20 percent of Americans executed in 2016 were military vets

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An anti-death penalty advocacy group on Wednesday released its annual report showing that the number of people sentenced to death in the U.S. in 2016 was at a 40-year low. It also found that 20 percent of Americans put to death this year were military veterans.

The report, from the Death Penalty Information Center, found that of the 20 people who had their death sentences carried out in 2016, four were veterans of various branches of the military — three of the four men were executed in Georgia, which put more people to death (nine) in 2016 than any other state, including Texas (seven).

SEE ALSO: The Changing Face Of Death In The U.S.

Veterans on death row has been a concern for the DPIC, and the organization said that the number veterans executed in 2016 "continued to highlight the plight of veterans and the death penalty."

In 2015, the DPIC issued a report specifically about military veterans and the death penalty, arguing that combat experiences could have played a role in the crimes that led hundreds of vets to death row and should be considered at sentencing. The report cites a study that found the vast majority of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan witnessed some sort of trauma — from seeing dead bodies and human remains to being directly responsible for the death of a child — while overseas. These types of experiences, the report argues, can cause post-traumatic stress disorder, an illness the organization believes should be considered as a mitigating factor in the sentencing phase of a death penalty case.

"PTSD is not an excuse for all criminal acts, but it is a serious mental and emotional disorder that should be a strong mitigating factor against imposing the death penalty," said Richard Dieter, DPIC's Senior Program Director and the author of the report. "Defense attorneys representing veterans accused of capital crimes often fail to investigate and present evidence of PTSD and other war-related mental injuries. Prosecutors, judges and juries are often not adequately informed about the psychological effects of being immersed in combat, even though the mental scars of war can be just as debilitating as physical injuries."

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21 PHOTOS
States without the death penalty
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States without the death penalty

Alaska (since 1957)

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Connecticut (since 2012)

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Delaware (2016)

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Hawaii (since 1957)

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Illinois (since 2011)

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Iowa (since 1965)

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Maine (since 1887)

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Maryland (since 2013)

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Massachusetts (since 1984)

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Michigan (since 1846)

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Minnesota (since 1911)

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New Jersey (since 2007)

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New Mexico (since 2009)

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New York (since 2007)

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North Dakota (since 1973)

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Rhode Island (since 1984)

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Vermont (since 1964)

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West Virginia (1965)

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Wisconsin (since 1853)

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Washington, D.C. (since 1981)

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The group points to Andrew Brannan, a decorated Vietnam veteran put to death in 2015, as demonstrative of the long-standing effects of PTSD and how it can contribute to crimes carried out by veterans suffering from it.

Brannan was stopped for speeding by a Georgia sheriff's deputy in 1998 after the officer, Laurens County Sheriff's Deputy Kyle Dinkheller, spotted him driving nearly 100 mph. Disturbing video of the shooting, viewed by Vocativ, shows Brannan immediately hop out of his truck and become irate — while dancing in the middle of the road, he repeatedly told Dinkheller to shoot him before screaming "I'm a goddamn Vietnam combat veteran" as the deputy repeatedly told him to get his hands out of his pockets. Brannan then returned to his truck and grabbed a rifle as Dinkheller yelled for him to drop the gun. The two then engaged in a shootout that came to an end when Brannan shot the already wounded Dinkheller in the head. He's heard in the video saying "die, fucker" before taking the fatal shot. Video of the shootout is now used to train police officers across the country in how to handle potentially deadly traffic stops.

33 PHOTOS
States with the death penalty
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States with the death penalty

Alabama

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Arizona

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Arkansas

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California

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Colorado

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Florida

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Georgia

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Idaho

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Indiana

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Kansas

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Kentucky

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Louisiana

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Missouri

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Montana

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Nebraska

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Nevada

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New Hampshire

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North Carolina

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Ohio

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Oklahoma

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Oregon

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Pennsylvania

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South Carolina

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South Dakota

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Tennessee

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Texas

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Utah

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Virginia

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Washington

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Wyoming

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U.S. Federal Government

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U.S. Military

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At trial, Brannan's attorneys argued that he suffered from PTSD after serving combat missions in Vietnam in 1975. Brannan, his attorneys explained, was diagnosed in 1994 with depression and bipolar disorder and declared 100 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. One of the psychiatrists who testified on his behalf said his strange, aggressive reaction towards Dinkheller "was likely the result of a flashback to Brannan's time in combat."

"Andrew's combat experience forever altered his personality and his life," his lawyers wrote in a petition to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles just prior to his execution. "Although he initially re-entered civilian life, he soon began to manifest signs of serious mental illness, which grew worse over time."

"At a time in which the death penalty is being imposed less and less frequently, it is disturbing that so many veterans who were mentally and emotionally scarred while serving their country are now facing execution," said Robert Dunham, Executive Director of DPIC. "It is our hope that a better understanding of the extreme and long-lasting effects of trauma and the resulting disabilities many veterans have experienced will lead to a larger conversation about imposing capital punishment on trauma survivors and other people with severe mental illnesses."

