Archive for May 22nd, 2020

2002: Johnny Joe Martinez

Add comment May 22nd, 2020 Headsman

“My client, Johnny Joe Martinez, was executed on Wednesday, May 22. The time of death was 6:30. Two days before, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted against commuting Martinez’s death sentence to a sentence of life in prison by a vote of 9 to 8.”

This is from a touchingly personal obituary written by Martinez’s attorney and friend, David Dow — a prominent anti-death penalty advocate who has bylined several books.

A few books by David Dow

As indicated by drawing eight favorable votes from the notoriously commutation-averse Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, Martinez‘s was an unusually sympathetic case.

Twenty years old and drunk, he’d successfully shoplifted some stuff from a Corpus Christi 7-11 late one night, then impulsively returned and robbed the till with a pocket knife to the neck of the clerk, Clay Peterson. He got $25.65 from the register, then suddenly stabbed the unresisting Peterson about the neck, back, and shoulders. You already know that the wounds proved fatal.

Seemingly stunned by his own senseless action, Martinez fled the store in tears, confusedly discarding the knife, then directly turned himself in to police. He couldn’t explain why he’d attacked Clay Peterson. “I don’t know. That’s a question I will never be able to answer.”

He was always going to be convicted of this crime, but a robust defense during the penalty phase of the U.S.’s distinctive bifurcated capital trial process had a high probability of success. Martinez had no criminal history and was obviously sincerely remorseful. You’d have a strong argument to make that he posed as little a future risk to society as one could imagine of a murderer.

Such a defense was not forthcoming, and because the lawyers who handled Martinez’s state appeals (Mr. Dow did federal appeals) also failed to mention it, the entire question became procedurally defaulted. One does not wish to verge into special pleading on behalf of a man who gratuitously took a life. But, weighing aggravation and mitigation is the very crux of the entire enterprise: the point of the death penalty machinery is to select from among homicides the worst crimes and criminals most exceptionally deserving of capital punishment. Were the threshold of “worst” implied by Martinez’s sentencing to be applied generally, there would be thousands of U.S. executions per annum.

Martinez in the end had a better hearing on this score from Clay Peterson’s mother than from the courts. Lana Norris met with her son’s killer personally shortly before the execution — gave him her forgiveness — and appealed for his life, a gesture that Martinez recognized appreciatively in his last statement seconds before the lethal drugs began flowing.

“Please do not cause another mother to lose her son to murder, needlessly!” she wrote to that same clemency board that would refuse Martinez’s appeal by a single vote. “There is no doubt in my mind, that to execute Mr. Martinez would be a double crime against society. Here is a young man that has truly repented and regrets his actions.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,Theft,USA

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