I gotta go, road dog. I love you Gabby.
August 25, 2009 4:30 PM   Subscribe

 
I wish cases like this would make people second guess state-sponsored killing. Sadly, the cynic in me thinks that the death penalty will continue as long as people demand blood for every injustice that occurs.
posted by arcolz at 4:42 PM on August 25, 2009


This is the first ever Texas state-sanctioned review of an execution. That fact should terrify people.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:46 PM on August 25, 2009 [22 favorites]


This is the first ever Texas state-sanctioned review of an execution. That fact should terrify people.

Yes, but to their credit that they are actually doing so. And that they are also putting judge Sharon Keller on trial for misconduct related to her death penalty rulings. Several independent opinions seem to think she was fairly callous in her conduct.

From FindLaw:

The desires for speed, for ease, and for economy can overcome the needs for certainty, for truth, and for care in the application of the law.

From the NY Times:

Judge Keller’s profound lack of appreciation for the seriousness of taking a life — and the obligations it places on the state — is similar to the disturbing dissent that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas delivered this week in the Troy Davis case. They suggested there was no constitutional problem with executing a man who could prove he was innocent.

Some more information on Scalia's dissent in the Troy Davis case, in which he maintains that innocence is no barrier to carrying out an execution.

I'm honestly not sure how I feel about execution as a deterrence measure. We seem to have high rates of violence in spite of it.

But that we're now at the point where the highest court of the land would go ahead with executions in spite of innocence seems to cross a line that should trouble anyone who is a judge or lawyer with any moral sense. Law is a tool, and when it supersedes human decision making then it is no longer serving humanity.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:51 PM on August 25, 2009 [23 favorites]


Multiple studies have shown that execution is not a deterrent--just so you know.
posted by kathrineg at 4:58 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm honestly not sure how I feel about execution as a deterrence measure.

It does not seem complicated to me. This was one bad judge. There will be others. They will kill innocent people.

Imprisonment is cheaper, and inevitable mistakes can be somewhat rectified. Even if the added deterrence of the death penalty were significant (which, frankly, it is not), how could we stand by and let the mechanism of the state continue to inevitably and irrevocably destroy the innocent?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:00 PM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is the first ever Texas state-sanctioned review of an execution. That fact should terrify people.

Only if you mean after-the-fact review (and assuming the article is accurate). There's judicial review of impending executions all the time in Texas.

Multiple studies have shown that execution is not a deterrent--just so you know.

Multiple studies have shown that execution is a deterrent. Just so you know.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2009


But that we're now at the point where the highest court of the land would go ahead with executions in spite of innocence seems to cross a line that should trouble anyone who is a judge or lawyer with any moral sense.

Only two out of 8, in this case. But still pretty fucked up.

This is the first ever Texas state-sanctioned review of an execution. That fact should terrify people.

Apparently the Dallas DA has been looking at cases where people were sentenced to death and getting a lot of people off on new DNA evidence. But that was before the execution, where, argueably it's a bit more important.
posted by delmoi at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2009


Another Texas death row "arsonist," this one got away. (pdf) The article names the other six Texas death row inmates who were freed. None of them had been executed yet, however.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:05 PM on August 25, 2009


Thanks for this post, desjardins.

I happened to watch, for the first time, The Thin Blue Line last night, the classic documentary about the horrendously wrongful conviction of a man for the murder of a Dallas police officer in 1976.
I didn't for a moment imagine it would be so timely.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:07 PM on August 25, 2009


"Some investigators, however, have refused to acknowledge it, preferring to stick to the old ways."
posted by prak at 5:07 PM on August 25, 2009


seems to cross a line that should trouble anyone who is a judge or lawyer with any moral sense.

Ah yes, but the law should not be based on "morality," should it? (I'm being facetious. The line has definitely been crossed.)
posted by The World Famous at 5:09 PM on August 25, 2009


The studies, performed by economists in the past decade, compare the number of executions in different jurisdictions with homicide rates over time — while trying to eliminate the effects of crime rates

Uh... so they are discounting a high murder rate on the basis that other crimes are also common? Sure, our murder rate is high, but at least our general crime rate is high too! Clearly execution is a deterrent!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:12 PM on August 25, 2009


Who cares if there's a deterrent effect? Serious question.

I'm sure judicial amputation would cut theft rates. Caning people would probably deter them from vandalizing. Executing not just the criminals, but their families as well (this might as well be on the table since we're going to execute innocent people either way, no?), would probably be a great deterrent. We shouldn't be executing people because it's ineffective, we shouldn't be doing it because it's wrong.
posted by 0xFCAF at 5:12 PM on August 25, 2009 [58 favorites]


Ah yes, but the law should not be based on "morality," should it?

