As long as there is a death penalty in the United States, as long as the government persists in the barbaric practice of having the state kill those convicted of the most egregious murders, as long as the government continues to kill by lethal injection, there will continue to be egregious, shameful, disgraceful, inhuman, unfathomable executions.
Last week it was the Virginia execution of Teresa Lewis, a woman with a 72 IQ who was not the shooter in the double murder that led to her execution on Thursday. The two male gunmen each received life in prison. Little, whose guilt was never in doubt, pleaded guilty, waived her right to a jury trial on punishment, and to her then attorney's surprise, was sentenced to death by a judge without a jury. The judge said she was the "head of the serpent." I wrote that if this execution was justice, justice was an ass.
And now Georgia plans on executing Brandon Rhode on Monday.
Rhode, too, committed a horrendous, brutal multiple murder. Rhode killed two children and their father in the course of a burglary. The Atlanta Journal Constitution described the crime:
Rhode... and a partner, did not set out to commit murder when they broke into the Jones County house of Steven and Gerri Ann Moss on April 23, 1998, according to trial testimony.
Their plan was to commit a burglary.
But 11-year-old Bryan was murdered when he came home from school, then his 15-year-old sister, Kristin, and then their 37-year-old father, Steven Moss....
Bryan Moss was the first to come home.
The boy could see the two men through a front window as they were ransacking the house. The boy, armed with a baseball bat, came in through the back, but he was subdued by Rhode and Lucas, who were armed.
They put him in a chair as they discussed what to do with him. They were still talking about their options when Lucas shot the boy in the shoulder.
Moments later, Kristin Moss was seen coming up to the house, so Lucas took Bryan to a back bedroom while Rhode waited for the boy’s sister.
Rhode put her in the same chair and shot the teenager twice.
Simultaneously, Lucas, in the back with Bryan, shot the boy again.
Rhode shot and killed their father when he got to the house.
Then the partners shot the Moss siblings several more times to be certain they were dead.
There was never a serious dispute that Rhode was guilty of the crime, and Georgia was scheduled to kill Rhode was scheduled by lethal injection. According to a CBS report, Rhode tried to kill himself on Friday before the State of Georgia could kill him:
A federal judge has refused to block tonight's scheduled execution of a Georgia death row inmate who attempted to commit suicide on Tuesday, the day he was originally to be put to death.
According to court filings, 31-year-old Brandon Joseph Rhode used a razor to slash his elbows and his neck, which caused him to go into traumatic shock. Authorities say Rhodes may have also suffered brain damage as a result of immense blood loss.
Rhode was stabilized after his attempt and he's since been put in a restraining chair to prevent him from pulling out the sutures on his neck or doing any other harm to himself, a state attorney said.
Rhode's execution had already been rescheduled to 9:00 a.m. Friday after his suicide attempt, but the state moved his execution back 10 hours to 7:00 p.m. Friday, to allow for several appeals to work their way through the system, says corrections spokeswoman Sharmelle Brooks.
The execution has now been scheduled for Monday. And Georgia has reportedly put two additional guards on Rhode, so that nothing further will disrupt the state's killing him as scheduled. So in Rhode's case, the state finds itself saving Rhode's life so that it can strap him on a gurney and kill him by lethal injection.
There's a grim irony to this. Some prisoners condemned to death "volunteer" to be executed. They withdraw all of their appeals, they tell their lawyers not to seek a stay, they tell prison officials to schedule their execution. They give up. And they are killed. There are many reasons that this happens, and it happens frequently. Chief among the reasons for "volunteering" are the dehumanizing conditions on death row and the knowledge that eventually the state will succeed in killing by lethal injection. Prisoners just give up. That kind of suicide is acceptable on death rows across the country. It is a common occurrence. In fact, the list of those scheduled for execution released by various abolition organizations puts an asterisk next to these "volunteers" names, or states they are volunteers. That kind of suicide is permissible.
But Rhode's suicide evidently is not acceptable. He didn't create a legal framework for the state to kill him, he tried to do it without the state's participation. He tried to do it himself. And this, of course, could not be permitted. So now we have the spectacle of Georgia having saved his life, having stitched him up, having strapped him to a chair, having assigned additional guards, for what? So that Georgia can kill him in our names on Monday.
Put another way, Rhode had no regard for the lives of his victims. He has no regard for his own life. And now, because of the intervention of Georgia prison authorities, we are about to reduce ourselves to his level: we too have no regard for his life.
Yet again, the death penalty reduces all of us to the lowest common denominator of barbarism.