Recently in Death Penalty Category

Why We Have the Death Penalty, Vol. MMM

I wrote a few days ago to emphasize an item it might have been easy to miss in the News Scan.  I do so again today.  My reason for both entries is the same:  They give concrete examples of why we cannot trust the constant assurance that we'll be just as safe if we dumb-down sentencing and/or abolish the death penalty.  

The reason we can't trust this assurance is simple.  It's false. Today's item is particularly instructive:

Supermax Inmate Convicted of Murder:   CBS Colorado reports that a leader in the Mexican Mafia prison gang has been convicted of the murder of another inmate.  Silvestre Rivera, sentenced to prison for a string of bank robberies in California and Arizona, was found guilty of stomping and kicking 64-year-old Manual Torez to death ten years ago at the federal Supermax prison in Southern Colorado.  The maximum sentence Rivera can receive is LWOP.  It was the first murder ever at that facility. 

Tsarnaev, Silence, and Remorse, Part II

Kent has noted that, on the current uncertain state of the law, prosecutors would be taking a risk if they use Tsarnaev's (presumed) silence as evidence of lack of remorse.  I concur.  But there's more to this story.

At first, I agreed with the conventional wisdom that defense counsel would not call their client to the stand.  Now, I have my doubts.  The government's evidence of the savagery and cruelty of this crime in my view makes the death penalty likely unless the defense can move the ball.

I think their best shot to avoid lethal injection is to call Tsarnaev and have him show remorse.  If he does so, and makes a convincing showing, I think he lives. It would help if he broke down in tears of grief in a way that struck the jury as sincere, and not a coached performance.

And there's the rub.  I have seen not a lick of evidence that Tsarnaev actually feels any differently than he did the day of his capture.  That afternoon, he scribbled a note to the effect that he was in a Holy War against the United States, and if there was "collateral damage," in the phrase made immortal by his fellow butcher Timothy McVeigh, well......tough.

My guess is that it will depend on defense counsel's assessment whether Tsarnaev can pull it off, and that he won't break out in an anti-American diatribe during cross-examination.  Having to make judgments like that is one of many reasons I'm happy I did not become a defense lawyer.

20 Years Ago and Today


It was 20 years ago today that a domestic terrorist murdered 168 people in Oklahoma City, setting off a vehicle bomb in front of the federal building.  In this famous photograph by Charles Porter IV, fireman Chris Fields cradles infant Baylee Almon, who did not survive.

Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death for this crime on August 14, 1997.  He was executed June 11, 2001, less than four years later.  Why so quickly?  What lesson is there for those seeking justice in the present day?

Intelligence Squared Debate Video

| No Comments
The permanent link to the Intelligence Squared debate is:

The full video is now available on the site. 
While the defense is brainstorming to come up with psychobabble excuses for child shredder Dzhokahr Tsarnaev (or seeing what some social worker will agree to say), other grisly news continues apace.  This story caught my eye:

[A] Philadelphia woman accused of abandoning her quadriplegic son with cerebral palsy and leaving him alone in the woods for over five days with nothing but a blanket and a Bible will be charged with attempted murder once she is released from the hospital.

Isn't it a nice touch that she's the one in the hospital?

Still, we wouldn't want to get too tough here.  She left him a Bible, after all.

Nyia Parler, 41, is accused of leaving her 21-year-old son in a wooded area ...around 11 a.m. Monday before traveling to Montgomery County, Maryland to visit her boyfriend.

At least the trip was for something urgent.

"A lot of things could've happened out there," [Officer] Walker said. "Obviously he's in the middle of a wooded area. You have wild animals out there. You never know what's going to happen...."

Officials describe the victim as "non-verbal" and completely dependent on others for his care.

In my view, a jury should be able to consider the death penalty for behavior involving life-threatening harm, gross cruelty, and conduct outside the bounds of civilized life. In other words, it should be able to consider it here.

Last night I participated in a debate on the death penalty hosted by Intelligence Squared in New York.  See Bill's post yesterday.  We will post a link to the podcast when it is available.

I have participated in many debates on this subject over many years, but this one was exceptionally well done by the hosts.  It was very well produced, fairly structured, and well moderated.