If it wants any legitimacy, morality would have to be one of foundations of law, no? Isn't one of the purpose of law to help people mediate conflicts fairly, without the stronger party inflicting violence on the weaker party, morality would seem to underpin that mechanism functioning properly. Or we'd simply beat each other up if we wanted something, when the law wouldn't give it to us.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:23 PM on August 25, 2009


Jaltcoh, that is a really poor piece of journalism, although the Levitt study is interesting.
posted by kathrineg at 5:24 PM on August 25, 2009


CHECK ONE:

[ ] The death penalty should be used.
[ ] The death penalty should not be used.
[ ] Huh, I thought this post was about a state-sponsored review of a capital punishment case. Everyone agrees that's a good thing, I hope.
posted by 23skidoo at 5:24 PM on August 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


For me, this is the core of the death penalty debate - if there's even a sliver of a chance you could execute an innocent person (and there always will be), how can you justify it? If you incarcerate an innocent person, at least you have a chance of undoing that in the future. You can't undo an execution.
posted by brandman at 5:26 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


That wasn't written well. I think you'll get what I'm trying to say, though.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:27 PM on August 25, 2009


Yes, I get what you're trying to say. And I agree with you.
posted by The World Famous at 5:28 PM on August 25, 2009


Willingham’s neighbors testified that when the fire “blew out” the windows, Willingham “hollered about his car” and ran to move it away from the fire to avoid its being damaged. A fire fighter also testified that Willingham was upset that his dart board was burned.

Why would they assume he's guilty, just because he's upset about his dartboard being damaged while his kids are being burned alive? A nice dart board can be expensive!
posted by jayder at 5:35 PM on August 25, 2009


The ad generated for this page concerns Troy Davis. We haven't killed this one yet.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:38 PM on August 25, 2009


I don't understand how conservatives who believe the government can do nothing right suddenly come to believe that the government is infallible when sentencing people to death. I have an extensive web-site regarding the West Memphis case.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:42 PM on August 25, 2009 [16 favorites]


Huh, I thought this post was about a state-sponsored review of a capital punishment case. Everyone agrees that's a good thing, I hope.

They killed an innocent man, either through institutional ignorance or institutional malice. This is a good time to talk about the merits of the death penalty.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:42 PM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't understand how conservatives who believe the government can do nothing right suddenly come to believe that the government is infallible when sentencing people to death.

The obvious answer is the right one -- they don't actually care if he's innocent or guilty, as long as its just another poor black guy.
posted by empath at 5:45 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


psst, empath: you got two out of three
posted by desjardins at 5:51 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


they don't actually care if he's innocent or guilty, as long as its just another poor black guy

I don't think that's a common sentiment. More common is the belief that if someone has got to death row and fits the profile, they are obviously guilty.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:51 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Blazecock Pileon: Some more information on Scalia's dissent in the Troy Davis case, in which he maintains that innocence is no barrier to carrying out an execution.

Interpretations of Scalia's Davis dissent from Obsidian Wings, first by publius and then by Lee Kovarsky.
posted by Kattullus at 5:54 PM on August 25, 2009


what's wrong with caning people for vandalism?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 5:55 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why would they assume he's guilty, just because he's upset about his dartboard being damaged while his kids are being burned alive? A nice dart board can be expensive!

"experience shows that there is no way to predict how people will react in a fire or to the grief of losing loved ones"
posted by prak at 6:01 PM on August 25, 2009


More common is the belief that if someone has got to death row and fits the profile, they are obviously guilty.

Around here, the prevailing opinion trends toward being arrested and having your mug shot in the paper as the standard of obvious guilt.

As expressed by the sharp legal mind of Edwin Meese: "If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect."
posted by dhartung at 6:03 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why would they assume he's guilty, just because he's upset about his dartboard being damaged while his kids are being burned alive?

I've seen people in deep shock and sometimes they react in weird ways. Reverting to an almost child like state of focus on something simple can be an instinctive reaction to protect ones sanity for a while by blocking out the big picture. Ever watched people after someone close to them died? Some face the reality of the situation immediately and respond to it calmly, some realize what happened but freak out, others don't acknowledge it at all and distract themselves with seemingly silly activities or conversations for a short or sometimes a long time and get angry if you try to interfere. This latter response could be what was observed. Your mind chooses to freak out over damage to a dart board so you don't have to think about the death of your children for a little bit.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:26 PM on August 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


[Remaining portion of statement omitted due to profanity.]

I bet. I'm thinking it was probably something like I'll see you at the gates of Hell so I can spit in your eye, motherfuckers.
posted by localroger at 6:39 PM on August 25, 2009


I'm thinking it was probably something like I'll see you at the gates of Hell so I can spit in your eye, motherfuckers.

Actually, his final words were directed to his ex-wife, the mother of the children that died. He said, over and over again, "I hope you rot in hell, bitch."

