« Federal death sentence tossed for serial killer due to juror's dishonesty | Main | "Balanced Justice: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Criminal Justice Policy" »

October 20, 2011

Alabama poised to complete record-fast(?) execution for child killer

As detailed in this Reuters article, Alabama has an execution scheduled for tonight that is notable in part because it is taking place "only" six years after the murder for which the punishment was imposed.  Here are the details:

An Alabama man who has spent just four years on death row for the suffocation and beating death of his infant son is set to die by lethal injection on Thursday.  The execution of Christopher Thomas Johnson, 39, is scheduled for 6 p.m. local time at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore.

Johnson made the rare move of pleading guilty to capital murder in the 2005 death of his 6-month-old son Elias Ocean Johnson.  The inmate requested the death penalty, which was granted in February 2007, and waived all appellate and intervention measures on his behalf.

One law professor said Johnson's brief stay on death row is unusual and could possibly be among the shortest on record nationwide.  Donald Q. Cochran, a former prosecutor and a professor at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, said the only other case he could recall following such an abrupt timeline was that of confessed Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.  McVeigh was executed in 2001, six years after committing his crime.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, the average time an inmate spends on death row awaiting execution is 14 years, with many waiting longer than 20 years.   Johnson would be the sixth inmate executed in Alabama this year and the 38th put to death nationwide in 2011.

Johnson represented himself at trial.  He testified he killed his son because "he hated his wife, didn't want to be near her and didn't want to worry about her threats of putting him in jail for alimony or child support," according to documents filed by the state Attorney General's Office.  Johnson offered no mitigating circumstances for his crime, and the trial court found the "the heinous, atrocious and cruel" nature of the murder outweighed any justifications that could have been offered, records show....

The forensic pathologist who performed Elias' autopsy testified during the trial that the infant suffered at least 85 separate injuries.  Suffocation and head trauma were cited as the causes of death.

In a statement issued by Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, executive director Esther Brown said even though the organization respects Johnson's right to have the death penalty imposed, they questioned his motives. "We are a prisoner organization and therefore respect a prisoner's wishes.  Nevertheless, we question Mr. Johnson's mental stability, which would allow him to make this kind of decision," Brown said.

Especially for anyone who hopes the death penalty may have a deterrent impact and who fears that capital delay may blunt that impact, it is telling and troubling that an execution taking place six years after the crime is still possibly a record-fast execution in the modern capital punishment era.

October 20, 2011 at 05:55 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e20154364b44ad970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Alabama poised to complete record-fast(?) execution for child killer:

Comments

This story is covered in the following entry:
http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/2011/10/why-we-have-the-death-penalty-3.html

The entry links to a news story that includes a pictue of the murder victim.

I defy anyone to look at that picture and tell me that the killer, who, out of sheer hate, beat a defenseless and uncomprehending human being at least 85 times before he died, does not deserve what the law has given him.

There is no question about who did it and no possibility of innocence. To oppose the death penalty in a case this horrible is to have lost touch with reality.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 20, 2011 6:25:18 PM

Mr. Bill is right. People should be able to kill people when they have a good enough reason.

Posted by: George | Oct 20, 2011 7:35:53 PM

In June 1993, Andrew Chabrol was executed in Virginia for murdering Melissa Harrington in July 1991.

http://www.cncpunishment.com/forums/showthread.php?3998-Andrew-Chabrol-Virginia-June-17-1993&highlight=chabrol

Posted by: alpino | Oct 20, 2011 7:44:29 PM

George --

"Mr. Bill is right. People should be able to kill people when they have a good enough reason."

You intend that to be sardonic. Instead it's a truism.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 20, 2011 8:50:22 PM

@George
Yes and by the same logic we abduct people and hold them through threat of force because we have good enough reason.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Oct 20, 2011 8:56:44 PM

I wonder, will the execution of this guy bring back his son??

Posted by: Huh? | Oct 20, 2011 10:07:07 PM

@Huh?
Would locking him up or letting him go bring back his son?

Posted by: MikeinCT | Oct 20, 2011 10:33:43 PM

Texas has killed them faster, much faster. The record in the modern era is less than 2 years verdict to needle.

Posted by: whatever | Oct 20, 2011 10:53:35 PM

Mr. Bill: "You intend that to be sardonic. Instead it's a truism."

So it is a categorical imperative.

Posted by: George | Oct 20, 2011 11:34:40 PM

@MikeinCT
"Yes and by the same logic we abduct people and hold them through threat of force because we have good enough reason."

Despite your kitten claws, no one has ever argued for the abolishment of prison that I can recall.

Posted by: George | Oct 20, 2011 11:38:52 PM

George --

I have no idea what you're talking about with the "caterorical imperative" business, but I know full well (and you conspicuously do not deny) that your statement ("People should be able to kill people when they have a good enough reason") is a truism.

I also know that Mr. Johnson earned what he got tonight. If you disagree, please state your reasons.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 20, 2011 11:52:33 PM

George --

"Despite your kitten claws, no one has ever argued for the abolishment of prison that I can recall."

The point is not whether anyone has argued for the abolition of imprisonment. The point is that NO form of punishment will bring back the murder victim, so to say that the DP won't bring him back either is somewhere between pointless and idiotic.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 20, 2011 11:59:46 PM

Huh? --

"I wonder, will the execution of this guy bring back his son??"

Since no punishment will bring back his son, does that mean he should receive no punishment?

If he should receive a punishment, could you explain how a term of imprisonment is proportionate to the crime?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 12:09:22 AM

@George
Kitten claws? I'm simply using your own logic against you. If it seems weak, as it should, that should tell you that your argument bears kitten claws.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Oct 21, 2011 12:18:08 AM

MikeinCT --

In a way, you can't blame George for wanting to talk about kitten claws rather than say too much about his support for Mr. Johnson's position on sentencing.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 12:27:17 AM

i also can't find much to say aobut this verdict. outside of if he hated his wife so much.....he should have went for her! not the innocnt child!

if he could prove her statmeents i'd find him not guilty on that one in a heartbeat!

but this one! all i can say is at least he was man enough to admit what he did and take the punishment it calls for!

