Friday, September 11, 2009

Fourth Plinth Becomes Platform in Execution Debate

Antony Gormley's Fourth Plinth exhibition One & Other has certainly had its entertaining moments, including one participant's decision to commemorate his 50th birthday by taking his 60 minute turn as a live public sculpture in his birthday suit. Yesterday, however, the platform took on a far more serious tone as The Guardian explains:

A British woman who is on death row in Texas will today appeal to the government to help her avoid execution via Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth.

Linda Carty, a 50-year-old former primary school teacher, was sentenced to death in 2002 after being convicted of taking part in the murder of 25-year-old Joana Rodriguez.

Her family and campaigners claim she was not properly represented at her original trial and that she is innocent of the crime for which she was convicted.

Carty will "appear" on the London monument as part of the artist Antony Gormley's One & Other Exhibition, using the platform to call on the British public and the government to intervene to help save her from lethal injection.

A life-sized cardboard cutout of her will stand on the platform from 10am until 11am, and a recorded message from her will also be played.

In the message, she says: "Time is now running out, and I appeal to every one of you and to the British government to please help me.

"I'm sorry if I sound like a desperate woman. I am desperate, because the British people may be my last hope. If they ask for my life to be spared, maybe Texas will listen."

Regardless of your opinion on the death penalty (and mine, if you care, is that it's a worse crime than murder because it's a brutal act of revenge posing as justice), there are circumstances in Carty's case that smack of the "rush to kill 'em" style jurisprudence we've come to expect from Texas.

Earlier this year, the Foreign Office intervened in the legal process, filing an amicus brief to the US appeals court which complained of lack of notification of Carty's original arrest in 2001 and "ineffective counsel".

Carty was born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts to parents from the British overseas territory of Anguilla. She holds a UK dependent territory passport.

As such, her arrest should have been notified to the British embassy under a long-standing agreement.

However, her state-appointed lawyer did not inform her of her right to seek assistance from the British consulate – one of a catalogue of errors, supporters claim.

In fact, the more you know about the case, the more it seems the prosecution was authoring a farce:

The crime took place on 16 May 2001, when three men broke into the apartment of [25-year-old Joana] Rodriguez and her partner Raymundo Cabrera, demanding drugs and cash. They abducted Rodriguez and her four-day-old son, Ray, who was later found unharmed in a car, while Rodriguez had suffocated.

The prosecution’s rather implausible theory was that Linda was afraid of losing her common-law husband and thought that if she had another baby he would stay. Unable to get pregnant, they allege she had hired three men to kidnap Rodriguez and that she planned to steal the child - a baby of a different race to Linda.

Linda's court-appointed lawyer was Jerry Guerinot, whose incompetence has already led to twenty of his clients ending up on death row, more than any other defence lawyer in the US. His approach to her case was at best, slapdash, at worst, wilfully inept.

Guerinot's catalogue of serious failings in Linda's case includes: failure to meet Linda until immediately before the trial, failure to inform Linda or her husband of their rights; failure to spot obvious flaws and inconsistencies in the prosecution case; failure to interview witnesses; and failure to investigate key mitigating evidence.

As there's no way to undo an execution, and as 100% proof of a crime is impossible, the death penalty remains to my mind a barbaric over-reaction to violence. Wanting it is excusable from members of the family wronged, perhaps, but cynical and icily heartless by a system tasked with being objective.

Even if Carty is guilty of this crime, the death penalty is not IMO justice. It's vengance and, as such, beneath any civilized nation.

Labels: fourth plinth, politics


Blogger tony said...

"It's vengance and, as such, beneath any civilized nation."

Edward, I think 'vengeance' is too gentle a word. It is premeditated, ritualised murder disguised as legitimised killing.

9/11/2009 12:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Texas again! Edward, have you been following the news about the Willingham case? David Grann writes in the New Yorker that based on this case, "Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the execution of a legally and factually innocent person.”

9/11/2009 01:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I'm against death penalty but some high-end unrepentive criminals might deserve a couple limbs cut off. ;-)

Cedric The Saddict

9/11/2009 03:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Ced said...

They should have let that guy naked. I was nothing obscene, just pure fun.


9/11/2009 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about crimes against humanity, like masterminding a genocide. Not being snarky, I wonder about this myself

9/11/2009 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I would agree that there seems to be two categories to consider: crimes against individuals and crimes that by intent are crimes against humanity, like genocide or terrorism. I would argue that once you've descended into being a monster (which is what I feel you must be to commit genocide or terrorism), the situation does indeed feel different.

My thinking on it then is that it's not merely the revenge one set of family/friends would rightly feel toward a killer, but society dealing with a creature that refuses to recognize that it's only through order (which of course has degrees) that we co-exist, and by being such becomes a serious threat to everyone. If you deny all others the rights of humanity through your actions, you cease to be human yourself.

Such arguments are often leveled against those who commit crimes against individuals or those who wage war from remote positions through technology, though, so it is indeed a gray area.

9/11/2009 05:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean said...

I find the notion of two categories difficult to entertain, not least of which is the problem of who decides.

In your example - that those who commit acts of genocide should warrant execution - you argue that this should be so because the perpetrators are 'monsters'.

As Slavenka Drakulic makes clear in 'They would never hurt a fly' and more well known through Hannah Arendt's term 'the banality of evil', genocide is more often than not carried out / facilitated by 'normal' people. The Vichy regime and the occupation of Jersey testify to this fact.

Labeling someone 'a monster' allows us to distance ourselves from such crimes (genocide), as well as articulate it as an exception - when, sadly, this is not the case.

(This posts seems rather dry and slightly rude in tone. It is not at all intended!)

Best, Sean.

9/12/2009 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

Immediately the spectre of genocide is raised one enters into the deep, dark side of the human condition. Because, by its very nature, it is murder organised and committed on a collective basis with often a collective rationale behind it it is very hard to isolate individual responsibility. In many cases the perpetuators of such a crime have been coerced, whether through political/ social pressure or even fear for their own lives, into committing murder on a large scale. The acts themselves may be monstrous but there are parts of the human psyche which are so & to categorise others as 'monsters' suggests that we ourselves are forever safe from performing such acts. I do not wish to suggest that I condone or seek to soften the absolute evil that it is but social circumstances can make monsters of us all & to ignore that potential is to dismiss a part of the human condition.

9/13/2009 06:04:00 AM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

I completely disagree about genocide being an justification for the state to murder someone. If you cannot hold a principle in the hardest of cases, you should not hold that principle at all. There are no two categories. It's simple: civilised societies do not kill people.

9/13/2009 07:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

Genocide people are mere criminals that are given powers by a lot of other people. There is no much difference. If you give a beef to someone who stole an egg, he will take the beef. The fact is, criminality is often a mental disease. 75% of people in prison suffer from sociopathologic problems (decreased sensibility toward the Other).

They are people which will never be able to understand any moral code because they're missing some of the sensitivity glands or whatever it is. It's hopeless to punish them, and putting them in prison will give them every reasons to hate everybody even more. We have to work on cure, which is kind of sordid in itself, because we're talking of a cure that enhance moralism. It's all about liquids and knots in the brain.

Cedric Casp

9/13/2009 04:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whether we call someone who masterminds a genocide a 'monster' or a 'normal person' really doesnt matter. Its their actions that are horrific & may warrent execution. Someone who stole an egg could also steal beef, and may be capable of torturing innocent civilians, but they only stole an egg.

9/14/2009 01:08:00 PM  

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