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EXTRA 104/93 - USA (Georgia): death penalty: Christopher Burger

, Index number: AMR 51/099/1993

Christopher Burger is scheduled to be executed on 7 December. He was aged 17 and a soldier in the US army at the time of the crime for which he was convicted. He was first sentenced to death on 25 January 1978, but this death sentence was vacated. However he was again sentenced to death in July 1989. A co-defendant, Thomas Stevens, was executed on 29 June 1993. Christopher Burger was represented at trial and at both sentencing hearings by a court-appointed attorney, who failed to provide the jury with mitigating evidence, including the fact that he had suffered a deprived, unstable and abused childhood. The jury was also not told that he had a very low IQ and had mental health problems.

EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: AMR 51/99/93
Distr: UA/SC
EXTRA 104/93 Death Penalty 30 November 1993
USA (Georgia): Christopher BURGER, white
Christopher Burger is scheduled to be executed in Georgia on 7 December 1993.
He was aged 17 and a soldier in the US army at the time of the crime for which
he was convicted.
Christopher Burger was first sentenced to death on 25 January 1978 for the
1977 murder of fellow soldier and part-time taxi-driver, Roger Honeycutt, white.
His first death sentence was vacated, but he was again sentenced to death
in July 1979. A co-defendant, Thomas Stevens, was also convicted of the murder
and sentenced to death; he was executed on 29 June 1993.
Christopher Burger suffered a deprived, unstable, and abused childhood; he
was often beaten by his mother who herself suffered chronic mental illness.
According to her own testimony at an appeal hearing, she sometimes had to
lock her son in a room to keep herself from harming him. Christopher Burger's
parents divorced when he was nine and he was placed in the custody of his father
who used to hit and punch him. He was unwanted by his father's new family
and sometimes shut out of the home. At one stage he was left in the care of
his mother's boyfriend for several months, during which he was severely
ill-treated. He was also beaten by one of his two step-fathers. At the age
of 11 or 12 Christopher Burger began to inhale organic solvents and smoke
marijuana. When he was in his mid-teens he presented clear signs and symptoms
of serious psychiatric disorders. He attempted suicide at the age of 15.
Christopher Burger was represented at trial and at both sentencing hearings
by a court-appointed attorney, who failed to provide the jury with evidence
of any mitigating circumstances, apparently for tactical reasons. A
psychologist hired by the defence conducted a brief examination of Christopher
Burger before the trial and found that he had an IQ of 82 with a mental age
of 12. However, he was also of the opinion that he was a sociopath with a
psychopathic personality. Christopher Burger's lawyer chose not to put the
psychologist on the witness stand and the jury was not told that Burger had
a very low IQ for his age. The US Supreme Court denied Burger's appeal by
a 5-4 vote in June 1987. The Court concluded that presentation of the mitigating
evidence would have disclosed Burger's "exceptionally unhappy and unstable
childhood", and that "the record at the habeas corpus hearing does suggest
that [the trial lawyer] could well have made a more thorough investigation
than he did". In two strong dissenting opinions, four of the Supreme Court
justices found that the trial lawyer had erred in failing to present any evidence
at the sentencing hearing, and that the actual circumstances of Burger's
childhood would have been highly relevant at the sentencing hearing.
In August 1989 Christopher Burger was examined by a professor of psychiatry
2
who found him to be mentally ill and suffering from organic brain impairment,
probably from a series of head injuries and physical abuse he had suffered
as a child. She considered the pre-trial evaluation by the psychologist was
highly inadequate and that his diagnosis of Christopher Burger as a psychopath
or sociopath was contrary to accepted psychiatric practice, given his young
age and history.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Twenty-four of the 36 US states with the death penalty permit the executions
of juvenile offenders. As of October 1993 there were at least 31 juvenile
offenders under sentence of death in 11 US states. Eight juvenile offenders
have been executed in the USA under its present death penalty laws. Christopher
Burger would be the first juvenile offender to be executed in Georgia under
its current laws.
The USA is one of only six countries known to have executed juvenile offenders
in the past five years (the other countries are Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq
and Saudi Arabia). The last juvenile offender to be executed in the US was
Ruben Cantu, of Latin American origin, in Texas on 24 August 1993.
The execution of people aged under 18 at the time of the crime is expressly
forbidden under international human rights law, in recognition of the fact
that the death penalty is wholly inappropriate for individuals who have not
yet attained full physical or emotional maturity. Such treaties and standards
include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the
American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), the United Nations (UN) Convention
on the Rights of the Child, and the Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the
rights of those facing the death penalty, adopted by the UN Economic and Social
Council (ECOSOC) in 1984 (Resolution 1984/50). The US signed the ICCPR in
1977 and ratified it in April 1992. However, the US government reserved its
right "subject to its Constitutional constraints" to impose capital punishment
on persons below 18 years of age. In 1977 the USA signed the ACHR, but has
not ratified it.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please call by telephone or send telegrams, faxes, express
and airmail letters, in English if possible:
- acknowledging the seriousness of the crime for which Christopher Burger was
sentenced to death, but urging that clemency be granted by commuting his death
sentence;
- expressing concern that mitigating evidence relating to his deprived
background and history of mental illness was not made available to the jury
which sentenced him to death; urging the Board to review all evidence in the
case;
- referring to the international standards cited above which prohibit the
imposition of a sentence of death on people under the age of 18 at the time
of the commission of the crime.
APPEALS TO
Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles
Floyd Veterans Memorial Building
2 Martin Luther King Jr Drive
5th Floor, East Tower
Atlanta, GA 30334, USA
Telegrams: Texas Board Pardons/Paroles, Atlanta, GA 30334, USA
Faxes: + 1 404 651 8502
3
Telephone: + 1 404 656 5703
Salutation: Dear Board Members
COPIES TO:
The Letters Editor, Atlanta Constitution,
72 Marietta St NW, Atlanta, GA 30302
Faxes: +1 404 526 5686
and to diplomatic representatives of USA accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY TO ARRIVE IN GEORGIA BY 6 December 1993.

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