Monday, October 02, 2006


Farewell, Mr. A.G.

On Friday, Paul Summers ended his eight year term as Tennessee's Attorney General. I wish I could say that I am sorry to see Mr. Summers go, but his reign has been a bad one in regards to the death penalty. Before Summers assumed office, the last execution in Tennessee occurred in 1960. Sadly, Summers bookended his term with executions, Robert Glen Coe's in 2000 and Sedley Alley's in 2006. And Summers sought many more execution dates. Abu-Ali Abdur Rahman, Philip Workman, Daryl Holton, and Paul Dennis Reid have all come within days, or even hours, of death under Summers tenure.

Summers even named arguing against Abu-Ali's challenge to Tennessee's lethal injection procedure in the U.S. Supreme Court as one of the high points of his term in an article in the Tennessean. Summer's office has maintained that Paul House is guilty, despite DNA evidence pointing to his innocence and the recent Supreme Court ruling that no reasonable juror would have found Paul House guilty. Summers rejected allowing DNA testing for Sedley Alley which would have provided conclusive proof of his guilt or innocence prior to his execution, even though such testing could have been done at no cost to the state and with no delay to an execution should it have proved Alley's guilt.

Summers has also been particularly aggressive in pursuing execution dates for people suffering from mental illness. I was recently reminded of the case of Greg Thompson, diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, and bi-polar disorder. Thompson, for those unfamiliar with the case, believes that he has written every song on the radio, has won two grammy awards, can survive execution and go to Hawaii afterwards, and that he is a Klingon (an alien from Star Trek). He even believes that Brenda Blanton Lane, the woman he murdered, is alive and working in Riverbend Prison. In 2000, Summers, claiming that Thompson was "incapable of making rational decisions" asked that the Tennessee Supreme Court place a conservator on Thompson to medicate him. Sadly, this medication was only to make him "sane enough" for execution. In 2004, while admitting that Thompson's mental state had continued to degrade, Summers asked that the Court remove the conservator so that he could seek an execution date.

I don't know enough about Paul Summers' service as Tennessee's A.G. outside of the death penalty; I've only been in the state about a month. However, when considering the death penalty, Summers has been a leading proponent of more and more executions. " . . . the death penalty has been activated twice since I've been attorney general, and probably should have been activated more than that," Summers said upon leaving office. Considering that the two execution including a man with clear mental illness and a man with questions as to his guilt, I think I'd have to quarrel with the Attorney General's assessment.
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