In today’s Tennessean, Clay Carey reports that Tennessee’s attorney general has requested that an execution date be set for death row inmate, Edmund Zagorski, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of John Dotson and Jimmy Porter in 1983.
This request is the fourth that the attorney general has made to the court since December of 2009. Currently, Gaile Owens is scheduled to be executed on September 28, though she has requested that Governor Bredesen commute her sentence. No dates have been set for the other three: Billy Irick, Stephen West, and now Edmund Zagorski.
Tennessee has executed only 6 people since 1960, all of them since 2000. Given that the death penalty is coming under increasing scrutiny across the nation because of serious problems concerning accuracy, cost, and fairness of application, it is alarming that Tennessee is moving forward with these executions.
Many would argue that these inmates have had more than enough time for the courts to determine if problems exist in their cases so that the problems can be remedied. However, those of us who work up close to the death penalty everyday, know that the system doesn’t always work that way.
Take Gaile Owens’ case for example. This case has been litigated since 1985, and still, all the facts have not been adequately taken into account: the fact that the jury never heard evidence that Gaile suffered from battered woman’s syndrome and that she was willing to plead guilty for a life sentence only to have the offer revoked when her co-defendant would not plead; the fact that her attorneys spent just 2 hours preparing for the sentencing portion of her trial; the fact that the district attorney withheld critical evidence substantiating Gaile’s claims of her husband’s infidelities; the fact that her sentence is grossly disproportionate to the sentences of others in Tennessee for similar offenses (Gaile is the only one with a death sentence).
The courts also looked at the cases of Paul House and Michael McCormick for over 20 years each before their convictions and death sentences were finally overturned, and these men had DNA evidence available. Should their be timelines on the pursuit of justice? How long is too long for uncovering the truth, for providing equal access, and for fallible systems and human beings to determine who is entitled to live and who deserves to die?
Why do we ask victims’ families to endure 20 years of agony waiting on these death sentences to be carried out when the inmates could have received life sentences (51 years minimum before parole eligible) or life without parole, and spared these families all of this waiting while allowing us to remedy mistakes if they are made?
Can’t we do better than this?
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