Weird fucking case. Capital punishment is fucking stupid. A deep, dark hole and a key that can be lost is all you need. You can generally go back and open the hole and recover some shred of dignity, if you really need to.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:48 PM on August 25, 2009


Oh boo hoo, why is everyone picking on Texas today??
posted by inigo2 at 7:16 PM on August 25, 2009


There is a great BULLSHIT! episode about capital punishment. Logically, if we all fail.
posted by edmo at 7:26 PM on August 25, 2009


Speaking as a proud Texas resident, I'd say this is one thing about the state that everyone should pick on. Lovely place, lovely people, totally ass-backwards criminal justice system. Fortunately, we're starting to make progress on changing it, but it's slow going.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:28 PM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


@jaltcoh: According to those studies, we should execute an occasional innocent, since doing so will save something between 3 and 18 lives. Would you like to volunteer?

The extreme spread seen in those results is awfully interesting. You'd think different but valid methodologies would reach similar results. You'd also think that if executions deterred murder, states with executions would have the lowest murder rates. Interesting how the trend is in exactly the opposite direction, isn't it?

@ dances_with_sneetches: conservatives who believe the government can do nothing right suddenly come to believe that the government is infallible when sentencing people to death.

It's similar to their objections to running up a deficit for universal health care, after remaining totally silent about running up a deficit to take over foreign countries. If it's evil, they're on board, nothing more or less to the matter.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:51 PM on August 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


The death penalty deters people from committing murder as much as traffic fines deter people from speeding.
posted by carfilhiot at 7:53 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


The death penalty deters people from committing murder as much as traffic fines deter people from speeding.

The death penalty does keep me from killing more than 10 over the limit, though.
posted by The World Famous at 8:05 PM on August 25, 2009 [12 favorites]


But that we're now at the point where the highest court of the land would go ahead with executions in spite of innocence seems to cross a line that should trouble anyone who is a judge or lawyer with any moral sense.

As much as I despise Scalia and his decision I see his point.

As tragic as executing an innocent man would be, it would be a deeper tragedy for the court to be swayed by public opinion and witnesses (one of the least reliable form of evidences) as to a defendant's guilt or innocence. If Scalia honestly believes that the jury would have been convinced by the other circumstantial and ballistics evidence that's his prerogative as a Supreme Court Justice and will weigh on his own conscience (assuming the bastard has one).

The rest of us smell something and assume bullshit. While our collective instincts in the case are probably correct, justice is supposed to be blind and, by extension, I assume anosmic* as well.

I do think it comes back to the defense doing a shitty job of providing exculpatory evidence and the prosecution not doing a decent job of following up their other leads in the first place. But of course Scalia being an asshole and sticking to his warped idea of principles is such a productive way to trying and change the system.

*Lacking any sense of smell
posted by Talez at 8:10 PM on August 25, 2009


Interpretations of Scalia's Davis dissent from Obsidian Wings, first by publius

Beyond my distaste for Scalia's judicial activism (albeit of a socially acceptable variety) and personal politics, I find it hard to give the benefit of the doubt about his interpretation of law to someone who takes 24 literally.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:34 PM on August 25, 2009




Ben Franklin (among others) said "better [one hundred] guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer." Scalia, blessed with a direct psychic link to the Founders, is wiser than him, and says "Better an infinite number of innocent Persons should suffer than that the procedures of the Court be disrupted."
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:02 PM on August 25, 2009


Is it wrong that all I can hear is Judge Smails in my head when I read about this Judge Keller?

Judge Smails: "I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to do it. I felt I owed it to them."
posted by cloax at 10:06 PM on August 25, 2009


Is it wrong that all I can hear is Judge Smails in my head when I read about this Judge Keller?

Judge Smails: "I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to do it. I felt I owed it to them."


Judge Roy Bean: Do you have anything to say before we find you guilty?
Sam Dodd: I'm not guilty of nothing. There's no crime that I've done wrong.
Judge Roy Bean: Do you deny the killing?
Sam Dodd: I do not deny it. But there's no place in that book where it says nothing about killing a Chinese. And no one I know ever heard a law on greasers, niggers, or injuns.
Judge Roy Bean: All men stand equal before the law. And I will hang a man for killing anyone, including Chinks, greasers, or niggers! I'm very advanced in my views and outspoken.
Sam Dodd: There's no place in that book that...
Judge Roy Bean: Trust in my judgment of the book. Besides, you're gonna hang no matter what it says in there, 'cause I am the law, and the law is the handmaiden of justice. Get a rope.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:23 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


A Sanhedrin [court] which imposes the death penalty once in seven years is called murderous.
Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah says, "Once in seventy years."
Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Aqiba say, "If we were on a Sanhedrin, no one would ever be put to death."
Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel says, "So they would multiply the number of murderers in Israel."
—Mishnah, Makkot 1:10


I believe in capital punishment; I think that there are some things which are worse than death, and that for people who have committed certain crimes having to live every day for the rest of their lives with the vast chasm that they have unknowingly opened up between themselves and the rest of the human race is almost certainly worse than simply dying and leaving their lives as the sum of happier times. Execution can and should be an act of mercy toward the executed; nothing more, nothing less.

