Death Penalty Dying a Slow Death

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san-quentinIt was nearly a decade ago that Governor George Ryan of Illinois, himself embroiled in scandals that would cost his office, put a moratorium on the death penalty.  This week, Illinois State House passed a measure by a narrow 60-54 vote that would repeal the state’s death penalty.

Illinois is a microcosm for the rest of the nation, as the history of the Illinois death penalty shows at least 20 people condemned to death have been freed after exoneration or new evidence surfaced which cast doubt on their convictions.

The death penalty is a good window into the criminal justice system.  The cases get a higher amount of scrutiny and the stakes are higher, but the problems that we see in death penalty cases pervade the system.

In 1976, the US Supreme Court reversed itself and allowed the death penalty again.  By the 1990s, the death penalty was extremely popular.  But what has happened since then appears to be a slow death.

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) put out their annual report for 2010, and found that executions dropped 12% and that the imposition of death sentences themselves remain near historic lows.

In 2000, there were 85 people executed.  Last year it was 46, down from 52 in 2009.  There were 234 new inmates given death sentences in 2000, and that number dropped to 114 in 2010, up slightly from 112 in 2009.

dpicMoreover, the death penalty is a regional phenomena.  The south executed 35 of the 46 people, including 17 in Texas, which accounted for 40% of the nation’s executions.  Of the other 11 executions, 8 of them occurred in Ohio.

Polling on the death penalty remains tricky.  If asked flat out whether they support the death penalty, a strong majority, generally in their 60s, says yes.  However, when given alternatives, the numbers change drastically.

Reports the DPIC, “In a recent national poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, 61% of U.S. voters chose various alternative sentences over the death penalty as the proper punishment for murder. Only 33% chose the death penalty. A plurality of voters (39%) selected life in prison without parole, coupled with restitution by the defendant to the victim’s family as the most appropriate penalty.”

Increasingly, money and economics are becoming a factor.  The same survey found that 65% would support replacing the death penalty and using the savings for crime prevention.

In 2010, there were 35 states with a death penalty, however, only 12 carried out executions.  Of the 12 states, 8 were in the south, with only Ohio, Arizona, Utah, and dpic-2Washington being outside the south.  That is not a new trend, as since 1976, 82% of all executions have been in the south.  666 of the 1234 executions since 1976 have occurred in just three states: Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma.

Texas saw its number of executions drop from 24 in 2009 to 17 in 2010.

The DPIC report cites a number of causes for the drop, “The state’s adoption of a sentence of life without parole in 2005, changes in the District Attorneys in prominent jurisdictions such as Houston and Dallas, and the ongoing residue of past mistakes have led to a sharp decline in the use of the death penalty in the state that drives national death penalty statistics.”

In 1999, Texas executed 48 people, that number fell to 24 by 2009, and now to 17.

Reports the DPIC, former death row inmate Anthony Graves was freed from prison in Texas when the state dropped all charges against him after 16 years. Special prosecutor Kelly Sigler said, “[W]e found not one piece of credible evidence that links Anthony Graves to the commission of this capital murder. . . . He is an innocent man.”

“Evidence of critical errors made in cases where an execution has occurred continued to mount in Texas,” the DPIC reports.  “A special court of inquiry examined whether Texas executed an innocent man in 2004 when Cameron Willingham was put to death for arson. Experts now believe the evidence used to convict him was highly unreliable.”

“In another Texas case, new DNA tests have shown that misleading evidence was presented at the trial of Claude Jones, who was executed in 2000, just before then-governor George Bush left office. A strand of hair, the sole physical evidence placing Jones at the murder scene, has now been shown to have no connection to him and belonged to the victim instead,” the report continues.

Overall, roughly 138 people have been exonerated from death row since 1973.  Concerns about innocence were among the driving factors in the decline of support for the death penalty.

The report by the DPIC goes on to note the disproportionate or arbitrary use of the death penalty.

“One of the most common rationales for the death penalty is that it is needed to punish the “worst of the worst” offenders,” they write.

However, an examination of the data does not show that to be true.  For one thing, there is a quite a bit of data on racial and class-based bias in the number executed.

