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June 12, 2010

Scheduled firing squad execution renewing Utah's death penalty debate

Barring some unexpected development, Ronnie Lee Gardner will be executed in Utah this coming Friday in the same manner in which the first modern US execution took place 33 years ago. This new Salt Lake Tribune article discusses this symetry and the persistent debate over capital punishment in the interim. Here are extended snippets:

Gary Gilmore earned Utah a special place in history when his 1977 execution by firing squad reopened the door to capital punishment in the United States. The practice has remained problematic ever since.

Otherwise, Ronnie Lee Gardner -- sentenced to die for the 1985 courthouse slaying of attorney Michael Burdell -- wouldn't have spent 25 years on Utah's death row awaiting his fate....

Now, as the nation again turns an eye toward Utah and its preparations for Gardner's Friday execution by firing squad, capital punishment proponents insist death is the only just penalty for the worst crimes.   But for opponents, questions persist: Is the death penalty administered arbitrarily? Is justice served when inmates languish for decades on death row?  Can states afford to spend the millions of dollars capital cases require? And does the death penalty deter crime and lead to a better society?...

"The law is not very good at specifying who should live and who should die," argues Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at University of California at Berkeley.  Zimring was among those who recently convinced the American Law Institute -- an association of about 4,000 lawyers, professors and judges -- to abandon its support of the death penalty based on arbitrary application....

In some cases, such as that of the mother and stepfather charged in the recent torture killing of 4-year-old Ethan Stacy, society demands execution, said Kent Scheidegger, director of Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Fund.

"There are some crimes for which any lesser penalty is not justice," Scheidegger said.  Although he contends there is no way to make capital punishment "completely consistent," Scheidegger said the system does "by and large only sentence the worst killers to death."

For capital punishment to be effective as a deterrent, Scheidegger said, states must streamline the appeals process.  He pointed to Virginia, which limits the number of appeals in capital cases to an automatic appeal followed by a second review.  An execution date is set immediately after the second review is denied, forcing inmates to turn the federal courts, according to the Office of the Virginia Attorney General.

Behind Texas, Virginia has executed more people since capital punishment was reinstated than any other state. It took seven years to execute the state's so-called "D.C. Sniper," John Allen Muhammad, believed to have killed up to 10 people in the 2002 Beltway shootings.  Virginia's five-year average from sentencing to execution compares with a national average of 11 years, according to Northern Illinois University....

Like most death penalty proponents, Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor, would like the time between conviction and execution to be reduced.  But otherwise, he contended, the death penalty works well in this country and is structured to be lenient, rather than barbaric.  "We could make the death penalty apply evenly, but if it's applied evenly, everyone who commits murder gets the death penalty," he said. "The sorting is done by the jury."

Salt Lake City defense attorney Ken Brown, a death penalty opponent, argued capital punishment doesn't lead to a better society.  Beyond that, Brown said it isn't fair to the victim's families, either -- particularly in an era where an execution, such as Gardner's, can be 20 years or more in coming. Prosecutors should tell the victim's families, 'Every time we deal with this case that wound will be reopened,' " he said.  "Calmer minds need to be saying, 'Nothing we do can bring your [loved one] back.  We can kill someone else, but at what cost?' "

That is borne out by the families of Gardner's victims, who say they relived the horrors of their loved-one's deaths every time Gardner has made headlines over the past quarter century.  Gardner was appearing in court for slaying Melvyn Otterstrom when he fatally shot attorney Michael Burdell and wounded court bailiff Nick Kirk during an escape attempt.

But like the rest of the country, the families of Gardner's victims have mixed views on the death penalty. Kirk's widow and daughters say they can't rest until Gardner has been executed. Donna Nu, Burdell's fiance, says she would do anything to stop Gardner's execution.

Otterstrom's widow, Kathy Potter, and son, Jason Otterstrom, have not weighed in on Gardner's death sentence, although his son said Thursday he wants a final resolution in the case.  "I don't know which path should be followed. But our family needs peace," he said. "I ask that whatever decision is reached, that it be permanent."

June 12, 2010 at 10:13 PM | Permalink


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Let us all bow down and worship at the Altar of Death. Maybe later we can go abort some babies and euthanize some old people. Killing is a good thing, is it not? Yes? This needless extermination of human life is something that we should all celebrate, isn't it? In your heart, you know that it is wrong.

Posted by: JC | Jun 12, 2010 11:37:18 PM

I remind Me Scheidegger that deterrence is an improper purpose of the criminal trial. You are punishing the defendant in order to intimidate a future defendant not related to the matter. This future, speculative defendant likely cannot be deterred. The evidence for that is simple, 17,000 murders a year.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 13, 2010 1:40:47 AM

The murderer shot an attorney escaping from a murder charge. The rent is such a powerful force, the lawyer traitor still wants to immunize the repeat murderer of one of their own.

If he gets life without parole, the murderer will have total immunity for all subsequent murders. This is disgusting. The criminal lover lawyer is disgusting.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 13, 2010 5:14:15 AM

JC --

Your plan for dealing with the Nazis was................what?

"Killing is a good thing, is it not? Yes?" Mostly no. But sometimes, indeed, yes.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 13, 2010 9:56:19 AM

JC: You may think of the death penalty as social self-defense. Government Job One to Job Last? Protection. Otherwise, there is no need for government. It it the defendant that worships at the Altar of Murder. Why don't even mention, let alone care about this person's victims? I can answer that. You are a government dependent, left winger. The murderer generates a lot of government make work. The victim does not, and may rot.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 13, 2010 12:18:20 PM

"Let us all bow down and worship at the Altar of Death. Maybe later we can go abort some babies and euthanize some old people. Killing is a good thing, is it not? Yes? This needless extermination of human life is something that we should all celebrate, isn't it? In your heart, you know that it is wrong."

What is it about capital punishment that provokes such moral preening? Abortion/euthanasia have little to do with the execution of murderers, and the use of the term "extermination" is hardly an accurate way to describe the execution of a handful of murderers per year.

There's a hole in the Gulf spewing death for millions of creatures. Let's get some perspective.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 13, 2010 2:30:27 PM

Creatures do not generate fees for the thievin' lawyer. This entire system is a bunko operation, run solely for the benefit of the lawyer. Only 1 in 10 felonies is replied to by this self-dealing incompetent. The judges and the lawyer legislators are personally responsible for every crime, as if they hurt the victim themselves.

There is full moral and intellectual justification for public self-help brought to every participant. The judge is the head of this caper, and must be held accountable first. These criminal lover, lawyer rent seeking judges are thieves, and must be removed, put on trial and sent to prison. They have no legitimacy except at the point of a gun. Remove the goons that protect them and impose their sicko philosophies, and nothing they do is legitimate. Even the trial is from the disputation methodology of Scholasticism, a church movement of the 13th Century. They look and act as priests do, and are maintaining the confiscatory business plan of the Inquisition. The bogus made up charges of the Inquisition are no more ridiculous than those of these birds. We have these church based internal traitors running the criminal law.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 13, 2010 8:34:01 PM

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