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 21, 2011 12:57:16 AM

i think the same thing about suicide! IF you harass me so much i'm feeling like someone needs to die! TRUST ME it's GONNA BE YOU! a hell of a long time before i go!

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 21, 2011 12:58:20 AM

Mr. Bill: "I have no idea what you're talking about with the "caterorical imperative" business...."

Google is your friend.

Mr. Bill: "The point is not whether anyone has argued for the abolition of imprisonment. The point is that NO form of punishment will bring back the murder victim, so to say that the DP won't bring him back either is somewhere between pointless and idiotic."

I'm sorry you got confused and mixed the apples and oranges.

@MikeinCT:

"Kitten claws? I'm simply using your own logic against you. If it seems weak, as it should, that should tell you that your argument bears kitten claws."

It is not the same logic. My argument is that killing is wrong and it is particularly wrong when done by someone (or the state) that claims to be morally superior. Or maybe killing is the right thing to do when justified and therefore should be a categorical imperative and true for everyone in every circumstance. That is the logical conclusion if killing is good.

I would posit there is only one grey area and that is killing in self defense when there is an immediate danger of life and limb. That could be a reasonable categorical imperative.

Posted by: George | Oct 21, 2011 1:10:34 AM

George --

"I'm sorry you got confused and mixed the apples and oranges."

Gads, George, you really are doing the fancy dance tonight. Apples and oranges, kitten claws, categorical imperatives, blah, blah, blah.

Let's just cut to the chase. Is a sentence of imprisonment proportionate to this man's crime? Yes or no.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 1:27:29 AM

rodsmith --

"all i can say is at least he was man enough to admit what he did and take the punishment it calls for!"

Thank goodness for one commenter who doesn't try to dance around the issue and just tells it like it is.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 1:30:54 AM

Gads, Mr. Bill, it takes two to tango and we are talking about the death penalty, but since you want to talk about an imagined sentence rather than the real sentence, do we assume based on educated guesses that he would be tortured daily if not killed in prison? Do we weigh those factors into the proportionality? Yes or no.

Posted by: George | Oct 21, 2011 1:33:53 AM

George, the "Mr. Bill" stuff has worn extremely thin. At least Bill Otis, unlike you and I, has the guts to put out his real name here. I see no need to tag him in such a snide, disrespectful, juvenile fashion with an old Saturday Night Live character's name.

As to the main question here, in my view, Johnson definitely deserved death. Under the laws in Alabama, death seems the most appropriate punishment for having inflicted 85 seperate injuries in the course of murdering his child. I just can't come up with any valid reasons why someone like him should be allowed to go on living.

George, what do you think the right sentence for Johnson should have been?

Posted by: alpino | Oct 21, 2011 3:31:11 AM

alpino --

Thank you. In George's defense, however, I must say that, if I held his position, I too would be reluctant to use my real name.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 6:12:50 AM

George --

"Do we weigh those factors into the proportionality? Yes or no."

Yes.

Now that I have answered your question as requested, I trust you will return the favor. My question was simple: Is a sentence of imprisonment proportionate to this man's crime? Yes or no.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 6:16:20 AM

While we're waiting for George to come up with his next dodge, I was wondering: Where are the rest of you abolitionists? You made yourselves so loud and clear about the cop-killer Troy Davis. You go on and on about Willingham. You have been so gracious as to tell us that Kent is a Nazi (because he wears a business suit) and I'm an imbecile, among other choice things.

So where are you in discussing Mr. Johnson?

Isn't he also a victim of grind-'em-up prosecutors? Wouldn't you say so, John K? Why not? You always do.

Isn't this execution just another sign that Amerika Stinks, claudio? The EU must be horrified. Do tell!

Aren't you a bit late with your usual pious lecture, peter? Is this child murder a little much, even for you? No, not really, I harbor no such hope. There is simply no such thing as a murder too grotesque for your unending litany of excuses. So tell ya what -- go on offense! It is, after all, the only reaction you know.

And to msyoung: Isn't this execution nothing more than an indictment of Amerika's racism and legacy of slavery? I mean, sure, the killer was white and the victim was white but, you know, what the heck. The execution took place in Alabama, part of the Old Confederacy, and that's close enough, wouldn't you say?

To the rest of the abbie crowd -- hey, I didn't see anything in the story about the state's offering DNA testing. And there's no videotape. Well you know what that means!!! The government's just cooking it up. Another case of skimpy evidence at best. Sure, he confessed, but as you have so often reminded us, the police tend to manipulate these things till they get what they want, not so? Am I mistaken in recalling that I've seen that one on this site over and over?

Good grief. Since abolitionism is so sure of itself, and so, well, PRINCIPLED, I'd expect to see the same snarling self-righteousness we see with every other execution that gets an entry from Doug. But all I'm seeing is Huh? and George making fools of themselves. I'm sure you guys can do better than that.

So let's hear it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 6:56:06 AM

I find it curious that we as a nation want small and limited government but yet enthusiastically give the government the power to kill its own citizens.

Posted by: scott | Oct 21, 2011 8:29:30 AM

scott --

The Framers had a vastly smaller and more limited government than we have now, yet reserved "the power to kill" citizens (i.e., the death penalty) for many more crimes than it can be used for today.

Do you also find that "curious?"

Do you have greater moral vision than George Washington?

And do you think a sentence of imprisonment would have been proportionate to Mr. Johnson's crime?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 8:43:24 AM

There are countless examples where the abbies seem to clam up. Why? Because these are cases that perfectly illustrate that their arguments are tired and based upon logical fallacies. Another example? Lawrence Russell Brewer.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 21, 2011 9:16:39 AM

TarlsQtr --

I don't think it's so much logical fallacies that have them clamming up. I think it goes deeper.

