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March 1, 2011

Are death penalty fans pleased or disappointed when a death row defendant dies of natural causes?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local news item from California, headlined "Hammer murderer is latest to die naturally on Death Row." Here is the background:

You'd think the biggest cause of death on California's Death Row would be execution.  After all, that's what the 712 prisoners on the row are there for, right?  Turns out it doesn't work that way.

Robber-murderer Richard Ray Parson on Monday became the latest example illustrating that natural causes, not execution, are the leading cause of death on Death Row.  Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, California has executed 13 prisoners, while 53 have died of disease, old age or other natural reasons.  Another 18 have committed suicide.

Executions have been on hiatus in the state since 2006 while a federal judge assesses whether the lethal injection method is humane.  The last person to die on the injection gurney was Clarence Ray Allen, 76, in January 2006.

Parson, 67, was sent to Death Row from Sacramento County in 1996 for robbing and killing Theresa Schmiedt two years earlier.  Schmiedt, a 59-year-old nurse, was beaten to death with a hammer in her Sacramento apartment.  Parson stole her purse, prosecutors said.

Parson died Monday morning at a hospital, said the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. It gave no further information.

I could imagine some death penalty fans pleased by this kind of news: another convicted murderer no longer is on the planet and the state no longer has to pay the expenses for keeping this killer alive or for litigating any of his claims that his death sentence is illegal or otherwise flawed.  And yet, I could also imaging death penalty fans feeling some disappointment because this news means another murderer escaped the formal punishment of death and in essence served a life without parole sentence.

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March 1, 2011 at 08:36 AM | Permalink


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It's always good when a killer dies. Whether its at the hands of the State, another inmate, or natural causes. unfortunately in this case a little bit of justice was robbed from society since the jury's sentence was not carried out...thanks to one federal out of control Judge in CA (Fogel). He has personally held up executions in CA for almost 5 years now. With its large detah row +700 inmates, CA should be executing 5-6 killers a month, easily. Hundreds have lost their final appeals and are just waiting for this crazy Judge to rule. Most likely he will delay it for some other reason next...unreliable supply of drugs, bad lighting, untrained executioner, etc. Good grief.

Posted by: DeanO | Mar 1, 2011 8:46:45 AM

From an utilitarian view, death is incapacitation. That is the sole mature aim of the death penalty. It is not punishment, if punishment is a consequence likely to reduce future behavior. There is no behavior of any kind. It is not deterrence, because that is an unlawful use of the law, to punish someone for the speculative future crimes of another, not yet known to anyone. It is not rehab for the same reason that it is not punishment.

The deceased from natural causes and suicide are incapacitated. That is a benefit. What is regrettable are the costs, and the risks to people from the lawyer caused delays and hyper-proceduralist methodologies.

The 18 people who committed suicide expressed the idea death is less cruel than life on death row. That rate is triple the expected rate of suicide among those who die, and it is harder to commit suicide in such a restricted place as death row. These suiciders are the real experts, rebutting the abolitionist lawyers who advocate LWOP. Such choice should be continually open to anyone on death row, with staff assistance. "We will give you a heroin and cocaine injection, after a gourmet meal and a final visit from an expensive "niece," if you choose to commit suicide over continuing the agony of legal appeals."

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 1, 2011 9:46:11 AM

Judge Fogel is not crazy, and I know the level of the intellect of the person who helped him devise his medical arguments, and I know casually, some of the death penalty appellate lawyers.

What is he? He is a savvy, brilliant lawyer, rent seeking, and generating massive employment for lawyers. Beyond their technical abilities, these lawyers are confident and sincere in their moral superiority. That makes them annoying.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 1, 2011 9:52:47 AM

Not to be morbid, but why are we sticking with lethal injection when there are more reliable and more humane execution methods? Pure nitrogen (in gaseous, not liquid form) quickly displaces breathable oxygen and causes unconsciousness and death incredibly rapidly without triggering the normal suffocation reaction. Existing gas chambers can easily be retrofitted to use nitrogen, it's cheap and plentiful (it comprises 78% of the atmosphere), and can be administered without medical training.

Posted by: NickS | Mar 1, 2011 10:05:08 AM

simply disgusting

Posted by: claudio giusti, italia | Mar 1, 2011 10:18:35 AM

Plus nitrogen suffocation is safe (which is one major drawback to traditional poison gas methods - they pose a substantial risk to the executioners and witnesses should something go wrong).

However, unless I'm mistaken there aren't that many existing gas chambers. I'm fairly sure it never became widespread in the U.S. and even many states that did use it have removed the equipment.

But given the safety factor (i.e. if there's a leak you don't have anything to worry about, you just don't have a dead inmate), you could put together a pretty flimsy execution box, perhaps something as simple as a giant fish tank, and it could even keep the semi-medical appearance of a lethal injection.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Mar 1, 2011 10:38:36 AM

To answer the question, neither. Even when we are talking about a cold-blooded murderer who deserves the death penalty, I am not happy to see any person die, whether at the hands of the state or otherwise. That said, I won't shed many tears for the Tim McVeighs of the world, either.

