"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Monday, October 05, 2015

Virginia Executes Rapist/Killer

Virginia just executed a serial killer:
The El Salvador native was sentenced to death in Virginia in 2010 for the murder of a young couple more than two decades earlier. Rachael Raver and her boyfriend, Warren Fulton III, both 22, were found shot to death in a wooded area a few days after being seen at a Washington, D.C., nightspot.
Prieto was on death row in California at the time for raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl and was linked to the Virginia slayings through DNA evidence. California officials agreed to send him to Virginia on the rationale that it was more likely to carry out the execution.
He has been connected to as many as six other killings in California and Virginia, authorities have said, but he was never prosecuted because he had already been sentenced to death.
As a Wa Po reporter observed about the execution: "We watched what appeared to be an utterly painless death for a man who brutally killed nine people and devastated nine families," It astounds me that any who claim to value life would want the walking piece of garbage who committed these crimes to be spared.

Some of his victims, may they rest in peace (photos from WaPo article):

Rachel Raver
Stacy Siegrist, 19 when abducted, raped, and killed by Prieto

Yvett Woodruff, 15 when raped and killed by Prieto
Left, Warren Fulton, III, 22 when killed by Prieto, and Tina Jefferson, 24 when raped and shot to death by Prieto

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Justice in Georgia

The State of Georgia executed a vile murderer yesterday, Kelly Gissandaner, who plotted and conspired the brutal murder of her husband.

Certain Leftist Christians  ignore or distort the perennial and positive judgment of the Church on the morality of capital punishment (up to and including the latest official Catechism), and believe that a subjective profession of Christian faith immunizes a criminal from a lawful sentence being carried out by the state.  The natural virtue of Justice vindicates the value of human life by imposing the ultimate punishment for those who dare in their arrogance and evil to take upon themselves, as it were, the power of God in deciding when another human being dies.

The Christian Left ignores that one purpose of the very existence of the state is to secure justice for its citizens.  Whether a condemned murderer sings "Amazing Grace" or becomes the most elevated saint in history is utterly irrelevant to this duty of the state to vindicate Justice by imposing a congruent penalty for crimes.  And for the horrific, inhuman crime of murder, only one penalty is possible to address the moral dis-equilibrium that crime causes.

The exercise of this virtue of Justice exists totally independent of and apart from the salutary effect of specific and general deterrence that consistent recourse to the death penalty generates; and totally apart from the worthy goal of protecting society (including prison staff and other inmates).

Moreover, the Christian Left's position is incoherent:  on a practical level, who could reasonably suggest that the state is competent to decide if an inmate had sufficiently "repented" or become "holy" enough to escape their sentence?  And if this did become a rule, one can imagine how many wondrous death row conversions would suddenly occur.  Individuals can afford to be liberal and even gullible about such things, no harm done by assuming the best.  Governments, however, have a responsibility to society to carry out the law and justice, not to become arbiters of the genuineness of a claimed conversion.

Rather than wringing their hands for the just and salutary execution of a murderer, rather than confusing private "blood vengeance" for public and societal Justice carried out pursuant to due legal process and judicial review, one would hope (in vain!) for at least a passing mention of the poor victim of this horrible crime.  His name was Douglas Gissander, and he was struck in the head and repeatedly stabbed in the neck by his wife's lover at her instigation, so she could collect life insurance money and be with her co-killer.
Forgotten by Some, not by All
As his family stated,
Doug is the true victim of this pre-meditated and heinous crime. We, along with our friends and supporters and our faith, will continue fighting for Doug until he gets the justice he deserves no matter how long it takes.
May this family have some peace and satisfaction knowing that human justice has finally been carried out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rendering Offenders Harmless, Part 43

Violent Canadian inmate escapes from prison; "Spagnola has served time in the past for manslaughter and assault and is considered a high risk to reoffend."  Do tell.

But no worries!  Our bishops have assured us that  “Society can protect itself in ways other than the use of the death penalty.”  We eagerly await their guidance as to what these "ways" are so that we can implement them soon, because what we're doing now to protect society is clearly not working.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Rendering Offenders Harmless, Part 42

It's been a busy season for murderers breaking out of the prisons that supposedly render them harmless so we have no need of the death penalty anymore.

