Last night, I watched the latest episode of ID’s series, Facing Evil, and wasn’t a bit surprised to see a face I knew. What did surprise me is that Former FBI agent Candice DeLong, the show’s host actually heard him out and seemed to entertain the notion that he might be innocent.
Hank Skinner is one of the “innocent awaiting execution”, of which I wrote in my previous blog entry. His story is all too familiar to anyone who even loosely follows the Lone Star State’s machinations, regarding the imposition and execution of death sentences.
He has made a very convincing case for his evidence, and even won a civil suit which allowed him to have his jacket tested for DNA evidence. I won’t bore you with the particulars of the case, because if you give a damn about the truth, you’ll look it up. Read everything about the case!
Funny thing, that; the jacket had disappeared. The District Attorney can’t seem to find the damn thing anywhere. (***wink, nudge, nod***) What the D.A. couldn’t lose—and Ms. DeLong took pains to point out—is that his blood tested three times the legal limit for alcohol. In other words, he was “triple-drunk”. He also had the LD50 dose of codeine. The LD50 is the official lethal dose, the amount—based upon mg/kg—required to kill fifty percent of people or animals ingesting it.
Amazingly, a judge refused to grant him a new trial, or interfere in any manner with his potential execution, ruling that the blood-evidence would not have significantly changed matters, had it been available at Skinner’s trial.
Which brings me to this morning’s question; in what benighted universe does someone being unconscious to the brink of death from a prodigious amount of alcohol and the LD50 dose of codeine not impact his or her defense at trial?
Are you kidding me? Next, the State of Texas will convict a zombie of murder. Better pour concrete over your grandparents’ graves, lest they appear on the Monday-morning docket.
As a regular viewer, I know that the evil which Candice DeLong normally faces is through a mesh screen or Plexiglas window and intercom, but last night, the evil appears to have been the Texas Criminal Justice system.
So long as chicanery, skulduggery and under-the-table dealings abound, there must be no death penalty. The death penalty must die in Texas, lest more innocents do so.
For nearly the first forty-five years of my life, I believed in the death penalty.
Some things—child rape, premeditated murder, terrorism, serial rape and the trafficking of certain drugs in massive quantities—were simply so horrible and corrosive to society that only death was a fitting punishment.
In fact, it’s only been a few months since is circulated a petition to replace lethal injection with nitrogen suffocation or a firing-squad.
This was, of course, predicated upon the notion of a fair system, clean policing and the absence of any Augustinian sins on the part of anyone involved in the legal process. That is to say, total shit. A steaming truckload of it, to be blunt.
I had realized that problems existed within certain states’ legal systems, in the Lone Star State’s. I had even been aware that an innocent man, Cameron Todd Willingham, had been executed, but believed it to be a good-faith error based on faulty techniques and scientific “knowledge”.
At the beginning of June, Lester Bower was executed for a murder of which he was factually innocent. Upon reading more about the case and the circumstances surrounding it, I learned that Federal and state authorities knew of his innocence at the time of his trial, which was literally a circus. (Read the articles. People in clown make-up literally drifted in from a carnival on the courthouse lawn and then left when they desired something more entertaining.)
Having become aware of at least three executions by the State of Texas and the plight of two other innocent individuals awaiting the same fate, I realized that I could not trust people.
It is impossible to remove the “human element” from a capital case, and therefore the death penalty is untenable. There are no bedrock guarantees that the case won’t be figuratively folded, spindled and mutilated, I therefore withdraw in perpetuity my support for any death sentence.
I understand about Dzhokar Tsarnaev. Yes, he does deserve it; however, that one in a million case cannot be enough to keep the option of death available. If someone killed six people on a bus, there would be a hue and a cry to kill the terrorists, but if those same people died as a result of prosecutorial or investigative avarice, no one would speak. Not enough to matter, anyway.
I’ll speak. We’re in the second decade of the twenty-first century and still relying on a horribly error-prone system to kill people we believe need to die.
As the saying goes; Killing to punish murder is like fucking for chastity, raping rapists, fighting for peace or remaining silent to make your voice heard. It’s an oxymoron…emphasis on the moron.
To regain our place among civilized nations, of which we were once the guiding light, the death penalty must be replaced with a sentence of life without parole in a “super-max” prison.
Europe has done it. Canada has done it. Australia has done it. Even some of our own states have done it. It’s time to kick the “death habit”.
