Showing posts with label death penalty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label death penalty. Show all posts

19 March 2017

Florida News – Sudden Death Edition

by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard Death and Texas

Florida’s corporate prisons face a major problem. Our inmate population is so huge that even a death a day from guards and other inmates can’t cure the overload. We proudly possess the second largest death row in the nation and we can’t kill the convicted fast enough. Believe me, Florida tries and we compete fiercely.

Surmounting our rivalry with Texas came with bitter disappointment. Just as we pulled ahead of the Lone Star State, California came from behind to pass us both. That sound of gnashing teeth means we’re still NÂș 2.

The Supreme Court keeps telling us our capital punishment statutes aren’t constitutional. Hey, as long as jurors had a ⅚ majority and it was fishing season, we were good to kill. We didn’t need no stinking 100% unanimosity. If a misguided jury decided the accused didn’t deserve death, our statutes allowed a hanging judge (who in Florida isn’t?) to override those wussy jurors and impose a death penalty anyway. How dare the Supreme Court tell us that’s not fair!

The Florida legislature raced forward and not only patched statutes making it easier to execute, they also enhanced the Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law, making it even easier for Floridians to kill each other and stray tourists caught in the crosshairs, not that anyone bothers aiming.

Originally, like Britain and most of North America, we relied upon the Castle Defense, a code aimed toward preserving life. If your land or your home was invaded, your first duty was to retreat, phone 911, and fire a warning shot if you were armed. You weren’t authorized to kill unless you were in imminent danger.

The Shoot First / Stand Your Ground law changed that. The NRA didn’t like the idea of strategically retreating and especially didn’t want good ammo going to waste. The SF/SYG law allowed you to shoot anyone who trespassed or stood in your way if you felt fearful. As has been noted, the legislation was written by white people for white people. Whereas a few hundred citizens have escaped prosecution or conviction, ask black folks how well that law worked for them.

Flush with the heaving, panting bosomy excitement of seeing the SF/SYG metastasize across the country, Florida decided it could do better. The new, enhanced law, making its way through the Florida legislature, adds new benefits for lucky gun owners.
  1. Just as SF/SYG removed the requirement of first attempting to retreat, the new and improved revision says you won’t even have to stand your ground. You could actively pursue your victim, er, fear-causing-person.
  2. In the original SF/SYG incarnation, you merely had to show you were afraid. The revision places the onus on police and prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the use of deadly force was not justified. A perpetrator relying upon the new law, could without risk, ask for a hearing, claim self-defense, ask a judge for immunity from criminal and civil prosecution, and thus short-circuit a trial.
  3. If (2) seems in conflict with (1), don’t worry your pretty little non-Floridian head about facts and logic. (2) still applies.

Choice and Challenge

Along comes a bad guy named Markeith Loyd. He’s big, he’s scary, he’s black. He kills his pregnant girlfriend and goes on the lam, as golden-age crime novels say. While visiting a WalMart a few minutes from my house, he and a lady cop, Sgt. Debra Clayton, recognize each other. Before she can react, he shoots– kills her– and continues on the lam.

Markeith Loyd
Markeith Loyd © Orlando Sentinel
In mid-January, authorities captured the fugitive after he discarded his weapons and surrendered, then sustained “minor facial injuries as he resisted officers,” according to Orlando Police Chief John Mina. While I’m cynical about how he gave up and subsequently obtained facial injuries, I’m pleased to report police didn’t overreact.

Florida polished its latest in capital killing laws and salivated at the prospect of frying Loyd in the ‘new’ Old Sparky. If anyone deserved electric execution, Mr. Loyd did. As some might argue, he merited death writhing in ‘the chair’, his hair smoking, skin cooking, eyes bulging and face contorting so much executioners close the curtains to the sensitive in the viewing room.

And then…

Aramis Ayala
Aramis Ayala © Blue Lives Matter
Orange/Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala, did the unthinkable. The first and only black State Attorney elected in Florida said enough, no more will I seek the death penalty. Quoting concerns about the latest version of Florida's death statute, she correctly added no evidence shows the death penalty improves public safety for citizens or law enforcement, it's costly and drags on for years for victims' families. Despite a spurious claim from the Governor's office, at no time did she say she wouldn't fight for justice– quite the opposite in fact.

Virtually everyone in the Sunshine State gasped in horror. All turned against her… women, men, black, white, Florida Republicans and Democrats (all four of them). Kinder blogs called her misguided. Some claimed she was blinded by BLM. The cruder, calloused, and clamorous referred to her as a traitor… and worse. One man is floating a petition demanding the Governor fire her.

Who couldn’t understand Police Chief Mina’s anger? Who could blame the families of the two women killed if they too were frustrated? No one could, not even Aramis Ayala.

One trait her multitude of opponents couldn’t accuse her of was a lack of bravery. She appears tiny but holds an outsized heart… in the senses of commitment, compassion and fortitude. People like her take the heat but eventually help turn the tide toward justice. Think of those who preceded her who just said no:
  • the suffragette who sought the right to vote.
  • the woman who wouldn’t sit in the back of the bus.
  • the little girl who attended school surrounded by the National Guard.
  • the teen who protested the Vietnam War.
  • the Son of Man alone in the Garden of Gethsemane.
She gave a comprehensive well-reasoned explanation for her decision without mentioning moral issues or her personal feelings on the topic. While fully cognizant of the desire for revenge and retribution, I admire what Aramis Ayala is trying to accomplish as she stands alone. That doesn’t negate the feelings of victims’ colleagues, family and friends, but her decision makes her a heroine… even if she’s wrong…but history says she isn’t.

The drama was far from over.

Our corrupt Governor Rick Scott (I use that term advisedly about a man who committed the largest fraud in Medicare/Medicaid in history and was fined $1.7-billion) read the polls and flew into a rage. He pulled Aramis Ayala from prosecution. Scott installed his own minion to erect the legal scaffolding around Markeith Loyd and grease the skids to the death chamber in that jewel of Florida, beautiful, exciting Raiford.
To reiterate, Gov. Scott removed a duly elected official from my county and substituted his own choice of prosecutor, subverting yet again our election process.
Could a defense attorney argue on appeal that Florida’s governor stacked the deck against the defendant? It would take someone with far more legal knowledge and imagination than I to construct such an argument, but clearly the governor is not above meddling in the legal system, a dangerous precedent. Ayala has received some support from state attorneys and at least one public defender who question Scott's subverting the election process and pressuring state lawyers to do his bidding.

Wait! We have good news! Florida is back on track for executions. With luck, the day may come when we no longer defensively chant, “We’re Number 2! We’re Number 2! We’re Number 2!”

Oh! If you feel like killing someone, come to Florida where your chance of prosecution is rapidly diminishing. We need the tourism dollars.

30 July 2015

Of Mice and Men, Again

by Eve Fisher

A few weeks ago I did another weekend-long Alternatives to Violence (AVP) workshop at the pen.  As always, I came back dragging.  Three days is a long time, and it's a hard time, but then again, I wouldn't miss it for the world.  There are infinitely worse ways of spending my time.  (I know; I've done it.)

The workshop was crowded:  21 of us jammed into a 10 x 12 room.  All ages, races, religions, crimes.  Quite a mix.  There are always those who drive you crazy, those who give you hope, those who you want to never see again, and those who break your heart.  I'll never forget the very young man who said that maybe meth wasn't all bad:  at least when he did meth with his dad, his dad talked to him...

This time the heartbreaker was a mentally handicapped young man, whom I will call Lennie.  He had a great time at the workshop.  As I said later on, "AVP is one of the few places where adults will play nicely with him."  And where he won't get made fun of, or insulted, or shoved around, or robbed, or beaten up, or raped, or killed.  We generally have a Lennie in every workshop:  They might not understand AVP, but they know it's safe.  And there aren't that many safe places in prison for the weak, the elderly, the physically or mentally ill, the physically or mentally handicapped.

First, some statistics:  according to Kaiser Health News, 73% of women and 55% of men in state prisons have at least one mental health problem; it's 61% of women and 44% of men in federal prisons; and 75% of women and 63% of men in local jails.
http://kaiserhealthnews.org/news/by-the-numbers-mental-illness-jail/

Those are pretty horrendous statistics. And when we come to addiction:  well, 65% of all inmates meet the criteria for addiction, and alcohol and other drugs are "significant factors in all crimes, including 78 percent of violent crimes, 83 percent of property crimes and 77 percent of public order, immigration or weapons offenses as well as probation and parole violations." http://thenationshealth.aphapublications.org/content/40/3/E11.full

As Alex Briscoe, the health director for Alameda County in northern California, said “We’ve, frankly, criminalized the mentally ill, and used local jails as de facto mental health institutions."

