Quintin Jones, a 41-year-old African American, was executed at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville May 19. After 20 years on death row, he was given a lethal dose of pentobarbital, which attacks the brain and central nervous system and is used to euthanize animals.
Appeals against the execution went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whose denial came less than 30 minutes before Jones was executed. His petition for clemency and life in prison was rejected by the state’s parole board, a decision Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declined to reconsider.
Jones was sentenced to death in 2001 for killing his 83-year-old great-aunt, Berthena Bryant, with a baseball bat in Fort Worth in 1999. Michael Mowla was the attorney representing Jones in his attempts to have the death penalty set aside. Jones had a long history of heavy alcohol and drug abuse — including cocaine and heroin — that started when he was 12 and suffered traumatic physical and sexual abuse as a child. These factors were not considered in his trial or sentencing.
Jones’ case was similar to that of Thomas Whitaker, a Caucasian prisoner sentenced to death for killing his mother and brother. In 2018 the governor had commuted Whitaker’s sentence to life in prison. Mowla filed a civil rights suit saying Jones’ clemency plea was turned down because he was Black. This was rejected.
Several members of Jones’ family pled for clemency, including his aunt’s sister, Mattie Long. “Because I was so close to Bert, her death hurt me a lot. Even so, God is merciful,” Long wrote in an affidavit. “Quintin can’t bring her back. I can’t bring her back. I am writing this to ask you to please spare Quintin’s life.”
Since capital punishment resumed in 1982, Texas authorities have executed 571 persons, including more than 50 since Abbott took office in 2015.
In the execution chamber, Jones said his final words into a microphone hanging over the gurney he was strapped onto: “I would like to thank all of the supporting people who helped me over the years. I was so glad to leave this world a better, more positive place.”
“I became a man on death row. So now you’re killing the man and not the child,” Jones had said in a video appeal to Gov. Abbott. “Being in death row for 20 years, you’re around death a lot.”
For the first time since executions resumed in Texas, Jones’ killing was not witnessed by the media. The Associated Press and Huntsville Item reporters on site weren’t informed or escorted to the execution chamber due to a “miscommunication,” prison officials said.
A demonstration of a couple dozen took place for hours outside the Huntsville prison walls, and was shown live on Death Penalty Action’s website. The evening before, a rally and prayer vigil were held outside the governor’s mansion and the State Capitol in Austin. A petition was delivered calling for “Clemency for Quin” with more than 170,000 signatures.
Among the demonstrators were family members of Rodney Reed, who has been on death row in Texas for over 20 years, one of 202 people on the state’s death row. Four more executions are scheduled there in 2021.
Rulers debate how to execute
For the last few years, as drug companies have stopped making chemicals used in executions, the rulers have been scrambling to find new drug cocktails or other methods to put people to death. Last November the Justice Department changed its execution protocols to allow firing squads, electrocution and poison gas if state governments decide to use them.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed legislation this month saying death row inmates must choose between the electric chair or a firing squad if lethal drugs are unavailable. Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah also allow firing squad executions.
Only 9% of people in the U.S. think a firing squad is humane, reported a USA Today poll. In 2019 a Gallup poll reported that a majority of people — 60% to 36% — think life imprisonment should be the maximum sentence for murder.
“Despite proclamations and posturing by Democratic and Republican capitalist politicians, including President Joseph Biden, who backed the death penalty for decades but says he has changed his mind, working people continue to be sent to the death chamber,” Gerardo Sánchez, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Dallas City Council, said in a statement to the press.
“Executions are a brutal tool of punishment meted out to the working class by the ruling class to intimidate us and try and deter us from fighting against their dog-eat-dog capitalist system,” Sánchez said. “We need to break from the political parties of the rulers and form our own party, a labor party, to organize working people and our allies to take political power into our own hands. Workers and farmers will then tear down the whole capitalist criminal ‘justice’ system with its cops, courts and barbaric death penalty, and replace them with revolutionary combatants.”