UA profs attempting to prevent 'ultimate injustice'

By Amy Fredette

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Two UA psychology research professors are trying to influence a stay of execution for a death row inmate who they believe is "potentially innocent."

Professors Gary Schwartz and Lee Sechrest began their campaign for inmate Paris Carriger's stay last week after circulating 400 surveys to University of Arizona students and faculty and other Tucsonans.

The questionnaire asked people to document their thoughts about whether a person who has "consistently maintained his innocence" should be put to death.

Carriger, 50, was convicted of murdering a Phoenix jewelry store owner in 1978 and is scheduled to be executed at midnight Dec. 6 at the Arizona State Prison, Florence Complex.

"This is not an issue about the pros and cons of the death penalty," Schwartz said. "This punishment is irreparable. If we use punishment on someone who is innocent, then we have committed the ultimate injustice."

According to the letter that was included with the survey, another man, Robert Dunbar, was sentenced to death for the murder. Dunbar thought he was dying and confessed to the crime in 1987. He retracted his confession six weeks later after his health improved, but he confessed a second time to his cell mate in 1991 right before he died.

Schwartz said 300 surveys have been returned, but declined to disclose the results because he did not want to influence other people's responses.

When asked why he chose to back Carriger out of all the prisoners on death row, Schwartz said he did not have any facts on the other people.

"I have the information and the facts on this particular person," he said. "I had to make a decision about what I was going to do."

Schwartz said he has spoken with friends, fellow faculty, family and clergy members who agree that the execution of a "potentially innocent person" is wrong.

"My suspicion is that the governor feels that this is an issue the public doesn't care about," Schwartz said. "I've not found a single person who believes if a person is potentially innocent they should be executed."

Schwartz said he sent two faxes of the survey to Republican Gov. Fife Symington, who has the power to stop the execution.

Schwartz said he is doing this "first and foremost as a citizen and a concerned psychologist."

"I am not a political person," Schwartz said. "I am a professor who does his teaching and his research and helps his patients and friends."

Sechrest said, "I hope to persuade people who are involved in the investigation to continue until everybody is reasonably well-satisfied."

UA psychology Professor Linda Russek also helped put the survey together.

The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency will hold a final hearing for Carriger at the Special Management Unit, a Florence prison, on Monday at 8:30 a.m.

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