19 PHOTOS
Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
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Notable death penalty executions and people on death row
Seated on his bunk in the death cell of Iberia Parish Courthouse, convinced that 'The Lord is Still with Me,' is Willie Francis, a 17-year-old who won a million-to-one chance of a reprieve from death when the electric chair failed to kill him, or even hurt him, at his scheduled execution on May 3. Sentenced to die for the murder of a St. Martinville druggist a year ago, Francis was strapped in the chair. The current was applied. The doomed man squirmed and jumped. But when the current was shut off, he was unharmed. 'It tickled a little,' he said. The state will try again to carry out the execution on Thursday May 9th.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

This is John Wayne Gacy's police arrest photo from Dec. 21, 1978. Following intensive research, investigation and surveillance, Gacy was arrested by the Des Plaines (Ill.) Police Department on Thursday, Dec. 21, 1978. After being charged with and serving time for 33 murders, Gacy was executed in 1994 by lethal injection. Today, Monday, Nov. 23, 1998, technicians began preliminary work on a possible excavation at an apartment building on Chicago's Northwest Side in search of as many as four more possible victims of the mass murderer. The apartment building at one time, was the home of Gacy's mother, and Gacy had done some construction work there. The information regarding the location was recently released from a retired Chicago police officer who said he had seen Gacy carrying a shovel near the area at about 3 a.m. one day in 1975. The former officer reportedly thought little of the Gacy sighting until three years later, when Gacy was charged with 33 murders. The apartment building is about four miles away from Gacy's house.

(Des Plaines Police Department, Tim Boyle)

A portrait of mass murderer Ted Bundy, responsible for a string of murders in Washington state, Utah, and Florida in the 1970s. He was executed in in Florida on January 24, 1989. His actual victim count remains unknown.

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Aileen Wuornos is shown in this undated photograph from the Florida Department of Corrections. Wournos was executed by lethal injection October 9, 2002 in Florida for murdering six men when she was a prostitute.

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Admitted mass-slayer Charles Starkweather is shown entering court for the second day of his trial for murder. Starkweather admitted killing 11 people and was executed in Nebraska on June 25, 1959. 

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is shown being escorted from the Noble County Courthouse as he is transported to Oklahoma City for arraignment in this April 22, 1995 file photo. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was executed after being sentenced to death for the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, a crime that took 168 lives and shook a complacent America to the core.

(Jim Bourg / Reuters)

Gary Gilmore, responsible for the shooting deaths of two men, was executed in Utah on January 17, 1977.

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Media witnesses to the firing squad execution of John Albert Taylor examine the chair in which Taylor sat as he was shot to death at 12:03 a.m. Mountain time January 26 at the Unita State Penitentiary in Utah. The execution of Taylor was the first by firing squad in the United States since the 1977 execution of Gary Gilmore in Utah.

(POOL New / Reuters)

Stanley 'Tookie Williams' was responsible for several murders and other crimes and was executed in California on December 13, 2005. Williams helped found the Crips gang, but was later nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-gang efforts. He authored such books as 'Life in Prison,' encouraging kids to stay out of gangs, and his memoir 'Blue Rage, Black Redemption'.'

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Teresa Lewis, convicted of murdering her husband and stepson, was executed in Virginia on September 23, 2010. She was the first woman executed in the state in nearly 100 years.

(REUTERS/Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout)

William Bonin (left), a 33-year-old truck driver and registered sex offender, was accused of the 'torture' murders of at least 13 and possibly 21 young males, suspected victims of the so called 'Freeway Killer. He was executed in California on February 23, 1996.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department also said Vernon Butts (right) was an accomplice in at least six of the 21 murders.

(Bettmann via Getty Images)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, responsible for Boston Marathon bombing, was sentenced to death on May 15, 2015.

(Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in a mass shooting at the U.S. Army post in Fort Hood, Texas, was sentenced to death on August 28, 2013.

(Ho New / Reuters)

Joseph E. Duncan III, a convicted murderer and sex offender, was sentenced to death on August 27, 2008.

 (Photo provided by Kootenai County Sheriff's Department via Getty Images)

Coy Wesbrook was executed in 2016. He fatally shot five people in 1997 with a hunting rifle in a killing spree launched when he found his ex-wife having sex with other men.

(REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via Reuters)

Dylann Roof, the man convicted of murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston was condemned to death by a federal jury on January 10, 2017.

(REUTERS/Charleston County Sheriff's Office/Handout)

Death row inmate Ricky Gray is shown in this undated photo released in Washington, DC, U.S. in 2016. Virginia Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Christopher Wilkins, 48, Texas death row inmate convicted of killing two people in a revenge plot after one had tricked him in a $20 drug deal, is shown in this undated photo in Huntsville, Texas, U.S.. Courtesy Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
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The post 20 Percent Of Americans Executed In 2016 Were Military Vets appeared first on Vocativ.


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