Tag: Capital punishment

Court Season

The Supreme Court is set to issue a number of landmark ruling this month (saving them for the end of the session, as usual). You can read Doug Mataconis or Evan Bernick for good conservative takes. I’ll do quick hits with how I think the Court will rule and how I think the should rule. And, of course, as each ruling comes down, I’ll put up a post.

The thing about the Roberts Court is that they are very conservative. Not in the political sense, but in the temperamental one. They prefer not to make broad sweeping decisions that upend masses of law and precedent. They tend to defer to legislatures. They like to rule narrowly and specifically. Roberts works very hard to build consensus (see last year’s slew of 9-0 decisions). They have been slow to defend civil liberties except for the First Amendment. So while I expect some landmark decisions, I don’t expect any that will radically reshape the law.

I do expect, however, to hear the losing side of several cases scream that the Court has exercised unprecedented power, set fire to the Constitution and brought plagues of locusts. Whichever side they oppose will be acting in a purely partisan fashion while their side are zealous defenders of the faith. You can decide if that hysteria is warranted.


Friday Quick Hits

A few stories I haven’t gotten time for full blog posts on:

  • I kind of like Bernie Sanders as a candidate. Not because I agree with him on anything — I don’t. And not because I’d vote for him — I wouldn’t. I like him out there because at least he’s honest about what he thinks. I prefer an honest socialist over whatever dumbed down pap Clinton is selling while pretending to be our friend. This week, someone dug up a 1972 article he wrote about how men fantasize about abusing women and women fantasize about being raped. The conservative critics are right: this would be a *huge* deal is a Republican had written it. On the other hand, it was written 43 years ago and is so incoherent, I have to believe that Sanders wrote it on a roll of toilet paper while writhing on a bathroom floor in the midst of a bad LSD trip.
  • Texas has been on the receiving end of some terrible rains and floods recently. The cause, according to the media, is global warming. This was the same global warming that was causing droughts three years ago. Look, I accept that global warming is real, but this is getting ridiculous. Not everything is a result of global warming. I’m pretty sure we had weather before global warming. And I’m pretty sure we’ll continue to have it after global warming is solved. Maybe global warming will make torrential rains more likely, but if so it will mean something like a few extra floods a decade.
  • Nebraska became the first red state to abolish the death penalty, overriding the governor’s veto. While I’m not quite anti-capital punishment, I’m fine with this. The death penalty isn’t worth the trouble and expense. And Nebraska hasn’t executed anyone in 18 years anyway.
  • Dennis Hastert is being prosecuted for structuring and lying to investigators as he was paying hush money to someone. You can read Ken White about how these charges are basically made up. It’s likely being pursued because the statute of limitations has run out on what he did do. Illegal leaks indicate he sexually abused a student while he was a wrestling coach. I deplore the fed’s tendency to make up crimes. That doesn’t change Haster’s status as a scumbag if these allegations are true.
  • This week’s must-read is from Laura Kipnis a liberal feminist professor who found herself at the center of a Title IX inquisition because she had the temerity to question the narrative the sexual paranoia our college campuses are caving into.

McCollum and Brown Freed

Chalk another exoneration up to DNA evidence:

Thirty years after their convictions in the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in rural North Carolina, based on confessions that they quickly repudiated and said were coerced, two mentally disabled half brothers were declared innocent and ordered released Tuesday by a judge here.

The case against the men, always weak, fell apart after DNA evidence implicated another man whose possible involvement had been somehow overlooked by the authorities even though he lived only a block from where the victim’s body was found, and he had admitted to committing a similar rape and murder around the same time.

The startling shift in fortunes for the men, Henry Lee McCollum, 50, who has spent three decades on death row, and Leon Brown, 46, who was serving a life sentence, provided one of the most dramatic examples yet of the potential harm from false, coerced confessions and of the power of DNA tests to exonerate the innocent.

It’s cases like this that have moved me to a neutral position on the death penalty and now have me leaning against it. Had we gotten the speedy execution that many wanted, not only would we have executed two innocent men, the real murderer might never have been identified.

In the end, the case against the death penalty is not a liberal one. I’m not terribly moved by appeals to mercy for those who have none. Nor do I think executing men who rape and murder little girls makes us “no better than them”; there is a colossal moral difference between raping and murdering a child and executing that murderer. No, the case against the death penalty is a conservative one: that the government has demonstrated, a couple of hundred times now*, that it can not be trusted with the power to execute people.

For death penalty supporters, the horrifying facts of the girl’s rape and murder only emphasized the justice of applying the ultimate penalty. As recently as 2010, the North Carolina Republican Party put Mr. McCollum’s booking photograph on campaign fliers that accused a Democratic candidate of being soft on crime, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C.

In 1994, when the United States Supreme Court turned down a request to review the case, Justice Antonin Scalia described Mr. McCollum’s crime as so heinous that it would be hard to argue against lethal injection.

This crime was particularly heinous. If there was anyone you’d want executed, it would be two mean who raped and murdered an 11-year-old girl. But does the horror of the crime justify potentially executing the wrong men? Is that horror not compounded by the man who committed this horrible crime getting away with it for thirty years? We were lucky he was arrested before he could do it again. In the Michael Morton case, where an innocent man was sent to prison for life because of prosecutorial misconduct, we were not so lucky. The real killer likely murdered another woman two years later. Would we know that if Morton had been unjustly executed instead of being sent to prison for 25 years?

