Procedural Flaws Equal Death

On death row in Maryland

By: As-Siid Ben-Maryam (Tyrone X Gilliam)

Tyrone was turned down in his last appeal by the Fourth District Court of Appeals, and he may soon be facing an execution date. The Washington, D.C. chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty is planning a meeting to protest capital punishment in Maryland. The meeting - which will be held February 26 at Georgetown University in ICC Building Room 101 at 7 pm - will take up Tyrone's case. Among the speakers are Tyrone's mother, Mary Gilliam; Tyrone's attorney, Jerome Nickerson; and Shannah Varon of the Campaign.

When we ask ourselves and others, "Why are people executed in America?" we come up with a myriad of reasons, ranging from "punishment of the lowest of the low" to "sending a message to others in society to stop crime" to "helping the State by doing away with another person who requires the spending of thousands of dollars annually to house in prison," and the list goes on. However, analysis of the legal system, especially of capital punishment, reveals that the above reasons would be more accurate as answers for the question, "What is the rationale (be it implicit or explicit) for capital punishment?" But the rationale for the existence of a thing oftentimes has absolutely nothing to do with the manner in which that thing or process is employed once it is allowed to exist.

My own case is one in which I am being executed over matters of procedure, not my crime.

My attorney had never tried a capital case before, so the Capital Defense Division of the Public Defender's Office (PDO) gave him assistance, as well as to my codefendants. One of my codefendants made a deal with the State for his testimony against me and his brother. At my trial he testified that I knew what I was doing, that I had it set in my mind that I would take a life well before the actual crime, and that I was not as intoxicated as I claimed.

However, at his brother's trial he testified that I was so high I was out of it and did not know what I was doing - a major and significant change from what he said at my trial. This contradiction was not raised at my trial.

I now have a new attorney who is handling my appeals at the federal level. But I am precluded from raising the issue of both the conflicting testimony and the conflict of interest of the attorney's involved because of "procedural bars." Because it was not raised earlier at the State level it cannot be introduced now.

So, I am "procedurally barred" from raising those issues the conflict of interest PREVENTED the attorneys from raising WHEN THEY COULD HAVE BEEN RAISED!

This is just one issue among copious others just as important and significant. I will be executed not because of what I may or may not have done, but because of the actions and non-actions of attorneys - because of procedure. A layman's aimless reading of case law will reveal that this is not an exception.

For example, Mr. Flint Hunt, who was a Maryland death row prisoner as well, was executed Wednesday morning, July 2, 1997 at 12:27 am. Mr. Hunt was also "procedurally barred" from raising certain issues which would have definitely saved his life. Mr. Hunt's guilt or innocence had absolutely nothing to do with his execution. Is this justice?

Any person who has had dealings with America's "legal" system, the innocent and the guilty alike, knows far too well how out of touch with reality the system is and how "justice" is really the last thing that matters. Is that the type of legal system this society wants? If so, then it has just signed death warrants for countless undeserving people.