ACLU Condemns Execution of Gary Leon Brown

April 24, 2003 12:00 am

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Statement of Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama, and Rachel King, State Strategies Coordinator of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project


WASHINGTON–With issues of emotional stability and basic fairness still unresolved, the American Civil Liberties Union along with the Alabama Prison Project today condemns the scheduled execution of Gary Leon Brown.

The state of Alabama is scheduled to execute Brown this evening for the 1986 murder of 60-year-old Jack McGraw in Jefferson County. Brown was just eight hours from his scheduled execution in April 2002 when the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay based on his appeal, which in part contended that the electric chair constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Alabama has since changed its primary method of execution to lethal injection.

Brown’s death sentence is a typical result of a capital case with multiple defendants, in which prosecutors pursue the death penalty in a completely capricious manner. The other two defendants in the case, who were apparently more responsible for the McGraw murder than Brown, were sentenced to life in prison and one of them has since been released on parole.

Aside from legal concerns, Brown has mitigating circumstances that call his mental state and culpability into question. In a letter to former Governor Seigelman requesting clemency last year, Brown gave a perceptive account of how many people end up on death row. Making a comparison with a friend, he wrote, “To demonstrate how the choices we make in our youth can affect our lives, let me give you an example: One of the members of my former band made the choice to quit drugs. He is now a Christian minister with a Masters degree in music. I chose to stay on drugs and I am now on death row.”

A long history of drug use is a common hallmark of those on death row. Brown began using drugs in junior high and never turned away from that lifestyle.

The state of Alabama has a responsibility to reach out to those who suffer from the traumatic effects of substance abuse; executing them is far from a solution.

In his time spent on death row, Brown has garnered praise from friends, family members, and prison officials for his efforts at reforming his life.

Several correctional officers and prison chaplains have indicated their support for Brown’s clemency petition but have been unable to make progress with state authorities. They direct much of this praise to his religious conversion in prison, as well as his continued ministry to give spiritual guidance to others on death row in Alabama.

The death penalty ignores the possibility of honest reform and attempts to strip inmates of their humanity. Brown’s efforts at rehabilitation are commendable.

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