« Ohio prosecutor, upon learning of mental health issues, helps undo 5-year prison term for voter fraud | Main | "Judges as Framers of Plea Bargaining" »

March 12, 2014

Making a case for "capital punishment [as] one of law enforcement’s most valuable tools"

U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, who previously served as the lead detective of the Green River Task Force, has this new commentary about the death penalty running under the headline "The death penalty is an important tool of law enforcement." Here are excerpts:

The Green River Task Force ... collected far too many bodies — all young women full of potential who became ensnared in a sordid way of life through a variety of circumstances. Victims of their situations, they also became victims of the Green River killer.

These memories came rushing back to me because of Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent decision to unilaterally stop enforcing the death penalty while he is in office.  He says he wants to start a “conversation” about capital punishment, so let’s start with some facts.

In Washington state, the death penalty is reserved for a select group of people. In legal terms, these criminals have committed murder in the first degree under aggravating circumstances.  Simply put, these people are the worst of the worst.  Currently there are nine men on Washington’s death row who have committed such atrocities.  Even the governor has admitted he believes all nine are guilty of their crimes.

Gary Ridgway is the monster we arrested as the Green River killer in 2001. He would eventually plead guilty to 49 counts of murder although he has claimed that he raped and murdered 20 to 30 more young women.

There was only one way Ridgway would plead guilty: if the threat of capital punishment, one of law enforcement’s most valuable tools, were taken off the table.  Ridgway is a coward. To him the victims’ lives meant nothing, but his own life was far too precious to him to consider losing, so he sent his lawyers to bargain for his life.

In 2003, we convinced Ridgway not only to plead guilty but to spend six months shedding light on the fate and whereabouts of other young women he killed.  We were able to find answers for families who had agonized for years over the whereabouts of their loved ones. I witnessed how those answers could allow families to grieve, say goodbye and begin to rebuild their lives, always remembering their lost loved one.

Every tool in the arsenal of a law-enforcement officer is important — from the sidearms we carry to the law itself. Without these tools, we cannot keep our communities safe or ensure justice is carried out. That is why I believe the death penalty is critical to public safety.

When Gov. Inslee announced his moratorium on capital punishment, he reduced the effectiveness of law enforcement in Washington state.  The moratorium’s tangible effects are minimal, considering its infrequent use.  Since the voters reinstated capital punishment here in 1975, five men have been put to death.  But for every cop and prosecutor who needs to put away a violent murderer, there is one fewer weapon with which to fight for justice.  More cases will go to trial and monsters like Ridgway could hold on to their secrets forever or even walk free.

If the governor wants to start a conversation on the death penalty, the people of Washington state must be included.  He took an oath to uphold our law, and he should not violate that oath because he disagrees with the law.  If he wishes to overturn it, then he should propose legislation and take the case to the voters.

The people of Washington put capital punishment on the books and they should be the ones to take it away if they choose.  In the meantime, the governor should be engaging law enforcement and other groups about this issue.  If he doesn’t, it will be the people of Washington State who pay.

Recent related posts:

March 12, 2014 at 12:44 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e201a73d8dbaa6970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Making a case for "capital punishment [as] one of law enforcement’s most valuable tools":

Comments

Jay Inslee is a typical 'rat who has a soft spot for criminals. That's all that needs to be said. He has earned the contempt of all and the white hot hatred of victims' family members.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 12, 2014 1:12:17 AM

"Gary Ridgway is the monster we arrested as the Green River killer in 2001. He would eventually plead guilty to 49 counts of murder although he has claimed that he raped and murdered 20 to 30 more young women."

And this man who viciouslyh murdered 49 women escapes the death penalty, while prosecutor's seek death for the guy in Hawaii who killed his daughter while disciplining her. A terrible tragedy, yes, but death? The Green River killer lives while the crazed father should die? this is one of the major flaws withe the death penalty as administered now: the unbridled discretion that prosecutors have to pursue it.