In the latest, which received little media coverage because of the more spectacular New York prison break, a convicted killer's girlfriend on the prison staff helped him escape from a North Carolina prison.

Thankfully this escaped killer was caught without incident.

Rendering Offenders Harmless, Part 41

Two convicted murderers escape from high security Clinton prison in Dannemora in upstate New York.  They planned to kill the husband of a prison worker who aided their escape.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo boasted that this prison was the harshest in the state, from which no one had escaped in 100 years.
I wonder if any bishops would care to meet these two in a dark alley?

Martin Horn, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction and a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that "Clinton is as secure a prison as you'll find anywhere in the United States.  If it can happen at Clinton, it can happen anywhere."


[Wiki, by the way, has a not-exhaustive list of notable prison breaks over the years.]

Parole, Rising From the Grave

It seems our Governor here in Virginia wants to resurrect parole,  which was wisely abolished 30 years ago.

So despite what a sentencing judge or jury, having heard all the facts and evidence of the case, and the facts and evidence in mitigation of sentencing, would be supplanted by an appointed board.  Presumably like before, a jury would not be told about the possibility of parole when fixing a sentence.

Yet another example of why, despite the beliefs of the bishops of Virginia and others, mere incarceration cannot to a moral certitude protect society from violent offenders, who, under a parole system, could be released on an unsuspecting public.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Virginia's Bishops Wrong on Theology, Wrong on Penology

To my dismay, the bishops of my own state of Virginia, one of whom is a fairly orthodox man, have issued a statement on the death penalty in Virginia. 

As with most pronouncements on this issue by American bishops, it is full of both theological error from a Catholic point of view, and factual error from the point of view of criminal justice and penology.

Theologically, the bishops strongly imply that the death penalty is not simply prudentially uncalled for given the mysterious "improvements" to our criminal justice system, but rather is immoral as being opposed to "human dignity" or the "Gospel of Life:"
The death penalty does not provide true healing for those who mourn, nor does it embody the Gospel of Life, which each of us is called to affirm even in the most difficult circumstances.
By ending the use of the death penalty we would take one important step – among significant others we must take – to abandon the culture of death and embrace the culture of life.
Let us take the more courageous step and choose life instead, even when it seems “unlovable.”
The notion that these, and other bishops have floated, that it contravenes human dignity or that it violates the "Gospel of Life" and embraces the "culture of death"  to execute an offender, is an absurd and anti-Christian error with zero support in either sacred Scripture or the Tradition of the Church, which has always and everywhere taught that life is not an absolute value, but may justly and without sin be taken in certain circumstances, such as self-defense, just war, or capital punishment (See, Rev. Thomas Williams, L.C., “Capital Punishment and the Just Society” in Catholic Dossier, Vol. 4, No. 5 (Sept./Oct. 1998), and here,  here, and here). Period, end of story.  Any who claim to be orthodox Christians but deny these simple moral truths are deluding themselves and are in serious error;  moreover they attack the Church by implying that for 2,000 Her understanding of this issue was wrong.

Beyond their attempt to imply that the death penalty is per se immoral, the bishops tell some flat out lies about its use:
 Since 1973, some 152 death row inmates nationwide – including one in Virginia – have been exonerated.
This is an extremely misleading claim, but others have floated this lie.  In fact there is strong evidence that not one factually innocent person has been executed in this country since the reintroduction of capital punishment in 1976.  Which is to say, the "error rate" in death penalty cases is, so far, zero.  But the Catholic Left has picked up on disinformation peddled by the advocacy outfit DPIC, which has been thoroughly debunked.

The case in Virginia referred to by the bishops, Earl Washington, Jr., was a legitimate exoneration, but it also was an example of how the "system," so criticized by the Left, actually works. Washington was convicted largely on the basis of a confession, but when DNA technology advanced enough to test evidence left at the crime scene, it became apparent Washington was not the rapist.  A Democrat governor commuted his sentence to life imprisonment, then a subsequent Republican governor fully pardoned Washington and released him from incarceration.  In other words, the system worked. And given modern developments in forensic science and DNA technology, the growing expectation by juries that forensic evidence be present before a capital conviction,  and the increasingly careful and selective process prosecutors are using in seeking death sentences, error rates can be lowered even further.

