The US Supreme Court will hear an appeal this Friday against the execution of Bobby James Moore, a prisoner who has spent nearly 36 years on death row in Texas.

The facts are depressingly familiar. Moore was convicted after his gun went off in a hold-up that went wrong. A man died instantly. Moore is poor, black, from a broken home. As a kid he was regularly beaten by his father when he tried to protect his mother from his father’s abuse and lived on the streets from the age of 14. He has an IQ of less than 75.

The murder was back in 1980. Moore has been on death row ever since. The last 15 years have been in solitary confinement. He spends at least 22.5 hours a day in his cell and has been allowed no physical human contact for 15 years. Food is pushed through a slot in the door. He speaks to visitors via telephone from an isolation unit. 15 years of not being able to touch someone? It's the sort of punishment the ancient Romans would have devised. The State has twice signed his death warrant and set a date for execution. One warrant was stayed five days before execution was scheduled, the other just 24 hours.
  
    Moore 36 years ago 

Skadden Arps, Linklaters and arbitration specialist Three Crowns are acting pro bono for Moore and amici curiae (friends of the court). This Friday the Supreme Court will hear their application that the almost unbelievable length of incarceration together with the solitary confinement endured by him amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. 

Such is the prevalence of executions in the States that this case has barely merited any coverage in the press. It should have, not only because it is such an egregious example of a civilised nation behaving in such an uncivilised way, but because America finds itself at a crossroads.

When I was a kid everyone had the stars and stripes on their wall, converse trainers on their feet and Bruce Springsteen on their mix tapes. America was the most loved country in the world. The wholesale abandonment of basic human rights by George Dubya after 9/11 turned it into the most hated country in the world almost overnight. Obama, with the closing of Guantanamo, the outlawing of torture and the introduction of universal healthcare, has swung it back again. This could all be lost in a hearbeat. Trump has already said that in his opinion "torture works" and he'll bring back "a lot worse than waterboarding".

The Supreme Court has a chance to show the world that despite the inflamatory public rhetoric over the past few weeks, America is at heart a civilised, first world country. One that is no longer hidebound by a vocal minority who believe only in the judgment of a vengeful, Old Testament God. The whole world will benefit if it takes that chance.


Category