Joseph Jean, 50, received the death penalty in 2011 for a double murder committed the previous year. He applied for French nationality in prison, on the advice of his lawyers.
Lina Jean, mother of the only Frenchman awaiting execution in the United States, is fighting to avoid capital punishment for her son. 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.
“Get him off death row,” she pleads today from her home in Texas. “He should already be gone.”
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 Lina Jean, a 79-year-old Guadeloupean. “I tell him to keep hope alive, not to give up.”
Convicted of a double murder
Convicted several times for possession of drugs and burglary. Joseph Jean, 50, received the death penalty in 2011 for a double murder committed in Baytown, near Houston, on April 11, 2010.
That night, he had broken into his ex-girlfriend’s house. 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.
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 ruling. personal,” wrote the judge.
States are however free to define the limits of the definition of this disability.
French nationality requested in prison
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 “touch him, 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!”.
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.
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.