PUBLICAI Index: AMR 51/129/00
EXTRA 69/00Death penalty / Legal concern15 August 2000
USA (Georgia)Alexander Edmund Williams, black, aged 32
Alexander Williams is scheduled to be put to death in Georgia’s electric chair on 24 August
2000 for a murder committed when he was 17 years old. International law forbids the use of
the death penalty for crimes committed by those under 18. If executed, Alex Williams would
become the fifth child offender put to death in the USA this year, more than the total
combined number of such executions in the rest of the world since August 1993.
Alex Williams, black, was convicted of the March 1986 abduction, rape and murder of 16-
year-old Aleta Carol Bunch, white.
Williams’s lawyer failed to investigate his client’s background. As a result, the jury - which
had to consider any possible mitigating factors in deciding whether the teenager should live
or die - was left unaware of the severe physical and mental abuse that Williams had been
subjected to as a child at the hands of various adults, and the signs of mental illness he had
displayed before the crime. Despite the fact that Williams was living at home at the time of
the murder, the lawyer did not interview any of the teenager’s family members [who in 1990
gave appeal lawyers detailed affidavits testifying to the abuse]. He did not seek a psychiatric
evaluation or present expert testimony on youth as a mitigating element, a factor which the
US Supreme Court stated in 1982 (Eddings v Oklahoma) should carry “great weight” in the
sentencing of young defendants.
In a rambling argument for a life sentence, in which he admitted to being a death penalty
supporter, the lawyer merely told the jurors that they did not have to pass a death sentence if
they did not want to. He gave them no concrete reason not to, however. After returning from
their deliberations, the jury was asked if they had found any mitigating factors. They
responded: “As religious consideration was indicated in the defendant’s background [the jury
had been told that Williams attended church], we pray God’s justice prevails”. They then
sentenced him to death.
While he has been on death row, Alex Williams’s mental illness has worsened, and at times
the prison authorities have forcibly medicated him to control his symptoms. He has been
variously diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder
with bipolar features. His symptoms include delusions and auditory and visual hallucinations.
For more information, see USA: Abandoning justice: The imminent execution of Alexander
Williams, mentally ill child offender (AMR 51/121/00, August 2000) to be released this week
(it will be available on the AI website).
Since 1990 there have been 25 executions of child offenders documented worldwide. The
USA accounts for 14 of them. The ban on such executions is so widely agreed and adhered to,
that it has become a principle of customary international law, binding on all countries no
matter which international instruments they have or have not ratified.