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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Suicide au pied de la potence

by Bruno Odent

USA: Suicide at the Foot of the Scaffold

Translated Monday 6 November 2006

United States: Condemned to die under very dubious conditions, he took his own life a few hours before his execution, claiming his innocence.

He was condemned to death.

He had been waiting for eleven years for his sentence to be carried out. He was due to be transported to the infamous prison of Huntsville, Texas, where last Thursday evening, he was to be given a lethal injection. He committed suicide a few hours earlier.

Michael Johnson, 29 years old, had always claimed his innocence of the crime he was accused of. He was found in his cell, lying in a pool of blood. He slit his throat, using a blade he had made himself with a small piece of metal attached to a stick of wood. Before dying, the young man left a message on the wall of his cell, written in his own blood: “I did not do it.”

Michael Johnson had been condemned to death for the murder of a gas-station clerk. The event was said to have occurred while he was out with a friend. But Johnson always denied having participated in the murder. At the time of the trial, the State made an agreement with his presumed accomplice (who had acknowledged his guilt) to accuse Johnson of the murder. After his indictment, David Vest signed a confession under oath, stating that he, “knowingly and intentionally caused bodily injury to Jeffrey Michael Wetterman, by shooting him with a handgun.” In return David Vest, received a sentence of only eight years in prison. Today Vest is free.

Despite the highly questionable circumstances under which Michael Johnson was convicted, none of his appeals against the death penalty were accepted, up to the decision to proceed with his execution that was to take place on Thursday evening. A number of American groups against the death penalty reacted immediately, pointing out that this case is an illustration of the inequity of a judicial system which offers reduced sentences to those who admit committing a crime, in order to obtain, through their plea bargaining, the death sentence for the person who does not admit his guilt. In this case, a young man aged 18 at the time of the events.

Michael Johnson would have been the 46th victim since the beginning of this year of judicially-sanctioned murder in the United States.

But, instead, he took his own life.

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