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December 26, 2006

Another crazy person of the year

Many have lampooned Time Magazine's seemingly crazy choice for person of the year.  Today, in this commentary, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen suggests a different person of the year:

My person of the year is Gregory Thompson.  I choose him to call attention to the madness of the death penalty.... He is a cold-blooded killer, plain and simple.  He is also out of his mind.

Thompson, 45, is delusional.  He is also paranoid, schizophrenic and depressed. For these ailments, he receives daily doses of drugs and, twice a month, anti-psychotic injections. The state of Tennessee wants very much to put him to death for the horrendous 1985 murder of Brenda Blanton Lane, of which there is no doubt about his guilt.  There is grave doubt, though, about the constitutionality, not to mention the decency, of executing an insane man. Thus the 12 pills Thompson takes every day.  The idea, according to a recent account of his case in the Wall Street Journal, is to make him sane enough to be put to death....

[Thompson] was probably insane when he murdered Brenda Blanton Lane but will be deemed sane if and when he's executed.  He's my person of the year -- a fleetingly sane man in the maw of a thoroughly insane system.

December 26, 2006 at 05:20 PM | Permalink


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Cohen is a dimwit. Instead of Thompson, he could have picked the 16 year old who participated in the murder/sexual assault of a British man and his companion in Washington DC and got an absurdly light 5 year sentence. This juvenile will likely go on to victimize another innocent person, and enlightened ones like Cohen won't give it a second thought, but he will wax poetic about the fate of a vicious killer.


Posted by: federalist | Dec 26, 2006 5:34:39 PM

The author refers to Thompson as a "coldblooded killer" who was "probably insane" at the time of the homicide he committed. Isn't one who is insane incapable of acting in a cold, calculating manner? Who knows --- maybe Thompson is a coldblooder killer, and maybe he is insane, but it doesn't seem that he could be both.

Posted by: Victor Haltom | Dec 26, 2006 8:08:18 PM

Victor, Cohen is speaking against the death penalty. Don't let internal inconsistencies spoil his message that the death penalty is bad. And who are you to take issue with his enlightened column anyway?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 26, 2006 8:12:02 PM

Much as I am opposed to the death penalty, I am confused about one thing. How could Mr. Thompson been tried if he was "insane" [a legal term not a medical condition]. If he was insane, in the legal sense, he could not have assisted his counsel, and thus not been put on trial. Is there an issue of IAC here?

Posted by: Bernie Kleinman | Dec 26, 2006 8:45:05 PM

A more balanced perspective on this case is contained in the United States Supreme Court's decision in Thompson v. Bell, 545 U.S. 794, 125 S.Ct. 2825 (2005).

Posted by: ward | Dec 26, 2006 10:06:10 PM

From the opinion Ward cited:

"Before trial, Thompson's counsel had explored the issue of his mental condition. The trial judge referred Thompson to a state-run mental health facility for a 30-day evaluation. The resulting report indicated that Thompson was competent at the time of the offense and at the time of the examination."


Of course, there are other opinions by other experts. The expert retained by the habeas lawyers disagreed.

Insanity negating guilt, incompetence to be tried, and competence to be executed are determined at different times and by different standards. A defendant may be incompetent or insane by one standard or at one time and not another.

The interesting thing to me about Cohen's article is he makes uncertainty the centerpiece of his argument, and then he matter-of-factly states without any uncertainty that the death penalty does not deter. The present state of evidence is such that an informed person could say he is not convinced it deters, but for Cohen to proclaim it doesn't as if it were conclusively proven is playing fast and loose with the facts.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Dec 26, 2006 11:18:02 PM

Is the deterrent value of the DP really the issue here? It seems to me it is a matter of the USE of the DP in 21st Century America. While the DP may well appeal to the Hobbes in each and evry one of us, I would have hoped we would have moved well beyond that viewpoint. I mean, if the Israelis, confronted with defendants guilty of killing dozens do not have a death penalty, how is it a justified punishment here? Sorry, I just do not get it.

Posted by: Bernie Kleinman | Dec 28, 2006 1:07:26 PM

Yes, Bernie, the belief in the death penalty is something we move beyond. You're so enlightened.

A couple things with respect to the Israelis: (1) targeted killings--we don't really do that here and (2) Samir Kantar--Israel may have to release this animal one day---that would be far more of an injustice than killing him.

You know, even if capital punishment is immoral, there are a hell of a lot of things more immoral--like the release of violent criminals onto society after lenient sentences. Funny, I never seem to see you finger-waggers get worked up about that.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 28, 2006 9:38:58 PM


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