I think 0xFCAF is spot-on, too; it's always somewhat disgusting to me when these kinds of discussions come up and certain people seem to feel it necessary to argue that we should be executing more as a deterrent. The idea that we should mete out punishments which may well go past what's just and right simply to teach people a lesson seems to me to be the mentality of criminals and tyrants; I don't see how anyone who actually wants to create justice in society can coherently claim that executing people as a warning to would-be criminals is fitting.

Finally, it's awesome to hear that Texas is reviewing past executions. A stay on executions (though I don't know if I dare to hope) might do a world of difference in convincing a slew of other states to reconsider.

Whether you support capital punishment in some forms or not, I think that anyone who's assessed carefully their outlook toward humankind and considered what it means to be actually just—it is nearly identical to being kind, interestingly enough—should be more than a little concerned about the current rate of executions in the United States.
posted by koeselitz at 10:34 PM on August 25, 2009


uncanny hengeman: I haven't got a dog in this fight. I was just reading his Wiki and then I saw your question.

That is just about the shittiest Wikipedia article I've seen all month, and that's saying something. Methinks somebody's been having fun with the 'edit' button.
posted by koeselitz at 10:41 PM on August 25, 2009


I believe in capital punishment; I think that there are some things which are worse than death, and that for people who have committed certain crimes having to live every day for the rest of their lives with the vast chasm that they have unknowingly opened up between themselves and the rest of the human race is almost certainly worse than simply dying and leaving their lives as the sum of happier times. Execution can and should be an act of mercy toward the executed; nothing more, nothing less.

Philosophically, I respect your opinion. Practically speaking, several problems pop up: how can you be sure the person you are executing is indeed guilty? If you develop a system to determine this, how can you be sure the system cannot be abused by people less noble than you are?

I don't believe a death penalty system will ever be invented that will never kill innocent people. I don't claim to know your entire opinion on this subject (if I'm misinterpreting you, I apologize), but from what you've written above, it would seem this problem bars any support for any currently available system.
posted by Maxson at 11:06 PM on August 25, 2009


Maxson: Philosophically, I respect your opinion. Practically speaking, several problems pop up: how can you be sure the person you are executing is indeed guilty? If you develop a system to determine this, how can you be sure the system cannot be abused by people less noble than you are?

I don't believe a death penalty system will ever be invented that will never kill innocent people. I don't claim to know your entire opinion on this subject (if I'm misinterpreting you, I apologize), but from what you've written above, it would seem this problem bars any support for any currently available system.


Absolutely, it does. In fact, I don't know that courts in the United States will ever be precise or careful enough to carry out executions with any degree of justice; they sure as hell aren't now, and therefore the fact that they're still killing people is something that needs to change fast.
posted by koeselitz at 11:15 PM on August 25, 2009


I disagree on one small point: there have been good, upright, careful courts before, and there's nothing to say that they can't happen at all—I have no illusions about the necessities of democracy, but I think it's a little blindered to presume that no court could ever exist which could justly carry out executions. However: it sure as hell won't happen in a democratic country, nor need it. It shouldn't even be on the table here.
posted by koeselitz at 11:18 PM on August 25, 2009


Fogg, in an interview at his home in upstate New York, stood by his investigation.

"Fire talks to you. The structure talks to you," he said. "You call that years of experience. You don't just pick that knowledge up overnight."


Oh shut up, you fucking hack.
posted by Rat Spatula at 11:32 PM on August 25, 2009


I disagree on one small point: there have been good, upright, careful courts before, and there's nothing to say that they can't happen at all—I have no illusions about the necessities of democracy, but I think it's a little blindered to presume that no court could ever exist which could justly carry out executions. However: it sure as hell won't happen in a democratic country, nor need it. It shouldn't even be on the table here.

I do agree that democracy isn't the best way to get a good justice system. I still can't believe we vote for judges in some states.

Where we apparently disagree is whether any system can have a sufficiently high success rate when repeatedly used. I actually think American courts are generally decent at dispensing justice- I just don't think it's possible to make a system that will never screw up, either from evil intent (prosecutor wants to win a little too much) or plain bad luck (key evidence was lost despite all efforts to retain it). Even a team of the greatest people from all time could make a mistake, and as we all know, there's no going back.
posted by Maxson at 11:51 PM on August 25, 2009


dances_with_sneetches: "I don't understand how conservatives who believe the government can do nothing right suddenly come to believe that the government is infallible when sentencing people to death."

They don't. I think that by and large, they're okay with it because even when it fails, it tends to kill people they think are scumbags anyway.

I think there is a fairly widespread mindset that the purpose of the justice system is not really to determine guilt or innocence and mete out punishment for some sort of rehabilitative purpose, but to separate Scumbags from Good People. At its core it's almost a predestinationist philosophy: there are Good People and Scumbags, and a person is either one or the other, and they reveal their true nature via their actions (and/or skin color, and socioeconomic background). As long as the system locks up or executes Scumbags and applies only minor corrections to the misdeeds of Good People, it's working fine.

