On April 21, 2022, Texas executed Carl Wayne Buntion by lethal injection. He was 78 years old—the oldest prisoner ever executed in Texas.
By the time of his execution, Buntion had been in prison two months shy of 32 years—more than three decades on death row. Two of those three decades were spent under strict solitary confinement (23 out of every 24 hours in an individual cell) as administered by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).
As we pointed out in an April 24, 2024 post, the TDCJ has more inmates housed under the worst possible solitary confinement conditions than any other state and the Federal Bureau of Prisons combined.
The Texas Civil Rights Project calls the TDCJ excessive use of solitary confinement “torture by another name.”
This past October, retired Associate Supreme Court Stephen Breyer strongly suggested that Buntion’s execution after a three-decade death row confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment. It is an observation Justice Breyer has made in three different cases before Buntion beginning in 2015.
Justice Breyer pointed to an 1890 Supreme Court decision that said a four-week period waiting for execution is “one of the most horrible feelings to which [a person] can be subjected.” The Justice stated: ‘”I continue to believe that excessive delay both “undermines the death penalty’s penological rationale” and is “in and of itself . . . especially cruel because it ‘subjects death row inmates to decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement.”‘
Condemned Inmates Tortured in Solitary Confinement
Things have dramatically changed over the past 130 years. Penal administrators, the courts, and American society have altered their views about the humane treatment of inmates, including those condemned to die. Decades-long lockdown periods in harsh solitary confinement are now the gold standard for penal control of problem inmates and inmates sentenced to death.
Currently, the State of Texas has 195 death row inmates confined under the harshest possible solitary conditions in the nation—conditions that can aptly be called “torture.”
Sixty-three of those inmates have been in solitary confinement for 20-30 years, 11 for 30-40 years, and three between 40-50 years. That’s 77 condemned inmates who have spent between 20 to 43 years in solitary, agonizing isolation, waiting to be killed by the State of Texas.
Most of these long-term death row inmates have become geriatric. Buntion had a litany of severe medical conditions and was wheelchair-bound when executed. One YouTube watcher commented that Buntion “got exactly what he deserved.”
That sentiment is shared by many in America today. This is evidenced by information provided by the Death Penalty Information Center.
Beginning with Gary Gilmore’s execution in Utah on January 17, 1977, only ten people age 60 or over were executed in the United States by 2000—a period of 23 years. From January 1, 2000, to Carl Wayne Buntion’s April 21, 2022 execution, there have been 75 people executed who were 60 or older—a period 22 years, four months.
Of these executions and conditions:
- Carey Dean Moore spent 38 years on death row before his 2018 execution in Nebraska.
- 73-year-old Brandon Jones served 36 years and four months from his conviction to his 2016 execution in Georgia.
- Michael Selsor spent 36 years and three months from his conviction to his 2012 execution in Oklahoma.
- Manuel Valle spent 33 years on death row before his 2011 execution in Florida.
- Rolando Ruiz spent 25 years on death row before his 2017 execution in Texas.
- Gary Alvord spent 40 years on Florida’s death row before dying of natural causes in 2013.
- Viva Leroy Nash, spent 23 years on Arizona’s death row before he died of natural causes at age 83.
- Walter Moody is the oldest person, at age 83, executed in U.S. since 1977—an execution carried out in Alabama in 2012 after Moody’s 22 years on death row.
Did they get what they deserved, as some believe in this country?
America’s death rows have effectively become geriatric, hospice, and brutal solitary torture facilities.
There are roughly 2,450 condemned inmates on death row in this nation. If three of these inmates were executed each day, it would take two years, two months, and 27 days to kill them.
In 2019, the Justice Department reported there were 31 death sentences handed down in the U.S. that year. That means roughly 65 new death row inmates are awaiting execution after the 2450 are killed.
Harris County DA Kim Ogg Uses Execution as Campaign Event
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg showed up to witness Buntion’s execution.
The once “reform” district attorney was not involved in the original prosecution of the case. She was there solely to revel in the wheelchair-bound elderly man’s execution with the slim hope she might get some political mileage with Houston’s law enforcement community.
As United Methodist Pastor Susan Buchanan wrote in a July 3, 2019 piece in TribTalk, DA Ogg promised Houstonians that she would work to reform the insidious use of the death penalty but has failed miserably to deliver on that promise. Instead of reform, she traveled unnecessarily to the Huntsville prison death chamber to celebrate the killing of an old man.
That may be “reform” to Ogg but not to all Houstonians—some of who believe the death penalty in Texas and all its punitive conditions before execution is cruel and unusual punishment, as suggested by Justice Stephen Breyer.