Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Two notably different sentencing requests from two killers
The two distinct headlines concerning two distinct requests in two California capital cases caught my eye this afternoon:
Based on a (too) quick review of the substance of both of these article, I am inclined to predict that neither of these killers are likely to have their requests granted.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Do deterrence concerns justify four death sentences in India for gang rape or is it retributive justice?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times review of the recent sentencing for four rapist and the broader problems of sexual violence in India. The piece is headlined "Many Doubt Death Sentences Will Stem India Sexual Attacks," and here are excerpts:
There was no mistaking the whoop of joy that rose outside Saket District Court on Friday, when word got out that four men convicted in last December’s horrific gang rape and murder had been sentenced to death by hanging. People burst into applause. They hugged whoever was beside them. They pumped the air with their fists....
But some of India’s most ardent women’s rights advocates hung back from Friday’s celebration, skeptical that four hangings would do anything to stem violence against women, a problem whose proportions are gradually coming into focus. “I think a lot of people were hugging each other because they thought this evil is localized, and it will be wiped out, and that is not the case,” said Karuna Nundy, a litigator who has argued before India’s Supreme Court. “The sad truth is that it is not a deterrent.”
From the moment it broke, the story of the 23-year-old woman who became known as “Nirbhaya,” or “fearless,” awoke real rage in the population. Hoping for a ride home from a movie theater, she and a male companion boarded a private bus, not realizing that the six men aboard had been cruising Delhi in search of a victim. After knocking her friend unconscious, they took her to the back of the bus and raped her, then penetrated her with a metal rod, inflicting grave internal injuries. An hour later, they dumped the pair out on the road, bleeding and naked. She died two weeks later of her injuries....
After intensive public discussion of the case, some changes followed with extraordinary speed. Reports of rape have skyrocketed; in the first eight months of this year, Delhi’s police force registered 1,121 cases, more than double the number from the same period in 2011 and the highest number since 2000. The number of reported molestations has increased sixfold in the same period.
The government created a fast-track court for rape cases and introduced new laws, criminalizing acts like voyeurism and stalking and making especially brutal rapes into a capital crime. Scholars have delved into the social changes that may be contributing to the problem, as new arrivals in India’s huge cities find themselves unemployed and hopeless, stuck in “the space below the working class,” as the writer Rajrishi Singhal recently put it in an editorial in The Hindu.
But many were thinking of something more basic — punishing the six (one, a juvenile, got a three-year sentence in August, and the driver was found dead in his cell in March) who attacked the woman in the bus. It was those people who found their way to the Saket courthouse on Friday. Many came like pilgrims, hoping to find closure in a case that had haunted them. Kiran Khullar arrived in a wheelchair, accompanied by her daughter, 17. “I have come here as a mother,” she said. “I came here only to see these men get the death penalty.”
A 62-year-old grandmother, Arun Puri, had scribbled the words “Hang them! Hang them!” on her dupatta, a traditional scarf. Asked whether she felt sorry for the defendants’ parents, she did not flinch. “If these men were my children,” she said, “I would have strangled them to death myself.”
Rosy John, 62, a homemaker watching the furor outside the courtroom, said her only objection to the death sentence was that it was too humane a punishment. “After death, they will get freedom,” she said. “They should be tortured and given shocks their whole life.”
In fact, it is unlikely the four men will be executed swiftly. The order must be confirmed by India’s High Court, and all four defendants may appeal to the High Court, the Supreme Court and the president for clemency. Some 477 people are on death row, inching through a process that often drags on for five or six years. Three people have been executed since 2004, and there were no executions for eight years before that.
Sadashiv Gupta, who defended one of the men, a fruit seller named Pawan Gupta, said he had assured his client that the sentence was likely to be commuted to life in prison, as most are. “I told him: ‘You are going to get the death penalty. Take it in stride, and don’t panic,’ ” said Mr. Gupta, sweating in his stiff white collar outside the courthouse. “I think he shall not be hanged.”
Polls show that Indians remain ambivalent about using the death penalty, with 40 percent saying it should be abolished, according to a survey by CNN, IBN and The Hindu, a respected daily newspaper. For many months already, advocates for women have questioned whether death sentences in the December case would distract people from the more difficult question of why Indian girls and women are so vulnerable to sexual violence.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
"The Geography of Mercy: An Empirical Analysis of Clemency for Death Row Inmates"The title of this post is the title of this quite-interesting looking empirical piece by Matthew Heise now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Conventional wisdom notes persistent regional differences in the death penalty’s application with southern states’ appetite for capital punishment exceeding that of non-southern states. Scholars analyzing the distributions of death sentences and state executions find a geographic influence. Less explored, however, is a possible regional difference in the distribution of executive clemency even though clemency is an integral component of criminal justice system that includes capital punishment. If geography influences the distribution of the death penalty, geography should also influence the distribution of clemency.
Data, however, reveal some surprises. Using a recently-released data set of all state death row inmates from 1973-2010, this paper considers whether clemency is exercised in southern and non-southern states in systematically different ways. No statistically significant differences exist between southern and non-southern states when it comes to clemency, even though southern states were more prone to execute and less prone to disturb death sentences through reversal on appeal than northern states. When it comes to the influence of geography in the death penalty context, the findings provide mixed support and convey a complicated picture.
Will second federal death sentence stick for cop killer Ronell Wilson?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this latest news about a high-profile (and already long-running) federal capital case. The New York Times headline for this story is "For the Second Time, a Killer of Two Detectives Is Sentenced to Death," and here are the details:
They sat in silent expectation on Tuesday afternoon, scores of people on the long wooden benches in the largest and most hallowed space in the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, all to witness the rare spectacle of a man, Ronell Wilson, being sentenced to death.
There were the police officers who had known the two undercover detectives killed by Mr. Wilson on Staten Island in 2003; members of Mr. Wilson’s family and the family of one of his victims; prosecutors and observers....
The judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, turned to the prosecutors and then Mr. Wilson’s defense team. They declined to speak. And then he turned to Mr. Wilson, who stood and faced those relatives of the victims who were present.
“As I said in my previous allocution, how deeply sorry I am for the pain that I caused upon you and your family,” he said haltingly, referring to statements he made at his first sentencing. “I remain with the same feeling as before. I would like to end on this note: error is human but to forgive is divine.”
He used the rest of his time to criticize his lawyers, who were sitting on either side of him. He has 14 days to file a notice of an appeal.
