Shot in the Dark

Cranking Open The Big Brass Nozzle Of Truth Since 2002

Shot in the Dark


If there’s a subject on which I’ve taken more than my fair share of crap from fellow conservatives, it’s on the Death Penalty.

I support it for every possible reason, with one exception – the inevitability of executing the innocent.

There is no rational doubt that Cameron Todd Willingham was innocent of the arson murder for which he was executed in Texas in 2004; the “settled science” that convicted him of the murder of his sons turned out to be baked monkey doodle.

And even though the evidence against him read like an episode of Reno 911…

The sole survivor of an attack in which four people were murdered identified the perpetrators as three white men. The police ignored suspects who fit the description and arrested a young black man instead. He is now awaiting execution.

…it appears likely to happen again.

The whole piece is worth a listen- especially the part near 16:03 where the host and his guest (the NYTimes’ Nick Kristof) express amazement that this could happen in blue, liberal, Democrat California, on the watch of Jerry Brown and former state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Number Six

With the tragic resolution of the Wetterling case, we’re starting to see the inevitable flurry of calls for the return of the death penalty to Minnesota; it’s the same flurry we see after every grisly, heart-wrenching crime.

I’ve said it before; I support the death penalty for every reason but one.  And it is, unfortunately, an absolutely dispositive reason.

We’ll come back to that.

Walter Hudson, in PJM, attempts to debunk the five most common conservative objections to the death penalty.  I’ll list ’em; you can read ’em yourself:

  1. Government can’t be trusted
  2. Death is not an adequate punishment
  3. It’s cheaper to keep them alive
  4. Death is not a deterrent
  5. Life is precious.

And he does a good job with those five arguments.

But he – like Dennis Prager before him  – misses a sixth argument; the inevitability of executing innocent people.

Executing someone who was innocent of the crime for which they were condemned is the ultimate moral crime, presuming it’s avoidable.  And it is 100% avoidable; life in Supermax (from which nobody has ever escaped) is both absolute and, when an error is inevitably discovered, reversible.

Of course there are cases like Heinrich and Dahmer that are easy slam dunks. It’s the difficult cases, with circumstantial evidence and lots of moving parts, that make it difficult. Ignore them at your peril.

Now, to be fair Walter obliquely alludes to this in his first point about government incompetence:

Why have government at all? If they can’t get anything right, why trust them with any of it? This is silly. If people are being wrongly convicted, let’s stop that! We don’t fix that problem by nerfing sentences.

Walter states this as an “if”.  It’s not.

And it’s not just about government incompetence; there’s human nature, and even the foibles of “settled science”  as well.  For example, it‘s a dead lock that Cameron Todd Willingham was executed wrongly for the arson murder of his two kids – not because government was incompetent, but because it very competently prosecuted Willingham based on science that turned out to be completely erroneous.   Everyone knew that Arson science was “settled” when Willingham was convicted “beyond a reasonable doubt”.  Today, everyone knows that the old science was complete twaddle.

Now – go through the records of people who were convicted based on “hair strand analysis”, which was considered as solid as DNA in the sixties through the eighties, and is regarded as little better than phrenology these days.

Think about it.

Given the emotional, financal, political and legal realities of death penalty cases – they’re extremely emotionally charged, evidence is frequently circumstantial, the political benefits of executing people are large, the public defender budgets are small – it is inevitable that corners will be cut.

Next, Walter commits what I consider “taking a moral shortcut” – the old “wouldn’t you rather be  dead than in jail if you’re innocent?” question, which you’ll note is only asked by people who aren’t facing the business end of a needle, rightly or wrongly:

How is it better for someone to be falsely convicted to a life sentence than to be falsely convicted to a death sentence?Either way, it’s a false conviction. Are we to regard the world as a better place because an innocent person might spend his life in prison rather than be executed? Is that really the standard?

Yes.  It is standard, and a very good one.  The world is a better place, because an innocent person who might have been dead is still alive, still protesting his or her innocence, still has a chance to right the wrong against them – and all of us.

How about we focus on minimizing mistakes? How about we focus on making sound convictions?

Sure – let’s!