Viewed through this lens, a whole lot about the US criminal justice system suddenly goes from totally schizophrenic to making a very scary sort of sense.

I think it's one of those situations where the people holding that attitude may not even realize they're doing it; i.e. it may not be apparent to them that what they're doing is totally inconsistent with their stated principles, but totally consistent with a view of the world only a 17th century Calvinist could love. (I think there's a parallel with many vicious pro-lifers, who frequently have an agenda that makes no sense if you take what they say at face value, but is entirely consistent with a programme built around the subjugation of women and the repression of female sexuality.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:28 AM on August 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


Assistant Fire Chief Douglas Fogg: Fire talks to you. The structure talks to you... You call that years of experience. You don't just pick that knowledge up overnight.

Rat Spatula: Oh shut up, you fucking hack.

Or, to be more precise, I think:
This is the central misconception held by many fire investigators at that time, i.e., that fire burns up and does not burn downward without “help.” Mr. Fogg was asked, “To what do you attribute that?” and answered, “Liquid being used to accelerate the fire.” ...

By 2004, it was well known and generally accepted in the fire investigation community that such patterns were subject to misinterpretation in fully involved compartments, and that the only way to credibly identify a flammable liquid induced fire pattern was to obtain a positive laboratory result. What was generally accepted in 1992 is no longer generally accepted, and has not been generally accepted for most of the last ten years, except by a dwindling group of die-hard “experts,” who refuse to accept the scientific data in front of them.
this pdf here.
posted by koeselitz at 12:34 AM on August 26, 2009


Argh. The pdf is here.
posted by koeselitz at 12:35 AM on August 26, 2009


Look, if you're in favor of the death penalty than you must accept the occasional innocent execution. It's not up for debate. There can, nor will there ever be, an infallible criminal justice system. The upshot of this fact is that innocent people will be convicted of crimes (and also that guilty people will be let go). If execution is a punishment in a given criminal justice scheme then innocent people will absolutely be executed. This isn't really up for debate. It will absolutely happen at least once. The more it's imposed, the more it'll happen. Safeguards will help, but they won't solve this fundamental problem because the problem is inextricably tied up with the fact that any criminal justice scheme is a human institution.

Interestingly, opponents of the death penalty don't really a reciprocal problem. Since guilt and sentencing are separate phases of a trial the percentage of guilty people getting away doesn't really change whether or not you have the death penalty. Arguably, the death penalty has the effect of deterring crimes at their inception. But even if it does, a society must accept the innocent executions that come along with that benefit.

If the idea of executing an innocent person is so repugnant to you that you think a society can't ever allow it to happen then you have to be against the death penalty.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 1:58 AM on August 26, 2009 [8 favorites]


Multiple studies have shown that execution is not a deterrent--just so you know.

It's something we've known since Shakespeare's time when the pickpocket points out in the Winter's Tale:

every lane's end, every shop, church, session,
hanging, yields a careful man work.

posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:39 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


...a view of the world only a 17th century Calvinist could love.

I look at that phrase and think it goes a long way to explaining the position of a sizeable (and vocal) portion of the political spectrum when it comes to the discussion of public policy in the US. On topics such as justice, healthcare and social security there is an obsession with the idea that some undeserving miscreant may obtain a benefit they haven't earned. This obsession is carried to such lengths that implicitly, and often even explicitly, it's accepted that efforts to exclude the undeserving will place high, or even insurmountable, obstacles in the path of the unfortunate deserving. Retribution over rehabilitation, abstinence over harm reduction, the stick over the carrot. It's a sad indictment of a rich democracy in the 21st century that so much of the legitimate function of society is wrapped in such a petty, jealous and vengeful attitude. Americans as individuals are no less thoughful, generous or empathetic than the citizens of any other country and they deserve a society that reflects that.
posted by Jakey at 3:54 AM on August 26, 2009 [11 favorites]


Three cheers for the CSI effect !!!
posted by jeffburdges at 5:18 AM on August 26, 2009


See, koeselitz, bullshit talks to me. The condescension talks to me. You call that years of experience. You don't just pick that knowledge up overnight. The bullshit tells a story. I am just the interpreter. I am looking at the bullshit, and I am interpreting the bullshit. That is what I know. That is what I do best. And the bullshit only lies. So then I know the truth.

As soon as I hit those quotes from "Morning" Fogg and "Mistaken For A Man" Vasquez, my eyes started rolling. "Oh, great pyromancers! What sayeth the bones? Tell us your foresoothsayery!"

He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.

If you ever get put on trial, kids, remember; odds are half the expert witnesses will be from the south end of the bell curve.
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:51 AM on August 26, 2009 [4 favorites]


I've never been able to understand how religious folk can condone execution, since it's the ultimate in playing God. Especially since it's often the same people who condemn euthanasia because it's playing God (I won't bring up the A word, that's a whole other can of worms).
posted by desjardins at 6:43 AM on August 26, 2009


...distaste for Scalia...

