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November 17, 2007

The impact of the execution moratorium on victim's family

CNN has this new piece showcasing the impact of the Baze execution moratorium on the family of one murder victim.  Here is a snippet:

The call.  He expected it.  Dreaded it.  But he didn't hesitate to answer. Junny and Vicki Rios-Martinez have been waiting since 1991 to see Mark Dean Schwab executed.

When Junny Rios-Martinez's cell phone rang Thursday afternoon, he and his wife were in their car, getting the family together on their way to witness the execution of their son's killer scheduled for that night. "It was a woman from the governor's office. She told me there was a stay."...

Mark Dean Schwab, 38, won a stay from the Supreme Court hours before he was scheduled to be put to death. When Rios-Martinez hung up, no one said a word.... Junny and Vicki Rios-Martinez had been waiting for more than 16 years to see their son's killer executed.  Now, they'll have to wait even longer. The Supreme Court is reviewing whether executions by injection violate the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment....

Rios-Martinez said the delay gives him just one more reason to be fed up with a criminal justice system he feels has let him down. "People tell me I'm full of anger.  Why shouldn't I be? My son was my life. He was the light of my eyes. I loved him more than anything," said Rios-Martinez.

November 17, 2007 at 09:26 PM | Permalink


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The family could have had closure 16 years ago had Schwab received a life sentence.

Posted by: anonymouse | Nov 18, 2007 12:32:09 AM

Anonymouse, that's utter crap. You arrogantly presume to speak for what would or would not constitute closure for these poor people? They want the death penalty; the law provides for it, and now, because of some BS claim (and it will remain a BS claim, whether or not Kennedy goes along with the Gang of Four), after years of appeals, these people have to wait. They didn't ask to have their kid murdered, did they? Do they not have every right to expect that a lawful punishment will be carried out?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 18, 2007 1:54:11 AM

So what? The purpose of our legal system is not to commit vindictive acts for families or to "provide closure" for victims. And besides the entire reason Baze is before SCOTUS is because the lawfulness of the punishment has been called in question.

Posted by: chuck | Nov 18, 2007 12:02:07 PM

As someone working in the mental health field, and as a human being, I sympathize with the family's feelings of lose. However, It's unfortunate that this family fools themselves into thinking that this man's death will give them peace. It's also not a terribly effective way to deal with the pain of losing that personal connection they had to their son. From a legal standpoint, the goal should be that this guy never hurts anyone again (life in prison). From the family's personal standpoint, it should be about living, dealing, and learning through and from their son's death. Dwelling on seeing someone die, when the goal is years in the futues lets them avoid dealing with all of this pain, but not forever. What happens AFTER the execution, with this family? The American Penal System seems to be based too much on vegence, and not enough on actually lowering the crime rate.

Posted by: tom | Nov 18, 2007 12:15:46 PM

I would like to offer some unsolicited rhetorical advice to opponents of the death penalty: Avoid describing the families of murdered children as vindictive.

It may be incomprehensible to you that they want to see their son's killer die, and if so, I admire your Christ-like attitude. Of course, wanting to see someone die is ugly. But the world is ugly; the man killed their child. I don't think it's helpful to pass judgment on their anger.

Posted by: matth | Nov 18, 2007 6:22:25 PM

We think that the state has the right to kill other people, then we and the state are not any different that the very people they are executing.

Posted by: EJ | Nov 18, 2007 6:35:43 PM

Of course, if the family wanted the defendant sentenced to life, and the state was still trying to kill him, federalist and his ilk wouldn't give a crap what the family's views were. Their views only matter if the views are pro-killing.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 18, 2007 8:06:27 PM

Hey, EJ, if you cannot figure out that there is a difference between torturing a young boy to death after raping him and execution of a killer, you're either deliberately obtuse or someone with no moral compass. It's fine to think that the death penalty is wrong, many do--but executing people doesn't make society into Schwabs.

As for chuck's stupid comment, the answer is that the criminal justice system has a moral component--an idea that society must express outrage at a heinous act. And 16 years of appeals is far too long for these poor people. They have every right to be angry with the criminal justice system. Moreover, they have every right to question why, after almost 1000 lethal injections in this country, are we visiting the issue now. Schwab should have been executed years ago. May Junny rest in peace. The world will be a better place once Schwab leaves it.

