December 05, 2006

Death Row Turkey Seeks Pardon

They did it again – it’s become a Thanksgiving ritual. The media converges upon the White House and with the cameras rolling the President stands before a turkey and formally announces that the turkey has been spared by Presidential Pardon and that because of this act of compassion that turkey will now live out its days on a quiet farm and enjoy a good life.

Every television station in the country will air that piece about the turkey receiving a Presidential Pardon. I’ve watched this ritual myself every year for more years than I can hope to even remember. The truth is that I don’t recall even a single year they didn’t go through this ritual.

But does anyone even stop to think about the pretense of all this? Although that particular turkey is presumably pardoned, tens of millions of others will still meet their fate as Thanksgiving dinner. Although the President pardons this one turkey; his family, their friends, and himself will still gather around the table only hours later and eat the traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

Like those millions of turkeys that meet their fate on Thanksgiving Day, I too am condemned to death. There’s been a few times in my life when I’ve been called a “turkey” as that was common back in the day. Maybe it’s time that I formally declare myself a turkey… maybe then I too will at least have a chance to also be granted a pardon.

What I do know is that my innocence itself certainly isn’t enough. For almost nine years now I’ve had a Substantiated claim of actual innocence before the courts (See, Southern Injustice: Condemning An Innocent Man) but innocence doesn’t matter. When the state can no longer contest your claim of innocence they just stop the case from proceeding any further by deliberately delaying review of that claim. They can drag it out until you eventually die of “natural causes” on death row and then declare the issue moot. (See, Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied)

Here in Florida the equivalent to a Presidential Pardon is the “clemency process.” Like the President, each year Florida’s elected Governor will make a public show of granting clemency to a condemned turkey. That lucky turkey will then live out its days on a nice farm out in the country.

Sadly, not even one condemned person in Florida has received clemency since 1983. I personally have had a clemency petition pending before the Governor since 1998. It hasn’t been formally denied – but I have no doubt that it would never be granted. People simply don’t get clemency in Florida – that discretional privilege is reserved exclusively for turkeys.

The fact is that since 1983 when that last condemned prisoner in Florida was granted clemency over 20 condemned prisoners have been exonerated and released from death row because of innocence… but not even one of these innocent men and women were granted clemency. In every case the state fought tooth and nail to prevent their release, deliberately dragging the case out for many years. Although Florida leads the country in the number of wrongfully convicted people sent to death row, the state has never admitted error in any case… not even when the evidence conclusively proved innocence.

Clearly, legal innocence is not enough for a wrongfully convicted and condemned person to get a pardon. If you really want a pardon, especially from someone whose name is Bush, your only real shot is to be a turkey. In the years that our current President Bush was Governor of Texas, he presided over about 150 executions; he has granted only one pardon to a condemned prisoner – and that was to self confessed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. In the eight years his little brother Jeb Bush has been Governor of Florida he has not granted even one clemency – except of course to the turkey each year at Thanksgiving.

So, maybe I really do need to declare myself a turkey and only then petition the governor for clemency – maybe then I might even actually have a chance. Perhaps I too can then live out the rest of my days on a quiet farm in the country. Perhaps then too the media will find my story news worthy. I should be so lucky. But then again, I really should have been a turkey.