California’s Execution Temporarily Delayed Amid Some Bizarre Circumstances

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san-quentinA Closer Look at Flaws in the Criminal Justice System –

It was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who issued a reprieve to Albert Greenwood Brown for a day, to resolve conflicting legal deadlines.

The state’s 1st District Court of Appeal last week overturned a judge’s order that had halted lethal-injection executions, but that order will not take effect until Thursday, which gives defense attorneys time to appeal to the state’s Supreme Court.

 

Because that deadline conflicts with the execution schedule, the Governor ordered the temporary reprieve, which means that the new execution time is set for 9 pm on Thursday.

On Monday, the San Jose Mercury News issued forth an editorial entitled, “Death penalty doesn’t work – it should be abolished.”

Writes the Mercury News editorial staff, “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision Monday to delay the execution of Albert Greenwood Brown for 45 hours was welcome news. The march to execution, after a 4&1/2-year moratorium, was needlessly rushed, given that lawyers are still challenging a new lethal injection protocol and that several appeals are pending.”

What makes the issue far more bizarre is a shortage of sodium thiopental.  The trade name is Pentothal, which is exclusively manufactured by Hospira.  And apparently there is a shortage of the drug.  Hospira is unable to get one of the ingredients, so they can’t manufacture any more Pentothal – no more until sometime in the first quarter of next year.

California’s supply apparently expires on Thursday at midnight, just three hours after Mr. Brown is now scheduled to be executed.  After that, California will not be able to execute anyone for six months, or so they announced Monday.  Are you kidding me?

Writes the Mercury News, “So if further appeals fail, the state will be trying to cram this execution into the three-hour window in which it’s allowed. That is inappropriate, given the gravity of the event and the remaining questions about the new procedure for administering the death penalty.”

“The situation is so up in the air that last Friday, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel said Brown should choose how he wants to die, with an injection of either one drug or three. Forcing Brown — who was convicted of raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl in 1980 — to make this grim choice is ‘unconstitutionally medieval,’ as his lawyers so aptly put it,” they continue.

This leads the San Jose paper to conclude, “The absurdities in Brown’s case only add to the mountains of evidence that the system is beyond repair.”

“Most death penalty supporters say it deters crime, but proof of that claim is scarce,” they write.

“And even as it fails in its central mission — preventing crime — the death penalty costs billions. California spends an estimated $125 million a year to administer it. Brown’s 28 years on death row, according to the ACLU, have cost $4.8 million more than we’d have paid if his sentence were life without parole,” they point out.

How expensive is this? “So California has spent about a half-billion dollars the past four years without executing a single prisoner, not to mention the $400 million it’s spending to build a 1,400-bed death row and $853,000 for a sparkling new death chamber. Wouldn’t that money be better used to hire more police, beef up crime labs and assist victims?”

They continue, “Some say these costs could be avoided if the state would just speed things up. Doing so, however, would cost tens of millions more, since the reason for the bottleneck is that there aren’t enough lawyers and court staff to handle the necessary appeals.”

“But now is not the time to hit the accelerator. More than 100 people have been freed from death row in the past 35 years, including five last years,” they continue. “A criminal in Alameda County is six times more likely to get the death penalty than one in San Mateo County. Black defendants have received a third of all death sentences in the state but are less than 7 percent of the population.”

They conclude, “California spends billions on a system that is so convoluted and archaic that it has resorted to asking a prisoner to choose which type of lethal injection he would prefer. It’s time to stop tinkering and abolish the death penalty.”

Problems with the Death Penalty Reflective of Problems in Criminal Justice System

I will be the first to admit that I have always been opposed to the death penalty, but for a long time the support for the death penalty seemed so overwhelming it was not a key issue for me.

Polls at first glance show strong support for the death penalty, until you give the responders the alternative of life without parole, then the support drops to below 50%.  When people find out the truth about the costs, it drops further.

