Billy Wardlow was executed in Texas yesterday, 8 July 2020, despite massive campaign for clemency
Billy Joe Wardlow was executed on Wednesday night in Huntsville, Texas for a murder committed in 1993 when he was 18. The campaign has focused on his age at the time of the murder arguing that at 18, he was still immature. The campaign on his behalf was turned down by the Supreme Court. Since 2005, the Supreme Court has held that the death sentence is unconstitutional for those who are 17 or younger, partly because of their ‘still undefined identity.’
The USA is the only country in the Americas which retains the penalty in some states at least. In fact, the use of the penalty is in steady decline in the States even in Texas, the state with the highest number of executions (548 since 1976). It is because of a series of factors. More programmes on TV showing mistakes and miscarriages of justice have had an effect. The cost of carrying out executions and years of appeals meaning large numbers spend years on death row. Difficulties in obtaining drugs for lethal injections with European firms refusing to supply them.
According to a 2018 BBC report ‘the death penalty wouldn’t have survived in America if it weren’t for evangelical Christians’. This is according to Shane Claiborne a Christian activist. By contrast, the Pope has condemned the use of the penalty.
One aspect of the abolition debate is whether it is effective or not in deterring crime. Some say it is and some not. The Death Penalty Information Center has produced statistics comparing murder rates between death and non-death penalty states. The murder rates between 1990 and 2003 shows a lower murder rate for non-death penalty states. They conclude that states without the penalty fared better over the past decade.
THE debate is interesting because in the UK the idea of re-introducing the penalty still receives a lot of support for certain types of crime. A 2019 YouGov poll found that ‘Brits want harsher punishments for criminals’ and a balance in favour of the death penalty of 58% (terrorist offences); 57% (multiple murders); 53% (child murders) and 47% (murder of a police officer). The current Home Secretary Priti Patel is quoted as being in favour of the penalty although she now denies this. An extract from a Question Time programme in which she says ‘yes I am in support of capital punishment’ is available on this link from the Independent.
It is noteworthy that in the USA where the penalty is still practised, the mood is shifting against its use whereas in the UK, where the penalty was finally abolished in 1969*, there is still a powerful desire to have it restored.
The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.
*1973 in Northern Ireland
Sources: Independent; BBC; Texas Tribune; Death Penalty Information Center