Posted by: Dave from texas | Mar 12, 2014 8:49:27 AM

Following up the perceptive comment of Dave from Texas, a second argument against the death penalty as administered today is the danger of foreclosing the defendant's chance to show actual innocence. See the following all-to-common example:

NEW ORLEANS, March 11 (Reuters) - A Louisiana man who has spent nearly three decades on death row was slated to walk free on Tuesday, after prosecutors asked a judge to set aside his first-degree murder conviction and death sentence, citing new evidence in the case that exonerated him.

Glenn Ford, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury in the 1983 robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman, a 56-year-old Shreveport watchmaker, who was found shot to death behind the counter of his jewelry shop.

Acting on new information that exonerated Ford, a judge in Shreveport ordered him released from Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, where he has been held on death row since March 1985.

"We are very pleased to see Glenn Ford finally exonerated, and we are particularly grateful that the prosecution and the court moved ahead so decisively to set Mr. Ford free," said Gary Clements and Aaron Novod, attorneys for Ford from the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana.

Prison spokeswoman Pam Laborde said shortly before 5 p.m. local time (2200 GMT) that Ford was being processed, but she had not yet received confirmation of his release.

Ford, a California native who did occasional yard work for Rozeman, was found guilty in 1984 and was sentenced to die by electrocution, then the state's method of execution.

For three decades, Ford has maintained his innocence and filed multiple appeals, most of which were denied.

But in 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing on Ford's claim that the prosecution suppressed favorable evidence related to Jake and Henry Robinson, two brothers initially implicated in the crime.

According to the Shreveport Times, court records show that an unidentified informant in 2013 told prosecutors that Jake Robinson admitted to shooting and killing Rozeman.

Last Thursday, prosecutors filed a motion to vacate Ford's conviction and sentence, saying that in late 2013 "credible evidence" came to their attention "supporting a finding that Ford was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman."

If prosecution had been privy to the information initially, the motion said, "Ford might not even have been arrested or indicted for this offense."

Caddo Parish Assistant District Attorney Catherine Estopinal declined on Tuesday to elaborate on what she termed "a recent development" that prompted prosecutors to reverse course.

"I can't go into it," she said. (Editing by Brendan O'Brien, G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)

Posted by: Mary | Mar 12, 2014 8:55:10 AM

Mary and Dave from Texas, commentators above, point to two arguments against the death penalty as administered today. I note that in the Reuter's article about the exoneration of Glenn Ford, reported by Mary, there is a third argument that is frequently raised: prosecutorial suppression of evidence favorable to the defense. As the article notes, "But in 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing on Ford's claim that the prosecution suppressed favorable evidence related to Jake and Henry Robinson, two brothers initially implicated in the crime." As I previously have noted, the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, Alex Kozinski, hardly a liberal, has recently observed that prosecutorial violations of Brady v. Maryland (the duty to disclose exculpatory evidence) are now "epidemic."

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Mar 12, 2014 9:02:16 AM

There was only one way Ridgway would plead guilty: if the threat of capital punishment, one of law enforcement’s most valuable tools, were taken off the table. Ridgway is a coward. To him the victims’ lives meant nothing, but his own life was far too precious to him to consider losing, so he sent his lawyers to bargain for his life.

If the "threat" of something is the "only way" a person pleas guilty, there is a real concern of compulsion and the courts have in some cases have struck down laws that unduly pressure people to plea guilty.

But, why stop at the death penalty? The argument was used for the third degree, not informing people of their rights, keeping lawyers from defendants and so forth. They also were "too precious" tools to "lose." Still are in the minds of many.

As to one's life, in reality, and even "cowards" know this, only a tiny number of people are executed. Too many, but a tiny number of all the murderers, including many that are heinous. There are a range of reasons why & defendants know it. Finally, the death penalty is off the table many places, but even "cowards" and heinous criminals bargain for various reasons.

