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June 1, 2013

"Convicted rapist asks Supreme Court for death penalty"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable piece from my local Columbus Dispatch.  The story reinforces my views that (1) at least for some offenders, an LWOP sentences is worse that the death penalty, and (2) those who advocate strongly for a "right to die" for the terminally ill ought also think about whether and how some LWOP prisoners ought be permitted to exercise this right.  Here are the details of the story:

Ricardo V. Dodson wants to die for his crimes. Dodson, 50, a Franklin County man imprisoned since 1991, will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to issue an immediate order for his execution.  The thing is Dodson is a rapist, not a murderer, and is not under a death sentence.

Nevertheless, Dodson said in a letter to The Dispatch, “I don’t want to stay alive just to die in prison...I would like to be put to death.”  He said it would save taxpayers money by not having to pay for additional years of incarceration.  Taxpayers pay the $65.77 daily cost, or about $24,000 a year, to feed, clothe, and provide medical care and security for each inmate.

So far, two courts have turned down Dodson’s death wish. “Although appellant was convicted of very serious crimes, he was not convicted of aggravated murder and, therefore, the death penalty cannot, nor could it have been imposed at the time of sentencing,” a three-judge Franklin County Court of Appeals panel said.  Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien’s office opposed Dodson’s motion.

Dodson was convicted of four counts of rape, two counts of kidnapping and one count of attempted rape. His appeals and requests for parole have been rejected.  He is serving an indefinite sentence of up to 130 years.

In a self-filed motion with Franklin Common Pleas Court, Dodson argued it is an unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment” to keep him in imprisoned for the rest of his life. He said he suffers from excessive anxiety and depression, has been “pressured to enter homosexual situations in order to obtain small amounts of money,” is “angry all the time,” has been exposed to alcohol and drug addictions,” and has a loss of “morals and values.”

Among the reasons for everyone to be concerned about a story like this is the unfortunate modern reality concerning the only viable way for Dodson to now get the death penalty: murdering a guard or fellow prisoner. There are at least a few recorded examples of prisoners claiming that they murdered in prison in order to be able to get the death penalty, and Dodson will at some point discover that committing murder may now be the only way to "free" himself from his LWOP sentence.

I sincerely hope Ohio prison officials are aware of the unique risks now posed by this LWOP prisoner with a death wish. And I sincerely wish that Ohio laws might someday change in order to give prisoners like Dodson either the right to die and/or the opportunity to have at least some hope of earning an eventual release from prison.

June 1, 2013 at 05:46 AM | Permalink


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Easy fix .

Allow the prisoner a meal that includes 750ml of quality Islay single malt Scotch whisky + a few hundred ml of Demerol .

He quietly goes to sleep and never awakens .

No hassle searching for veins , etc .

Posted by: Just Plain Jim | Jun 1, 2013 6:03:02 AM

The right of the terminally ill to die is not the same thing as giving people with a death wish in these cases their wish. You know this, yes? I guess not.

Let's say the guy who you talk about in prison for let's say twelve years for stealing ribs (and other stuff, obviously) hates being confined. He rather die. Should we give him his wish? After all, he might kill a guard if we don't.

There are a range of people who are stuck in long sentences in prisons that given the nature of prisons are pretty horrible and stressful places. Life is very depressing for some on the outside. So, I would imagine it would be depressing for someone stuck in such places for twenty years (the life expectancy of fifty year olds, aside from the fact many in prison are unhealthy and liable to die sooner). They are likely to be angry a lot. It is horribly true that prison rape is often a fear. So, where would this end?

Euthanasia for the terminally ill is not without concerns and what, two states allow it if the person is near death? So, it is quite different from letting a healthy person die like this, putting aside that some degree of serious punishment is par for the course in cases like this. It is supposed to be hard for these people. We should be doing more to address various problems with prison life, at the very least prison rape. Giving people the right to die when they are not terminally ill is not one of them.