Ultimately, I keep circling back to the victim in this case, a girl who was the same age as me when she was so brutally killed. If she had not been slain by Roscoe Artis, she would now be 42, possibly with a family of her own. When a child is murdered, an entire universe of possibility is destroyed. For all the mocking Scalia is getting on the liberal blogs, he was right: it is hard to argue against lethal injection for someone who would do such a thing. Frankly, it’s hard to argue against beating them to death right there in the courtroom. But an execution wouldn’t have brought Sabrina Buie back. And I don’t see there is any value in adding two more tragedies to that one. And for someone depraved and evil enough to do such a thing, I don’t think the threat of the death penalty is what’s holding them back.

Two innocent men have been freed and a guilty man identified. That’s something and we should be happy about it. But we came very close to killing two innocent men for a horrifying crime they didn’t commit. And it’s not the first time. That should give us all pause.

(*Hard numbers on the number of death row inmates exonerated are surprisingly difficult to come by. Anti-death penalty advocates say it’s a couple of hundred. Pro death-penalty advocates say it’s less than that, but admit to at least a few dozen.)

Dead Weight

Here’s a new one, too fat to be executed, only in America folks:

Lawyers for a 480-pound death row inmate in Ohio say their client is too overweight to be put to death.
“Indeed, given his unique physical and medical condition there is a substantial risk that any attempt to execute him will result in serious physical and psychological pain to him, as well as an execution involving a torturous and lingering death,” reads the filing made on behalf of Ronald Post, 53, who was convicted of shooting to death hotel clerk Helen Vantz 29 years ago.
Post, who is set to be executed by lethal injection on January 16, 2013, says that his executioners would encounter several problems, including difficulty finding a viable vein for injection and the likelihood that with his unusual weight he would break any gurney used in the process.

I just don’t get it. Sure, it’s worth a try, and it sure beats the ,”I was framed” argument, but we really have made a mockery of the whole system. Inserting that needle straight into his heart, no worries about finding a vein through all his skin flaps, neat and instantaneous.

Some obvious questions need addressing, how can anyone on death row gain that much weight? What the hell are they feeding these guys? The other embarrassment if that it took 29 years for the appeal process to play out, there is justice for ya.

It’s stories like these that push me to working towards scrapping capital punishment all together. It’s not working, the appeals process is too convoluted and expensive, the family of the victims get no closure or finality, and these murderers get to eat themselves to, well, not to death, that’s for sure.

While working in Los Angeles early in my career I use to go water skiing with a LASO buddy who did regular stints in the county jail. One day he described to me what Jut Balls were, for the segregated recalcitrant inmates, they were feed Jut Balls 3 times a day. These consisted of taking that particular meal (if lunch, taking the bologna sandwich) and putting all it’s contents into a food processor, making a gooey paste then rolling it up into a ball. The inmates hated them and managed to find their civilized side fairly quickly.

Jut Balls and a treadmill, he could work himself into “execution” shape in 6 months, easy.

Los Dos Carlos

It’s cases like this that make my support of the death penalty waver:

Carlos DeLuna was executed in 1989 for stabbing to death a gas station clerk in Corpus Christi six years earlier. It was a ghastly crime. The trial attracted local attention, but not from concern that a guiltless man would be punished while the killer went free.

DeLuna, an eighth grade dropout, maintained that he was innocent from the moment cops put him in the back seat of a patrol car until the day he died. Today, 29 years after DeLuna was arrested, Liebman and his team published a mammoth report in the Human Rights Law Review that concludes DeLuna paid with his life for a crime he likely did not commit. Shoddy police work, the prosecution’s failure to pursue another suspect, and a weak defense combined to send DeLuna to death row, they argued.

Please read the whole thing. It’s frightening. The police and prosecutors thought they had an airtight case. This wasn’t really a close call on whether to convict him or not. They had witnesses, motive, his presence in the area and a violent criminal history. But the new investigation turned everything over. The evidence actually pointed to another Carlos — Carlos Hernandez — another violent felon so similar in appearance to DeLuna that they were often mistaken for each other.

Now there are a few points to make. As Ted Frank pointed out on Twitter, without the death penalty, DeLuna would probably still be in prison and no one would know of his innocence (although I think that’s cold comfort to him). This was not a case of prosecutorial misconduct. And the accumulation of circumstance was so unique and rare that you’d think it was an episode of Law and Order. The number of death row inmates who are there because an airtight case convicted them of a crime their doppleganger committed has got to pretty close to zero.

But the larger point is at the heart of why, as a conservative, I am finding myself increasingly worried about the death penalty. We do not have a system that is anywhere close to perfect. Shoddy police work, confused eye witnesses, unmotivated inexperienced defense attorneys … this is not unusual in death penalty cases. And that’s without prosecutorial misconduct or mistaken witnesses.

The Davis Case

Should Troy Davis be executed? That’s the question the Supreme Court is pondering right now. He was supposed to be executed tonight for a 1989 murder of a cop. But doubts have been raised about his guilt.

You can read William Sessions op-ed here for the details. The short story is that Davis was convicted without direct physical evidence based mostly on the testimony of witnesses, most of whom have since recanted and said they were pressured by police into their testimony.

Having followed the case over the last few days, I have to throw my hands up. I think it’s quite likely that he’s guilty; but I don’t think the case has been proven enough for the irrevocable punishment of execution. This isn’t a case like Mumia Abu Jamal or even Robin Carter, where his supporters are glossing over inconvenient damning evidence. There are serious problems here.

Keep him in jail, sure. But I would prefer not to have another Cameron Todd Willingham on our hands.

Update: If you ever need any example of why I could never be a liberal, I give you Michael Moore, who tweeted tonight that Obama should send federal troops into Georgia to stop the execution. What a dipshit.

Update: Davis was executed tonight. Here is a profile of the officer he was convicted of killing.