Except “mistakes”, incompetence, hubris, corruption, bad science, and just plain human error – are always with us.  Thinking we can just think them out of existence is magical thinking.  Appeals to magical thinking are appealing responses to ethical conundrums – like saying “how about we make cars perfectly safe before we build more roads”.  But innocent people have been, and inescapably still are, on death row today – because of bogus evidence (do you have any idea how many death sentences are based on evidence from jailhouse snitches looking for better deals?), or crummy defense, or unscrupulous prosecutors, or even good prosecutions in good faith based on evidence derived from science that turns out wrong, as in Willingham’s case.

So sure – let’s focus on making sound convictions.   But let’s not pretend that that’s an answer to mistaken executions, or that it’s a question that can be answered.

That seems like a much better plan than settling for a world where innocent people spend their remaining years in hell, and guilty people don’t get what they deserve.

Over 150 people have been released from death row in the past 43 years. Not given new trials – released from Death Row to the streets because they didn’t commit the crimes for which they were condemned.

I’ve heard of none of them bemoaning the fact that they’re alive rather than dead.

There are dozens of flimsy arguments against the death penalty, and many good arguments for it…

…and one argument against it.  And that argument is all it takes.

The Kill Cult

Joe Doakes from Como Park emailed me about something Glenn Reynolds wrote, that I wanted to write about anyway:

Libertarian, explained in six sentences:
“So, I’m skeptical of the death penalty’s administration because the criminal justice system is a disaster. But, assuming guilt, I don’t really care much about the morality of killing people. The nation-state is all about killing people. Its sole reason for existing is that it’s better at killing people in large numbers than any other form of human organization. If you don’t like the idea of the state killing people, you don’t like the idea of the state. If you don’t realize this, it’s because your thinking is confused.”

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit, 8:34 a.m. July 25, 2014

Far be it from me to disagree with the esteemed Prof. Reynolds, but I think it’s his thinking that’s confused.

We pay taxes to a state that excels at carrying out violence for the same reason we buy a pistol and get a carry permit; we are responding prudently to a threat by giving ourselves the means to defend ourselves, singularly and collectively, from what the law calls “an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm” or it’s state equivalent, conquest and destruction. Judgment is called for – but not “due process”.

I don’t necessarily trust the state to “get self-defense right”, but where the alternative is being conquered by someone much worse, I’ll accept the risks.

Criminal justice is not self-defense. It’s not about life or death (for the crime victim, anyway) – not anymore. The perp is in custody. It’s about making things right, which involves getting things right.

Except the state can’t get things right – not 100% of the time.

There is no alternative to self-defense – you live if it works, and if it doesn’t you die. There is a reasonable alternative to the state botching executions, or, worse, killing the wrong person entirely (as they have certainly done more than a few times).

I tolerate the idea of the state defending us imperfectly because there is no rational alternative. There are plenty of rational alternatives to the state botching the judicial execution.

There. I hope I’ve settled that once and for all.


A Louisiana man released from Death Row because…

…he didn’t commit the crime for which he spent 26 years on Death Row:

State District Judge Ramona Emanuel on Monday took the step of voiding Ford’s conviction and sentence based on new information that corroborated his claim that he was not present or involved in Rozeman’s death, Ford’s attorneys said. Ford was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in 1984 and sentenced to death.

“We are very pleased to see Glenn Ford finally exonerated, and we are particularly grateful that the prosecution and the court moved ahead so decisively to set Mr. Ford free,” said a statement from Gary Clements and Aaron Novod, the attorneys for Ford from the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana.

And why did Ford spend over a quarter century on Death Row? 

They said Ford’s trial had been “profoundly compromised by inexperienced counsel and by the unconstitutional suppression of evidence, including information from an informant.” They also cited what they said was a suppressed police report related to the time of the crime and evidence involving the murder weapon.

That may be the second-biggest problem with the death penalty (right behind “it’s irreversible”); since it’s usually involved in intensely emotional cases, and intense emotions mean lots of votes for district attorneys, these cases are often an invitation to cut corners on things like “due process” and stuff. 

The kicker?  This isn’t even rare.

Restatement Of Principles

I’ve opposed the death penalty for a long time.

I actually support it, for every reason but one – the inevitability of executing the wrong person (and it appears all but inevitable that there’s been at least one and possibly two erroneous executions in recent years).   Executing the wrong person is a double crime; society kills an innocent person, and a guilty party goes free, leaving a terrible crime unpaid-for.

So I oppose the death penalty for one reason, and one only.