At the trial in July, jurors learned how Mr. Wilson, 31, killed the detectives, James V. Nemorin and Rodney J. Andrews, shooting each in the back of the head during a botched gun sting operation. Prosecutors presented evidence that Mr. Wilson, whose previous death sentence, in 2007, was struck down, seemed to escape punishment during his time in jail, where he intimidated weaker inmates and sneaked into private rooms to have sex with a correction officer, with whom he fathered a child.
The jury sent him back to death row. H e is the only person in New York to be sentenced to the federal death penalty in more than 50 years. On Tuesday, Judge Garaufis read from a lengthy statement before formally issuing the sentence. He pointed to the “viciousness with which Mr. Wilson murdered Detectives Nemorin and Andrews and Mr. Wilson’s recent behavior in prison.” He said Mr. Wilson showed a “continuing lack of remorse and disregard for authority.”...
Outside court, a lawyer for Mr. Wilson, David Stern, approached several news cameras. “This demonstrates how little we’ve evolved since biblical times,” Mr. Stern said of the sentence. “This is a really sad day for me because of my failure.”
Sounds to me like one (of surely many) arguments that will be pursued in future appeals will be the claim that Wilson's lawyers were constitutionally ineffective. I doubt such claims will prevail, but I also doubt such claims will be conclusively rejected for a decade or longer. Federal capital justice may be sure in this case, but it certainly is not swift.
Monday, September 09, 2013
California killer claiming autism supports Atkins claim to preclude executionThis article from San Jose Mercury News reports on a notable effort by a killer on death row to raise a unique argument as part of an Atkins Eighth Amendment claim to prevent his execution. This piece is headlined "California death penalty and mental retardation: Condemned killer seeks reprieve," and here are excerpts:
More than six years ago, it appeared that condemned Santa Clara County killer David Allen Raley had run out of legal options to avoid execution. After two decades of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected Raley's seemingly final challenge to his 1988 death sentence for murdering a Peninsula teenager and attempting to murder her high school friend.
But as is often the case for California's death row inmates, Raley's legal odyssey is far from over. Armed with a new order from the California Supreme Court, Raley has revived his appeals with a claim that he was mentally retarded at the time of his 1985 crime -- a finding that would spare him from execution under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
On Monday, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Linda Clark will start a special two-week hearing in Raley's case, which among other evidence has raised the unique claim that he is autistic and therefore falls under the legal protections against executing the mentally retarded. Clark will issue a recommendation to the state Supreme Court, which will make a final decision on Raley's fate.
In the meantime, Raley's legal team argues the 51-year-old death row inmate should spend the rest of his life in prison for the 1985 murder of Jeanine Grinsell and the attempted murder of her close friend, Laurie McKenna, inside a deserted Hillsborough mansion. "It is very true that David Raley is significantly developmentally disabled," said Robert Bacon, one of Raley's lawyers....
In court papers submitted to Clark, prosecutors branded Raley's argument a belated legal Hail Mary to avoid lethal injection and scoffed at the suggestion he is mentally disabled, noting his IQ tests were never below the standard threshold for mental retardation. "(Raley) acted alone in committing these horrible crimes and the facts elicited at trial show evidence of premeditation, cunning and problem solving, all characteristics inconsistent with a diagnosis of intellectual disability," prosecutors wrote.
Raley's case is part of an increasingly common legal battle unfolding in recent years in California and other death penalty states, the result of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded. The high court left it to the states to sort out which death row inmates or defendants facing capital murder charges may fall under the murky definition of mental retardation, forcing courts to grapple with evaluating whether there is clear proof of the disability before the age of 18.
The California Supreme Court has issued orders in dozens of cases like Raley's in which death row inmates have made the claim, often decades after a crime and death sentence. These include Bay Area condemned killers Walter Cook, from San Mateo County, and Robert Young and Delaney Marks, sent to death row from Alameda County. Courts have also spared some murderers from the death penalty at trial, including convicted San Jose cop killer DeShawn Campbell, who was found to be mentally retarded and sent to prison for life....
Death penalty supporters say claims such as Raley's are contributing to the legal morass. "The fuzziness in the definition of retardation" has given death row inmates another avenue to contest their sentences, "even though generally meritless" said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.
But Raley's supporters say his case is an example of the state spending too much time and money on the death penalty. The American Civil Liberties Union cites his mental disability and costly appeals as reason to abandon capital punishment. "He's not the worst of the worst," Bacon added. "The interests of public safety could be served with life in prison without the possibility of parole."
September 9, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Thursday, September 05, 2013
ABA Death Penalty Review Project releases its assessment for VIrginiaAs reported in this Richmond Times-Dispatch article, headlined "Study urges fairness reforms in death penalty cases," a big new report on the operation of the death penalty in the Old Dominion has just been released. Here are the basics:
A two-year study of Virginia’s death penalty to improve fairness and accuracy calls for safeguards in the use of suspect lineups and more access by defense lawyers to information to help them prepare cases. The recommendations are among more than a dozen in the study sponsored by the American Bar Association and released this morning.
A top change urged by the Virginia Death Penalty Assessment Team is to require law enforcement agencies to adopt the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services’ model eyewitness identification policy for suspect photo and live lineups. Misidentification played a role in the wrongful convictions of 18 Virginians later proven innocent in non-death penalty cases. Although the model policy was released in 2011, a recent survey by the University of Virginia Law School found few police departments had adopted it.
According to the Virginia department of Corrections, Virginia has executed 110 killers – 31 by electrocution and 79 by lethal injection since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. The toll is second nationally only to Texas, which has executed 503. But in Virginia three out of four persons sentenced to death since 1976 have been executed -- a higher rate than even in Texas, which has carried out roughly half its death sentences.
The ABA study complimented Virginia on improvements including the accreditation of the Virginia Department of forensic Science’s four laboratories and the state medical examiner’s office as well as the certification of their employees. Among the recommendations for improvement, however, was requiring law enforcement agencies to electronically record suspect interrogations and confessions. A recent survey found only nine Virginia police agencies record a majority of their interrogations.
The team also recommends that in capital murder cases the Virginia Supreme Court require prosecutors to disclose the identity and any prior statements of testifying witnesses to allow the defense adequate preparation time. Virginia’s pre-trial discovery rules providing the defense with information to prepare its case are more restrictive than in other states, the team concluded. A defendant in a death case could go to trial without knowing who will testify against them....
