Category Archives: death penalty

On lethal injections: academia vs. reality

The Wood botched execution in Arizona and others elsewhere have shocked many and rightly so. But it’s also opened up an interesting debate in the legal world. On the one hand, you have academics arguing the academia and the technicalities of the law and the meaning of words and on the other, you have former lawyers turned professors who are arguing that, really, what we should do is avoid torturous executions. The latter is a post at the ACS blog which I’d recommend that you read in its entirety. It is long and technical, but it really is worth reading to understand why the secrecy surrounding the lethal injection protocol is dangerous and cannot be tolerated.

H/T: Nancy Leong

Cruel and unusual: the new lows we hit in our thirst for blood (updated)

The death penalty is a disgusting, cruel and barbaric business. It is nothing more than a manifestation of our basest instinct for revenge, wrapped in primal anger and fear. It is the worst of us.

In this pursuit of revenge under the guise of justice, the depths we have fallen to are stunning: state governments are sanctioning secret protocols to poison people to death, just so their nefarious concoctions cannot be questioned by those who are subject to die by them.

Our blood-thirst has driven us so mad that we are willing to make threats about impeaching state supreme court justices for staying executions and those justices are willing to back down rather than ensure that no person suffers torture.

So it was, in a sense almost inevitable that the debacle in Oklahoma would occur, an event that was so eerily foreshadowed by a statement of the attorney for one of the condemned.

I can’t reproduce anything more poignantly than those who were covering it live, so there it is:

lockett

and

lockett-2

What have we done? What are we doing? Is this who we want to be? As CT’s Supreme Court considers the continued viability of capital punishment for the 10 remaining on death row, it would do well to keep in mind the kind of inhuman torture that we are endorsing – explicitly or implicitly – by keeping this punishment alive.

Of course, this puts the latest findings that a full 4% of death row inmates may be actually innocent in a disturbing and urgent light.

Shame on us all. Today is a day future generations will turn away from in history books and shed a quiet tear. For today was the death of humanity.

Update: See this post by Gamso and this by Philip Bump at The Atlantic Wire. Both must reads.

Death penalty in CT still alive

Pardon the pun, but the state’s abolition of the death penalty in 2012 was always an incomplete measure, in part because of the 10 or so men on death row who weren’t pardoned by abolition and because of the one remaining pending capital case of Richard Roszkowski.

Roszkowski killed three people, but got the death penalty for only the killing of one of them: 9-year old Kylie Flannery. This was the second penalty phase trial for him, the first also having ended with a death sentence, but that was reversed by the trial judge because of incorrect jury instructions.

It’s quite illogical to argue that our standards of decency have so evolved that we no longer consider death an appropriate punishment in the State of Connecticut, except for those people who committed their offenses before a certain date.

Ironically, I’ve been told that Roszkowski’s lawyers weren’t allowed to argue to the jury that the State has abolished the death penalty and thus they shouldn’t impose a sentence of death.

I guess when you get the taste of blood in your mouth, it’s really hard to let go.

And so now we have yet another deeply mentally disturbed man on death row, over whose murder we will spend decades and millions of dollars.

Because vengeance is more important. And killing is wrong. So we must kill to enforce that message.

The persecution of justice (updated)

i-dont-want-to-live-farnsworth

One of the more important things I write about here at ‘a public defender’ is the notion that “Justice” is a complicated concept. It is not limited to what you are fed through your televisions and it is certainly not a government-centric idea.

Justice takes many obvious forms, such as the apprehension and conviction of a criminal. But limiting the definition of justice to something as simplistic as “good guys vs. bad guys” leaves you with a very narrow worldview and an over-inflated sense of morality.

Justice can mean that the right person was punished and that the punishment was just. Justice can mean standing up for unpopular causes, maybe sometimes precisely because they are unpopular.

The persecution of this nuanced meaning of justice, however, has never been more fervent than in this day of “speak by shouting at others” discourse and base politics that pander to ever-extreme hysterical idiots who have found a sure-fire method of whipping up political points and ire by removing any semblance of complexity from American politics and intellectual discussion.

I speak, of course, of the shameful defeat of the president’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the civil rights division at the Department of Justice. Joined by 7 democrats, Republicans torpedoed this highly qualified, lifelong public servant from running the civil rights division because a long time ago, he spent some part of his career working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, during which time he worked on a brief seeking to overturn the conviction of “noted cop-killer” Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Virginia prosecutors will do just about anything to execute Justin Wolfe (updated)

While everyone is enjoying that ridiculous lawyer ad, Justin Wolfe spent 10 years on death row, convicted of a murder-for-hire and sentenced to death. After the state courts upheld his conviction and dismissed his claims, he filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court. A federal judge reversed his conviction and found that he was actually innocent of the crime [PDF]1:

The prosecution’s case rested on the testimony of a single key witness, Owen Barber, who   admitted that he shot and killed the victim but told the jury that he had done so at petitioner’s behest. It was later discovered that prosecutors intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence that could have been used to impeach that testimony and prove   petitioner’s innocence.

