2016: Brandon Astor Jones

Forty-six minutes after midnight this morning, the U.S. state of Georgia executed its oldest death row inmate, Brandon Astor Jones.

Jones was a prolific penpal correspondent who had won a worldwide following as he fought his death sentence over half a lifetime.

His accomplice Van Roosevelt Solomon was electrocuted all the way back in 1985 for the same convenience store robbery-murder;* as Liliana Segura recently noted in The Intercept, Jones’s case is heavy with the arbitrariness of capital cases — not only that Jones outlived Solomon by three decades, but also that in that span many other Georgians have committed homicides equal to his in tragic banality, served a term of years for it, and been released. It needs hardly even be said that Jones, like 54 of the other 60 people executed by Georgia since the 1970s, had a white victim: that’s a disparity that courts have washed their hands of even though it was one of the constitutional concerns that led a former incarnation of the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate death penalty statutes in 1972.

While Jones’s death is headline news, his case dates to the earliest years of what is dignified the “modern” death penalty period and as such might more closely resemble the preceding era than the one we inhabit today.

It’s almost a time capsule of the jurisprudence — and sociology — touching capital punishment, even including Jones’s unluckily-timed appeal victory that led to a new sentencing hearing during the gung-ho-to-execute 1990s. Even if the distance of time is extreme, more typical death penalty lags of 8, 10, 15 years mean that most present-day executions are ripples of receding public policy sensibilities — “zombie cases” in the words of Southern Center for Human Rights director Stephen Bright. People like Brandon Jones “almost certainly would not be sentenced to death today,” when prosecutors, judges, and juries all show growing reluctance to don the black cap. But it’s a very different story for those is already tangled in the coils of the system.

* A policeman happened to be arriving right to the same store on a coincidental errand when the crime went down, so the culprits were arrested before they made it off the parking lot.

On this day..

3 thoughts on “2016: Brandon Astor Jones

  1. I really don’t like how people wait like 20 years on death row before the sentence is carried out. If you are going to execute someone, do it quickly. Don’t wait until a healthy young man is frail and senile and has to be lifted from his wheelchair onto the gurney, a la Clarence Allen. That does no one — the killer, the family of the victim, or the system itself — any good.

    If I had a loved one murdered I would think a sentence of life without parole would provide more closure, because then me and my family wouldn’t have to suffer through year after year of appeals.

  2. II really like this blog- except when it goes all murder-apologist. I don’t know if the death sentence is right or wrong but it do know that cold blooded murder is wrong.

  3. Wow. This guy really was “Executed Today”.

    2 weeks shy of his 73rd BDay.

    Jones was a symptom of these times. Death penalty proponents used to decry inmates who sat on the row for many years. Well, those cases are at a point where the criminals are in their 70’s and all appeals are totally exhausted. These are the “zombie cases” where the commitment offense may not be the criteria for a death sentence at the present time.

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