IQ2 scores debates by having the live audience vote on the motion before the debate begins and again after it concludes.  The winner is the side with the greatest net votes changed in favor of its position.

The motion was that the death penalty be abolished, so a "yes" vote is a vote against the death penalty, and a "no" vote is a vote to keep the death penalty.  There is a potentially confusing double negative there, but the moderator explained the vote carefully enough that I doubt anyone was confused.  Our side was, of course, the "no" side.

And the result:
Let me remind readers that  Intelligence Squared is hosting a debate on abolition of the death penalty this evening in NYC.  Details are at this site.

Arguing for abolition are Diann Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project.

Arguing against are C&C's No. 1 blogger Kent Scheidegger, and Prof. Robert Blecker of New York Law School.

Tickets are $40 (students $12).  If you can't make it, the debate will be streamed live here at 6:45 EDT / 3:45 PDT.
Two years ago today, the ever-so-cute Dzhokhar Tsarneav planted a nail-filled pressure cooker bomb at the feet of an eight year-old boy, Martin Richard, he did not know and who had done him no harm.  It had the intended result:

The child lost so much blood, there was almost none left in his body. The Boston jihadi Tsarnaev "believed what he had done was good, that he is a Muslim soldier in a holy war against America and had taken a step to reaching paradise." 

And what was the take away?  "Beware Islamophobia!"  As NPR reports:

A moment of silence, a call for kindness and the pealing of the city's church bells will be the hallmarks of Boston's events noting the two-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon on Wednesday.

The moment of silence will be observed at 2:49 ET, the time when the first of two devastating bombs went off in the crowds gathered to watch the marathon in 2013.

Mayor Marty Walsh has declared April 15 One Boston Day, beginning a tradition that organizers say is about "resiliency, generosity, and strength of the people that make Boston the great city it is."

A somber and subdued attitude is, of course, fitting for this day.  A tribute to resiliency has its place.  Still, it's more telling than unfortunate that Mayor Walsh could find no room in his remarks for the most important word:


Wednesday I appeared on the Diane Rehm radio show on WAMU, as noted and linked here. I got a considerable amount of feedback, most of it complementary.  I did receive one sharply critical email, though, regarding Debra Milke, and I do need to make a correction.  More broadly, the incident says something important about how folks on the anti side get their "facts."

First, a note about debates.  When I participate in one of these, I have no idea which cases the other side is going to bring up.  I have to discuss the facts of them from a memory that may not have been refreshed for a long time, if indeed I am familiar with the case at all.

I said that James Styers took Debra Milke's little boy out into the Arizona desert and put five bullets in the back of his head.  (I had a Skype link with the studio.  Ms. Rehm visibly winced at this point.)  My critical correspondent points out that it was only three bullets.  I stand corrected.  To anyone who thinks this is material, I apologize.  I don't think it is.

On the material facts, I stand by my description of the case, and therein lies the point of this post.
We noted earlier (here and here) that both houses of the Oklahoma Legislature had passed their own versions of a bill to establish nitrogen hypoxia as an alternate method of execution if lethal injection is unavailable.  The Senate today unanimously passed the House version, HB 1879, and it goes to the governor.

The bill does not give the inmates the option to choose this method if lethal injection is available.  That would have been useful in demonstrating the superiority of the method.  I would not be surprised to see many inmates choose it if they had the option.  Depending on how it is set up, it could be a more dignified way to make one's exit.

The bill takes effect November 1.  The general constitutional rule for effective dates in Oklahoma is 90 days from the adjournment of the session (§V-58), which is scheduled to be no later than May 29.  The author built in a couple of extra months.  That was probably to give the Department of Corrections time to get the method ready.

Diane Rehm Show

| 1 Comment
The Diane Rehm Show on WAMU radio (American University, Washington, D.C.) had a death penalty debate today with Robert Dunham, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, and Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, on the anti side.  Holding up the pro side was yours truly.

Audio is available on the WAMU website.

Dunham recently succeeded Richard Dieter at DPIC.  He continues to attempt maintaining the facade that DPIC is just a neutral source of information and doesn't take a position on the issue.  Nobody knowledgeable on the issue who hears him discuss it could fall for that, but that ruse still does fool some people. 

