Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Death penalty’

Interesting death penalty case in Nevada

Posted by sanityinjection on September 21, 2009

The Las Vegas Sun reports that federal authorities face an interesting dilemma with respect to one Ronald “Joey” Sellers – whether or not to seek the death penalty against him.  Sellers was already in prison for life when he allegedly became the ringleader of a violent white supremacist gang called the Aryan Warriors, for which he is now facing federal murder and racketeering charges. (Note that while death penalty opponents always complain that the death penalty is applied disproportionately to blacks, Sellers is demonstrably white.)

A little more background: Nevada brought back the death penalty in 1976. In the last 20 years, only a dozen people have been executed and none of them were federal cases. So once again, death penalty opponents cannot reasonably claim that the death penalty is applied excessively or indiscriminately in Nevada.

So what’s the problem – should be a slam dunk, right? Well, perhaps, except for one small problem: Sellers is suffering from liver failure caused by hepatitis. If he doesn’t get a transplant, he will almost certainly die within three years’ time. However, Sellers’  brother and son have both offered half their livers in order to save him. That operation, though, would come at taxpayers’ expense.

This raises all kinds of questions. Instead of paying the costs of a death penalty prosecution with its endless appeals, why not just let Sellers die on his own? Well, you can’t, because you can’t deny him proper health care. Then again, does it make sense to spend the money to do a transplant on this guy just so the government can then have him in perfect health for his execution?

 Just to complicate things further, Sellers alleges he contracted the hepatitis from unsanitary conditions at the prison he was in.  Does that make it the state’s fault (and hence the state’s moral obligation to do the transplant)? Or is it Sellers’ fault for committing the crimes that put him in prison in the first place?

Ultimately, as irritating as it might be for taxpayers, I don’t see how you avoid giving Sellers the transplant if he’s got willing kidney donors. But I also don’t think having a nice new kidney should give Sellers immunity for the violent crimes he committed after being incarcerated. I hope that the feds go ahead with the death penalty regardless of the cost. I think that most Americans, while frustrated with the problems of the justice system, would be comfortable spending money to make sure the guilty are punished and the innocent protected.

Still, it’s a good example of how issues such as capital punishment are rarely simple.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

On death penalty case, ignorance is no ground for appeal

Posted by sanityinjection on October 22, 2008

AP reports that the head of the European Parliament has blasted the US for the impending execution Monday of death row inmate Troy Davis. Of course, the EU views all executions as violations of human rights, so they’re not particularly interested in the actual facts of the case. Undeniably, however, Davis’ case has attracted a lot of attention. Notables who have opined at one point or another in favor of reconsideration of Davis’ case include Amnesty International, Pope Benedict, Congressman John Lewis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Harry Belafonte, former FBI director William Sessions, Sister Helen Prejean, Al Sharpton, former President Jimmy Carter and former Congressman Bob Barr. As a result of these pleas, Davis has already received two stays of execution, one of which was granted by an emergency session of the Supreme Court.

One has to wonder, however, if the luminaries listed above have ever taken the time to familiarize themselves with the facts of Davis’ case. While at first glance there appears to be reasonable doubt that Davis committed the murder, closer inspection of the type the Georgia courts have engaged in undermines that doubt.

To summarize: Troy Davis was convicted in 1991 of the 1989 shooting death of police officer Mark MacPhail. All parties agree that Davis, his friend Sylvester Coles, and a third friend assaulted a homeless man, Larry Young, and MacPhail responded to stop the attack. MacPhail was then shot twice, the second shot a fatal one at point blank range. No murder weapon was ever found, but ballistics on the bullets recovered showed them to be similar to the one which Davis allegedly fired in shooting another man earlier that day. At trial, Davis and Coles each claimed the other was the killer, but multiple witnesses identified Davis as the shooter. 

Since his trial, Davis has tried virtually every possible means to have his conviction overturned or retried. For example, Davis claimed racial bias in the jury selection process, despite the fact that the jury which convicted him was composed of seven blacks and five whites in a county with a 33% black population (Davis is black.) In recent years, Davis has presented evidence suggesting that most of the witnesses at the original trial have recanted their testimony. Two new witnesses have also come forward claiming that Coles confessed to the murder.