The assessment team was chaired by John Douglass, a former federal prosecutor and dean of the University of Richmond Law School where he still teaches. The panel also included Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring, who won a death sentence against Ricky Gray; Mark L. Earley, a former Virginia attorney general whose office defended many death sentences on appeal; and Craig Cooley, a Richmond lawyer who has represented clients in 70 capital murder trials including Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the two Maryland to Virginia snipers.
The report is the result of the ABA’s Death penalty Assessment project which since 2003 has studied and reported on the death penalty in 10 other states.
A copy of the full report is available via the ABA's website at this link. And the other prior ABA state-specific assessment are available via this page. Without reading this latest Virginia report in some detail, I cannot readily conclude whether this report's conclusions strike me as sound. But I can already note that this new ABA state death penalty review report seems, in both tone and content, to be much more complementary about Virginia's administration of capital punishment than most if not all other ABA state death penalty review reports.
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
Florida prosecutors considering pursuing death penalty for doctor deemed responsible for overdose deathsI am always looking for notable and interesting modern cases to use with my 1L Criminal Law class when covering the topic of causation. Thanks to this local story, headlined "Former West Palm Beach doctor could face death penalty in patients' deaths," it looks like Florida prosecutors not only have presented me with a good classroom candidate, but also are talking up a possible punishment that could ensure the case garners national attention. Here are the details:
State prosecutors have filed court documents announcing their intent to seek the death penalty against a former West Palm Beach doctor facing two counts of first-degree murder for the overdose deaths of his patients.
Authorities with the state attorney's office said Tuesday they have not made a final decision about whether to pursue the ultimate punishment for former West Palm doctor John Christensen, 61, but want to keep that option open. The case will go before the office's death penalty committee, which is expected to review it and decide whether to pursue the penalty within the next month, Chief Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes said. "This is a case that's potentially eligible for the death penalty," he said. "We want to make sure that we preserve our rights."
If the state does pursue a death sentence against the doctor, it would be highly unusual. Just a handful of Florida physicians have faced homicide charges for the overdose deaths of their patients, and the majority have been manslaughter cases.
West Palm Beach defense attorney Grey Tesh, who until last month represented Christensen, said he was surprised when the state sent its notice of intent to seek the death penalty. The doctor's new attorney, Richard Lubin, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday. "At least in Palm Beach County, I don't know of any doctor who has faced the death penalty on a case like this," Tesh said.
In 2002, West Palm Beach doctor Denis Deonarine became the first in the state to be indicted for first-degree murder in the death of a patient who was prescribed painkiller OxyContin. He was ultimately acquitted of first-degree murder charges, and released from prison in December, according to the state Department of Corrections. After the trial ended, one juror told the Sun Sentinel the jury ultimately believed the patient was responsible for his own death.
Christensen, who operated medical offices in West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Daytona Beach, was arrested in July, after a two and-a-half year investigation that focused on the deaths of 35 of his patients. He's facing multiple charges, including the two counts of first-degree murder for prescribing oxycodone, methadone and anti-anxiety drugs to two patients who later overdosed....
Tesh said he expects it will be an uphill battle for the state to get a conviction against Christensen, making the death penalty irrelevant. He said it will be difficult to connect the deaths to him, noting that one of the patients had other substances in her system when she died. "I would be surprised if he's convicted," Tesh said. "The evidence is just not going to be there, not to be proved beyond reasonable doubt."
Even without knowing much about the particulars of Florida homicide law, I share the perspective that state prosecutors are likely to face an uphill battle getting a first-degree murder conviction, let alone a death verdict, from a jury in this kind of case. But I also can identify lots of potential (utilitarian) benefits flowing from just a prosecutorial decision to talk up possible capital charges in this case.
As this very post reveals, simply mentioning the possibility of a death sentence ensures this case gets a lot more attention, and that attention should (and likely will) lead many more doctors in Florida and elsewhere to be at least a bit more careful when writing scripts for potent and potentially lethal prescription drugs. In addition, as in many other cases involving lots of human carnage, the prospect of capital charges might encourage a guilty defendant to plead guilty to lesser (and more fitting) charges. (Of course, some may view the potentially coercive impact of capital charges in a case like this to be an injustice, but I suspect prosecutors might well concluse that such charges are a fitting prescription for this kind of case.)
September 4, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Fort Hood mass murderer, Nidal Hasan, gets death penalty ... everybody happy?This CBS News piece reports on the not-very-surprising outcome of a high-profile capital military sentencing proceeding today: "Thirteen senior Army officers have sentenced Maj. Nidal Hasan to death for carrying out the horrific 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood Army base." Here is more about today's proceedings and what comes next:
The panel's recommendation will now go to a convening authority, the general responsible for assembling the capital court-martial, for review and approval. The convening authority can approve or reduce the sentence.
On Friday, Hasan was unanimously convicted on 13 charges of premeditated murder and convicted of 32 charges of attempted premeditated murder. His conviction carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison and the panel was authorized to consider the death penalty.
During sentencing the government presented 20 witnesses over two days, including soldiers who were injured as well as parents, spouses, and children of those who were murdered by Hasan. Each described how the shooting has impacted their lives while Hasan, who was paralyzed in the shooting and is now confined to a wheelchair, sat about 20 feet away.
On Wednesday, in an emotional 50-minute closing statement, the government revisited the stories of each witness and then told panel, "The acts of 5 November were religiously motivated, but you should not punish him for his religion. You should punish him for his hate."
The government argued against the idea that a death sentence would result in martyrdom for Hasan. "He will never be a martyr because he has nothing to give. Do not be misled. Do not be fooled. He is not giving his life. We are taking his life. This is not his gift to God; this is his debt to society. This is not a charitable act. He is not now and never will be a martyr. He is a cold-blooded murderer," argued prosecutor Col. Michael Mulligan.
As a convicted defendant, Maj. Hasan had the right to give an unsworn statement before the court or to testify under oath. When it was his turn to present evidence at sentencing, he simply said, "the defense rests." He also declined to present a closing argument on Wednesday....
In courts martial, appellate review is mandatory and cannot be waived or withdrawn when the sentence includes death. Under military law, any sentence calling for more than one year of incarceration gets an automatic review by the Army Court of Military Review, which then goes to the Armed Forces Court of Appeals....
It has been more than 50 years since the U.S. military executed a U.S. service member. Army Pfc. John A. Bennett was the last service member to be put to death, on April 13, 1961 after being convicted of the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl.
In 1983, the Armed Forces Court of Appeals ruled that military capital punishment was unconstitutional, but it was reinstated in 1984 when President Reagan signed an executive order adopting new rules for capital courts martial. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there have been 16 military death penalty convictions since 1984, but 11 of those sentences have been overturned. The remaining five service members remain on death row....