People have committed suicide in prison. If he is desperate, he has the realistic shot of trying. And, if caught in time, no need for extraordinary measures or anything. But, not for the state helping them out like this. Yes, LWOP can be worse than death for some people. Ten years in prison might be. But, we don't give robbers or drug dealers the option of jail time or death. By this logic, apparently we should.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 1, 2013 10:53:00 AM

1.} What one finds crucial, though not directly pertinent, is that quite a dubious decision by the Supreme Court disallowed the death penalty throughout America for even the most disgusting, violent rapes possible (Kennedy v Louisiana, 2008).

Though 5 states had duly passed laws, at least 12 State Constitutions allowed ‘other-than-murder’ executions, and perhaps 14 more states were considering reinstatement, SCOTUS invalidated it all, reminiscent of Caesar. The reasoning used to overturn the jury and judges—and juries, judges, legislators, votes nationwide, was subjective, was it not?

2.} // “I don’t want to stay alive just to die in prison...I would like to be put to death.” He said it would save taxpayers money…for additional years of incarceration. Taxpayers pay the $65.77 daily cost, or about $24,000 a year” //

Hmm, a cost-based argument … great, except this benighted rapist knows not that the ideology
which will not allow him to be executed or to effect suicide, is the same as that which insists on making
the death penalty as-expensive-as-possible. You see, Ricardo, what the anti-American/antinomian/atheist/
Euro-homo-erotic/liberal ('progressive') cause
cannot accomplish democratically, [most are Democrats, ironic idn’t it?]
they achieve autocratically, i.e. judicially.

Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 1, 2013 11:40:49 AM

I think you raise a number of valid points, Joe, and I would certainly require considerable counseling over a lengthy period of time before letting an LWOP prisoner commit suicide. But I actually think an LWOP prisoner, especially one like Dotson who has already been in prison 20+ years, is a lot more like a terminally ill person that you suggest or may realize.

Like some sane/sensible terminally ill patients seeking to die, an LWOP prisoner like Dotson realizes that it would likely take a near miracle for his life to get any better. (Dotson needs a legal miracle; the ill may need a medical miracle.) Dotson has likely seen others LWOPers aging/dying in prison: after witnessing their lives get worse and worse due to the environment and poor prison medical care, he may be eager to "die with dignity" now rather than in the medical ward of a prison. And like some terminally ill, Dotson might reasonably believe that the people he would "leave behind" will have a better life once he is gone.

If Dotson or other LWOP-type folks who have served 20+ years had a reasonable chance for parole --- as all juve offenders given LWOP now have --- then I would accept your notion that we ought not think of him like a terminally ill person. But if/when we are going to say that LWOP really means LWOP for adult offenders (or that he is really expect to serve another 110-years), I think it is cruel for the state to torture him by not giving him either any hope for a better life or an ability to end his life (after counseling and a lengthy waiting to make sure he is of sane mind when making this call).

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 1, 2013 1:02:42 PM

I work as a reader/writer at a community college.

You made an interesting comment that an inmate serving LWOP who wants the death penalty must commit a murder in prison to be eligible.

Related to this type of violent inmate outburst, another increaser of inmate violence against staff is the policy of civally committing former sex offenders in some states. In New Jersey this April, two inmates badly assaulted a guard there. Evidentally, they felt nothing to lose anymore if the state could keep somebody beyond his or her prison sentence. Such detained inmates or detainees no longer have any incentive to behave themselves while behind bars.

Posted by: william delzell | Jun 1, 2013 3:09:05 PM

william delzell --

In New Jersey, yes, there is no incentive for a life inmate to "behave himself," since that state has abolished the death penalty in all circumstances. Thus the state is unable to threaten anything worse than what he's got. Why SHOULDN'T he kill a guard (or two or three)? In an abolitionist state, there is no such thing as a punishment more severe than the one you're already serving.

