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Loughner Researched Possible Penalties

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Sari Horwitz reports for the WaPo:

In the weeks and days before the shooting rampage in Tucson, suspect Jared Lee Loughner surfed the Internet on his computer in what investigators believe was an effort to prepare for his alleged assassination attempt, law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said.

Loughner pulled up several Web sites about lethal injections and solitary confinement in prison, said the sources, who asked to be anonymous because the investigation is ongoing. He also viewed Internet sites about political assassins, according to an analysis of Loughner's computer that was completed by investigators last week, the sources said.
One of the stock arguments against the death penalty is that most killings are impulsive, committed by people who don't even think about the penalty, and therefore can't be deterred by a greater penalty.  In the event that anyone proposes the death penalty for voluntary manslaughter, that argument may be considered.  When we are talking about the death penalty for premeditated murder, as we usually are, an argument presuming spur-of-the-moment killing is simply irrelevant.

Did Loughner's research tell him that death sentences are carried out 20-to-never years after the crime, and was that fact significant in his decision to go ahead?  We will probably never know.  It is certainly possible.  It is quite likely that this calculus in some form has entered the heads of many killers and that many innocent people are dead as a result.
As the story indicates, this Net-surfing is dynamite rebuttal to a "not guilty by reason of insanity" plea.  People who are so split off from reality that they do not know what they are doing or do not know that it is wrong (see 18 U.S.C. §17) do not research the penalties in advance.

Update:  A later version of the story (co-authored by David Nakamura) quotes former U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova on the Hinckley case: ""We presented evidence that Hinckley stalked two presidents - Carter and Reagan. But that was completely ignored by the jury."

Yes, but Hinckley was tried before a D.C. jury for shooting a conservative Republican President thoroughly hated by the political left, which included most D.C. jurors.  (In "misty watercolor memories," we tend to forget how nasty politics was at the time -- every bit as nasty as today.  Cue Barbra Streisand.)  Not only do we have a tougher legal standard now (in direct congressional reaction to the Hinckley verdict) but an Arizona jury is going to be more difficult to convince.

After the insanity defense fails to prevent conviction, the defense has a much better chance of convincing a jury that Loughner's mental illness is a reason not to execute him.  In federal court, where the ill-considered single-juror-veto rule prevails, one juror can override the other eleven to force a life sentence.  I think that is likely in this case.

Arizona's state courts (post Ring v. Arizona) follow the much better "unanimous one way or the other" rule. See Ariz. Stat. §13-752.  Inability of the jury to agree produces a mistrial and a new jury.  The chances of getting a death sentence in this case are much better in state court than federal court.

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You have to wonder what the calculating Mr. Loughner would have done had he clicked on an Internet site for the death penalty and found this:

"A person who kills multiple victims, including a child, in front of dozens of witnesses, and is tackled at the scene, is generally charged with capital murder. In such a case, guilty verdicts are almost always returned and the death penalty imposed. In 90% of the cases, it is carried out within not more than one year of the date of conviction."

Think that might have made a difference in Loughner's behavior? There's no way to know, of course, but to a man keenly interested in outcomes, you have to think a likely outcome like that -- instead of the problematic and drawn-out-forever mess we have now -- might well have been persuasive.

Abolitionists should think about this. Because they are oblivious, they won't.

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