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USA (Georgia) : Death penalty / Legal concern for Alexander Edmund Williams

, Index number: AMR 51/129/2000

Alexander Williams is scheduled to be put to death in Georgia's electric chair 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.

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 teenagers 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).
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
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.
International standards require adequate legal representation for capital defendants, and the
execution of the mentally ill contravenes basic notions of human decency. The US
organization, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, believes that “the death penalty is
never appropriate for a defendant suffering from schizophrenia or other serious brain
disorders”.
In Georgia, the power to grant clemency rests solely with the state Board of Pardons and
Paroles, whose five members are appointed by the Governor. The method of execution is
electrocution for defendants convicted of capital crimes committed before 1 May 2000, and
lethal injection for later cases. If the electric chair is ever ruled unconstitutional, the method
of execution will be lethal injection in all instances.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send faxes/express/airmail letters in English or
your own language, IN YOUR OWN WORDS, using the following guide:
- expressing sympathy for the family and friends of Aleta Carol Bunch and explaining that
you are not seeking to excuse her murder;
- expressing concern that Alexander Williams is facing execution in violation of international
law banning the execution of those convicted of crimes committed when they were under 18
years old;
- expressing concern that the USA leads a tiny group of countries who use the death penalty
in this way: since September 1997 there have been 10 such executions documented
worldwide: eight in the USA, one in Iran and one in the Democratic Republic of Congo;
- noting that prison records confirm that Alexander Williams suffers from mental illness,
including paranoid schizophrenia, pointing out that the execution of the mentally ill
contravenes basic notions of human decency, and noting the position of the National Alliance
for the Mentally Ill;
- expressing concern that the jury which sentenced Alexander Williams to death were left
unaware of his appalling childhood abuse or indications of his mental illness, because of his
lawyers failure to investigate or present any such evidence through family members or
experts;
- calling on the Board to grant clemency to Alexander Williams.
If possible, please organize appeals from health professionals, lawyers and people or groups
involved in working with children.
APPEALS TO:
Walter S. Ray, Chair
The State Board of Pardons and Paroles
Floyd Veterans Memorial Building
Balcony Level, East Tower
2 Martin Luther King Jr Drive, S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30334, USA
Fax: + 1 404 651 8502
Tel: + 1 404 657 9451
E-mail: can be sent via Board’s website: www.pap.state.ga.us
Salutation: Dear Mr Ray
If participants have time they may also send individualized appeals to the other four Board
members (all male except Dr Cook), at the same address:
Bobby Whitworth; Dr. Eugene Walker; Garfield Hammonds; Dr. Betty Ann Cook.
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of the USA accredited to your country.
You may also write brief letters (not more than 250 words) to:
Letters to the Editor
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
P.O. Box 4689
Atlanta, GA 30302
Tel:+ 1 404 526 5151
Fax: + 1 404 526 5611
E-mail: via website: www.accessatlanta.com/partners/ajc/letters/
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.

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