The State of Texas executed Christopher Young on Tuesday, against the wishes of the victim’s family and despite his extraordinary work mentoring troubled youth.
Mr. Young was 21, drunk, and high on drugs when he fatally shot store owner Hasmukh Patel during a failed robbery in 2004. He has repeatedly expressed remorse for the shooting, and as his lawyers described in a recent clemency petition to the parole board, he spent his time on death row helping young people to avoid the mistakes he made. He also prevented an inmate’s assault on a guard, stopped a suicide, and eased racial tensions on death row.
Mr. Patel’s family opposed Mr. Young’s execution and pleaded for clemency. His son, Mitesh Patel, spent Monday with Mr. Young. He told reporters he believed Mr. Young felt remorse for killing his father. “I really do believe Chris Young today is not the person he was 14 years ago,” he said. He observed that Mr. Young was actively involved in his daughter’s life and trying to be a good father to her. “Being a father myself, and having lost a father, I don’t want someone to go through life without a father.”
Mr. Patel expressed disappointment when the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected the clemency request. “It’s really unfortunate that the board didn’t hear our request for clemency,” he said. “I feel sadness for his family. They’re going to be walking down the same path my family has been on the last 14 years.”
The Patel family refused to attend the execution on Tuesday. In his final statement, Mr. Young offered encouragement to the kids he had been mentoring and to the Patel family, saying “l want to make sure the Patel family knows I love them like they love me.”
Lawyers for Mr. Young filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the board’s rejection as rooted in racial bias, pointing to its recent decision to grant clemency to a white man who also expressed genuine remorse and whose execution was opposed by the victim’s family. Mr. Young’s lawyer, David Dow, said victims’ family members have asked the Texas pardons board for clemency in death penalty cases six times this century. “[O]f those six,” Mr. Dow said, “three are Black, two are Hispanic and one is white. Only in the case of the white guy [Thomas Whitaker] did they vote to recommend commutation.”
The federal court denied Mr. Young’s request to stay his execution, but said the case “dramatizes much of what is most troubling about the procedures by which we execute criminal defendants.” The judge continued, “In a rational world, the Court would be able to authorize discovery and sift through the evidence,” but here, “the time frame is designed to render impossible intelligent and dispassionate judicial review. Applicable principles of law seem nonexistent.”
“Those engaging in race discrimination seldom announce their motivations,” the judge said, and the timeframe made it “well-nigh impossible” for Mr. Young to prove his claims. “Ideally,” the court wrote, Texas “would be determined to show that racial considerations had not infected the clemency proceeding. . . . [H]owever, the State is eager to proceed with [Young’s] execution without either side having any opportunity to explore the [issue].”