Clemency Wells

The tragic case of Daniel Cook, set to die in Arizona with experimental drugs

on 30 March 2011

Despite the lead prosecutor on Daniel Cook’s case now saying that he would not have sought the death penalty had he known about the abuse and mental illness in his past, Daniel is scheduled to be killed on April 5th using experimental drugs. 

On April 5th, 23 excruciating years after he was sentenced to death, Daniel Cook is due to be killed.  He will eat his last meal, he will be strapped to a gurney and then, when the time comes, he will be pumped full of enough drugs to slowly and painfully put him to death. 

Sadly in capital cases it is rare that everything was done at trial to prevent a verdict of death being given. Yet the case of Daniel Cook presents a particularly extreme example of deficient legal defense: Daniel represented himself. His court-appointed lawyer was suffering from bi-polar disorder and was drinking to excess and Daniel has said that he felt at the time as though his only choice was to represent himself or to continue with a completely incompetent lawyer. So, he decided to represent himself.

This was bad enough given that, of course, the 25-year-old young man had no legal training or experience whatsoever.  Worse still, Daniel presented no mitigation in his defence.  The judge wouldn’t allow Daniel a mental health expert to help him prepare for trial, so he didn’t tell the jury about his mental health problems.  He didn’t tell them about his several suicide attempts. They never found out that as a child Daniel was beaten by his father with a belt and burned on the penis with a cigarette. They never found out that after this, when Daniel was sent to live with his grandparents, he was sexually abused by his grandfather who forced Daniel and his sister to molest each other. Neither judge nor jury ever found out that later Daniel was sexually abused again by his step-brother; they didn’t hear about Daniel’s mother attempting suicide on several different occasions while she was suffering from bi-polar disorder. No one knew that Daniel had, at different stages, been diagnosed with schizophrenia, acute psychosis, alcohol addiction and depression.   

Who knows whether this information would have saved Daniel from having to endure the horrific experience of a capital trial, representing himself, only to spend 23 years on death row. What we do now know, however, is that the lead prosecutor on the case wouldn’t even have sought the death penalty in the first place. In a sworn statement signed in 2010 the prosecutor said that if he’d known Daniel’s experiences “mirrored the circumstances surrounding the crime” he “would not have sought the death penalty in this case”.  He also said that Daniel’s first attorney was “at the low end of the competency scale for the handling of the defense of a standard felony” and “appeared neither capable nor willing to put forth the effort necessary to represent a defendant charged with a capital offense” adding that Daniel “was clearly not competent to act as his own council”.

This catalogue of failures now means that, unless the Arizona governor can be persuaded to grant clemency, Daniel Cook will die.  As part of Reprieve’s ongoing investigation and litigation in this area it has recently been discovered that, because of drug shortages, Arizona will likely use pentobarbital manufactured by Danish company Lundbeck, for their executions.  Pentobarbital is a sedative that was not designed for executions and that has no clinical history of such use.   

Following a life of gruesome traumas, a spectacular failure of a capital trial and twenty-three harrowing years on death row, Daniel Cook is set to be killed as a guinea pig in an experimental procedure.  Every single element of this case exemplifies all that is wrong with the death penalty.  

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