When Florida executed William Happ on Oct. 15, there was grief — but not for him. It was for Angela Crowley, the young woman he brutally killed near Crystal River in 1986, and for her family’s endless suffering.
It should not take nearly three decades for the guilty to get their just deserts. But whenever the state takes a life in the name of justice, the state has a moral obligation to be sure that the execution isn’t “cruel” and that the condemned is actually guilty.
Both of those aspects had carried elements of doubt in Happ’s case.
His death — at the state prison near Starke — was administered via an untested mix of drugs that several experts challenged as medically unethical.
In the end the chemicals did their job, though witnesses reported some strange effects on Happ. [More about the drugs in Part 2.]
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of death-penalty cases is the way that, in the long interim between sentencing and execution, the public’s memory of a crime and its victim erodes. In Happ’s case, though, the three consecutive life terms he was given, in addition to the death sentence, ensured that he would remember, year after year, the evil he committed.
In the end, that may have been the more fitting punishment.
TruthDig posts, "Death For the Disabled: Should We Kill Freddie Lee Hall?" It's by Bill Blum.
Like many death row inmates across the country, Florida’s 68-year-old Freddie Lee Hall is mentally disabled. The question is whether he is too disabled to be executed—an issue that now will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in what many observers believe is the most important legal challenge to the death penalty in years.
In 1978, Hall was convicted of murdering a pregnant housewife and a deputy sheriff, both gruesome and heartless acts. But in 1992, at one of Hall’s many post-conviction resentencing hearings, a Florida judge found that Hall had been “mentally retarded all his life.”
In a later proceeding (Hall v. State), two state court appellate judges wrote that Hall had an IQ of 60, suffered from organic brain damage, had the short-term memory of a first-grader and was raised under the most “horrific family circumstances imaginable.” Among other forms of abuse and torture suffered at the hands of his mother, relatives and neighbors, Hall was tied up in a burlap sack as a youngster and swung over an open fire, suspended by his hands from a ceiling beam, beaten while naked, made to lie still for hours underneath a bed and repeatedly deprived of food.
Last year, after Hall had exhausted his state-court appeals, the Florida Supreme Court deemed him mentally fit for lethal injection, as during the course of his long incarceration he had registered scores of 80, 73 and 71 on Wechsler WAIS III IQ tests administered at the direction of prison authorities. Under Florida law, any death row inmate scoring above 70 cannot be considered disabled.
Earlier coverage of the Happ execution and Florida lethal injection drugs begins at the link. Also available, earlier coverage of Freddie Lee Hall's case, which will be heard next year in the Supreme Court.