No normal person can look at the cruelty and savagery of this case, the unadulterated hate that comprised the killer's motive, and the beauty, innocence and helplessness of this child, and think that prison is adequate. It's just not possible. The abbies know this too, but they're so stuck in their one-size-fits-all, victims-can-go-to-hell stone that they're not about to admit it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 11:15:33 AM

"The abbies know this too, but they're so stuck in their one-size-fits-all, victims-can-go-to-hell stone that they're not about to admit it."

One of Bill Otis's rules for posting on this blog is: "Let me speak for myself. Rather than formulate what you think my attitude toward state killing (or anything else) is, just quote me."

Has anyone on this blog ever said that "victims can go to hell?" I'd like to see who and where.

Is this a case of rules being necessary for thee, but not for me?

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 11:47:52 AM

George--

Maybe I'm just being obtuse, but I'm having difficulty understanding your categorical imperative point, which I think you're using to argue against capital punishment?

Presuming you're referring to the Kantian categorical imperative, I'm confused why execution of an individual for premeditated murder, where guilt is not in question, would lead to a logical contradiction...at least that's what I think your basic point is. I'm also confused because Kant was pro-death penalty.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Oct 21, 2011 11:57:07 AM

C --

"Has anyone on this blog ever said that 'victims can go to hell?' I'd like to see who and where."

Of course they don't SAY it. Bad PR.

Now if you'll point me to anyplace on this quite long thread where an abolitionist has shown any concern for the victim, I'd be much obliged.

P.S. Since I'm having a real hard time getting George to answer my question (even after I answered his), perhaps you can tell me: Is a sentence of imprisonment proportionate to Mr. Johnson's crime? Yes or no.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 12:17:02 PM

Res ipsa --

The categorical imperative stuff is just a blizzard of words so that George can avoid answering questions about the punishment for his particular murder. And what you're going to get back from him, if you get back anything, will be a continuation of the blizzard.

My advice is snowshoes.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 12:21:16 PM

Bill, you have said before, "Rather than formulate what you think my attitude toward state killing (or anything else) is, just quote me."

That's all I'm asking - has anybody ever said it? Apparently not.

Then why is this not a rule that goes both ways?

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 12:27:03 PM

Bill, I missed the last part - I will not answer the question for George because first, I have not indicated that I have concerns with the outcome in the case, and second, I have not read anything about the case - I have only read the post and this thread.

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 12:30:25 PM

C stated: "Has anyone on this blog ever said that "victims can go to hell?" I'd like to see who and where."

Well, this is pretty darn close:

Anneliese MacPhail stated: "We are ready to close this book and start our lives."

Anon stated: "She could have done that a long time ago."

I'd say that is pretty darn close to saying that she can "go to hell." Furthermore, NOT ONE abby said a word about Anon's comment. The closest one came was TDPS, who said Mrs. MacPhail's pain was another reason to "have sympathy for [the family]."

Of course, (s)he then blames pro-DPers for her pain beginning in the very next sentence: "Of course, it's a pretty safe bet that some people in the pro-dp crowd have spent the last two decades making sure that the MacPhails have continued to believe that Troy Davis must die before they can finally find peace. Using the families of crime victims to further the pro-dp agenda is a pretty reprehensible thing to do, but I suppose that kind of thing can be expected from people who have devoted their lives to seeing others put to death."

Sure, go on and tell us how much abbies care about the victims...

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 21, 2011 12:37:39 PM

C --

I'm not asking you to answer "for George." I'm asking you to answer for you.

And you are not being at all forthcoming in saying that you don't have enough info to answer. That is a classic dodge. Moreover, your response is self-contradictory. What you say (since you wish to be quoted) is this: "I have not read anything about the case - I have only read the post and this thread."

The first clause contradicts the second. If you've read the post and this thread, then it is simply false to maintain that you "have not read anything about the case."

But enough of the distractions from the subject, that being the imposition of the death penalty on Mr. Johnson. From what you know of the case from reading Doug's post, is it your view that a sentence of imprisonment, no matter what its length, would have been proportionate to the crime?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 1:04:30 PM

TarlsQtr --

Note that this thread is now 37 comments long, and neither George, scott, Huh? or C has said a single word even mildly critical of the behavior that brought about the execution or sympathetic to the victim. They have had plenty of time, however, to talk about:

a) categorical imperatives
b) kittens' claws
c) bringing back the dead
d) Google
e) apples
f) imagining the daily torture of Mr. Johnson, and
g) the size of the government

Not that they'd be dodging the actual question or anything.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 1:22:24 PM

They do not have time to comment on such things. They are too busy formulating the most polite way to tell the child's mother to, "Get over it," except for Grits, who sits clutching his dictionary while staring at the screen on the prowl for spelling errors.

LOL What a group we have here.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 21, 2011 1:37:12 PM

@George
"It is not the same logic. My argument is that killing is wrong and it is particularly wrong when done by someone (or the state) that claims to be morally superior. Or maybe killing is the right thing to do when justified and therefore should be a categorical imperative and true for everyone in every circumstance. That is the logical conclusion if killing is good.

I would posit there is only one grey area and that is killing in self defense when there is an immediate danger of life and limb. That could be a reasonable categorical imperative."

Except that it is the same logic. You argue that because killing people who wrong you as a private citizen is wrong than the state should not be allowed to either. But holding someone against their will in your basement because they stole your car or wallet is also illegal and could get you life in prison. What's the difference? One's more illegal than the other, but they're both serious. As for death being inherently different, I don't think it is. All defendants have certain rights and both punishments have a history of use in this country. Both have been challenged on some level at SCOTUS and both are pretty terrible for anyone who experiences them.

