Lamentations: On Frank Atwood

Lamentations is a series of short reflections derived from a reoccurring conversation that takes place before every scheduled execution in the United States between prominent abolitionists Death Penalty Action Executive Director, Abraham Bonowitz and the Convener of Clergy United Against the Death Penalty, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood.

The 8th¬†Amendment of the Constitution of the United States prohibits the infliction of, ‚Äúcruel and unusual punishments.‚ÄĚ

Vicki Lynne Hoskinson disappeared from her neighborhood on the afternoon of September 17, 1984…never to be seen alive again.  She was 8 years old.  Frank Atwood was convicted of her murder and sentenced to death.  Over 35 years later, Atwood is scheduled to be executed at 10am Pacific time this morning. Atwood has consistently proclaimed his innocence.  Repeatedly, appeals of his claims… and even the ability to investigate such claims… have been denied in court.  

Is Frank Atwood guilty of murdering Vicki Lynne Hoskinson? The world may never know, but respectable lawyers have been arguing it, and the courts have repeatedly denied Atwood the opportunity to have the evidence examined in open court. Most compelling to us is evidence that Vicki Lynne Hoskinson was seen alive with another suspect hours after Atwood could have been in proximity. The fact that Frank Atwood and others are denied the opportunity to present evidence of actual innocence might be the most cruel and unusual part of it all.

Frank Atwood was baptised in the Greek Orthodox Church and took the name, Anthony. Yesterday (June 7, 2022), Frank went through a religious process within that church and took a new name, Ephraim, which is how we will refer to him going forward.

During the last 35 years, Ephraim‚Äôs body has deteriorated.¬† In fact, his spine has deteriorated to the point that he is permanently confined to a wheelchair.¬† Can you imagine living with an irreparable spinal condition in prison for decades?¬† Due to the state of Ephraim‚Äôs spine, he is unable to lie down. Perhaps better said, it creates excruciating pain for him to lie down. Yet, the State of Arizona has won legal arguments in federal court to proceed as usual, with a judge declaring that there is “no constitutional¬†right to a pain-free execution.” ¬†

This case forces us to ask the question: Sometimes mental health precludes capacity for execution, but should the physical condition of the condemned factor into whether they are healthy enough to be executed?  It seems that the execution of some prisoners, like Ephraim, are going to be more painful than others, so should such a condition save their lives?  

These questions illustrate the lunacy of the death penalty.  Courts are litigating whether someone is healthy enough to be executed, as if there is something ever not cruel or unusual about strapping someone to a gurney and killing them.  With the appeals taking as long as they do, and executions becoming more infrequent based on several external factors, we are going to continue to have persons scheduled for executions who are going to have to be wheeled into the execution chamber for their execution. Killing someone in such a physical condition seems to inflict a cruel and unusual punishment on all parties involved, including the state workers whose job it will be to lift a disabled man from his wheelchair and kill him.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Shinn v. Ramirez that federal judges can’t consider certain newly developed evidence of wrongful conviction, even if there are compelling facts of innocence undeveloped by incompetent attorneys at the state level. Such a ruling is only going to increase the frequency of executions like that of Ephraim, executions in which an additional cruel and unusual punishment is inflicted.

In the light of the execution of Ephraim (Frank Atwood), the 8th Amendment seems to be dead. Or at least, the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution is scheduled to be executed relatively soon.

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