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Category Archives: criminal justice

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”.

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.

Civil death:
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.

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