« Top Texas criminal court, in split ruling, decides Miller is to be applied retroactively | Main | NY Times sees "A Rare Opportunity on Criminal Justice" »

March 15, 2014

"Stop turning death row inmates into tragic celebrities"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary from the Dallas Morning News, which gets started this way:

Want to end the death penalty in Texas? Quit being a sucker. Stop turning death row inmates into tragic celebrities. Quit letting your opposition to criminal punishment policy make romantic political prisoners out of sociopaths and killers.

The current case-in-point is Ray Jasper III, who is scheduled for execution by injection next week. Earlier this month, he became an Internet sensation when the news blog Gawker published his long and well-written critique of the U.S. justice system in general and the Texas death penalty in particular [available here].

Jasper, 33, quotes Gandhi, Thoreau, Martin Luther King. He equates modern-day executions with lynchings and the Holocaust.  He writes knowledgeably about the law of parties, Texas’ felony murder rule that says an accomplice — like a lookout or a getaway driver — is just as guilty as the co-defendant who personally pulled the trigger or wielded the knife.  “The facts are undisputed that I did not kill the victim,” he writes, yet under Texas law, “I’m criminally responsible for someone else’s conduct.”

“My life is a testament to what it is to be young and black in America,” he dramatically writes, as part of his lengthy treatise on racism, oppression and the “prison-industrial complex.”  He conjures up a powerful analogy between the plight of prison inmates and that of antebellum slaves.

All of this made opponents of capital punishment, who routinely deride Texas for its “barbaric” imposition of the death penalty, swoon.  The letter was picked up, copied, translated into foreign languages.  Enthusiastic bloggers called it “beautiful,” “profound,” “eye-opening,” “gut-wrenching” and “startlingly eloquent and thought-provoking.”

It’s also a large dish of self-serving baloney.  It skillfully parrots all the most fashionable tropes favored by the “ain’t-Texas-backwards” crowd.  And it tidily sidesteps the pertinent facts of Jasper’s crime.

The facts, according to court records, are these: In 1998, Jasper, an aspiring rap singer, made plans to rob and kill David Alejandro, a San Antonio musician who ran a small independent recording studio. Jasper recruited two accomplices. The three went to the studio and spent two hours recording. Then Jasper walked over to Alejandro, who was running the soundboard, yanked his head back by the hair, and cut his throat open with a kitchen knife.

With blood pouring out of his neck, Alejandro desperately fought back.  Jasper shouted for an accomplice, who rushed over and stabbed Alejandro more than 20 times.  The assailants threw a tarp over the dead man while they loaded the studio equipment into their cars.  They were caught within a few days.

Jasper maintains that he isn’t guilty of murder because the medical examiner said it was the stab wounds rather than the cut throat that technically caused death. Thus, after planning the crime, cutting the victim’s throat and confessing all this to the police, he maintains that he’s “not a killer” and that he “never killed anyone.”  If Texas says different, he maintains, it’s because Texas is a backwater police state of racism and oppression.

Nobody would have bothered challenging Jasper’s “startlingly eloquent” message had not the victim’s brother written Gawker a letter in response [available here].  If you want startling eloquence, read what Steven Alejandro, a lifelong capital punishment opponent, says to anti-death-penalty activists:

“Keep up your fight. It is an honorable one. But do not use this man, Ray Jasper, as your spokesperson, as your example of why the death penalty should be abolished. The death penalty should be abolished because it is wrong to kill another human being. Ray Jasper is not worthy of your good and kind hearts. He has never accepted culpability or expressed remorse.”

March 15, 2014 at 04:42 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Stop turning death row inmates into tragic celebrities":


When the populist Governor Perry was out campaigning for the Presidency a motion for clemency or delay came up for an inmate on death row. Perry was too busy to give it much attention. The guy was killed by The People of The Great State of Texas. It later turned out that he was actually innocent.
Now the killer in this situation who is facing being killed has offended the newspaper of the Great City of Dallas. I can agree that if he slit the guy's throat then he is guilty as sin. So if you want to kill a human down there go ahead. Only don't used these weeny words like "execute" when you are killing. Each of you who lives in that state who agrees with killing should review the Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Yeah, I know that you have this Sears Roebuck bible handy that employs other words that were not written in stone. You have the Y'all Can Exception to the Sixth Commandment. When your time comes for that interview with Saint Peter he may not have a copy of the Sears Roebuck Bible in his hands and will probably send you to Hell or Limbo.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Mar 15, 2014 9:06:13 PM