"Prison crowded" by California Department of Corrections - http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/News/background_info.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prison_crowded.jpg#/media/File:Prison_crowded.jpg
Briscoe's right.  We've criminalized the mentally ill.  Even worse, we've criminalized the mentally handicapped, lumping them in with the mentally ill, which they're not.  For one thing, there is no pill or therapy that will ever "cure" or "treat" the mentally handicapped or make them "normal".  Look at Lennie.  About 10 years old, mentally.  Laughing his head off at every joke that he could understand, and most that he couldn't.  Having the time of his life whenever we did a Light & Lively exercise (silly games, but one of the ways we loosen people up and get the blood flowing; plus - hint! - laughing people learn more than bored people).  Lennie was constantly trying to be helpful, from handing out pencils, to reminding me to turn on the coffeepot, to picking up the trash, and so happy when you thanked him.

Yes, Lennie's been convicted of a crime, but he swore he didn't do it.  He might be right.  He might have made an easy scapegoat for someone else.  (It's been known to happen.)  He also might not have understood what he did, or what he was actually convicted of.  I've run into that before, too.  I've also met Lennies who had no idea at all why they were there - just that something bad had happened, and they were locked up.

I don't know which of these is worse.  What I do know is that putting a Lennie in prison doesn't do any kind of good, unless the idea really is for them to be repeatedly assaulted, robbed, humiliated, raped, and/or killed.  Again, there are no medications that will make Lennie more than 10 years old. He will never get "better".  He will never "learn his lesson," "pay his debt to society" or "grow up" because he can't, and there isn't a damn thing that can ever be done to make that happen.

OfMiceAndMen.jpgSo what do you do with Lennie?  In my perfect world, Lennie would be in a group home, where he can be given care in a safe, structured, respectful environment where adults will let him play games.  But putting Lennie in prison is as cruel as taking your 10 year old child, or grandchild - no matter what they did - and putting that child in prison and saying, "Well, that's the way the justice system works".  Or, "Yes, a group home would be better, but we just don't have the resources for it."  If that's our justice system, it sucks so much swamp water, we've got alligators. And if we don't have the resources - i.e., money - for such things, again I ask, what is money for?

To be honest, if this is the best we can do, and if there isn't going to be any change...   What is right?  What is just?  What is cruel and unusual?  What do you do when the situation is hopeless?

All I can think of is the ending in Of Mice and Men:
The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again...  Slim came directly to George and sat down beside him, sat very close to him.  "Never you mind," said Slim. "A guy got to sometimes."   - John Steinbeck, "Of Mice and Men."



02 October 2011

The Crime of Capital Punishment

by Leigh Lundin

capital punishment
In mystery stories, the crime story typically ends with the detective's dénouement explaining how he arrived at his conclusions. In some of the 1940s radio plays, the protagonist might even chortle: "Old Sparky will electrify you, Eli!" or "It's the gallows for you, Gusman!"

In real life, this can be the point when the plot intensifies if it's believed detectives or the prosecutor got it wrong. And, in a surprising number of cases, they do. Common wisdom argues a tiny fraction are mistaken, but common wisdom is wrong. Looking only at DNA cases, the State of Illinois discovered one in sixteen condemned men were innocent, but cases of actual innocence could be double that. Experts extrapolate that as many as one in eight men sent to their deaths may be innocent. If they're right, three hundred currently on death row might not be guilty.

That number may be extremely conservative because the Innocence Project exonerated 250 men by February of last year. The pace is slowing… in many cases there is no DNA to connect the crime with the accused but, according to Innocence Project statistics, eyewitness identification erred in an astonishing 70% of their cases. Even in up-close-and-personal rape, identification is often wrong.

The Court of Lost Appeal

Another reason the pace is slowing is that prosecutors and courts throw up impediments to testing. Prosecutors sometimes 'lose' evidence or launch legal arguments to prevent testing.

