Texas prepares to execute oldest death row inmate

Posted on Monday, April 18, 2022 at 07:36

Texas is set to carry out its oldest death row inmate on April 21, Carl Pontion, who was convicted of killing a police officer more than 30 years ago but, at 78, is no longer a danger to society, officials say.

In June 1990, this man, who was raised by an alcoholic and violent father, had already been convicted 13 times and was released on parole for child sexual abuse.

During an intervention for a common traffic infraction in Houston, Carl Pontion shot and killed police officer James Irby.

Sentenced to death, this sentence was held to be overturned in 2009 by the highest court in Texas, which held that the defense had not been properly heard by the jury.

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’ve regretted what happened,” the latter said during an interview with 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 finds them to be a future danger to others.

However, Carl Pontion, who suffers particularly from osteoporosis, dizziness, hepatitis and cirrhosis, is “no longer a danger,” his attorney pleads in an appeal to the Texas Pardon and Parole Board, which decides two days before the date of the execution.

– ‘Ethical question’ –

Carl Pontion, who was convicted of only three disciplinary offenses during decades of confinement, was confined to his cell 23 hours a day for 20 years.

“In Texas, death row inmates are kept in a small cell with a small slit at the top of the window,” Burke Butler, director of the Texas Defender Service, told AFP.

“They can only see the ones they love by separating them by the glass and talking on the phone,” she adds.

Burke Butler asserts that being in solitary confinement for 30, 40 or 50 years constitutes “torture”.

Last year, the US Supreme Court refused to overturn Karl Pontion’s conviction, but progressive judge Stephen Breyer said the length of his imprisonment “calls into question the constitutionality of the death penalty”.

“It’s a real moral and human question about Texas’ obsession with wanting to execute at any cost, whatever the circumstances,” responds Rafael Chenuel Hazan, director of the Anti-Death Penalty Association’s squad.

– firing squad –

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

After Carl Pontion’s execution, Melissa Lucio, accused of killing her two-year-old daughter in 2007, is scheduled to be executed on April 27.

Sentenced after a controversial trial, she is backed by many elected Democrats and Republicans, as well as reality TV star Kim Kardashian, who helped popularize what her advocates call a miscarriage of justice.

Since the 2000s, Texas has seen a marked decrease in executions. From 137 between 2000 and 2004, their number decreased to 35 between 2017 and 2021. A total that is still significantly higher than in other US states.

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

Because in the face of the death penalty, not everyone is equal. “We end up on death row because we are poor and poorly defended,” Burke Butler says.

In Texas, 45% of those on death row are black, compared to only 13% of the population.

Inequality and a moral debate that transcends state borders. In South Carolina, Richard Moore, who will be executed on April 29, was the first convict to choose between the electric chair…and a death squad.

The guest chose the second option. This method was introduced there in May 2021, and is present in three other US states, although it is of little use.

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