PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 51/80/98
15 October 1998
Further information on EXTRA 70/98 (AMR 51/34/98, 1 October 1998) - Death penalty
/ Legal concern
USA (Virginia)Dwayne Allen WRIGHT, black, aged 26
On the evening of 14 October 1998, Dwayne Allen Wright was executed in
Greensville Correctional Center, Virginia, for a crime committed when he was
17 years old. In allowing this execution to go ahead, the USA has once again
shown its contempt for international human rights standards.
Dwayne Wright’s execution violated international law, which forbids the use
of the death penalty against those aged under 18 at the time of the crime.
Only six countries are known to have carried out executions of juvenile offenders
since 1990, killing a total of 18 such prisoners. Half of these prisoners were
put to death in the USA. Dwayne Wright was the third juvenile offender to be
executed in the USA during 1998 - the only such executions known to have been
carried out worldwide so far this year.
After the US Supreme Court had rejected a final appeal on behalf of Dwayne
Wright, Governor Gilmore denied him clemency, saying "there has never been
any question as to Wright’s guilt". He ignored the many appeals directed to
him from home and abroad, including appeals from the American Civil Liberties
Union, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and US Senator Edward Kennedy, as well as
Amnesty International. The American Bar Association (ABA) also called for
clemency, saying that the scheduled execution of Dwayne Wright "demeans our
system of justice". In a letter to Governor Gilmore, the ABA President
reportedly wrote: "A borderline mentally retarded child simply cannot be held
to the same degree of culpability and accountability for their actions to which
we would hold an adult."
Dwayne Wright’s lawyers had recently obtained affidavits from two jurors in
his 1991 capital trial, stating that they would not have sentenced him to death
had they known that Dwayne Wright suffered brain damage at birth which left
him prone to violent outbursts. One of them reportedly stated: "Had I been
told the truth about Dwayne during his trial, I never would have voted to impose
a death sentence". According to the ABA letter to Governor Gilmore, doctors
had stated that Dwayne Wright had psychotic episodes which could be controlled
with appropriate medication and counselling. It noted that such treatment had
Dwayne Allen Wright is the 53rd prisoner to be executed in the USA in 1998
(the 10th in Virginia) and the 485th overall (56th in Virginia) since the USA
resumed executions in 1977. Twelve of these 485 prisoners have been juvenile
No further action is requested. You may, however, send a letter to Governor
Gilmore and Attorney General Reno expressing deep regret at the execution.
In appeals to Janet Reno, you may also express concern that the US authorities
have once again decided to violate international standards, and urge that the
federal authorities withdraw their reservation to Article 6(5) of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to ratify without
reservations the Convention on the Rights of the Child (see original EXTRA).