OWED /// pitch dossier

I don't think we should have to take care of our sick parents.

There's a more elegant way to express that (see: below) but really--that's what this show is about.

I mean, if you want to do it... great, magnificent, you do you.  But do you HAVE to do it.  Can you not do it AND not be an asshole.

Yes.

Ok, let's dig into that.

OWED is a dark, incisive, challenging ensemble series about what it means to be "good" and whether we must sacrifice ourselves to service our parents regardless of circumstance or desire.

Do we OWE them?

OWED /// a one-hour limited series with each season deconstructing an angle of the social contract* in the vein of THE WIRE.

 

*In both moral and political philosophy, the social contract is a theory or model that questions the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual.  Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.
 

SEASON ONE ///

an abusive family dynamic that feels like an emotional prison from which you will never escape; set in the near-future against a Pennsylvania state prison during the re-igniting of the death penalty.

 

THE FATHER is an abusive monster but he’s ailing.  Heart attacks, quadruple-bypass surgery, diabetes-induced seizures… His sickness makes him vulnerable; more difficult to shun.

HIS SON (“OWEN”) lives with him—even though he’s 24—because he has a caretaker soul and believes it is his duty to care for his family.  Moreover—his psychosis is such that he believes he is only of value or worthy of love if he is sacrificing or hurting himself to please someone else.  That’s why instead of getting a job as a nurse or social worker, he becomes a correctional officer at the state prison; literally imprisoned by his martyrdom.

The Governor of Pennsylvania—this is true—issued a temporary moratorium on executions in February 2015 citing “widely recognized defects” in a capital punishment system that is “ineffective, unjust and expensive.”  The District Attorney (a political opponent) challenged the Governor’s authority to—in effect—bypass the state legislature to change law according to personal politics.  The Supreme Court upheld the Governor’s decision but (as the world of the show imagines…) during the next election cycle the DA challenges the Governor with a pro-death penalty platform and wins.

The Warden—Owen’s boss—knows ahead of the public that the death penalty will be reinstated and needs to reassemble a death-team after a long period of dormancy.  He asks Owen to be the executioner.  Even for an extreme people-pleaser like Owen, this ask is pushing the limits but ultimately—and however reluctant—he agrees.

 

“Unlike other professions that involve death, such as the police force or the military, few corrections officers enter the field with the expectation that they'll eventually have to kill somebody.  On the contrary, many view themselves as protectors.” —Tolly Moseley, The Atlantic

 

(“MIA”) OWEN'S SISTER—is older and has distanced herself from the family; which Owen resents if only because their father won’t stop complaining about it.  Mia believes their father is purposefully not taking care of himself so he remains in poor health as a way of controlling and manipulating his family to remain in his orbit despite his bad behavior.  For a while Mia begged him to take care of himself because she didn’t want him to die, she didn’t feel ready to be parent-less.  Their mother died when they were young.  Now, her fear isn’t that he’ll die but that he’ll become incapacitated to the point of requiring constant care and she’ll have to effectively give-up her life to help her brother shoulder the responsibility.  The father’s worried about quality of life, too.  That’s why in the pilot, after he has a “cardiac episode” (the heart attack chemical was technically released but he’s fine), he says to his children who have gathered in his hospital room:

Dad: “Joe Miller died playing tennis yesterday. He fell, hit his head and died.”

Mia: “That’s terrible, Dad. Thank god you don’t exercise.”

Dad: "I’m serious. If I ever get to a point where I’m not dead but I won’t have quality of life; there are pills in my sock drawer. I want you to bring them to me.”

Another fight erupts. Assisted suicide is against the law; we’d be putting ourselves at risk. You’re not going to die, I’ll take care of you, etc.  On the hospital room TV, the new Governor announces she’s lifting the death penalty moratorium.  The next execution is set:

It’s a woman.*

*In August of 2016, 54 women were on death row; three of them in Pennsylvania.

Mia looks at the screen and recognizes the prisoner's face.  Her father is a criminal defense attorney.  15 years ago, that woman was his client.  Mia can’t prove it but in her gut she believes her father botched the case.  She remembers he conveniently became sick right at the time of trial and filed for continuance after continuance.

