Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Even the Bishop Couldn't Save Thomas West

Posted By on Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 1:30 PM

Pleas for clemency, even from Bishop Jerry Kicanas of the Diocese of Tucson, were not successful in preventing the execution of death row inmate Thomas West.

According to reports, West was executed this morning for the 1987 murder of Donald Bortle in a trailer near Tucson. West reportedly skipped his last meal Monday night and calmly met with his lawyers this morning before his execution.

"When the curtains opened, he gestured to his lawyers - some of the execution's witnesses thought he was flashing a peace sign.

He had no last words. As the warden read the death warrant, West closed his eyes and never reopened them.

After the execution began at 11:01 a.m., West let out several snoring breaths.

He was pronounced dead at 11:10 a.m."

In a video plea, Kicanas asked the Board of Executive Clemency and Gov. Jan Brewer to allow West to serve a life sentence.

"He needs to be punished. And my sense is that a life punishment would make all the sense in the world," Kicanas said. "To take his life will accomplish little or nothing, especially in this instance when he did not go into that house intent on killing Mr. Bortle. Since there has been such a long history for this young man in the kind of trauma that has been experienced, I hope that you will consider commuting the death penalty to a life sentence."

The Coalition of Arizonans to Abolish the Death Penalty, issued a transcript of Kicanas' statement:

My name is Bishop Jerry Kicanas, the Catholic Bishop in the Diocese of Tucson, in the State of Arizona. And I appreciate very much the opportunity of speaking to the Arizona Board of Clemency, who bears the very difficult responsibility of making a recommendation to Governor Brewer to commute the death penalty for Mr. Tom West to a life sentence.

First of all I want to say how deeply sad I am to hear what happened to Mr. Donald Bortle, who was the victim in this situation. Nothing can justify the suffering and pain that he had to experience and the trauma to his own family. Certainly we want to support the family of Mr. Bortle in this very difficult situation that occurred.

But I want to speak today about the perpetrator, Mr. Tom West, whom I’ve had the opportunity to meet with on death row. He is a man who is deeply remorseful about what took place. He has admitted to the crime he committed, a crime, as you know, that occurred during a burglary, not with the intent to take Mr. Bortle’s life, but sadly this event ended up in that terrible tragedy.

Mr. West, as you may know, is a man who has a very traumatized past, which is not unusual for people who commit crimes. However, his situation is very difficult. He lived in a very violent family where his father was often very brutal and violent in his approach to this young man, and as you can imagine to live as a young boy in an environment of such violence, does cause a result.

We have come to know that there is a good likelihood that Mr. West was abused, not just by one perpetrator, but probably three times by three different individuals: a special education teacher, a neighbor, and possibly a priest. To be abused under any circumstances is always difficult. Every victim is different on how they experience such abuse and its effect on them. For some, it is a terribly traumatized experience, especially if the perpetrator is a trusting person in the community, perhaps a family member, perhaps a priest, a teacher. These kinds of experiences leave a deep hurt and pain and harm to the victim.

I’ve met many victims of sexual abuse since I came here to the Diocese of Tucson, and their stories are always somewhat similar. The trauma that took place, the distrust that it created, and the anger that resulted. Again not every victim is the same, and not every victim is as traumatized. But when you look at what has happened in the life of Mr. West, not only has there been once experience of trauma, but multiple experiences, which clearly have an effect on the life of an individual.

As you probably know, Mr. West was deep into drugs from the time he was a young boy. This too effects the ability of someone to make judgments that make any sense to most of us. This was a terrible decision that Mr. West made in the midst of that robbery, a robbery in which he was high already, and in which he made a judgment that was fatally wrong.

Nothing can justify the crime that he committed. He himself admits remorse for it. I think that an alternative to a death penalty makes every sense in this particular instance. First of all, he is a young man who has been traumatized since he was a young boy. He has been deeply immersed in drugs. He has developed in an environment that was violent. And a life sentence for this individual, I think, will address the crime that he committed. He will not be a harm to the community because he has been removed from the community. And he has to suffer day, after day, after day, the realization of the serious act that he committed.

My hope is that the Board of Executive Clemency would bring to the attention of Governor Brewer the sad and traumatic life that this man his lived, which has resulted of course in a terribly tragic event. He needs to be punished. And my sense is that a life punishment would make all the sense in the world. To take his life will accomplish little or nothing, especially in this instance when he did not go into that house intent on killing Mr. Bortle. Since there has been such a long history for this young man in the kind of trauma that has been experienced, I hope that you will consider commuting the death penalty to a life sentence.

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