October 13, 2009

while eagles ate his liver


There are miserably shameful people in the world; there are people who sell drugs to kids, there are violent criminals who break into houses and steal life fortunes, and there are scam artists who prey upon the weak and elderly. And then there is Texas governor Rick Perry.

Yes, this is the same Rick Perry who did a flirtatious square dance with "secessionism" back in April when Obama was working on the federal stimulus plan, then had the sickening audacity to request 850,000 vials of anti-viral medication from the government. We all knew he was an asshole's asshole, but all that pales in comparison to what he is now: a FUCKING MURDERER.

Anybody who knows me understands one thing: I do not fuck around with the death penalty. I find it positively disgusting that we live in a country that kills its own people; the very existence of corporal punishment sends a subconscious message from the top down to all Americans: "go ahead and kill your neighbor." And we do.

I don't give a flying fuck about the popularity of the death penalty - slavery, bloodletting and Milli Vanilli were popular too. A horrifying concept endorsed by 48% of Americans is still a horrifying idea. And don't start with the "deterrent" reasoning or "what if it was your daughter" bullshit. I'm simply not going to hear logic formed from the hate center of anyone's reptilian hindbrain.

My reasons for opposing the death penalty are frighteningly simple: human beings are flawed instruments of judgment, and therefore cannot be allowed to put someone to death in our courts. It was only a matter of time before innocent men start getting executed. And Exhibit A, the poster child for irredeemable fuck-ups, is the miserable sack of shit Rick Perry.

This very short video from the New Yorker shows the man Perry put to death and why it was a travesty:

Put simply, a fire started in a home, like they do every day, only this time, Cameron T. Willingham was forced to watch as the flames consumed his three daughters. Then he was convicted of murder by arson, using testimony from a fire marshal that was "hardly consistent with a scientific mind-set and is more characteristic of mystics or psychics". Then Willingham was put in prison for thirteen years. Despite expert testimony stating clearly that subsequent tests proved the fire was not arson, Rick Perry didn't even respond to the appeal. Then Cameron T. Willingham was killed by lethal injection. The end.

Flash forward to last week: the Texas Forensic Science Commission scheduled a meeting to go over the Willingham case, in order to determine if an innocent man had been killed. Rick Perry had tried to defund the committee before, but now he pulled the ultimate move: he fired 3 of the 4 members and put a political ally in charge, saying it was "business as usual". You bet it was, you lizard-hearted fuck.

Texas is a pretty place, and I like a lot of people there. Tessa's awesome mom is in San Antonio, and we're going to see her next weekend. But part of me is nauseated by actually spending money in a state that would elect such a man to represent them. Texas kills so many of its own people each year, you'd think they were selling the meat.

The facts are simple: a man was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Either Rick Perry was too stupid to know the sentence was bogus, and just loves him a killin'... or he knew it was a sham, but didn't want to appear "weak" to his loyal base of frothing wingnuts, and sanctioned the execution of an innocent man. Then, when actual scientists convened to research the case, he disposed of them. It would be rage-blindingly infuriating, if it weren't so unrelentingly sad.

Sometimes I hope religious people actually get the afterlife they believe in. That way, when Rick Perry finally drops to the ground from a coronary caused by too much brisket, he is whisked straight to Hell, where he can be eternally strapped to a lethal injection table, and forced to watch Cameron T. Willingham play with his children while the poison slowly fills his brain. I mean, eye for an eye, right?

Posted by Ian Williams at October 13, 2009 11:19 PM
Posted by: GFWD at October 14, 2009 7:39 AM

Are there certain crimes where someone should be put to death, Ian?

What about the guy who kidnapped Polly Klass from her family home at a slumber party, sexually violated her and then murdered her? And admitted to it.

What about Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy? Unapologetic serial killers. (Though Dahmer did get some poetic justice in prison)

What about Susan Smith, who claimed she was carjacked and then drowned her own kids in the car by driving them into a pond?

Granted, the story you cited above seems compelling, but isn't it a good idea in those cases I referenced?

Posted by: frcathie at October 14, 2009 7:44 AM

a rare instance when ian and i are in perfect agreement. using the death penalty says nothing about the moral state of those who commit crimes. it says everything about the moral state of those who use it.