As for Anon's comment, I think that the uncertainty is the bad thing. I can respect people who don't support death for their child's killer. But even those who don't support death probably are put through the wringer when appeals delay execution. I do think it a bit strange when people actively fight to reverse a death sentence given to their child's killer. It seems disloyal to me and an odd set of priorities.

I support capital punishment because I believe that life is precious. And it is an outrage that a person who murders another gets to live. Perhaps that's my atheism coming through. Who knows? I support capital punishment, and I would like to see a lot more of it.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 18, 2007 10:45:27 PM

I think what people confuse is that the law--and the punishment it provides--has nothing to do with the families of victims, revenge, etc. The reality is that the law and revenge are often closely related--because the law can result in the death people, people confuse it with revenge. But in fact law is enacted for completely different and independents reasons. It has absolutely no connection to the understandably horrid feelings of families. So, the feelings of victims, in waiting for the government's hand to enact their revenge, have no impact on how the government carries out its duties.

Posted by: chuck | Nov 19, 2007 9:10:34 AM

"I support capital punishment because I believe that life is precious." federalist

That quote is really just too precious. I can't stop laughing. Do you even have a clue how dumb you are?

Posted by: Hilarity, Federalist | Nov 19, 2007 9:33:00 AM

Yeah - one innocent death is way too many, which is why we need to exterminate people who harm children. No one here needs to pretend to know what the family feels or what will be good or bad for the family. They want him to die. I think the way child abusers, molesters, rapists, and murderers ahould be dispatched should be the decision of the victim's family. Then we would see how many people are out there saying 'lethal injection is inhumane.' Let's see how it feels when it is your child. If something like this happened to my child, the criminal would never even make it into the pathetic excuse for a justice system we currently have. I would torture and kill him and videotape it and then sell the video on pay-per-view, and if I got the death penalty for that, then so be it. If that happened to my child my life would already be over. I would go lie on death row and watch cable tv for 15 years in the air conditioning. There would be a lot less of this kind of thing if there actually were a deterrent for crime today, instead of a $35k per year burden on taxpayers, complete with 3 square meals, cable tv, climate control, and full medical and dental. And yes, I worked in a jail for many years, and yes, it really is that rosy.

Posted by: Please... | Nov 19, 2007 12:04:35 PM

Chuck, read Hill v. McDonough and see if you stand by your comment.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 19, 2007 12:10:07 PM

Hilarity, think about what you wrote. Do you really think that a view that life is precious is incompatible with support for the death penalty?

Posted by: federalist | Nov 19, 2007 12:12:26 PM

"I do think it a bit strange when people actively fight to reverse a death sentence given to their child's killer. It seems disloyal to me and an odd set of priorities."

Good to see that your values and beliefs trump everyone else's, including the relatives of a murder victim. Must be nice to be so omnipotent.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 19, 2007 12:33:35 PM

anonymouse has a point: The less constitutional controversy involved the greater the sense that the matter is settled. The death penalty will always involve controversy.

“Closure” is one of those mental-health terms that don’t have much place in the legal field. There is no way that I, you, or anyone else, can determine when someone actually has resolved some issue in their mind. The courts do not purport to provide definitive resolutions of any question, and that is why the views of families are rightfully ignored even when a family does not wish to give someone the death penalty. (This is why I think that “victim” statements are completely irrelevant and a waste of time.)

I don’t really see the difference between the state’s pageant-filled killing of a condemned man and the extra-judicial killing by a criminal. It is all a killing. Sure, as a lawyer, I am sworn to claim that the state’s killing is legitimate, but that doesn’t mean that somehow it is more moral. (I have not resolved whether the death penalty is moral or immoral, but I do not think that it is moral just because we attach some killings to the judicial system.)

Although I don’t really think that much of the “mental health field” Tom’s point is well-taken: these families are expecting too much from our system of criminal justice and the courts. These families seem to expect that the courts will make them feel good. Courts can’t and don’t do this.

Chuck raises a point that we don’t want to address: law and revenge are often intertwined. This is probably why some are willing to look the way when someone is condemned not for a crime that they actually committed, but some other crime when the result would be the same.

Matth, Some families of crime victims are vindictive. I don’t know any other word for it. Some are more introspective. Some are stoic. Some seek peace in god. Passing judgment is human nature.

