Abdul Awkal was granted a two-week stay of execution yesterday, the day he was scheduled to be put to death. The Ohio death row inmate was convicted of killing his estranged wife and brother-in-law in 1992. In the time since his conviction, his guilt has not been disputed, but his attorney from the Ohio Justice & Policy Center has argued that he is too severely mentally ill to be executed. Awkal has been diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, and has a history of mental hallucinations, as well having once been deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial.
As ThinkProgress points out, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Panetti v. Quarterman it is unconstitutional to execute who is unable to comprehend the reasons for their punishment. Since 2001, Awkal has written letters to CIA directors and President Barack Obama offering his help in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, believing that he has played a role in orchestrating military efforts in those countries from death row. He does not think he is going to die because of the crime he committed in 1992, but due to the fact that the CIA wants him dead. A psychiatrist, Pablo Stewart, interviewed Awkal and reviewed his case history and concluded his “delusions prevent him from truly understanding that the crimes he committed in 1992 are the reason for his execution.”
Despite all of this, Ohio Governor John Kasich and the Ohio Parole board have rejected Awkal’s request for mercy. They concluded that Awkal had planned the shooting, based on the evidence of him having bought a pistol and threatened to kill his wife months before the shooting. Though the board recognizes he shows remorse, they said Awkal “clearly blames the victims for allegedly creating the circumstances that forced him to kill them.”
As if we needed more proof that the system of capital punishment in this country at least requires increased scrutiny, but in the minds of an increasing number needs to be abolished altogether, this case highlights just that. The execution of Troy Davis last September put a new spotlight on the fundamentally unjust application of the death penalty. Far too many questions with regards to witness testimony and police coercion cast doubt on Davis’ guilt, yet despite numerous court battles and a last minute attempt at receiving a stay from the Supreme Court, Davis was put to death. In the case of Awkal, there is a Supreme Court ruling that explicitly prohibits the execution of anyone not mentally fit to understand the punishment. Regardless, the state is moving forward with his death.
When it comes to the idea of the state taking a life, there should be no doubt. Yet, the death penalty persists.
Keep in mind that just 20 years ago, then Governor Bill Clinton left the presidential campaign trail to go back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a mentally retarded prisoner, Ricky Ray Rector, and doing so is credited for helping him win the Democratic primary and eventually the presidency. It revealed his “toughness.” We don’t much value life.
Mychal Denzel Smith is a writer, social commentator and mental health advocate. Visit his official website (mychaldenzelsmith.com) or follow him on Twitter (@mychalsmith).