Moreover, writes the DPIC, “A look at some of the executions carried out in 2010 casts doubt on whether that works in practice. Virginia executed Teresa Lewis, a grandmother with an IQ of 72, who did not physically participate in the murders that led to her death sentence. The two codefendants who actually shot the victims received life sentences.”

They continue, “Alabama executed a defendant with even stronger evidence of mental disabilities. Holly Wood’s IQ had been recorded at below 70, the level at which intellectual disability is presumed to exist, but he was not spared because no court required that his inexperienced attorney discover or present such mitigating evidence at his trial.”

“Brandon Rhode was executed in Georgia shortly after being hospitalized for a suicide attempt. His attorneys asserted in vain that he suffered from fetal alcohol disorder and was mentally incompetent to be executed” they report.

However, on the other end, “Meanwhile in New York, Salvatore Vitale, a crime boss who confessed in federal court to 11 murders, was sentenced to time served and released after 7 years in prison because he cooperated with the government. Rasheed Scrugs, who admitted to murdering a police officer in Philadelphia, was given a life sentence when the jury sharply divided on sentencing.”

Former Justice John Paul Stevens was the latest of those, who voted to reinstate the death penalty, to call for its abolition.  He recently questioned the death penalty because it failed to meet the principle that “any decision to impose the death sentence be, and appear to be, based on reason rather than caprice and emotion.” He said the Supreme Court’s “more recent cases have endorsed procedures that provide less protections to capital defendants than to ordinary offenders.”

From the standpoint of Yolo Judicial Watch, we have been monitoring cases in Yolo County for a year now.  While we have not monitored a death penalty yet (one perhaps will be heard this spring in the Marco Topete trial for killing Deputy Sheriff Tony Diaz), many of the issues that have arisen in prominent death penalty cases have arisen here as well.

Issues such as prosecutorial misconduct, failure to turn over evidence that is exculpatory, questionable witness identification, questionable interrogation tactics and policies, reliance on questionable expert testimony and questionable use of forensic science have all played roles in Yolo County just in the last year.

The death penalty remains expensive, of questionable use and ineffective in deterring crime, based on most studies comparing crime rates between jurisdictions with and without the death penalty.

At some point the public should recognize that life without the possibility of parole is an appropriate penalty.  It protects the public from dangerous criminal while costing far less to the taxpayers.

Moreover, while individuals may never get back the years they have lost from their lives, at least we can do things to mitigate the damage caused by wrongly imprisoning people.  For people like Cameron Willingham, it is too late.  We cannot correct that mistake.

As the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in the fall, “In the past, we’ve supported the death penalty as long as the legal system gives the accused a fair trial that results in a verdict of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Sadly, in light of experiences in recent years, that goal seems unrealistic.”

Salt Lake City Tribune noted, “There simply is no denying that our system of capital punishment in the United States is unalterably broken. To continue to adhere to it is to tread beyond the bounds of what constitutes a humane, moral and just society.”

And in the heart of the execution capital of the world, most notably the Dallas Morning News, no bastion of liberal thought wrote, “This newspaper feels more strongly than ever that those flaws are sufficiently widespread that the justice system cannot be trusted to impose irreversible sentences of death.”

—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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27 thoughts on “Death Penalty Dying a Slow Death”

  1. Roger Rabbit

    I have to say I am on the fence on this one. When someone commits unspeakable acts of brutal and violent murder, putting them to death quickly actually saves money and sends a strong message. So with today’s technology, video surveillance, satellite images, cell phone tracking, GPS in cars, News media live coverage of the acts, there are situations where a persons guilt is slim and none and slim left town. So in those rare cases I am for it.

    However, the cons far out weigh the pros. And the biggest con is the ego, power and political factor. Which is exactly what is going on here in Yolo with DA Jeff Reisig. When you have an unethical and unscrupulous person willing to do anything to win, and is willing to bend, flex and even twist the rules, then this non-reversible act is too much a price to pay. Every conservative right DA runs on his murder rate, his conviction rate, his death penalty convictions, it is like a badge of honor and a lot of people just eat what they are spoon fed and relate that propaganda as good and think a tough guy on crime is a good DA. That is why it continues to be abused and used.