And, the summary here doesn't appear to suggest that the plea deal was needed to convict, which weakens things some more. The reason was to relieve the victims, which is obviously an important thing, but a thing that is limited in various ways by our system of justice. If the third degree would relieve victims, it is still blocked. It might be a "valuable tool," but no matter. Again, there are various ways that are found instead, as shown by experts in the field of interrogation that oppose torture.

The death penalty like other things can have uses. But, all things that have uses aren't used.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 12, 2014 10:37:57 AM

Speaking as someone that has plead guilty to a crime COMPLETELY created by a three letter agency, his patronizing zeal infuriates me:

"Every tool in the arsenal of a law-enforcement officer is important — from the sidearms we carry to the law itself. Without these tools, we cannot keep our communities safe or ensure justice is carried out. "

Every tool? Including approaching people to suggest crime and then destroying their lives? Reverse stings, search warrants served using SWAT-like terror tactics, and the death penalty in an imperfect system are things I can think of just off the top of my head as being broken tools of law enforcement.

Posted by: Angry | Mar 12, 2014 10:50:33 AM

Mary: You beat me to the "I see your Gary Ridgway and raise you one Glenn Ford" post. Once they caught Ridgway, he was never leaving prison alive regardless of the death penalty. On the other hand, once they executed Ford, he was never leaving prison alive either, but in a bad way. By luck, corroborating evidence of his innocence emerged or that sentence would have been carried out. (Not to say hard work and perseverance by Ford's counsel weren't involved, but those are necessary but not sufficient factors in this kind of case -- you always need to be lucky too, in terms of evidence not having been destroyed, witnesses still being alive, etc.)

Mr. Levine: Suppression of evidence is also an important tool in the arsenal of a law-enforcement officer. Without this tool, they cannot keep our communities safe or ensure justice is carried out! Aren't you paying attention?

Posted by: anon | Mar 12, 2014 11:03:01 AM

Dave from Texas --

"And this man who viciously murdered 49 women escapes the death penalty, while prosecutor's seek death for the guy in Hawaii who killed his daughter while disciplining her. A terrible tragedy, yes, but death?"

He wasn't disciplining her. It had nothing to do with discipline. He was torturing her, as you full well know.

The penalty due a man who tortures to death a little girl depends on the facts of his case, not on the facts of a different case. Were it otherwise, irrational leniency, if given even once, would become the standard for everything.

Is that what you want?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 12, 2014 12:17:35 PM

From the article: "The people of Washington put capital punishment on the books and they should be the ones to take it away if they choose."

Why is that wrong? Don't governors (and Presidents, while we're at it) take an oath to execute, rather than ignore, duly enacted law?

Thought experiment: Suppose the voters in State X pass a referendum (but not a statute) saying that pot enforcement should be a low priority. But the Governor, who is very anti-drug, thinks otherwise, and announces that, notwithstanding the expressed will of the voters, he will make pot enforcement a high priority. Would anyone here say, OK, that's fine, he's the Governor so his views trump what the electorate has said?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 12, 2014 12:30:49 PM

anon --

"Suppression of evidence is also an important tool in the arsenal of a law-enforcement officer."

Suppression of evidence -- The Big Suppression, that is -- would also appear to be an important tool in the arsenal of the criminal defense lawyer.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/19/nyregion/paul-w-bergrin-new-jersey-lawyer-convicted-of-murder.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Of course, I understand, really. Murdering government witnesses is necessary so that the innocent defendant (and sooooooooooo many are innocent, as you keep saying) doesn't feel pressured to enter a false guilty plea!

"Without this tool, they cannot keep our communities safe or ensure justice is carried out! Aren't you paying attention?"

But at least the mission is to keep communities safer and do justice, right? Is that your mission? Or is the point of your job to do your darndest to put dangerous people back on the street, community safety be damned?

If not, I'll be happy to hear about how much you think about "community safety" as you go about your daily work.

In the meantime, you might want to have a look at this, which is one of the most honest advertisements for a defense lawyer I have ever seen. Is he saying anything you disagree with?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KfACTAOPa0

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 12, 2014 12:51:14 PM

Without the death penalty, life without parole would be the maximum incarceration penalty one can be given. With the death penalty, a guilty plea can be accepted that would allow life without parole to be the result.

