Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Flip-Flopping on Capital Punishment: How I came to Love Rose Bird (Posthumously!)

How I would love to be on Zacharia Moussaoui's Jury!

In my life, my attitudes toward capital punishment have gone through several changes. This was an issue everyone tends to have a definite position on. I used to like to take a position that was fun and easily defended. Aren't those the best? Well, I enjoyed it anyway.

I vaguely remember back in the days of the movement, when the fate of Caryl Chessman (R.I.P. 1960) was at stake. Was that his name? The so-called 'red light bandit'? My position was that I was against capital punishment because there was always a mathematical chance that the state would be executing the wrong person. The possibility that the wrong man or woman would be executed from an error was, I thought, an surmountable objection to capital punishment.

Later, more worldy wise to the fact that there are such 'things' as homo-scumbags walking the earth in the guise of homo-sapiens, I changed. I was all for capital punishment. So much so, I wanted to know where to apply to become an executioner. I was in favor of charging any one who killed using a gun while in the commission of any crime, whether it was rape, or holding up a liquor store.

Cruel and Usual Punishment was my motto in these, my red-neck, West-Texas days.

I hated to see murderers sentenced to prison, and then become serial killers in prison. Once you sentence some one until old age, what more can you do to a repeat homicidal killer? "Whatever became of prisons as 'correctional facilities'?", I was fond of asking with a rhetorical sneer. We needed to make prisons safe, again, I would argue. As it was, inmates were forced to form or join gangs of racial identity out of a need to obtain some degree of personal safety in the social chaos of prison.

If convicted killers could count on a systematic process: quick and speedy trials, an automatic death sentence and quick and speedy execution, we could save the society a lot of anguish, the victims a lot of lingering pain, and our prisons a lot of the expense of warehousing useless homo-scumbags. Prisons could become civilizing correctional institutions again. They could revert back to less crowded reservations for salvageable human beings who had gone astray to some limited extent, without having done any permanent damage such as having taken a human life.

What changed my mind 10-15 years ago? Well, I didn't get 'religion', for sure. Or contract a case of touchy-feely liberal moralism.

What was it? Well, I'll tell you.

The major thing that changed me was the experience of sitting on a few juries. That experience taught me that our judicial non-system was peopled by at least two classifications of suspect people: jurors and lawyers.

In my experience, jurors tend to be the least qualified to pass on anything as crucial as the guilt or innocence of a human sitting before them. Jurors tend to be the ex-employed, under-employed, unemployed, or the unemployable. Oh, there were a few professional types who stuck out in the jury room: people with brief cases or lap-tops, or hard-bound books. But these were quickly siphoned off and dismissed by prosecution or defense attorneys "without cause". Actually, you could tell without sitting through a trial which side thought he/she had the weakest case by which attorney threw out the teachers, university professors, etc. And, of course, some of these super-employed and super-employable candidates for juries were among those who begged off of the potentially serious and longer trials; the skills they might have brought to the table of deliberation were too critical for society to waste in jury rooms.

So the juries – the ones I managed to lie myself on to anyway – were left with highly malleable, suggestible and stupid people who could be manipulated in one direction or another by three or four stronger jurors. I know because I was able to manipulate them. After sitting on two juries and being dismissed from countless other juries, I concluded that what we have is a judicial non-system.

In criminal trial-by-jury cases, verdicts are arbitrary to a large degree. Doesn't mean we should do a way with them, of course. Just means that we would be even worse off if we went to some other alternative non-system.

Now the lawyers. I won't say much against lawyers because I have two of them in my family. But what really pissed me off to a huge extent was this sub-sub-sub-speciality within the profession of criminal law which quickly grew from a cottage-industry level to an industrial strength level. And that's the professional clique which refers to itself as Jury Consultants. (Throw in a few psychologists, one of which I have in my family also.) These sub-species of the legal profession occupied themselves with research on prospective and actual jurors. Demographic research, I guess you would call it. Questioning prospective jurors. I'm not talking voir dire. I'm talking written surveys, up to 50 pages and possibly more. I'm talking post-trial interviews of jurors.
"What organizations do you belong to?"
"What magazines do you subscribe to?"

Stuff like that. Why should I, as a juror, be called to fill something like that out? It's like taking an exam on my personal life for Chrissakes! Standing up and leaning against a wall? What a fooking imposition!* Who's on trial here, anyway?

This perversion of duly diligent voir dire distorted the principal of trial by peers. This process of having specialized lawyers select the jury for both sides (usually just for especially well-heeled defendants) totally distorted the justice system, by gaming it, IMHO.

