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Another "Class of '72" Killer Kills Again

| 17 Comments
How long does an ill-advised court decision cause harm?  A very long time, sometimes.  Forty-one years ago next month, the California Supreme Court wrongly declared capital punishment to be a violation of the state constitution.  Four months later, the U.S. Supreme Court wrongly wiped out all the existing capital punishment laws in the other states.

Yesterday, Nellie Turner Stanworth, 90, was killed.  Her own son called police and said he had done it.  If his correct sentence for his prior crime had been carried out as it should have been, this killing would not have happened.

Henry Lee has this story in the SF Chronicle.

17 Comments

He also wouldn't have committed the crime if he'd been sentenced to life without parole, or if he'd not been paroled.

Isn't it funny, the little rhetorical jabs that are used to excuse bad pro-criminal judicial decisions? Yes, drewmm, you are right--but so what? Are you trying to make a sub silentio last clear chance argument to defend SCOTUS's bad decision? Are you trying to make a drive-by attack on Kent's post by insinuating his logic has flaws?

The bottom line, and it should be clear as a bell, is that the blame for the victim's death is shared by SCOTUS and whatever idiots decided to parole this animal.

What is truly an obscenity is that this animal ever got to breathe free air after his original death sentence. He brutally murdered two young teens. He richly deserved to die for these crimes, and no amount of snark can change that.

The suggestion that striking down the death penalty is responsible for a murderer getting out on parole is ridiculous. Anderson (6 Cal.3d 628) specifically allowed for the imposition of LWOP as a replacement for the death penalty.

I'm also a little confused, "federalist," about why you would think what I'm saying has to do with SCOTUS. The Stanworth case is only relevant to SCOTUS indirectly and by analogy. Further, I've said nothing to address the merits of either the SCOTUS decision or the Cal SC decision. I'm merely responding to Kent's weird attempt to assign blame.

As to why Stanworth was *actually* eligible for parole, I'd be interested if anyone can tell me. Even if the death sentence was commuted to life *with* the possibility of parole (something I'm a bit unclear on given the wording of the decision), as I read People v. Stanworth (11 Cal.3d 588), he was sentenced to LWOP for the aggravated kidnapping counts, and those convictions and sentences don't seem to have been modified in the subsequent appeals. Am I missing something? Henry Lee and Demian Bulwa, unfortunately, passed on the option to do real reporting on that point.

As has been documented many times on this blog, prisoners serving life have killed again in prison (or after escape or erroneous release). No executed murderer has ever killed again. The notion that LWOP will keep us as safe as the DP is, therefore, false.

I focused on SCOTUS because it was responsible for emptying the death rows on the whole nation and that has led to some pretty bad consequences, see, e.g., Kenneth MacDuff. You'll note that my first sentence referenced liberal pro-criminal decisions generally.

"I'm merely responding to Kent's weird attempt to assign blame." As I suspected . . . . and I responded to that. Your attempt to insulate these courts from blame is weak. Given that as late as 1988, we had a presidential candidate who thought it a good idea to give savage murderers weekend furloughs, the courts should not have closed their eyes to the fact that some of these guys were going to get out. These lousy (and in my view evil) decisions gave other bleeding hearts the chance to wreak their havoc on society. They own it, just as Sotomayor and Kagan (and Obama because he appointed them) own the vicimization resulting from Plata . . . .

Liberals like to think that they are so much more enlightened than we are, but it ain't conservatives who foist guys who rape and murder to young teens back on society.

"Anderson (6 Cal.3d 628) specifically allowed for the imposition of LWOP as a replacement for the death penalty."

No, it did not, in most cases. It only allowed LWOP if the statute for the particular crime provided that alternative at the time of the crime. In most cases, that alternative was not available. That is why we have parole hearings for Charles Manson.

"...as I read People v. Stanworth (11 Cal.3d 588), he was sentenced to LWOP for the aggravated kidnapping counts, and those convictions and sentences don't seem to have been modified in the subsequent appeals."

Are you reading the same opinion I am?