Quite simply, they are variations on a theme. One is no more moral or legal than the other. Any argument against death appears to work on some level against prison.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Oct 21, 2011 1:52:41 PM

Great points, Mike. You could replace "killing" with "incarceration" in the first paragraph you quote of his and it would still make sense, meaning your statements were using the same logic.

The problem that I see with his analysis is that he seems to force "killing" into either the "moral" or "immoral" box when killing is actually amoral. Once that comes to light, his "kill all" or "kill none" false choice "categorical imperative" falls apart.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 21, 2011 2:07:00 PM

C --

"Has anyone on this blog ever said that 'victims can go to hell?' I'd like to see who and where."

Bill - "Of course they don't SAY it. Bad PR."

Fuck you.

If if you don't like my constitutional right to speak anonymously, fuck you again. You became quite the e-thug since joining a gang. So fuck you thrice.

Posted by: Fuck You | Oct 21, 2011 2:30:30 PM

Doug,

You find it "telling and troubling" that due process takes time (as it does in all areas, criminal and civil)? But you don't find it at all "telling and troubling" that a man with a well-documented history of mental illness -- and let's be clear that we're not talking about some mealy diagnosis of depression or ADD, here; he had been placed in psychiatric hospitals and prescribed anti-psychotics -- was allowed to fire his lawyers (who were attempting to raise a mental capacity defense), represent himself at trial, and waive all his appeals?

This essentially means that no court or jury ever really grappled with the crucial questions of mens rea and mitigation which should have been adjudicated in an adversary setting before a decision was reach that the death penalty was justified under the law (which as you know, requires more than the fact that he committed an admittedly horrifying act). Maybe he was fully competent and deserved death under the law. Maybe he was unable to control himself and was driven by psychotic impulses or hallucinations, etc., and a jury of his peers would have found that LWOP was the proper sentence under the law. We'll never know, because instead of a responsible legal inquiry, he was allowed to commit "suicide by court."

I am not an abolitionist, but I have a problem with a system that allows all safeguards to be bypassed on the say-so of a person who very likely was incompetent to make rational decisions for himself. This is not a result that it seems to me a reasonable person would gloat over.

(Doug, I know I addressed my comment to you at the top, but that gloating reference has more to do with some of the other commenters. I'm not saying you are gloating, but I am disappointed that you seem content to let the complete lack of process here slide without comment.)

Posted by: Anon | Oct 21, 2011 2:45:29 PM

F&%$ You,

Thanks for the single most intelligent, substantive, logical, and polite comment an abby has made on this thread.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Oct 21, 2011 2:47:59 PM

Bill, quite the contrary - I haven't dodged anything.

You may note, in fact, that I have answered the only question you have asked of me, which is, "Is a sentence of imprisonment proportionate to Mr. Johnson's crime?"

You, though, have avoided answering my question to you, which is: "Is your "rule" that commentors here should not "formulate what you think [a fellow commentor's] attitude toward state killing (or anything else) is, just quote [the commentor]."

Just saying.

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 2:51:44 PM

Bill, quite the contrary - I haven't dodged anything.

You may note, in fact, that I have answered the only question you have asked of me, which is, "Is a sentence of imprisonment proportionate to Mr. Johnson's crime?"

You, though, have avoided answering my question to you, which is: "Is your "rule" that commentors here should not "formulate what you think [a fellow commentor's] attitude toward state killing (or anything else) is, just quote [the commentor]" meant to apply both ways?

Just saying.

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 3:01:41 PM

This story is very funny!

First
It’s NOT an execution. it’s a suicide.

Second
It is not Justice, it is burlesque.

Third
According to Stephen B. Bright
“We used to have a much faster system without any monetary expense; it was called lynching. It was fairly well-known in Alabama, for example, in the 1920s and 1930s, that if a certain crime was committed against a white person, particularly by an African American, very swiftly and very economically, they would be hanged from the nearest tree. Do you know of any studies that indicate if that worked as a deterrent? It was fairly well known, it was very swift, it was very efficient, and very cost effective.”
THE DEATH PENALTY IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
http://www.wcl.american.edu/journal/lawrev/45/death.html#ii

Posted by: Dott. claudio giusti, italia | Oct 21, 2011 3:36:35 PM

C --

"Bill, quite the contrary - I haven't dodged anything.
You may note, in fact, that I have answered the only question you have asked of me, which is, 'Is a sentence of imprisonment proportionate to Mr. Johnson's crime?'"

Nope. The question I asked you was, "From what you know of the case from reading Doug's post, is it your view that a sentence of imprisonment, no matter what its length, would have been proportionate to the crime?"

You most certainly have not answered that question. But I would still like to know what your answer is. What is it?

"You, though, have avoided answering my question to you, which is: 'Is your 'rule' that commentors here should not 'formulate what you think [a fellow commentor's] attitude toward state killing (or anything else) is, just quote [the commentor]' meant to apply both ways?

Absolutely -- if it were a rule. But it isn't and I never put it forth as such. This is something you couldn't help knowing, since you obviously followed the exchange.

Just to clarify: I have said repeatedly that neither I nor other commenters make the rules of debate here. The blog owner EXCLUSIVELY makes the rules.

This is the real story, and it scarcely shows my promulgation of a "rule": After one commenter said that I (and two other people) approve of all state killing as inherently good in all circumstances, I told him that (as he well knew) I had said, and believed, nothing of the kind. A discussion of this ensued. He said, inter alia, that the remark was "polemical." After further back-and-forth, he said he did not understand what I wanted of him. I replied, inter alia, that I would like to formulate my own views rather than have it done for me.

Making a REQUEST OF A PARTICULAR PERSON, in the context of a controversy about a specific characterization he had made of my views, is a far cry from announcing a RULE FOR ALL TO FOLLOW while generally debating on this blog.