But, Federalist raises an interesting point: If this guy had been acquitted at trial, would the family have had “closure.” Should juries simply acquit people if they feel that the family would mentally benefit from a definitive resolution of the matter?

Posted by: S.cotus | Nov 19, 2007 1:49:32 PM

While most everyone experienced the same rage and helplessness that federalist and "Please..." expresses when the Jessica Lunsford case and too many others unfolded, it can be necessary to set that aside when it comes to rational solutions.

I agree that the murder of children should have the highest priority and nothing is more important to deter if we can, but I have to wonder, as many do, if some of the laws are increasing the chances a child will be murdered, in those states with the death penalty for child rape for example.

Since children are almost always killed to avoid detection (very rarely for sadistic purposes like with Duncan), the economists who say the death penalty deters murder should do a study on only child killers.

Schwab faced 3 life sentences even without the murder. Is that why he killed? What if the maximum sentence was 8 years on each of those offenses for a total of 24 years? That is about the same as Jessica's law. Would he have still killed Junny? Is there an optimum sentence that would help prevent child murders?

I have no idea but the economists might be able to find some facts to help us determine that. If the cost/benefit analysis is true and murder is a rational choice, as it apparently is with most child sexual abuse murders, could economists find a most effective sentence that would save children's lives? Is there a most severe sentence but not so severe that it increases the risk of murder to avoid detection? Do the civil commitment laws increase or decrease the child murder rate? Do collateral consequences increase or decrease the child murder rate? What state had the lowest child murder rate and why? Which had the highest and why? That would be a very valuable study which could provide facts, whatever they might be, that should not be ignored when it comes to sentencing law and policy. Far more important, I think, than the debate over the death penalty itself.

Posted by: George | Nov 19, 2007 4:17:57 PM

What about all the families of victims whose killers were sentenced to life or less? These are the vast majority of murder defendants - - so few are actually sentenced to death. Even if you believe that the execution of the convicted is good for the victim's family, then these people are on a much better footing than thousands of other families who will never see their beloved's killer executed.

Posted by: Texas Lawyer | Nov 19, 2007 6:49:21 PM

Two thoughts:

1. Why are children so much more important than adults? After all, children have not proven themselves. Many children will grow up to be losers. The life of an adult can be much more easily assessed for its worth (it is done in tort law all the time). Wouldn’t it be far better to simply put the victim’s life on trial as a means to determine whether his killer should get the death penalty?

2. Is accuracy of the fact-finding process sacrificed in the name of closure? If this “closure” BS is so important, wouldn’t either lying to the family or selecting a random person (from the lower classes) to execute help the family out a lot more than pretending that the state-sponsored killing process is about justice?

Posted by: S.cotus | Nov 19, 2007 11:02:39 PM

And, combining those two thoughts together, it is hard to have much sympathy for the families of people that may or may not have been killed by someone when it is unknown whether the "victim" really contributed something to society or not.

This issue is being discussed (of sorts) at prawfsblawg http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2007/11/the-ethics-of-s.html .

Posted by: S.cotus | Nov 19, 2007 11:08:38 PM

"And, combining those two thoughts together, it is hard to have much sympathy for the families of people that may or may not have been killed by someone when it is unknown whether the 'victim' really contributed something to society or not."

Cute. Real cute.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 20, 2007 12:40:22 AM

I can sympathize with your jurisprudence of feelings, victimization and closure, federalist, but given that it only extends to victims of crimes and neither you nor like-minded judges seem interested in vindicating the plight of other identifiable groups, I take it with a grain of salt.

Of course we recognize revenge for punitive purposes, but the death penalty is societal revenge, not individual revenge. I thought that was the point? The victims' families have the same standing as every other member of society with respect to that interest.

It is possible to sympathize with these families without laying the blame for their grief at the hands of SCOTUS or any other court. I know, for example, that you find this claim to be frivilous, federalist, but the claim is not legally frivilous and we have this kind of review for a reason.

Moreover, the population of murderers on death row is insignificant compared to the number of drug dealers rotting in prison for decades for nonviolent offenses. Why are there no human interest stories on the impact the drug war has had on entire communities? CNN's bias, sensationalism and faux journalism shows through once again.

Posted by: Alec | Nov 20, 2007 2:52:06 PM

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