A second whopper the bishops tell is: "We must also be aware of the racial inequity inherent in the system..."  It's possible, but not believable, that the bishops, so keenly following this issue, did not see the study that demonstrated that race is simply not a factor in Virginia death penalty cases. Will they apologize to the prosecutors whom they have slandered as racist?

Of course, as always in these discussions, clerics who delve into the mechanics of the criminal justice system and penology have shown themselves utterly ignorant of the fact we have never found the magical "means" to "render offenders harmless" such that the death penalty would be rendered unnecessary.  And now that Pope Francis has declared that even life imprisonment is unacceptable, there is even less reason to believe that we can protect society merely by incarceration.

But the clerical Left will no doubt continue to try to undermine protection of the innocent and the just punishment of the worst offenders in Virginia..

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lies,Damned Lies, etc.

You know they've lost the argument when they resort to these tired canards.

The Catholic Left often attaches itself to arguments against the death penalty that are developed by hard left secular groups, not pausing to examine the groups or their specious claims in their rush to find some, any, plausible arguments against the just, limited, proportional use of the death penalty.

So the latest:  1) some cops and prosecutors are biased or corrupt, possibly even criminally so. Therefore, the death penalty must be abolished because we can't risk that capital defendants might have been set up.

And, a related point, 2) The Death Penalty Information Center says that loads of people on death rows have been "exonerated" and since we can't risk wrongful convictions and death sentences, therefore the death penalty should be abolished.

But it is abundantly clear, that as an advocacy outfit, the DPIC routinely abuses  the term "exoneration," often listing criminals as "exonerated" when their convictions are overturned for legal errors, for ineffective assistance of defense attorney claims, or for evidentiary issues that do not truly exonerate a defendant but throw some doubt on his level of guilt.

Others have noted this disingenuous use of the terms "exoneration" and the difference between actual innocence and legal innocence (legal innocence being trial errors casting doubt on the sufficiency of the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, which is not the same thing as "the defendant was innocent").  In a very detailed paper, the Institute for the Advancement of Criminal Justice, expanding upon a masterful concurring opinion of Justice Scalia in Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. 163 (2006), has thoroughly debunked the reliability of the DPIC methodology. Those who have not read Scalia's opinion and the IACJ paper, have no standing to defend the DPIC numbers.

It can be said, clearly:  there is no proof that, since restoration of the death penalty in 1976, an actually innocent person has been executed.  Not one.  If there had been, we would know the person's name because the Left and their media allies would trumpet it constantly.  The error rate in death penalty cases, in the sense of an innocent person being executed, is therefore really zero.

As to the issue of police and prosecutor corruption, I have some extensive thoughts here.  The gist of my observations is that the system itself impliedly allows for the potential of a certain number of innocent people being convicted (by not demanding a standard of "absolute proof" or "proof to a metaphysical certitude"), so then it can be understood that the system is no way broken simply because some very small number of mistaken convictions occur.  We do not, and have never had, a system that adopts the old saying of Blackstone, "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer" in the sense that we fashion our system to be absolutely infallible in assigning guilt. There is, in effect, a built-in error rate inherent in the process.  

Yet the error rate is probably somewhere around .025 percent precisely because we continually strive for a zero error rate through an adversarial trial, appellate review, and even "external" checks such as media reports of corrupt police.

And as my post just below this illustrates, in death penalty cases, there are even more stringent reviews in both state and federal courts, often lasting for years, and an executive clemency "backstop" to provide a failsafe if, after the years and years of appellate review, some issue of actual innocence arises.  And given modern developments in forensic science and DNA technology, error rates can be lowered even further.

In sum, no system devised and populated by humans is perfect, but ours, unlike that in any period of history (when the Church unequivocally endorsed capital punishment) is heavily weighted to reduce error to as close to zero as possible short of simply abolishing punishment for crimes.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Stunning Ignorance of Missouri's Bishops

Missouri's bishops have issued a letter wherein they complain about the supposed speed of executions in that state.