In federal habeas proceedings, Barber fully recanted his trial testimony and the district court found that petitioner is actually innocent under Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298 (1995). It based that determination on an affidavit Barber had executed, swearing that petitioner had nothing to do with the murder; corroborating declarations from other witnesses to whom Barber had admitted his perjury at various times; and other significant evidence.

The intentionally withheld evidence was a police report about a meeting with Barber,

which show[ed] that before Barber said anything to the police about the crime,   Commonwealth officials threatened Barber with the death penalty if he did not testify that petitioner had hired him to commit the murder. Pet. App. 147a. The district court then held an evidentiary hearing at which Barber made clear that he testified falsely at trial because of the prosecutors’ threats. He also testified that petitioner had no involvement in the murder.

The biggest problem with Brady, as has been repeatedly stated, is the lack of any enforcement mechanism. Prosecutors are left to their own good will to determine what, if anything, is “exculpatory” and constitutionally required to be turned over.

But the wretched scum who prosecuted Wolfe are quite another breed:

In Colorado, you’re a victim only if you support the death penalty

Colorado, which apparently still has the death penalty, is currently trying Edward Montour for the beating death of Eric Autobee, a correctional guard. Montour was serving a life sentence for another killing at the time, so the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.

Except, according to Bob Autobee, Eric’s father, Eric was against the death penalty and so is he.

For months now, Bob Autobee has been making a stand against the prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty, even protesting outside the very courthouse where his son’s killer is being tried.

“I don’t want my son’s name attached to this lynch mob,” Autobee told The Denver Post.  Autobee said that during a meeting with [District Attorney] Brauchler last year, he told the district attorney he would fight his decision.

Brauchler declined to comment, citing the ongoing case. But in a statement he released after he announced his decision in April, Brauchler said in addition to the family’s wishes, he must also consider the safety of corrections officers.

As a death penalty opponent, I do have a biased view of this: I think that the prosecutor should exercise rare discretion in seeking the death penalty and take into account the  victim’s and any family’s opinions on the death penalty, almost always erring toward the side of not pursuing death. But Colorado has the death penalty and I suppose the prosecutor is within his rights to seek it.

But he wants to go a step further and not only seek the death penalty, but prevent Autobee from telling jurors that he and his son are opposed to the death penalty. Autobee has made his peace with Montour and forgiven him for his actions, but the jurors, who are also supposed to make highly individual moral decisions shouldn’t be told any of that, according to the prosecutor.

A prosecution motion filed Jan. 6 argues that Colorado law allows victims to testify about the impact a crime had on them but not about their opinions on the death penalty.

I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, but I’m no expert on Colorado law. I do think, however, that if the shoe were on the other foot, the prosecution would have no problem allowing Autobee to express his fervent desire to see Montour hanged or shot.

Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic makes the same point:

Colorado law “only guarantees the right of the victims to discuss the harm that resulted from the crime,” Brauchler argues, and this limits “evidence from the victims to the characteristics of the victim and the impact of the crime on the victim’s family.” It is “not the court process that can be attacked by the victims,” prosecutors assert, before claiming that Montour’s Eighth Amendment rights will be implicated if the Autobees speak out in his favor. You don’t need to be a lawyer, or a juror, to understand that this is a terrible argument. And Brauchler cites no controlling Colorado law in support of it.

In fact, as Cohen points out, it’s quite the opposite:

In their response, the Autobees’ attorney seem incredulous as they recite the provisions of Colorado law that support their view. “A crime victim,” they told the court, has the “‘right to appear, personally or with counsel, at the sentencing proceeding and to adequately and reasonably express his or her views’ regarding ‘the type of sentence which should be imposed by the court.’” Under Colorado law, the Autobees added, “prosecutors are required to support — not oppose — this right by ‘inform[ing] each victim of’ his or her ‘right to ‘express an opinion at the sentencing hearing or any sentence proposed to the court for consideration” (emphasis in original).

It just seems a little bloodthirsty to me to actively prevent Autobee from expressing his feelings about the trial. Victims come in all shapes and sizes and yes, in this day and age some will oppose the death penalty. This cherry picking by the prosecution of who gets to be a “victim” based on whether their political views align is disgusting and yet another reason why the implementation of the death penalty is so flawed.