Death penalty still a blight on the soul of Texas

Texas death ro inmate Lester Bower talks with Star-Telegram reporter Tim Madigan in 2008.
Texas death ro inmate Lester Bower talks with Star-Telegram reporter Tim Madigan in 2008. FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

The death sentence handed down by a jury to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has brought the issue of capital punishment to the forefront of the nation’s conscience once more.

Of course, here in Texas, executing people has become so common that most people barely take notice anymore.

Shortly after Tsarnaev was charged with capital murder, I proclaimed that then-Attorney General Eric Holder was wrong in seeking the death penalty in the case, and I had hoped that the Boston jury would agree instead on a sentence of life in prison.

Just as Holder was wrong, so is our new Attorney General Loretta Lynch in saying that death for Tsarnaev is a “fitting punishment.”

Capital punishment should never be “fitting” in a civilized society.

Yes, the Boston bombing was a horrible crime and no doubt Tsarnaev was guilty. But neither a state nor the country ought to be in the killing business, which is why I oppose all executions, including those of other notorious criminals like: Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber; John Allen Muhammad, the Washington-area sniper; Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter; and Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s brutal dictator.

With that in mind, you should understand why I’ve opposed all 525 executions carried out in Texas since 1982, when the state resumed putting prisoners to death. And with two more men scheduled to die next month — the eighth and ninth this year should their punishments be carried out — I once again raise objection to this brutality of the state.

The executions set for June also allow us to focus on a dilemma the state faces as more drug manufacturers refuse to sell the lethal products to be used in executing individuals, giving some of us hope that the unavailability of the proper pharmaceuticals might be the way to stop capital punishment.

Texas and some other states, however, have begun using unidentified pharmacies with the ability to compound drugs, with the states refusing to make known who the suppliers are.

Although a judge has ordered that Texas must identify its drug suppliers, that case is being appealed and the court order is on hold.

An execution this month had left Texas with only one remaining dose of its lethal drug, meaning it would have had only enough to kill one person in June, not two, Michael Graczyk of The Associated Press reported. But it seems a new supply has been purchased, meaning the deaths of Gregory Russeau and Lester Bower won’t be stopped — that is, for the lack of drugs.

The Bower case is particularly interesting because he has been on Death Row for 31 years this month. Only one other man spent 31 years on Texas Death Row before being executed.

An Arlington resident accused of killing four men in an aircraft hanger near Sherman in 1983, Bower has maintained his innocence.

Six times his pending execution has been halted, the last time in February when the Supreme Court decided to take up his latest claims that included his being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment because of his length of time on Death Row and the number of times he faced imminent execution.

In March the high court turned down his appeal, paving the way for his seventh scheduled date with the executioner.

At 67, Bower would become the oldest man to be executed in Texas, another one for the record books in the country’s leading death penalty state.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775

Twitter: @BobRaySanders