"We conclude that under the undisputed facts, defendant's conduct did not constitute a violation of section 209 and that his conviction on this count must be reversed. "

"As has been documented many times on this blog, prisoners serving life have killed again in prison (or after escape or erroneous release)."

Not on topic.

"It only allowed LWOP if the statute for the particular crime provided that alternative at the time of the crime."

Ah, thanks for the clarification. I'm having trouble finding a copy of California's murder statute from that long ago: did it specifically provide for "death or life imprisonment," excluding the possibility of life without parole as a punishment even before Anderson?

"We conclude that under the undisputed facts, defendant's conduct did not constitute a violation of section 209 and that his conviction on this count must be reversed. "

Again, thanks. This is why I shouldn't trust my reading of opinions when I'm tired.

"'As has been documented many times on this blog, prisoners serving life have killed again in prison (or after escape or erroneous release).'"

"Not on topic."

Um, yes it is. You started out with a rhetorical drive-by--attacking Kent's logic by, in effect arguing that since others had the last (clear) chance (I am borrowing from outdated tort law to describe what you're arguing) to keep 'em locked up, the liberal courts that decided to empty death rows somehow aren't really to blame for the deaths that resulted.

That doesn't withstand serious analysis, particularly since LWOP for all previous death-sentenced prisoners wasn't a realistic possibility.

The point is that a death sentence carried out admits of no possibility that the guy is going to get out. And, by the by, if LWOP is the top sentence, then you will have fewer of them. Now a liberal like you may like that---but that makes the public less safe . . . .

I do applaud you--most of the time when a liberal gets beat on a thread, they simply go mute. You have more guts, and that's refreshing.

LWOP was not an available sentence for first-degree murder in the old days. Back when we could have confidence that a murderer we must never let out would be sentenced to death and actually executed, there was little need for such a sentence. The LWOP alternative for first-degree murder with special circumstances was introduced in the late 70s, after we had learned that judicial hostility to the death penalty required a safety net.

I do not know the history behind the addition of an LWOP sentence to the aggravating kidnapping statute.

"LWOP was not an available sentence for first-degree murder in the old days. Back when we could have confidence that a murderer we must never let out would be sentenced to death and actually executed, there was little need for such a sentence."

Sounds like the legislature wrote a dumb statute then, or an actively pernicious one. If you're going to allow life imprisonment and the death penalty as punishment for a crime, there's no good reason not to also allow the punishment that lies in between those too. (Especially since it was obviously a punishment being used for other crimes; it's not like no one had thought of LWOP at that point.)

The only reason I can think of is basically what you're saying: if the legislature didn't allow LWOP, then they might get juries who would otherwise settle for LWOP to instead go for the death penalty, because it was the only way to ensure that the person wouldn't get out. In other words, the legislature took away an option that might have been more appropriate in certain cases in order to maximize the number of people that the state got to execute.

"Um, yes it is."

You're not defending the same argument that Bill was making. Bill was saying that LWOP-ers have killed
* in prison
* after escape
* after erroneous escape.
The soundness of that argument aside (and I think it has some pretty big issues as an argument for the death penalty, though it is better than most of the arguments that Bill puts forward for death), it's pretty clearly irrelevant to Kent's attempts to blame death penalty abolition for a murder that took place in completely different circumstances from any of those.

As to your independent point, that if the courts had kept the death penalty then other groups wouldn't have had the opportunity to let the convicts out on parole, that might be true. (It also might not be - if Stanworth was able to convince the parole board that he deserved parole, he might have been able to convince the governor that he deserved a commutation of his death sentence. Without knowing more about why parole was granted, it's hard to say.)

But even if it is true, it's not a very weighty argument. The causality is pretty far removed from the court's decisions, making it pretty clearly the kind of indirect future potentiality that we *don't* want conscientious judges relying on, when making decisions based on their best understanding of the law.

Kent's latest post lays out the reasons why Stanworth was granted parole. It's not crazy, to me, to think that he might have gotten a commutation for the same reason (which puts into question Kent's claim that the death penalty ruling was a "but for" cause of the murders.)

