Throwback Thursday: Capital punishment remains controversial 30 years after execution of innocent man

Kevin Sharifi

The lead sentence of a Sept. 11, 1984 Daily Texan article reads, “Denouncing the system that rejected his final pleas, Timothy Baldwin early Monday died in Louisiana’s electric chair for beating an elderly, blind neighbor to death with a frying pan.”

According to the article, Baldwin had been accused of beating to death Mary James Peters, the godmother of his youngest son, with a telephone, a skillet and a stool in 1978. Baldwin, whose appeals were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, maintained until his death that he was innocent. 

“I’ve always tried to be a good sport when I’ve lost at something,” Baldwin said. “And I see no reason not to leave this world with the same policy.”

A sheriff’s deputy swore during the trail that officers had beaten and tortured a confession out of Baldwin, and, by the time defense lawyers found a hotel receipt proving that he had been 100 miles away on the night of the murder, it was already too late.

Capital punishment has become an issue of even greater contention today. With approximately five times the number of prisoners executed than in second-place Virginia, Texas leads all other U.S. states in number of executed prisoners since 1976. As of Wednesday’s execution of prisoner Ray Jasper, Texas has executed 511 prisoners — all via lethal injection — since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1976 decision to reinstate the death penalty.  

Jaspers, an aspiring rapper who slit a music studio manager’s throat in 1998 during a recording session before an accomplice killed the victim by inflicting 25 stab wounds, was executed last night around 6 p.m. He had written a letter condemning the United States’ education and penal systems for their treatment of people of color.

“Under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, all prisoners in America are considered slaves,” Jaspers wrote. “We look at slavery like it’s a thing of the past, but you can go to any penitentiary in this nation and you will see slavery.”

Debate continues over whether retributive justice is the result of mere blood thirst or human rights can actually be protected by what many would argue to be, paradoxically, a violation of human rights. 

UT law student Kim Dusseldorp said she feels that, although the laws of a nation must represent the norms of that society, a government should not preach by example that capital punishment is warrantable, considering there are other punishments that suffice, such as life without parole.

“I feel the death penalty has more to do with vengeance than justice,” Dusseldorp said. “It is about how civilized people are. It is inhumane and [involves] lowering yourself to the level of the convict. … There is also no proof that capital punishment has a deterrent effect on other potential criminals.”

Because Rashad Owens, the intoxicated driver charged with plowing into a crowd of festivalgoers Thursday during South By Southwest, is, according to APD, likely to be charged with capital murder — making him eligible for the death penalty — it’s possible that issues regarding capital punishment will become even more relevant in the coming months.