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Insulting the Memory of Victims in a Supreme Court Opinion

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I am still working on a comment on the substantive aspects of today's Supreme Court decision in Hall v. Florida.  Pending that, I want to make a quick note of a very disturbing choice of words in the opinion.  On page 22 of the slip opinion, it says:

"Florida seeks to execute a man because he scored a 71 instead of 70 on an IQ test."

No, Justice Kennedy, that is most emphatically not why the State of Florida seeks to execute Freddie Lee Hall.  The reasons why were given by the trial judge:

On February 21, 1978, Freddie Lee Hall kidnapped Karol Lea Hurst from the parking lot of a grocery store as she was carrying her packages to her car. He drove her, in her own car, some 18 miles away into another county and into the woods a quarter of a mile off the paved road. There, in the front seat of her car, he forced her to remove her clothes and then he raped her.  He listened to her cry, and he listened to her beg for her life and the life of her unborn child. He watched her write a check for him to cash in return for her life.  Then he beat her--so hard that it tore the flesh of her neck and shoulders through the fabric of her denim jacket. And then he killed her by firing a bullet into the back of her head, either pulling the trigger himself or encouraging another to do it in his place. There is no evidence that has been presented to this Court that reasonably mitigates the aggravated nature of this act.  The aggravating circumstances of this case clearly "outweigh" the mitigating factors.
Karol Hurst was a human being, not a test score. Her 7-month unborn baby was also a human being.  The suffering, the terror, and the death of Karol Hurst and the death of her baby are shamefully minimized and their memory is insulted and denigrated by the flippant, thoughtless, and cruel statement in the opinion that the test score is the reason that Florida seeks to execute Hall.

I can only hope that Justice Kennedy did not write this statement himself but only failed to edit a statement inserted in a draft by a law clerk.  Surely the Justice himself knows better.  We see statements like this all the time in the briefs of defendants and their amici, but it is shocking to see it in the opinion.  This statement is unworthy of the Supreme Court of the United States.

8 Comments

The irony is that Kennedy goes on and on (and on and on) in the opinion about the essential character of human dignity, while giving the victim less than none.

Bill and Kent are right. There's no real discussion of the victim, her dignity, and no comprehension that even someone with an IQ of 71, 75, or whatever, knows and appreciates that killing is wrong. There's no explanation of why "diminished capacity of the intellectually disabled lessens that moral culpability and hence retributive value of punishment." It's just question begging as to how much capacity one needs for full moral culpability.

There are all kinds of problems with this opinion primarily our offender here has been on death row since the Carter adminstration, and after all these years it is has finally "come to light" he supposedly retarded. Atkins was decided in 2002, so this lengthy delay really seems to point to some sort of malingering (the dissents seems to allude to this). Second, the opinions essentially proclaims that the standard IQ is the gold standard of whether an individual is retarded or not. I'm not entirely sure that is true.

I think there is a plausible argument that mentally impaired people could be spared the death penalty in the felony-murder scenario (i.e. drive the getaway car during a bank robbery, but he thinks his cohorts are just going to make a deposit) or being a patsy in a murder conspiracy scenario.

Of course if retardation lowers culpability in these scenarios, couldn't it be a complete defense? If our getaway car driver truly believed (because he was retarded) that his cohorts were just making a deposit, what would his culpability be? This really opens up a large can of worms. And if he can drive a car, how retarded can he really be?


Not a good rule to say the least.

Nor do I care for the bizarre subliminal message in Kennedy's sentence. It was Nazis who executed people because they were mentally disabled--not the State of Florida.

Very disturbing. I am sure the apology and retraction are coming soon...

Given the Court's penchant for granting stays based on last-minute, strategically-filed claims, my sense is that the "dignity" of victims isn't exactly top of mind.

Cert. NEVER should have been granted in this case. This guy is not retarded, and justice should have been carried out decades ago.

Kennedy doesn't like capital punishment--that's painfully obvious. For a Justice that is supposed to be constrained by judgment rather than giving free rein to will, that shouldn't be an issue. Unfortunately, that's not the case with Kennedy.

