Saturday, October 27, 2007

Computer Glitch Leads to Capital Execution

Recently, a hold on executions by lethal injection was put in place until the US Supreme Court rules on whether this form of capital punishment is illegal based on the federal law against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

That did not stop an execution on Sept. 25, 2007, in Texas, of Michael Richard, held since 1986 on murder and sexual assault charges. If a computer problem had not delayed an electronic communication, Richard might be alive today.

Richard's lawyers sent a message that was delayed 20 minutes, thus arriving at the state court in Austin after its official closing at 5 pm. The message was a request for an appeal for the case to go the US Supreme Court.

This past Wednesday, Oct. 25th, the 13,000-member National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a complaint against the presiding judge in the case, Sharon Keller, and 150 Texan lawyers filed additional complaints.

Ironically, Richard's execution transpired on the same day the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a Kentucky case requesting suspension of lethal injection based on the “cruel and unusual punishment" clause. Richard’s life hung on 20-minute computer delay compounded by the fact electronic communications were yet to be considered a legitimate means to file an appeal. Since his execution, electronic communications have been ruled permissible.

What is your response to this case?

The source for information in this post is a New York Times article, on 10/25/07. Photos of Judge Keller and Michael Richard are credited to Bena Grothe/American Statesman, and appeared in the Times accompanying its story.

1 comment:

Victoria said...

While I believe the result to be tragic, I think it odd how this mans lawyer sent an appeal against the Death Penalty through an e-mail. Even in this era of technology I believe that appeals and court proceedings should still be done with an actual hard copy instead of an electronic copy. While the twenty minute delay of technology may have cost Richard his life, a question I find myself asking is would it have been considered permissible? The article states that after this incident it was ruled permissible, but there was no precedent before his death.