The basis for their complaint is that there have been 15 executions in Missouri since 2013, a rate, they lament, of almost one per month.
"We wonder how much thought can be given to the circumstances of each defendant when these executions are carried out so routinely,” the letter read in urging the recipients to “take a stand for life, mercy and justice.”
The letter said clemency requests are ignored, “even when defendants are profoundly impaired by severe mental illness or traumatic brain injury.”“These cases rarely represent the ‘worst of the worst’ that the death penalty was intended for. Rather, they are evidence of a flawed death penalty system,” the Church leaders said.
 As in most states, the rate of executions has been trending downward in Missouri, despite a slight uptick in 2012:

(source: DPIC).

Nevertheless, the bishops are worried about hasty justice.  Let's take a look at one of the cases they complain about to see if we agree that the murderer was railroaded to his death at the hands of the cruel, incompetent state:

Michael Taylor was executed on February 26, 2014 for the abduction and rape of a 15 year old girl.  As always, because the murder lobby hates focusing on the crimes committed by their beneficiaries, it's good to remember what they actually did to end up on death row:
At approximately 7 a.m. [March 22, 1989], Ann Harrison, a 15-year-old high school student, left her home and stood in front of her house to wait for the school bus. Within moments, Taylor and [co-defendant] Nunley drove by. According to Taylor’s subsequent confession, Taylor was driving and Nunley told him to stop the car “so he could snatch her purse or something.” Nunley pretended to ask Ann Harrison for directions, then grabbed her and dragged her into the car, whereupon Taylor drove away. Nunley did not take the victim’s purse or her other possessions, which remained on the curb next to the Harrison’s mailbox.
Taylor and Nunley took Ann Harrison to Nunley’s mother’s house. On the way, Nunley blindfolded the victim with a sock. After pulling the stolen car into the garage, Taylor and Nunley took Ann into a basement room and Nunley tied her hands with a length of cable. Taylor stated in his confession that he sat in the garage while Nunley raped the victim, and then he raped the victim himself. While Taylor claimed in his confession that he “didn’t finish,” blood-typing and DNA testing of semen found in the victim’s genitals and on her clothing established that the source of the semen was Taylor. As a result of this forcible sexual assault, Ann suffered lacerations to her vagina.
After being repeatedly raped, Ann Harrison pleaded for Taylor and Nunley not to hurt her said that her family could pay them for her safe return; she was allowed to write down her family’s address and telephone number, purportedly so that Taylor and Nunley could arrange for
her ransom. Nunley tied the victim’s hands in front of her, and he and Taylor put her in the trunk of the stolen Monte Carlo.
While Ann Harrison, bound and blindfolded, lay in the trunk, Nunley went upstairs and got two knives, a large butcher knife and a small serrated steak knife; he gave the steak knife to Taylor and kept the butcher knife for himself. According to Taylor’s statement to police, Nunley urged that the victim be killed to prevent her from identifying him, while Taylor was reluctant to participate, in part because Ann had not seen Taylor. By Taylor’s account, Nunley grabbed the victim’s neck and attempted to cut her throat, but the butcher knife was too dull, producing only scratches on her throat. Nunley then stabbed Ann Harrison through the throat and in the chest, while Taylor stabbed her two to four times in the torso. An autopsy of the victim revealed six stab wounds to her chest, side and back which penetrated her heart, lungs and other internal organs, and four more
the forgotten victim
stab wounds to her neck. After the stabbing, Taylor watched for a time as Ann Harrison lay in the trunk and futilely struggled to breathe through her damaged lungs.
Ann Harrison died from her numerous stab wounds, especially the one that penetrated her heart. Ann was alive at the time all 10 wounds were inflicted and remained conscious for up to 10 minutes after the time of her stabbing.
So much for the crime. (Side question:  this crime is not, according to Missouri's bishops, "the worst of the worst?")

