More than 300 Veterans are on Death Row

Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Photo: E. Joseph Deering/Houston Chronicle/AP; photo illustration: Steve Straehley/AllGov

Those awaiting execution in America include more than 300 veterans, a new study shows.

Richard Dieter, author of the report (pdf) by the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty advocacy group, says veterans make up nearly 10% of the death row population in the U.S. Some fought in wars from Southeast Asia to Afghanistan, the Christian Science Monitor noted, before coming home and killing civilians in a “troubling contradiction to the traditionally valorous picture of returning soldiers.”

Dieter’s study also found an 89% increase in murders by veterans following the invasion of Afghanistan, compared with a six-year period before 9/11.

“We want smiling veterans returning home,” Dieter told the Monitor. “But the side of somebody who goes off to the dark side and commits murder, we don’t … want to explore those wounds.”

He argues the Department of Veterans Affairs needs to provide more legal and medical help to veterans to address the problem. “We’re at the really early stages of understanding and knowing how to deal with this,” Dieter said. “That doesn’t mean you walk [away from punishment], but this is all about how extreme the punishment should be, and the understanding that people who served and who have been wounded mentally deserve help.”

Some of those on death row have been found to have had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from their time in the service. Courts are supposed to consider veterans’ PTSD as a mitigating factor in sentencing but it sometimes does no good. An Alabama jury declined to sentence Iraq veteran Courtney Lockhart to death for killing a college student, finding that he suffered from PTSD. The judge overruled the jury’s recommendation and sent Lockhart to death row.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

For Veterans on Death Row, Question of Whether War Trauma Matters (by Patrik Jonsson, Christian Science Monitor)

Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty (by Richard C. Dieter, Death Penalty Information Center) (pdf)

Battle Scars: Military Veterans and the Death Penalty – Executive Summary (Death Penalty Information Center)

40 Years of Death Row: 1,359 Executed; 890 Convictions Overturned (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Is it Fair to Deport Veterans who Break the Law? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

North Carolina Town Plagued by Crimes by War Veterans (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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