During much of the twentieth-century, parents from around the world, desirous for their progeny to obtain the best education and opportunities possible, sent them to U.S. universities.
Our universities were often touted as the vanguard of human knowledge. After all, Enrico Fermi perfected nuclear fission at the University of Chicago and Albert Einstein spent his final years on the faculty of Princeton University.
Sadly, those days may have drawn to a close without any fanfare, hue and cry, or even a protest by irate librarians and tweed-clad academics.
According to a recent article by Daniel Burnett, which appeared in Tuesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer and Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, it’s possible that graduates of U.S. universities possess more basic knowledge regarding Lady Gaga and Beyonce, than they do regarding Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War.
A survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and released to coincide with April 14-15 sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s assassination, revealed the following:
One in five Americans could not identify John Wilkes Booth as Lincoln’s assassin. (Forget his parting words to the mortally wounded Abe; “sic semper tyrannis”.
A mere eighteen percent of Americans knew the effect of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
The figure rose to a mere twenty-eight percent, when only responses from those with university degrees were considered.
Among those same degreed individuals, more than one-third were uncertain when the Civil War took place, and fewer than forty percent correctly the (formerly) well-known phrase, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth”, as part of the Gettysburg Address.
There’s a simple reason for this paucity of knowledge.
Fewer than twenty percent of American institutions of higher-learning require courses in U.S. history or government.
Even those who do, often allow for some surprising opt-outs:
Michigan’s Oakland University allows student to swap such courses for Foundations of Rock, Dance in American Culture or Human Sexuality. (I love sex, cannabis and rock music s much as the next person, but these people are pursuing university degrees, not a smoke-enhanced van ride with Jeff Spicoli.)
UC Berkeley allows the substitution of Dutch Culture and Society: Amsterdam and Berkeley in the Sixties. (Look, I love many things Dutch. Dutch-Canadian, Dorothy Stratten is still my favorite Playmate, I think Shocking Blue is one of the best rock groups from anywhere and whole concept of Dutch coffee-houses is amazing. That said; the aforementioned objections stand. Study the other stuff when you’re not on your parents’–or the government’s–dime.)
University of Colorado allows its students to duck out with America Through Baseball or Horror Films in American Culture. (Being able to correctly quote Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel or possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of Kevin Williamson’s Scream movies will not get you a white-collar job! ESPN and FOX Sports can only keep so many people on their payrolls at any given time.)
In Texas, twelve of forty-nine institutions in the study, including Rice University, had no American history or government requirement in most undergrad degree-plans.
Simply put; If I had a son or daughter graduating high-school this year, I would not send them to a university in the United States of America.
We’ve simply fallen too far, even in the sixteen years since I graduated from University of Houston. I believe this increasingly-uniform mediocrity is part-and-parcel of the mindset which requires all Little-League players to get a trophy for merely showing up, and insists that everyone is special.
That’s not life. In life, there are winners and losers, and if we insist on placing more focus on American Idol than American history, then we’re setting the next generation up to be major losers.
That’s why I would tell that hypothetical son or daughter that they could go to school anywhere they wanted, so long as it’s outside the United States.
UC? Try UBC.
University of Colorado? Try University of Toronto.
Rice? Try Pierre and Marie Curie University.
Visit the University of Tokyo website.
That’s what I’d tell my kid. Not every university in the United States has been infected with the stupidity virus, but you never know how fast it might spread or where it will next appear.
My last discussion about our support of the death sentence fell a little flat. To be exact, it fell about as flat as a guy I once saw lose his grip while climbing the Williams tower (thanks, Channel 26, for that indelible memory), so I’ll let that go.
It’s time for the final part of our discussion, after which the subject will…well…die.
Sometime this week, possibly as soon as today, Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin is expected to sign legislation establishing nitrogen hypoxia as that state’s back-up method of execution. Because of that state’s problems with lethal injection, it’s a “lead-pipe-cinch” that it will be used in November
Here’s how it works:
1a: If the current facilities are used, when the murderer is strapped to the gurney, instead of an IV line being used to deliver a lethal dose of drugs, he/she is given an opportunity to make a final statement, and afterward, a mask is placed over his/her face.
1b: If a gas chamber is constructed, the inmate is strapped onto a gurney or into a chair. He/she is offered the opportunity to make a statement, before the warden gives the nod to a person controlling a gas valve.
