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July 8, 2015

"Retribution is a valid societal interest" says local DA in advocacy for death penalty

Download (4)The quote in the title of this post is from Louisiana District Attorney Dale Cox, who is profiled in this interesting front-page New York Times article.  The piece is headlined "The Prosecutor Who Says Louisiana Should ‘Kill More People’," and here are excerpts:

Within Louisiana, where capital punishment has declined steeply, Caddo [Parish] has become an outlier, accounting for fewer than 5 percent of the state’s death sentences in the early 1980s but nearly half over the past five years. Even on a national level Caddo stands apart. From 2010 to 2014, more people were sentenced to death per capita here than in any other county in the United States, among counties with four or more death sentences in that time period.

Caddo ... has bucked the national trend in large part because of one man: Dale Cox. Mr. Cox, 67, who is the acting district attorney and who secured more than a third of Louisiana’s death sentences over the last five years, has lately become one of the country’s bluntest spokesmen for the death penalty. He has readily accepted invitations from reporters to explain whether he really meant what he said to The Shreveport Times in March: that capital punishment is primarily and rightly about revenge and that the state needs to “kill more people.” Yes, he really meant it.

And he has been willing to recount his personal transformation from an opponent of capital punishment, a belief grounded in his Catholic faith, to one of the more prolific seekers of the death penalty in the nation. “Retribution is a valid societal interest,” Mr. Cox said on a recent afternoon, in a manner as calm and considered as the hypothetical he would propose was macabre. “What kind of society would say that it’s O.K. to kill babies and eat them, and in fact we can have parties where we kill them and eat them, and you’re not going to forfeit your life for that? If you’ve gotten to that point, you’re no longer a society.”

Mr. Cox later clarified that he had not seen any case involving cannibalism, though he described it as the next logical step given what he at several points called an “increase in savagery.”...

Mr. Cox’s personality has been under scrutiny here since he returned to being a prosecutor after two decades in insurance law. Lawyers who knew him as a congenial and adroit trial lawyer said that in recent years he had become sullen and solitary. They also have described him as becoming increasingly aggressive in the courtroom, in some cases even threatening defense lawyers with criminal contempt for filing opposing motions.

“It’s such a dramatic change,” said Ross Owen, a former Caddo prosecutor and assistant United States attorney who now practices defense law in Shreveport. “The behavior in and of itself might not be a big deal,” he said. But given Mr. Cox’s position, and the fact that the defendants in most of these capital cases are poor and black in a part of the state with a deep history of racism, Mr. Owen added, “He’s got a loaded gun and he’s pointing it at a lot of people.”

Several said this was not so much Mr. Cox as the culture of the office. They point to a historical racial disparity in the application of the death penalty in Caddo. Or they cite an incident in 2012, when two senior assistant district attorneys, both of whom continue to prosecute capital cases elsewhere in the state, were forced to resign from the office after they obtained machine guns from a military surplus program through what an inspector general found to be falsified applications. The men had belonged to a group of prosecutors who participated in firearms exercises as part of a unit known as the Caddo Parish Zombie Response Team, sporting arm patches around the office and specialty license plates on their trucks.

Mr. Cox, who rose from first assistant to acting district attorney after his boss died unexpectedly in April, was never part of that group and disapproved of it. But he did not dispute that the work he does had changed him and left him more withdrawn.

He describes this as a natural result of exposure to so many heinous crimes, saying that “the nature of the work is so serious that there’d be something wrong if it didn’t change you.” He went on to describe violent child abuse, murders and dismemberments in extended detail, pointing to a box on his desk that he said contained autopsy photographs of an infant who was beaten to death. He volunteered that he took medication for depression.

“The courts always say, ‘Evolving standards of decency tell us we can’t do this or that,’ ” he said in an interview at his office, where he had been considering whether to seek death in one case and preparing to seek it in two others. “My empirical experience tells me it’s not evolving decently. We’ve become a jungle.”

The number of murders in Shreveport has decreased by more than 67 percent since the early 1990s. But Mr. Cox insisted that if the numbers were down, the nature of crimes had become more depraved and that it demanded a different approach.

Defense lawyers conceded that the approach was different. Mr. Cox had refused even to entertain pleas of life without parole in homicide cases for which he deemed death the only fitting remedy. In other cases, the office has prosecuted people for ancillary crimes even after they had made plea agreements. After a man was convicted in 2014 of smothering his infant son, a case that hinged almost entirely on differing interpretations of complicated forensic evidence, Mr. Cox wrote that the man “deserves as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies.”

Alluding to Rousseau and Shakespeare, Mr. Cox remained unapologetic, insisting that he believed what he was doing was right. But he was not entirely untroubled. “I am humble enough and fearful enough,” he said, considering the biblical commandment not to kill and his own place in the afterlife, “that my God may say to me, ‘I meant what I said, and you’re out.’ ”

July 8, 2015 at 01:53 PM | Permalink

Comments

Just another ad hominem attack by a left wing, hate speech, propaganda rag.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 8, 2015 5:24:27 PM

Retribution is a valid societal interest to some degree at least as the law is now understood. It alone doesn't justify the DP. In fact, if that is your concern, arguably life imprisonment would be more retributive in many cases.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 8, 2015 6:27:10 PM

A miracle...Joe and I agree for once. Yes, it is a valid interest. Whether it is a decisive interest is a different question.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 8, 2015 6:38:36 PM

"On that score I would say only that I cannot agree that retribution is a constitutionally impermissible ingredient in the imposition of punishment. The instinct for retribution is part of the nature of man, and channeling that instinct in the administration of criminal justice serves an important purpose in promoting the stability of a society governed by law. When people begin to believe that organized society is unwilling or unable to impose upon criminal offenders the punishment they "deserve," then there are sown the seeds of anarchy -- of self-help, vigilante justice, and lynch law."

-- Justice Stewart, Furman v. Georgia

Some say retribution is a wrongful justification & as a matter of theory, I won't say that's unreasonable. But, as the law lies now, it is a reasonable factor.

Posted by: Joe | Jul 8, 2015 8:04:41 PM

Take a look at the Oxford definition:

punishment that is considered to be morally right and fully deserved:
"settlers drove the Navajo out of Arizona in retribution for their raids"
synonyms: punishment · penalty · one's just deserts · revenge · reprisal · More

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The Navajo would probably use it in a sentence in an opposite context.
"The Navajo raided in retribution because the white man killed their women and children."

I have a theory that serial killers are obsessed with retribution.

Posted by: George | Jul 8, 2015 9:18:22 PM

The Zombie Response Team thing, just three years ago, is pretty stunning.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jul 9, 2015 5:33:25 PM

Who is the dork in the photo?

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jul 11, 2015 5:08:05 PM

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