But there are cases were, I gotta confess, I’m really just going through the motions.

(The suspect is innocent until proven guilty)


People ask me why I oppose the death penalty

I say “because of the inevitability that we’ll convict and execute an innocent person, which is both morally wrong and absolutely avoidable”.

The reply is “give me some reasons to believe that could ever happen”.

And I respond “I’ve got 141 of them since they re-legalized the death penalty.  Including one very recently“.

“But they were never executed!  The system works!”

“Well, not for this guy.  They’re down to arguing over which judge has the legal standing to declare him innocent, which is  welfare for lawyers, and is just delaying the inevitable; crap  science and incompetent, lazy prosecutors killed an innocent man.  So what do we do about that?”

“Cut down on frivolous appeals!”


I’ll Make An Exception

As most of you know, I oppose the death penalty.

And even that’s not quite right – I favor it for every reason but one – the inevitability that an innocent person will, between human imperfection, the politics of the prosecution system, bad defense, the emotions of death-penalty cases and just plain bad luck, be executed.

(And I was right about that).

But I’m writing today to say I’m willing to make an exception. Someone busted out Willy’s American Guitars in Saint Paul.

That’s like plundering the Vatican; like jacking up Graceland.

There is no punishment cruel or unusual enough for these people, when they’re caught.

A Firebrand’s Work Is Never Done

So at the convention last night, we were debating one of the final resolutions of the evening – a proposal by a delegate to remove language supporting the Death Penalty in the current GOP platform.

It wasn’t my resolution – I submitted two at the caucuses, both of which passed easily – but I spoke in favor, for reasons discussed elsewhere in this blog.  Now, “speeches” around resolutions are pretty limited; two in favor, two against, generally short; they’re never what you’d call “great oratory”.  Mine was something like “I support the death penalty for every reason but one – the inevitability of human error.  Now, in the 34 years since the Supreme Court reinstated the Death Penalty, there’ve been over 200 complete exonerations – as in, people who were considered guilty beyond a reasonable doubt that were released directly from death row.  And it now seems absolutely certain that Texas executed an innocent man.  Since government can’t even fill in potholes correctly, should we trust them with the power of life and death?”

A woman a few rows in front of me rose to speak for the resolution.  “That just seems wrong, saying the government can’t get anything right.  Aren’t we the part of possibilities?”

The rules didn’t allow me to respond to the response, so I couldn’t leap to my feet and say “NO! We are the party that believes the people are capable of anything they set their mind to, and the government is too stupid to trust with a cardboard knife!”

We are, indeed, a huge tent.


This story passed almost un-noticed in the past three weeks:  John Evander Couey is dead.  He passed away due to complications from anal cancer on September 30.

Couey was convicted of kidnapping nine-year-old Jessica Lunsford and burying her alive.

Couey took Jessica from her bedroom to his nearby trailer in February 2005, triggering a massive search. The third-grader’s body was found about three weeks later in a grave in Couey’s yard, only about 150 yards from her home.

Her body was found under a foot of dirt wrapped in two garbage bags. She had poked holes through the bags with her fingers, although her hands were bound with wire. She was still clutching her favorite stuffed animal, a purple dolphin.

While I’ve written that I oppose the death penalty for the solitary principle that executing the innocent is far worse than letting the guilty sit in jail for life, there was no doubt whatsoever about Couey’s guilt.   I had planned, in all sincerity, to host a party on Couey’s execution date.   I’ll confess to hoping that his execution would have been botched very, very badly.

God forgives.  So I hope He’ll forgive me for hoping that there’s a Hell, and that Couey is getting signed up for their 401K right now.

Kill The Death Penalty

This post is an expansion of a comment in a thread way down below.  Partly because my monkeying with my code this morning put a crimp in my morning blogging schedule.  Partly because the subject deserves it.

I oppose the death penalty, not because I break with most conservatives on the issue, but  because I am a conservative.

Stay with me on this one.

Conservatism is about upholding time-honored truths.

One of those truths is that the individual – one of the “Free Association of Equals” that our society is supposed to be, in the conservative view of things – is of supreme importance, and should be protected from the excesses of government. It’s why we conservative natter on about things like the Tenth Amendment – because we uphold the worth of the individual; there are some things that, to protect the individual, the government should just stay out of.