    When the rules don’t apply to the District Attorneys and they get to operate with a blanket of immunity and are able to play with discovery issues, withhold evidence, hide negative witnesses, present misleading evidence to the jury, lose damaging evidence, shop for experts that agree help them and hide the ones that don’t, make false and misleading statements to confuse the jury, ring bells that you can un-ring and many other lawyer tricks, these things are what make the death penalty unreliable, dangerous and down right criminal, but it is not criminal for the DA, since he gets to do these things under the cover of immunity.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    Not only should the death penalty be abolished, but a good hard look needs to be taken at our system of justice. Clearly if innocent people are being convicted of crimes they did not commit, something needs to change about the way we are doing things…

  3. Fight Against Injustice

    I find it difficult to support the death penalty based on exactly what Roger Rabbit says,

    “When the rules don’t apply to the District Attorneys and they get to operate with a blanket of immunity and are able to play with discovery issues, withhold evidence, hide negative witnesses, present misleading evidence to the jury, lose damaging evidence, shop for experts that agree help them and hide the ones that don’t, make false and misleading statements to confuse the jury, ring bells that you can un-ring and many other lawyer tricks, these things are what make the death penalty unreliable, dangerous and down right criminal, but it is not criminal for the DA, since he gets to do these things under the cover of immunity.”

    Steve Mount from the DA’s office used some of these strategies in the Ajay Dev case. Mount was able to get the jury to vote guilty even though the jurors admitted that the accuser’s testimony was unreliable. They voted based on what the DA told them–not the evidence. There was no evidence that a crime even occurred. The result is Ajay Dev, an innocent man, is in jail for 378 years for a crime that many know that he did not commit.

    Before we think about executing someone, these flaws in our judicial system need to be eradicated, or you may possibly be killing an innocent person.

  4. Mind_hunter53

    While life in prison without parole may be deemed an appropriate punishment, it is important to remember that these individuals often continue to victimize others in their environments. Contrary to what the naive public may believe,they are not locked up in cells all day long and harmless. Rather, unless their is a lockdown, they roam about prison yards, have continuous contact with other prisoners, and are frequently assaultive and occasionally deadly. Assaults on other prisoners occur very often, and assaults on staff members not uncommon. If they kill again, they get another life term — and then another. Their additional murders are punished by loss of privileges and a term in a segregation unit.

  5. Rifkin

    If the death penalty is not carried out swiftly–say within a year or two of conviction–it loses most of the benefit of vengeance and deterrence, both of which are my primary reasons for supporting it.

    If the death penalty system is overrun with an endless appeals process which requires very highly trained and highly paid lawyers to process the appeals, it also loses the “appeal” of being cost effective. I don’t think money should be decisive in choosing a punishment, but at some point it no longer makes sense to keep pouring money down the drain to execute a murderer.

    As such, it is very hard for me to support California’s current death penalty system. I don’t see what good it does. I don’t like the idea of locking up someone for 50, 60 or 70 years. It’s a waste of a life and a waste of a lot of money. But our death penalty system strikes me as so flawed that life in prison may be the least bad alternative. (As readers of my column know, I’d just assume send our long-term convicts to cheap, foreign prisons.)

    A lot of liberal opponents of the death penalty–not counting those whose opposition is based on their religious creed–oppose it in part because there is some chance that an innocent person could be executed, and that thought abhors them to no end. I obviously don’t want to see anyone who is innocent executed for a crime he did not commit. I concede that if you have enough executions, it would seem likely someone wrongly convicted will be executed. (I have come to believe that Kevin Cooper is probably not guilty of the murders he was convicted of perpetrating ([url]http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2009/05/11/05-99004o.pdf[/url]).) However, I don’t think this risk alone is enough to not have the death penalty.

    Why not? Because not executing murderers likewise carries with it risks of people being unjustly killed. (Mind Hunter noted this in his post.) I think you just have to try to find an acceptable level of risk balanced with justice, public safety and so on.