Kennedy's penchant for grandiosity never ceases to amaze---"The States are laboratories for experimentation, but those experiments may not deny the basic dignity the Constitu­tion protects." Gimme a break. We're talking about admissibility of evidence here. And speaking of dignity--what about the dignity of victims' families who have every right to expect that this lawful punishment will be carried out? What about the dignity of the States--Kennedy thinks nothing of trashing the dignity of sovereign states on the basis of some last-minute claim. His repeated references to "dignity" are nothing but a sick joke. This isn't about "dignity"--those who rape and murder a pregnant woman possess very little--it's about some guy's personal distaste for capital punishment.

Kennedy and the incorrigible four have earned the emnity of the the victims' family here, as well as all of us who believe in the democratic process and the rule of law.

It's so refreshing to have read your blog's on Hall vs. Florida. I feel compelled to post on this blog: Freddie Lee Hall's Death Sentence was officially vacated September 4, 2016. A 38 year battle was lost for the Victim's family. In the end all that mattered was Mr. Hall's life not the 3 victim's who were cruelly and heinously murdered by his choice. You all hit home with what you had to say in your blogs concerning this case. For these reasons:
1. In 1967 Mr. Hall raped a woman in Sumter County, Florida and gouged her eyes out so there would be no way for her to identify him in the crime. He was sentenced in 1968 and let out on parole in 1973 for this crime.
2. While on parole in 1978 Mr. Hall and his accomplice Mack Ruffin premeditated going to a grocery store in Leesburg, Florida to steal a car to go rob convenient stores with, because the car they had been using to rob stores with had been alerted to local area police departments. They picked a pregnant woman's car out, Karol Lea Hurst's car as she walked out of the grocery store. In Mr. Hall's own words he said, " She would put up less of a fight being pregnant, and her car would be the fastest to outrun police."
3. Mr. Hall hit Mrs. Hurst on the back her neck with the butt end of .38 caliber pistol knocking her out and shoving her in the car thus, kidnapping her as well as stealing her car. Mack Ruffin followed in their car.
4. Taking Mrs. Hurst to a wooded area in Sumter County where she was beaten so severely that her flesh was torn about the face head and neck area as well as her right nipple being bitten almost off, raped and shot in the back of the head. Pathologist would later report during several different trials that death was not instantaneous. An autopsy would also reveal that the unborn child survived in Mrs. Hurst womb for more than an hour after Mrs. Hurst's body physically expired.
5. Mr. Hall and Mr. Ruffin chose to leave that crime scene and go rob a convenient store. Where Hernando County Deputy Lonnie Coburn responded to a call by the clerk in the store that 2 Suspicious males were out front with what was believed to be a gun. When Deputy Coburn approached Mr. Hall to speak with him, Mr. Hall unsnapped the deputy's holster holding his .357 magnum snatched the gun and stuck between the velcro of the bullet proof vest Deputy Coburn was wearing and shot him in the heart with his own gun. Deputy Coburn made it to his car to call for backup and tell them he was an officer down. As, Mr. Hall and Mr. Ruffin fled in Mrs. Hurst's car. Deputy Coburn died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
6. A high speed chase ensued with speeds up to 80 miles an hour. Mr. Hall driving while Mr. Ruffin shot at a moving law enforcement vehicle. May I make note that the stolen vehicle was not wrecked in the high speed chase. Later, the 2 murderers would abandon the stolen car and take off running on foot. Where a 400 person manhunt took place to capture Mr. Hall and Mr. Ruffin.
Anyone recognize a methodical, premeditated, calculated, manipulative thought process taking place in these facts?? It is also important to know and understand Mr. Hall scored an 83 on an IQ Test in the early 80's. Soooo in closing: (Justice Kennedy) and the rest of our SUPREME JUSTICES you were not as SUPREME in your thought process as Mr. Hall obviously or you would have had the mental aptitude to have figured all this out like Mr. Hall did. You might want to check yourselves and the facts while you sit on a bench in the highest court in our land. The rest is history. MR. HALL'S LIFE MATTERED MORE THAN THE 3 VICTIM'S WHO DIED FROM MR. HALL'S CHOICES ACCORDING TO OUR SUPREME JUSTICES.

Thank you for your comment and the additional facts. Note that you have appended it to a 2-year-old thread, though, so it may not be seen by many people. Feel free to repost on a newer thread, if you are so inclined.

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