In 1991, Thomas Clyde Bowling was sentenced to death for the murders of Eddie and Tina Earley. The Earleys were sitting in their automobile outside of the Earley Bird Cleaners, a dry cleaning business in Lexington, Kentucky, that they owned, with their two-year-old son, when Mr Bowling shot them; their son was also shot, but survived.
Mr Bowling finally died, on Saturday, March 20, but he wasn’t executed; at age 62, he had been transferred from Death Row at the Kentucky State Penitentiary to the Nursing Care Facility at the Kentucky State Reformatory, in poor health due to complications stemming from cancer. He was then transferred to Baptist Health in LaGrange, where he was pronounced dead. The Usual Suspects claimed that Mr Bowling, who was retarded, was innocent, and tried to blame other people, but could never prove their case.
Mr Bowling had been on Death Row since 1991. Various appeals had kept Mr Bowling from the death chamber. The result is obvious: the Commonwealth of Kentucky kept a prisoner on death row for a quarter of a century, incurring not only the greater expenses of the isolation housing on death row, but the legal expenses associated with capital punishment appeals, and, in the end, he died due to his own poor health.
This was easily foreseeable: Mr Bowling was borderline retarded, and in Atkins v Virginia, the Supreme Court held, almost 13 years ago, that the execution of the mentally retarded violated the Eighth Amendment. Keeping Mr Bowling on Death Row after that — the Governor could have commuted his sentence to life in prison, and still not been “soft on crime” — was simply an unnecessary expense for a poor state.
Let’s be realistic: Mr Bowling died the way the vast majority of inmates on death rows across the nation will die: from something other than being executed. Here in Pennsylvania, we have 183 men and 3 women on death row, yet, since the national reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976 (Pennsylvania re-enacted its own capital punishment legislation in 1974), only three men have been executed in the Keystone State, and all three essentially “volunteered,” by dropping all of their appeals. No one has been executed in Pennsylvania against his will since the reinstitution of capital punishment, but the Commonwealth is still spending millions and millions of dollars to continue to pursue the death penalty.1 In that same period, Kentucky, with a current death row population of 32 men and one woman, has executed only three prisoners, and two of them volunteered; Kentucky’s last execution occurred on 2008. The Governor of the Blue Grass State has the sole authority to issue commutations of capital sentences.
Capital punishment in Kentucky, and in Pennsylvania, is a needless expense: both Commonwealths spend gobs of extra money to maintain death rows and fight prisoners’ appeals (while having to pay for the prisoners’ appeals themselves, in most cases!), and still the least likely cause of death for condemned men in both states is execution! It has been along time since I lived in Kentucky, but here in the Keystone State, prosecutors use capital punishment not to get criminals actually put to death, but as a method of telling the bad guys that we really, really disapprove of what they did . . . and to appear tough on crime before the next election.
My taxes are too high, just like taxes are too high for everyone in Pennsylvania, and the last thing that I want to see is tax dollars being wasted. Well, in Pennsylvania, and in Kentucky, they clearly are being wasted, on a system that doesn’t perform its (purported) duty. It would be a lot more efficient, and a lot less expensive, to simply end capital punishment, period. After all, it’s not like we are going to execute anyone anyway!
- Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) issued a moratorium on executions in Pennsylvania, but does not have the authority to commute sentences on his own. The previous Governor, Tom Corbett, signed 48 separate death warrants, but no actual executions occurred during his four year term. ↩