Since I have neither established nor purported to establish a rule, your question ("... why is this not a rule that goes both ways?") has no referent.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 3:51:06 PM

TarlsQtr --

And he wants to do it THREE TIMES!!! He must have a really, really sparse social life.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 3:53:55 PM

C --

LATE BREAKING DEVELOPMENT!!!

claudio's reaction to Doug's posting is -- and this is a verbatim quotation, since that is what you want -- "This story is very funny!"

I would not have thought the story "funny," but I have let claudio speak for himself. And I'll have to admit, out of due modesty, that he has captured his abolitionist attitude better than I possibly could have.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 4:02:45 PM

Bill, I missed your rephrasing of the question. I find it somewhat strange you consider a person's withholding of judgment on a matter about which he knows very little, and nothing first hand, to be a "dodge." I consider it good judgment and intellectual restraint, a quality I value despite it's current disfavor. I don't find it necessary to spout opinions on matters about which I know little, or about which my only information comes from blog posts or newspaper articles, or on matters upon which I have limited expertise. That said, since you are so keenly interested in my opinion, such as it may be under the circumstances, I will answer your question this way: I have stated no quarrel with Alabama's handling of this case for a reason. If all the facts were the same and Alabama's sentence were one for a life term, I would likewise have no quarrel. If Alabama were a state with no death penalty and the sentence was one for a life term, I would have no quarrel.

In the other exchange you reference, you wrote in response to the question, "I don't know what you want from me":

"Then I'll lay it out. ...Bloggers and commenters on blogs owe honesty to their readers."

It seems a cramped reading to me to interpret what followed to apply to that commentor only, and not to commentors generally (nobody suggests that you presume to impose rules for the blog -- I suggested that you had expressed those thoughts for other engaging you) but if that is how you meant it, so be it. I suggest future interactions here will tell us just how you meant it.

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 5:01:36 PM

Bill ....
porca miseria
The name of the game is “making sarcasm”

Posted by: Dott. claudio giusti, italia | Oct 21, 2011 5:22:09 PM

C --

"It seems a cramped reading to me to interpret what followed to apply to that commentor only, and not to commentors generally..."

Was I addressing someone else? I must have missed it.

And while I'm at it, why did you wait until now to express support for the idea that commenters should let other commenters speak for themselves? Why didn't you say so when I wrote that to Grits? For that matter, why didn't you question Grits the same way you are now questioning me when he said, without a grain of evidence, that I support all state killing as inherently good in all circumstances? You certainly knew I had never said any such thing. Why no interest then, but so much now, in condemning the use of strawmen?

"...(nobody suggests that you presume to impose rules for the blog -- I suggested that you had expressed those thoughts for other engaging you)..."

You're the one who said I was creating a "rule." It was your word.

"...but if that is how you meant it, so be it. I suggest future interactions here will tell us just how you meant it."

I prefer that commenters be allowed to speak for themselves. Of course not everyone is honest, now are they? People have said that Kent is a Nazi. They have said the same thing about me. Those are lies, and there is no reasonable basis upon which a person could think otherwise.

When a commenter is lying, I reserve the right to correct that, and I will continue to do so.

P.S. Since you have extensive opinions about what I say, do you have any opinion about claudio's statement that, "This story is very funny"?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 5:24:59 PM

claudio --

Nice try, no dice. You said point-blank that the "story is very funny."

There's only one story getting posted here, and that is about the outcroppings of a man's decision to beat to death a small child by hitting him at least 85 times. There's nothing there inviting sarcasm.

You think it's funny, do you? Have at it. Your fellow abolitionists have, for the most part, had the shrewdness to keep any similar opinions to themselves.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 5:40:28 PM

"Was I addressing someone else?"
As I said, we'll soon enough know.

"Why didn't you say so when I wrote that to Grits?"
I don't want to steal TQ's act.

"You're the one who said I was creating a "rule."
That I did - a rule for exchanges among commentors in exchanges with you.

"People have said that Kent is a Nazi. They have said the same thing about me. Those are lies..."
Of that I have no doubt, just as I equally doubt the truth of an assertion that DP abolitionists believe crime victims can go to hell, or that DP abolitionists find murder "funny".

"do you have any opinion about claudio's statement..."
I too will let claudio speak for himself.

Posted by: C | Oct 21, 2011 5:52:09 PM

C --

1. "Was I addressing someone else?"
As I said, we'll soon enough know.

The future can't change what was written down in the past. My addressee was Grits, period, no one else. Go back and look at the post.

2. "Why didn't you say so when I wrote that to Grits?"
I don't want to steal TQ's act.

Nice tongue in cheek. (Am I allowed to identify something as tongue in cheek?) In fact, the reason you come after me, but didn't go after Grits, is that you agree with him much more often than with me, is that not correct? It had nothing to do with TQ. You're not neutral in this, Mr. C.

3. "You're the one who said I was creating a "rule."
That I did - a rule for exchanges among commentors in exchanges with you.

Words have meanings, and a request is not a rule. You're doing exactly what you accuse me of doing: Writing someone else's script for him. When I want to call something I'm talking about a "rule," I will. But that will be my decision, not yours.

4. ... I equally doubt the truth of an assertion that DP abolitionists believe crime victims can go to hell, or that DP abolitionists find murder "funny".

"Funny" was not my word. It was claudio's -- an abolitionist. I didn't write his response for him. He wrote it. He only tried to bail out after I called him on it.

5. "do you have any opinion about claudio's statement..."
I too will let claudio speak for himself.

Yes, we already know what claudio thinks. I quoted it verbatim. The question is about YOUR OPINION of what he thinks. What is your opinion?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 7:20:22 PM

Mr Bill: "Note that this thread is now 37 comments long, and neither George, scott, Huh? or C has said a single word even mildly critical of the behavior that brought about the execution or sympathetic to the victim."

What, do you think you're a prison warden in control of our schedule?

