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Sister Helen Prejean @helenprejean
, 30 tweets, 5 min read Read on Twitter
Tennessee plans to execute David Miller tomorrow. I am urging Gov. @BillHaslam to grant clemency and stop this execution. David's jury did not know about his history of severe mental illness and appalling childhood abuse. The story that the jury never heard is deeply disturbing:
David Miller was conceived when his mother was 17 years old. She met a man in a bar and became pregnant. David's mother did not marry his father. They never lived together or even dated.
David's mother drank alcohol almost every day while she was pregnant. David displays physiological signs of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Ten months after David was born, his mother married a violent alcoholic. Together with David's intellectually disabled half-brother and three half-sisters, the family lived in an unfinished house. Construction on the roof, walls, and floors was never completed.
The family "home" did not have running water, so they used an outhouse. David's aunt described the house as "filthy, unkempt, and cluttered." The county Department of Human Services observed the neglect and kept an open file on the house for almost 10 years.
David was also neglected. When interviewed by mental health professionals, David said that could not recall a single time when his mother told him that she loved him. David's aunt described him as the "unloved child." David's mother whipped him with belts and extension cords.
David's step-father was sadistic and terrorized the entire family, but focused his rage primarily on David. He used razor strips, 2x4 boards, and whatever else was handy to beat David until he was bloody and unconscious.
On one occasion, David's step-father knocked David out of a chair, hit him with a board, threw him into a refrigerator with such force that it dented the refrigerator and bloodied David's head, dragged him through the house by his hair, and put David's head through a wall.
The abuse that David endured was not just physical. When David was five years old, an older female cousin attempted to have sex with him. David could not do what the cousin demanded. She forced David's small hand inside her.
When David was 12 years old, he was allowed to go fishing with a friend of his grandfather. The friend instead took David to a cabin and sexually abused him.
After 10 years of violence and abuse, David's mother and his step-father separated. Almost immediately, the sexual boundaries in the house disappeared. David's mother behaved in a sexually provocative manner and became enraged if David did not engage in sex acts with her.
David's mother forced him to dance with her, then began to sexually fondle David and demand that he do the same to her. At times, it ended in sexual intercourse.
David's mother did not stop raping him until 1972, when he was taken away from her. He was 14 years old.
By the third grade, David exhibited signs of childhood depression. Like so many abused and neglected boys, David began to withdraw into himself. He never talked and was "so withdrawn and quiet, you could tell there was something wrong. You could tell he needed help."
David began to experience seizures and recurrent episodes of loss of contact with reality when he was 10 years old. On one occasion when David was 13 years old, he woke up in a tool shed at home. His last memory was having been at school.
David had amnesia caused by his seizures. Doctors prescribed heavy drugs to treat the seizures. David became addicted to the medications. Addiction and substance abuse became defining features of David's life.
David learned that alcohol sedated his extreme anxiety and began drinking when he was 10 or 11 years old. By the age of 13, David drank weekly. He also smoked marijuana four to five times weekly by the time he was 13 years old. David began taking LSD in his early teen years.
As a result of the extreme abuse that David endured, he developed post-traumatic stress disorder so severe that it was accompanied by auditory hallucinations and dissociation.
David's trial attorney requested expert assistance to help explain David's mental illness to the jury. That request was denied because the law at that time did not require funding for a defense expert.
In 1985, the Supreme Court changed the law and ruled that it was unfair to try a poor, mentally ill citizen for a capital crime without giving him a mental health expert to explain his condition to the jury. David got a new sentencing hearing in 1987.
David's resentencing attorney never requested expert assistance. A panel of federal judges later deemed the attorney's actions "inexcusable." As a result, David's resentencing jury only heard excuses from David's mother—the woman who had raped him repeatedly during his childhood.
Many years later, David's case reached the federal system and his attorneys obtained the assistance of experts and investigators that David should have received at his original trial. More details about David's childhood trauma and mental illness were uncovered.
Both David's biological mother and father were institutionalized for psychiatric treatment at some point in their lives. Until David was around 10 years old, he believed that his abusive step-father was actually his biological father.
David had an intellectually disabled half-brother named Randy. When Randy cried, David's step-father would wrap him in a blanket and pin the blanket to the crib, creating a straitjacket and leaving Randy to scream in helplessness.
David's step-father brutally abused his mother in front of the children. On one occasion, he pointed a gun at David's mother and threatened to shoot her in the head.
One of David's earliest memories is of a time when his step-father beat him for accidentally spilling water on the floor. Violence and beatings were the "rhythm of his childhood."
David attempted suicide twice before he was 10 years old. This is very uncommon and a sign of deep trauma.
None of this information is presented as an excuse for David's actions. Instead, this information would have provided context for David's jury when it was deciding between a life sentence and the death penalty. They didn't know about any of the abuse, neglect, or mental illness.
David accepts responsibility for the death of his friend, Lee Standifer. If this case were tried today, David would not be sentenced to death. Tennessee law was different in 1982 and important legal safeguards were missing.
All of this information about David's childhood and background was presented to Gov. @BillHaslam in a clemency application filed by David's attorneys. I urge Gov. Haslam to carefully consider the facts of this case and choose life instead of vengeance.
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