This directly contradicts the notion that individuals are “eggs” to be broken in the interest of the state’s convenience to make a social “omelet”. Frequent liberal commenter “RickDFL”’s left a remark in the comment section yesterday, that actually sent me looking for a remark about eggs and omelets that I coulda sworn Lenin or Stalin or Mao or Hitler made. No dice – the closest I got was Stalin’s “one death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic” – but Rick (I puke in my mouth a little bit in writing this) is right; it’s something one of them would say.

Conservatives do believe that the pursuit of good requires sacrifice; the Americans who died at Omaha Beach and Gettysburg and Chosin Reservoir were also of incalculable value, and they did nothing to deserve what happened except serving their country, and their loss was a tragedy for all of us. But they died (most of us believe) for a greater good, in a time and a place and for a cause for which there was no alternative, and which helped bring immense good as a result.

Killing an innocent person to “deter” the guilty? It brings no good (the guilty party goes free forever!) (I mean, what DA is going to say “oops – killed the wrong guy the first time! Let’s try this again!”), there is an alternative, and, lest we forget, it kills an individual who did no wrong – which is exactly who this society is supposed to protect.

And it echoes Andrea Dworkin (or Catherine McKinnon?  Jeff Fecke?  I get confused) who said it’d be “good” if men got falsely imprisoned for rape, to make all the real rapists a little more afraid. It’s an idea straight out of the worst of the French Revolution (which had no problem executing the innocent “pour l’encourager les autres“), carried on via Stalin and Hitler and Mao and Pol Pot.

Hypothetically, if the system could be “perfected”, would I support it? Sure. But that’s another tenet of conservatism; mankind can never be perfected; the hypothetical is pointless. And to a conservative, protecting people from the problems that human imperfection brings to government drives what government is supposed to do – including impelling government to back out of big parts of our society.

So since…

  1. Mankind – including prosecutors and the police – can never be perfected, and…
  2. these imperfections kill the innocent, and…
  3.  killing the innocent is immeasurably evil, and…
  4.  since a foolproof alternative exists that surely and swiftly punishes the guilty (remember – life in supermax without parole begins at sentencing; death takes an average of 12 years) while protecting the innocent, and…
  5. protecting the innocent is one of society’s supreme goods, then…

…abolishing the death penalty is supremely conservative.

To me, the logic of my stance depends on the five interconnected points above – all drawn from orthodox conservative beliefs to a finely-polished “t”.  If you want to disagree, by all means do it in the comment section.  But if you can’t successfully attack that five-point chain of logic, I’m not sure you’ll get a lot of traction with me.

Why I Oppose the Death Penalty: Part CCXLII

The reliability and justice of the death penalty is only as the integrity of the prosecutors who press for it.

And as we see in this case, we have a way to go:

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that 51-year-old Albert Johnson had been arrested for the brutal rape and murder of two three-year-old girls in the 1990s. Johnson had been an early suspect in both cases, but despite the fact that the state had samples of his DNA on file for more than a decade, it never bothered to test it against the DNA found in the little girls.

That’s because Mississippi District Attorney Forrest Allgood decided early on in both cases that he had his man, and little could convince him otherwise. One of those men is Kennedy Brewer, a mentally handicapped man who served more than a decade on Mississippi’s Death Row, then served another five years even after DNA evidence had cleared him. Allgood insisted on retrying Brewer anyway, arguing that bite marks on the little girl’s body matched Brewer’s teeth.

Curiously, Allgood resisted testing the DNA from the crime scene against that of a man he had earlier convicted of an eerily similar crime—another rape and murder of a young girl in the same area. It now seems clear why Allgood resisted the test. As it turns out, the man he’d convicted for that crime, Levon Brooks, is innocent, too. Brooks had been sentenced to life in prison.

Hood is expected to announce on Thursday that Brewer has been completely exonerated. A similar announcement for Brooks could also come Thursday, or perhaps a few days after.

Science – DNA testing, in this case – might be a cure for human imperfection.  But as we’ve seen, it takes more than science to fight duplicity and depravity.

Death Penalty and National Self-Esteem

So I was reading this week-old op-ed by Vince Beiser in the Strib, about the arc the Death Penalty has had in this country over the past forty or so years.

Beiser notes that the Death Penalty withered away on its own, for a while; indeed, in 1968 there were no executions in the US.  The Supreme Court stopped executions in 1972.