I thought this was the most interesting part of the letter and am interested in what others say:

"If you're not giving the death penalty for murder, then the government is already saying that the taking of one's life is not worth the death penalty. Capital murder is if you take someone's life and commit another felony at the same time. That's Texas law. That makes a person eligible for the death penalty The problem is, you're not getting the death penalty for murder, you're actually getting it for the other felony. That doesn't make common sense. You can kill a man but you will not get the death penalty......if you kill a man and take money out his wallet, now you can get the death penalty. "

Posted by: Learning | Mar 15, 2014 9:27:23 PM

You're talking about Cameron Todd Willingham, right?

I agree that his is probably the best case for arguing, generally, against the death penalty on the grounds that an innocent man could be killed.
The case discussed in this posting is nothing like that. In Willingham, the possibility posited by the newest evidence is that he did NOTHING wrong.
Ray Jasper III is the UNDISPUTED LEADER of a scheme to kill and rob the victim. He IRREFUTABLY sliced open the throat of the victim. His big "defense" is that it was the subsequent stabbings by another, not his throat slicing, that was the medical cause of death. The controversy is not whether he was guilty of serious wrongdoing or completely innocent of any.

I've figured out the pattern on this blog:

Doug posts something.

The usual suspects come out and belabor their usual viewpoints.

Some people go off the rails in all directions.

Supremacy Clause makes me laugh.

Posted by: Wayne-O | Mar 15, 2014 9:29:49 PM

Claus. Not Clause. Sorry. The feminist traitor lawyer was distracting me with his rent-seeking and so forth....

Posted by: Wayne-O | Mar 15, 2014 9:32:06 PM

A very good, heart-wrenching, and honest piece. His authenticity shines through his words:

Update: I would like people reading my letter to know that I have since read Ray Jasper's letter. I've lived most of my life trying to be open minded and fair. And I realized I was letting my emotions get in the way of this. So I have read Jasper's letter. I am aware of the truths that Jasper writes of. The fact remains, however, that he is still unrepentant and blind to his guilt. It is hard to swallow calls for empathy from a person who lacks it themselves. I pray for Ray Jasper's family and all those truly innocent who have been victimized and will continue my own fight against injustice as best as I can. I stand by my response

Posted by: Guy | Mar 15, 2014 10:28:12 PM

Wayne O: Are you a government dependent worker?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 15, 2014 11:58:59 PM

No Mr. Claus. I am the curator of a privately funded museum. We take no Government money. Wild that you would assume anyone who picks up on your not so hard to ape idiosyncrasies must be part of the cabal. Now that I think about it, I suppose I am Government dependent in that, if a fire breaks out, I will call the Government funded fire department. I do drive on a government maintained road to get to my job. Damn it! I guess I AM a Government dependent worker. I thus forfeit moral authority to lampoon you.

Thank you for opening my eyes on this. We must be vigilant in acquiring the truth. TO DETER.

On another note (actually, the original note), anyone here feel like cranking up the boo hoo machine for this Texas inmate? Mine seems to be broken.

Posted by: Wayne-O | Mar 16, 2014 12:11:44 AM

Wayne-O --

Mine is also broken. You couldn't get someone from central casting better suited to the role of "remorseless killer." Like so many of his fellow throat-slitters, Jasper sees all manner of things amiss with what everyone else does, and absolutely nothing amiss with himself.

He'd do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance -- which is yet another reason not to.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 16, 2014 12:18:04 AM

Wayne O: You are not a lawyer, and I have no dispute with you. I respect your opinions. If your museum is a non-profit, your salary is government dependent in that donations are generated in part by their tax deductibility. Americans are the most generous on earth due to the subsidy of the US government. If you are entertained, I have fulfilled my purpose.

Prof. Berman has not covered slavery as sentencing enough. Interesting subject from an utilitarian view point.

I recommend everyone read the letter of Ray Jasper III, hypocrite. He calls for compassion, yet showed none to his victim.

He complains of slavery in prison. However the Thirteenth Amendment allows slavery after a conviction for a crime.

"Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The lawyer has naturally exempted the biggest slaver in the world, the US Government, with forced labor from form filling to rent seeking and regulatory takings. All have been allowed by the Supreme Court. despite Thirteenth Amendment challenges to the draft, to jury duty, to community service. Fines are slavery, since every penny of value in history has been generated by human labor.

He says, his slitting the victim's throat was not the final death blow, so he never killed anyone. However, he does not mention, that the victim fought back. He had to call his accomplice who stabbed the victim many times. He thus ordered the final murderous injuries, and has more culpability than the stabber, being the mastermind of this crime, and ordering the murder.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 16, 2014 1:12:57 AM

Wayne-O: The innocence rate on death has been addressed in the comment section.

1) Stop all transportation until the false death rate has been addressed, that includes a moratorium on walking since hundreds of innocent people are killed as pedestrians. There are ten pedestrians killed for every murderer execute, and 50 for every innocent man executed.

2) Death penalty reviews should not be carried out by know nothing appellate judges, but by experienced investigators, reviewed the entirety of a case. They should look for substantive, probative errors, and not legal loopholes. They should have subpoena powers to grill the lazy, incompetent police, and the publicity crazy prosecutors.

3) All parties should be held liable to the estate for their carelessness if an innocent person is executed. If an intentional act, or malice (knowledge) contributed to the false sentence, exemplary damages should be allowed. All proceeds are to come from the personal assets of the parties, and their supervisors, and not from the taxpayer. The taxpayer is not paying for the execution of the innocent. The tortfeasors should also reimburse the taxpayer for all legal costs. To deter.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 16, 2014 1:23:53 AM

There can be a good argument that a person with a slit throat is less likely to be able to fight off someone wielding a knife. But felony murder itself, when the sentenced to death did not commit violence, has always been in contention. See for example Folsom's 93 | The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men.

Obviously, murder, like sex, sells in a capitalist society. Personally, I'd rather go shopping for a good noir than kill someone.

Posted by: George | Mar 16, 2014 7:43:29 PM



New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Mar 16, 2014 10:09:53 PM

|“Homicide suspect was out of jail on probation”|
|March 13, 2014| By Edward Marshall - Journal Staff Writer (emarshall@journal-news.net)|

"Upon arrival on scene, law enforcement and medics met a family member, who found a 72-year-old female not breathing with a bag over her head and her hands bound,"
a news release issued by the sheriff's department Sunday reads.

Who was this?
Martha Tyler.
“[Neighbor Dave Grove] said he and others helped the elderly woman with chores like mowing her lawn and shoveling her driveway after
her husband passed away last year.”

Who is the admitted killer?
“Probationer William Patrick Jackson, 37, … after investigators learned he had stolen the victim's bank card and made several fraudulent transactions.”
“Jackson's probation officer, Bryant Snapp, helped identify the accused in photographs … at the Martinsburg Wal-Mart, where Jackson allegedly used the victim's
stolen bank card six times the day after the homicide.” “The six transactions made at the Wal-Mart on March 9 totaled about $727 [and one on March 10], records show.”

How did the premeditated murderer know the victim?
Mrs. Tyler helped W. P. Jackson with food and pay to do odd jobs for her:
“Sgt. Ted Snyder, the lead investigator in the case, said it's believed Jackson met the victim sometime in December. “ … he had done a few jobs here and there for her."
During questioning, Jackson told Berkeley County Sheriff's Department investigators … he had done some yard work for her in the past and she sometimes
gave him food and money, according to court records.”

"Jackson stated that when he came to he was lying on top of Tyler on the living room floor. … she had a blue in color bag over her head and that her hands were tied
behind her back. Jackson told me that he knew that she was dead," a copy of the criminal complaint contained in the warrant for Jackson's arrest reads.”
Tyler was found on the floor in the living room with a plastic bag over her head. Her hands were tied behind her back with a black USB cord.
Another cord was also tied tightly around her throat, records show.

No obvious signs of forced entry were found at the home.
An empty billfold belonging to the victim was found on a couch in the living room, and
it appeared as if someone had gone through it before discarding it, records show.
An autopsy was conducted March 10 by the West Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the cause of death was determined to be strangulation, records show.

// Liberty1st:
// Maybe you could offer to house W. P. Jackson or Jasper the aspiring rapper.
// This would be more humane than a life for a life.

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 17, 2014 2:28:32 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB