Saturday, March 31, 2007

Death Penalty -- Not for the Worst of the Worst

Howling Latina has written about the death penalty in Virginia and how depending on where you live, you either get to live or die.

It's not about the most heinous crime (as evidence by the death penalty verdict of Justin Wolfe in the murder-for-hire of a drug kingpin in Prince William County and the 38-year prison sentence for Clara Jane Schwartz in the murder-for-hire of her world-renown scientist father, Dr. Robert Schwartz).

Gov. Tim Kaine recently vetoed five death penalty bills passed by the General Assembly that would have added even more crimes to the too long list of felonies where the Commonwealth executes someone in my name.

Today, there is a great article in the Daily Sun about how the Nebraska Senate is set to pass a bill to drastically reduce the number of scenarios that can be prosecuted under their death penalty statutes; and of course, Republican Gov. . Dave Heineman is threatening to veto it.

Well, go ahead and veto it, if you must. But in the meantime, lift every voice and sing, 'til earth and heaven ring, with actual facts about capital punishment.

Such as the fact that it is arbitrary, and it does not reduce crime, and in all likelihood, some poor sap has paid with his or her life for the right of death penalty proponents to have their barbaric laws on our books.

Howling Latina's proof, you might ask?

Exhibit A are crime statistics from states with the most number of executions. Surprise, surprise, they don't have the lowest crime rate. Killing by the state apparently does nothing to deter some future would-be murderer.

Exhibit B is Earl Washington, Jr., who spent 17 years on death-row and was within minutes of the needle. Lucky for him that Wilder--instead of Allen--was governor.

Exhibit C--read my second paragraph above. Also read below:

During a terse and at times emotional public hearing at the Capitol, supporters lauded it as a way to apply the death penalty more fairly, and only to those criminals who pose a risk to others that isn't eliminated by imprisonment.

Too often a decision to pursue the death penalty depends on the varying whims of prosecutors, resulting in death sentences for some, not others, even though both may be eligible, said Tom Riley, Douglas County public defender. To insinuate people on death row are substantially worse” than murderers not on death row, "is fallacious," Riley said.

You see, the Colorado law would require prosecutors to prove a felon poses "a substantial risk 'to the lives of others' even while incarcerated."

But mercy, no, retributive proponents argue. The law would then require "speculation."

And exactly how would this be any different from all the other "speculation" during trial as to aggravating factors based on a person's prior criminal history?!?

Wah, wah, wah. We want to kill; ripping the heads off small animals was only a warm-up.

I attended an Arlington legal seminar once where Kirk Bloodsworth was the guest speaker. He was a recently discharged Marine from Maryland, a good old country boy trying to get over his divorce, who found himself in a nightmare. He was convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a little girl mostly on his vague resemblance to a composite sketch of the perpetrator and the testimony of two little boys who saw the killer and were heavily influenced to pick his picture out of a photo lineup. The cops figured him for the crime because when he first was approached about it and had to explain where he was during the murder he was very evasive. Turned out he'd been out buying marijuana and didn't want to admit it because he was afraid his mother would find out. Once the cops decided he was their guy they skewed their entire investigation toward him and never considered any other possibilities.

After twelve years and two trials he finally was cleared by DNA. It later developed that the guy who had the cell underneath him was the murderer. All this happened back in the late 70s/early 80s, but he never received an apology from the prosecutor until about three years ago, which made him really bitter.

If people had any idea how wedded the police and prosecution can become to their original theories about perpetrators they would be less enthusiastic about endorsing something that can't be taken back. Most cops and prosecutors don't set out to lie, but a lot of them are lazy and cocky about their ability to suss out the truth. Many officers I've met are convinced they can always tell when someone's lying, and quite a few have no idea how poor and biased their interview skills are. They ask leading questions, make unwarranted assumptions, imply retribution for "bad" answers, and often misinterpret what is being said to them. A lot of cops are very rigid black and white thinkers and don't understand nuance, cultural variance, or inarticulateness. Once they've finished screwing things up then you get the prosecutors, who have far more faith in the cops than defense counsel do, endorsing their positions and trying to match the case to the account the cops have given them based on their investigation.
"Today, there is a great article in the Daily Sun about how the Colorado Senate is set to pass a bill to drastically reduce the number of scenarios that can be prosecuted under their death penalty statutes; and of course, Republican Gov. Bill Owens is threatening to veto it."

Should´nt it Be NEBRASKA Senate and Republican Gov. Dave Heineman?
Yikes! Thanks for the heads-up. I don't know where I got it was Colorado:(
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