So with no death penalty, the life without parole then can be weasled down to a finite sentence, or at least a finite to infinite (ex. 25 to life) sentence.

I would imagine that this paradigm is far more pertinent than the actual execution of the execution.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Mar 12, 2014 1:45:58 PM

Ridgway had an IQ of 82, lower than 90% of the population, yet outsmarted the lawyer dumbass for decades. Intelligent law student/serial killer, Ted Bundy (thus not yet a full lawyer dumbass), suggested graves be staked out because the Green River Killer was having sex with the corpses. He turned out to be correct, yet he was not listened to by the lawyer dumbass.

Ridgway should have been executed after stabbing a 6 year old boy in the liver to see what it felt like to kill someone, and after choking a wife. The lawyer dumbass protected this one man natural disaster. The result? Dozens of girls and women paid with their lives, so pro-criminal, internal traitor lawyers could generate worthless government make work jobs. The lawyer dumbass is fully responsible for all these murders because Ridgway's crime gave his murders the foreseeability of planetary orbits. Will the sun rise in the East tomorrow? Ridway will kill again.

Once convicted of one murder, he should have been spending all waking hours getting water boarded to solve all his other murders, not a plea deal.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 13, 2014 12:38:30 AM

Bill,

Way to go straight to your standard "attack the defense bar" points whenever an egregious exoneration/innocence case is brought up. DO NOT LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN PEOPLE!! LOOK OVER HERE, LOOK OVER THERE! DO NOT LOOK BEHIND THE CURTAIN!

If you think "sometimes defense attorneys act unethically too" is a valid response to concerns about unethical prosecutor behavior (particularly in a state like La. where suppression of exculpatory evidence has been epidemic and willful), then I don't know if I have much more to contribute to this dialogue.

By the way, I gather that NJ lawyer, whose actions were of course indefensible and aberrant, was actually convicted of murder. The prosecutors who willfully suppressed evidence in cases out of Shreveport and Jefferson Parish and New Orleans (and tons of other cases across the country) and sent innocent people to prison/death row are still prosecutors. Except the ones who are judges.

Posted by: anon | Mar 13, 2014 5:36:19 PM

anon --

"If you think 'sometimes defense attorneys act unethically too' is a valid response to concerns about unethical prosecutor behavior (particularly in a state like La. where suppression of exculpatory evidence has been epidemic and willful), then I don't know if I have much more to contribute to this dialogue."

What I think is that this Holier-Than-Thou, We-Are-Champions-of-the-Constitution-and-Prosecutors-Are-Thugs attitude is so much baloney.

It's baloney on its own "merit," but it's especially baloney because those defense lawyers who (correctly) condemn deceit on the prosecution side don't condemn it one little bit on THEIR side. To the exact contrary, they embrace it. As long as it's not outright perjury or witness murder, the acquittal of a guilty and dangerous man brought about by sophistry is the veritable Holy Grail of defense work.

People who live in glass houses, as they say. As long as the defense bar happily accepts shake-and-jive in its own ranks, it is poorly positioned to be The Bearers of Outrage when it spots sleaze sitting at the other table.

I unequivocally condemn being less than forthcoming with the truth. I condemn it not because any rule or case requires such condemnation, but because normal morality does. That's why I find it unacceptable in prosecutors.

It's also why I find it unacceptable in any other lawyer. But you don't. And that's why you want to yelp at every episode of prosecutorial misconduct you can find (or fabricate, as in the Roger Keith Coleman case), while blustering at what a diversionary brat I am to have the temerity to point out that deceit, an unacceptable though occasional exception on the prosecution side, is a regular, welcome guest on the defense side.

If defense lawyers could just once do less accusing, less complaining, and less blustering, and a wee bit more introspecting, then I think you'd find that you'd have a lot to contribute to this dialogue.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 14, 2014 1:12:03 AM

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