On Tuesday his stand-by defense counsel submitted a motion to present mitigating evidence that could help Hasan in sentencing. Hasan objected and Judge Osborn denied the motion, stating a pro-se defendant in the military justice system "is the captain of his own ship."
Col. Joseph Cerreto, a retired former Judge Advocate General, said he cannot imagine that appellate counsel will not be appointed to prosecute the appeal. "Whether Hasan wants it or not, no court is going to order the death penalty or life incarceration without parole without appellate counsel having briefed and argued the case," he said.
Even if Hasan does not cooperate, appointed lawyers can note his opposition in their briefs to the court and then go ahead and raise any legal issues they deem appropriate.
As this story makes clear, the prosecutors and seemingly many connected to the victims of Hasan's crimes were hoping to get a death sentence in the case. But reports have also indicated that Hasan himself wanted to be sentenced to death. Thus the question in the title of this post: is anyone upset that Hasan has been sentenced to death?
I know, of course, that death penalty abolitionists do not want to see any jurisdiction actual use the death penalty, as so I suspect there may be a few folks how are not truly happy with this outcome. Still, given than Hasan himself apparently wants to be sentenced to death and further that it seems very unlikely he will be executed anytime soon (if at all), I wonder if even abolitionist might in this kind of case at least by not all too displeased by this sentence of death.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
"Fifty years ago this month, a young man and an older man sat down and began to plot the end of the death penalty in America."
The title of this post is the first sentence of this interesting piece by Jesse Wegman appearing in the Review section of today's New York Times under the headline "The Death Memo." Here are more excerpts from what follows:
It was an audacious idea at the time — capital punishment was right there in the Constitution, the Supreme Court had no problem with it, and public opinion remained strongly in its favor.
But to many people, the summer of 1963 represented a new world, one alive with dreams of fairness and equality. That August, across the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial, Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, a strong opponent of capital punishment, charged his 24-year-old law clerk, Alan Dershowitz, to develop the most compelling legal argument that the death penalty violated the Constitution.
“He said, ‘Don’t find me mass murderers, don’t find me serial killers,’” Mr. Dershowitz, the well-known defense lawyer, recalled recently. Mr. Dershowitz’s resulting memo, described in Evan Mandery’s excellent new book, “A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America,” drew particular attention to racial disparities in the death penalty’s application. Justice Goldberg was impressed, and he worked the memo into a dissent. But so as not to scare off his colleagues, he removed almost every reference to race.
Fifty years later, the death penalty lives on. The Supreme Court suspended it in 1972, holding that the arbitrariness of its application constituted cruel and unusual punishment. In 1976 the court reinstated it. More than 1,300 people have been executed since, but the rate has fallen over the last decade.
Some justices have categorically opposed capital punishment, like William Brennan Jr. and Thurgood Marshall. Others have maintained it is indisputably constitutional, like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. But as Mr. Mandery notes, three justices who voted to reinstate it later changed their minds.... These justices, more than those with unwavering positions, may serve as a metaphor for tracking our “evolving standards of decency.”
Arthur Goldberg died in 1990. Mr. Dershowitz, whom he liked to call his clerk for life, remembered one of their final conversations. “I said to him, ‘You’re Moses and you haven’t been given the right to cross over to Israel. You’re going to die on Mount Nebo.’ But I promised him in my lifetime we’d see the end of what he did.”
So how will it end? “It’s going to happen the way things always happen at the court,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “The court will appear to be leading, but it will be following.”
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Making a potent argument for executions by firing squad rather than lethal injectionRobert Blecker, responding in part to the seemingly endless litigation and problems surrounding lethal injection execution protocols, has this new provocative CNN commentary under the headline "With death penalty, let punishment truly fit the crime." The full piece is a must-read, and here are excerpts highlighting why:
No matter how vicious the crime, no matter how vile the criminal, some death penalty opponents feel certain that nobody can ever deserve to die -- even if that person burned children alive, massacred a dozen strangers in a movie theater, or bombed the Boston Marathon. Other opponents admit the worst of the worst of the worst do deserve to die. They just distrust the government ever to get it right.
Now that pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply the lethal drugs that U.S. corrections departments have used for years to execute criminals -- whether from their own genuine moral objections or to escape a threatened economic boycott -- states have begun to experiment. Death penalty opponents, who call themselves abolitionists, then protest the use of these untried drugs that just might cause a condemned killer to feel pain as he dies.
Let the punishment fit the crime. We've mouthed that credo for centuries, but do we really mean it? We retributivists who believe in justice would reward those who bring us pleasure, but punish severely those who sadistically or wantonly cause us pain. A basic retributive measure -- like for like or giving a person a taste of his own medicine -- satisfies our deepest instincts for justice.
When the condemned killer intentionally tortured helpless victims, how better to preserve some direct connection short of torture than by that murderer's quick but painful death? By ensuring death through anesthesia, however, we have nearly severed pain from punishment....
I, too, oppose lethal injection, but not because these untried new drugs might arbitrarily cause pain, but because they certainly cause confusion.
Lethal injection conflates punishment with medicine. The condemned dies in a gurney, wrapped in white sheets with an IV in his veins, surrounded by his closest kin, monitored by sophisticated medical devices. Haphazardly conceived and hastily designed, lethal injection appears, feels, and seems medical, although its sole purpose is to kill....
Publicly opposing this method of execution, I have found odd common ground with Deborah Denno, a leading abolitionist scholar who relentlessly attacks lethal injection protocols. Although Denno vigorously opposes all capital punishment, we both agree that the firing squad, among all traditional methods, probably serves us best. It does not sugarcoat, it does not pretend, it does not shamefully obscure what we do. We kill them, intentionally, because they deserve it.
Some people may support the firing squad because it allows us to put blanks in one of the guns: An individual sharpshooter will never know whether he actually killed the condemned. This strikes me as just another symptom of our avoidance of responsibility for punishment. The fact is, in this society, nobody takes responsibility for punishing criminals. Corrections officers point to judges, while judges point to legislators, and legislators to corrections. Anger and responsibility seem to lie everywhere elsewhere -- that is, nowhere. And where we cannot fully escape responsibility -- as with a firing squad -- we diffuse it....
Ironically, even as we recoil from punishing those who most deserve it, we readily over-punish those who don't. A "war on drugs" swells our prisons. We punish addiction and call it crime; we indiscriminately and immorally subject a burglar or car thief to the same daily life in prison we also reserve for rapist murderers.
