WASHINGTON - August 28 - Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) today urged clemency for Elijah Page, a 24-year-old man who is scheduled to be executed in South Dakota tomorrow night.
Putting teeth into the call, Amnesty International, the world's largest grassroots human rights organization, has issued a worldwide call to action, mobilizing the public to send appeals to South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds on Page's behalf. AIUSA Executive Director Larry Cox has written to Gov. Rounds, urging the commutation of Page's sentence.
Page was sentenced to death by a judge after pleading guilty and waiving his right to trial and sentencing by jury. Page's co-defendant Darrell Hoadley pleaded not guilty and was tried by a jury that found him guilty of exactly the same crime as Page, with the same aggravating factors. Hoadley was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"Elijah Page's case clearly demonstrates that our capital punishment system is a lottery of death," Cox said. "Page was sentenced to death, and Hoadley was sentenced to life -- for the same crime. Page's execution must be halted at once."
In January 2006, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld Page's sentence. Two of the five justices dissented, stating that both Page and Hoadley "should receive life in prison without the possibility of parole for their substantially identical acts of murder."
Page has given up his appeals even though, given the rate of reversible error found in capital cases, he stands a significant chance of having his sentence overturned or, at the very least, having his execution delayed.
Of the people executed since 1977, about one in 10 has been a so-called "volunteer." Any number of factors may lead a prisoner not to pursue appeals against his or her death sentence, including mental disorder, physical illness, remorse, bravado, religious belief, the severity of conditions of confinement (including prolonged isolation and lack of physical contact visits), the bleak alternative of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, pessimism about appeal prospects, a quest for notoriety, or simply a desire to gain a semblance of control over a situation in which the prisoner is otherwise powerless.
"Elijah Page has dropped his appeals, in effect asking South Dakota to kill him," said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, AIUSA's Director of the Program to Abolish the Death Penalty. "A decision taken by someone under the threat of death by others can never be truly 'consensual.' Moreover, it cannot conceal the fact that the state is engaged in pre-meditated killing. 'Volunteers' like Page reveal the capital punishment system for what it really is -- a system that perpetuates a culture of violence, not a solution to it."
Page suffered a childhood of unimaginable abuse and deprivation. From the time he was two years old, living with his siblings and his drug-addicted mother in Kansas City, Mo., his mother would allow dealers to sexually molest him in exchange for drugs. When Page was seven, his mother lost custody of him and his siblings due to negligence. The judge who sentenced Page to death said to him, "Your early years must have been a living hell. Most people treat their pets better than your parents treated their kids."
Page was put in state care at 13, living in more than a dozen foster homes and drifting in and out of juvenile detention centers for a series of petty offenses. At the time of the crime for which he was sentenced to death, he was only 18.
South Dakota currently has only four people on death row, one of the smallest such populations of any state that retains the death penalty. It has not carried out an execution since 1947, and is one of five states with capital punishment not to have put anyone to death since capital punishment's reinstatement in 1976.
South Dakota also played a crucial role in the U.S. Supreme Court's Roper vs. Simmons decision that banned the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Legislation barring the execution of those under 18 passed in the state in March 2004, which contributed to the "evolving standards of decency" notion cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2005 Roper verdict.
For more information on AIUSA's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, please go to http://www.amnestyusa.org/abolish/.