Dr aw ing by James Al!r i dg e experts to predict defendants’ future dangerousness revealed that the so-called ‘experts’ predictions were wrong 95 percent of the time. \(The study, Deadly Speculation: Misleading Texas Capital Juries with False Predictions of Future Dangerousness is available at www.texasdefender.org/ That’s a stunning number of wrong predictions, but what else can be expected of a process based on sheer speculation? As the TDS study points out, “Beginning in the early 1980s researchers and professionals concluded that ‘mental health professionals cannot predict future dangerousness:” and the American Psychiatric Association states, “the unreliability of psychiatric predictions of long-term dangerousness is by now an established fact within the profession:’ Predictability, prognostications of future dangerousness are fertile fields for racial prejudice to insinuate itself. In at least seven death cases reviewed by the TDS, a licensed psychologist, hired by the state, testified that, in his opinion, being a member of a minority race makes a defendant more dangerous. As is their pattern, neither the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals nor the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the constitutional issues raised in James Allridge’s petition. The U.S. Supreme Court did not give a reason for not hearing that it would not allow consideration of James’ claims because they should have been raised by James’ previous lawyers. \(In other words, sorry, Mr. Allridge. It looks like, even though you have proactive and interesting constitutional challenges, you’re petitioning too late. It’s regrettable that your previous lawyers didn’t have the smarts and creativity to raise the issues within the time frame we’ve mandated. So it looks like So, once more we see the machinery of death at work in the courts: procedural requirements valued over substance, legal mechanisms trumping what Jesus called “the weighty matters of justice and mercy.” I hope I go to my death with a tiny fraction of the poise and grace James Al ridge possessed as he stepped into eternity. He asked pardon of the victim’s family, thanked family and friends for loving him, and as calmly as if he were talking about going on an errand, departed with the words: “I came into this world in love and I leave it in love.” And once again, I found myself standing as mute witness to the protocol of death, this time in the busiest killing chamber in the United States. The night before James was killed by the state of Texas, another man, Jasen Shane Busby had been killed, and Jim Marcus predicts 15 more executions before the end of January 2005. As of September 2004, the state of Texas accounted for half of the total number of U.S. executions. Regional disparity in the application of the death penalty could not be more pronounced, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of “equal protection of law” could not be more flagrantly ignored. Yet the official guardians of the Constitution continue to allow procedural requirements to shield them from taking a fresh look at the constitutional challenges that continue to arise in death cases. Justices’ rigid adherence to stay the course of their own legal precedents, no matter how wrongheaded, renders them unwilling to admit, as did Justice Harry Blackmun, that “the death penalty experiment has failed:’ And so the Southern machinery of death clanks on, for that is what it truly is, a uniquely Southern practice that goes back to the days of slavery. The last cry of the heart is my own. I invite you to join me in the struggle to end the death penalty in the United States and around the world. Its practice demeans us all. In The Death of Innocents you’ll find a page of resources. For a jump start go to [email protected] . For photos of Dobie Williams, Joseph O’Dell, and Lori Urs and me with Pope John Paul II, go to www.deathofinnocents.com and www.sisterhelen.org . Now that this book is finished, I’ll once again be on the speaking circuit. It means leaving the quiet writing haven and getting on airplanes again. See you on the road. Sister Helen Prejean began her prison ministry in 1981 in Louisiana. She is the author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States become a leading voice for the abolition of the death penalty. Her latest book The Death of Innocents due out in December 2004. 12/3/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 53
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