Death penalty challenged over 'cruel' delays
Wednesday 10 May 1995
Duncan McKenzie was due to die by lethal injection early today. Not only would he be the first person executed by Montana in 52 years, he is said by his lawyers to have been on death row longer than any other of the 2,984 people in the US currently under sentence of death.
Convicted on 1 March 1975 for the rape and murder of a teacher, McKenzie is 43 and has won eight stays. Even though a federal appeals court yesterday turned down his claim for another, he still has a chance in the Supreme Court, which has signalled for the first time it is ready to listen to arguments that long spells on death row breach the Eighth Amendment.
After a memorandum from Justice John Paul Stevens underlining this "novel and important" issue, a federal judge issued a stay for Clarence Lackey, another rapist-murderer on Texas's death row since 1978. Supporting Lackey's case was a brief filed by two British barristers, Philip Sapsford and David Marshall, citing a Privy Council ruling that prisoners on death row in Jamaica should have their sentences automatically commuted after five years. In the US, the average wait is more than double that.
"This is a major new departure in capital appeals law, and there haven't been too many of them lately," Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center here, a leading anti-capital punishment group, said.
Whatever the outcome, McKenzie's case only adds to the confusion and irrationality surrounding the death penalty in America, coming as it does amid intense public pressure to speed up executions and rein in an appeals system which many feel has run amok. As one appeals judge noted to his lawyer: "If we issue a stay, we'll be part of the cruel and unusual punishment you say is being inflicted on your client."
The 20-year wait for McKenzie is at odds with the traditions of Montana, a byword in Wild West days for instant vigilante justice. Whatever the outcome, however, 1995 seems set to break all records since capital punishment resumed in the US in 1976. So far 19 people have been executed, compared with 31 in 1994. Once effectively confined to the "Death Belt" of the old Confederacy, the death penalty has in recent years spread to the North and West.
- 1 BBC told new political editor must be 'impartial' with Nick Robinson reportedly stepping down
- 2 Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
- 3 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 4 The map showing the most dangerous tourist destinations in Europe, according to the Foreign Office
- 5 Swedish minister gives strongest case yet on why EU should stop turning away asylum seekers
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...
£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...