As a sidenote, I also would not consider myself a death penalty "fan"--I just believe that capital punishment is necessary and morally warranted. Just like at times I think that the use of military force is necessary and morally warranted, but I wouldn't consider myself a fan of any war, even when we are without question in the right.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Mar 1, 2011 12:48:53 PM

I largely agree with Res ipsa and would add this: The feelings of DP advocates, like those of its opponents, are irrelevant. It's not a matter of feeling. It's a matter of justice and deterrence.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 1, 2011 2:27:23 PM


I want to see California get moving also. However, Fogel is not the only one to blame on these delays. The State took about 2 of the 5 years in ligitation over the regulations. It is time for him to dispose this case soon. The new regulations more than satisfy Baze. Also, there are less than 10 inmates who are "ripe" for an execution date. Fogel has had this case on his docket for so long, I think he actually enjoys sitting on it.

Posted by: DaveP | Mar 1, 2011 4:13:30 PM

I think "drawing and quatering" has got a bad rap. Nothing deters like a good execution. Let's bring it back.

Posted by: anon1 | Mar 1, 2011 11:33:10 PM

THERE WAS NO VENGEANCE in his death...not nearly as satisfying.

Posted by: neanderthal | Mar 2, 2011 12:09:07 AM

The veneer of civilization remains thin...as some of the above posts clearly remind us.

Though neanderthal's comment almost certainly is the product of sarcasm, he (she?) speaks the truth under a screen name any number of other posters here might have appropriately chosen for themselves.

Posted by: John K | Mar 2, 2011 8:52:15 PM

John: You have merely taken the side of the murderers, and cast the murder victims to their fates. You have never expressed the slightest concern for the 17,000 victims of extra-judicail executions, not even once, in passive, by mistake.

If you are a lawyer, I have an insurmountable physical challenge. Say the V word. I bet you couldn't do it with a gun to your head. You would sputter, choke, and fall unconscious before it could depart your lips. We would have to call the rescue squad.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 3, 2011 8:55:02 PM

SC, to defend your notion of how the DP works to keep potential murder victims alive, please explain Texas...where an active DP regimen has yet to stop folks from killing each other with some regularity.

As for murder victims themselves, what do you make of the groups of relatives and spouses of murder victims who've banded to actively oppose the DP?

Posted by: John K | Mar 4, 2011 1:52:01 PM

John: There is a dose response curve to all remedies. Take established miracle drugs. Before antibiotics 90% of bacterial pneumonia patients died. After antibiotics, 90% survived. No controversy about effectiveness.

Now, under a Democratic doctor's care, give penicillin to 1 in 100 pneumonia patients, 7 years after the onset of pneumonia. Have multiple layers of hospital committees review the indication prior to its start. Most members of these committees are not lung specialists. In 20% of cases, give penicillin to people who do not have bacterial pneumonia (false positives or exonerated). Virtually prohibit its use in females. Give it only for one bacterial species (like white victims, and not black victims). Price each course of penicillin at $1 million. How is penicillin for bacterial pneumonia looking now?

I can't really second guess bereaved families. The DP is not for them. If it were, its use would be for retribution. This is a religiously based use, and unlawful in our secular nation. I have also proposed a new but totally self-evident legal argument against a policy of general deterrence (of others). One may not punish a defendant for the purpose of preventing speculative future crimes of unspecified future people without violating their procedural due process right to a fair hearing (punishment for the crime of another unknown to anyone, and it has not yet taken place).

The DP serves incapacitation, the sole mature, lawful aim of the criminal law. It should be expanded to all violent repeat offenders. Its number (dose) should be slowly ratcheted up until 90% of violent crime (5 million a year) has stopped in the US. The reason there would be no violent crime? Criminals would not exist anymore. Because we lose 17,000 murder victims a year, any number of summary executions up to that one is fair. 123D also solves the problem of the incompetence of the lawyer, including his atavistic, goofy Rules of Evidence that promote false results. Say the third conviction is false, and the execution is unwarranted, one has gotten rid of a bad guy anyway, based on prior violent offenses. I support ending all self-dealt lawyer and judge immunities. If the estate of the executed defendant can show a deviation from professional standards of care resulted in a false execution, the estate should be compensated standard verdicts for wrongful death.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 5, 2011 8:22:14 AM

Unfortunately in this case a little bit of amends was beggared from association back the jury's book was not agitated out thanks to one federal out of ascendancy Judge in CA. He has alone captivated up executions in CA for about 5 years now. With its ample death row +700 inmates, CA should be active 5-6 killers a month, easily.

Posted by: Criminal Lawyer Sacramento | Mar 9, 2011 6:09:03 PM

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