Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Sessions fought to uphold Alabama’s death sentences as attorney general from 1995 to 1997. He worked to execute insane, mentally ill and intellectually disabled people, among others, who were convicted in trials riddled with instances of prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination and grossly inadequate defense lawyering, reported the New York Times.
Mr. Sessions secured the execution of Varnall Weeks, who believed he was God and would “reign in heaven as a tortoise” after his death. After the Supreme Court banned executions of insane people, Mr. Sessions persuaded a federal court to defer to an Alabama court’s findings that Mr. Weeks was competent enough to be killed even though he met “the dictionary generic definition of insanity.”
Mr. Sessions also pushed for the death penalty for Samuel Ivery, a black man convicted of decapitating a black woman. At his trial, Mr. Ivery claimed insanity and presented evidence that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and believed himself a “ninja of God.” The prosecutor countered during closing arguments that “this is not another case of niggeritous,” that is, racism. Mr. Ivery later argued that the slur tainted his conviction with racial bias, but the appellate court sided with Mr. Sessions in upholding his death sentence.
Mr. Sessions’ support for the death penalty, even in troubling circumstances, remains unwavering. Last August, he praised Mr. Trump’s 1989 newspaper ads calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York, which appeared shortly after five black and Latino teenagers were charged with raping a white jogger. The men, known as the Central Park Five, were exonerated in 2002 and awarded a $41 million settlement, but for Mr. Sessions, the ads proved that Mr. Trump “believes in law and order.”
Surely, Mr. Sessions isn’t to blame for all the flaws in Alabama’s capital system that pervaded the cases he litigated, many of which involved horrific crimes. But his pursuit of executions in spite of racial bias, defendants’ mental disabilities and other injustices raises concerns about how he will oversee federal capital prosecutions, and shows his lack of commitment to due process and equality.
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