And then…:

But just a few years later, the nation began an astonishing about-face. The Supreme Court reopened the door to capital punishment in 1976, launching an era in which the country didn’t just bring back the death penalty, it feverishly embraced it…What happened? By the mid-1970s, much of middle America was deeply uneasy about how the very fabric of society seemed to be unraveling. Drug use and crime were rising; minorities, women and homosexuals were demanding more power and respect. And the mighty United States was humiliated, first in Vietnam and later by Iranian hostage-takers.

In this milieu, politicians increasingly learned that crime could pay — for them.

Shocking – a political expedient being embraced by petty politicians.

And yet, starting a few years later, the United States took some political prozac, got out of its national funk and, today, 25 years later, are doing pretty well; compared to the rot and malaise of the 70’s, the misery of the pre-Reagan years I remember growing up, we’re doing fantastic.  And crime – media hype aside – dropped.
And now…:

Today, however, the nation is again losing its enthusiasm for capital punishment…Although about two-thirds of all Americans still support capital punishment in principle, that number is considerably lower than what it was just five years ago. In practice, we’re ever more reluctant to impose it. That’s largely because of the more than 100 men and women who have been freed from death row in recent years, thanks to DNA testing and other advances. That shocking proof of the system’s fallibility also has made juries, judges, prosecutors and politicians much more wary about pushing for the ultimate punishment.

Correlation does not equal causation, of course – but it’s interesting to note that peaks in capital punishment seem to be associated with troughs in national self-image, and vice versa.  During the Depression, Death Rows were humming; during the long post WWII boom, they slowed way down and, 23 years after the war as the US was on the way to the moon, stopped.  During the aftermath of Watergate, stagflation, Iran and the other detritus of the Carter meltdown, it boomed again.  And now – troubled as we are, but still generally in a good national mood (compared with the nadir we endured 30 years ago) – it seems to be going out of fashion.

The ingredients for a resurgence seem to be out there, though:

According to Amnesty International, 133 countries have abolished the death penalty. Last month, the United Nations voted for a worldwide moratorium on capital punishment.

And since we have a depressingly-likely shot at getting an overly UN-influenced government in place in Washington in November, the national self-image will peak and start back toward the trough by mid-2009.

It’s A Dangerous World

Craig’s List has been the source of a few really bad dates and some really great deals on household stuff.

But naturally, there’s a dark side

Katherine Ann Olson had answered online ads for nanny jobs before without trouble. But one posted on the popular website for a job in Savage may have cost the young woman her life.

Olson, 24, was found dead in the trunk of her car at a Burnsville park late Friday night. She was last seen by friends on Thursday morning, when she went to meet someone in Savage about the job, which authorities said she had found on Craigslist.

As a father of a daughter who’s a few years away from going out into the world, the story is both heartbreaking and alarmng.

This quote from Olson’s mother kills me:

“We grieve even more because of what the world has lost. Not just for us, but for all these other people she would have touched,” said Nancy Olson, her face still speckled with glitter from holding a Mother’s Day card Katherine made for her a few years ago.

“Parents get to raise a child and then release them to the world. And now she’s gone to the next world,” Nancy Olson said. “We’ve had her for the time we had her. And now we’ve given her away.”

It’s hard to really add anything.

A 19-year-old Savage [“]man[“] who police believe placed the ad is being held in the Scott County jail pending charges. Authorities did not release his name but said charges could be filed as soon as today.

While I still oppose the death penalty on principle, I will applaud the first yegg who jams a shiv into the guy’s chest if he’s found guilty.


I was pretty smug about what I believed when I went to college.

There, I encountered a number of professors who agreed with my smug, self-satisfied beliefs – and one who challenged them, assaulted them, turned them on their heads.

Of course, I went into college a liberal – and Doctor Blake was a self-described “monarchist”. Doctor Blake cajoled me into reading Crime and Punishment, Modern Times by Paul Johnson, The Gulag Archipelago, and PJ O’Rourke’s essays (the ones that later became Republican Party Reptile). I entered college as a kid who had been just too young to vote in 1980 – and in 1984 I voted for Reagan (and in 1996 may have done it again, although I don’t remember).

The challenge to my “beliefs” was a whack up side my intellectual head. It was also one of the things I went to college for in the first place.