I liked it when he explained on 60 Minutes that torture was cruel and unusual but everything was still cool because torture wasn't punishment.
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:16 AM on August 26, 2009


I've never been able to understand how religious folk can condone execution, since it's the ultimate in playing God. Especially since it's often the same people who condemn euthanasia because it's playing God (I won't bring up the A word, that's a whole other can of worms).

Yes to all of that. I have, however, come to the realization that if you try to find sense or logic or any kind of consistency in these positions you will drive yourself insane.
posted by ob at 8:22 AM on August 26, 2009


Willingham’s neighbors testified that when the fire “blew out” the windows, Willingham “hollered about his car” and ran to move it away from the fire to avoid its being damaged. A fire fighter also testified that Willingham was upset that his dart board was burned.

People behave strangely under stress. Six years ago, when my best friends' home was destroyed by an arson fire that was also clearly an attempt to kill them and their 21-month-old son, the police cited the following things as evidence that my friends had actually set the fire themselves:

1. One of my friends was too calm when she made the 911 call.

2. One of them joked to the other, as the house was still burning, and a firefighter later "testified" to this, that "at least now we won't have to replace the carpet."

3. One of my friends asked a firefighter for a teddy bear for her son--he'd gotten one earlier in the week from firefighters who came to the house in response to a death threat/fake anthrax letter they'd received, and she thought if they had one for him it would help comfort him.

4. A few days later, when they went to the police station to make statements, one of them answered her cell phone and said to a friend, "Yeah, we're at the police station--they're interrogating us but we haven't broken yet." [This during a time when they were alone in a room and had not been informed that they were being monitored and recorded.]

I have that same kind of dark/sarcastic sense of humor, and any of the jokes they made, I might have made, too. It's not evidence of guilt. I am also very calm in a crisis. My friend called 911 while standing barefoot in the Montana snow in February, holding a toddler who has just been handed out a window to her, while her partner was still trapped in the house. It's just her nature that she was able to calmly explain the situation, give the address, and so on; I probably would have been the same. You'd think being calm while calling 911 would be a good thing, but apparently under some circumstances, you'd be wrong.

Oops, went into a rant there. I just meant to say that I would not read too much into Willingham's behavior during the fire. It's both easy for me to imagine that he said something innocent or jokey about the dart board, which was later used against him, or that he reacted to the stress by focusing weirdly on inconsequential things like his dartboard and his car--not that he valued his car more than his children.

What I learned from my friends' experience is that, even if you are the victim of a crime, you must assume that the police are not your friends. Clam up, and lawyer up.
posted by not that girl at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2009 [8 favorites]


That is just about the shittiest Wikipedia article I've seen all month, and that's saying something. Methinks somebody's been having fun with the 'edit' button.

Can you clarify? Are you saying any or all of this wasn't so?

• Circumstantial evidence? Yes.
• Example of prior murderous behaviour? Yes. [killing an unborn baby = murder in the USA, is it not?]
• Deserved to be executed because of the above evidence alone? No.

But surely it answers the question as it was posed by jayder: Why would they assume he's guilty?

I didn't pick up on this before, but on preview I'm not even sure if jayder wasn't just being sarcastic.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:10 AM on August 26, 2009


The dude was not a saint; in fact he sounds like quite the asshole. He may have even set the fire. I don't know. What is becoming clear - due to the experts' testimony - is that the evidence does not support a finding of arson. His reaction to the fire is entirely circumstantial unless he made a confession. The point is not that we definitely executed an innocent man, but that the evidence does not even come close to proving beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty. I don't believe in the death penalty in general, but it seems obvious that at the very least we shouldn't execute people based on flimsy evidence.
posted by desjardins at 9:12 AM on August 26, 2009


One of the criteria in Texas death penalty cases is "whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society." Psychiatrist/expert witness James Grigson testified for the prosecution that Willingham couldn't be rehabilitated and was a continuing threat to society. Dr. Grigson was nicknamed "Dr. Death" for making similar predictions in 124 death penalty cases (115 of which resulted in death sentences), usually without meeting the defendants. He was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association and the Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians in 1995. (In 1985, Errol Morris went to Texas to make a documentary about Dr. Grigson and ended up making The Thin Blue Line.)

From the Chicago Tribune article: "Eleven days after the fire, a police chaplain who had responded to the blaze said he had grown suspicious that Willingham's emotions were not genuine. 'It seemed to me that Cameron was too distraught,' said the chaplain, George Monaghan."

OK. So he's not distraught enough at the fire, and too distraught afterwards. Exactly how distraught are you supposed to be after having all three of your children burn up in a fire?

Fire talks to you. The structure talks to you

Sounds like Donald Sutherland in Backdraft.

Why would they assume he's guilty?

Something bad happened, and a guy who had done bad things was accused of it. It's human nature to find someone to blame.