    Keep in mind that our system places the burden of proof on the people. In some cases, the prosecution or police may feel with absolute certainty that they know who is guilty, but they won’t bring charges because they don’t have sufficient evidence to prove that in court. As a result, many more innocent people are surely killed (by those murderers who are not tried or convicted). There are countries, like India, where they have a different approach when it comes to hard to prove cases. The police just hunt the person down and kill him. That happens every day in India, a so-called democracy.

    FWIW, I think in the Kevin Cooper case, San Bernardino law enforcement came to believe that Cooper was guilty, but they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him. When evidence pointed elsewhere, they ignored that because they were so convinced that their initial theory was right. So in the end, lacking evidence against Cooper, they illegally destroyed evidence which pointed at others and concocted evidence to make Cooper appear guilty. As a person who generally trusts authority, it is my sincere hope that the behavior of the people who framed Kevin Cooper is very much the exception.

  6. Superfluous Man

    Roger Rabbit,

    “However, the cons far out weigh the pros. And the biggest con is the ego, power and political factor.”

    Really, that’s the biggest con in your opinion…not the possibility of an innocent person being executed?

    RE: your Reisig’s corruption component to the state’s policy, well how often has he or his office sought the death penalty to bolster his reputation as a tough DA?

  7. Superfluous Man

    Mind,

    “Contrary to what the naive public may believe,they are not locked up in cells all day long and harmless.”

    True, but when an inmate assaults or murders another they are then dealt with accordingly in such ways, as you mention, as segregation for example so as to reduce the likelihood that they can kill again.

    Is your argument that since murderers or those whom you see fit for the death penalty are not all isolated from the general population and thus have opportunities to assault/murder inmates/CDCR personnel that the death penalty should not be abolished or the moratorium lifted?

  8. Superfluous Man

    Rich,

    “…but they lacked sufficient evidence to convict him. When evidence pointed elsewhere, they ignored that because they were so convinced that their initial theory was right.”

    I believe this is not the rule, but the exception. However, it happens enough (once is enough for me) to be problematic and in need of serious changes, the justice system that is. If you couple that approach to law enforcement with the racial prejudices of jurors and the legal system (particularly in some areas in the south) it becomes less surprising to hear of cases in which an innocent man/woman is wrongly convicted.

    That said, I think it a great first step to do as newly elected Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen has implemented a “Conviction Integrity Unit,” which according to one article “will monitor procedures relating to arrests, prosecutions and convictions of persons accused of crimes to safeguard against wrongful convictions.” http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=19582

    “Why not? Because not executing murderers likewise carries with it risks of people being unjustly killed. (Mind Hunter noted this in his post.) I think you just have to try to find an acceptable level of risk balanced with justice, public safety and so on.”

    So you are referring to murderers unjustly killing while incarcerated? Would the balance be struck if murderers who were to be sentenced to death were instead placed in isolation from the onset?

  9. Mind_hunter53

    While risks exist of wrongful execution of a innocent man (statistically generally believed to be quite low in modern times), the price of the alternative — a life sentence — often is the lives of other inmates and/or staff members. Placement in segregation units is a temporary measure (they behave and eventually out they come back to the general population), and prisoners still present risk in even the most controlled settings. While one might debate the deterrent value of the death penalty as implemented (usually 20 years or more after conviction), there is no question regarding its effectiveness in reducing the risk to others, both in prison, if the offender is able to escape (which has happened on numerous occasions), or if granted parole. The death penalty for egregious offenders is appropriate and saves lives. The type of individual who commits heinous offenses is not deterred by the prospect of punishment. A child rapist and killer does not decide to refrain from the activity because he is concerned about the consequences.

  10. Rifkin

    [i]”So you are referring to murderers unjustly killing while incarcerated?”[/i]

    Yes. It’s also possible that a killer could get out and kill again. (Think for example of someone convicted of 2nd degree murder. He normally will not get life without parole.)

    [i]”Would the balance be struck if murderers who were to be sentenced to death were instead placed in isolation from the onset?”[/i]

    I don’t believe that we should lock someone in a cage and drive him insane through continuous isolation or darkness or cold or other forms of mental torture. (I don’t think we should subject rats to that.)

