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May 15, 2013

Abortion doc cuts post-conviction deal to get formal LWOP rather than face (symbolic) death penalty

As reported in this ABC News story, "Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell agreed ... to serve two life sentences and waive his right to an appeal in order to avoid the possibility of being condemned to death." Here is more about the case and the deal cut:

Gosnell was convicted of first degree murder on Monday in the deaths of three babies who were born live and then killed by severing their spinal chords with scissors.

As part of the deal, Gosnell, 72, will serve two life sentences without the possibility of parole or the opportunity to appeal.  Prosecutors had sought the death penalty against Gosnell, but because of his advanced age it was deemed unlikely that he would live long enough for death penalty appeals which can last decades.

Gosnell is expected to be sentenced Wednesday.  He will also be sentenced on a conviction of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a female patient who was given a lethal dose of sedatives and pain killers in 2009.

The guilty verdicts came on Monday, the jury's 10th day of deliberations.  Gosnell was accused of performing late-term abortions on four babies who were born alive, but were then allegedly killed by Gosnell.  He was cleared in the death of one of the infants.

For two months, the jury heard often grisly testimony, including from members of Gosnell's staff.  Eight staffers have pleaded guilty to several crimes. Prosecutors said none of the staff were licensed nurses or doctors.

While there are many justifiable complaints about the high costs associated with the administration of the death penalty, this outcome provide a prime example of the cost savings that the death penalty can sometimes help generate.  Only the prospect of the death penalty made this post-conviction deal possible, and the cost to the Pennsylvania court systems from direct and collateral appeals could have been considerable absent this deal.

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Congratulations to Doug for his spot-in commentary. As he notes, without the REALISTIC threat of the death penalty, this deal could never have been possible. And a threat is realistic only if executions actually get carried out. They don't have to get carried out often -- just often enough to make the convicted murderer sweat. But they do have to get carried out.

If we abolish the DP altogether, we will not achieve the advertised savings. First, deals like this one will not be possible, and we'll be facing MORE costs, not fewer. Even more significant, the litigation and money now spent fighting the DP will not end. They will just shift into fighting LWOP, which many abolitionists already regard as merely a thinly-disguised, slow-motion DP anyway.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2013 10:35:19 AM

I'm not sure how "realistic" the death penalty threat was, given Gosnell's age. On the other hand, the threat of death _row_ -- as opposed to the more comfortable conditions that would be available to a 72-year-old lifer -- was very real. I don't know what was in his mind, but I suspect that avoiding a death-row cell was a major consideration.

Posted by: azazel | May 15, 2013 11:17:45 AM

As was noted in a prior post, Pennsylvania has an almost California-like level of lack of success in converting theoretical death sentences into actual executions, so I'm dubious as to whether the rate at which they're carried out is high enough to have the effect Bill posits -- although I guess one shouldn't exclude the possibility that it is high enough just because criminal defendants are quite often not people who are particularly good at statistics and cold-blooded calculations of expected value. (If they were better calculators of long-term risk/reward, they might have stayed out of trouble with the law.) Azalel's separate point is worth considering, I suppose, but I don't see why you couldn't make LWOP living conditions as undesirable as (case-law compliant) death-row living conditions, just without the death.

Posted by: JWB | May 15, 2013 12:00:09 PM

Wait, I thought a defendant was incentivized to receive the death penalty over LWOP because it makes him “special” and brings attention to his case he would otherwise not receive. Now you tell me it’s only the prospect of being on death row that incentivized a guilty plea to an LWOP sentence. The death penalty - what can’t it do?

http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/2012/11/many-death-row-inmates-oppose-bid-to-halt-executions.html

Posted by: pc | May 15, 2013 2:24:55 PM

pc --

Brutal.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 15, 2013 2:50:59 PM

It isn't a contradiction when different opinions are stated _by different people_.

Posted by: azazel | May 15, 2013 4:16:59 PM

azazel --

Whether two propositions contradict each other depends on their content, not their authors.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 16, 2013 10:22:34 AM

Obviously, yes, but PC was making an implicit accusation of hypocrisy on the part of the anti-death-penalty movement, using my statement on the one hand and that of Don Specter on the other. That can't be done by comparing statements made by two different people. I should probably have used the word "hypocrisy" rather than "contradiction," but you know what I mean.

In any event I am not part of the anti-death-penalty movement, and believe that execution is the proper penalty for some crimes.

Posted by: azazel | May 16, 2013 1:15:04 PM

"A 20-year-old man from Maine was arrested and charged with killing a 14-year-old Brooklyn girl
whose death had remained a mystery since her burned body was discovered on a desolate beach
in January, police said. Christian Ferdinand allegedly smothered Shaniesha Forbes with a leather pillow
after she said she was pregnant with his child and refused to have an abortion, officials said.

Ferdinand then allegedly took her body to a marshy area of Gerritsen Beach, where he used deodorant
and a lighter to burn her body and clothes
in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence, officials said."

So, because she was pro-life, Ferdinand murdered her, that is, because she would not allow the unborn child to be
legally slayed, the killer murdered her and the baby.

Another sad irony is that thanks to the caring pro-abortionists who dominate New York and its state Legislature,
e.g. A. Cuomo, Joy Behar, Sheldon Silver, &c., the double murderer will never face the possiblity of a
legal sentence of execution.

Maybe, due to his tender age, he'll be released before too long, and can begin a family anew, according to his terms.
[remember humanists: rehabilitation, not retribution]

--5/16/13, wsj.com

Posted by: Adamakis | May 17, 2013 9:53:08 AM

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