Saturday, September 20, 2003


Races of killer, victim made for rare execution

By Michael Graczyk
Associated Press

HOUSTON — When convicted killer Larry Allen Hayes went to his death last week, his lethal injection marked the first time since capital punishment resumed in Texas 21 years ago that a white person was executed for killing a black person.

State records go back to 1924, when Texas took over execution duty from individual counties. They show no white inmate executed for killing a black person, although there are three instances where the victims, all women, are listed as race unknown, said Mike Viesca, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Most crimes are white against white and black against black, and more than half of all people executed in the United States have been white for crimes against whites, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, an organization opposed to capital punishment.

But when the crime involves a black offender and a white victim, it's more likely the black offender will receive the death penalty than when it's a white offender and a black victim, Dieter said.

Hayes was convicted of killing two people — his wife, Mary, and store clerk Rosalyn Robinson, 18. Mary Hayes was white; Robinson was black.

At least three white men are on death row now in Texas for killing a black person.

John William King and Lawrence Russell Brewer are awaiting execution for killing James Byrd Jr., in Jasper in 1998. A third, Lee Taylor, reportedly a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, was sentenced to die for killing a black inmate in 1999 at the Telford Unit in Bowie County in northeast Texas.

Dieter points out that 97 percent of all prosecutors around the country, who decide whether to seek the death penalty, are white and the majority of jurors are likely to be white.

NAACP Legal Defense Fund statistics show nationally there are only a dozen cases where a white offender was executed for killing a black person. That's just over 1 percent of the U.S. executions carried out since the Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume.


Governor postpones execution of Workman for four months

The highlights...

Gov. Phil Bredesen postponed the execution of Philip Workman, who was scheduled to die next week for killing a Memphis police officer more than two decades ago. The governor said he was delaying the Sept. 24 execution until January at the recommendation of Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers , who said a federal criminal investigation relating to the case is under way. Workman, 50, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 shooting of Memphis police Lt. Ronald Oliver during the robbery of a restaurant. "So long as there are outstanding issues that may be related to this case, the only proper thing to do is to wait until those questions have been answered," the governor said. "I am a supporter of the death penalty, but committed that it be carried out in a judicious manner."

The postponement is until Jan. 15, at which time Summers could ask for a new execution date. Summers said the investigation does not directly affect the facts of the case against Workman, nor the validity of his conviction. "At the risk of compromising the investigation, I cannot at this time be specific with regard to the nature and subject of it," Summers said. Workman has twice been placed on death watch at Riverbend , but was spared both times pending further court review of his case. Public defenders Paul Bottei and Christopher Minton contend the state's eyewitness at the 1982 murder trial, Harold Davis, has recanted his original testimony that he saw Workman shoot Oliver. They also claim Davis was manipulated by the state to testify against Workman and that prosecutors relied on false testimony concerning how a bullet was found at the scene of the crime. Prosecutors say Workman fired his gun until it would not fire anymore, and that the fatal shot to Oliver could not have come from a policeman's weapon. Workman's attorneys believe ballistics evidence shows that a police bullet, not one of Workman's, killed Oliver during the shootout. Five jurors who were on the panel that convicted Workman and sentenced him to death now say they would not have given him the death penalty, and possibly not have convicted him, if they had seen all the evidence unearthed by his attorneys.

Later in the day, Workman's attorneys were expected to argue in U.S. District Court in Memphis for a stay of execution, saying his death sentence was based on perjured testimony. The governor's announcement came several weeks after Workman's attorneys withdrew their request to Bredesen for clemency. They disagreed with his decision to have the state Board of Probation and Parole review the case, saying the composition of the board had not changed since it voted unanimously two years ago against recommending clemency. Bredesen said at the time he planned to review the case, despite the withdrawal.


DME doesn't know much about art. Our tastes run toward the "Dogs Playing Pool" area, but this sounds interesting.

The highlights:

OSU art professor serves up reflections on death penalty


CORVALLIS -- In shape and color, the works in "The Last Supper" by art professor Julie Green of Oregon State University seem at first folksy and familiar.

Hanging in OSU's Fairbanks Gallery are 151 white china plates, each bearing a different image painted in the cobalt palette of the classic Blue Willow pattern.

Step closer, and those images also seem reassuringly familiar: realistic renditions of all-American meals, from steak and eggs to burgers and fries.

Only when you read the artist's statement does that familiarity breed consternation. Each plate depicts the actual last meal of an inmate executed in the United States during the past decade.

In such a context, there is something unsettling about a plate containing only a bag of Jolly Ranchers, or grape juice and a single cracker.

There also is something disconcertingly personal about a plate of fried perch, potato salad, cole slaw and peaches, or one containing a chocolate cake with the date "2/23/90" written on top.

Green began the project while she was teaching at the University of Oklahoma (Ed. Note: DME'S alma mater), before coming to Oregon State three years ago.

"Wherever I live, I enjoy reading the local paper with my breakfast tea and toast," she said. "There are a lot of executions in Oklahoma, and I began noticing that they always included in their state news roundup a brief item on who was executed the night before."

Menu for final meal The brief stories typically included what the condemned prisoners wore to the death chamber, what they said before dying and a physical description of their deaths. And they invariably detailed what the doomed inmates had requested as a final meal.

The specificity of these accounts -- "For his last meal, he had six tacos, six glazed doughnuts and a Cherry Coke" -- struck Green as both fascinating and disturbing.

"They bothered me, and I make art as a way of processing things," she said. "So I began making drawings of the menus as I read them."

As she got caught up in the project, she began seeking out final meals nationwide. She found that food choices revealed the prisoners' individuality in ways that made them more vivid as human beings.

Menu items could suggest economic status, cultural background, education level -- even where the prisoners had grown up, if they opted for regional specialties.

"One Indiana menu was 'ravioli and German lasagna prepared by his mother and prison dietary staff,' " Green said. "I just kept trying to imagine that experience for that mother."

Because of its provocative subject, Green expected her work to stir discussion and dialogue about the death penalty. "That's the power of art in contemporary culture," she said.

A comment book touring with the exhibit indicates that some viewers are not at all bothered by what they see there. "Cute plates!" wrote more than one.

Viewer loses appetite Many others are deeply disturbed.

With executions continuing, Green has no shortage of subject matter.

"I've already collected 200 more menus," she said. "I see this as a work in progress. I picture that I will continue it for years, unless the death penalty is stopped."


The DME weblog was listed as one of the "hot sites" for September 19. We were doubly honored to mentioned with the "Talk Like a Pirate Day" website.

The USAT write-up sums the site up as well as we have ever seen....

This matter-of-fact blog lists the last meals (and occasionally last words or deeds) of condemned prisoners, and a brief description of the crimes that put them on Death Row. And that's it. Whether you find these personal details humanizing or infuriating, whether you believe they make a case for or against capital punishment - that's you, and that makes this blog an extraordinary litmus test for how you truly feel about state-sponsored execution.