Fortunately, most of the press has them figured out now, and DPIC is regularly identified as the advocate for one side that it is.  Nothing wrong with being an advocate for one side.  CJLF is.  The difference is we are honest about it.

Guilty as Hell

| No Comments
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been convicted on all 30 charges against him, including 17 punishable by death. 

The sentencing phase will begin soon, at which the abolitionist crowd, regardless of the horrifying facts of this case, will be rooting for the defense side.  How anyone can root for this defendant at any point and in any form or fashion just mystifies me.

The CNN story reports that, "Tsarnaev stood with his head bowed and his hands clasped as the verdicts were read."  I congratulate counsel on a good job of coaching.  Tsarnaev's scribbled note inside the boat where he was captured gave the unscrubbed version of his degree of contrition, to wit, none.  Whether counsel will be able to persuade him to continue occasionally faking contrition is an open question.

I'll bet $100 here and now, however, that he will not take the stand.  Under cross examination, there's too much chance his hatred for infidels, and the United States generally, will come out, thus tanking his it-was-all-my-brother's-idea theory of "mitigation."
Intelligence Squared is hosting a debate on abolition of the death penalty the evening of April 15 in New York.  Details are at this site.

Arguing for abolition are Diann Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project.

Arguing against are Robert Blecker of New York Law School and CJLF's Legal Director Kent Scheidegger.

Tickets are $40 (students $12).  If you can't make it to New York, the debate will be streamed live here at 6:45 EDT / 3:45 PDT.

Rand Paul Launches, Part II

| No Comments
Kent questioned where Sen. Rand Paul stands on the death penalty.  I have wondered about that for some time, but have not been able to get a direct answer, even after asking a member of his staff.

I did find this July 2014 article from the Washington Times, headlined, "Rand Paul Says Death Penalty Is a State Issue."  It begins:

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday that the disproportionate number of minorities in the nation's prisons convinced him to push for sentencing reform and restoring voting rights to some convicted felons ahead of a possible presidential run in 2016.

However, the fact that there are a disproportionate number of minorities on death row in the U.S. has not led him to scrutinize capital punishment. He said the death penalty is a state issue.

"I haven't had a lot of feedback specifically on that," Paul told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "I just haven't taken a position on the death penalty."

This is a deficient answer for at least three reasons.  First, it's not just a state issue; federal law provides for the death penalty in some cases, and the voters are entitled to know whether Paul, as President, would seek to repeal, or would simply refuse to employ, that provision.  Second, Paul is a resident of a state that has capital punishment, and it would be illuminating to know where he stands on that "state issue."  Third, the answer is a fairly obvious dodge. Especially now, as the Boston Marathon bomber case heads towards resolution, let's hear from Sen. Paul if he approves  --  as even Eric Holder does  -- allowing the jury to consider the death penalty for Mr. Tsarnaev.

The New York Times never saw a killer it couldn't find an excuse for, and today it continues in that tradition with this op-ed by Linda Greenhouse.  Doug Berman of Ohio State aptly titles his entry on it, "Should the Supreme Court Reflect the Country's Disenchantment with Capital Punishment?"

Ms. Greenhouse's op-ed is chock full of the self-righteousness that has become abolitionism's principal inventory. But I want to focus here on Doug's title, because it wonderfully captures abolitionism's second-most copious commodity  --  deceit.

First, as Ms. Greenhouse surely knows at some level of cognition, for the Supreme Court to base its jurisprudence on alleged (or real) popular disenchantment is the opposite of what it exists to do.  The expression of popular will is for the political branches, not the courts.  Were it otherwise, Obamacare, which has been in the public approval dumpster for quite some time, would, under the Greenhouse theory, have gone down the SCOTUS tubes long ago.  But Ms. Greenhouse said only two months ago that that the Court should keep hands off.

If Ms. Greenhouse were a judge, this would be called "result orientation," but, may God be praised, she isn't.

Second, in fact the country is, not only not disenchanted with capital punishment, it favors the death penalty by just short of two-to-one.  Such robust approval exceeds, to pick one example out of the air, the confidence it has in newspapers

Liberals used to vote against hypocrisy, before they voted for it.

Monthly Archives