When the state has handed you a license to kill, party time. And for some of these people, a "party" is exactly what happens.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 1, 2013 3:39:50 PM

By the same token, a person on Death Row in a state that retains and USES the death penalty, that inmate often has no incentive to behave himself or herself towards his or her keepers. We saw an incident in Florida back in 1979 when it became the original leading execution state where a condemned inmate decided to knife a guard to death when the guard used some Mickey Mouse excuse to deny the inmate's mother the right to visit him merely because the inmate had forgotten to comb his hair on visitor's day. That inmate, in a rage, used a sharp instrument to kill that guard. This killing, in turn, led to a guard-led rampage against the other death row inmates who were NOT involved in the guard-killing.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jun 1, 2013 4:00:31 PM

The main problem with the comparison is that it is a limited exception. The person is already "terminal." The person is not going to live for maybe decades, if in a horrible situation. We don't allow assisted euthanasia of let's say a paraplegic (from an accident).

The word "terminal" as you use it would make us all terminal -- we all will die, just in different ways. And, what is unique about this person? You suggest the chance of parole would be different. First, we would put aside the chance of executive clemency. Next, someone middle aged in prison for a serious crime (it need not be rape; it can be drugs or something else) might not realistically have parole for a decade or two. This is not much of a light at the end of the tunnel. This is true even if the person is younger. The best years of their life might be gone by the time they come out. They might even be already damaged or have health problems.

If it is a question of horrible medical care, address that. Dr. Gosnell is in his 70s. Is it cruel that it is likely he will die in prison or some prison health type facility? This leads me to question the "worse than death" argument against the death penalty. It seems to prove too much. It would in effect require the death penalty to be an option for many middle aged offenders whose sentences will in effect be death sentences. Unless a few years free as decrepit old men means much. It won't to many people. I realize some will be all for letting a lot of these serious offenders kill themselves this way, but let's keep in mind the breadth of the principle.

And, as I said, realistically, there are ways to kill yourself. It is problematic however to have the state aid and abet it.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 1, 2013 4:21:55 PM

"It is problematic however to have the state aid and abet it."

What's the matter Joe, did "Escape from New York" leave you permanently scarred?

That's a joke.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 1, 2013 4:31:48 PM

Joe's post raises the stereotypical red herring about state compulsion but the fact is that this argument is made by the life-lovers in every context. Why? Because it is impossible for them to believe that anyone would ever want to die willingly so the person experiencing suicidal ideation must have been compelled by something: bad circumstances, poor decisions, family, friends, the devil, the state, etc.

So the questions I put to Joe are these:

(1) Is it ever possible for a person to freely and rationally choose death?
(2) If so, what specific indica are necessary to persuade you that a death is freely and rationally chosen?

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 1, 2013 4:42:03 PM

william r. delzell --

It is not the state's doing that the Florida killer you mentioned decided to do it again because he got mad. What was his excuse the first time?

Some people -- a very few, thank goodness -- are murderous thugs. That's the unfortunate truth. If you aim to make excuses for them, fine. I don't. There is no way completely to control their behavior no matter what punishments the law embodies. The best way to reduce the threat they will always pose is to execute them promptly so as to reduce their opportunities to do it again.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 1, 2013 6:14:46 PM

@william r delzell
The inmate your talking about is Thomas Knight, and the guard HAD TO deny him a family visit because he refused to shave. Inmate who refused to groom and bathe were punished for violating prison regulations. It doesn't make much difference since Knight never needed much provocation to kill. He had already committed two murders during a robbery-kidnapping and escaped while awaiting trial to commit a murder and attempted murder in Georgia. You can look at his case history here:

Where did you read the guards took revenge on other inmates?

Posted by: MikeinCT | Jun 2, 2013 2:37:18 PM

As I recall, shortly after this 1979 incident, some newspapers in both the mainstream media and some print journals put out by prison reform and civil rights groups mentioned that other guards went on a rampage after the killing of the guard by that particular inmate as their way of avenging the guard's murder. The groups making this charge said that the guards went into each inmates' cells on death row to beat and forcibly shave them. This happened, I believe, not long after Spenkelink's execution.

Unfortunately, I do not have the names of these particular media groups who made this charge, but I DO remember reading these charges.

