Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Weekend Execution Dilema

On a weekend I have since 1967 spent celebrating the resurrection of an executed man, I found myself in a courtroom in Miami at the center of a case to determine if a former student would be executed. He had already in 1976 admitted to the brutal murder and was sentenced to die. So why 33 years later is he still on death row. At the center of the dilemma are two key issues in Florida…
Who gets put to death for murder and who doesn’t. (Yesterday Phil Spector after a pattern of threatening women with guns was found guilty of firing a shot into the head of Lana Clarkson and murdering her. His sentence is 18 years in prison.) The issue in Bill’s case has been….Is mental retardation a mitigating circumstance in determining life verses death sentences and is Bill Thompson “retarded.” (That’s the word the US and Florida Supreme Courts use.) Bill was a reasonably good kid in school but in IQ tests administered numerous times over his elementary and middle school years was consistently around 73. In Ohio at the time…that made him eligible for EMR (Educatable Mentally Retarded) classes. The dilemma was that there were very few of those classes available so Bill ended up being retained several times. (He was 18 years old when I had him in the 8th grade and he quit the year after.) A fuller description of my testimony about Bill, his scores and demeanor, can be found in the Miami Herald article about the sentencing hearing at:


As I walked into the court room I immediately made eye contact with Bill. Shackled, grey haired and having been brought from his maximum security cell he looked at me with the same goofy grin I remember from the 8th grade… his face lit up and he blurted out, “Hi, Mr. Weaver!”
Over the judges head was a large quote, “We who labor here seek only the truth…”
As I testified I tried to paint as truthful a picture of Bill as I could.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the victim of the murder’s Mother was in the courtroom.
The prosecutor asked me probing questions about Bill’s capabilities, hearing loss and other things. At the end of her questions….she asked this question, “Do you think if Bill had continued school into some vocational program and with someone motivating him…he could have been successful? ….AFTER A LONG PAUSE AND SOME DEEP EMOTION WELLING UP IN MY HEART AND REACHING VERY CLOSE TO MY EYES…I SAID, I believe he could have….I only wish I could have been the one to provide the inspiration.”

I was dismissed from the witness stand and walked by Bill as he smiled.

In my seat I found myself “wrung out” and praying for the judge who, having heard “the truth” as presented from both sides of the issue, will be making the ultimate decision ….will Bill be put to death???


1 comment:

sam-a-lama-ding-dong said...

Powerful stuff Willie.
If the "State", elected by The People, can put someone to death; does that set a positive example for those People and make killing a just act?
Should we not lead by example?
As you have.
Though we (you and I) may have compassion enough to realize that killing is wrong; should we not then hold our State, and thus its citizens accountable for murder? The death penalty is wrong because fallibility exists. Life behind bars is certainly a better punishment for those who've committed murder and been found guilty by their peers because you force those who've committed the crime to have to live with the guilt and those who've been wrongly accused a chance to eventually have justice prevail in their favor.

I can only imagine that the strong emotions you live with because of the trial are as real as the joy that man felt when he saw someone that treated him as one of the thousands of kids and people whose lives you enlighten on a daily basis. You may have been the light at the end of his tunnel. You never know. He's not the first and won't be the last I am sure Willie. You bring joy to everyone who comes in contact with you.

Love you Willie