The woman adopted a young child from Russia.  Something must’ve happened during the kid’s early life in the orphanage—trauma / neglect—because he exhibited psychopathic behaviors: extreme rage and violence, crying inconsolably for hours and days on end.  There were no social services available to her because it wasn’t a domestic adoption.  The Russian orphanage wasn’t any help.  She couldn’t afford private help.  (This was her emotional prison from which she would never escape…)  On a particularly trying day after hours of battle, she caught the kid smearing feces on the wall and she snapped; knocked him against the wall, killing him.  So she did it but does she deserve to die?

Mia is a gifted researcher.  She works as a fact-checker for the city paper.  Over the course of the first season she makes it her mission to uncover her father’s wrong-doing and save this woman knowing that if she’s right, her father will be disbarred.  If he’s unable to work, he’ll become even more dependent on his family.  She also wrestles with: what is her responsibility?  Maybe unquestioned blood loyalty is not only bullshit but dangerous.

Meanwhile, Owen undergoes training as part of the new death team at the prison and we learn what a fucking shit show that is.  No doctors involved—most believe it is unethical; the team is led by a quack veterinarian—this is also true—who despite losing his license for botched lethal injections in other states, is eagerly hired by the PA prison system.  European, anti-death-penalty pharmaceutical companies are restricting usage of their drugs for the purpose of American executions, so prisons "improvise" with unreliable cocktail combination, sometimes with disastrous, inhumane consequences (see: below).  Plus, we've got a bunch of men dealing with the brutal psychological realities of killing a woman who feels like their collective mother.  

And, BTW... for Owen to "do a good job" he must commit murder... 

At the end of the first season—Owen experiences his first execution and Mia kills their father with the pills. ///

 Last week’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma has heightened the debate over lethal injection. The United States has encountered a shortage of the drugs historically used in capital punishment as pharmaceutical companies have largely refused to make them, export them, or sell them to prisons for use in executions. Death row inmates have filed dozens of challenges to the lethal injection protocols that states have sought to keep secret. Meanwhile, states are trying ever more desperate measures to procure the old drugs or cook up new cocktails to try on inmates.  But as Lockett’s torturous execution showed, the drugs are only part of the problem. In his case, prison staff apparently failed to properly insert the IV into his femoral artery—a procedure that requires professional medical skills—and the drugs were injected into soft tissue rather than the bloodstream, leaving him writhing in pain and forcing officials to halt the execution. (He ended up dying of a heart attack, anyway.)  Historically, lethal injection has been plagued with problems just like those that occurred in Lockett’s case, and they are due in large part to the incompetence of the people charged with administering the deadly drugs. Physicians have mostly left the field of capital punishment; the American Medical Association and other professional groups consider it highly unethical for doctors to assist with executions. As a result, the people willing to do the dirty work aren’t always at the top of their fields, or even specifically trained in the jobs they’re supposed to do. As Dr. Jay Chapman, the Oklahoma coroner who essentially created the modern lethal injection protocol, observed in the New York Times in 2007, “It never occurred to me when we set this up that we’d have complete idiots administering the drugs.”  States typically have had few requirements for those serving on an execution team. At one point, in Florida, the only criteria was that a potential executioner be at least 18 years old. Wardens, prison guards, phlebotomists, paramedics, and nurses are sometimes in the mix. After botched executions, judges have occasionally ordered states to have a board-certified anesthesiologist involved—a requirement that tends to prompt a moratorium because few of those doctors will participate. The actual makeup of execution teams is often a state secret that officials work hard to conceal. Not surprisingly, although things often go wrong, individuals are rarely held accountable. On the rare occasions when details about execution teams are released, they only seem to confirm Chapman’s observation.       http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/05/death-penalty-lethal-injections-untrained-doctors/     

Last week’s botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma has heightened the debate over lethal injection. The United States has encountered a shortage of the drugs historically used in capital punishment as pharmaceutical companies have largely refused to make them, export them, or sell them to prisons for use in executions. Death row inmates have filed dozens of challenges to the lethal injection protocols that states have sought to keep secret. Meanwhile, states are trying ever more desperate measures to procure the old drugs or cook up new cocktails to try on inmates.

But as Lockett’s torturous execution showed, the drugs are only part of the problem. In his case, prison staff apparently failed to properly insert the IV into his femoral artery—a procedure that requires professional medical skills—and the drugs were injected into soft tissue rather than the bloodstream, leaving him writhing in pain and forcing officials to halt the execution. (He ended up dying of a heart attack, anyway.)

