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September 14, 2011

"Family of alleged hate-killing victim opposes death penalty in case"

The title of this post is the headline of this CNN report which provides a notable example of a situation in which respecting the wishes of crime victims would result in potential (undue?) sentencing leniency.  Here is how the piece starts:

The family of an African-American man who died after allegedly being beaten by a group of white teens and run over by a truck is asking state and federal officials not to seek the death penalty in the case.

Relatives of James Craig Anderson, who died shortly after receiving his injuries on June 26, sent a letter with their request to the prosecutor in the case, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith.   "We ask that you not seek the death penalty for anyone involved in James' murder," the letter states; the letter is signed by Barbara Anderson Young, James Craig Anderson's sister who is in charge of, and speaks for, his estate.

The letter states that the family is opposed to the death penalty partly for religious convictions.   "Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James' life as well," the letter states.  But the family goes on to explain that there is another reason for their opposition, one that is tied to Mississippi's racial past.

"We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites," the letter states.  "Executing James' killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment."

The family has been mostly private in its grief, but the letter sent to the DA's office alludes to what the family is going through.  "Those responsible for James' death not only ended the life of a talented and wonderful man.  They also caused our family unspeakable pain and grief. But our loss will not be lessened by the state taking the life of another," it says.

The death of James Craig Anderson, 48, occurred early June 26 in Jackson, allegedly at the hands of white teens who, after a night of partying and drinking, decided to go looking for black people to assault, law enforcement officials have said, quoting one of the suspects in the case.

Anderson's death drew national attention after CNN first reported it and aired exclusive surveillance video of the actual killing, captured by a parking lot security camera in a Jackson suburb.  Smith, the district attorney, has called it "vicious" and a "premeditated hate crime."

"We have a racially motivated killing," said Smith, asserting that the group of white teens sought out a black person to kill.  "The teens came to Jackson and they picked out a black man, an innocent victim.  They assaulted that victim, and then they just killed him."

September 14, 2011 at 11:06 PM | Permalink

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Comments

And if the DA respects her wishes, the case will be cited as evidence of "race-of-victim bias."

How many of the studies on that factor in the wishes of the victim's family? None that I know of.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Sep 15, 2011 9:27:19 PM

I question if a group of white teens doing something like this would result in the death penalty anyhow, but it is not a unique case -- there are people that are against the death penalty who have family members murdered in heinous cases of this sort. The justice system is not a private vengeance system and the wishes of the victims' family is not and cannot be the primary driver in punishment though they should be respected as much as possible. This should be recalled when their names are used to justify the punishments applied. Selectively, I'm sure.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 16, 2011 7:02:32 AM

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Posted by: Chanel | Sep 19, 2011 5:23:33 AM

Chanel,

Achtung! lass das, ja?

Posted by: adamakis | Sep 20, 2011 10:03:14 AM

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