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The Bad Parent Defense

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It seems that the single most popular way to argue against the death penalty today is to put the defendant's parents on trial. Usually, the target is someone who isn't around any more.  The only people with personal knowledge of what happened inside the family are the defendant's family, and they usually want to help him and not the prosecution, so there is pretty much a green light to exaggerate or just make things up. The most extreme example was the Menendez case, where the defendants themselves eliminated their parents as witnesses, so they could say anything they wanted. 

A federal death penalty case being tried in Michigan starts off standard but has a twist, according to this story by David Ashenfelter in the Detroit Free Press. In this case, the father is still around.

Defense lawyers in the Timothy O'Reilly federal death penalty case have portrayed his father as an ogre -- an uncaring, domineering brute who verbally abused his son and put him on a path that resulted in a fatal 2001 armored-car robbery in Dearborn.

But O'Reilly may not agree.

During a 20-minute phone call from the federal prison in Milan in January, O'Reilly told his father that defense attorneys were off base in pursuing the bad-parent defense.

"Who are they to tell you that?" O'Reilly, 37, told his 61-year-old father, Patrick O'Reilly, during a phone call monitored by prison staffers. "I mean, some stuff is irrelevant and it doesn't need to be in the courtroom anyway."

Later in the story, "Legal experts said the tape could hurt O'Reilly." What would we do without legal experts?

Anyhow, O'Reilly's statement that "some stuff is irrelevant" may go down in judicial history next to that of civilly committed sex offender Hendricks, quoted by the Supreme Court for the proposition that "treatment is bull____."

Some stuff is indeed irrelevant. The perpetrator knows more than the learned judges.  The sentence should be based on the circumstances of the crime and the perpetrator's criminal record or lack of one. Get rid of everything else, and capital litigation would be faster, cheaper, and fairer.

Why fairer?  Because the present "bad parent" defense depends more on the advocate's skill in weaving a sob story than on the actual, minimal weight of this mitigating evidence.

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Death Penalty mitigation has come to this--Monday morning quarterbacking of parenting skills.

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