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Regarding Death Penalty, Biden’s Actions Don’t Align with His Mouth

by Douglas Ankney

In an 1829 letter, Pres. Andrew Jackson (D) told the Creek Nation of Indigenous Americans that he was speaking “straight, and not with a forked tongue” when he promised those who evacuated from Alabama would enjoy new lands in Mississippi “forever.” Almost two centuries later, another Democratic President promised at his January 2021 inauguration to abolish the federal death penalty, yet three years later, Joseph R. Biden, Jr. has taken few steps to empty the federal death row. Worse, his Department of Justice (DOJ) has continued to vigorously defend questionable death sentences imposed on condemned prisoners.

Take the one given to Rejon Taylor. In September 2008, a federal jury found Taylor guilty of fatally shooting Atlanta restauranteur Guy Luck during a carjacking five years earlier. Taylor, who was 18 at the time, had no history of violence and no criminal record. He suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He is also Black, his victim was white, and he was tried by a jury with 11 whites in a federal court in Tennessee—the same former Confederate state that passed a 2018 law to protect a statue of Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest. At Taylor’s sentencing, the prosecutor called Taylor a “stalking wolf” and urged the jury to “kill the wolf.” Jurors—some of whom reported they were making an example of Taylor because he is Black—obliged. Despite this, Biden’s DOJ has consistently opposed efforts by Taylor’s lawyers to prove his death sentence runs afoul of a 2002 decision by the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) in Atkins v. Virginia that prohibited executing people with severe intellectual disabilities.

In 1994, Bruce Webster, then 21, and three other men kidnapped 16-year-old Lisa Rene in Dallas, took her to Arkansas, repeatedly raped and then killed her. It was a heinous crime, and Webster was sentenced to death in 1996. But in 2019, Webster’s new team of lawyers discovered that the government had failed to disclose evidence at his sentencing that his I.Q. is functionally equivalent to a six-year-old child’s. A federal district court in Indiana, where Webster is imprisoned, tossed his death sentence. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed that decision. But Webster remains on death row because DOJ insists on resentencing him in Texas—the state described as “ground zero” for the death penalty in America.

Biden’s DOJ continues to defend other high-profile federal death sentences imposed before he was elected, though history shows that a new administration often withdraws from litigation begun by its predecessor. DOJ is also actively seeking new death sentences, including one secured for Robert Bowers in August 2023. Bowers, 50, committed another horrible crime, killing 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018. But his defense notes that it was severe mental illness which convinced him that Jews are committing genocide of non-Jewish whites.   


Sources: AP News, The Hill

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