Posted by: william r. delzell | Jun 2, 2013 3:59:44 PM

I liked the NY film referenced (the sequel was okay) but sorry not sure what the point is.


Joe's post raises the stereotypical red herring about state compulsion but the fact is that this argument is made by the life-lovers in every context. Why? Because it is impossible for them to believe that anyone would ever want to die willingly so the person experiencing suicidal ideation must have been compelled by something: bad circumstances, poor decisions, family, friends, the devil, the state, etc.

I noted that euthanasia is not w/o concerns -- that's why there are safeguards put in place and even there some worry about mistakes and compulsion of some old person etc. not freely choosing given family pressures. From this, you jump to the strawman that I think it is "impossible" for someone to die willingly.

I do not think that.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 3, 2013 12:44:46 AM

(2) If so, what specific indica are necessary to persuade you that a death is freely and rationally chosen?

I think someone can at age 40 quite "free and rationally" decide that they rather die than be trapped in a small cell, liable to be raped and so forth, that is, what many an average prisoner submits to. After all, look at the number of Germans who killed themselves near the end of WWII instead of submitting themselves to post-WWII rule, which for many of them might be bad, but not lethal. But, we don't let such people here have that choice.

So, among the things I actually did say, I'm wondering about line drawing here. Just what prisoners should have the right to die here? I don't think LWOP is necessarily much of a line. Why would a chance of a few years out as a decrepit old man make some forty year old feel less angry, scared and depressed? Such questions would have to be faced if we accept Prof. Berman's proposal.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 3, 2013 12:54:28 AM

Joe wrote: "look at the number of Germans who killed themselves near the end of WWII"

More to point:
in Berlin alone, rather than be raped,
"Reports say classrooms of schoolgirls committed suicide en masse";
"of the 100,000 women estimated to have been raped in Berlin, a tenth of them died, mostly from suicide";
"The victims ranged from eight to 90, with many raped to death";

"Victims were raped an average of 12 times";
"Even today, Miss Koepp, 80, has trouble sleeping. She never had a romance after her ordeal. 'I was hardly more than a child.'


Posted by: Adamakis | Jun 3, 2013 10:20:10 AM

I find it interesting that so few people in this conversation are female, so let me add my voice. I am 54 and men are only now beginning to evade staring at my butt. I have been a sexual target everywhere I walk. For women, life is like a prison with potential inmates hitting on you at every turn. Some use dinner and wine and cordial quaint phrases they hope will allure. Other less attractive men with less patience might just throw me in a van and drive away. Every women knows this, even by the age of 1 year. They are taught that they are regarded as prey.

I do not find it sad that the guy is being treated by men the way those men would treat another sex is one were made available. So now that the behavior of predators is only limited to predators amongst predators, the shoe is on the other foot. I have to turn my head as I walk down the street, be careful how private an area is where I walk. Realistically, I had to teach my two daughters that predators are out there. Some of them like little girls, all use force, some nearly kill but not quite, and so they were not exactly accused of killing, but mentally the scars they created did indeed kill off the potential happiness of their victims. Now asked to bend over, they can reenact all that they did to their victims, but now it's depressing them? Really? I think the fakery or "finally learning to feel" might only be sincere if they were castrated like we do to male dogs to make them stop peeing on furniture. But since nobody here ever considers the victims and their parents, I hope they all rot and their penis falls off. It is a show. You let them out and they would certainly hit on the closest hooker they can find. They are close to dogs than men. Their faculties and judgements were made hormonally and they were willing to cross lines and make others suffer at their hands. Now the guy complains because he is put in a woman's position. It sucks, doesn't it? Go tell you wife, your sister, your daughters, your girlfriends. Every time to tell a woman you will but her something in exchange for sex, every time you state that you make the money and you are entitled, you are just like this guy.

I find it very hard to pity the idiot who now has the shoe on the other foot. I am sure his victims are depressed too. They will never be the same ever. They are walking dead. Why should we let him off easy?

Posted by: Blue | Jul 26, 2013 2:40:52 PM

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