Historically, lethal injection has been plagued with problems just like those that occurred in Lockett’s case, and they are due in large part to the incompetence of the people charged with administering the deadly drugs. Physicians have mostly left the field of capital punishment; the American Medical Association and other professional groups consider it highly unethical for doctors to assist with executions. As a result, the people willing to do the dirty work aren’t always at the top of their fields, or even specifically trained in the jobs they’re supposed to do. As Dr. Jay Chapman, the Oklahoma coroner who essentially created the modern lethal injection protocol, observed in the New York Times in 2007, “It never occurred to me when we set this up that we’d have complete idiots administering the drugs.”

States typically have had few requirements for those serving on an execution team. At one point, in Florida, the only criteria was that a potential executioner be at least 18 years old. Wardens, prison guards, phlebotomists, paramedics, and nurses are sometimes in the mix. After botched executions, judges have occasionally ordered states to have a board-certified anesthesiologist involved—a requirement that tends to prompt a moratorium because few of those doctors will participate. The actual makeup of execution teams is often a state secret that officials work hard to conceal. Not surprisingly, although things often go wrong, individuals are rarely held accountable. On the rare occasions when details about execution teams are released, they only seem to confirm Chapman’s observation.

 

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/05/death-penalty-lethal-injections-untrained-doctors/

 

 Update: Oklahoma canceled the second execution after the first one went horribly awry. According to the New York Times, after he’d been declared unconscious, prisoner Clayton D. Locket twitched and gasped and said “man” and “something’s wrong,” before dying of a heart attack.  Officials in Oklahoma and other states have resorted to these methods because they can no longer access sodium thiopental, the anesthetic traditionally used in lethal injections, and another drug used to paralyze the condemned. The lone US manufacturer quit producing sodium thiopental in 2011, and international suppliers—particularly in the  European Union, which opposes the death penalty on humanitarian grounds —??have stopped exporting both drugs to the United States. This has left states like Oklahoma scrambling to find new pharmaceuticals for killing death row inmates. Some have been reduced to  illegally importing the drugs , using untested combinations, or buying from unregulated compounding pharmacies, a number of which have a history of producing contaminated products.  Due to a shortages of pentobarbital and vercuronium bromide, Oklahoma planned to buy the drugs from an unnamed compounding pharmacy. This was problematic because such pharmacies are unregulated, and contaminated pentobarbital can result in excruciatingly painful deaths. (Experts say it can feel as though the insides of a person’s veins are being scraped with sandpaper.) South Dakota used a compounded pentobarbital  contaminated with a fungus  to execute Eric Robert in 2012. During the execution, he repeatedly opened his eyes—a sign that the drug wasn’t working, some experts said. Oklahoma has had similar problems. In January, it executed another man, Michael Lee Wilson, using pentobarbital from an unidentified compounding pharmacy. During the execution he sputtered, “ I feel my whole body burning ,” another sign that the drug wasn’t doing its job.    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/double-execution-tonight-ok-using-secret-experimental-drug-protocol/     

Update: Oklahoma canceled the second execution after the first one went horribly awry. According to the New York Times, after he’d been declared unconscious, prisoner Clayton D. Locket twitched and gasped and said “man” and “something’s wrong,” before dying of a heart attack.

Officials in Oklahoma and other states have resorted to these methods because they can no longer access sodium thiopental, the anesthetic traditionally used in lethal injections, and another drug used to paralyze the condemned. The lone US manufacturer quit producing sodium thiopental in 2011, and international suppliers—particularly in the European Union, which opposes the death penalty on humanitarian grounds—??have stopped exporting both drugs to the United States. This has left states like Oklahoma scrambling to find new pharmaceuticals for killing death row inmates. Some have been reduced to illegally importing the drugs, using untested combinations, or buying from unregulated compounding pharmacies, a number of which have a history of producing contaminated products.