But to answer your question, if indeed it is true, as it seemed from the beginning, that this is suicide by court by a mentally deranged defendant unable to rationally defend himself, then LWOP could be disproportionate.

Like free speech, the test of our principles is when we despise the speech in question and might be tempted to harm or even kill the speaker.

Posted by: George | Oct 21, 2011 8:57:13 PM

TarlsQtr: "Presuming you're referring to the Kantian categorical imperative, I'm confused why execution of an individual for premeditated murder, where guilt is not in question, would lead to a logical contradiction...at least that's what I think your basic point is. I'm also confused because Kant was pro-death penalty."

Kant did not find killing to be a categorical imperative and excluded some murderers who killed through premeditated murder. But his attempt to sort it out revealed the problem. He tried to find when it was justified and when it was not, which is why it could never be a categorical imperative. It matters because many people can contemplate murder with justified reasons, but where is the line? You could argue that the line is where the government says it is, after due process, but is it? Since it is not a categorical imperative, it is open to interpretation, which helps explain the brutalization effect.

Posted by: George | Oct 21, 2011 9:10:13 PM

George --

And STILL you have nothing critical to say about the defendant's acts toward the child.

OK, I give up on that one.

But then there's this as well: Your notion that Mr. Johnson was a "mentally deranged defendant unable to rationally defend himself."

Surely you know that the court had to be satisfied that Johnson was competent to enter a plea and to stand trial.

Has it occurred to you that Johnson was perfectly rational? That he understood that what he had done merited a death sentence? That he had the courage and judgment to accept this fact?


Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 11:23:22 PM

Mr Bill: "And STILL you have nothing critical to say about the defendant's acts toward the child."

I didn't mention the law of gravity either.

Mr. Bill: "Surely you know that the court had to be satisfied that Johnson was competent to enter a plea and to stand trial."

Maybe the judge is like you. It's possible.

Posted by: G"eorge | Oct 21, 2011 11:44:35 PM

George --

1. The law of gravity isn't at issue in this case. The defendant's beating his kid to death is. But all I hear from you are excuses for the poor guy.

2. You didn't say that "it's possible" Johnson was allowed to go to trial while mentally deranged and unable to rationally defend himself. You said he DID go to trial while mentally deranged and unable to rationally defend himself. Are you now standing down from that?

3. Where's your evidence that I, as a judge, would permit a mentally incompetent defendant to go to trial? Can you cite a single case out of all I did for eighteen years in which I so much as urged going forward with a trial for a defendant whose lawyer claimed mental incapacity?

4. All your wisecracks at me can't make this case anything different from what it is. A 31 year-old man mercilessly beat a small child to death for no reason other than hate and revenge. He wasn't crazy. He was just amazingly malevolent.

If you want to blow the guy kisses, you go right ahead. Neither I nor any person with even a glimmer of feeling will be joining you.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2011 11:59:07 PM

well anon i though about the mental aspect of it. but even if true and you did put hiim into a mental facility and you did manage to bring him back from the edge...what's gonna happen. He gonna realize that not only did he KILL someone but it was HIS OWN SON! now that would send most normal people over the edge...for someone now put back together with bailing wire and glue...FORGET IT! he gonna go right back inot pyschosis.

so he's a proven danger to others who took a life! bye-bye!

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 22, 2011 1:38:09 AM

Mr Bill: "1. The law of gravity isn't at issue in this case. The defendant's beating his kid to death is. But all I hear from you are excuses for the poor guy."

So you want to not only dictate when I comment, but what I should say in my comments. Do you want me to bow down to you too? The law of gravity is so obvious it doesn't need mentioning. Beating an infant to death is so obviously heinous it does not need mentioning, and I need not insert that disclaimer: I do not condone beating children to death. That is what you imply with your disingenuous manipulations.

"2. You didn't say that "it's possible" Johnson was allowed to go to trial while mentally deranged and unable to rationally defend himself. You said he DID go to trial while mentally deranged and unable to rationally defend himself."

Liar.

"Are you now standing down from that?"

Do you still beat your wife?


"3. Where's your evidence that I, as a judge, would permit a mentally incompetent defendant to go to trial? Can you cite a single case out of all I did for eighteen years in which I so much as urged going forward with a trial for a defendant whose lawyer claimed mental incapacity?"

This is the best part of you posting comments here.

"4. All your wisecracks at me can't make this case anything different from what it is. A 31 year-old man mercilessly beat a small child to death for no reason other than hate and revenge. He wasn't crazy. He was just amazingly malevolent."

Maybe you're right. Maybe not, but it is obvious by now we can't take your word for it.

"If you want to blow the guy kisses, you go right ahead."

After I finish bowing down to you, you mean; then you will permit me to blow him kisses.

"Neither I nor any person with even a glimmer of feeling will be joining you."

Wow, that's amazing. I wonder how many innocent people you locked up for years and years with those kinds of arguments.

Posted by: George | Oct 22, 2011 5:03:06 AM

George --

"I wonder how many innocent people you locked up for years and years with those kinds of arguments."

Someone should have told you that judges lock up people, since only they impose sentences. Prosecutors don't do that.

But for however that may be, finding out how many innocent people I prosecuted is easy, since -- unlike you -- I have neither the need nor desire to hide out in anonymity. I use my real first and last name here, and my cases are thus easy to find. There are lots of them, too.

When you find one that says I prosecuted some guy who didn't do it, let us all know. And no, I won't suggest a deadline. To the contrary, you'll be looking a loooooong time. By all means proceed at your liesure.

I guess one other thing I should say is that it's an indication of how low you have sunk that you would use something like, "I wonder how many innocent people you locked up for years and years with those kinds of arguments." The plain implication is that I locked up innocent people, it's just a question of how many. But since it's in the form of your "wondering" about it, you simultaneously (1) avoid making a direct accusation that I'm a thug, and (2) relieve yourself of any responsibility to actually document what you imply.