Are arsonists usually violent? Arson doesn't seem up-close-and-personal enough for someone who's physically violent.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:42 PM on August 26, 2009


I dunno. If someone were to put a gun to my head and forced me to decide if this guy was guilty or innocent, i'd say I'm about 60% sure he's guilty. But that's not a high enough threshold for conviction, let alone the death penalty.
posted by empath at 2:23 PM on August 26, 2009


"I don't understand how conservatives who believe the government can do nothing right suddenly come to believe that the government is infallible when sentencing people to death."

I don't understand how liberals who believe the government can't administer the basic function of justice can believe the government is infallible with respect to taking over the health care system.

Funny how it works both ways like that.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 3:24 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Some more information on Scalia's dissent in the Troy Davis case, in which he maintains that innocence is no barrier to carrying out an execution."

You know who else thought innocence no barrier to persecution? (No seriously, Stalin, Robespierre, lot of people really)

“If the idea of executing an innocent person is so repugnant to you that you think a society can't ever allow it to happen then you have to be against the death penalty.”

I think executing one innocent person is one too many. But it’s not repugnant in the way that is implicit in the acceptance of it as government business is. What’s appalling is that one person implies one million. Whether soon or over a very long period, execution is war against a nations own citizenry. (To invert Stalin’s thinking that one death is a tragedy while millions of deaths are a statistic – he was ½ right. But he was also a crazy mofo, so screw him. One million deaths are the tragedy of one death multiplied by a million)

So then one must ask – what is the nature of this war and persecution?

One can argue it’s to make people obey the law, but that’s an answer to a different question – who is to die?
The real question who is innocent? or who are we protecting by this war? Is ignored.
So then the object of the persecution is persecution and you have that tautology of power Orwell talks about rather than an actual working government that is a tool.

Execution makes people a tool of the government rather than the government being a tool of the people. (The former, Scalia (et.al.) is obviously in favor of)

And that’s mostly out of fear. Sure folks fear boogeymen, and indeed, there are some. And they want to use fear as a tool – death scares folks so they want to scare others with it perhaps.
They also fear their human responsibilities. If you associate the crime with the criminal, you don’t have to face the idea you might be commit a crime yourself or someone like you might – I don’t want to get into the race thing here, but in the U.S. it’s a factor.

But it’s still a very long standing problem. To quote Seneca: “To be feared is to fear: no one has been able to strike terror into others and at the same time enjoy peace of mind.”
posted by Smedleyman at 3:28 PM on August 26, 2009


TheFlamingoKing: I don't understand how liberals who believe the government can't administer the basic function of justice can believe the government is infallible with respect to taking over the health care system.

It's a lot bigger screwup to kill the wrong person than it is to send a check to the wrong address.
posted by Kattullus at 3:28 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Kattullus: "It's a lot bigger screwup to kill the wrong person than it is to send a check to the wrong address."

Lame. But it's nice to know that the entire health care issue boils down to sending the check to the wrong address. Is that what the private insurers have been doing this whole time?

For the record, before this gets nasty, I both live in Texas and pray for the elimination of the death penalty. And I really don't mean to start another health care flame-out on MeFi. My point was the same bias dances_with_sneetches has also has a converse statement and both are pretty strong positions.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 3:39 PM on August 26, 2009


TheFlamingoKing: Lame. But it's nice to know that the entire health care issue boils down to sending the check to the wrong address.

Under a single-payer system it kinda does.
posted by Kattullus at 4:06 PM on August 26, 2009


Actually, I do trust the Federal Goverment to send checks to the right address. They have a remarkable success rate.

Texas executions (you know Perry refused to commute Cameron so he wouldn't hurt his death-penalty cred) (+Bush's 131 executions, 40 of which had no defense) has stunk for decades. And yes, Bush did claim infallibility.

This recent article on A mean streak in the US mainstream seems relevant.
posted by psyche7 at 5:10 PM on August 26, 2009


Just wanted to say that I just now accidentally clicked tabs over to here from the Mitchell & Webb thread, and boy was I confused.
posted by unregistered_animagus at 5:12 PM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Supreme Court releases three-page memo on McPherson vs. United States.

WASHINGTON D.C. — In a surprising judicial turn, the Supreme Court today decided on a letter written to a "Mr. Health Care" about a missing check. The justices, voting 8 to 3, four in favor, three against, two in "maybe", two in "wha?", three voting twice, and Sotomayor abstaining like a knowing matronly figure, found that McPherson's writ of my-knee-is-acting-up provided a strong case for additional evidentiary hearings at the chain pharmacy level, either a CVS or a Wal-Mart. Scalia, writing the dissent, stated that paying for the requisite stamp to re-send the check would be a "fool's errand", citing 1996's Suck It Up v. Don't Wanna.