Due to a shortages of pentobarbital and vercuronium bromide, Oklahoma planned to buy the drugs from an unnamed compounding pharmacy. This was problematic because such pharmacies are unregulated, and contaminated pentobarbital can result in excruciatingly painful deaths. (Experts say it can feel as though the insides of a person’s veins are being scraped with sandpaper.) South Dakota used a compounded pentobarbital contaminated with a fungus to execute Eric Robert in 2012. During the execution, he repeatedly opened his eyes—a sign that the drug wasn’t working, some experts said. Oklahoma has had similar problems. In January, it executed another man, Michael Lee Wilson, using pentobarbital from an unidentified compounding pharmacy. During the execution he sputtered, “I feel my whole body burning,” another sign that the drug wasn’t doing its job.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/double-execution-tonight-ok-using-secret-experimental-drug-protocol/

 

 …But one particular document—from the early 1900s, she estimates—caught her eye. "The wording was so unusual," says Dennehy, who now works for the National Council on Crime & Delinquency. "It was for a prisoner who had died in custody at the old state prison, and next to 'cause of death', it read  'judicial homicide.'"   It's a telling turn of phrase. Sometime during the 20th century—historical sources disagree as to the exact year—the term "capital punishment" entered American legal parlance, and with it a sanitized rebranding of state-sanctioned killings. Dennehy had never heard the term “judicial homicide” used before encountering it in the vault, nor—during her 30-year career in corrections that followed—did she hear it used again. Taken separately, the words "capital" and "punishment" are both qualifiers for the condemned, but "judicial homicide" points to someone else entirely. It's the guard standing at the door to the death chamber, the strap-down team member holding the prisoner's ankles, and the physician inserting the needle. It's the people who walk into the death chamber and walk back out, and sure, their task is judicial. But just because we call it "punishment" now, does it affect their psyches any less than when we called it "homicide”?   "We are caretakers for a population of people who instantly go out of sight, out of mind for the general public," says Jennie Lancaster, a retired prison warden with the North Carolina Department of Corrections. In 1984, she oversaw the execution of Velma Barfield, the first woman in 35 years to be executed in the United States and the first to die of lethal injection.   "At job interviews we don't ask things like, 'So how do you feel about wheeling away a body?'" Lancaster says. "But maybe we should. It's not a role many of us picture ourselves playing."  And why would they? When it comes to the death penalty, much media attention has been paid to families of the victims and the condemned. Not so with corrections officers. It takes stories of executions gone wrong, such as Clayton Lockett's heart attack after a failed lethal injection in Oklahoma last April, or Joseph R. Wood III's injection of 15 times greater than the standard dosage, to shift the lens. Then, we wonder: What must it have been like to be in that room? To watch a person's body convulse, rather than calmly shut down? What is it like to wait two hours and 600 gasps of air for a man to die?  …So how do you cope with that kind of job stress? In the American legal system, we burden a small handful of people with what is arguably the hardest part of corrections: There are only 38 execution chambers in the country, five of which—in New Hampshire, Kansas, Nebraska, California, and New York—are never used. When almost nobody can relate to your job, is it easier to quell your feelings about executions than express them?  A 2005 study published in Law and Human Behavior titled "The Role of Moral Disengagement in the Execution Process" sought to answer that question. Conducted by then-Stanford psychology student Michael Osofsky, social cognitive theory pioneer Albert Bandura, and Stanford prison experimenter/psychologist Philip Zimbardo, the five-year study aimed to pinpoint the psychological strategies officers use to repeatedly perform, and cope with, executions.  "The core thesis is that individuals must morally disengage in order to perform actions and behaviors that run opposite and are counter to individual values and personal moral standards," Osofsky says. "Capital punishment is a real-world example of this type of moral dilemma where everyday people are forced to perform a legal and state-sanctioned action of ending the life of another human being, which poses an inherent moral conflict to human values."  …”The whole thing made me step out of my role professionally, and touched me on an emotional level," Martin says.  "I began to realize that this is how these things happen, executions. We do these things that personally you would normally never be involved in, because they're sanctioned by the government. And then we start walking through them in a mechanical fashion. We become detached. We lose our humanity.”   …When asked if those 89 executions affect him at all today, his response is either a stunning testament to the durability of the human spirit or a haunting confirmation of Osofsky's research. Or both.  "To be honest with you," Willett says, "They rarely cross my mind. They rarely cross my mind at all.”    https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/the-enforcers-of-the-death-penalty/379901/     

…But one particular document—from the early 1900s, she estimates—caught her eye. "The wording was so unusual," says Dennehy, who now works for the National Council on Crime & Delinquency. "It was for a prisoner who had died in custody at the old state prison, and next to 'cause of death', it read 'judicial homicide.'"

