USA: WAITING FOR THE EXECUTIONER, APPLIES FOR ITALIAN CITIZENSHIP
October 22, 2018:
An Italian-American for over 40 years on the death row in Florida asks for Italian citizenship, ANSA reported on 19 October 2018. (Sources: Ansa, 19/10/2018)
It is the last hope for Henry Sireci, sentenced in 1976 for the murderer of Howard Poteet, a used-car salesman, a crime he has always denied he committed.
The paternal grandparents of Sireci were both born in Caccamo, a small town near Palermo.
His grandfather became an American citizen after the birth of Henry's father. There is therefore a continuous line of citizenship, according to the lawyers of Sireci, who enacted the request also asking for consular assistance "to prevent the execution of an innocent". The case of Henry is supported in the United States by Reprieve, an NGO that fights against the death penalty.
The Sicilian municipality will cooperate with the case: "He is a fellow citizen," said the mayor of Caccamo, Nicasio di Cola, saying he is ready to press the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the days when Italy is committed to the UN on the moratorium for executions.
In the US, two years ago, the Sireci case divided the Supreme Court. Judge Stephen Breyer, voting in dissent from his colleagues who had refused to review the trial, had been inspired by Henry's 40 years on death row to demand a general rethink: "When he was convicted there was still the Berlin Wall , Saigon had just fallen into the hands of the Viet Cong, "the judge had said, asking his colleagues to imagine what it means to live for 40 years under the constant threat of the executioner.
Sireci is accused of killing Poteet with 55 stabs. His case presents anomalies: the Florida law requires today that a death sentence be taken unanimously but this did not happen for Henry who in 1991, at the last review of the trial ( in 1976 a first jury sent him to the electric chair after just 20 minutes with the only proof of "a hair probably belonging to him" found on a sock of the victim) was condemned despite the opposition of one of the jurors.
After a sentence of the Supreme Court, Florida commuted the non-unanimous sentences issued after 2002, but not those finalized before that year. And that's how Henry became an old man on death row: "Forty years ago, few Americans knew what a PC or the internet was, more than half of the American population had not yet been born," Breyer said, wondering if such long stays under threat of execution do not violate the constitutional prohibition of "unusual or cruel punishments".
In the past Italy has mobilized at least twice for a person sentenced to death in the US. It did it in 1997 for Joseph O'Dell and then, three years later, for Rocco Derek Barnabei, also a descendant of Italians. O'Dell is buried in Palermo, in the monumental cemetery of Santa Maria del Gesù, a few kilometers away from the small town where the grandparents of Sireci were born in the late nineteenth century.