The time has come to make punishment more nearly fit the crime. To face what we do, and acknowledge, with regret but without shame, that the past counts.
So part of me hopes the abolitionists succeed with their latest campaign against death by lethal injection. We should banish this method. Let the abolitionists threaten to boycott gun manufacturers. See where that gets them. Meanwhile, the rest of us will strive to keep our covenants with victims, restore a moral balance, and shoot to kill those who deserve to die.
Rest assured, when we can only achieve justice by killing a vicious killer, We, the People will find a constitutional way to do it.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Latest news on chemical logistical challenges now surrounding lethal injectionThe New York Times has this effective new report, headlined "Death Row Improvises, Lacking Lethal Mix," discussing some of the latest notable logistical realities surrounding lethal injection protocols. Here are excerpts:
The decision by the Missouri Supreme Court to allow propofol, the same powerful anesthetic that caused the death of Michael Jackson, to be used in executions — coming at a time when Texas, Ohio, Arkansas and other states are scrambling to come up with a new drug for their own lethal injections — is raising new questions about how the death penalty will be carried out.
“The bottom line is no matter what drugs they come up with, despite every avenue these states have pursued, every drug they have investigated has met a dead end,” said Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham Law School who studies execution methods and the death penalty. “This affects every single execution in the country. It just stalls everything, stalls the process.”
With manufacturers now refusing to supply corrections departments with the drugs they had been using for executions, some states, like Georgia, have been resorting to obtaining drugs from compounding pharmacies — specialty drugmakers — which death penalty opponents say lack the proper quality control. Other states, as they run low on their old stock of drugs and are unable to replace them, are turning to new, untried methods like propofol or simply announcing that they are searching for a solution....
[Recent developments have] left states unsure of what to do when their stockpiles run out — use some other drug like propofol, buy versions of sodium thiopental or pentobarbital from a compounding pharmacy, or abandon lethal injections altogether and return to some other form of capital punishment.
“It’s an artificially created problem,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports the death penalty. “There is no difficulty in using a sedative such as pentobarbital. It’s done every day in animal shelters throughout the country. But what we have is a conspiracy to choke off capital punishment by limiting the availability of drugs.”
The issue is expected to come to a head soon. Both Texas, the state with the busiest death house, and Ohio have said they would introduce a new lethal injection protocol in the next couple of months. Officials in both of those states have said in court filings that they would run out of their stockpiles in September.
“Corrections departments often buy a year’s supply of the drugs they use, but it has a shelf life and it’s expiring,” said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “I think we are about to have some new breakthroughs on what the states are using. A lot of them will probably follow whatever Texas decides to do.”
On Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to allow executions using propofol to move ahead in October and November. There is no question that it would kill, but since it has never been used in an execution, death penalty opponents say, there is no way to say how much pain might be involved or what dose should be administered.
Arkansas had announced that it would use pentobarbital in its executions, but when that drug became unavailable, the governor refused to schedule any more executions until the state came up with a substitute — which has not happened. California also announced, in June, that it would abandon the use of a three-drug cocktail and is studying what to replace it with. “This drug issue is a temporary problem that is entirely fixable,” Mr. Scheidegger said. “It is not a long-term impediment to the resumption of capital punishment.”
Death penalty opponents, however, feel that the rejection of one drug after another will inevitably limit capital punishment.... There were 43 executions in the United States in 2012, Mr. Dieter said, and a slightly lower number — 30 to 40 — is expected this year....
“This issue of the drugs is just a way to stop things or slow them down,” said Robert Blecker, a professor of criminal law at New York Law School and a death penalty supporter. “It’s an abolitionist tactic to gum up the works. I know why they’re doing it. From their perspective, every death delayed is a day in favor of abolition. It’s just another tactic.”
I share the perspective that we may soon have "some new breakthroughs" on how states seek to conduct executions and that many states will "follow whatever Texas decides to do." I also expect that Texas state courts and the Fifth Circuit will be relatively unlikely to halt executions based on (inevitable?) legal challenges to any new lethal injection protocols or plans. But when and how other state courts and federal courts respond to such challenges may script whether the number of execution nationwide will continue to decline in coming years or may actually start to rise at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Lawyers for Aurora shooter James Holmes attacking Colorado's death penalty againAs reported in this AP piece, the attorneys representing "theater shooting suspect James Holmes launched another legal assault on Colorado's death penalty laws Friday, arguing they don't set clear standards and that they make it too hard for jurors to weigh mitigating factors." Here is more on the latest developments in a high-profile state capital case:
They also complained that Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos A. Samour is ruling on defense motions too quickly and asked him to allow them to argue their points "fully and fairly."
Holmes is accused of opening fire in a theater full of people watching a Batman movie in suburban Denver in July 2012, killing 12 and wounding 70. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple charges of murder and attempted murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
In two motions totaling 32 pages of arguments, defense lawyers argued the death penalty law is unconstitutional and asked Samour to rule out execution for Holmes. In addition to questioning the standards of the laws, the defense said the statutes allow fewer options for defendants to appeal the death penalty if they choose trial by jury than if they choose trial before a judge, without a jury....
Prosecutors are sure to file strenuous arguments that the laws are constitutional. Samour's decision is likely weeks away. Samour rejected the defense's previous attack on the death penalty law in May. Before Holmes entered his insanity plea, his lawyers argued the death penalty law could unfairly cripple their ability to mount an insanity defense.
With Holmes' life literally at risk, his lawyers are pursuing multiple lines of defense as well as questioning some of Samour's actions, to the judge's obvious displeasure. Samour has kept the case moving at a steady if not brisk pace, and one defense motion released Friday told Samour he has ruled too quickly on some defense motions — without a hearing, before prosecutors responded and without allowing the defense to reply to prosecution arguments.
The defense asked Samour to "refrain from issuing premature rulings." Samour hasn't ruled on the motion. Earlier Friday, Samour denied a defense motion seeking the mental health records of prosecution witnesses, bluntly dismissing it as a "fishing expedition."
Samour said Holmes' lawyers don't know whether any of the witnesses have received mental health treatment, whether any records of the treatments exist and whether the records are relevant to the trial. "In other words, the defendant wants the court to approve a fishing expedition," Samour wrote. "The court declines the invitation to do so."...
Samour denied 12 defense motions that sought a raft of records, including tapes of police communications on the day of the shootings, all statements that victims and witnesses made to police and all prosecution records of communications with victims. Samour granted a defense request for information on the credibility of prosecution witnesses, noting prosecutors didn't submit any arguments opposing that motion.