2: At this time, a nitrogen/air gas feed is opened. Over the next few minutes the air is closed, leaving only nitrogen. The person will feel something like what you and I experience at the dentist’s office, until the nitrogen concentration passes a certain point. At that time, he/she will immediately lose consciousness and stop breathing. Brain death will occur within six to ten minutes, leaving all organs except for the heart suitable for transplant.
We’ve solved the problem of executing an individual in a manner so painless, it’s actually been endorsed in a law-journal article.
It’s time to discuss the need or desire for the death sentence.
1—Why do we impose a sentence of death?
In the United States, we execute people for domestic-terrorism, terrorism by a foreign agent, espionage by a member of the U.S military during a declared war (our last was World War II, and this is the only mandatory death sentence under United States law), espionage by a civilian under the same conditions, Treason (the only Constitutionally defined crime, which can only take place during a declared war), and aggravated murder.
Aggravated murder is when a person unlawfully kills another with malice aforethought (premeditation), in a particularly heinous manner and/or with one or more aggravating factors (most states require two), which are:
Murder of a Federal, state, county or local law-enforcement officer, commissioned peace officer or first-responder during the course of his/her duties.
Murder of a Federal or State employee during the course of his/her duties. This includes all Federal employees, such as forest rangers and postal workers, as well as state employees like the lady who processes your car registration.
Murder of a child under a certain age (some states set the threshold as young as three years old, while others go as high as fourteen.)
Murder in the commission of an accompanying felony, generally first degree or higher, but some states list any felony, down to fourth-degree as an aggravating factor. (The latter is known as the “felony-murder rule”, not to be confused with the crime of felony-murder)
Examples include, but are not limited to:
Armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, burglary, home-invasion, rape, intimidation of a witness, obstruction of justice with intent to get someone executed, and capital perjury. (Yes; if you’re a prosecutor or witness in a state such as Texas, and your withholding or destruction of evidence, false testimony and/or perjured brief in opposition of a capital appeal result in the execution of an innocent person, this is capital murder and you can be executed. The Cameron Willingham case springs to mind, but that hasn’t been fully litigated.)
A notable exception to the felony murder rule exists: If you are part of an ongoing criminal conspiracy which results in death, you can be executed. (This is called the law of parties.)
This means that, even though you were just the driver, if your buddy decides to kill the clerk during the gas-station robbery you two planned, you will both face death. A significant number of people executed by the state of Texas have been “law of parties” defendants.
This also extends to anyone involved. If you lent your girlfriend’s brother the car, you can be fully prosecuted, especially if you know he has prior arrests for violent felonies.
If you were dumb enough to lend someone your gun, you can either use it to commit suicide when it’s returned or immediately call an attorney and arrange a deal. (I will cover the various sorts of immunity agreements in a later blog, but always ask for “blanket-immunity” or “transactional immunity”, if the prosecution steadfastly refuses.)
2—What are the alternatives to a sentence of death?
Life without parole:
It’s just that…forever in prison. Life in prison is not an acceptable substitute, because life means different things in different states, and has even meant different things in different decades. In 1990, “life” in Texas meant parole after fifteen years. Following the Kenneth McDuff case, this was changed to thirty-five years and later boosted to forty years. A few years ago, this was demoted to the sentence for first-degree murder, with “life without parole” replacing it as the alternative to death. All states with the death-sentence, the Federal government and the U.S. Military currently offer life without parole.
Previously used in Europe, the Roman Empire and (arguably) the American Old-West, it is the loss of all rights, even the most basic human rights. Traditionally, a person was declared an “outlaw”, that is outside the law. They were no longer considered human, it was permissible to kill this “former-person”, ignore them or do anything else you wanted. In the eyes of the law, they no longer existed.
If you look closely at the text of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you will see that slavery is preserved as punishment for crimes. Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Given the current political climate, it’s likely this could only be used for capital crimes, but this is why people used to draw such sentences as “thirty years at hard labor”.
It is actually conceivable that our government could outfit capital-criminals with explosive collars, set to detonate when the wearer strays farther than 200 metres from a correctional officer or foreman, and use them to build highways, schools, parks and so on.
How do you feel about that? Would you send your child to a slave-built school? Would you feel guilty, if the new high upon which you were driving had no toll, because it was built with prison labor?
Consider this; there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all solution. If you use slavery, you get reduced-price infrastructure. If you execute with nitrogen, you reduce the wait for needed donor organs.
Put aside your personal prejudices and ask yourself which is better for society. Both could benefit it, but at what cost?
