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Home / Articles / News / Legacy Archives /  Shot in the Dark

Shot in the Dark

January 23, 2008, 12:00 am
By
A New Mexico man is set for execution in Texas.

A manila folder lies in Mu�ina Arthur�s lap, filled with a visual history of her oldest of nine children, Karl Chamberlain: His yearbook photos, his Army portrait and, finally, Polaroid snapshots of his family crammed against the reinforced glass of a Texas death row�s visitation cell. 
***image1***
Arthur, a San Francisco hippie living now in Las Vegas, NM, has no delusions about her son�s guilt. She knows that, in 1991, he raped and murdered a young mother in Dallas. He�s confessed as much. Now, Chamberlain is the only death-row inmate in Texas with a standing execution date: Feb. 21, 2008.

�I do want to have hope and I want to say that the people of this nation will wake up and stop the death penalty, but I�ve been told over and over that I�m so naive to think that,� Arthur says. �My son himself says, �Mother I want you to prepare to bury me. I want you to be prepared for my death.� So, I just told him, �You prepare to live a long life behind bars.��

Across the country, death-row inmates have filed for, and uniformly received, stays of execution as the US Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the three-chemical lethal injection method employed in 37 states. Yet, no lawyer has so far filed for a stay for Chamberlain.

The Dallas County District Attorney�s Office tells SFR via e-mail that it will withdraw the execution date if the Supreme Court doesn�t rule before Feb. 21. However, the prosecutor�s promise contravenes Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has indicated publicly that the state will not halt executions while the Supreme Court deliberates.

Meanwhile, criminal defense attorneys David Schulman and John Jasuta are fighting to reopen Chamberlain�s case. Schulman tells SFR they expect the Supreme Court to return a ruling on lethal injection as early as March, but more likely June. A stay would give Chamberlain at least another six months more to appeal.

To vacate the execution date, the Dallas prosecutor needs to make a single phone call, one that Schulman says would take only slightly longer than it would to administer the lethal injection.





The three lethal injection chemicals cost approximately $90 and can cause death in fewer than 10 minutes. Through an intravenous feed, prison personnel inject the inmate with sodium thiopental, a sedative, knocking him out. The second chemical, pancuronium bromide, is a muscle relaxant designed to paralyze the individual before administration of the final chemical, potassium chloride, which stops the heart.

Pancuronium bromide is at the center of the national controversy. Lawyers for two Kentucky inmates argue that if handled improperly (medical professionals are ethically prohibited from participating in executions) the paralyzing agent could prevent the condemned from alerting officials if he is still conscious. The potassium chloride would be excruciating and, arguably, cruel.

New Mexico has only executed one offender since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976: child murderer Terry Clark in 2001. New Mexico Corrections Department officials looked to Texas, Arizona and Colorado for guidance, according to former Penitentiary of New Mexico warden Tim LeMaster, who personally witnessed two executions in preparation.

Since New Mexico�s two death-row inmates currently do not have execution dates, the department�s spokeswoman, Tia Bland, tells SFR the state won�t reconsider its execution policies until the Supreme Court issues an opinion.
LeMaster says there were �no complications� in 2001, adding that the only person with the power to have stalled or stopped the execution was Clark himself.

�He could�ve said he wanted to go farther with his appeal,� LeMaster says. �Even the ones in Texas, both of them wanted to get it over with. They were done, they were just done.�

�He�s not positive or optimistic, nor is he afraid to die,� Arthur says of her son. �He�s an extraordinary person and he�s doing much better than I am.�

Arthur assumes much of the responsibility for her son�s crime. She says she was a neglectful mother, which resulted in Chamberlain being raped by a babysitter.

***image2***�I�m not saying he wasn�t a kind of a messed up person when he got on the row,� Arthur says. �He couldn�t have done rape, murder, if he hadn�t been messed up�But I�m telling you, the guy that is in prison now, he�s like a teddy bear. He is so clear and he is so loving.�

Appellate attorney Toby Wilkinson may also be culpable for Chamberlain�s execution date. Last year, the Austin American-Stateman published an investigative series accusing Wilkinson of submitting habeas corpus motions � largely copied from letters by his death row clients, performing minimal editing and none of the required research.� That�s how Schulman and Jasuta heard about Chamberlain�s case.

Schulman also wants the courts to fund a new investigation into whether there were any factors that would have lessened the severity of Chamberlain�s sentence. Arthur says the rapes her son suffered as a child could earn him clemency, as could his attempts to reform during the five years between the crime and the arrest.

�They offered him life in prison without parole and he didn�t take it,� Arthur says. �He wouldn�t accept it because he thought in his mind that everybody would clearly say that in the last five years he had changed his life so much. And indeed he had.�

Texas courts rejected the motion to reopen Chamberlain�s habeas corpus case in November 2007. Schulman plans to file an additional writ in coming weeks if the district attorney moves to vacate the execution date.

�That they haven�t done it yet is troubling, but his date is still a month away,� Schulman says. �This is something than can be done in an hour.�

 

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