    If a murderer is insane or has some kind of severe psychological problems which makes it practically unrealistic to allow him to interact with other inmates–my guess this is not usually the case–then he should be treated by a psychiarist or psychologist. Maybe he should be put in a place like Vacaville.

    On the other hand, if a convicted murderer is just a horrible guy–say some kind of gangster who would kill someone else for reasons of gang culture–I don’t think the best answer is to put him in an isolation cell. I think the best answer is to execute him. Or short of that, put him in a cell with 4 others from 4 different gangs. And give each guy a sharp knife.

  11. jimt

    How about (per Armstrong and Getty radio show) a new category of “superguilty”?
    If someone can be convicted using the criterium “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt”;
    perhaps heinous crimes (particularly of repeat offenders) could be punished by death if
    found “guilty beyond ANY doubt”. (e.g. if DNA evidence can be used to exonerate suspects; perhaps in some cases it could serve to show culpability beyond ANY doubt; other examples with video evidence and multiple witnesses, as in the recent Arizona atrocity).

    Realistically, I can only guess that creation of such a new category would lead to complete legal chaos…

    Like many, the only problem I have with the death penalty is the possibility of executing an innocent person
    (though a life term in a hell-hole prison environment is nearly as horrendous).

  12. David M. Greenwald

    “A lot of liberal opponents of the death penalty–not counting those whose opposition is based on their religious creed–oppose it in part because there is some chance that an innocent person could be executed, and that thought abhors them to no end. I obviously don’t want to see anyone who is innocent executed for a crime he did not commit. I concede that if you have enough executions, it would seem likely someone wrongly convicted will be executed. (I have come to believe that Kevin

    Cooper is probably not guilty of the murders he was convicted of perpetrating ([url]http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2009/05/11/05-99004o.pdf[/url]).) However, I don’t think this risk alone is enough to not have the death penalty.

    Give you an example Rich: They cite the number 143 as the number of people exonerated on death row since 1976, and remember that is just the known number, had they executed people within a year or two, those people would be dead even though they were innocent, is that number high enough to give you pause?

  13. David M. Greenwald

    “While risks exist of wrongful execution of a innocent man (statistically generally believed to be quite low in modern times), the price of the alternative — a life sentence — often is the lives of other inmates and/or staff members.”

    What is the murder rate in the penal system caused by people condemned to die?

  14. Mind_hunter53

    Due to the extreme high control in condemned housing units, the murder rate of condemned inmates is very low in California. In California, those condemned are housed on Death Row, which in itself is a segregated unit. The majority are single celled and allowed very little contact with other inmates. When moved around — for example for medical appointments — they are put in mechanical restraints and escorted by multiple officers, one of which holds an asp in his hand at all times. These units offer no programing opportunities to inmates and are not considered suitable for life term inmates.

  15. Rifkin

    [i]”They cite [u]the number 143[/u] as the number of people exonerated on death row since 1976, and remember that is just the known number, had they executed people within a year or two, those people would be dead even though they were innocent, is that number high enough to give you pause?”[/i]

    The Death Penalty Information Center cites 138 such cases ([url]http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-list-those-freed-death-row[/url]), not 143, and 25 of those were actually no longer on death row, but at one point had been. Of the 138, 43 were from Florida or Illinois. Surpringly few (17) of the exonerations were due largely to DNA evidence.

    Keep in mind that my opinion is not that a convict should not have a right of appeal. It’s that the appellate process is needlessly slow and expensive.

    The problem in those cases is never that the defense did not have enough time to reverse the conviction or have the sentence changed. The problem was always that the system moved terribly slowly and that the wrongly convicted sat in prison waiting and waiting for the exculpatory evidence to reach a court with the authority to overturn the sentence.

    Take the case of Abe Munson ([url]http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/innocence-cases-1994-2003#56[/url])*, for example. He was convicted in 1985 and sentenced to death. His case finally reached the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 1994. He was not freed until 1995. No one was ever hired to start his appeal for 8 years following his original conviction. From the time his appeal began until the appellate court decided his conviction should be thrown out was less than 1 year. My complaint is that we need to get theses appeals started right away. We have a right to a speedy trial. I favor a right to a speedy appeal.