This blog entry began as a simple poll. A referendum on whether we, as Americans, are willing to back our words with actions.
Approximately twenty-fours after its posting, a total of two people—excluding myself—have deigned to vote
I shouldn’t be surprised, since most Americans don’t even deign to vote in Federal elections. Last November’s was the lowest turnout since 1942. People were fighting a World-War then. What were you doing?
Alright; enough with the upbraiding. We have something serious to discuss.
If you believe in the death-penalty, would you volunteer to be a citizen-executioner? When Gary Gilmore was shot by a firing-squad on 17 January, 1977, it was one composed of volunteers who had signed onto rolls placed in Utah’s sporting-goods stores.
While the state of Utah now uses law-enforcement and correctional officers, other jurisdictions are considering adopting firing-squads and the sign-up rolls could reappear. Would you, for want of a better term, have the balls to shoot someone, if your government told you he or she deserved it?
Utah’s current arrangement also begs another question; with accusations—the spuriousness of which are debatable—of police militarization and brutality, what effect does carrying out executions have on the officer inside the police-cruiser? Vietnam used officers for firing-squads, but went to injection, due to the effect firing-squad participation had on officers.
Returning stateside and on the other side of the window; could you even witness an execution, whether or not the murder-victim was one of your friends or family members? If allowed a few last words for the condemned, could you muster any?
This blog isn’t about whether to abolish the death-penalty. That question will be the subject of a later blog entry. Tonight’s discussion is about the fact that most Americans claim to support the death-penalty, yet get squeamish when people like me ask just how far that support extends.
To borrow from the Japanese, do not kill this discussion with silence. Look within yourselves, vote and comment. I don’t even care if you’re from Britain, Bulgaria, Greece or Canada. It’s sometimes good to hear from those outside of our “Bubble”, also borrowing Bill Maher.
Say something! We stand poised to adopt a new method of execution, suffocation by nitrogen gas, so this is a good time to think about the ultimate punishment and the future of American criminal-justice.
Laws banning the future sale of firearms and the seizure of those already in existence are legally impossible, for the reason that such statutes are prohibited in three places by our constitution.
USC Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
This succinct amendment has been widely held by the U.S. Supreme Court to say that guns are here to stay. Some cities and states have tried to ban firearms, but their laws have recently been struck down with a force equivalent to a “bitch-slap” by The Rock.
USC Article I: Section 9
No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.
Even if you managed to convince thirty-seven state legislatures to ratify an amendment repealing the second, this is what prevents existing guns from being seized.
Even if gun sales were banned tomorrow you could still own your gun and pass it down to your heirs. This is known as “grandfathering”.
USC Amendment XIV:Section 1
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
This is why handgun bans in cities such as Washington, D.C., Morton Grove and Chicago, Illinois and (very likely) New York state’s Sullivan Act were wiped out of existence by The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller and 2010 McDonald v. Chicago rulings.
Heller affirmed U.S. Citizens’ second amendment right to have a gun in their homes, despite the D.C. handgun ban. It essentially struck it down.
McDonald extended the Heller ruling to the states and cities, via the fourteenth amendment’s “due process” clause.
In short–and to borrow from the late, great Slappy White–gun control is like the will a man had tattooed on the end of his penis…it wouldn’t stand up in court.
Americans are supposedly for the little guy, the underdog. We laud ourselves on our commitment to human-rights and all that ‘hugging around a campfire’ crap.
Thing is, it’s all just lip-service. Not even the kind of lip-service you can get in Vancouver’s Downtown-Eastside or L.A.’s Sunset Strip.
No, it’s the kind you get from a Congressman every two years. When it comes to human-rights, American’s are catfish; all mouth and no ass.
However, that may not be as damning–or damnable–as it sounds, a fact which two examples will make heartbreakingly clear.
1: The massacre of Syrian civilians by the Al-Assad régime, a hereditary clan of terrorists, for whom killing is as natural as breathing and mass carnage as natural as sex.
Let me preface the following comments with this factoid; the late genius, Steve Jobs was Syrian. He was raised by an American family, but he looked like a Syrian and inherited their high intelligence.
Keeping that in mind,Syria has both thriving chemical and biological weapons programs. Imagine Steve Jobs running an Anthrax facility or a VX plant.
Syria has sleeper agents in numerous nations, particularly the United States.
