Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Texas Executes Mentally Impaired, Cites Steinbeck Character + Russian Punk Protesters in Politlcal Show Trial

Marvin Lee Wilson
Yet another travesty of justice and a human tragedy, as well as a grotesque misuse of prose fiction, has just unfolded in Texas, where Marvin Lee Wilson, a 54-year-old man with a neuropsychologist-reported IQ of 61 was killed on Tuesday evening, by lethal injection, for the abduction and murder of Jerry Robert Williams, 21, a police department confidential informant, in 1992. Originally the court sentenced Wilson to death in 1994, but the death sentence was overturned in 1996 by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The case went back to court in 1998, and Wilson was sentenced to death on a capital murder charge. The US Supreme Court ruled, in Atkins v. Virginia, that states cannot execute convicts deemed mentally impaired, but has left the standard for such a decision up to each state. Texas has yet to firmly establish such a standard. Morever, in Wilson's case, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had the opportunity to stay the execution, but chose not to, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals also chose not to consider any other evidence that might have halted Wilson's execution, and Texas's current governor, Rick Perry, refused to grant clemency (which is distinct from a pardon). Since the Supreme Court's reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 1,301 people total and 500 in Texas have died as a result of state-sanctioned execution.

I mention "prose fiction" in Wilson's case, because according to the Beaumont Enterprise, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in a 21-page 2004 ruling detailing what factors could be in considered in capital punishment cases and denoting what it considered mental impairment cited the fictional character Lennie Small, from the late 1962 Nobel literature laureate John Steinbeck's 1937 novella Of Mice and Men. The court stated that
Texas citizens might agree that Steinbeck's Lennie should, by virtue of his lack of reasoning ability and adaptive skills, be exempt. But, does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?
As it turns out, Steinbeck's son Thomas Steinbeck was unaware of this use of his father's work until he read about it in the Guardian UK newspaper online, and he and his wife have been outraged about it since. Both called for clemency for Wilson. As he notes, the court treats a fictional character as if he were real and arrogates to him the sympathy and mercy of "Texas citizens," yet failed to stop the execution of a real person--in this case Wilson--who is verifiably mentally impaired, under the standards of real-world neuroscience, which is to say, who was not to be accorded the same putative "exemption." Thomas Steinbeck's expounded on the matter

I am deeply troubled by today's scheduled execution of Marvin Wilson ... I had no idea that the great state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created to make a point about human loyalty and dedication, ie., Lennie Small from 'Of Mice and Men,' as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die. My father was a highly gifted writer ... and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability.

As I said, Wilson died by lethal injection yesterday evening.  A number of people, including nine in Texas alone, are scheduled to undergo state execution in the United States through January 14, 2012. If you do not believe in the death penalty, please take the time to contact state authorities to appeal for clemency.


As a result of their March 2012 public protest, an anti-Putin, anti-Kremlin "punk prayer" in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, three members of the collective Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, have been imprisoned in a Russian jail for the last five months, and are currently on trial, facing between 7 and 3 years of jail, on the charge of "hooliganism." The court decision is planned for August 17. A number of major musicians across the globe, including Madonna, as well as people all over the globe (you can do so here, via Amnesty International), have spoken out and called for these performers, known for their outspoken critiques of the Russian government under Vladimir Putin and their brightly-colored balaclavas, to be released and the blatantly political charges against them thrown out, but so far such calls have met with silence from the Russian authorities. Who are "Pussy Riot"? Here are a few videos, including one from this past spring in which Maria Alyokhina (Alekhina) describes the conditions in which they're being held.

Панк-молебен "Богородица, Путина прогони" Pussy Riot в Храме ("Punk prayer" "Hail Mary, Putin Put," Pussy Riot in the Church)
Alyokhina talks about detention conditions
Группа Pussy Riot жжет путинский гламур (Group Pussy Riot sets fire to Putin's glamor)
Pussy Riot на Красной площади песня Путин зассал (Pussy Riot at Red Square, singing "Putin zassal")

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