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August 17, 2010

"3rd trip to Texas death chamber for grieving dad"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable local article from Texas providing a notable perspective on one victim's view of the administration of the death penalty in a high-profile case:

Randy Ertman knows the road to the Texas death chamber too well. He’s set to make the trip again, to witness for the third time the execution of one of the gang members responsible for the rape and murder of his teenage daughter and her schoolmate.

This time, it will be the lethal injection on Tuesday of Peter Anthony Cantu, the leader of the five young men who were sentenced to die for the June 1993 murders of 14-year-old Jennifer Ertman and 16-year-old Elizabeth Pena.

It’s not lost on him that Cantu has lived in prison longer than Jennifer and Elizabeth were alive. “He should have been hung outside the courthouse,” Ertman said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t mean this in a gruesome way, but if they want to make the death penalty a deterrent, up in front of (Houston) City Hall, they’ve got all these beautiful trees. They should have hung them. If they hung all five of them, that would be a deterrent.”...

The case horrified Houston. Nearly two decades after friends and relatives frantically distributed flyers offering a $10,000 reward for help finding the teenagers who failed to return home from a summer pool party, prosecutor Donna Goode still has one in her office. “Two beautiful young girls,” Goode says. “I think about them.”

Their battered and decomposing bodies, left to mummify in a wooded field in the relentless heat of Houston’s summer, were found four days after they disappeared. “They become everybody’s daughter,” recalled Don Smyth, a retired Harris County assistant district attorney who had helped prosecute Cantu. “Parents always worry about their kids, especially their daughters.”

Of the six people convicted, five were sentenced to death. Two who were 17 when the girls were killed were spared the death penalty when the U.S. Supreme Court barred execution of people who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. The person not sentenced to death, 14 at the time, got a 40-year sentence.

Two of Cantu’s companions in the gang they dubbed the Black and White preceded him to the death chamber. Ertman made the drive here four years ago for the first execution. Derrick O’Brien, belted to a gurney, looked through the death chamber window at Ertman and other relatives of the girls and called his involvement “the worst mistake that I ever made in my whole life.” Seven minutes later, O’Brien was dead.

In August 2008, Ertman again climbed the steps to the red-bricked Huntsville Unit prison. Mexican-born Jose Medellin, 33, with needles in his arms, also apologized. Nine minutes later, he was dead.

Ertman rejected an invitation from Cantu’s lawyer to come to his office and read a letter of apology from Cantu. “It’s a little late,” Ertman said. “I told him to stick it. Hell, no.”

August 17, 2010 at 09:53 AM | Permalink


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“He should have been hung outside the courthouse”

If you're going to do that, then do it in the Astrodome and sell tickets, solicit corporate sponsorship, merchandising, television rights, the whole nine yards. If publicizing supposedly deters and the public loves capital punishment so much, why not? Back when executions were public they always drew a crowd.

Consider the idea a freebie revenue generator in tight budget times. People watch "Bait Car" on television, for heaven's sake, how could they resist watching an actual state-sponsored snuff film?

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Aug 17, 2010 10:42:48 AM

Actually, we should sell tickets to his counseling and rehab sessions. If we're going to see a circus, it might as well be a real one.

As ever, there are no misgivings whatever expressed about the defendant's conduct, only with the state's, even though the execution has been reviewed for years by one court after the next.

A total pacifist might find something wrong with executing this guy, and I'd respect that. But being OUTRAGED by this execution -- as opposed to simply disagreeing with it -- is, well, revealing.

This grotesque rapist/killer reminds me of Timmy McVeigh -- once the details get known, a majority of even those normally opposed on principle to captial punishment would think it's the right thing to do in this instance.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 17, 2010 4:11:35 PM

Bill, do you really mean to suggest that Grits may have no "misgivings" about Cantu's conduct -- that is, that Grits thinks that the original crime was ok? I think that's fairly outrageous, as well as a distraction from any kind of serious discussion. There is no public debate about whether murder should continue to be a crime, but there is one about whether the death penalty is an appropriate response.

Posted by: Jay | Aug 17, 2010 5:01:25 PM

Jay, the cheap shot is Bill's go-to move. Take that away from him and he'd have nothing. I say let him have it.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Aug 17, 2010 7:09:11 PM

Of course, Grits silly little post about selling tickets etc. wasn't exactly decorous either. Riffing off the statements of a dead girl's father lacks class.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 17, 2010 8:38:08 PM


What I actually said was,"As ever, there are no misgivings whatever expressed about the defendant's conduct..."