In Kafkaesque rulings two years ago, the Supreme Court slapped down the Innocence Project. They held that prisoners have no right to post-conviction DNA testing. The Supreme Court expressed deep disdain when DNA was used to exonerate. In dismissing exculpatory DNA evidence, one of the justices wrote that forensic science has "serious deficiencies". Chief Justice Roberts expressed a fear that post-conviction DNA testing risks "unnecessarily overthrowing the established system of criminal justice."

Finality

In middle school, we're taught the accused are considered innocent until adjudged guilty. This remains true even though the prosecution comes to court with several advantages and the defense is often, well, defensive.

To this Court, 'finality'– the court's term for closure– is more important than accuracy. As law professor General Beishline said, "If you've come to the law seeking justice, you've come to the wrong church."

The AEDPA, Gingrinch legislation signed into law by President Clinton, prohibits federal courts from remedying miscarriages of justice. The AEDPA rendered federal courts powerless to correct state courts' misinterpretations of U.S. constitutional and federal law. Judges may try to step outside legalities to set matters to right, but few judges are willing to risk their careers. They are, after all, subject to elections and reappointments.

execution of Chicago anarchists
Execution of 'Anarchists', Chicago, 1887     (credit: ChicagoHistory.org)

Savvy and Savaging Politics

Arkansas: Capital punishment makes good politics. During his first presidential campaign, Governor Bill Clinton returned to Little Rock to sign the death warrant of a mentally deficient man (who was saving his pecan pie until after his execution). Clinton may have had in mind the lessons of another governor, Michael Dukakis who'd cleared the way for Willie Horton to be freed.

Florida: Our Florida governor Bob Martinez started signing death warrants his first full day in office as quickly as they were slapped on his desk. When it appeared he would lose re-election, he ramped up executions against international protests. Several legal experts are convinced he wittingly executed innocent men. As the Innocent Project demonstrated significant numbers of the condemned were truly innocent, Florida (like North Carolina's Inquiry Commission) recently established a commission to review doubtful cases.

Texas: The last two governors of Texas who campaigned for president set records in numbers of executions. Both Governor Bush and Governor Perry asserted Texas never wrongfully executed anyone, ever. Governor Perry was so convinced, he shut down a state investigation by the somewhat gutless Texas Forensic Science Commission that was looking into doubtful convictions. As writer J.D. Bell said, "If Perry was certain of Texas' infallibility in assuring the guilt of all 235 men sent to death during his gubernatorial reign, then there surely would be no reason to block a thorough investigation into Willingham's execution."

Illinois: Governor George Ryan has had his woes, but his legacy may have helped reshape capital punishment in the land of Lincoln. Once freed from political constraints, he turned his attention to the nearly 300 men on death row. In a matter of months, 18 were exonerated, not merely judged not guilty but proved not guilty.

electric chair
Two Wrongs

Almost as bad as executing the wrong man, the real perpetrator likely goes free. In the recent Troy Davis case, after seven witnesses recanted their stories, the remaining chief accuser against Davis was the most likely suspect. Calls for relief from conservatives and liberals, from religious and political leaders went unheeded. Psychologists contend his repeated trips to the execution chamber were a form of torture.

When witnesses recant, appeals courts and parole boards almost invariably take the position witnesses lie the second time. Though convenient for the prosecution, that psychology seems backwards to me. Transcripts coming out of parole hearings show boards strongly influenced by prosecution bias and seldom by the notion that a jury erred. Indeed, the last judge who looked over Troy Davis' new evidence and witness recantations agreed there was some little mitigation, but in the end wrote Davis failed to prove his absolute innocence and that repudiations were "smoke and mirrors."

Make a Write

The English teacher in my tiny high school formed debate teams. I'm grateful to Miss Arthur's debates for a couple of reasons. First, I'm still amazed how often the fallacies taught in debate show up unchallenged on talk radio. Secondly, the exigencies of preparation forced me to thoroughly research the death penalty. For a multitude of reasons– ethical, technical, financial, and moral– I came away convinced capital punishment was wrong.

But mine isn't the final opinion— it is only mine. Yours may differ and feel welcome to talk about it here.
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