The death penalty has been banished in Western Australia (and of course the rest of Australia) since the 1960's. The last inmate to be hanged in Western Australia was Eric Edgar Cooke.
Cooke was a serial killer.He had only ever been tried and convicted of one murder but evidence and, strangely enough, his own confessions led authorities to believe there was more than one victim.He was hung in the gallows at Fremantle Prison on the 26th October 1964.
Most executions were carried out at the prison at 8am on a Monday morning. Prior to the execution, the hangman was responsible for making sure the trapdoor was working and eliminating any possibility of the rope stretching, which would cause the inmate to dangle and slowly suffocate rather than have his neck broken and die instantly (thank god for some small mercies hey?). This was done by calculating the condemned person's height and weight.
On the day of the execution the prisoner was woken at 5.30am.He showered and had breakfast and was transferred from death row to a holding cell. He was offered the services of a priest and a glass of whiskey.
At the allotted time the prisoner was escorted to the gallows with hands and feet secured in leather shackles and head covered in a cloth hood. The execution ritual was always strictly observed. As soon as everything was in place the hanging was carried out. The prisoner was only left in the holding cell for 60 seconds before being taken to the gallows.
Since around 1891, there were approximately 44 legal executions at the Fremantle Prison.
The death penalty is not something people born after the 1960's in Australia have had to deal with. We've only observed it through the safety of a television screen or known that it is something that happens in other countries.
It may be happening in other countries, but suddenly we have been forced to think about the reality and finality of the death penalty over the last year as some of our citizens have faced or are still facing the possibility of being punished with death.
The first was Schapelle Corby, the 27 year old woman from Queensland's Gold Coast. She was arrested at Denpasar airport , Bali in October 2004 with 4 kg of marijuana in her body board bag.
In an interview just a month after the arrest with 60 Minutes reporter Liz Hayes, Corby in a somewhat overly animated manner regaled how she was 'shocked' at the marijuana being found in her bag. She swore from day one that someone planted it there. Testimonials given to the Indonesian court by a prisoner who allegedly overheard other inmates talking about planting the drugs in Corby's bag, proved to be inadmissible thanks to the witnesses lawyer telling the media that his client was a pathological liar who suffered from delusional episodes.
Corby was indeed the media 'guinea pig' for drug trials in Indonesia. She put up with relentless attention, amazingly only collapsing once among the heat of cameras and the humid Indonesian summer outside the Denpasar district court. One can only pray she didn't see the one hour special put together by channel nine during the week of the verdict. Mike Willesee hosted the talk show that seemed more like an episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, complete with a roving street reporter asking folks what they thought about Corby and the evidence stacked against her, and the audience voting on electronic polling devices as to whether she was innocent or guilty. Like they really had any affect.
Or did they?
You have to wonder whether the media circus that surrounded the Corby case had anything to do with her receiving a 20 year sentence as opposed to death - which is generally the punishment sought in a drug haul of this size and if history is anything to go by: people have been executed for possessing much less.
As invasive as the media attention was, it probably saved her from the firing squad. Surely Indonesia wouldn't want to piss off their closest neighbors and their closest allies, especially after $40mil was collected and given to the tsunami devastated regions of the country by the inhabitants of Australia - including the government. Some people threatened to withdraw aid; stickers touting 'Boycott Indonesia' were seen on the bumpers of cars all over Australia and flights to the island of Bali declined significantly. The public outrage at this attractive young woman being imprisoned for life, or worse - killed, was truly something to behold. The government however, remained impassive and I guess they have to, don't they?
I wonder if people would have been so disgusted if Corby looked a little more like...well...Renee Lawrence?
The Bali Nine.
Earlier this year there was about two weeks to go until the Corby verdict was handed down, it was established the prosecution weren't going for the death penalty so the nation waited with baited breath too see whether she would get off or get life, when nine Australians including the abovementioned Renee Lawrence, were caught with heroin strapped to their bodies trying to board a flight back to Australia from Bali.
Australia was outraged - how could they be so insensitive?
How could they be so stupid and get caught now, surely this would not look good for the beloved Corby?
The Australian Federal Police had been watching the group for a while and currently there are lawsuits being filed against the AFP for informing the Indonesian government of the impending trafficking - information that allowed the Australian citizens to be caught in a country that dishes out the death penalty for as little as a few grams of cocaine or heroin. These kids had kilograms strapped to them.
Renee Lawrence is the only woman in the group, she is a lesbian and unfortunately she embodies the 'dyke' stereotype better than anyone I've seen down at the Court Hotel on a Friday night. While I'm being politically incorrect, this is the only time I would say to her - it's such a shame you look like a man.
Because, obviously judging by the Corby case - femininity will save you. So Corby, who is Lawrence's cellmate and was a beauty student before being arrested, gave Lawrence a makeover for her court appearance. Yeah there isn't much you can do in Kerobokan jail, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless. More than what the Australian government did, or probably will do for them - good on you Schapelle.
The trials for the Bali Nine and fellow Australian Michelle Leslie (who was caught with two ecstasy pills in her purse) are happening as we speak but there isn't the same amount of media attention on them as there was for Corby. Perhaps the media learned that by not respecting the Indonesian culture - which is overwhelmingly conservative, was probably not doing the accused any favors.
At the moment there are snippets of info coming out of Bali about the 10 Aussies on trial (Leslie has no chance of receiving the death penalty) but nothing substantial.