    I also think that our system is too lenient on “experts” and prosecutors or cops who fudge evidence, who suppress exculpatory evidence of the accused and inculpatory evidence of another potential suspect, or who misrepresent the facts of a case. There needs to be a balancing act, because if we are too harsh on prosecutors and cops they will simply err on the side of not charging anyone. But if a higher court determines that there was misconduct, such as in the Munson case, I think there should be a very severe financial penalty against those who acted in bad faith–maybe all of their pensions should be handed over to the wrongly convicted.

    *[i]”The ruling by the Criminal Court of Appeals cited a “significant amount” of exculpatory evidence that was kept from Munson at the original trial. (Oklahoma v. Munson, 886 P.2d 999 (Okla. Crim. App. 1994)). The exculpatory evidence, according to Judge Charles S. Chapel, who wrote the court’s opinion, “revealed photographs of the crime scene at odds with the State’s theory of the case, reports on the other suspects and impeachment evidence.” (Oklahoma v. Munson, 886 P.2d 999 (Okla. Crim. App. 1994)). Furthermore, Dr. Ralph Erdmann, the paleontologist who presented the forensic evidence at trial, was convicted of seven felony counts including the misrepresentation of facts in other cases and stripped of his license.”[/i]

  16. E Roberts Musser

    The number of people being exonerated for crimes they did not commit became so many that the state of Illinois called a moratorium on carrying out death sentences. Illinois recognized their legal system was extremely flawed and it was executing too many innocent people. The chances are if that is happening in Illinois, it is also occurring elsewhere in this country.

    This is not a liberal/conservative issue; but a matter of wanting to see justice done – true justice. From Wikipedia: “In criminal law, Blackstone’s formulation (also known as Blackstone’s ratio or the Blackstone ratio) is the principle: “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”, expressed by the English jurist William Blackstone in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in the 1760s.”

    Can you even begin to imagine the horror of walking to the death chamber to be executed for a crime you did not commit? This scenario happens all to frequently I would guess, based on the Innocence Project, what was discovered in the state of Illinois, and other such cases that have been uncovered. We have some real indemic problems within our legal system that need to be addressed…
    1) some DAs who care more about their conviction record than about finding the truth; the politicization of the DA’s Office
    2) some law enforcement who are a law unto themselves (Darrel Gates in LA comes to mind)
    3) a plea bargaining system that is inherently unfair
    4) eyewitness testimony that is highly unreliable
    5) a jury system that does no ensure a true cross section of society
    6) a legal system that can be very insular, arcane, corruptable
    7) a part of the public that encourages the notion that being “tough on crime” is all important
    8) too much discretion; not enough discretion in various aspects of the law
    9) flawed sentencing guidelines
    10) questionable societal norms

    And the list goes on…

  17. Rifkin

    [i]”What is the murder rate in the penal system caused by people condemned to die?”[/i]

    I think that is the wrong question, unless you favor treating all people sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole the same as we now treat all people placed on death row. As Mind points out above, death row inmates are effectively in isolation all the time.

    I think the right question is, how many people each year are murdered in state prisons?

    I don’t know a current number. This US Dept of Justice report ([url]http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/shsplj.pdf[/url]) shows that the number committing suicide and the number murdered in jails or prisons fell dramatically from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. At the same time, it notes that in California state prisons, in the year they focus on, 2001-02, when unnatural deaths were at a low point, we had 21 murders in California prisons. There were 87 nationwide. I would guess the current numbers are close to that. So in a 20 year period (based on the greatly reduced homicide rate), we are looking at around 1,740 prisoners “executed” by other prisoners.

  18. Rifkin

    [i]”Illinois recognized their legal system was extremely flawed and it was executing too many innocent people.”[/i]

    Really? I looked this up. I could not find one person in Illinois who was innocent and was executed. I think your statement is mistaken.

    Obviously, Illinois had a serious problem in its justice system. Florida, likewise. An interesting fact about the moratorium on executions in Illinois is that the governor who gave those orders is himself in prison ([url]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Ryan#Scandals.2C_trial.2C_and_conviction[/url]). I wonder if his magnanimity to those on death row was not ultimately a self-serving act by a putrid criminal?

