Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Hope of the Man Condemned to Death

At various points while working on death penalty cases here in Louisiana, the stress of the work and all that is at stake has weighed pretty heavily on me and required respite in various forms.

I took a brief vacation with Nikki in 2004, visiting England and Spain, both of which abolished capital punishment decades earlier, hoping to put death row and the brutality of the state out of my mind for a couple of weeks.

But in London, while staying with my friend Shauneen, I was leafing through The Guardian on the tube and came across a long article about the death penalty in America, focusing on the work of my old boss, British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, and his representation of Linda Carty, a Briton on death row. Despite Nikki's urging to the contrary, I read every word and wouldn't stop talking about the case for a couple of hours.

And then in Barcelona, we strolled through the Fundacio Joan Miro with our audio guides taking in the lively abstractions. Nikki viewed a triptych in one of the rooms quickly and walked ahead but I was taken by it - La esperanza del condenado a muerte I, II, III - and punched it into my audio guide. I sat on the white bench before the enormous paintings of incomplete, gestural curves and blots of color and listened as the phone-like device explained to me that the paintings were meditations on the execution of an anarchist, Salvador Puig Antich. Antich was the last person executed by garrote, a device consisting of a seat with metal band fixed to the back that tightens until the condemned man suffocates. I sat there for so long that Nikki had to come back and get me. She patiently listened to my retelling of the story of the paintings and how vivid and true they seemed to me.

I brought postcards of the triptych back to New Orleans and tacked them to the wall of my office, thinking that Miro and Antic would be good reminders that other countries had struggled against, and overcome, the death penalty.

*** I found the top photo of the triptych in the gallery on Flicker .

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