Now let's move onto Nguyen Tuong Van, the Australian man arrested in 2002 at Changi airport in Singapore with heroin strapped to his body. By the time this story is uploaded onto Cheers, he could be dead. In fact he could be dead as I'm typing this.
There has been a protest based in Melbourne where people are urged to trace an outline of their hand and send it to the government, 'Reach out' its called. The Australian government has thrown their own hands up: there is nothing they can do anymore. All pleas for clemency have been denied and it is now up to the UN to give it a go. Good luck. Singapore is the kind of place you get thrown in jail if you spit chewing gum out on the footpath.
Opposition leader Kim Beazeley was quoted in The Australian as saying "While there is life, there's hope," but what does that mean, will they just wait until the poor guy is dead and say "See, no life, no hope - sorry!"
Being the annoying and rational person I am I can see that the government is in a hard spot: they don't want an Aussie citizen to die, if this execution goes ahead they will have to live with the public backlash for years and know that they have lost a good percentage of their voters within the Australian-Asian community. But remember this governing ones - public support can be regained, often through a good PR camapign but a life cannot.
The thing is, the government has power but they are not some super being that can wave a magic wand and make other countries disregard the law they have built their way of life upon.
Tuong Van broke the law in a country where they are not afraid of sending you to the gallows if they think it will keep the city-state clean. There is always a story behind it, the Bali Nine received threats from the ringleader saying their families will be hurt if they don't go through with the operation.
What would it be like to sit back and realize you have got yourself in way too deep?
Your life, or your families?
No doubt Tuong Van has a story too, desperate for money, threatened - whatever it is, there is one because there always is. As journalists we know that, otherwise we wouldn't have jobs. But unfortunately no matter what your story, the judicial systems in Indonesia and Singapore don't care. It isn't like Oz where you can plead guilty but have a reduced sentence because you were abused as a child.
Everything is black and white in these countries - the proof you are guilty is strapped to your body or 'planted' in your body board bag.
So currently there are 9 Australians on trial for their life and one getting closer and closer to the noose as the seconds slip by.
Every year in America up to 79 inmates are executed in states like Texas, every Thursday night another 'perp' on Law & Order is threatened with the needle if they don't fess up.
This is all we've had to deal with as the next generation of Australians when it comes to the death penalty - things that happen in other countries.
Yeah but America is just like that you know, they've always had the death penalty and you see it so much in movies and TV shows - its kind of romanticized in way. You just get used to it being there, said a friend of mine the other day.
Singapore has always had it, so has Indonesia but there hasn't been this many Aussies facing it before.
Right to life.
All this brings up the right to life topic, something that Australians have probably only considered in terms of abortion. Even that isnt something openly discussed or protested about, like in other countries. Most of our political decision-makers are still male and they continue to have conservative views on the topic, refusing to move forward with the times but in the same brath complaining about the amount of single, teenage mothers on welfare - but that's a whole other story - as they say.
I have always prided myself on being a 'pro-choice' kind of person. It's a woman's right to choose when she has a baby, it's a woman's right to receive counseling and the proper care if she decides to terminate.
We all have choices. Everyday we choose what to wear and whether to have that extra piece of chocolate cake - knowing the consequences will end up on our thighs. We choose whether to do the right or wrong thing, when we get in our car after a few drinks at the pub we have the choice - albeit one made in a hazy beer fog - about whether or not to turn the key, pull out onto the road and possibly hurt ourselves or someone else.
I guess these poor sods made the wrong choice huh?
Only they know what was going through their minds when they decided to tape that stuff onto their chests, believing and/or praying they wouldn't get sniffed out.
Perhaps in the moments before the operation was carried out they did not realize the reality of the death penalty - perhaps the drug lords they were working for told them they would be killed if they didn't go through with it and they felt - damned if they do , damned if they don't.
We all feel invincible until something happens to bring us crashing back down to reality. The human mind is an amazing organ and we have the ability to make ourselves believe anything at times. Just ask the pimply kid who I had a crush on in year 7 - that torrid, one-sided affair started because I was convinced he had a crush on me.
I think the time is right to jump on the death penalty issue - we must ask ourselves what does it solve?
Sorry America but you are the proof in the pudding - you can hardly say it's a deterrent when there are thousands of murders every year. I know that has a lot to do with lax gun laws...but I guess a country that doesn't regulate gun ownership all that well must not be afraid of death right?
Justifying the death penalty for murderers is a whole other story, I want to focus on the drug traffickers who are facing it.
The Indonesian and Singaporean prosecutors are taking the angle that drug trafficking is worth the death penalty because of the way drugs ruin lives. They bring up a good point but they also say - stop traffickers and the addicts will stop. Not true, they'll just find a new dealer or maker.
Speaking of makers........
Who makes us God?
Who says that we have the right to take a life, we condemn murderers but aren't executions a bit like pre-meditated murder?
A bunch of people plan how and when it will be done and then they do it, they execute a person. That's taking a life, something that cannot be replaced. There's no compensation for a life, no amount of money could ever replace a daughter, husband or son.
I think the only thing these kids are guilty of is making poor choices and being the victims of a government who didn't protect them. I direct this point specifically to the AFP - had they waited for the Bali Nine to get back to Australia and arrested them at the airports they were destined for - because where are they going to run 35000 feet in the air - they would probably be facing a few years in prison and not bullets in their young brains.