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August 13, 2007

Understanding Texas justice as a capital milestone approaches

Reuters has this new piece, entitled "Religion, culture behind Texas execution tally," which provides some background on why Texas stands alone as the leading state for the application of the death penalty. Here are a few excerpts:

Texas will almost certainly hit the grim total of 400 executions this month, far ahead of any other state, testament to the influence of the state's conservative evangelical Christians and its cultural mix of Old South and Wild West. 

"In Texas you have all the elements lined up. Public support, a governor that supports it and supportive courts," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "If any of those things are hesitant then the process slows down," said Dieter. "With all cylinders working as in Texas it produces a lot of executions."

Texas has executed 398 convicts since it resumed the practice in 1982, six years after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban on capital punishment, far exceeding second-place Virginia with 98 executions since the ban was lifted.  It has five executions scheduled for August.

The average time spent on death row before execution is about 10 years, not much less than the national average of closer to 11 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.  But the average would be considerably longer if Texas were excluded.

August 13, 2007 at 11:57 AM | Permalink

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The grimness of the milestone is not that 400 killers will have been executed, but rather that so many lives were taken at the hands of the executed. Despite the bleatings of the abolitionist crowd, a murder is, by far, more of an injustice (if one believes that executions are unjust) than the execution of a murderer.

We can also remember that the execution of 400 killers probably saved innocent life too.

We need more executions, not less, in this country.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 13, 2007 1:33:16 PM

Federalist is right, Texans are a violent people. Their execution rate shows it. We should build a wall around Texas to keep them away from the rest of us.

All states execute just the "right" number of people. Well-behaved states execute non. "Pretty good" states execute some. So, as you can see, the real problem is that we allow Texans to travel.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 13, 2007 3:00:44 PM

All states execute just the "right" number of people. Well-behaved states execute non. "Pretty good" states execute some. So, as you can see, the real problem is that we allow Texans to travel.

The problem lies with your premise. Most states don't execute enough people. Texans are better behaved than most, and more so now that an additional 400 killers have been removed from society. If Texas needs to be walled off, it's to protect it from its neighbors.

Posted by: | Aug 13, 2007 3:41:15 PM

“Most states don't execute enough people. “

This is conclusory. In the US, each state has a more-or-less functioning democratic government. The government decides how many people to kill each year. Assuming that you are not questioning the wisdom of the democratic process, we have to assume that they reached the right conclusion.

But, I agree that we should tell the Texans that their wall is to protect them from their neighbors. This will keep them from knowing the truth, because they might get MORE violent. So, yes, “Texans, you are being walled off to protect you from those dirty people from Arkansas.” There, I said it.

If you are questioning the democratic process, then states could just kill people randomly. After all, killing people randomly probably would have the same effect on others that most justice pageants do, anyway.

Finally, Texans are hardly well-behaved. Not only do they constantly kill one another, but their entire culture revolves around whooping, hollering, and mechanical bulls! Did you see the movie “Urban Cowboy”? Not good behavior. This is why we need to build a wall. From looking on the internet, I have learned that Texas is sometimes called the “lone star state.” Perhaps if it is unconstitutional to build a wall around this naughty land, we can require Texans to wear stars when they leave the state, so that non-Texans will know to avoid them. A Texan can lash out in violence at any possible moment, and we must be aware that Texans are near!

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 13, 2007 3:50:19 PM

If you are questioning the democratic process, then states could just kill people randomly. After all, killing people randomly probably would have the same effect on others that most justice pageants do, anyway.

It is you who questions the democratic process by calling the trials the process has wrought "justice pageants." The democratic process itself is fine, but it subverted by the capital habeas bar. It is those people who need to be walled off. I'd let them out from behind the wall if they promised to defend only innocent clients and never to file frivolous appeals (see the previous thread on Posner).

Posted by: | Aug 13, 2007 4:00:08 PM

They are “justice pageants.” The 1st and 6th amendment guarantees pageantry. Public trials, press coverage, all that crap. There is even a TV network which regularly televising trials! This network, “CourtTV” I believe it is called actually subsists on advertising dollars because so many people are so interested in watching it!