Supporters, as the editorial references, argue we need to expedite the process.  The length of time that people spend on death row is too long, they argue.  The problem with that is that even with the length of time and safeguards we have in place now, innocent people have been put to death.  Speeding up the process and limiting appeals will only increase those numbers.

What has sealed my view of the death penalty, though, is watching the court system for the last nine months.  The responders to those polls have not sat through trial after trial, and watched our flawed and politicized court system at work.

We use the most imprecise methods to determine crucial questions of guilt and innocence.

Last week we had a chilling story about the number of people who falsely confess.  One of the points raised there was that we need to be able to watch confessions on video.  Then this past week we watched a murder trial, and watched the video of an interrogation.  The guy never confessed, but by the end of it, the detective had him so confused, I do not think the guy had any idea what he was saying or agreeing to.

We will have more on this trial shortly, but to me that is an eye-opener that we need to look not only at confessions but at evidence provided through interrogations – on the surface they appear to be far more problematic and questionable than previously thought.

We need to have more stringent requirements on lawyers being present.  Law enforcement refers to it derrogatorily as “lawyering up,” but really it preserves not only the rights of defendants but also the truth.  If you catch the wrong person, what good does it do society?  And yet we have turned these into games that must be won at all costs, including the cost of the truth.

Previous research has cast doubt on the veracity of eyewitness testimony and identification, and yet jury trials still rely very heavily on the flawed recollections of eyewitnesses in hopes that somehow we can put together a viable picture of what happened.  This despite decades of research that show just how unreliable eyewitness testimony really is.  And yet, we have seen cases in this county where people have been convicted to lengthy terms, based on a single-witnesses identification – an uncertain one at best.

Last week we had an article that emphasized the role of prosecutorial misconduct, stemming from a USA Today investigative piece.

And then the other problem is that even with scientific evidence, the use of forensic science can be flawed.  CNN had an expose that showed the problems with crime labs and the shortcomings of forensic science often being based on assumptions that were never scientifically tested.

We have the infamous case of the bullet-lead analysis that was used to convict people for decades without any kind of scientific verification.  Moreover, there is the recent Texas case where the science used to prove an arson turned out to be flawed, and Texas executed an innocent man.

We have had a number of cases that have used DNA evidence to overturn convictions, but the problem is that most cases do not have that kind of physical evidence and therefore DNA only provides a relief and a safeguard in a handful of cases.

Our criminal justice system at its core is flawed and needs to be revamped.  The death penalty is our most severe and most scrutinized punishment.  With all of the safeguards, we are still making a lot of mistakes in that field, and must imagine other lesser punishments.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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17 thoughts on “California’s Execution Temporarily Delayed Amid Some Bizarre Circumstances”

  1. hpierce

    I will be the first to admit that I have always been opposed to the death penalty, but for a long time the support for the death penalty seemed so overwhelming it was not a key issue for me.

    With all due respect… are you being honest with yourself?

    [quote]Our criminal justice system at its core is flawed and needs to be revamped. [/quote]

    OK… you have trouble with:
    confessions, if they are a result of ‘interrogations’
    eye-witness accounts
    DNA evidence (unless it exonerates)
    disparity across racial/ethnic lines in arrests/convictions
    prosecutors having ‘advantage’ over defense (particularly public defenders)

    Be positive… what would you need to convict someone of anything? Think of someone who seriously maimed you… if you are the only eye-witness, if your attacker was a minority, if they confessed (under interrogation) to the attack, if there was DNA evidence that the ‘suspect’ had attacked you, what would you want to be required of a jury to convict your attacker?

  2. highbeam

    I believe that I would want eye-witness testimony that is not the apparent result of the interrogator putting words into the mouth of the subject, that has not been changed multiple times (inconsistent stories in interviews with various law enforcement personnel, on the stand, in pretext phone calls and admitted to other random people, such as fellow cell-mates), and that does not reflect a motive on the part of the eye-witness (such as getting a deal in exchange for naming someone else). In other words, I would want credible eye-witness testimony, which seems to be scarce in Yolo County.