It's a telling turn of phrase. Sometime during the 20th century—historical sources disagree as to the exact year—the term "capital punishment" entered American legal parlance, and with it a sanitized rebranding of state-sanctioned killings. Dennehy had never heard the term “judicial homicide” used before encountering it in the vault, nor—during her 30-year career in corrections that followed—did she hear it used again. Taken separately, the words "capital" and "punishment" are both qualifiers for the condemned, but "judicial homicide" points to someone else entirely. It's the guard standing at the door to the death chamber, the strap-down team member holding the prisoner's ankles, and the physician inserting the needle. It's the people who walk into the death chamber and walk back out, and sure, their task is judicial. But just because we call it "punishment" now, does it affect their psyches any less than when we called it "homicide”?

"We are caretakers for a population of people who instantly go out of sight, out of mind for the general public," says Jennie Lancaster, a retired prison warden with the North Carolina Department of Corrections. In 1984, she oversaw the execution of Velma Barfield, the first woman in 35 years to be executed in the United States and the first to die of lethal injection.

"At job interviews we don't ask things like, 'So how do you feel about wheeling away a body?'" Lancaster says. "But maybe we should. It's not a role many of us picture ourselves playing."

And why would they? When it comes to the death penalty, much media attention has been paid to families of the victims and the condemned. Not so with corrections officers. It takes stories of executions gone wrong, such as Clayton Lockett's heart attack after a failed lethal injection in Oklahoma last April, or Joseph R. Wood III's injection of 15 times greater than the standard dosage, to shift the lens. Then, we wonder: What must it have been like to be in that room? To watch a person's body convulse, rather than calmly shut down? What is it like to wait two hours and 600 gasps of air for a man to die?

…So how do you cope with that kind of job stress? In the American legal system, we burden a small handful of people with what is arguably the hardest part of corrections: There are only 38 execution chambers in the country, five of which—in New Hampshire, Kansas, Nebraska, California, and New York—are never used. When almost nobody can relate to your job, is it easier to quell your feelings about executions than express them?

A 2005 study published in Law and Human Behavior titled "The Role of Moral Disengagement in the Execution Process" sought to answer that question. Conducted by then-Stanford psychology student Michael Osofsky, social cognitive theory pioneer Albert Bandura, and Stanford prison experimenter/psychologist Philip Zimbardo, the five-year study aimed to pinpoint the psychological strategies officers use to repeatedly perform, and cope with, executions.

"The core thesis is that individuals must morally disengage in order to perform actions and behaviors that run opposite and are counter to individual values and personal moral standards," Osofsky says. "Capital punishment is a real-world example of this type of moral dilemma where everyday people are forced to perform a legal and state-sanctioned action of ending the life of another human being, which poses an inherent moral conflict to human values."

…”The whole thing made me step out of my role professionally, and touched me on an emotional level," Martin says. "I began to realize that this is how these things happen, executions. We do these things that personally you would normally never be involved in, because they're sanctioned by the government. And then we start walking through them in a mechanical fashion. We become detached. We lose our humanity.”

…When asked if those 89 executions affect him at all today, his response is either a stunning testament to the durability of the human spirit or a haunting confirmation of Osofsky's research. Or both.

"To be honest with you," Willett says, "They rarely cross my mind. They rarely cross my mind at all.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/the-enforcers-of-the-death-penalty/379901/

 

