A recent editorial in The Washington Post praised Indiana Governor Mitchell Daniels for commuting the death sentence of Arthur Baird, who suffers from severe mental illness. The editorial noted:
Indiana Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. (R) acted wisely and humanely this week in commuting the death sentence of one Arthur Paul Baird II. There is no question that Mr. Baird killed his parents and his pregnant wife back in 1985. There is also little question that he is seriously mentally ill and was so then. His mental illness was clearly a significant factor in the killings and just as clearly led directly to his death sentence. Because of his delusional state, Mr. Baird inexplicably rejected a plea deal the state had offered him that would have spared his life. Jurors in his case have indicated that had life in prison without parole -- not an option in Indiana at the time -- been available, they would have chosen that rather than death. Family members were similarly inclined. Yet the state parole board recommended against clemency on a 3 to 1 vote, and the Indiana Supreme Court, also divided, likewise declined to step in. Mr. Daniels deserves credit for taking responsibility for preventing Mr. Baird's execution.
Benjamin Wittes, editorial page writer for The Washington Post, discusses the death penalty in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the October 2005 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. He states that the Court has "shifted gears on capital punishment" and predicts that this trend will continue through a series of decisions limiting the death penalty and addressing systemic flaws that continue to surface. Wittes writes:
Victims of Justice Revisited, a new book by Thomas Frisbie and Randy Garrett, details the innocence case of Rolando Cruz, an Illinois man who was wrongly convicted and sent to death row for the 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. The book tells the story of Cruz and his two co-defendants, Alejandro Hernandez and Stephen Buckley, from the day of the crime to the groundbreaking trial of seven law enforcement officers accused of conspiring to deny Cruz a fair trial.
Arthur Baird, who was to be executed on August 31 for murdering his parents in Indiana, received a commutation to a life sentence from Governor Mitch Daniels. (WishTV.com, Ch.8, Indianapolis, Aug. 29, 2005). Two members of the Indiana Supreme Court had written that Baird was "only marginally in touch with reality," in a decision in which the majority had allowed the execution to go forward. A report to the court from Dr. Philip M. Coons, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine, found Baird to be "grossly psychotic and delusional" and mentally unfit to be executed. Indiana's parole board had recommended against a commutation.
Update: Frances Newton was executed in Texas on September 14, 2005. As Texas prepares to execute Frances Newton on September 14, her attorneys have raised questions in a clemency petition about her guilt based on new evidence, including conflicting accounts of whether investigators recovered a second gun at the crime scene. Newton, who would be the first black woman executed in the state since the Civil War, was sentenced to death for the 1987 killings of her husband and her two children.
Bill Wiseman, the former Oklahoma legislator who introduced lethal injection as a method of execution in the U.S. in order to make death row inmates' deaths more humane, now regrets having pushed the concept into law. He notes that he introduced the measure in order to ease his shame for having voted to restore the death penalty in Oklahoma, stating, "I'm sorry for what I did. I hope someday to offset it by helping us realize that capital punishment is wrong and self-destructive." While discussing recent court challenges regarding lethal injection practices, Wiseman stated, "I'm aware of my responsibility. It keeps me tied to the problem. And the problem is that we're killing people. That's what's wrong, not how we're doing it." Wiseman is no longer an elected official and was recently ordained as an Episcopal priest.
The Cultural Lives of Capital Punishment, a new book edited by professor Austin Sarat of Amherst College and lecturer Christian Boulanger of the Free University in Berlin, examines the complicated dynamics of the death penalty in eleven nations to determine what role capital punishment plays in defining a country's political and cultural identity. The editors note that a nation's values and cultural history influence its relationship with capital punishment.