Of course, Dr. Blake wasn’t on a mission to create young Republicans – indeed, I barely remember him discussing current events or politics in class. He was not on a mission to indoctrinate kids, and while when called upon he did talk about why he was a Republican and why the Democrats were wrong, it was never as an abuse of his position, at the front of a classroom.

Which is where the line needs to be – and all too often isn’t.
So as I join with King Banaian and Janet Beihoffer in hoping you can attend Indoctrinate U at the Oak Street Cinema starting this evening, I’ll also draw your attention to the latest Katherine Kersten piece. Not every professor, it seems, is as forebearing as Dr. Blake:

t’s become a common complaint that U.S. campuses are home to a stifling liberal orthodoxy where contrary beliefs are persecuted. Doyle says it’s no illusion.

A new film, “Indoctrinate U,” documenting that atmosphere, opens near campus tomorrow.

Bethany Dorobiala, a senior political science major at the U of M, knows just what Doyle is talking about. Dorobiala was one of the few students who agreed to speak on the record about the problem.

In many courses, Dorobiala says, professors load up reading lists with books that reflect their ideological agenda. “If you speak up in class and present an alternative view, you may risk being ridiculed by a professor twice your age with a PhD.,” she said. “Students who agree with the professor’s politics are regularly praised and encouraged.”

Dorobiala has encountered this disregard for intellectual diversity in classes outside of political science. “In geology class, I had a teacher who made side comments bashing President Bush,” she said. A rigid orthodoxy prevails on issues as disparate as the death penalty and global warming, she says, and some professors regularly pontificate on topics outside their discipline.

Read the whole thing. Check out the movie.

Challenge is good. Abuse is bad.

Limits of Dogma

In the past, I’ve been open about the fact that I support the death penalty for every reason but one; the likelihood – indeed, the inevitability of eventually executing an innocent person.  When there is any conceivable doubt – and the fact that 200 people have been exonorated from death row in the past 31 years means that doubt is very conceivable – the fact that life in a supermax is every bit as secure as death and is reversable makes it much more acceptable.

But for all of that, I say this to you today; when they finally stomp John Evander Couey from the face of this earth for burying Jessica Lunsford alive, I will throw a party at my house.

Just saying that I’ll put my quibbles about capital punishment aside, now that Couey’s been sentenced to death.

No Do-Overs

On few issues do I get as much crap from fellow conservatives as my stance on the Death Penalty.

I support the death penalty for every possible reason, except one; the likelihood of executing the innocent.  And that, as it happens, is dispositive to me.  Since an equally-safe-to-the-public method – life in Supermax – exists, there is no moral reason to use the death penalty until such a time as humans are very nearly perfect.

And as Flash shows in the latest of the over fifty cases such cases that have cropped up since the return of the Death Penalty in 1977, we’re nowhere close to perfect yet, citing a WaPo article on a stay of execution in the case of Troy Davis, who was scheduled to die…today.

Oops.  That coulda been embarassing:

The prosecution’s case against Davis, 38, has crumbled in the 16 years since he was sentenced to death for shooting a police officer working a security detail in Savannah. Most of the key witnesses in Davis’s trial have recanted their testimony, and some have said they lied under police pressure.

Given that Death Row is no more secure than Supermax, what precisely does the public lose by demanding “perfection” – guilt beyond a rational doubt – in such cases?  Or abolishing capital punishment altogether?

200 Reversals

As has been noted many times in this space, I suppor the death penalty for every possible reason except one – the possibility, indeed (given human nature) likelihood of executing the innocent.

And that is the only problem that matters; since life incarceration without parole is every bit as secure as the death penalty, and gets the prisoner just securely off the streets as death – and is reversible, if an error happens – then as much as I believe some criminals genuinely deserve death, it is the only genuinely moral approach.

Especially given this bit of news; DNA testing has just yielded its’ 200th complete exoneration:

The details of the latest exoneration are typically nightmarish: Jerry Miller served 25 years for a rape conviction and had already been paroled when DNA tests showed he could not have been the man who attacked a woman in a Chicago parking garage.

What’s also troubling is how common these exonerations have become since the first reversal in 1989. It took 13 years to reach the first 100 DNA exonerations, but just five to double that number. For prosecutors and judges, as well as defense attorneys, the exonerations raise a larger question: How many others, innocent of their crimes, are behind bars?