This is why our hands are tied. Like or drinking water to be drinkable and our air to be breathable. If we launched an attack on Syria or provided matériel for the rebels, we could easily have twenty million dead Americans within seventy-two hours.
Sorry guys; wish we could help.
2: China’s continued autocratic government, persecution of anyone who even breathes wrong and their supply of matériel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly known as North Korea.
The first thing you need to realise is that while our population is three-hundred ten million,China’s population is one point three billion. Their middle class and military are each as large as the entire U.S population. As my grandfather used to tell his students, if you spaced the Chinese two metres apart in a one kilometre wide column and began marching them into the ocean, you would never run out of people.
China has 4.2 times as many people as the United States or, putting it in different terms, a quarter of Earths’ population.
Chinais also the largest foreign holder of U.S.debt.
They own us so thoroughly that, were they to call in all the loans or sell the Treasury bonds they are holding, the U.S. Dollar would become as worthless as a Wiemar Mark. You could use it as rolling papers for your next blunt or toilet tissue for your next sojourn to the washroom.
China has also made amazing leaps in technology, thanks to industrial espionage and that of the usual variety.
They have stealth aircraft. They have nuclear ICBMS, which we know work because a modified version launches taikonauts into space.
Most importantly, the Chinese have developed a ‘carrier-killer’ antiship missile, capable of neutralising any o four nuclear supercarriers, should they venture too close to PLA positions.
The Chinese could execute dissidents, place their heads on pikes along the parameter of Tienanmen Square and offer their organs for worldwide shipping, and there wouldn’t be a damn thing we could do, short of all-out nuclear war.
The fact that managed to get one dissident to the United States isn’t the miracle it seems to be, but merely means he wasn’t that important and that the PRC felt a token ‘rescue’ would shut us up, so they could return to business as usual.
The United States will fight for the underdogs, so long as their oppressors haven’t the might or technology to pose a credible risk.
That’s what we’re down to; the United States only attacks backward or essentially defenseless nations because we want to bleed enough to show we’ve been in a fight, but not enough to hurt.
As I explained in the previous blog entry, there are three branches of government, the legislative, executive and judicial.
Section three establishes the Senate. Again; I’ll explain each paragraph of it in simple, easy to understand terms.
The Senate of theUnited Statesshall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.
This is actually self-explanatory. Yes, it said “state-legislatures.” Senators, being the states’ representatives of their interests, as opposed to the House members, who answered to the people, they were elected by the states until the Seventeenth Amendment of 1913.
Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year; and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.
Everyone was starting at the same time during the first Senate session, but it was felt that the states deserved the same opportunity given to the people…calling their guys to account every two years. The solution was to divide the first Senate into three groups—we’ll call them A, B and C—whose terms would be adjusted to coincide with House elections. Group A served a two year term. Group B served four years. Group C, the lucky ones, served the full six-year term. The result is that every two years, the entire House and one-third of the Senate is vulnerable to replacement.
Governors had the power to make “recess appointments” to fill Senate vacancies, just as they would vacancies in the states’ governments, until 1913.
No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of theUnited States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.
This is simple; to be a Senator, you must be thirty, a U.S. citizen for at least nine years and live in the state you wish to represent…and you can’t be planning to move.
The Vice President of theUnited Statesshall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.
The Vice-President is the Senatorial counterpart to the House Speaker. This is why, during a Joint Session, you will see Joe Biden and John Boehner standing—or sitting—behind Barack Obama. Unlike the Speaker, though, the President of the Senate is only allowed to vote, if a tie is to be broken
The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of theUnited States.
Like the House, the Senate chooses it’s own people. The main difference is the necessity of a Pro-Tem, due to the possibility the Vice-President may be called upon to serve as Acting-President. This happened often in the pre-telegraph age of equine travel, but rarely occurs now. Ronald Reagan had several medical and surgical procedures, and during those times, pursuant to both Article One, Section Three and the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of 1967, George H.W. Bush served as Acting President.
The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of theUnited Statesis tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.
I mentioned that impeachment in the House is equivalent to a preliminary hearing or grand-jury. Trial in the Senate is just that. Conviction in the Senate results in immediate removal from office and disqualification from holding any Federal public office.
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under theUnited States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
Unlike trial in other venues, however, trial in the Senate does not attach “double-jeopardy” to the case. An expelled office-holder is still liable for any and all criminal charges. This is why Gerald Ford so quickly pardoned Richard Nixon. Had he not done so, it is certain our former President would have ended up in U.S. District Court.