It is a real race against time that is currently being played out in Texas, to prevent the execution, scheduled for April 21, of Carl Buntion, the oldest person sentenced to death in the state.
The 78-year-old man was found guilty of killing a police officer in June 1990, during an intervention for a simple traffic violation.
At the time, Carl Buntion already had a long legal history, with 13 convictions to his credit. At the time of the murder of police officer James Irby, the American was also on parole for a sexual assault on a child.
Carl Buntion, who grew up alongside an alcoholic and violent father, was thus sentenced to death.
A sentence, canceled in 2009 by the highest Texas court, which had considered that the defense could not be properly heard by the jurors. New twist in 2012 when the man was again sentenced to capital punishment.
The non-hazardous argument
Today, his defenders are fighting to prevent his execution and have filed an appeal to this effect before the commission of pardons and conditional releases.
The lawyers do not contest his guilt but argue that Carl Buntion, who suffers from osteoarthritis, dizziness, hepatitis and cirrhosis, “can no longer be dangerous” to society. In Texas, a person can only be sentenced to death if a jury finds that they represent a future danger to others.
Beyond the legal aspect, it is also an ethical question that is at stake in this case. Placed on death row for 20 years, Carl Buntion lives isolated in his small cell twenty-three hours a day. Despite these conditions, he was only found guilty of three disciplinary offences.
“In Texas, people on death row are put in a tiny cell with just a little crack at the top for a window. They can’t see the ones they love except by being separated by glass, talking on a phone,” Burke Butler, director of the Texas Defender Service, told AFP. Being in solitary confinement for decades constitutes “torture”, she adds.
Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled on Carl Buntion’s case, refusing to reverse his conviction. But the progressive judge Stephen Breyer had considered that the duration of his confinement “challenged the constitutionality of the death penalty”.
“It is a real ethical and human question about the obsession of the State of Texas to want to execute at all costs, whatever the conditions”, underlined Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, director of the Association Together against the penalty of death.
198 people on death row in Texas
Texas is the state that executes the most in the whole of the United States. To date, 192 men and 6 women are waiting on death row. Among them, three are over 70 years old and five are there for crimes dating back more than forty years.
In Carl Buntion’s case, the pardons and parole board will make its decision two days before his scheduled execution date.