Should Veterans on Death Row Get Special Treatment

In 2009, wounded war veteran J. Davis received a Purple Heart, four decades after fighting in Vietnam. After receiving his medal, it was removed, his shackles were replaced, and he was taken back to his cell on death row.

The fateful day took place in Asheville, North Carolina back in 1995. After having been fired earlier that week, Davis walked into the tool company and opened fire, killing three people, including two of his former bosses.

Late in his murder trial, it was revealed that Davis was mentally ill and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and that he was a victim of child abuse. But, these facts were not raised until the latter half of his trial, which advocates say was a misstep that led to the veteran’s death sentence.

Davis, along with hundreds of former service members have been sentenced to death by the very government that they risked their lives to protect, according to Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty, a report published by the Death Penalty Information Center on November 10.

Richard Dieter, the center’s senior program director and author of the report says that the government shouldn’t be taking the life of people who spent part of theirs serving the government, getting mentally wounded in the process.

Dieter contends that their service should exclude them from being treated as the “worst of the worst,” calling it a mitigating factor, just as a person’s age or disability may spare them the death penalty.

As our nation honors military veterans on November 11, Dieter and many military criminal defense attorneys hope that his report will serve as a “wake-up call” for the American people, and our criminal justice system, warning them that by imposing the death penalty on a small but significant population of veterans, we have failed them.

Though the number of veterans on death row is unclear, the report estimates that 10% or more of the death row inmates in the United States served in the military.

In his report, Dieter wrote that our country owes its veterans a thorough examination of the death penalty, even in the worst of cases. That’s because decades of studies on former servicemen and women have established a close connection between combat experience in war zones to increasing rates of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and criminality.

We agree with the report’s suggestion that military criminal defense lawyers should present a person’s service as a mitigating factor, and draw a connection between PTSD, the trauma resulting from combat, and the act of violence that stems from the resultant mental illness.

Unfortunately, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and lawmakers have yet to fully understand the conditions that our troops are suffering from, therefore, it’s critical that their defense attorneys understand.

Contact Crisp & Associates, LLC if you have been charged with a military crime anywhere in the world!