This is call argument by insinuation. That's I-N-S-I-N-U-A-T-I-O-N. It was a particular favorite of Sen. McCarthy, and a general favorite of those who lack anything better, like facts.

Notwithstanding this particularly bottom-fishing form of argument, I am nonetheless compelled to congratulate you on your recognition, however reluctantly mumbled, that Mr. Johnson's behavior was heinous. Now if you could just bring yourself also to recognize that it was sufficiently heinous to warrant the death penalty, you'd be making real progress.

Have a goodie, George.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2011 9:46:33 AM

Anon (Oct 21, 2011 2:45:29 PM) --

I'm sorry that I have not responded to your post before now. I have been distracted by commenters suggesting that various physical acts be performed on me, and that I have locked up ___ number of innocents (fill in anything you like).

You seem to believe that I was "gloating" about this execution. I think the sentence was earned, you bet. I have also defended it against the posters who have questioned it. But I'd like to see any post where I have "gloated."

On the merits: The Constitution does not require a defendant to have a lawyer. And ordinary morality - not some exotic or harsh brand of morality, but garden-variety morality -- accepts and indeed encourages human beings to tell the truth about what they have done, feel remorse if it's wrong, and accept rather than resist the consequences.

The one good thing that can be said about Mr. Johnson is that he did those things. They are not the product of being crazy. They are a product of exactly the opposite: Having come to terms with his behavior and understanding how horrible it was.

Have we really come to the point that a willingness to accept the consequences is viewed, not as a good thing, but as presumptively nuts?

If this guy could function in society at all, and he certainly could, then it's just a Hail Mary to think that he did not understand that beating a child so ferociously and for so long was wrong. A legal system that has even minimal confidence in its ability to punish wrongdoers cannot be required to hang itself up for years (and years and years) in order to provide, at taxpayer expense, process that the defendant himself doesn't want.

If he thought the kid was, say, a pumpkin or a shark, that's one thing. But the realistic chances of that are slim to none. Yet still, as Doug correctly points out, it took SIX YEARS to give this man what he recognized he had earned.

That it would take as long as six years in a case where the facts of the underlying act are as clearcut as they are here is absurd.

The central virtue of the death penalty is that it's society's assertion that there are some acts so vile that we have the right to say NO and actually mean it. The crime here was one such. It is a sign of societal health, not decay, that for once we didn't spend years tying ourselves in knots to dispense the only punishment that fits the crime.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2011 11:13:28 AM


This story is very, very funny
Or, if you prefer,
Amazing, astonishing, incredible,
or simply foolish,
as were the stories of Charles Singleton, Gaile Owens, Ryan Matthews, Wanda Jean Allen, Ricky Ray Rector, Alan Gell, Jesse DeWayne Jacobs, Cameron Todd Willingham, Sonia Jacobs, etcetera, etcetera.
American justice is arbitrary, capricious, inconsistent and unpredictable. So it is death penalty.
The story of Christopher Thomas Johnson is the demonstration of how capital punishment is NOT a deterrent for murder.
This was a suicide-homicide case.
As for Thomas Akers, Jeremy Sagastegui, Christina Riggs, someone who cannot kill himself kills to be killed.
To be sure in receiving a ticket for the gallows Johnson represented himself at trial, plead guilty, asked to be condemned to death and waived his rights to appeal.
A State assisted suicide.

Posted by: Dott. claudio giusti, italia | Oct 22, 2011 2:06:57 PM

claudio --

"To be sure in receiving a ticket for the gallows..."

It wasn't the gallows. Try to keep up.

"...Johnson represented himself at trial..."

As was his right.

"...plead guilty..."

Since he was guilty.

"...asked to be condemned to death..."

Thus showing that he understood considerably better than you do what justice called for.

"...and waived his rights to appeal."

Was there a reason to string it out?


Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2011 2:49:27 PM

C --

1. "Was I addressing someone else?"
As I said, we'll soon enough know.

The future can't change what was written down in the past. My addressee was Grits, period, no one else. Go back and look at the post.

C: Fair enough. Your post was to Grits. You expect the same from nobody else, including yourself. I get it. I get it. Why are you so defensive. Don't you believe me?

2. "Why didn't you say so when I wrote that to Grits?"
I don't want to steal TQ's act.

Nice tongue in cheek. (Am I allowed to identify something as tongue in cheek?) In fact, the reason you come after me, but didn't go after Grits, is that you agree with him much more often than with me, is that not correct? It had nothing to do with TQ. You're not neutral in this, Mr. C.

Thank you. That is how it was intended, as TQ has on several times sought to interject himself into our dialog in your defense (you hardly need the help). As for your assumption as to why I "came after" you and not Grits, I could ask you to "let me speak for myself." I could also ask you to quote me rather than "formulate what you think my attitude is," but I've already traveled that road and found it wanting. Instead, I will say first that I have no idea what I am supposed to be agreeing with him about, and second, that I have no idea what you think I think I am neutral about.

3. "You're the one who said I was creating a "rule."
That I did - a rule for exchanges among commentors in exchanges with you.

Words have meanings, and a request is not a rule. You're doing exactly what you accuse me of doing: Writing someone else's script for him. When I want to call something I'm talking about a "rule," I will. But that will be my decision, not yours.

Rule is defined as a "a principle or regulation governing conduct." Rule is also defined as "the customary or normal circumstance or practice," and further may be defined as "a regular course of action." "Rule" vs "Request" - two words comprising the same general ideas. Nobody parses language and seeks such exactitude in words to this extent in real life. Further, you have clarified that those "requests" apply to Grits and none other, including yourself. I get it.

4. ... I equally doubt the truth of an assertion that DP abolitionists believe crime victims can go to hell, or that DP abolitionists find murder "funny".

"Funny" was not my word. It was claudio's -- an abolitionist. I didn't write his response for him. He wrote it. He only tried to bail out after I called him on it.

