishment, it does, and it will, “mess with Texas.”

Thumbing its nose and 21st century chemical-noose at the New York Times Editorial Board, which too rosily declared on October 24th, “The Death Penalty, [Is] Nearing Its End,” with Spears’ execution, Georgia has picked up the mantle of ghoulish death normally held by Texas.

Georgia is now the new, undisputed champion killer of the condemned (many of whom are senior citizens, disproportionately minorities, and suffering from serious mental illness, a frequent byproduct of a childhood where poverty, abuse, violence, and neglect were the norm).

Spears made it easy for Georgia to kill him yesterday: He confessed to an unquestionably heinous and gory crime in graphic detail; he refused to cooperate with his defense attorneys at trial or on appeal; and he would not allow any postconviction motions or clemency petitions to be filed on his behalf. 

The Associated Press (AP) reports, Spears “told a psychiatrist he didn’t really want to die but also didn’t want to continue living in prison.” (Spears also told the AP that attorneys fighting his execution, were “trying to force their beliefs on me.”)

In trying to persuade Spears not to give up so easily (on his life), one of those attorneys, Brian Kammer, Executive Director of the Georgia Resource Center, spoke directly to Mr. Spears in open court. In what can only be described as an extremely compassionate, eloquent, human moment, one full of grace and dignity, Mr. Kammer said: “Mr. Spears, there are people in your life who care about you. They want you in their life. They love you. Please don’t let it end this way, sir. Please reconsider.”

Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center told Associated Press’ Kate Brumback: “These executions are always problematic because they are cases in which there has not been complete judicial review.” 

Dunham added “that the type of errors that typically result in a death sentence being overturned frequently are unearthed in post-conviction proceedings” (like those Spears was foregoing), and also, “there have been cases in which inmates who waived their appeals changed their mind at the last minute, halting their executions, and subsequently had their death sentences overturned.”

But Spears refused to heed Kammer’s noble plea to fight for his life. He refused to assist any attorney or investigator to conduct an investigation or presentation of mitigation evidence on his behalf. 

Instead, like the reeling, shell-shocked, already-bitten prey of a black widow spider, Spears was too far tangled in Georgia’s all-encompassing web of death. 

He was already too defeated to consider fighting his own execution. Instead, Spears gave himself up, willingly succumbing to Georgia’s venomous poison.

Even though Spears’ subjugation and complicity in his own execution were motivated purely by his stated desire to avoid the hell of living out the rest of his life in prison – where he’d be forced to confront the consequences of his crime – Georgia killed him.

Under these circumstances, isn’t it fair to ask, on behalf of the children of Georgia: Other than the tragic, passionate, deeply moving and unsuccessful plea for continued life (and love) by defense attorney Kammer, where is the moral example, the progressive vision, the education in this inhumanity for the children of Georgia?

Not even the sweetest Vidalia onion or the ripest red-fleshed peach, growing wild in the mountains of Georgia, can blunt such acrid bitterness, such hatred.

Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.


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