 Jerry Givens worked for 25 years for Virginia's department of corrections. He was the state's executioner from 1982 to 1999 and administered the death penalty to 62 inmates, some by lethal injection and some by electrocution. For many years, even his own family did not know the truth about his job. Now Jerry campaigns to end capital punishment.  On the day of the execution, I could almost tell if the condemned had already accepted that this was it for them or not. Some folks resigned themselves to it. I would try to see if the inmate is at that level and if he's ready or not. If there's tension in the building, you could sense it. He would prepare and get things together for last meal and who he wanted to see.  Most of the time, during the actual execution, I'm back behind the partition, behind a curtain with my equipment. I'm alone as the executioner, but we had a crew that would go and escort the inmate and place him on the gurney or in the chair and strap him down and a doctor who would confirm the heart had stopped after.  If I had a choice, I would choose death by electrocution. That's more like cutting your lights off and on. It's a button you push once and then the machine runs by itself. It relieves you from being attached to it in some ways. You can't see the current go through the body. But with chemicals, it takes a while because you're dealing with three separate chemicals. You are on the other end with a needle in your hand. You can see the reaction of the body. You can see it going down the clear tube. So you can actually see the chemical going down the line and into the arm and see the effects of it. You are more attached to it. I know because I have done it. Death by electrocution in some ways seems more humane.  …When I found out they had some innocent people on death row that came almost hours before I had to take their life, then I knew we had to change. That would be on me for the rest of my life.  I honestly believe God stepped in and said enough is enough. I was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. I remember the day because I was supposed to have an execution soon, March 16, 1999. They were after a friend of mine. To make a long story short, the grand jury said I was involved in money laundering and perjury for buying cars for my friend who obtained the money illegally. I told them I thought he had straightened out. But I did 57 months in a federal institution. I knew then that the system wasn't right. I don't believe I had a fair trial, so I realized maybe some of the people I executed weren't given a fair trial.  …What kind of training did you need to be an executioner?  It was complicated for me. When I was asked, death row was empty in Virginia. I was thinking to myself, I didn't agree, but I would give it some thought. Then after the first execution in 1982 that I assisted, the guy who did it got sick. He just stopped working and retired. And I took over from there. We had so many executions so close together. After the first one, I did it by myself in 1984. I always said once I get to 100, I was going to stop. I'm glad I never got that far.  When I accepted the job, I never told my wife or kids or anybody. I didn't want them to go through anything I had to go through. If I told someone, they would tell someone. It would have been like a snowball and gotten bigger and bigger and everyone would know exactly what I was doing.  …We got roughly $39,000 to $50,000. It depended what pay grade you were at as a correctional officer. When I resigned, it was closer to $50,000. We got benefits, but I did not get any extra pay as the executioner. Sometimes, I think if I hadn't been selected to be the executioner, then I think that I would have worked my 27 years without any problems and settled for my retirement. But when I was forced to resign, it took away everything. I lost my pension.  If I had known what I had to go through as an executioner, I wouldn't have done it. You can't tell me I can take the life of people and go home and be normal.    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/21/death-penalty-former-executioner-jerry-givens     

Jerry Givens worked for 25 years for Virginia's department of corrections. He was the state's executioner from 1982 to 1999 and administered the death penalty to 62 inmates, some by lethal injection and some by electrocution. For many years, even his own family did not know the truth about his job. Now Jerry campaigns to end capital punishment.

On the day of the execution, I could almost tell if the condemned had already accepted that this was it for them or not. Some folks resigned themselves to it. I would try to see if the inmate is at that level and if he's ready or not. If there's tension in the building, you could sense it. He would prepare and get things together for last meal and who he wanted to see.

Most of the time, during the actual execution, I'm back behind the partition, behind a curtain with my equipment. I'm alone as the executioner, but we had a crew that would go and escort the inmate and place him on the gurney or in the chair and strap him down and a doctor who would confirm the heart had stopped after.

If I had a choice, I would choose death by electrocution. That's more like cutting your lights off and on. It's a button you push once and then the machine runs by itself. It relieves you from being attached to it in some ways. You can't see the current go through the body. But with chemicals, it takes a while because you're dealing with three separate chemicals. You are on the other end with a needle in your hand. You can see the reaction of the body. You can see it going down the clear tube. So you can actually see the chemical going down the line and into the arm and see the effects of it. You are more attached to it. I know because I have done it. Death by electrocution in some ways seems more humane.

…When I found out they had some innocent people on death row that came almost hours before I had to take their life, then I knew we had to change. That would be on me for the rest of my life.

I honestly believe God stepped in and said enough is enough. I was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. I remember the day because I was supposed to have an execution soon, March 16, 1999. They were after a friend of mine. To make a long story short, the grand jury said I was involved in money laundering and perjury for buying cars for my friend who obtained the money illegally. I told them I thought he had straightened out. But I did 57 months in a federal institution. I knew then that the system wasn't right. I don't believe I had a fair trial, so I realized maybe some of the people I executed weren't given a fair trial.

…What kind of training did you need to be an executioner?