You wrote, "I would not have thought the story "funny," but I have let claudio speak for himself. And I'll have to admit, out of due modesty, that [claudio] has captured his abolitionist attitude better than I possibly could have." You are the one that wrote that abolitionists find murder to be "funny."

Of course, you may not be only trying to bail out of that generalist nonsense now that I've called you on it. I will understand if you do.

5. "do you have any opinion about claudio's statement..."
I too will let claudio speak for himself.

Yes, we already know what claudio thinks. I quoted it verbatim. The question is about YOUR OPINION of what he thinks. What is your opinion?

I am flattered, I guess, you are so keenly interested in my opinion. I guess I have to wonder on what basis would you think that I find it anything other than completely indefensible?

Posted by: C | Oct 22, 2011 3:28:24 PM

C --

This has become too complicated to follow, so I'll just summarize the main point more briefly.

Sometimes people here have lied about what I think, as was going on when Grits said I approve of all state killing all the time. When they do that, I reserve the right to correct it.

Sometimes they have also lied about what THEY think, or are misleading about it. Occasionaly they do this for better PR. Sometimes they do it to backtrack on a position they announced or that their reasoning implies, but they no longer find useful. I also reserve the right to correct that.

I do not reserve the right, there being none, to mis-state what they believe. But dodging, evading, flip-flopping and trying to make yourself look good by claiming a worthy motive -- while actually having a less worthy one -- are hardly unheard of manuevers in debate, especially an anonymous Internet debate.

If there is some reason I should not reserve the right to correct a misleading portrayal of a commenter's views by giving a truthful one, I am not aware of what it might be. Of course the operative words here are "misleading" and "truthful." I am not free, and neither are my opponents, to just make up a position and try to Velcro it to someone else. But I am perfectly entitled to call them on it when they try to run away from or muddle what it's clear IS their position, and, with your approval or without, I will continue to do that.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2011 6:18:20 PM


http://eji.org/eji/print/node/574

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/21/alabama-executes-christopher-johnson-doubts?INTCMP=SRCH

more to come

Posted by: Dott. claudio giusti, italia | Oct 23, 2011 9:48:43 AM

claudio --

Is there some reason we need the opinion of a left wing foreign newspaper about this case?

I did, nonetheless, read the Guardian article. I notice that it said NOT ONE WORD about the gentleman's crime. It also made NOT ONE CLAIM that any court, ever, in this case or at any time before, found the killer mentally incompetent.

Suggestions of incompetence by hate groups just are not all that impressive -- except to you.

Have at it, claudio.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 23, 2011 10:04:48 AM

Bill wrote, "I do not reserve the right, there being none, to mis-state what they believe."

My first inclination here was to point out to Bill that he has done exactly that here - by suggesting that abolitionists find murder to be "funny."

Then I read closer and noticed that the pronoun "they" has no clearly identifiable antecedent. Who are they? People here? Which ones? People who suggest Bill approves of all state killings? People who reference a breakfast food item in their moniker? Again - "they" could mean anything, at any time.

But "they" clearly does not refer to abolitionists - the right toward abolitionists is most obviously reserved.

Posted by: C | Oct 23, 2011 11:42:19 AM

Claudio - if the assertions in that story are true, it is quite a story and I wonder the Guardian's motives in sitting on the story until after the execution is a fait accompli.

Unfortunately for you, however, there is nothing in that story to remotely suggest the assertions made are true, and there are powerful reasons to presume they are not, and further, whether the assertions are true or not could be easily determined (and reported, if true) by any enterprising reporter.

Posted by: C | Oct 23, 2011 12:02:11 PM

C --

The metadiscussion has run its course. I've explained my position at length. If you still find it unsatisfactory, I'm sorry, but I've said what I can say.

The subject of the post Doug put up is not me or my approach toward debating. The subject is the (then) impending execution of a fellow, 31 years old, who beat to death a beautiful, uncomprehending child in order to get revenge on the child's mother.

Claudio has said he finds the story "very funny." You have rightly reproached him for doing so. You have also said that the execution was OK with you, although LWOP would have been as well.

Unless some compelling reason appears to do otherwise, I'll leave it at that. I'm happy to have someone of your intelligence and agaility in the retentionist camp.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 23, 2011 1:57:35 PM

Now we all have to accept the definition of a word the Lord High Mucky Muck dictates, even if other perfectly acceptable definitions might work better in context. Of course, there is always the possibility that one who uses English as a second language can never speak in definitions acceptable to the Big Brother protocol.

Merriam-Webster says...

FUNNY

1 a : affording light mirth and laughter : amusing b : seeking or intended to amuse : facetious
2: differing from the ordinary in a suspicious, perplexing, quaint, or eccentric way : peculiar —often used as a sentence modifier [funny, things didn't turn out the way we planned]
3: involving trickery or deception [told his prisoner not to try anything funny]

Posted by: George | Oct 23, 2011 5:11:35 PM

George --

Your problem is that neither the secondary nor the tertiary definitions work.

There was nothing about the story that differed from many similar stories in a suspicious, perplexing or peculiar way. It is, tragically, all too common for violent and evil men to grotesquely abuse small children out of anger and hate. You can't go two weeks without reading some story like that in the paper.

There was also nothing tricky or deceptive about the story. There isn't a serious question, indeed there isn't ANY question, that the beating happened as the story described, or that the death sentence was imposed as reported.

Since the secondary and tertiary definitons are inapposite, we're left with the first and by far the most common definition: "affording light mirth and laughter."

It's a classic gambit for people who, in an unguarded moment of candor, have said what they actually think, to try to claim later that they really meant something else. But that it's a classic gambit doesn't make it any less a gambit.

"C," who is not a particular ally of mine, has said claudio's remark was indefensible. Why don't you join up instead of doing claudio's dodge for him?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 23, 2011 6:14:11 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB