American condemned to death wants to become Austrians

Frank Atwood is awaiting execution in Arizona, USA. Now he turns to the government in Vienna.

The last execution to date took place in Arizona in 2014. It took Joseph Wood more than an hour to die because the controversial injection did not work. The execution had massive media repercussions, and the execution of further death sentences was paused in the state due to a lack of “correct” medication. However, Republican Governor Doug Ducey now has the means to continue executing the outstanding 116 sentenced to death.

When it starts again, he could be one of the first: Frank Atwood was sentenced to death in 1987. According to the verdict, he kidnapped and killed an eight-year-old girl and hid her body.

Frank Atwood is 65 years old today, his health is badly damaged and – because of Corona – isolated in his cell. And Frank Atwood now wants help from the Austrian state. He will soon apply for Austrian citizenship. The American has never set foot in this country.

Mother from Vienna

Atwood family

Frank Atwood with his Austrian mother Alice

Atwood’s mother, Alice, was born in Vienna in 1916. Her Jewish family fled the Nazis in 1938 and Alice ended up in the United States, where she has lived ever since. As her direct descendant, Frank recently had the right to apply for citizenship. This has been possible by law since September.

Atwood’s case is “not just about guilt,” his lawyers believe, but also that not all of the evidence has been heard. For example Atwood’s mental health problems because he was abused as a child.

Atwood’s lawyer Natman Shaye addresses Austria directly: “It has to meet its obligation”, his client “urgently needs support from the Austrian government, but so far all of his inquiries have been ignored”. Schaye invites the government to “work with us to save Frank’s life”.

“If you have a national government on your side, that can create the necessary pressure for it,” believes the lawyer.

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Lawyer Natman Schaye

In fact, there are cases that confirm this. For example, Anthony Farina’s death sentence from 1992 was changed to life imprisonment 25 years later after the Italian government stood up for him and granted him citizenship.

The Atwood case is known in the Austrian Foreign Ministry. Based on information that the Foreign Office received from the human rights organization “Reprieve” in November 2020 on the case, “an appeal was made to the Governor of the US state of Arizona in December 2020 on an Austrian initiative on behalf of the EU and its 27 member states of theA ministry spokeswoman reports that Arizona is in sight of the resumption of the death penalty. “The EU’s negative stance on the death penalty was also clearly expressed and justified in relation to the governor.”

The Ministry does not want to anticipate how Austria will deal with a possible application by Atwood and refers to the MA35 in Vienna, which is responsible for naturalizations. An application has not yet been received, it says there.

Doctorate in theology

Frank Atwood continues to plead his innocence. Despite his past with violence, drugs and convictions (including sexual abuse of a minor). But he has changed, claim people who know him. He studied art, literature, law, and did a doctorate in theology; accepted the Greek Orthodox faith and married Rachel (59), who once wrote him letters after the trial. “After the verdict was announced, he said on TV that he was terrified of death,” said Rachel in a conversation with KURIER and radio Ö1. She felt sorry for him.

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Wife Rachel Atwood with a photo of the couple

Atwood’s wife and his lawyers naturally hope that the plan with Austrian citizenship will work. Rachel talks about Atwood’s mother, who she lived next to before she died. About their “Schnitzel” and their “Jause”. A child’s photo of Atwood with lederhosen is intended to underpin his connection to Austria. She hopes that his Austrian roots are enough to at least save him from execution. “Or to get him free.” Rachel is convinced that he is not a threat to anyone. “He can’t even go.”

Hardly a chance

But the Austrian roots could not be enough. In any case, the political scientist and citizenship expert Gerd Valchars sees little chance for Atwood when it comes to his ambitions for an Austrian passport: In addition to many new exceptions for the descendants of Holocaust refugees, the Citizenship Act continues to value one criterion: impeccable repute. “It seems pretty straightforward,” says Valchars.

He also does not see an obligation on Austria to grant the descendants of a national woman diplomatic protection. On the contrary: “If there are doubts, one has to be careful not to endanger international relations by naturalization.”


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