Victim of State Sponsored Homicide

by Kevin Heade

On Thursday, March 08, 2012, the State of Arizona killed Robert Towery.  Towery’s homicide[1] at the hand of the Arizona Department of Corrections (“ADOC”) was the second  homicide  ADOC committed by lethal injection in nine days.

I have written for this blog before to express my view that the death penalty should be unconstitutional. Rather than explain why the death penalty is wrong, I am writing this post to compel other death penalty abolitionists in Arizona to continue their important work. While a bill was introduced in the Arizona legislature to repeal the death penalty, there remains much to do in our efforts to change the hearts and minds of Arizonans.

Sister Helen Perjean, author of Dead Man Walking, visited the PhoenixMetro area in February. During her visit, Sister Helen talked about ways to broaden the scope of the Death Penalty Abolition Movement. One way we can get more people thinking about the death penalty in Arizona is to encourage our local high schools to put on productions of the play of Dead Man Walking.

If we continue to broaden the discourse, we can challenge the notion that state-sponsored violence is a justified response to criminal violence.  However, in the meantime, Arizonans will be responsible for an increasing number of homicides committed in their name. On March 20, 2012, the Arizona Supreme Court will consider the Attorney General’s request for two more death warrants to be signed. Unless there is more public pressure to end the death penalty, do not be surprised if Arizona rivals Texas in the number of executions over the next year.

The night before the State of Arizona killed Robert Towery, I spoke at a vigil organized for Mr. Towery by the Arizona Death Penalty Forum.  I am ending this blog by including my comments at Mr. Towery’s vigil.

We are here this evening because we are humans.

As humans, we have compassion for one another. We have feelings. We recognize the feelings of others.  As humans, we are subject to a wide range of emotions.  We have the capacity to love, to laugh, and to hate.

As humans, we have free will.

As humans with free will, we may choose to love rather than hate.

It is by this exercise of free will that we express our love for Mark Jones, his family, and his friends.

It is by this exercise of free will that we express our love for Robert Charles Towery.

Unfortunately, the State of Arizona, through the people’s representatives, has no concept of universal love.  Rather than serve as an example of the potential of humans to love even the most unsympathetic of people, drug-addicted murderers, the State of Arizona remains steadfast in its resolve to demonstrate the capacity of humans to act with hatred by inflicting violence on others in the name of retribution.

Over 60 years ago, the world recognized that every human, regardless of their acts, has the right to dignity. Every human has the right to life. The United States signed on to the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, a document intended to represent the universal aspirations of humanity.

Yet, today, 60-plus years later, Arizona chooses to ignore those aspirations.  Arizona refuses to recognize the dignity of every human life.

Tomorrow, the State of Arizona will kill Robert Charles Towery, the 93rd person to be executed by this state since 1910.

I have never met Robert Towery, but I did get the chance to peer at him while he was confined like an animal in an 8-foot cage at his clemency hearing last Friday. Mr. Towery’s lawyers had asked the Arizona Department of Corrections to treat Towery as if he were still human by allowing him out of the cage to sit with his attorneys during the clemency hearing.  That request was denied, because, as far as the State of Arizona is concerned, Mr. Towery lost his membership to the human race the day he was sentenced to death.

Never-mind that that day was over 20 years ago.

Never-mind that Mr. Towery is a different human than he was 20 years ago.

Never-mind that Mr. Towery has been off of methamphetamine  for 20 years.

Never-mind that Mr. Towery has been an inspiration to his family for the last 20 years.

Never-mind that tomorrow, when the State of Arizona kills Mr. Towery, Mark Jones, Mr. Towery’s victim, will still be dead.

Never-mind that Mr. Towery’s accomplice and co-defendant, Randy Allen Barker, will be walking about as a free human tomorrow.

Never-mind that Randy Barker served 10 years in prison while Mr. Towery will die.

Never-mind that the foreperson on Mr. Towery’s jury had told the Clemency Board that had the jury sentenced Mr. Towery, his life would have been spared.

None of this matters, because, despite what the State says, it is not killing Mr. Towery because his crime deserves death.

The State of Arizona is killing Mr. Towery to show us all that it has the power to kill.

Disturbingly enough, WE have given the State the power to kill, and WE allow the State to keep this power.

Those of us here this evening vow to strip the State of Arizona of the power to kill.

We pray for the forgiveness of Mr. Towery’s soul.

We pray for forgiveness for all Arizonans, because, tomorrow, for the 30th time since 1992, EVERY Arizonan will be a killer.

[1]The death certificates of death row prisoners read “homicide.”  See De Bunker, Justice, The Case of the Speluncean Explorers: Revisited I. Overview, 112 Harv. L. Rev. 1899, FN 11, 1913 (1999) (“The killing was also premeditated, as are all judicial executions. The official death certificate in a famous death penalty case during the last century of the second millennium–the Sacco and Vanzetti case, Commonwealth v. Sacco, 151 N.E. 839 (Mass. 1926)–listed the cause of death of the defendants as ‘electric shock judicial homicide.’ Certificate of Death of Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1927) (on file with the Harvard Law School Library)).

5 thoughts on “R.I.P. Robert Charles Towery

  1. I think this is a great debate to have. The death penalty is too permanent and severe to go on behind closed doors. But I’d like to know exactly what Mr. Towery did. I realize you’re speaking from a place of principle. But shouldn’t it be principle in the face of reality, however brutal? I feel that glossing over it is a disservice to your readers and your argument.

  2. Kevin,
    This is an incredibly moving piece, and thanks for writing it. I believe that the stark reality of the State committing homicide as a response to homicide names the reality that is brutal and further brutalizing. You, as always, have given me much to think about.

  3. Jay,

    I understand your point. However, I did not leave out any mention of Towery’s crime. In my speech section, I refer to Mark Jones, the 68 yr-old victim of Robert Towery. If you click on the hyperlink under “nine days,” a description of Towery’s crime is included in the article by Michael Keifer. I did not emphasize Mr. Towery’s crime on purpose. Read any account of Towery’s execution, and you will find the gruesome details of Towery’s execution. The media seeks to justify the violence of the State by contextualizing it with the violent acts of the perpetrator. I didn’t include the details of the crime because the point of this piece is to emphasize that state-sponsored violence is not an apporpriate response to criminal violence, no matter how disturbing the criminal violence may be.

    Thanks for reading and posting your view!

    In solidarity,

  4. I’m undecided on whether I think the death penalty is appropriate or not…but I think this was a beautiful and thought-provoking article addressing the arguments for one side.

    Our entire society has a problem with hate. We’re impatient, rude, pushy, and at times we can be downright cruel. I wish there was an easier answer, but as you suggest, it’s important that we remember that the government isn’t an uncontrollable force. We have the power to change it.

  5. Thank you Mr. Heade for your aritcle and all that you do and have done to abolish this barbaric procedure. He was not the same meth-head addict who committed that awful act over 20 years ago. He (drug free) became an amazing man and a huge inspiration to all who knew him. I thank you for your work…keep fighting the good fight. From the bottom of my broken heart I thank you. One day the ignorance will disappear on this subject – hopefully. Sincerely,
    Robert Towery’s sister

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