Advocates for extensive changes in the way cases are investigated and prosecuted see the 200 as the tip of a huge iceberg and use the word “epidemic.”

And if it’s truly that big a problem (and I allow in advance that it is in the various DNA, anti-death-penalty and reform advocates’ interest for us to think that it is), doesn’t that strike hard at the validity of the death sentence, at the very least?  If not the way prosecuting attorneys handle cases on a shockingly broad basis?

Where Jubilation Is Due

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I oppose the death penalty for one reason, and one reason only; the likelihood of executing the innocent. 

And of course, when people are executed for crimes of which there’d seem to be very little doubt – Saddam Hussein, for example – I’ve solemnly intoned that I find no joy in the execution of the sentence.

That is true.

But I’ll make an exception for this piece of filth:

Jurors deliberated about four hours before returning the verdict against John Evander Couey in the slaying of Jessica Lunsford, who was snatched from her bedroom in 2005 about 150 yards from the trailer where Couey had been living.

Her body was found in a shallow hole, encased in two black plastic trash bags. She had suffocated, and was found clutching a purple stuffed dolphin.

As the father of a two kids who watched the whole horrible, miserable spectacle of the kidnapping, the investigation and the arrest of this piece of animated rot, I will celebrate, boisterously, when Couey is finally excised from this earth.  If the needle goes in wrong and he endures one of those long, painful executions that the media occasionally barbers and phumphers about, I’ll buy a round for whatever table I’m sitting at.  If somehow Jeb Bush offers me the chance to dispatch him myself with a blunt knitting needle to the abdomen – so as to make Jack Bauer look like Mike Brady – I’ll take the challenge on with a smile, and pay my own airfare.

I will rejoice when Couey is executed, and possibly throw a party at the Berg house, and I won’t apologize to anyone about it. 

This, of course, is why we have an Eighth Amendment.  More’s the pity, in this instance.

That is all.

Rodriguez: Death

Alfonso Rodriguez the death penalty for the 2003 kidnapping, rape and murder of Dru Sjodin.

“Today is the most difficult day of my life,” U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said this morning in handing down the sentence.

He rejected a motion for a new trial.

Rodriguez abducted Sjodin in November 2003 from the parking lot of a mall in Grand Forks, N.D. Her body was found about six months later by a ravine near Crookston, Minn.

The case was tried in federal court because state lines were crossed when the crime was committed, which is why Rodriguez was eligible for the death penalty. Neither North Dakota nor Minnesota allow the death penalty in state prosecutions.

Rodriguez, 53, could be on death row for several years as appeals are made by his attorneys.

Sjodin was a native of Pequot Lakes, Minn.

While, as I’ve mentioned, I oppose the death penalty for one and only one reason – the systemic inevitability of eventually executing the wrong person – suffice to say I don’t think Rodriguez has any claim to be convicted in error. 

I won’t be celebrating his execution, but I won’t picket it, either.

Dead Pool

As noted many times in this space, I oppose the death penalty for exactly one reason; the likelihood, across 50 states and thousands of counties and 300 million people, of executing an innocent person.  As long as any chance of this exists, along with any acceptable alternate approach, capital punishment is to me morally unacceptable.

Presuming there’s a chance of innocence.

Which, I think almost everyone agrees isn’t the case with Hussein.

And I also usually eschew the ghoulish notion of the Dead Pool.  But for Hussein, and in honor of my Kurdish friends who will no doubt be celebrating soon, let’s do it.

Pick the date and time of Hussein’s death.  Leave it in the comments. 

I pick 3PM Central time tomorrow.  Not that I think it’s the most likely time, but these things seem to happen whenever the NARN gets off the air.

Your turn.

Misplaced Priorities

I support the death penalty in every possible way – except one . We’ve been through this before.  Ed and I talked about this a few weeks ago on the show, on the news that Missouri, California and Florida have enacted moritoria on the death penalty; we’re both unusual among conservatives in opposing the death penalty,  for reasons as different as we are.
One of those reasons is  not the welfare of the killers.  And it’s this misplaced soft-heartedness that animates this Strib editorial.

In California and Missouri, federal judges have ruled that the states’ procedures for putting inmates to death with lethal injections violate the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush has suspended executions after it took 34 apparently painful minutes for an inmate to die; the needle that was to feed a three-drug mix into his bloodstream missed his veins and instead pushed the drugs into soft tissue. Face it: Killing people humanely is all but impossible, and that’s a good reason to stop the practice entirely.