It is hard to fault Holmes' attorneys for raising every plausible pre-trial claim in an effort to prevent their client from being sentenced to death; indeed, they are ethically obliged to do so. But I struggle somewhat, now a full year since the crime was committed, with claims by the defense that the trial judge, who seems to be just seeking to get this case to trial before too long, is guilty of resolving "motions too quickly."
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Should prosecutors in Florida and Oklahoma pursue capital charges against Whitey Bulger?The question in the title of this post prompted by this Boston Globe article, which is headlined "Death penalty possible for Bulger in Fla., Okla.,"
With his federal racketeering trial completed, James “Whitey” Bulger still faces possible death penalty trials in Florida and Oklahoma.
[T]he Boston jury found that prosecutors had proved Bulger’s involvement in the 1982 slaying of businessman John B. Callahan in Florida. A spokesman for Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the state attorney for Miami-Dade County, where Bulger is facing a murder indictment for Callahan’s slaying, welcomed the news that the Boston jury found prosecutors had proved his role in the killing. “I think that indicates that a jury, once given the evidence, came to the same conclusions that we did,” said the spokesman, Ed Griffith. “That’s why we indicted him.”
Griffith declined to say when, or if, Florida prosecutors plan to seek the transfer of Bulger to their jurisdiction, saying only that they will “evaluate our course of action” after the gangster is sentenced in Boston. Griffith also would not say if Florida authorities would seek the death penalty. “You don’t make those decisions in advance,” Griffith said....
Asked if Fernandez Rundle was eager to prosecute Bulger, Griffith said, “Anybody charged with first-degree murder deserves prosecution. That’s a prosecutor’s position anywhere, any time.”...
Michael Von Zamft, the Miami Dade prosecutor who secured the conviction of disgraced FBI agent John Connolly in Callahan’s death, also would not speculate on whether his office will try Bulger in Florida.... He said he expects Bulger to receive a life sentence in Boston. “If that happens, then of course we might have to, given his age ... consider whether it’s advantageous to try him or let him negotiate something” with Florida prosecutors, Von Zamft said.
Also in Boston, the federal jury found that prosecutors had proved Bulger’s involvement in the 1981 murder of World Jai Alai owner Roger Wheeler in Oklahoma.
Tim Harris, the district attorney for Tulsa County, where Bulger is charged with Wheeler’s murder, declined to comment on the Oklahoma case. He did, however, praise the Boston jurors.... He added, “After Federal sentencing we will access his punishment, review his appeal rights and determine what is practical and feasible under our analysis of the facts and circumstances, including our available resources.”
I am especially interested to hear from current/former prosecutors, as well as from strong proponents of the death penalty, concerning (1) whether they agree with the sentiment expressed above that anyone "charged with first-degree murder deserves prosecution" (my emphasis added), and (2) whether they believe that, notwithstanding that the elderly Bulger is sure to get a life sentence from the feds, that justice calls for seeking a state death sentence (or two) against this multiple murderer.
I suspect most folks would be quick to suggest, based on practical issues like costs and delay, that neither Florida or Oklahoma should bother to actively seek to have Bulger sent to death row. But strong advocates of the death penalty often complain about abolitionists who cite practical issues like cost and delay to justify eliminating the death penalty altogether. Thus, I am especially interested and curious to hear from capital punishment advocates as to whether they believe that, for a calculating mass killer like Bulger already facing an LWOP term, it still remains important to seek to impose upon him our society's ultimate punishment.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Arizona Attorney General sues feds seeking decision on fast-tracking capital habeas casesAs reported in this Wall Street Journal piece, headlined "Arizona Sues to Expedite Death-Penalty Appeals; State Pushes U.S. Justice Department for a Decision on 'Accelerated Status'," the AG of Arizona has had to go to court in order to get the US Department of Justice to make a long-pending decision concerning the capital appeals process. Here are the basics:
Arizona’s attorney general, hoping to speed up appeals in death-penalty cases, sued the federal government Monday for allegedly delaying a decision on whether the state can expedite the process.
Notice of the suit, filed in federal appeals court in Washington Monday, comes after Arizona amended its capital-case procedures to meet congressional requirements passed more than four years ago allowing some states “accelerated status” in death-penalty appeals. The U.S. Justice Department’s “failure to act has deprived [Arizona] of the benefits Congress intended in the form of streamlined procedures,” a statement from Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne’s office said.
The Obama administration is working on rules for how states must comply with the congressional requirements and is expected to publish the rules soon. “We continue to make progress on the rule-making,” a Justice Department official wrote to Mr. Horne in a July 16 letter....
A spokeswoman for Mr. Horne’s office said it takes between 10 and 15 years to carry out an execution once someone is convicted in a death-penalty case in Arizona. There are 122 people currently on death row in Arizona, according to state records.
Mr. Horne said Arizona has made improvements in its handling of death-penalty cases, and that allowing it expedited status could shave as much as a decade off delays in executions. “If families are able to see justice done in a reasonable time, it helps with recovery and provides closure,” Mr. Horne said, in announcing the suit Monday. “If they are victimized a second time by undue delays in the federal system, it only adds to their pain and suffering.”...
Accelerated status would require that the federal district court take action on a case within 450 days and the court of appeals respond within 120 days of the filing of the last reply brief, according to the state Attorney General’s office.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Another high-profile federal capital case ends in an LWOP plea dealAs reported in this local piece from Vermont, another high-profile murder in a state without the death penalty which became a federal capital case has now come to a close via a plea bargain to an LWOP term. (As reported in this post, the other comparable case, US v. Plaeu, came out of Rhode Island and was settled this way a few weeks ago.) Here are the basics:
The upcoming death penalty trial of Michael Jacques has been called off, the United States Attorney’s Office announced Friday. As part of a plea deal worked out with lawyers for Jacques, the alleged killer of his 12 year-old niece Brooke Bennett in 2008, Jacques, now 47, will instead plead guilty to the crime and agree to a sentence of life without parole.
The announcement came less than four weeks before the jury selection process for the Jacques trial was set to begin, and just six days before a final pre-trial hearing in the case.... [An official] statement said Holder made the decision based on a recent request by Jacques’ defense team to reconsider the government’s intention to seek a death penalty sentence if it succeeded in convicting Jacques of kidnapping and killing Bennett. “The request for reconsideration raised issues related to the certainty and finality in the process that would be achieved by a plea of guilty to a sentence of mandatory life and the potential impact on a victim-witness of a trial, among other issues,” the statement said....