Posted by: dean at October 14, 2009 8:19 AM

I used to be pro-death penalty, but then I shared some office space with the NC Capital Defender and I am now less sure. I generally agree with Ian's point about the death penalty.

As GFWD lists, there are always going to be cases that scream for the death penalty, but the gross examples don't justify a blanket rule. Humans are imperfect and it is inevitable that an innocent life will be sentenced to death. That is not a risk I am willing to swallow.

In a similar vein, I am completely against Hate Crime legislation. My main problem with the death penalty is that mortal jurors are asked to assess whether THIS murder is worse than THAT murder and to then choose whether THIS murderer deserves death and THAT murderer deserves prison. It is the shades of gray that present the problems.

Similarly, asking a jury to punish THIS defendant more than THAT defendant is also slippery for mortals. How can a juror TRULY TRULY TRULY know whether a criminal committed his crime because of some sort of _____-phobia or ___-ism? Obviously, like the death penalty, there will be instances where someone that is not a ____-phobe or ____-ist is sentenced as if he is such a person.

Plus, just like minorities and males overwhelmingly receive more capital punishment, minorities and homosexuals are rarely ever charged with hate crimes.

Posted by: cullen at October 14, 2009 9:10 AM

Ian, do you know whether they are pursuing the death penalty in the Eve Carson case?

Posted by: anon at October 14, 2009 9:15 AM

I believe I read somewhere that Eve Carson's parents are against the death penalty and hoped that it would not be pursued.

Posted by: Sean at October 14, 2009 9:21 AM

Capital punishment has only a theoretical similarity with hate-crime punishment. What if you accidentally charge someone with a hate crime, just because they yelled faggot while they were beating a homosexual to death that they didn't know. What if you're mistaken, and the person who beat the other guy to death wasn't actually acting out of hatred of homosexuals?

I suppose that the harsher punishment might be somewhat tragic.

What if the state accidentally murders someone who isn't guilty of what they assumed? It isn't comparable.

And even the worst cases, the ones that you would think are impossible to argue against, the Susan Smiths and the Tim McVeighs, these are still human beings, and they're not without hope. Death is the end of hope.

Posted by: kjf at October 14, 2009 9:44 AM


Posted by: Neva at October 14, 2009 9:57 AM

I agree with you Ian, and believe it or not, I agree with Dean too. I know I'm not being a good socialist Obamite but I do think the designation of one crime as more "hateful" than another is bizarre.
I think most crimes are "hate crimes" anyway when you look at it. What about the boyfriend who kills his girlfriend - isn't that a "hate" crime. It's certainly not a "love crime". A crime should be punished accordingly. Because you were a insensitive bigot when you committed the crime, although it's ugly, shouldn't necessarily change the punishment in my mind. That seems more appropriate to character witnesses and sentencing perhaps? But, what do I know really. I'm no lawyer and I don't even pretend to be on on TV :)

Posted by: cd at October 14, 2009 10:14 AM

A democratic government should not be in the business of killing people. I'll allow for personal vengeance and the psychological power of retribution. But that's not the government's job. To let imperfect humans pass judgment lest they be judged is a horrible game, because that's what Perry and others, like that wretched Texas judge, have reduced it to: gamesmanship.

And invoking cases like Susan Smith or Eve Carson, which seemingly call for the death penalty: says who? One judge and jury and not another? That's an unforgivable bending of the rule of law, which is meant to protect as well as prosecute.

I'm not advocating for street revenge, by the way. Just so you know.

Posted by: anon at October 14, 2009 10:14 AM

Regarding Eve Carson:

She was against the death penalty and her parents are too. Nevertheless, the DA is pursuing it at this point.



Posted by: craighill at October 14, 2009 10:17 AM

i couldn't disagree more.

eve carson's killer should be taken out back and shot between the eyes. "eye for an eye"? you're goddamned right.

why we would consider paying 90k a yr to keep that piece of shit alive is a joke. 90k can feed a lot of hungry mouths...