Now, to the bishops' claims that there is too much haste, let's look at the legal process in getting Taylor from the crime to execution of the sentence:
Legal Chronology
1989March 22 – Michael Taylor and co-defendant Roderick Nunley kidnap, rape ad murder 15-year-old Ann Harrison.
July 28 – The state charges Taylor by indictment with first degree murder, forcible rape, kidnapping and armed criminal action
1991February 8 – Taylor pleads guilty to the charges
April 23 – The penalty phase begins before the circuit court
May 3 – The Jackson County Circuit Court sentences Taylor to death for the murder conviction, life for the rape conviction, 15 years for the kidnapping conviction, and life for the armed criminal action conviction
May 13 – Taylor files a notice of appeal
August 9 – Taylor files a Rule 24.035 motion for post-conviction relief in the Jackson County Circuit Court
1992July 1 – The Circuit Court denies post-conviction relief
1993June 29 – The Missouri Supreme Court remands for a new sentencing proceeding
1994May 2 – The second penalty phase begins
June 17 – The Jackson County Circuit Court sentences Taylor to death for the murder conviction, 15 years for the kidnapping conviction, life for the rape conviction and 50 years for the armed criminal action conviction, the sentences to run consecutively
September 15 – Taylor files a Rule 24.034 motion for post-conviction relief in the Jackson County Circuit Court
1995June 20 – The Circuit Court denies post-conviction relief
1996August 2 – The Missouri Supreme Court affirms Taylor’s conviction and sentence and the denial of post-conviction relief. State v. Taylor, 929 S.W.2d 209 (Mo.banc 1996)
1997February 24 – The United States Supreme Court denies certiorari review. Taylor v. Missouri, 519 U.S.1152(1997)
1998February 23 – Taylor files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court of the Western District Missouri
2000July 10 – The District Court denies the petition for writ of habeas corpus in an unpublished order.
2003August 18 – The Court of Appeals affirms the denial of habeas corpus relief. Taylor v. Bowersox, 329 F.3d 963 (8th Cir. 2003)
2004March 22 = The Supreme Court denies discretionary review. Taylor v. Bowersox, 541 U.S. 947 (2004)
2005June 3 – Taylor rifles civil suit challenging constitutionality of lethal injection as method of execution.
2006January 31 – The United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri finds lethal injection is constitutional.
February 1 – The Court of Appeals issues a stay of execution pending review of district court decision. The Supreme Court upholds the stay. Crawford v. Nixon, 126 S.Ct. 1192 (2006)
April 11 – The Missouri Supreme Court issues write to Jackson County Circuit Court prohibiting it from reopening Rule 24.035 litigation. State ex rel. Nixon v. Daugherty, 186 S.W.3d 253 (Mo. band 2006)
April 27 – The Court of Appeals retains jurisdiction and remands to district court for further hearing. Taylor v. Crawford, 445 F.3d 1095 (8th Cir. 2006)
June 26 – The district court find’s Missouri’s method of execution unconstitutional and suggests changes to improve it. Taylor v. Crawford, 2006 WL 1779035 (W.D. Mo2006)
August 9 – The Court of Appeals relinquishes jurisdiction to district court. Taylor v. Crawford, 457 F. 3d 902 (8th Cir. 2006)
September 12 – The district court finds Missouri’s written protocol unconstitutional
2007June 4 – The Court of Appeals reverses district court judgement and finds the written protocol constitutional. Taylor v. Crawford, 487 F.3d 1072 (8th Cir. 2007)
2008May 20 – The Missouri Supreme Court affirms the denial of post-conviction relief by the Jackson County Circuit Court. Taylor v. State, 254 S.W.3d 856 (Mo. band 2008)
2009February 24 – The Missouri Supreme Court rejects a claim by Taylor and others that written protocol did not conform to state law. Middleton v. Missouri Department of Corrections, 278 S.W.3d 193 (Mo. band 2009)
November 10 – The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concludes the protocol is applied constitutionally. Clemons v. Crawford, 585 F.3d 1119 (8th Cir. 2009)
2011May 31 – The Missouri Supreme Court rejects Taylor’s challenge to judge sentencing. State ex del. Taylor v. Steele, 341 S.W.3rd 634 (Mo.banc 2011)
I can assure the good bishops of Missouri that this tortuous 25 year legal history is in no way unusual.  In fact, it's entirely typical of how a death case goes up and down the court system, both state and federal, and is viewed from many different angles, considering many different issues from the sufficiency of the evidence to any bias in the imposition of the penalty to the effectiveness of the defense attorneys.

For each of the 15 murderers executed by the state of Missouri, the same process was followed, including executive clemency reviews.

One would imagine the bishops have access to a lawyer who could explain this simple fact to them.  I'd rather believe it's ignorance than a sleazy attempt to advance an agenda, that led the bishops to make such a disingenuous, deceptive complaint.