A Quiet Voice Against the Death Penalty

Amnesty International's Dr. Daniel Georges-Abeyie coolly argues the case against capital punishment in our hang-'em-high state

Governor Symington expressed his outrage. Attorney General Woods worked to ensure that such stays couldn't continue.

"Those on death row who were counting on delays of ten years will find that, in two years, they will be executed," he told the media.

Time ran out for Luis Mata. His execution was set for 12:05 a.m. on August 22; the clemency board hearing started at 8 a.m. the morning before at the state prison in Florence.

The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency has seven members, all of them appointed by Governor Fife Symington. Their job in death-penalty cases is to consider any last issues raised before the convict is put to death. Then they can recommend that the governor grant a temporary stay of execution or a reprieve. Neither of those scenarios has happened in the six capital cases brought before them since the executions resumed in 1992. And in only one instance was there anything less than a unanimous decision to execute; Mata's earlier stay had come from the courts.

Mata's lawyers raised a number of points, including his diminished intelligence. They screened videotaped testimony from the prosecutor who originally tried the case, and he confessed that had he known about Mata's mental capacity, he may not have recommended the death penalty.

Daniel Georges-Abeyie addressed the board on behalf of Amnesty International and the Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty, not to forgive Mata his sins, but to ask that he be sent to prison forever.

Georges-Abeyie admits that he is personally repulsed by the brutality of Mata's crime, and he began his speech by expressing his condolences to the family before he stated his philosophical case.

"I believe, as Amnesty believes, that the taking of a life is the most basic violation of the most basic human right, the right to life," he says now. "The board knows that I will plead the Eighth Amendment, that it is cruel and unusual punishment. They know that I will plead the Fifth and Sixth amendments which protect due process issues associated with the case. And they know I will try to point out any errors by the prosecution."

On Mata's behalf, Georges-Abeyie presented "Sixteen points of law," he says, along with unmentioned medical evidence suggesting that Mata may not have actually raped Lopez.

The clemency board tapped feet and sat impatiently through his talk. Witnesses claimed that at least two of the board members seemed to be sleeping, one of them behind dark glasses.

"He puts on a very good presentation," says Duane Belcher, chairman of the clemency board, of Georges-Abeyie's efforts. "Obviously, he has an agenda and he has a feeling about capital punishment and the agency he represents. He obviously has presented to the board information for serious thought, and especially when it comes to a situation where the board is going to make a recommendation of sparing or not sparing an individual that's getting ready to be executed."

"It was an effective presentation," concurs Mata's lawyer, John Stookey. "The bottom line is that the clemency board wasn't going to be convinced by anybody."

After a full day's hearings, the board had found no compelling reasons to stop the execution.

Shortly before one the next morning, after giving up hope that any court would grant a stay of execution, as Mata mouthed the words to the Lord's Prayer, he was put to death.

Daniel Georges-Abeyie was outside the prison at the candlelight vigil that forms each time a man is executed, not just to protest the death penalty, but also to provide support for the family of the condemned man.

"We don't want someone executed in silence," Georges-Abeyie says. "We don't want someone executed without the public knowing."

But it was nothing more than a symbolic and frustrated gesture. Georges-Abeyie had decided not to bother with any more clemency board hearings.

"We are not going to win the battle through the courts," Georges-Abeyie says sadly. "We are not going to win the battle through the reprieve and commutation hearings. We must win the battle by educating people and winning hearts and minds. We must pass legislation. Our goal is to abolish the death penalty through legislation."

He went home crushed and exhausted.
Then, a week later, Amnesty International called and asked if he could fly to Portland, Oregon, to speak out against a pending execution there.

Dr. Daniel Georges-Abeyie packed his bag and went.

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