Posted by: Schultz at October 14, 2009 10:46 AM

It's easy to talk about this in a vacuum. Not so easy if you introduce abortion to the discussion.

Jis observin....

Posted by: Sean at October 14, 2009 11:43 AM

The state doesn't abort pregnancies.

Oh, and governmental take-over of health care is the boogeyman right now, right? We don't want a politician "standing between" a person and their doctor, right? Unless, the person is a pregnant woman, right?

So as long as you compare apples to oranges, everything makes sense. I wonder if conservatives even read their own opinions.

Posted by: Schultz at October 14, 2009 12:09 PM

Strike one.

Life or Death. You pick. One or the other. This has nothing to do with politics.

Posted by: Neva at October 14, 2009 12:11 PM

Craighill - last I read about it the cost argument doesn't hold water. It is actually more expensive to try a death penalty case than to keep folks alive in jail on average, I believe.
Also, as sad as I think Eve Carson's death is, I think it shows our bias toward those that are "like us" in our rush to want the death penalty in this particular case. Because she is a white, UNC undergrad somehow her case is getting loads of attention and more interest in death penalty etc. Why do we value some lives more than others? You could also question the black perpetrator role here vs. white. It is hard not to let bias enter the situation and I think is why the death penalty seems too risky when we know a jury can always be biased.

Posted by: Neva at October 14, 2009 12:13 PM

So, Schultz, are you anti-death penalty and pro-life? Just wondering. I haven't seen too many of those around. Totally admire the consistency of thought if that's the case, just know it's rare.

Posted by: craighill at October 14, 2009 12:15 PM

what makes sense is watching a television show that you hate and then taking the time to write a verbose angry blog about why you hate it.

Posted by: craighill at October 14, 2009 12:47 PM

neva - you misunderstood my post. i think we should shoot him today. a bullet costs about 10 cents depending on caliber. i would even give him the benefit of a painless double tap to the back of the head instead of the SHOTGUN TO THE FACE that eve got (in addition to the pistol rounds).

i'm not biased against blacks - i'm biased against murderers.

Posted by: Schultz at October 14, 2009 12:52 PM

Actually the opposite Neva....Pro choice and pro-death penalty. Regardless of what you choose (life or death), don't you have to be consistent?

I didn't mean to hijack Ian's blog....just expand it slightly. :-)

Posted by: kent at October 14, 2009 1:29 PM

I'm against the death penalty, in all cases. For all the reasons cited.

I'm for abortion rights. Is that inconsistent? I don't think so, and nearly everyone arguing the other side of the issue has the opposite inconsistency -- they'd protect clumps of cells with the potential for human life, but don't mind killing a few innocent men along the way.

At least the Catholic Church is consistent -- no abortions, no executions. I don't agree, but it's at least a logically harmonious position.

Posted by: anon at October 14, 2009 1:41 PM

Ever hear of Due Process, craighill? That little detail is exactly what costs so much in a capital murder case. Bummer that, huh?

Or maybe we should just do away with Due Process... Then, after we're done taking a crap on the Constituion, we can use an American flag to wipe.

Posted by: Bud at October 14, 2009 2:26 PM

I'm anti-death penalty and pro-choice.

I'm NOT pro-abortion per se, which may seem a contradiction at first. I'd prefer to see fewer unwanted pregnancies. But the alternative to legal abortion is NOT a world without abortion. It's a world with illegal, unsafe abortions.

Now... regarding the blog Ian actually wrote, this was brilliant:

"I don't give a flying fuck about the popularity of the death penalty - slavery, bloodletting and Milli Vanilli were popular too."

Posted by: Suzanne at October 14, 2009 3:20 PM

I feel every day the death of my brother and mother who died innocently at the hands an angry "god" . I have no idea where justice lives. Some place in our minds that we make up-that we need to exist to be able to go on with our lives?

Posted by: Ian at October 14, 2009 4:00 PM

The death penalty is overwhelmingly more expensive than life imprisonment without parole. More than ten times as expensive, in fact:

Annual cost of the present system: $137 million/year
Annual cost after 2008 reforms: $232.7 million/year
Annual cost of "lifetime without parole" system: $11.5 million

For those arguing that it is the appeal process that makes it so expensive, it isn't - even if all appeals were abolished, "the death penalty would still be more expensive than alternative sentences."


