Death Penalty: Execution by Red Tape

Mississippi will be executing Earl Wesley Berry on May 21, 2008 for the murder of Mary Bounds.   This will be the first execution in Mississippi after the US Supreme Court ruled in the Baze lethal injection case.   Earl Wesley Berry is Mentally Retarded.   The US Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that people with mental retardation could not be executed.  And Mississippi’s court ruled that any inmate with an IQ under 75 could receive an evidentiary hearing.  Unfortunately for Mr. Berry, his lawyers did not file the avidavit on time and he was denied such a hearing.   Execution by red tape.

It is commonly believed that an execution for crimes such involved in the death of Ms. Bounds will bring closure and justice to the victim’s family.  There could be no statement further from the truth.   The Bounds’ family has suffered undue grief and pain since the murder of Mary Bounds in 1987.  She was brutally and fatally beatened and there is no doubt that Mr. Berry committed the crime.  Yet, the pain and suffering waiting for the court system to carry out its sentence is excruciating.   In the case of Mary Bounds even more so because the execution was to take place the end of October 2007.   The Bounds family gathered to witness the execution, a horrible soul wrenching process to put anyone through, and then 18 minutes before the event the governor ordered a stay of execution because of the pending US Supreme court case on lethal injections.    In a story to the Clarion-Ledger, daughter Jena Bounds Watson states, “It’s very stressful. More than I ever imagined it would be. It hit us like a brick in October. We didn’t expect it to hit us so hard. It was like she’d died all over again.” 

This is not justice.  This is not closure.  This is not healing.  This is perpetuating a living hell. 

Mr. Berry should never have been released from the institution he was in.  He is also diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.  He had attempted suicide multiple times.  Our system has failed both Mr. Berry and the Bounds family.  Life imprisonment as a sentence would have allowed the Bounds family to move on in their lives.  Instead they have been waiting, emotively waiting for the sentence of death to be meted out.  They have been waiting to witness the execution to put this finally behind them and have been forced to painfully endure our system’s barbarism. 

I know there are many who believe that Mr. Berry should suffer painfully for his heinous crime. Given his diagnosis of mental retardation and paranoid schizophrenia, I would say his life experience has been one filled with suffering.  Even the Bounds family may have thought revenge would have been sufficient for relieving their loss. It is a natural reaction of our base emotions.  But many victim’s families, once they have had time to reflect, are able to shift to see that an eye for an eye response is not the answer. Taking revenge wounds the spirit of the family far more than the crime.   The death penalty should be repealed if only because to carry such a sentence out places more pain and suffering upon the victim’s families preventing them to begin the healing needed. 

Amnesty International has two blogs on this case in Mississippi.  The page linked also gives a link to sign a petition to commute the sentence of Mr. Berry to life imprisonment. 

There will be an interfaith vigil at Smith Park in Jackson, MS at 5:30 PM on Wednesday, May 21st.  I will be there.  I hope you will join me in prayer for Mr. Berry, for the Bounds family, and for our justice system that allows red tape to execute the mentally challenged.  May healing finally begin!  Blessings,  Rev. Fred L Hammond





One Comment

  1. Thanks for the informative post. You may also like my posting on the subject:

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