No, not really.  The Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment – the British colonists were as creative when it came to executing the condemned, burning and piling rocks on and drawing and quartering with the glee of little boys killing ripping the wings off moths; the founding fathers realized that a judicial system needed to remove gratuitous emotion from the legal system.

That executions get botched on occasion means that humans are fallible (and that the doctors that removed themselves from the death penalty system for hippocratic reasons are buying their peace of mind with the pain of the condemned prisoner whose injection is carried out by a less-qualified technician)k, not that the death penalty is wrong in and of itself.

…perhaps the American public is ready to accept that “humane executions” are a contradiction in terms and that the time has come finally to end this barbaric practice.

I really doubt it.  I think a lot of Americans would be happy to kill child killers Chinese-style, with a single bullet to the back of the head; humane, and emotionally gratifying.

Supporters of capital punishment ask why all the concern over the pain inmates feel when they are put to death. After all, they say, it’s less pain than the convicted murderers inflicted on their victims.

Indeed, but is that a justification anyone should take seriously? They inflicted great pain on their victims so we’re free to inflict pain on them? What does that make us?


Therein lies the central point, which death-penalty advocates frequently miss: At its heart, the capital punishment debate isn’t really about those put to death and whether they are comfortable. It’s about the American public and the values it desires to uphold, which play a large role in shaping society’s behavior. A society that kills people who kill people debases itself by cheapening life.

I must inevitably choke on the irony of a newspaper that supports abortion on demand making a statement like that.

No, there is one reason and one reason only that the death penalty is wrong – the inevitability of killing the innocent at some point or another, which would be vastly crueller than a botched injection; it kills an innocent person, and ensures the guilty will never pay for the crime.

I have no problem killing the right person.  The Eighth Amendment means we need to keep emotion and untrammelled vengeance out of the process.  That executions are botched is not a black mark on the death penalty, but a sign we need better executioners.

But since we can never guarantee with absolute 100% certitude that we’ve got the right person strapped to the gurney – and I do believe that the ethical case to accept nothing less than 100% is airtight – it should be a moot point.

A Rare Thing

I rarely disagree with Dennis Prager (although I’ve broken with him about abstinence and the death penalty in the past).

Less often still do I agree with Keith Ellison.

So mark your calendars; Ed and I are with Ellison on his current flap about taking his oath of office on the Quran.

Ed recaps some of the discussion we had on the NARN last Saturday:

Prager, who usually gets it right, got this issue spectacularly wrong. He wrote that any Congressman not willing to swear an oath on the Bible should not serve in Congress, and that the American fabric would suffer its worst damage since 9/11 if Ellison used the Qur’an instead of the Bible. This is utter nonsense. In the first place, the entire issue is somewhat moot since members have one ceremony where they all take the oath of office as a group on the floor of the House. The rules of the House, furthermore, allows for the use of an “affirmation” for those choosing not to swear their oaths as a religious preference — which demonstrates that America does have a tradition of tolerance for the needs of other religions in its processes. Quakers in particular take advantage of that option, although Richard Nixon swore his oath when elected as President.

Besides, if using a religious text for an oath has any significance at all — and our experience with courts and politics strongly suggests there isn’t much — one would suppose that it would have to be a religious text with significance to the person swearing the oath. Atheists would not feel bound by the power of Divine retribution if they swore their oath on the Bible and then broke it later. Similarly, Christians would not feel much responsibility for protecting the honor of the Qur’an if they swore their oath on that text. Why wouldn’t we want Ellison to swear his oath on the one religious text he holds sacred, if we want him to feel some responsibility for acting in its defense by fulfilling his oath?

If I were to swear an oath on the Quran, would it be worth the air I spent saying the words? Yes, it would, because my word means something, but the Quran bit would be superfluous;  I don’t observe the Quran, less perhaps than Ellison does the Bible. The oath of office is being sworn to give an implied verbal warranty to the officeholder’s beliefs, not the voters’.

But while Prager is less correct than usual on this issue, he’s still more on the ball than whichever editoral-board drone wrote this bit of aromatica.  (I suspect Nick Coleman, the only person in the left-leaning world who still says “wingnut” with all the glee of a toddler who just made a big, juicy pants).