David Ruhnke, a New Jersey attorney and member of Jacques’ defense team who is an expert in death penalty cases, welcomed the decision by Holder. “We believe this is a just resolution of the case,” Ruhnke said in a statement to the Burlington Free Press....
Bennett went missing on June 25, 2008. Her body was found a week later covered over with dirt about a mile from Jacques’ home in East Randolph. In the days she after she went missing, the case attracted national media attention as police undertook a massive search for her and staged daily news conferences about their efforts. Jacques, in the early days of the search, appeared to be helping police look for her, tipping the searchers to a site in Brookfield where he claimed to have found some of her clothing. Police later determined he placed the items there to throw police off track.
On June 29, 2008, as the search was intensifying, Jacques was arrested on a separate sexual assault charge involving a 14 year-old female relative identified in court papers as “Juvenile 1.” The next day, police labeled him as a “person of interest” in Bennett’s disappearance and, after her body was found, identified him as her alleged killer.
As police assembled the evidence against Jacques, they discovered that he had begun plotting to kidnap and possible kill his niece at least a month earlier. He also appeared to have gone to great lengths to make it look like she was the victim of an international ring of men called Breckenridge, which preyed on young girls....
In the weeks after his arrest, a deeper, darker picture of who Jacques as a serial sex predator began to emerge. Court records show Jacques engaged in sex acts with three different underage girls when he was a teen or, in one case, 20 years old. In two of the cases, the charges were not pursued; in a third, he was given a deferred sentence for lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor. In that case he allegedly engaging in more than 100 sex acts with an underage family relative whom he eventually impregnated. The case was later dismissed by the court.
In 1992, he was charged and later convicted in adult court of abducting and raping an 18-year-old West Rutland woman. Police affidavits from that case said he tied a rope around her neck, threatened to kill her and forced her to perform sex acts on him for several hours. He was sentenced to a six- to 20-year prison term in that case, but was released early for good behavior. In 2004, his lawyer persuaded Judge Amy Davenport to shorten his time on probation by seven years because Jacques’ probation officer viewed Jacques as a “probation success story.”...
After Holder, in 2009, agreed to seek the death penalty for Jacques if convicted, Jacques’s lawyers raised a variety of challenges, saying that using the death penalty in the case was unconstitutional and asking that the trial be moved elsewhere because of heavy coverage of the crime. Those arguments were turned aside by [US District Judge William K.] Sessions and the appellate court. Sessions, earlier this year, said it might be necessary to query 5,000 prospective jurors before an unbiased jury could be selected. The trial had it gone forward, had been expected to last for between two and three months.
Monday, August 05, 2013
Two sharp crime and punishment commentaries from Andrew CohenAndrew Cohen always has sharp and important things to say on a variety of legal and criminal justice issues. But today he is in especially strong form in these two potent commentaries appearing today via The Atlantic:
The Irony of Justice Scalia's California Prison Rant; His dissenting opinion on Brown v. Plata has nothing to do with the subject at hand: prisoners and the Eighth Amendment.
On the Death of John Ferguson; When the sun rose this morning you had every reason to believe that the Eighth Amendment precludes the execution of the insane. When the sun sets tonight you have no such reason to so believe.
Though I am not sure I agree with everything that appears in both of these columns, I am sure that I appreciate the passion and forcefulness with which Andrew Cohen is writing on topics that call for considerably more attention than they are given by most of the media punditry.
Condemned Ohio inmate takes care of his own execution a few days earlyIt is likely unfair to criticize (or praise) Ohio corrections officials for the news reported in this local article, headlined "Inmate hangs self in his cell." Still, as the report highlights, the timing of this notable prison suicide is conspicuous:
Why convicted Cleveland killer Billy Slagle hanged himself early yesterday isn't known, but he apparently knew he had little time to act. Slagle, 44, was found in his Death Row cell at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution about 5 a.m., only hours before he was scheduled to go on a round-the-clock watch before his scheduled execution on Wednesday.
He was pronounced dead about an hour after he was found. No other details were released by state prison officials. “We will be conducting a complete investigation,” said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Slagle was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville for the 1987 murder of 40-year-old Mari Anne Pope. Slagle stabbed Pope, a neighbor, 17 times with scissors while she was baby-sitting two young children.
Under state prison protocol, inmates facing the death penalty are placed on around-the-clock watch 72 hours before their scheduled execution — 10 a.m. yesterday for Slagle. Before they are moved to Lucasville, Death Row inmates are required to be observed on regular rounds by corrections officers, with staggered visits not to exceed 30 minutes, Smith said....
Slagle’s defense team was shocked and had no clue he might commit suicide, said one of his attorneys, Vicki Werneke. “We were still litigating in court and had hoped that the execution would have been stopped. There was oral argument scheduled for Monday afternoon,” she told the Associated Press in an email.
Although Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty sought clemency for Slagle — arguing that, under current law, he would have been given life without parole and not the death penalty — the courts, Ohio Parole Board and Gov. John Kasich disagreed.
Kasich declined clemency, which was Slagle’s best hope to avoid execution. McGinty and Slagle’s attorneys had cited his age — at 18, he was barely old enough for execution in Ohio — and his history of alcohol and drug addiction.
It was the first time a killer about to be executed had killed himself since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. Another inmate, Lawrence Reynolds Jr., 43, of Akron, hoarded and took an overdose of anti-depressant pills that delayed his execution in 2010. He survived and was executed nine days later.
As a fan of personal liberty and autonomy, I tend to favor permitting those prisoners condemned to be executed or to die in prison the opportunity, if clearly competent, the means to commit suicide. But I have no basis for concluding the prisoner here was making a truly informed and competent decision, nor do I fully understand how he had the ready means to hang himself just before going on a pre-execution suicide watch. That all said, and to be especially crass and consequentialist, I suppose as an Ohio taxpayer I ought to a bit be grateful for all the tax-funded time and energy of state employees now saved by there no longer being a contested scheduled Ohio execution this week.
Saturday, August 03, 2013
With seven executions scheduled, Texas running out of needed drugsAs this AP story reports, Texas is on the verge of having problems already facing other states with expired or expiring execution drugs. Here are the details:
The nation's most active death penalty state is running out of its execution drug. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Thursday that its remaining supply of pentobarbital expires in September and that no alternatives have been found. It wasn't immediately clear whether two executions scheduled for next month would be delayed. The state has already executed 11 death-row inmates this year, and at least seven more have execution dates in coming months.
