McKenna on KIRO: Can you execute a prisoner who forgets the crime?

KIRO 97.3 host Dave Ross asked Rob about a case the U.S. Supreme Court will consider in which a death row inmate’s attorneys argue the man should not be put to death because he cannot remember his crime or understand what is happening to him. Vernon Madison, 67, was convicted in a 1985 murder of an Alabama police officer. “His mind and body are failing,” Madison’s lawyers say.

Dave Ross: “But this idea that if you no longer remember what you did, that is somehow exculpatory, sounds to me that it could be abused, couldn’t it? Couldn’t you fake not remembering? If you got a psychologist to back you up on that, then you’d get out of it. I mean, conceivably, if you could get out of the death penalty, why couldn’t you get out of your sentence entirely?”

Rob McKenna: “Yeah, I’m sure that’s the reason that the Supreme Court originally and unanimously held that not being able to remember the crime is not a bar to being executed. At the same time, to take an obvious, extreme example, if someone went into a coma while they were sitting on death row, you wouldn’t haul their body down to the death chamber and put them to death while they’re in a coma.

“The idea is that, to be blunt about it, the justice system wants people who are being punished to know they’re being punished and why they’re being punished. It’s about retribution, and that is part of the system of crime and punishment.

“Here, if someone doesn’t understand what’s going on, why they’re being put to death, that purpose isn’t being satisfied.”

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