The people get to look at the face of the “defendant” who will be sent to jail or killed. They get to cheer when the jury renders a correct verdict. They get to “boo” if they disagree with an “OJ” verdict. If there was no pageantry, justice would simply be a matter of picking people off the street and secretly killing them.

As to the role of the “capital habeas bar” (and not the role of the “direct appellate bar”) I think we could eliminate it completely by revising the constitution to end the right of habeas corpus. But, every time I suggest it, the people that want to prevent gay marriage via constitutional amendment, my idea is rejected. Strangely, even in this era of terrorism, where it is necessary to put people in jail for life based on the word of bounty hunters in Afghanistan (some of whom don’t even know all the words to the “Pledge of Allegiance”) there is absolutely no effort afoot to excise th writ from the piece of paper that is the constitution. None!

Quite frankly, I think that the reason that gay marriage and abortion are more important than ending our current system of justice as we know it is that people not only like the pageantry of trials, but they like the pageantry of appeals! Juries like knowing that they might be reversed or a writ granted, so they can feel a little bit better about rendering a death verdict. We have democratically selected the right balance between allowing ourselves to feel like we did justice by “condemning” a fellow man to die, and to realize our own fallibility by leaving open the door that, on collateral attack (not direct appeal – since you are 100% in favor of those), a verdict might be vacated.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 13, 2007 4:20:03 PM

Quick, someone get Gratiano, er, S.cotus, some Pepto Bismol . . . . . he's got a bad case of DOM.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 13, 2007 4:25:36 PM

As to the role of the “capital habeas bar” (and not the role of the “direct appellate bar”) I think we could eliminate it completely by revising the constitution to end the right of habeas corpus. Strangely, . . . there is absolutely no effort afoot to excise th writ from the piece of paper that is the constitution. None!

No, there isn't. My solution is much more modest. Wall off those who would enforce it, and release only those who promise not to abuse it. That way the right still survives.

The people get to look at the face of the “defendant” who will be sent to jail or killed. They get to cheer when the jury renders a correct verdict. They get to “boo” if they disagree with an “OJ” verdict. If there was no pageantry, justice would simply be a matter of picking people off the street and secretly killing them.

Are these people not questioning the democratic process as well?

Posted by: | Aug 13, 2007 4:27:00 PM

support for capital punishment in texas has also been attributed to the state's high rates of violent crime, though it is not strikingly above the national average...according to fbi statistics for 2005, the national rate of violent crime was 469.2 per 100,000 inhabitants while the same rate for murder and non-negligent manslaughter was 5.6...for texas, the same figures were 529.7 and 6.2...

so here's the kicker...if the death penalty was a deterrent you would expect that these nearly 400 executions would have resulted in texas having a lower homicide and manslaughter rate than the national average and not a higher one...

hellooooooooooooooooooo --- executions thus sound more like conservative evangelical revenge rather than an attempt to save lives by having fewer murders in texas...

Posted by: George | Aug 13, 2007 7:02:44 PM

I guess if you don’t like the capital habeas bar, you also don’t like the shysters like Ken Starr that take on the cases of habeas petitioners. Therefore, can you please post your petition to have Mr. Starr disbarred. I would think that you would want to go after prominent attorneys like him to set an example. If you don’t demand his immediate disbarment, then you are a liberal that is in favor of crime.

Otherwise, there is no reason for a modest solution if you really cared about justice. (Which it seems that you don’t.) You must actively seek to have the right of habeas eliminated from the constitution. After all, it does absolutely no good. Once a decision is taken to put someone in jail, it should be non-reviewable by any court.

People that “question” the OJ verdict are not really questioning the process, but feel like they are “involved” in it, like spectators at a professional wrestling match.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 13, 2007 7:20:41 PM

Uh, George, the issue is not whether the 400 executions deter murder in Texas below the national average, but whether but for the executions, the murder rate in Texas would have been higher.

