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February 6, 2017

The hardest of cases for death penalty abolitionists: convicted murderer who keeps murdering while in prison

This local news report of an apparent murder by an Ohio inmate already convicted in two other murders serves as a reminder that there are limits on how much you can incapacitate some persons who seem intent on being violent.  The article is headlined "Two-time murderer suspected of killing another inmate, " and here are the ugly details:

A two-time murderer is suspected of killing another inmate, a Franklin County man, aboard a prison transport bus while it traveled south on Rt. 23 from Columbus on Wednesday evening.  The body of David L. Johnson, 61, was found in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction bus on Thursday evening when it stopped to deliver him to the Ross Correctional Institution, said Ross County Prosecutor Matthew Schmidt.

Johnson, who was serving an eight-year sentence for sexual battery, apparently was strangled; Casey Pigge, 28, is "absolutely the suspect" in the death, Schmidt said. Other inmates also were locked into a caged section of the bus with Johnson and Pigge, but apparently did not alert the guards and driver at the front of the bus of the assault, Schmidt said. The guards apparently cannot see back into all sections of the bus, he said.  The inmates were wearing handcuffs, and perhaps belly chains, but could move around, the prosecutor said.

Inmates, including from the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville and the Ross Correctional Institution near Chillicothe, were taken aboard the bus to Columbus for medical treatment on Thursday and were on the return leg of the trip south when the apparent slaying occurred.

Pigge is serving a 30-year to life sentence at the Lucasville prison for the 2008 murder of Rhonda Sommers, 52, the mother of his then-girlfriend. Pigge was convicted of stabbing the woman and then setting her apartment on fire.  Last week, Pigge pleaded guilty to using a cement block last year to repeatedly strike to kill his cellmate, Luther Wade, 26, of Springfield, at the Lebanon Correctional Institution in Warren County. Wade, serving a 10-year sentence for aggravated burglary, was repeatedly struck in the head. Pigge faces another life sentence in the slaying.

Schmidt... questioned Pigge having access to other inmates aboard the bus given his history of violence. Investigators are working to determine if Johnson died in Franklin County, Pickaway County or Ross Country as the bus traveled south, Schmidt said. "He crushed his cellmate's head with a cinder block. You would think the sensible thing to do would be to make sure he doesn't have free access to other inmates at any time.  Apparently that is not an issue for the folks at DRC," Schmidt said.

Given that Pigge is seemingly due to get an LWOP sentence for previously having "crushed his cellmate's head with a cinder block," he would be essentially getting a "free" murder if he were not at least potentially subject to something worse than LWOP for his latest murder.  Moreover, given than Pigge has now slaughtered two fellow inmates during his first decade of incarceration, the only real public safety options for him would seem to be long-term solitary confinement or the death penalty. 

I am not asserting that folks like Pigge make the death penalty a must, but I am saying that it seems quite difficult to figure out what a just and effective punishment is for a murderer who seems keen and able to keep killing even while incarcerated.

February 6, 2017 at 03:20 PM | Permalink


For your information, you did cite a case here where there was an appropriate consequence. A murderer tried to rape a female guard. She resisted. He murdered her in the prison. The Supervisor of the Guards got really steamed, and fumed, "Now he's done it. He is definitely losing his cafeteria privileges."

Here is a proposed unintended consequence of abolition of the death penalty, one besides the immediate and massive loss of appellate lawyer jobs. (The Supreme Court will never allow that so it is unlikely.)

The murder rate in prison has been highly suppressed the past decade. It will go up again, as murders increase. Murder will be used as an informal death penalty by guards and prisoners. More prisoners will receive the death penalty once it is abolished. The totally lawyer protected and immunized murderers will be hired by the guards to dispose of annoying prisoners, all informally, stealthily, and with no open quid pro quo. The prison is a sophisticated social group, and quiet messages will be sent, and favors returned. I figure price competition will drive the price down to a carton of cigarettes.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 6, 2017 3:33:04 PM

The Constitution does not prevent an automatic death penalty in cases like this.

Posted by: federalist | Feb 6, 2017 4:14:47 PM

There's always corporal punishment.

Posted by: Andrew Fleischman | Feb 6, 2017 4:52:50 PM

Since the position of this blog is the death penalty is acceptable in some cases and absolutism by "abolitionists" is misguided, I'm inclined to be expansive here.

We can do this with any number of things, such as torture. If we can find a "ticking time bomb" scenario, is torture okay? In practice, there are some people who it is very hard to stop committing harms in private life. Do we give private parties a pass when they are "eliminated"? Before people say "not the same," it's quite true in reality that things like this occur. The government look away in various cases just for this reason, including certain types of violence in prison and elsewhere.

And, ultimately, yes, states and nations have a blanket rule even if in the process there might be narrow cases that seem clear-cut or much easier to justify. They have found it is "just" not to require the death penalty for various reasons. This includes the fact that the death penalty per se is wrong, in application it will not only be applied in such cases and it is wrong to bring others in etc. People against abortion are cited cases of rape. People for abortion some other extreme case. The line drawn will find challengers on either side most likely.

In practice, yes, in some cases there will be hard cases. Punishment will have some of these cases, especially when the people as a whole only wants to limit the death penalty to a narrow range of cases. So, what punishment is warranted when people hurt by don't kill? Often the choice is isolation, which has problems itself. As to the case here, there are a range of privileges in prison, so it is unclear if one is getting a "free" pass here. But even there, you are going to have due process before the execution. If one kills as this occurs, unless the person is immediately executed, is it a "free" pass?

Posted by: Joe | Feb 6, 2017 5:11:21 PM

Andrew. According to the lawyer, that is cruel and unconstitutional. Smashing someone with a cinder block is the result of being a victim of the system. Why? Because smashing someone with a cinder block generates lawyer procedure and employment. The most morally disgusting human beings in this whole situation are the rent seeking lawyers on the appellate bench.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 6, 2017 5:11:55 PM

As the article notes, if you cared about public safety: "He crushed his cellmate's head with a cinder block. You would think the sensible thing to do would be to make sure he doesn't have free access to other inmates at any time."

As to choices, prison itself is a horrible thing, including those who are there for things much less horrible than murder. So, the question is a big one really and there is no easy answers in general. I think we have a lot more cases immediately to discuss there but going by the people themselves, exceptions existing, apparently even solitary is favored over execution.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 6, 2017 5:33:05 PM

Similarly, as Bill Otis is pointed out, the classic hard case is that of Clarence Ray Allen in California-the life prisoner who had people killed on the "outside".

Posted by: Ward | Feb 8, 2017 11:07:30 AM

SUMNER v. SHUMAN is a relevant case, including FN11.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 9, 2017 1:02:57 PM

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