Early in the morning on November 19, 1984, Chevette Denise Brown shot Herbert Rowan in the back of the head. She did it, she testified at David Sneed's trial in 1986, at his direction. On July 30 of that year, a few months shy of two years after Rowan's murder, Sneed was sentenced to die.*
He's been languishing on death row ever since. As the row was moved from Lucasville to Mansfield. As it was moved from Mansfield to Youngstown. As it was moved from Youngstown to Chillicothe. He's been there. In a couple of months, it will be 29 years.
Monday morning, the Supreme Court of Ohio, Justice O'Neill dissenting because he believes the death penalty unconstitutional, set an execution date. August 1, 2018. a bit over three years from now. When he'll have been on the row 32 years and 2 days.
They also said that James O'Neal has been hanging around long enough (though nowhere near as long as Sneed). He was sentenced December 11, 1995. He's now scheduled to be killed October 10, 2018.
And Elwood Jones, sentenced January 9, 1997. Set to be killed 22 years to the day after that, January 9, 2019.
And Tim Hoffner and Archie Dixon.** Co-defendants from Toledo. Tried separately, both sentenced to die. Tim on June 1, 1995. Archie November 22. They plan to kill Archie March 20, 2019, Tim May 29 that year.
Do the math. The Supreme Court of Ohio just ordered Tim Hoffner to be killed 4 years from now. He is, if my math is right, the 23rd person in Ohio with an execution date. First up is Ron Phillips next January. And on and on. 23 men. Over not quite 3 1/2 years. Beginning in about 7 months.
Will it happen? Almost surely not to all of them. At least, not on that schedule. And of course, maybe to none.
In a few hours, the court is going to hear argument in the case of Romell Broom. He's the guy they tried mightily to kill a few years ago. But failed. The question is whether they get to try again. We'll have their answer in a few months. Then, it's safe to assume, the US Supreme Court will be invited to review the Ohio court's decision.
Broom was sentenced to die on October 16, 1985. If he's ever executed it likely won't be until sometime in the 2020s. He was 28 when he was sentenced to be killed. He turned 59 last week. He'll be over 65, a senior citizen, by the time they kill him. If they do.
I get tired of saying that while I can recognize injustice, I don't know what justice is. But I know that whatever it is, it isn't languishing for decades on death row only to be, finally, either killed or resentenced to life. Or even released. And it sure as hell isn't being told, as Tim Hoffner just was, that you have exactly 3 years and 355 days before you're to be killed. By mean yet unknown. Because who the fuck knows how well be killing people, if we still are, in 4 years.
No, there's no justice here.
And yet, you want to do it faster?
Consider Joe D'Ambrosio, who spent 22 years on the row before a court finally determined that the prosecutor's lies and cheats had put a factually innocent guy in prison. And scheduled him to die. Great victory for the system that we didn't kill that innocent man. And Joe, frankly, is a pretty remarkable guy now.
But speed it up? Joe's dead. And he's not alone.
You want to kill them, but you want them to have something that's at least got the appearance of a fair trial? And you want to give them some opportunity to show that the jury got it wrong? That they're actually innocent? Then, sorry, it's gonna take time. Years. And then more.
But then, when you finally get around to killing Ishmaa'eel, it turns out that the 25-year-old you sentenced, the 23-year-old guy who told Chevette Denise Brown to shoot Herbert Rowan, is going to be a 57 year old when you kill him. Not the same person. Maybe a good guy now. Maybe not. But at 57 he ain't who he was at 25.
Or Dzhokar Tsarnaev, who was or wasn't under his brother's influence when he participated in setting bombs at the Boston Marathon. And who, if he ever actually gets killed by the government, won't be that kid who was sitting in the courtroom during the trial. He'll be middle-aged. Or older. And regardless of who he was that day in Boston, he'll sure be someone different by the time he's killed. If he is.
But see, if the guy we kill isn't the guy we sentenced (same body, different person - years do that to everyone), then what, exactly, are we doing? And how readily we can see through the fiction that this is anything other than cankered vengeance.
If we're willing to look.
*Sneed now goes by Muhammad Khaaleeq Ishmaa'eel, though the Ohio Supreme Court apparently doesn't recognize the change of name.
**Disclosure: I represented Archie in an interlocutory appeal and then on direct appeal after his conviction and death sentence.