It was complicated for me. When I was asked, death row was empty in Virginia. I was thinking to myself, I didn't agree, but I would give it some thought. Then after the first execution in 1982 that I assisted, the guy who did it got sick. He just stopped working and retired. And I took over from there. We had so many executions so close together. After the first one, I did it by myself in 1984. I always said once I get to 100, I was going to stop. I'm glad I never got that far.

When I accepted the job, I never told my wife or kids or anybody. I didn't want them to go through anything I had to go through. If I told someone, they would tell someone. It would have been like a snowball and gotten bigger and bigger and everyone would know exactly what I was doing.

…We got roughly $39,000 to $50,000. It depended what pay grade you were at as a correctional officer. When I resigned, it was closer to $50,000. We got benefits, but I did not get any extra pay as the executioner. Sometimes, I think if I hadn't been selected to be the executioner, then I think that I would have worked my 27 years without any problems and settled for my retirement. But when I was forced to resign, it took away everything. I lost my pension.

If I had known what I had to go through as an executioner, I wouldn't have done it. You can't tell me I can take the life of people and go home and be normal.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/21/death-penalty-former-executioner-jerry-givens

 

 The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday upheld Gov. Tom Wolf's constitutional authority to grant temporary reprieves to inmates on death row.  The case involved Terrance Williams, convicted of beating a man to death with a tire iron in 1984. With Williams' appeals exhausted, former Gov. Tom Corbett had scheduled execution for March 4. Wolf granted a reprieve Feb. 13, pending an overdue report and recommendations from the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment.  Wolf said he would use his constitutional power to grant reprieves to any inmate awaiting the death penalty, effectively putting a hold on all executions until the task force report addresses his concerns that Pennsylvania's capital punishment is too expensive and ineffective. He since has reprieved five convicted killers scheduled for execution.  As of Dec. 1, there were 181 inmates on death row in Pennsylvania, including 24 from Pittsburgh and 11 surrounding counties, according to the state Department of Corrections.  Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams challenged the governor's decision, saying Wolf overstepped his constitutional authority if he intended to halt all executions with reprieves.  The state Supreme Court unanimously sided with Wolf, saying that his reprieves do not need a set end date or to be related to a prisoner's specific circumstances.  “We find no limitation on the executive reprieve power relating to the duration of the reprieve, so long as it is temporary in nature and operates only for an interval of time,” wrote Justice Max Baer of Mt. Lebanon.  Justice Correale F. Stevens wrote in a concurrent opinion that the decision should not encourage or validate the governor's nullification of existing, valid state laws. Stevens urged that the governor's reprieves be temporary, instead of indefinitely drawing out cases in which courts have upheld the penalty against a prisoner.  “The families of the victims are victimized again and again, this time by the failure of the criminal justice system to carry out the law,” Stevens wrote. “If there is to be no death penalty law in Pennsylvania, such decision should come from the legislative body.”    http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/9672521-74/wolf-pennsylvania-court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday upheld Gov. Tom Wolf's constitutional authority to grant temporary reprieves to inmates on death row.

The case involved Terrance Williams, convicted of beating a man to death with a tire iron in 1984. With Williams' appeals exhausted, former Gov. Tom Corbett had scheduled execution for March 4. Wolf granted a reprieve Feb. 13, pending an overdue report and recommendations from the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment.

Wolf said he would use his constitutional power to grant reprieves to any inmate awaiting the death penalty, effectively putting a hold on all executions until the task force report addresses his concerns that Pennsylvania's capital punishment is too expensive and ineffective. He since has reprieved five convicted killers scheduled for execution.

As of Dec. 1, there were 181 inmates on death row in Pennsylvania, including 24 from Pittsburgh and 11 surrounding counties, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams challenged the governor's decision, saying Wolf overstepped his constitutional authority if he intended to halt all executions with reprieves.

The state Supreme Court unanimously sided with Wolf, saying that his reprieves do not need a set end date or to be related to a prisoner's specific circumstances.

“We find no limitation on the executive reprieve power relating to the duration of the reprieve, so long as it is temporary in nature and operates only for an interval of time,” wrote Justice Max Baer of Mt. Lebanon.

