“Get him off death row”implores Lina Jean, mother of the only Frenchman to await his execution in the United States. “He should already be gone”she says from her home in Texas.
On December 9, 2021, a judge ruled that Joseph Jean, who also has American nationality, had a mental disability limiting his intellectual abilities, and that his sentence should be commuted to life in prison, according to his lawyers. But the criminal appeals court in Texas – the US state that executes the most – has yet to decide whether to approve this judgment or appeal.
For nearly a year, the Frenchman has therefore remained on death row, confined 22 to 23 hours a day in a small cell in a high-security prison. “He is fine” and “Reads a lot”even if he says he suffers from the constant noise of the prison, assures AFP Lina Jean, a 79-year-old Guadeloupean. “I tell him to keep hope, not to give up.”
Two teenage girls killed with a baseball bat
Joseph Jean, 50, was sentenced to death in 2011 for a double murder committed in Baytown, near Houston, on April 11, 2010. That evening, he broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home. She was away, but her daughter was at home with a cousin. Joseph Jean allegedly killed the two 16- and 17-year-old girls with a baseball bat, before setting fire to the apartment and fleeing. He had already been convicted several times for possession of drugs and burglary.
In the United States, a person with a mental disability that restricts their intellectual abilities cannot be sentenced to death, according to a 2002 Supreme Court decision. “does not justify an exemption from criminal sanctions, but diminishes their personal guilt”, had written the judge. States are however free to define the limits of the definition of this disability. “They are considered too vulnerable to be fully responsible for their actions”explains to AFP a lawyer specializing in the subject, Richard Burr, who had worked for the defense of the detainee at the origin of the judgment of the Supreme Court.
Another doomed son
Joseph Jean’s team of lawyers had experts and relatives testify to have it recognized that he was in this situation. Lina Jean would like to be able to prove her son’s innocence one day. In the meantime, she does not hide her impatience at the idea of being able to “to touch him, to take him in his arms”, once he is released from death row. She counts the days, and is annoyed by the delays of justice: “They take their time!”. Another of his seven sons, Joel, is also serving a long prison sentence for drug trafficking and possession of weapons.
It was in prison, and after his death sentence, that Joseph Jean had asked for French nationality, on the advice of his lawyers. Lina Jean, born in Guadeloupe, had settled in the American Virgin Islands in the early 1970s with her husband, also French. Joseph Jean was born there, thus obtaining American citizenship.
France, where the death penalty was abolished in 1981, regularly recalls through the voice of its representatives its opposition to this punishment, which it calls for its abolition. Before each execution of a prisoner in the United States, France and the European Union also send a letter to reiterate their position. According to a French diplomatic source, the French authorities are monitoring the situation of Joseph Jean, and are calling for his sentence to be commuted.