The federal government has just set its eighth execution for 2020. U.S. Attorney General William Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the execution of Orlando Cordia Hall for Nov. 19 in Terre Haute, Ind. If carried out, this would place federal executions ahead of those by the states for the first time ever.
Hall, an African American man, was sentenced to death by an all-white jury.
Immediately after the Sept. 30 announcement of the upcoming execution date, Marcia A. Widder and Robert C. Owen, Hall’s attorneys, issued a statement to the media which charged: “The proceedings that led to Mr. Hall’s death sentence were marked by racial bias and incompetent lawyering. During jury selection, the prosecution team enlisted the help of a former state prosecutor known for keeping Black citizens from serving on criminal juries. With his help, an all-white jury was seated to decide Mr. Hall’s fate.
“In the years since Mr. Hall’s trial, the U.S. Supreme Court has expressly found that this very prosecutor discriminated against Black potential jurors on account of their race and then lied under oath in an attempt to conceal his racist conduct. In this way, Mr. Hall’s case also reflects the significant and troubling racial disparities in the operation of the federal death penalty, in which 60% of those currently on federal death row are people of color, including 45% who are Black.” (fd.org, Oct. 1)
Hall never denied his role in the crime that sent him to death row. But because his trial attorneys did no proper investigation, the jurors never learned that Hall suffered severe trauma from growing up in poverty and that he and his siblings were victims of daily violence from their parents.
After his parents abandoned him, he was left alone to raise his younger brothers. This led him to begin selling drugs to care for them. Once, Hall saw his three-year-old nephew drowning in a swimming pool, and heroically jumped from a second-floor balcony to save the child’s life.
In a statement giving background on the case, Widder and Owen concluded: “Had they known these facts about Mr. Hall, there is every reason to believe the jury would have spared his life, especially given that jurors deliberated Mr. Hall’s fate over the span of two days before finally returning a death verdict.” (tinyurl.com/y45ctdzn)
Abolish the death penalty in all states!
Only five states carried out executions during the first nine months of 2020. Tennessee is the only state where an execution is still scheduled. If carried out, it would total eight state executions this year. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the last time there were fewer than 11 executions in a calendar year was in 1983, when five states put a total of five prisoners to death.
One reason for the low number of executions this year is the COVID-19 virus. Even so, state killings have consistently decreased over the last 15 years. In March, Colorado became the 22nd state to abolish the death penalty. Currently, half of U.S. states have either abolished the death penalty or imposed moratoria on executions.
The DPIC reports: “Two-thirds of the 50 states either no longer authorize capital punishment or have not executed anyone in more than a decade. New death sentences are down nearly 90% since the mid-1990s and executions have declined by 75% since the turn of the century. And more than 80% of U.S. counties have no one on death row and have not executed anyone in the past half century.”
There is not a single reason for maintaining this legal lynching. It is racist and is used only against poor and working class people. Innocent people have been executed. Its costs are in the millions of dollars, with several states having spent over $1 billion on executions.
The task that activists have taken up is to totally abolish the death penalty. Texas organizations are holding their 21st Annual March and Rally to Abolish the Death Penalty on Oct. 10 of this year. Unfortunately, it will be a virtual event. Information is at MarchforAbolition.org.
The World Day Against the Death Penalty began in Rome in 2003. It is held every year on Oct. 10 to strengthen the fight to abolish capital punishment world-wide. The specific theme this year is “Access to Counsel – A Matter of Life or Death.”
Because access to counsel was denied to Orlando Hall, he may pay with his life on Nov. 19 at the federal death house in Terra Haute, Ind.