Because the witness testimony was central to the conviction, Davis’ argument that the recantations would make a big difference in his conviction seems reasonable at first glance. In March of this year, however, the Georgia Supreme Court considered this evidence and denied Davis’ request for a new trial. It wasn’t until I read the Court’s decision that I understood why. Most of the recantations were actually witnesses claiming they no longer remembered what had happened. The hearsay testimony regarding Coles’ alleged confessions was deemed unreliable because of Coles’ history of wanting people to think he is a tough guy. Further, the fact that none of these supposedly new facts was brought to light until 8 years after the murder took place, with most not until 12-14 years afterward – despite the fact that the witnesses were all available to the defense during the original trial. The Court decision does an excellent job of explaining why the “new” evidence is insufficient both from a legal and from a logical viewpoint:

In any death penalty conviction, there is always a small possibility that the defendant is in fact innocent. In this case, however, it seems clear that even if Davis was not the murderer of MacPhail, he was clearly guilty of a host of other crimes including armed robbery, assault and battery, and attempted murder. He clearly was a violent and dangerous individiual who had no problem with the pistol-whipping of a helpless man over a can of beer, whether he himself held the pistol or not. It is hard for me to view such an individual as a “tragic victim of a flawed justice system.” If, after almost 20 years, he has not been able to come up with any solid evidence to exonerate himself, how much longer must justice be stayed?

Read the Georgia Supreme Court’s opinion and decide for yourself. And when you do, congratulate yourself that you are more educated on the topic than those who would presume to order a sovereign government around based on little more than their celebrity status.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Another death penalty case in the news

Posted by sanityinjection on August 6, 2008

Submitted for your approval: The State of Alabama vs. Thomas Douglas Arthur.

I recommend this case to your attention because it runs counter to many of the criticisms often leveled at capital punishment in the US, concerning how it is applied. For example, we are often told that the death penalty is racist because it is mostly black criminals who end up on death row. Arthur is white.

We are also told that the judicial system, especially in the South, fails to protect the rights of defendants. In this case, Mr. Arthur was tried three times for the murder of Troy Wicker in 1982. The first two convictions were thrown out, not because there was any real doubt of Mr. Arthur’s guilt, but because of legal technicalities. After the third conviction finally stuck, Arthur was scheduled for execution three times, only to receive a stay of execution at the last possible moment each time.

This latest obstruction of justice comes courtesy of one Bobby Gilbert, another convicted murderer, who has sworn that it was he and not Arthur who killed Wicker. Arthur’s lawyers used this confession to win the stay of execution.

Only problem is, Wicker’s murder was a contract killing paid for by his wife Judy (who served 10 years of a life sentence for her crime.) Judy has steadfastly maintained it was Arthur she hired to kill her husband, and that she does not know Gilbert.

So what do we learn from this? You can commit murder and twenty-five years later they still won’t be able to execute you, as long as you can convince some other murderer already serving a life sentence to make up a false confession. Arguably, in this case at least, the Alabama courts have bent over backwards to safeguard Mr. Arthur’s rights. I shudder to think of the amount of taxpayer money that has been spent litigating Mr. Arthur’s endless appeals, not to mention his prison upkeep.

Bottom line: You can argue the case against the death penalty, and I can respect that. But please don’t try to tell me about how inherently unfair the system is to defendants, because there are plenty of other Thomas Arthurs in our prisons who have repeatedly gamed the system and made a mockery of the courts and of capital punishment.

Article here:

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

File under “With friends like these…”

Posted by sanityinjection on July 24, 2008

In his last statement before being executed, death row inmate Dale Bishop urged opponents of the death penalty to vote for Barack Obama:

Apparently, Mr. Bishop’s deep-seated philosophical opposition to capital punishment had not yet fully formed when he helped his buddy beat their victim to death with a claw hammer, or when he requested the death penalty at his sentencing. The article indicated that Mr. Bishop was mentally ill, but all the quotes attributed to him sound pretty lucid to me.

In any case, I will wager you won’t be finding this endorsement on Senator Obama’s web site anytime soon.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

I can solve this international legal dispute

Posted by sanityinjection on June 19, 2008

Interesting case. Mexico is suing the US in international court to halt the execution of 5 Mexican citizens who were denied their right to speak with Mexican consular officers after being arrested:

There’s no dispute that Texas screwed up. President Bush tried to order Texas to fix the problem but the Supreme Court (probably correctly) ruled he had no authority to do so.  So Mexico ends up having to tick off the US, which it doesn’t want to do, to defend violent criminal scum that they probably wouldn’t have wasted any tears over if Texas had followed proper procedure before convicting them.

Of course, even if the World Court rules against the US, neither the US Government nor the World Court has any ability to force Texas to do anything in this regard.

Fortunately, I can solve this problem. If the law says that the 5 men have the right to speak with consular officials after being arrested – let them meet with the consular officials *now*. Heck, have the meeting in the White House and serve tea. Then fry the bastards as planned.

I’ll await payment of my legal consulting fee…

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »