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Death Row - A Bad Case for Mercy

Updated on April 8, 2010

In the first attempt of this year to abolish the death penalty, the Governor issued a number of decrees to the various state levels. He had designed some sort of early detection system, but it had failed due to increased pressure at the lower level. In an attempt to correct this situation, he notified the Board of Governors of his intention to issue new guidelines within a few weeks, but one of the board members responded by bringing his intention before the courts, which immediately issued an injunction.

Obviously, this was an erroneous decision since any type of measure in that field was clearly within the discretion of the Governor. But meanwhile the political winds had changed so as to alert the public as regards abolition of the death penalty, and he decided to postpone indefinitely his decision.

If sadness had ever prevailed in the county, this would be the day when this sort of atmosphere was to be mixed with the new winds of people revenge. One would not take it lightly if the convicted man on death row was to be released by the Governor, who had by now already become a biased person in the general public’s eye.

If he had decided to make a case for mercy, then he had definitely chosen the wrong example, since the man now on death row was not only guilty as charged but also at symbol of pure evil. Notoriety had attached itself to this case because of the particularly gruesome details of Mr. Jay’s multiple homicides at a time when he was still a young man. Now at 48, he bore the obvious mental scars of someone who had spent the better part of his adult life in prison and who should not have any hope of ever getting out of there alive.

On the day of his planned execution, it started to rain miserably from just before daybreak. It was a wet, sun-starved day of the type which one could definitely do without even absent the difficult moments laying ahead on this particular morning.

“Wouldn’t you say that perhaps it would have been better to postpone the entire ordeal a day or two?” Mr. Jay jokingly said to one of the guards when he heard the weather report on the radio shortly before 4:00 a.m. Technically, this would be the last weather report ever to reach his ear, since he was scheduled for execution at six, and since there were several layers of preparation to go through before then. The guard was one of the young fellows who had recently been sent in to replace the regulars, and he did not seem to be prepared to respond to Mr. Jay’s humor, absorbed as he was in trying to make everything go as scheduled.

Even if Mr. Jay’s case might be special when viewed through the eyes of the local reporters and the most curious among the local populace, it was by no means different from the dozens of other cases which the state of Tennessee had recently handled in connection with its biannual review of planned executions. Each case had its own merits and circumstances that might technically make a difference in the game concerning life-and-death, but in reality these little differences were no longer considered to be sufficiently significant so as to justify any real postponements of the executions.

Previously, defense lawyers had been known to exploit such little details to their advantage, allowing the clients to remain alive 12 to 15 years after the first date of their planned execution, and numerous old-timers such as Mr. Jay were the living examples of the system’s gradual but so much more efficient success in catching up with this trend. With no less than 11 people awaiting execution within a minimum of months, the state was very close to its adjusted annual target of 20 people, which currently corresponded with about one-third of the total number of inmates on death row.

“What can I do?” the warden asked himself whenever approached by some nosy journalist snooping around on the grounds. “I'm not the one making the rules!” Usually, the journalists just took down his remarks for their little articles and did not express any personal opinion one way or the other. One had gotten the impression that the general public had tired of the whole death penalty issue with a few notable exceptions such as that of Mr. Jay.

(c) Copyright 2010.


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