Do you see the word "expressed" in there? Do you know what it means?

"I think that's fairly outrageous, as well as a distraction from any kind of serious discussion."

I have undertaken any number of serious discussions of the death penalty, including among others this one, http://www.fed-soc.org/debates/dbtid.20/default.asp.

I must have missed, however, the part of your post that itself contains a serious discussion of the death penalty. Where would that be?

And, as federalist notes, Grits' post is unserious. But you do not take him to task for being flip. Why not?

"There is no public debate about whether murder should continue to be a crime, but there is one about whether the death penalty is an appropriate response."

Actually, there is not all that much public debate about it. Gallup ranks the death penalty as having the greatest degree of public consensus behind it of any of the major issues of the day. There is plenty of debate about it here, sure, because this site is dominated by The Excuse Factory. But the great majority of our citizens aren't buying abolitionism, and the unmentioned (by you and Grits) facts of this case illustrate why.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 17, 2010 9:32:35 PM

Federalist, you say it's silly but you also claim, against most evidence, that the death penalty is a deterrent. If you believe that, it can only be because potential killers know about it and are hence deterred, so publicizing it should appeal to you. Besides, if they filmed executions for reality TV - the executed person's last days and the victims' families, for those who'd do it - do you doubt for a second the American public would watch it? Before automobiles Texas counties sometimes had more than 10,000 spectators at 19th century hangings and there's no reason to believe that interest has declined. Admit, it: You and Bill would probably buy season tickets and sit in the cheering section with your faces painted.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Aug 17, 2010 9:37:13 PM

"You and Bill would probably buy season tickets and sit in the cheering section with your faces painted."

Didn't I just read something about cheap shots?

"Federalist, you say it's silly but you also claim, against most evidence, that the death penalty is a deterrent."

Against most evidence? Tripe. A significant majority of studies in the last ten years show the DP has a statistically significant deterrent effect.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 17, 2010 10:00:32 PM

Would you buy season tickets or not?

Posted by: Excuse Factory | Aug 18, 2010 12:32:00 AM

Public executions will glamorize murder, and encourage attention seekers to try to get on TV. Bad idea, not from humanitarian view, but from safety view.

The deterrence of future criminals committing speculative future crimes is an improper motive for any prosecution or execution. This procedural rights argument knocks down an important pro-death penalty argument, yet the abolitionists have not spotted this issue yet.

No. The death penalty is to incapacitate the repeat offender, and to promote public safety. It is an ejection from this world of someone who has proven too dangerous to keep in it. Like getting bounced from a bar.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 18, 2010 12:33:23 AM

Hell, why don't we bring back the guillotine? I think making it a bloody mess would serve as a further deterrent. Ohhh, and maybe then after that we can put their heads on pikes out in front of the town hall as a warning.

Okay, maybe not - but really, isn't that just taking it up to the next level? If hanging equals good, why doesn't beheading equal awesome?

Posted by: Guy | Aug 18, 2010 1:42:05 AM

Excuse Factory --

Congratulations on the honesty of your monicker.

I would not buy tickets or attend. And this fact has nothing to do with whether the DP is just in this case or any other, which is the subject here. It's also the subject you avoid by going ad hominem.

Since Grits seems to be having some trouble refuting by statement (backed up by a listing of the studies) that a majority of recent research shows the DP has a deterrent effect, maybe you can help him out.

Will you?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 18, 2010 10:20:26 AM

The big problem with Bill's studies supporting the deterrence notion is that they purport to prove the negative...that something doesn't happen (additional murders) because of something that does(executions).

Not an easy thing to do.

Beyond that, without even working up a sweat any reasonably smart social scientist can easily pick apart the worth of mere statistical significance in complex issues such as why people kill and why they don't.

Posted by: John K | Aug 18, 2010 12:38:36 PM

Horrific and ironic. The murderers got to live longer than the murder victim lifespan after their crime, due to false delaying, legal tactics. Thank the lawyer and all the irresponsible, morally reprehensible criminal lovers posting here.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 18, 2010 10:56:51 PM

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