S.cotus hasn't taken Pepto for his DOM. Perhaps, he could explain again why the 11th Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 13, 2007 7:42:51 PM

I never said that. I did say, however, that kids should be taught basic self-defense techniques to guard against Texans.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 13, 2007 9:12:56 PM

Well, S.cotus, here's the quote:

It was not until later that the “rights” recognized in the “bill of rights” began being “incorporated” to the states (i.e. applied to the states as well as the federal government). The extent to which they applied is not 100% clear, though most people will always say, “sure, they all do.” Off the top of my head, the following are questionable areas of selective incorporation: 1) establishment clause (maybe this is just Justice Thomas); 2) the 2d amendment; 3) 8th amendment prohibition against unreasonable bail); and 4) the interrelationship between the ADA and the 11th and 14th amendments (i.e. Congress’s ability to abrogate state sovereign immunity in the name of the 14th).

It's quite clear from that quote that you viewed the 11th Amendment as part of the Bill of Rights. Unless there's another nitwit posting on here using your name.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 13, 2007 9:39:41 PM

The death penalty increases the murder rate.

Common sense, really, since we most effectively learn by example.

Posted by: George | Aug 13, 2007 10:11:37 PM

Other studies take the opposite view, George.

Btw, the whining about poor Kenneth Foster (a Texas death row inmate scheduled to die August 30) is reaching deafening levels. It will be a good thing when justice is done in that case. I know, George will start to cry and the folks over at CDW will gnash their teeth, but it's about time. The "innocence" claim in that case stretches the meaning of "innocence" beyond any coherent meaning.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 13, 2007 10:57:16 PM

federalist, if it were permissible to curse here, I would tell what Cheney told Sen. Patrick J. Leahy on the Senate floor.

A lot of people think Foster is innocent. Is he? You don't know. Neither do I.

Other studies, humph.

Posted by: George | Aug 13, 2007 11:05:38 PM

Well, he admits being part of a bunch that drove around San Antonio jacking (i.e., rob) people (with him being the driver). Then one of the guys tries to rob LaHood and winds up killing him. The story, as far as I can tell, is that they originally agreed to jack people, and some people got robbed, but then before LaHood was attacked, they abandoned the plan, only to reinstate the plan by allowing the LaHood assailant back in the car to make his escape.

"Only appellate judges [and true believers] could swallow such a tale."

Yeah, a bunch of guys go out robbing people, and we're supposed to believe that the game plan got abandoned right before the guy who died got robbed. And we're supposed to believe that these four were following Mary Patrick because they needed to find their way home.

This is worse than Lonnie Johnson's innocence claims.

And George, remember--Leahy deserved that retort.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 13, 2007 11:21:18 PM

I guess if you don’t like the capital habeas bar, you also don’t like the shysters like Ken Starr that take on the cases of habeas petitioners. Therefore, can you please post your petition to have Mr. Starr disbarred. I would think that you would want to go after prominent attorneys like him to set an example. If you don’t demand his immediate disbarment, then you are a liberal that is in favor of crime.

I'm willing to forgive him his one-time transgression. He probably thought the petition had merit, so he'd be allowed out of the wall.

Posted by: | Aug 13, 2007 11:28:30 PM

It was funny, though, to watch Ken Starr get all weepy about that death row inmate from Virginia he represented. He actually got emotional when talking about how the guy was not "the worst of the worst" (as if looking at all the people on the row to determine whether they truly are the worst of the worst is the applicable legal standard) after he lost his argument about destroyed evidence in the Fourth Circuit.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 13, 2007 11:34:32 PM

And Ken Starr whined about Morales' death sentence in California too . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Aug 13, 2007 11:55:48 PM

Federalist, again, my comment scope of the 14th, not the 11th (and therefore you took my comments out of context). I really don’t think you even understand what I was talking about. But, it doesn’t matter.

