1986: David Funchess, Vietnam War veteran

Add comment April 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1986, Vietnam War veteran David Livingston Funchess was electrocuted in Florida for a double stabbing committed in the course of robbing a liquor store.

A late casualty, with his victims, of America’s imperial exertions in Indochina, Funchess had returned from the Vietnam War with leg wounds that earned him the Purple Heart, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eventually an addiction to self-medicating drug addiction.

“But for Vietnam, all indications were that he was well on his way to entering Florida’s middle class,” in the words of the late anti-death penalty attorney Michael Mello.*

In addition to the horrors of jungle combat, Funchess was exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, which has since been linked to a wide range of serious health problems in Vietnam veterans. Among the common symptoms among many Vietnam veterans has been neuropsychological damage.

After his return from Vietnam, Funchess was a deeply disturbed and confused young man. Compounding these problems, the medication he was receiving for his painful leg wounds eventually led him onto a debilitating heroin habit.

Understanding of PTSD — within the clinical, juridical, and public realms — advanced significantly during the course of 11-plus years from Funchess’s crime in December 1974 until his execution. In one of those perverse technicalities of the U.S. death penalty system, this issue was so little understood that it was not litigated at all at the time of his initial conviction … and by the time his appeals had run his course, it could only be litigated in the court of public opinion because its irrelevance to the 1970s trial court had procedurally disbarred it.

By the end, the toll of PTSD upon Funchess was being taken up by Vietnam veteran advocacy organizations, but it cut no ice with Governor Bob Graham, whose unilateral power of executive clemency was the man’s best hope of avoiding the electric chair.

* Mello wrote the anti-death penalty book Dead Wrong: A Death Row Lawyer Speaks Out Against Capital Punishment

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Florida,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,USA

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