  19. Superfluous Man

    Rich,

    “Yes. It’s also possible that a killer could get out and kill again. (Think for example of someone convicted of 2nd degree murder. He normally will not get life without parole.)”

    I wasn’t referring to inmates who have a chance of getting out again. I’m focused primarily on inmates sentenced to death and how corrections would deal with them if the death penalty were abolished in CA.

    “I think that is the wrong question, unless you favor treating all people sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole the same as we now treat all people placed on death row. As Mind points out above, death row inmates are effectively in isolation all the time.”

    But, I thought you (Mind too) were asserting that if the death penalty were abolished then a potential consequence could be an increase in unlawful prison killings by the condemned inmates, no? Now it seems that you’ve both conceded the point that these inmates are segregated and of little threat, relatively speaking, to the prison/personnel population.

    Is it fair to conclude that by allowing those killers (the worst of the worst) who have been condemned to simply live the rest of their lives under the same level of segregation/security as they would have been anyway on death row…then no such increase in threat and unlawful killing by these inmates would result…if the death penalty were abolished?

    “I think the right question is, how many people each year are murdered in state prisons?

    To my mind, its seems less relevant to discuss what impact murderers who haven’t been sentenced to death row will or already do have on the prison population re:violence/murders.

    “I don’t believe that we should lock someone in a cage and drive him insane through continuous isolation or darkness or cold or other forms of mental torture. (I don’t think we should subject rats to that.)”

    “I think the best answer is to execute him. Or short of that, put him in a cell with 4 others from 4 different gangs. And give each guy a sharp knife.”

    Interesting comments relating to the humane treatment of CA inmates, especially when juxtaposed.

  20. E Roberts Musser

    Rifkin: “Really? I looked this up. I could not find one person in Illinois who was innocent and was executed. I think your statement is mistaken.”

    From pbs.org: “Death Row cases reversed
    ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But a Chicago Tribune investigation last November found that nearly half of the Death Row cases in Illinois were so rife with errors they were reversed on appeal. In 33 Death Row cases, the defendants attorneys had been disbarred or suspended. Rita Fry heads the Cook County Public Defenders Office. She agrees that inexperienced defense attorneys are a serious problem.”

    From Wikipedia: “List of exonerated death row inmates:
    This list contains names of people who were found guilty of capital crimes and placed on death row who were later found to be wrongly convicted. Some people were exonerated posthumously.”

    From Wikipedia: “Anthony Porter (born 1955) was a prisoner on death row whose conviction was overturned in 1999 due to the investigation of two Northwestern University School of Law professors and students from the Medill School of Journalism, and is notable for being an exonerated death row inmate that was once 50 hours away from execution.[1]…State officials initially denied any wrongdoing. Chicago’s Mayor Daley, who had been head of the state’s attorney’s office during the prosecution, asserted that “It was a thorough case, it was reviewed. No one railroads anyone.” Illinois Governor George Ryan suggested that the exoneration was evidence that the system worked. In light of the four men previously freed with the help of Protess’ students, however, and the recently exposed mis-prosecution of Rolando Cruz and Alex Hernandez by Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan for the 1983 rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico, the problems could no longer be overlooked. Under intense pressure from the public and the media, Governor Ryan initiated a moratorium on executions in Illinois.”

    From truthinjustice.org: “The state’s system of capital punishment has come under increasing criticism, with both the Illinois Supreme Court and Illinois General Assembly creating committees to study possible reforms. Since 1977, 13 Death Row inmates in Illinois have been exonerated and 12 executed.”

    From justicedenied.org: “An example of exactly that situation was Girvies Davis, also mentioned elsewhere in this issue. Davis was likely an innocent victim of a coerced confession who was executed in Illinois in 1995. Prior to that execution, a widespread campaign sought to publicize his innocence, yet Davis is now a forgotten prisoner never mentioned in any of the media coverage of the Illinois moratorium…

    A number of factors cause innocent defendants to be sent to death row, and some to be executed. Stephen Manning in Illinois, who survived, and Warren McCleskey in Georgia, who didn’t, both were framed by jailhouse snitches; the use of snitches is no different from bribery and can produce any result a prosecutor desires, irrespective of truth.