I find it sort of odd that you forgive Mr. Starr for his “one time” transgression (even though he has represented more than one capital habeas defendant). This is inconsistent with your professed love of justice. I am not sure what side you are playing on. I suspect that since you pick and choose which lawyers you support and which you don’t, that you are really trying to make those who support the abolition of habeas corpus and the frequent use of the death penalty to execute Texans look silly. The fact that you pepper your speech with the use of the term “nitwit” (and political references) lends support to this proposition.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 14, 2007 5:56:22 AM

How bad can some stories get? Try “Religion, culture behind Texas execution tally” ( Reuters, Aug 12, 2007).

Ed Stoddard, the Reuter's reporter, finds that the Old South- slavery-western cowboy-pro death penalty Christian Governors-large evangelical population culture, combined with friendly judges, makes Texas the leader in execution.

Gee Ed, what about the kitchen sink?

Not surprisingly, Mr. Stoddard combines his interesting opinions with those of Richard Dieter, head of The Death Penalty Information Center, a prime distributor of misinformation for the anti death penalty movement.

Somehow, they left out that Texas has the second lowest rate of overturning death penalty cases. That is, necessarily and by far, the most important fact in having high execution numbers. Couldn't Ed and Richard have figured that out?

The quality of prosecutors and defense counsel and, of course, the opinions of the judges are, collectively, responsible for the overturning and confirmation rates and, therefore, execution rates. Any other factors are very minor, indeed.

What evidence did Stoddard and Dieter present, that their conflagration of cultural characteristics is responsible for Texas' leading execution count? Zero.

At one point, murderers were most likely to be sentenced to death and executed in Delaware. Delaware doesn't seem to be much of a hotbed of the Old South- racist-western cowboy-pro death penalty Christian Governors-large evangelical population culture. But, I might be wrong. Mr. Stoddard?

The majority of citizens, in all states, even non death penalty states, support capital punishment. 85% of Connecticut citizens supported the 2005 execution of Michael Ross. That’s the highest percentage I have ever seen. Connecticut is not quite the hotbed of Old South- racist-western cowboy-pro death penalty Christian Governors-large evangelical population culture. Mr. Dieter?

As for the fundamentalist or evangelical Christian influence on executions, that doesn't seem to be much of a factor in executions. Many southern states have significant evangelical populations, but their execution rates vary, widely, indicating little or no impact. Texas is not near the top rung of the evangelical ladder. However, southern states execute many more murderers than any other region.

But, again, the execution rates are controlled by the appellate courts, not by the Old South- racist-western cowboy-pro death penalty Christian Governors-large evangelical population culture. Right?

Stoddard writes: “Some critics say the South can be seen in the racial bias of death sentences with blacks more likely than whites to be condemned — though Texas is not alone on this score. Over 41 percent of the inmates currently on death row in Texas are black, but they account for only about 12 percent of the state’s population.”

Nice, Ed. Some critics, like you, are wrong. White murderers are twice as likely to be executed as are black murderers. Population count has NOTHING to do with it. It is the crimes committed, not any ethnic or racial groups population count, that put murderers on death row. Black murderers are not more likely to be condemned, on a death sentences per murder rate. White murderers are. White death row inmates are also executed more quickly.

I suspect Texas leads the nation in the sales of pickup trucks. Maybe that's why the state executes as much as it does. Ed? Richard? Nah, it's probably the state and federal appellate judges, in all jurisdictions, who control the execution rates.

-----------------

NOTE: Some good information on evangelicals.
http://www.beliefnet.com/politics/religiousaffiliation.html
http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdateID=196


Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites

homicidesurvivors(dot)com/categories/Dudley%20Sharp%20-%20Justice%20Matters.aspx

www(dot)dpinfo.com
www(dot)cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
www(dot)clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
joshmarquis(dot)blogspot.com/
www(dot)lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
www(dot)prodeathpenalty.com
www(dot)yesdeathpenalty.com/deathpenalty_contents.htm
www(dot)wesleylowe.com/cp.html

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Aug 17, 2007 7:16:42 AM

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