A new article by Andrew Cohen that appears in The Atlantic (“A Day in the Life of the Death Penalty: July 18, 2012,” July 12, 2012) draws parallels between two executions scheduled to take place next Wednesday – one here in Texas and one in Georgia. Here’s an excerpt:
Next Wednesday, July 18, reckons to be another banner day in the history of capital punishment in America. Sometime between 6 p.m. and midnight, the state of Texas is scheduled to execute a convicted murderer named Yokamon Hearn, a man who has, since early childhood, shown clear and consistent evidence of brain damage. And at 7 p.m., the state of Georgia plans to execute a convicted murderer named Warren Hill, who years ago was deemed by a veteran state judge to be mentally retarded.
These executions will take place, absent extraordinary Supreme Court or gubernatorial intervention, because federal and state judges at lower levels of our nation’s justice system have perversely interpreted recent United States Supreme Court decisions. Whereas the Justices have tried in the past few years to give men like Hearn and Hill more access to meaningful appellate review, judicial obstructionists down below have refused to apply either the letter or the spirit of the new procedural rules.
The article goes on to provide background information about Yokamon Hearn’s trial, the basis of his appeals, and his clemency petition to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. It also notes that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, has interpreted the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Martinez v. Ryan in the narrowest way possible. Cohen writes that “Even though the justices in Washington had created an exception to ‘protect prisoners with a potentially legitimate claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel,’ the 5th Circuit said that Texas’ appellate procedures vitiated the need for such an exception.”