    Anthony Porter in Illinois, who survived, and Pedro Medina in Florida, who didn’t, both had the sort of severe mental deficiencies that are not uncommon among those accused of felonies. Medina was typical of a defendant whose mental illness made him difficult to defend, while the defense of many retarded defendants also may be hampered because their attorneys must explain and re-explain simple concepts to the defendant. Retarded defendants also are particularly prone to false convictions because they often can be manipulated into cooperating with authority figures and falsely confessing.

    Aside from prosecutors’ ambition, institutional factors exist which make presumption of innocence a hollow promise. One of the most obvious of these (and one that greatly increases the cost of capital punishment before any appeals occur) is the requirement that abolitionist jurors who won’t consider a death sentence are screened from the jury pool and forbidden from serving.

    This creates a jury that is pre-selected to be inclined at least in the abstract towards death sentences. In practice juries in death-penalty trials tend to favor conviction and to disbelieve the defense.”

    It is hardly a stretch to assume that some innocent people have in fact been executed in Illinois, based on their seriously flawed legal system…

  21. Rifkin

    ELAINE: [I]”Illinois recognized their legal system was extremely flawed and [B]it was executing too many innocent people[/B][/i].”

    RICH: [i]”Really? I looked this up. I could not find one person in Illinois who was innocent and was executed. I think [b]your statement is mistaken.”[/b][/i]

    None of the people you looked up were executed, Elaine. Not one. Yet you stated that Illinois “was executing too many innocent people.”

  22. Rifkin

    [i]”Davis was likely an innocent victim of a coerced confession who was executed in Illinois in 1995.”[/i]

    My bad. This one was executed. I don’t know anything about the case, as to whether he was really not guilty.

  23. Mind_hunter53

    I am enjoying the dialogue. To clarify a point made earlier, prisoners who are condemned are kept in a death row unit, single celled, and separated from the general population. The moment they no longer are condemned, they are reclassified and will serve their sentences in the general population of a level three or four prison. Statistics indicate that the average number of victims of a killer exceeds one. If a man is serving life without parole in a state without a death penalty, subsequent murderers committed by that individual essentially go unpunished (unless one considers temporary loss of television, commissary, and yard privileges sufficient.) Another point I wish to make is that inmates, even in the tightest administration segregation units or security housing units attempt to assault staff during feedings, cell extractions, mental health and medical interviews, and when medication is provided to them. Many have little else that they contemplate other than the chance to get to a staff member, rival gang member, or someone believed to be a sex offender or registrant. Now don’t misunderstand me — I am not saying all inmates doing life without parole are this way, but many are. Many are young, very very angry, and want to prove their worth — and the only path they see is being recognized by their peers by engaging in acts of extreme violence.

  24. David M. Greenwald

    Rich: The problem with looking at the overall murder rate is that what we are really looking at is the marginal increase in the murder rate if instead of executing people, we hold them in prison for the rest of their lives. So you would have to determine what the murder rate is among LWPP inmates and then extrapolate that the population of those on death row who are returned to general population. I just don’t think you are looking at a huge difference.

  25. Mind_hunter53

    Relative to the above comment: “you would have to determine what the murder rate is among LWPP inmates and then extrapolate that the population of those on death row who are returned to general population

    Would you not agree that the analysis should encompass all serious assaults and other violent acts leading to great bodily injury committed by such individuals once they are returned to the general population?

  26. Roger Rabbit

    Superman: OK I will make it clearer for those that can’t connect the dots:

    [quote]Really, that’s the biggest con in your opinion…not the possibility of an innocent person being executed? [/quote]

    That is the point, when ego and politics get involved then the system does not work and the possibility of an innocent person getting the death penalty goes up.

    The rules minimize this, but like in Reisig’s crooked world to win at all cost, like many other DA’s across the land, when the rules are not enforced and there is not repercussion for twisting or bending them, that is the risk of an innocent person getting the DP.

    That is why the Juror’s are the last line of defense and they need to question the DA / state at every step of the way to ensure any gaps or confusion in evidence, testimony or tricks by DA’s go in favor of the defendant.

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