  3. Themis

    “OK… you have trouble with:
    confessions, if they are a result of ‘interrogations’
    eye-witness accounts
    DNA evidence (unless it exonerates)
    disparity across racial/ethnic lines in arrests/convictions
    prosecutors having ‘advantage’ over defense (particularly public defenders)”

    I have a problem with these things too. Studies have shown most people will confess if they are interrogated (even if they didn’t commit the crime), eye witness accounts are very unreliable, more minorities are convicted of crimes that they didn’t commit, and prosecutors have a lot bigger budget than public defenders.

  4. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “Moreover, there is the recent Texas case where the science used to prove an arson turned out to be flawed, and Texas executed an innocent man.”

    I don’t think we know one way or another whether this man was innocent of the crime or not.

  5. Fight Against Injustice

    hpierce: It seems that you are upset with David for questioning methods in cases where complaints have arised. If people didn’t approach David about issues in the justice system, he wouldn’t be there–the judicial watch wouldn’t be necessary Unfortunately, the outcry of injustice from the public has been pretty consistent.

    What surprises me is that you have no comments on yesterday’s article where David cited concrete evidence of the DA’s office playing with crime statistics on grant applications. David gave us evidence that the justice system is flawed. Justice can’t happen when one’s budget is dependent on grants that require filling quotas for arrests and convictions.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    [quote]I don’t think we know one way or another whether this man was innocent of the crime or not. [/quote]

    The man in Texas, yes we do know he was innocent, there was no arson, therefore no crime.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    hpierce: Would you have us use flaw techniques that may result in putting an innocent individual in prison? For me to convict an attacker there would have to be additional evidence linking the individual to the crime scene than my say so. In fact, I am horrible at recognizing faces in general, so I’d be about the last person I would rely on for identification.

  8. David M. Greenwald

    [quote]I will be the first to admit that I have always been opposed to the death penalty, but for a long time the support for the death penalty seemed so overwhelming it was not a key issue for me.

    With all due respect… are you being honest with yourself? [/quote]

    I’ve in the past voted for people who support capital punishment, sometimes vociferously. I’m not sure I would do that now.

  9. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “The man in Texas, yes we do know he was innocent, there was no arson, therefore no crime.”

    How do you KNOW he didn’t commit arson, or did I miss something here? My understanding was that there was doubt, not exoneration…

    The “politics” involving speeding up the imposition of the death penalty right now in CA is downright creepy… This is too important an issue for politics to play a part, but alas, such is the imperfection of our gov’t systems…

  10. David M. Greenwald

    You are correct, I don’t know that he didn’t commit arson. The analysis was that he was convicted based on flawed science – “was based upon flawed science and outdated principles” and arson investigation experts said, “there was little or no evidence that the house fire was intentionally set.” There was also no motive for the arson.

    So you are correct that they have not fully exonerate him because he’s deceased and the forensics commission is trying to figure out what to do.

  11. Andrew T.

    Fight Against Injustice: “…David cited concrete evidence of the DA’s office playing with crime statistics on grant applications. David gave us evidence that the justice system is flawed.”

    It fits your personal sensibilities that what David wrote, and what you read, was “concrete evidence”, etc. But, in actuality, all you have is David’s individual opinion, based on his own manner of evaluating the data he’s collected, and the self-serving results he has chosen to share with you. Like the DA, who David has criticized so vociferously for publicizing the DA’s Office message he wants heard, David only shares the messages he wants heard—messages that turns his blog into a spectacle of dissent, drawing those looking for the blood in the water. What David both criticizes and engages in is just human nature, and nothing nefarious. He doesn’t like the DA’s Office attempting to do good marketing and calls it unethical. I don’t like David selling people’s reputations down the stream so that he can puff out his chest and sell ad space and feel that’s unethical. But, both are perfectly legal and the way modern society works. As long as we all understand that, there will be greater mutual respect. Since David wants to exploit the phenomenon, I have to interpret his motive as wanting to drive wedges between people, enflame emotions, create hostility, and work against mutual respect.

