US passes 1000 executions in 30 years

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Double murderer Kenneth Lee Boyd became the 1,000th prisoner executed in the United States since 1976. Another man was put to death on Friday for the 1994 murder of a store clerk, becoming the 1,001st person executed in the United States since capital punishment was reinstated 28 years ago.

The milestone drew a wave of protesters to the Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C., who opposed capital punishment.

Death Penalty World Map

Kenneth Lee Boyd, 57, of Rockingham, N.C., died by lethal injection for the 1988 shootings of his estranged wife, Julie Curry Boyd, who was 36, and her father, Thomas Dillard Curry, 57. Members of both families had asked to be present for the execution.

Boyd told Associated Press in a prison interview that he wanted no part of the infamous numerical distinction of being the 1000th prisoner executed. "I'd hate to be remembered as that," Boyd said on Wednesday. "I don't like the idea of being picked as a number."

Some argued that Boyd, who had an I.Q. of 77, should not have been executed. The cutoff for mental retardation in some states, a mitigating factor in some capital cases, is an I.Q. of 75. Boyd never denied his guilt, but said he couldn't remember killing anyone and didn't know why he did it.

Boyd's son, Kenneth Smith, 35, who visited his dad every day for the last two weeks, said in an interview on Thursday that he felt the attention paid to the milestone had hurt his father's chances for clemency. Smith also said his dad was deeply troubled that he might only be remembered as a grim hash mark in the history books. "He didn't want to be 999, and he didn't want to be 1001 if you know what I mean," said Smith. "He wanted to live."

Belinda J. Foster, District Attorney for Rockingham, N.C., who prosecuted Boyd, said she felt confident that the death penalty was warranted in this case. "There are cases that are so horrendous and the evidence so strong it just warrants a death sentence," Ms. Foster said. Michael Paranzino, president of the pro-death penalty group Throw Away the Key, agreed. "You'll never stop crimes of passion, but I do believe the death penalty is a general deterrent, and it expresses society's outrage," Paranzino said.

"We believe this occasion is the perfect time to reconsider the whole issue of execution," said William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International, a human rights group that has sought to end the practice of using executions as a punishment for crime around the world. "Since 1976, about one in eight prisoners on death row in the U.S. has been exonerated. That should raise serious questions about ending a person's life," Schulz said.

According to the non-governmental organization Amnesty International, the countries People's Republic of China, Iran and Vietnam are the only nations with more executions in 2004 than the United States. Thirty-eight of the 50 US states and the federal government permit capital punishment. An October 2005 Gallup poll found that 64 percent of all Americans support capital punishment in murder cases.

North Carolina executed two prisoners last month, as well as two others earlier in the year.

Debate over capital punishment

The grim milestone has prompted global outcry from human rights advocates. In a media statement the European Union also condemned the execution, calling for the end of the death penalty worldwide. "We consider this punishment cruel and inhuman. It does not act as a deterrent and any miscarriage of justice - which is inevitable in any legal system - is irreversible." "It is a scandal that the death penalty still exists in a civilised country like the United States of America," said Petra Herrmann, chairwoman of the German group Alive e V.

Boyd's death rallied death penalty opponents, and about 150 protesters gathered outside the prison. After watching Boyd die, Rockingham County (N.C.) Sheriff Sam Page said the victims should be remembered. "Tonight, justice has been served for Mr. Kenneth Boyd. What I would ask you to do is not forget the victims of this crime," Page said. "Pray for them. Pray for them and their healing."

"This is one small step for humankind - backwards," said veteran American campaigner Clive Stafford Smith in an interview with Reuters. "The death penalty makes us all far more barbaric. I have watched a lot of people die, and when you come out from watching someone being executed it certainly isn't a better world."

According to Kenyan National Human Rights Commission Chairman Maina Kiai, "[It is] a great pity that the US can keep on executing people [when much of the developed world had already ended the death penalty]." "Also, the fact that in the US a lot of death sentences that are carried out invariably affect people of colour and poor people, it's an issue of great concern," Kiai said.

In Singapore, where a 25-year-old Australian was hanged just hours before Boyd's execution, Sinapan Samydorai, president of the think-tank Think Centre, said there was no justice without life. "The US is supposed to be a champion of human rights and democracy, yet they do not recognise the right to life," he said. Singapore has a mandatory death sentence for crimes such as murder, firearms offences and drug trafficking, and has hanged 420 people since 1991, mainly for drug trafficking. Singapore's death penalty is often believed to enjoy wide public support; although details remain obscure for political reasons.

In Japan, where the death penalty is also widely supported, Akiko Takada of anti-capital punishment group Forum 90 said despite frequent use of the death penalty in the United States, "crime there shows no signs of diminishing, so ultimately the death of these people has no effect."