Posted by: Salem at October 14, 2009 5:32 PM

I am against any state sponsored death penalty, however, I'm a big proponent of post car chase ass-kickings.

Posted by: Schultz at October 14, 2009 5:37 PM

Those numbers are staggering. Unbelievable. But they are also from California and do not represent a national average.

There have been 1,176 executions since 1976. How does that compare to the amount of prisoners serving life sentences across the country? From News One:

"More prisoners today are serving life terms than ever before — 140,610 out of 2.3 million inmates across the country"

Anyone want to hazard a guess on the cost of keeping a small city of lifetime prisoners???

Regardless of where you stand, the whole cost argument is irrelevant. We could argue either side until we pass out. The real problem is CRIME- not the punishment or the cost.

Is it not troubling that one of the most progressive countries in the world can't seem to figure it out....while less developed Middle Eastern and African countries deter crime quite effectively using "chop chop"?

So many questions.....

Posted by: Bud at October 14, 2009 9:38 PM

Schultz, while I don't believe that Sharia-style law would be the most effective crime deterrent model for the US, I don't have any data to support or refute it. Do you have any data on international crime/effectiveness of deterrent method?

I do like your logic. And I'm glad you're open to solutions that have worked in other countries.

Let's apply that logic to the health care debate.

"Regardless of where you stand, the whole cost argument is irrelevant. We could argue either side until we pass out. The real problem is [health care] - not the [solution method] or the cost.

"Is it not troubling that one of the most progressive countries in the world can't seem to figure it out....while [even] less developed [European] countries [provide comprehensive health care] quite effectively using [single payer]?"

I like it!

Posted by: Anonymous at October 15, 2009 12:45 AM

As a federal criminal defense lawyer currently working on a potential death penalty case, I am 100% against the death penalty. That probably won't surprise anyone.

But you may be surprised to know that my job is not "about" the death penalty. There are some procedural differences, and death penalty cases take much longer to progress, but essentially I defend this client just like any other defendant in a criminal case.

These defendants should be afforded the same right to due process as any other defendant. Yes, the stakes are much higher and the emotions are more intense on all sides, but it's the same justice system.

If that gives you concern or pause, it's impt to consider why. For me, it's this: These cases rely on an extraordinary trust that what our government aims to do is in our society's best interest, and that our representatives are extremely vigilant and careful to support this interest within the confines of the law.

So, it seems to me, and what I think this post sums up, that news about Governor Perry's actions in the case above and others -- like the case of Troy Davis in Georgia in which 7 of 9 witnesses against him recanted their testimony, but it took an appeal all the way to the Supreme Court to grant a stay of execution until this minor detail is reviewed -- provide nothing in the way of support for the death penalty. When is it ever a good idea to refuse to review a case in which the possibility of injustice exists?

These days we often hear about cases in which DNA has exonerated people who have been in jail for years for crimes they didn't actually commit. The justice system failed these people. The justice system fails some of those sentenced to death, too. That even the possibility of this exists is, to me, reason enough to get rid of the death penalty.

But really, my gripe is that it's people killing people. It's not right, no matter which side of the table you're on.

Posted by: Sean at October 15, 2009 5:52 AM

" what makes sense is watching a television show that you hate and then taking the time to write a verbose angry blog about why you hate it. "

Man, you're right. Suddenly, I've changed my mind about abortion! I assume that you've also noticed that my mother dresses me funny. She does, and it has been a source of humiliation for much of my life!

You haven't got a leg to stand on, because you haven't thought it through. And I don't know you personally, you might not be an idiot, you might be brilliant, but this is what an idiot would do, and this is all I've got to go on.

Posted by: Salem at October 15, 2009 7:53 AM

Why are prisons not sustainable?

Back in my food selling days, I remember the food service director of Bartow County Prison (Georgia) telling me he needed to keep his cost per meal around .39 per prisoner.

Why are prisons not a profit center for our government? There is a lot of profitable wiggle room between labor, hard labor, and cruel or inhumane.

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