    You and he are part of a very small minority made up of those who see things the way David has presented. The DA’s office can’t and shouldn’t waste time chasing down and de-bunking all such disingenuous, fringe, minority, activist, alarmist claims. (Most intelligent and pragmatic citizens would see it is childish for that office to become so engaged.) Especially those claims tied so inextricably to an agenda engineered to be furthered through the designed outrageousness of the message rather than the genuineness of the opinion/view. Such frivolity on the part of the DA’s office would tend to make credible that which isn’t, and waste limited resources required to keep our overburdened justice system working and moving. Based on there being no other contender in the DA’s election race (basically and election mandate without an election), Yolo citizens, by a significant, measurable majority are happy with what the DA gives them.

    And ultimately, the primary purpose of this blog and many other such “news sources” (term used very, very loosely) is to attract readers so that ad space can be sold. If David represented the facts without his poison-pen, his blog would be entirely unable to attract those readers, like me and many I speak with, looking for an opportunity to get a laugh at David and his government-conspiracy-around-every-corner-type followers (like you), or to attract those few readers (like you) who get up in arms with him about everything and write those preposterous support messages that we all laugh at—those support messages, which seem to cause David to puff out his chest, thinking his views matter more than they deserve as the mere chatter that the Vanguard blog truly is.

  12. Themis

    “He doesn’t like the DA’s Office attempting to do good marketing and calls it unethical.”

    I don’t consider lying or misleading the people good marketing. I really wonder who in their right mind would think that a DA’s office misrepresenting the facts in a press release is considered good marketing.

  13. Themis

    “like me and many I speak with, looking for an opportunity to get a laugh at David and his government-conspiracy-around-every-corner-type followers (like you), or to attract those few readers (like you) who get up in arms with him about everything…”

    I don’t know what you find so laughable. Maybe all of the people sitting in jail that really don’t belong there are funny to you. It sure isn’t funny to the rest of us that actually have morals.

  14. David M. Greenwald

    I’m grateful for Andrew’s post. There are really two reasons for that. First, I like to see contrary views on here, it’s healthy for discussion.

    Second, and more significantly, reporting a story like this is stressful and difficult. A number of people spent a good amount of time checking and re-checking the facts, making sure we got it right. Nothing is a more lonely feeling than putting a piece out there wondering if you might have overlooked something that should have been obvious.

    Andrew’s post and the relative silence by normally critical voices tell me that I didn’t miss anything of substance. If I would have gotten one of these facts wrong, someone would have pointed it out already.

  15. hpierce

    [quote]hpierce: It seems that you are upset with David for questioning methods in cases where complaints have arised. [/quote]

    No… I waxed in-eloquent… I’m just am tired of people saying “what “is”, doesn’t work/is wrong”, without making a constructive suggestion of what would be better. David dismissed eyewitness accounts w/o saying any basis where they should be given credibility. The rest of my observations stand. As to why I didn’t comment on his other piece, I had no reason to doubt his concerns… it was the “over-reaching” of what seemed to say nobody should ever be convicted of anything, that I was attempting to comment on… badly, I admit…

  16. E Roberts Musser

    dgm: “I’m grateful for Andrew’s post. There are really two reasons for that. First, I like to see contrary views on here, it’s healthy for discussion.

    Second, and more significantly, reporting a story like this is stressful and difficult. A number of people spent a good amount of time checking and re-checking the facts, making sure we got it right. Nothing is a more lonely feeling than putting a piece out there wondering if you might have overlooked something that should have been obvious.”

    Glad your blog tolerates all points of view – bc there is “my side”, “your side” and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle…

    As for the grant process for public dollars, the Sac Bee did good investigative reporting on corruption in the public school sector, so corruption does go on. It certainly went on at UCD in their rape crime prevention program. I’ve seen some corruption of the grant process for nonprofits myself in my work. Deniability of the potential for corruption has to be plausible. And I would like to hear the DA’s side on this one…

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