Justice Correale F. Stevens wrote in a concurrent opinion that the decision should not encourage or validate the governor's nullification of existing, valid state laws. Stevens urged that the governor's reprieves be temporary, instead of indefinitely drawing out cases in which courts have upheld the penalty against a prisoner.

“The families of the victims are victimized again and again, this time by the failure of the criminal justice system to carry out the law,” Stevens wrote. “If there is to be no death penalty law in Pennsylvania, such decision should come from the legislative body.”

http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/9672521-74/wolf-pennsylvania-court

 LOCK HAVEN, Pa. (AP) — The only woman on Pennsylvania's death row had her sentence thrown out by a judge who cited inadequate representation at her trial in the 2003 hatchet killing of her World War II-veteran neighbor.  Clinton County Senior Judge Michael Williamson sentenced Shonda Walter, 37, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, saying she had "totally incompetent counsel in the penalty phase" of her 2005 trial. Prosecutors had agreed not to seek the death penalty again, Williamson noted.  Walter killed James Sementelli, an 83-year-old veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack, in his Lock Haven home so she could steal his car and sell it to pay off court debts and to gain entry into a street gang, prosecutors said. He sustained more than 60 wounds, 18 fractures and 45 bruises, many of them to his head, face and neck, authorities said.  Evidence presented at trial indicated that Walter then drove his car to Williamsport but later returned to flush away a cigarette butt she had left in a toilet. Sementelli's body was discovered six days later. The hatchet, which contained his blood, was found along a rural road near Williamsport.  Before trial, Walter had rejected a plea agreement that would have avoided the possibility of the death penalty. A jury took less than 30 minutes to convict her of first-degree murder.  In her appeal, Walter argued that her trial lawyer openly conceded her guilt and filed an appeal that one judge described as "unintelligible." She had sought a new lawyer but was rejected.  Walter, whose sentence was vacated on July 26, had been the only woman on Pennsylvania's death row. Another woman, Michelle Sue Tharp, had her death sentence thrown out in 2014 and, according to online court records, is awaiting resentencing for starving her 7-year-old daughter.  As of Aug. 1, the state's death row had 176 men on it, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. In February 2015, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced a temporary moratorium on executions, calling the state's capital punishment system error prone and expensive.  Since reinstating the death penalty in the mid-1970s, Pennsylvania has executed three inmates, all of whom dropped their appeals.    https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2016-08-06/sentence-tossed-for-last-woman-on-pennsylvanias-death-row

LOCK HAVEN, Pa. (AP) — The only woman on Pennsylvania's death row had her sentence thrown out by a judge who cited inadequate representation at her trial in the 2003 hatchet killing of her World War II-veteran neighbor.

Clinton County Senior Judge Michael Williamson sentenced Shonda Walter, 37, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, saying she had "totally incompetent counsel in the penalty phase" of her 2005 trial. Prosecutors had agreed not to seek the death penalty again, Williamson noted.

Walter killed James Sementelli, an 83-year-old veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack, in his Lock Haven home so she could steal his car and sell it to pay off court debts and to gain entry into a street gang, prosecutors said. He sustained more than 60 wounds, 18 fractures and 45 bruises, many of them to his head, face and neck, authorities said.

Evidence presented at trial indicated that Walter then drove his car to Williamsport but later returned to flush away a cigarette butt she had left in a toilet. Sementelli's body was discovered six days later. The hatchet, which contained his blood, was found along a rural road near Williamsport.

Before trial, Walter had rejected a plea agreement that would have avoided the possibility of the death penalty. A jury took less than 30 minutes to convict her of first-degree murder.

In her appeal, Walter argued that her trial lawyer openly conceded her guilt and filed an appeal that one judge described as "unintelligible." She had sought a new lawyer but was rejected.

Walter, whose sentence was vacated on July 26, had been the only woman on Pennsylvania's death row. Another woman, Michelle Sue Tharp, had her death sentence thrown out in 2014 and, according to online court records, is awaiting resentencing for starving her 7-year-old daughter.

As of Aug. 1, the state's death row had 176 men on it, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. In February 2015, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced a temporary moratorium on executions, calling the state's capital punishment system error prone and expensive.

Since reinstating the death penalty in the mid-1970s, Pennsylvania has executed three inmates, all of whom dropped their appeals.

https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2016-08-06/sentence-tossed-for-last-woman-on-pennsylvanias-death-row