"We will be unable to use our current supply of pentobarbital after it expires," agency spokesman Jason Clark said. "We are exploring all options at this time."
Texas switched to the lethal, single-dose sedative last year after one of the drugs used in its three-drug execution process became difficult to obtain and the state's supply expired. Other death-penalty states have encountered similar problems after some drug suppliers barred the drugs' use for executions or have refused, under pressure from death-penalty opponents, to sell or manufacture drugs for use in executions....
"When Texas raises a flag that's it having a problem, obviously numerically it's significant around in the country because like they're doing half the executions in the country right now," Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty organization, said Thursday....
Some death penalty states, most recently Georgia, have announced they're turning to compounding pharmacies, which make customized drugs that are not scrutinized by the Federal Drug Administration, to obtain a lethal drug for execution use.
Missouri wants to use propofol, the anesthetic blamed for pop star Michael Jackson's 2009 death - even though the drug hasn't been used to execute prisoners in the U.S. Its potential for lethal injection is under scrutiny by the courts and its first use isn't likely anytime soon. The Missouri Supreme Court has declined to allow execution dates to be set in that state until the legal issues are resolved.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster recently suggested that if a suitable execution drug can't be found, the state should consider the gas chamber. State law still allows for execution by lethal gas, though Missouri no longer even has a gas chamber....
Texas has by far executed more inmates than any other state in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume. Since 1982, six years after the high court's order, Texas has executed 503 inmates. Virginia is a distant second at 110.
Federal jury rejects death penalty for murderous Somali piratesAs reported in this AP piece, a "jury recommended Friday that three Somali pirates be sentenced to life in prison in the slayings of four Americans aboard a yacht off the coast of Africa." Here is more on this notable sentencing decision:
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, and 22 of the 26 crimes they were convicted of were death-eligible offenses. But a federal jury in Norfolk, Va., recommended the only other possible sentence for 20-year-old Ahmed Muse Salad, 25-year-old Abukar Osman Beyle and 29-year-old Shani Nurani Shiekh Abrar.
During the sentencing phase of the trial, defense attorneys attempted to raise doubts about the certainty of the crimes the jury had convicted them of. Salad attorney Claire Cardwell noted that nobody was able to definitively say which person shot which victim, and that much of the evidence presented relied on testimony of other convicted pirates. If the jury and the government wanted to dole out justice by taking an eye for an eye, "Which eye, for which eye?" she asked....
The three men were among 19 who boarded the Quest in February 2011 several hundred miles off the coast of Somalia in hopes of taking the Americans back to Somalia and ransoming them for millions of dollars. The plan fell apart when the U.S. Navy began shadowing the sailing vessel. The yacht's owners, Jean and Scott Adam of Marina del Rey, Calif., and their friends, Bob Riggle and Phyllis Macay of Seattle, were shot to death a few days after negotiations with the Navy broke down....
Prosecutors said the murders were planned, as evidenced by threats from the pirates to the Navy, but Cardwell said that made no sense for them to kill their hostages. By the time Navy SEALs scrambled aboard, all four Americans had been mortally wounded. Prosecutors said the Americans had been shot 41 times.
"Let's call it what it is. It was a massacre," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph DePadilla told jurors while arguing for the death penalty during closing arguments earlier this week. The victims were the first U.S. citizens killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean in recent years. In their justification for seeking the death penalty, prosecutors wrote that the men killed or attempted to kill more than one person during a single episode. They also said their actions endangered the U.S. military and that the Americans were killed "in an especially wanton and gratuitous manner."...
Defense attorneys for Salad had argued he should not be eligible for the death penalty because they claimed he is mentally handicapped. Defense documents say Salad has a low IQ, a poor memory and had difficulty functioning as a child in Somalia. Defense attorneys also noted in court filings that his co-defendants describe Salad as "slow" and inept at fishing....
Eleven other defendants who were aboard the Quest have already pleaded guilty to piracy and have been sentenced to life in prison. Four other suspected pirates were killed aboard the yacht. A fifth suspected pirate was released because he was a juvenile.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
After extensive (and expensive?) jurisdictional wrangling, Jason Pleau agrees to plead guilty to avoid federal death penalty prosecution
As reported in this local piece from Rhode Island, standard-issue robbery murder case which prompted a high-profile legal tussle between state officials and the feds has now resulted in a standard-issue plea deal to take the death penalty off the table. The piece is headlined "Death sentence avoided as Jason Pleau’s pleads guilty in 2010 killing of gas-station manager," and here are the details:
The saga of Jason Wayne Pleau, the accused killer whose case drew a governor and the U.S. attorney general into the national debate on the death penalty, has reached a resolution that could see his life spared, in return for spending the rest of it behind bars.
In a plea agreement filed in federal court Friday, Pleau, who faced the death penalty, agreed to plead guilty to charges in connection with his fatal shooting of David D. Main, a Woonsocket gas station manager, during a bank robbery in September 2010.
Pleau agreed to accept a life sentence in prison, with no release. In return, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a decision by federal prosecutors not to seek the death penalty....“Obviously, we’re all grateful that Jason Pleau isn’t facing the prospect of a death sentence,” said his lawyer, Robert B. Mann.
Pleau’s case attracted national attention when Governor Chafee, an opponent of the death penalty, refused to turn Pleau over to federal custody.
Chafee issued a statement following Friday’s announcement by federal prosecutors. “My thoughts are with Mr. Main’s family. The case today has reached a conclusion, and Mr. Main’s family can begin the long healing process. A life sentence is the appropriate punishment for this brutal crime and respects Rhode Island’s long-standing opposition to the death penalty.”
According to a signed plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Providence, Pleau, 35, will plead guilty to committing Hobbs Act robbery; and carrying, using, and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a federal crime of violence, death resulting....
A federal grand jury indicted Pleau in December 2010, but the case was delayed for nearly a year as Chafee became possibly the first governor in the nation to refuse to surrender a prisoner to federal custody based on opposition to capital punishment.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the governor’s argument, on a 3-to-2 vote, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene.
As the title of my post suggests, I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers of Rhode Island for its Governor to put up an aggressive fight to try to prevent federal authorities from being able to effectively prosecute a federal murderer. Ironically, losing this fight ultimately saved these same taxpayers the roughly $500,000 it will likely cost to keep Jason Pleau imprisoned until he dies. Now federal taxpayers will be footing this bill.