So, for these two reasons, I came to see that the jury system wasn't up to processing cases where people's lives were at stake; that such a system could not hand out systemically consistent, automatic death sentences, impartially and 'across the board'.

But there is always a third reason, isn't there?

The third reason which caused me to turn against the death penalty was the economic one. It was no longer 'fun' to provoke my liberal pals by blustering support for something that had become financially unsustainable.

Over the years, capital punishment opponents have conducted a "war of attrition" against the death penalty, jacking up the cost and greatly prolonging appeals with the intent of making the process too expensive to keep up. Because of bleeding heart liberals, society has been increasingly forced to give up the death penalty; just because of actions by those who have been ratcheting up the costs.

Chief among whom was the infamous California Chief Justice Rose Bird (R.I.P. 2000). California renewed its death penalty statute 1976 and And Bird became Chief Justice in 1977. During her reign, Bird single-handedly attempted to derail California's death penalty statute, and in 61 decisions of the State Supreme Court she was able to get a majority of Associate justices to vote with her to overrule it. She would protest, that

I feel strongly about the sanctity of life, and I have argued against the death penalty. But I believe as an individual justice I can make a determination based on issues and not on preconceived notions.
That is what she said, but it was a lie. Her rulings and decisions were quixotically contorted, but always, always, in behalf of the worthless scumbags whose miserable lives she saved for old age. I recall I was so glad to be able to join millions of Californians and vote for her recall in 1986, I could have just shit.

But it turns out that society pays hugely for the institution of the death penalty, especially here in California. We maintain the physical apparatus of state executions and a parallel legal apparatus that almost guarantees that executions are rarely carried out. Tax-payers pay big for both sides.

California condemns many murderers, but few are ever executed. The state's voters retain a great willingness to hand out death sentences; California as a state is one of the more hesitant among the 38 capital punishment states to actually put a convict to death like the scumbag he probably is. California has 640 inmates on death row, about 20% of the nation's total. But the state has accounted for only 1% of the nation's executions — or 11 deaths — since 1978, when the death penalty was restored.

In California, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, goes to great lengths to minimize the possibility of error, and builds in a lot of delays. One reason for the extra costs is that capital cases require a jury trial for sentencing after guilt has been determined in the first trial. There are long appeal processes, and specific number of post-conviction hearings in state and federal courts. Typically, capital cases have four times as many pre trial motions, more investigators, more expert testimony, and much more exhaustive jury selection. Because of the long appeals process, the delay between sentencing and execution in California averages nearly 20 years.

Attorneys 'game the system' with the issues of sexually abused childhoods, mental retardation and other proven tactics designed to prolong the delays in the process from conviction to execution.

The population on death row grays more than in the general prison population. According to Department of Corrections statistics, 180 death row inmates are older than 50; 42 are older than 60. A common joke is death row inmates are most likely to die of old age.

So I cave. Capital punishment (arguing about it) isn't fun any more. It's as mundane as taxes.

Don't mend, amend, or blend capital punishment. End it. Save money and let the miserable perps kill themselves off in the endless boredom of their life terms.

Our late great Chief Justice? We should observe an annual Rose Bird day. The old bitch was right in the end, God bless her. I'm on her side.

Finally, before turning to Zacarias Moussaoui, let me relate a news story which moved me greatly.

Alejandro Avila was sentenced to death for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. Orange County Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg told the courtroom that with his crimes, Avila, 30, "has forfeited his right to live."

But IMHO, the stiffer sentence was pronounced moments before by Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion, who rescinded her earlier request for capital punishment:

Everything in me wants to hurt you in every possible way. But when I'm very honest with myself, what I want more than anything is for you to feel remorse.

The night you took my baby and hurt her and scared her and crushed her until her heart stopped. The crime is incomprehensible...I know she looked at you with those amazing, sparkling brown eyes and you still wanted to kill her. I don't understand it. I never will.

In choosing to destroy Samantha's life, you chose to waste your life to satisfy a selfish and sick desire. You are a disgrace to the human race. You don't deserve a place in my family's history.
And then, the 'killer':

I want you to disappear into the abyss of a lifetime in prison where no one will remember you, no one will pray for you and no one will care when you die.
Now that's justice.

That's what a jihadist fears more than anything: denial of all chances of martyrdom. Such a sentence would not only be perfect justice for Zacharia Moussaoui, it would be a palpable deterrent for his aspirant copycats.