But even if it was a "but for" cause, as Kent should know, that's not necessarily enough of a basis on which to assign moral responsibility for the outcome.

"The causality is pretty far removed from the court's decisions, making it pretty clearly the kind of indirect future potentiality that we *don't* want conscientious judges relying on, when making decisions based on their best understanding of the law."

It is interesting--the fellow travelers act to release a double murderer/rapist, and that absolves the court. I am sure that one of Kenneth Macduff murder victims, when she was being tormented, would have been comforted to know that SCOTUS wasn't to blame for her soon to happen murder.

Actually, truth to be told, we wouldn't want judges to be weighing the possibility of release when making a decision. But that only obtains when they stay within the law to start with. When they vote according to their predilections, it's perfectly legitimate to wonder about their moral compasses.

The lawless SCOCAL and SCOTUS saw fit to empty death rows. They own the results. Just like Sotomayor and Kagan own every single bit of victimization resulting from the Plata decision.

"I am sure that one of Kenneth Macduff murder victims, when she was being tormented, would have been comforted to know that SCOTUS wasn't to blame for her soon to happen murder."

This, I think, is a good example of how your argument has gone off the rails.

Au contraire. I think it points up your failure to understand that these "conscientious" (read liberal) decisions do have some pretty horrible real world consequences and that your attempts to deflect blame seem oddly besides the point.

Liberal courts wreaked a lot of havoc on our society because of their solicitousness to criminals. And you want to point the finger at their accomplices. That's fine. But given the horrors that have resulted from these decisions, precise allocations of fault seem inappropriate.

You like these judges so much--let the criminals live in your neighborhood around your kids.

"But given the horrors that have resulted from these decisions, precise allocations of fault seem inappropriate."

Let me see if I understand you: it's acceptable to lay the blame on courts for the later murder, but it's not appropriate to suggest that under a more appropriate allocation of blame, they wouldn't be responsible.

In other words, you seem to be saying that allocations of fault are fine, so long as they aren't too precise.

Do I have that right?

It's called context. You see, upthread I mentioned the judges and their fellow travelers. Basically, you want to diffuse responsibility for the fact that some guy who brutally murdered two young teens got to breathe free air and kill again. So you play little games, trying to blame the statutory scheme, the knuckleheads who let him out on parole--everyone but the judges. It's a silly game.

Maybe it just doesn't bother you--the death and victimization caused by people that should have been executed or never ever let out of prison. And you may find me pedantic or what have you. But I don't really care what soft-on-crime people think about me or my views. Yeah, maybe it is a little unfair to blame SCOTUS for the rampage of Kenneth Macduff. After all, how could they have known some soft-on-crime federal judge was going to order releases of thousands of criminals? And I am sure you don;t think George Ryan (as disgusting a politician as has ever lived) deserves a whole lot of blame for those six kids on a Wisconsin highway. In the real world, people recognize that actions have consequences and when you twist the law to keep bunch of capital murderers from getting what they richly deserve, you are putting into motion circumstances that can lead to the victimization of innocents.

I would ask you to imagine making your cute little arguments to the families of Macduff's victims. A person of ordinary morality would shrink from that and intuitively get the fact that they are so besides the point. But I can tell from your posts that you are a self-assured twit who counts himself among the enlightened. The reason people like you don't like people like me bringing up Macduff is that the crimes were so horrible and so obviously the result of a fundamental disdain for the lives of completely innocent people that none of your smug (and besides the point) attempts to deflect blame from liberal, criminal-coddling judges really works.

The real sad (and horrible thing) is that Macduff isn't even close to the only criminal who never ever should have seen the light of day but went on to wreak more havoc in people's lives. News flash, liberal judges can't do it alone, but have accomplices. But they're all guilty.

So in other words, yes: I was correct in my original interpretation. You are using the emotional impact of the crime as an excuse to be imprecise and excessive in your assignment of blame while criticizing anyone who tries to be more accurate.

Thanks for clearing that up.

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