The fool in question, a newly hired mailman named 20-year old James Beard, was fined $100 before damning fabricated evidence brought by several nervously coerced impartial eyewitnesses implicated him into death row where he was summarily executed. When asked about the tragic mistake, Scalia cited McPherson for the obvious similarities, threw a hardback The Trial at me, and declared I was violating his constitutional right not to be backsassed.
posted by shadytrees at 10:19 PM on August 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how liberals who believe the government can't administer the basic function of justice can believe the government is infallible with respect to taking over the health care system.

I don't think anyone thinks the government would be infallible when administering the healthcare system. Just that it would do a better job then the current insurance companies.
posted by delmoi at 2:26 AM on August 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


empath: I dunno. If someone were to put a gun to my head and forced me to decide if this guy was guilty or innocent, i'd say I'm about 60% sure he's guilty. But that's not a high enough threshold for conviction, let alone the death penalty.

What the—seriously? I mean, now? Have you read the links?

The forensic fire investigators have all declared that it wasn't arson. They've said so unequivocally and absolutely. If it wasn't arson, how in god's name was this murder?

I know, it's tempting to convict on motive alone, but doesn't anybody understand that there has to be some way that the murderer murdered the victims before you convict them of murder?
posted by koeselitz at 6:22 AM on August 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


doesn't anybody understand that there has to be some way that the murderer murdered the victims before you convict them of murder?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_thinking

"magical thinking is nonscientific causal reasoning that often includes such ideas as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world"

He wanted them dead and that probably killed them.
posted by prak at 9:35 AM on August 31, 2009


Here's an article from the New Yorker about the case:

Trial By Fire: Did Texas execute an innocent man?

I didn't see it linked here; apologies if it was. It's pretty interesting, and offers some info not in the original post.
posted by bluefly at 11:27 AM on August 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


From the New Yorker article, which is very convincing in its argument that Willingham is innocent:
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2006, voted with a majority to uphold the death penalty in a Kansas case. In his opinion, Scalia declared that, in the modern judicial system, there has not been “a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”
Don't mind me, I'll be up on the roof, shouting "Cameron Todd Willingham."
posted by Kattullus at 12:52 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Barry Scheck: Innocent, but Executed
posted by homunculus at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2009


A Just World
posted by homunculus at 9:52 AM on September 1, 2009


Damn, it's too bad this post was constructed before the New Yorker article was published. It offers a lot more insight into the case than any of the other links. Was it just a coincidence that the OP decided to craft this post, or did they know the New Yorker article was coming out?
posted by billysumday at 8:10 AM on September 2, 2009


Total coincidence.
posted by desjardins at 12:42 PM on September 2, 2009


I don't understand how liberals who believe the government can't administer the basic function of justice can believe the government is infallible with respect to taking over the health care system.

I don't think anyone thinks the government would be infallible when administering the healthcare system. Just that it would do a better job then the current insurance companies.


Additionally, the government doesn't have to be infallible in health care. What's the impending disaster, that money is going to be wasted? Yeah, that's unprecedented in America.

It has to be infallible when it comes to killing its own citizens. The affected population is small and the consequences could not be greater. An error rate over zero is unacceptable. If we can't guarantee better, we can't be in this business anymore.
posted by Epenthesis at 8:19 PM on September 2, 2009


The impending disaster may well be that the government will screw things up and kill people through substandard care, and I'd still rather have that than the death penalty.

I guess that makes me uncompromisingly principled, eh?

also in America we do not waste money Cotton Mather doesn't let us it would be a sin the market works in mysterious ways
posted by Rat Spatula at 9:28 PM on September 2, 2009


It has to be infallible when it comes to killing its own citizens.

It would be lovely if this standard were to apply to other countries' citizens as well, but I understand. Baby steps.

/derail
posted by vanar sena at 9:37 PM on September 2, 2009


I grew up in Corsicana and lived on the 1500 Block of W 4th Street at the time of the fire. I remember riding my bike past the house on my way back home from a friend's on Christmas Eve. By then, though only a day later and almost a week before his arrest, my friends parents had already assumed he was guilty and, apparently behind the times on execution methods in use in Texas at the time, as was I, that the electric chair was "too kind a fate for this sorry lowlife piece of maggot shit." I started to feel uncomfortable because my friends parents seemed out of their minds with rage and left for home on my bike knowing even then that Cameron Willingham was going to die, he did not stand a chance. But as I rode past that house, I swear the air had that all too distinct smell of burned human hair and the only thing i could think about, not knowing about lethal injection, was if that was what the death chamber would smell like after the he was electrocuted, and that has haunted me ever since.
posted by holdkris99 at 11:03 PM on September 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


I just read the New Yorker article today, and tracked down this thread.

.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:40 PM on September 5, 2009


I've seen people in deep shock and sometimes they react in weird ways.

I got in a car accident once, as a teenager, that wasn't even that bad -- but I was in shock from the sudden nature of it (side-impact, didn't see the car coming before it hit) and spent the next few hours doing things like walking to a store nearby I used to work at and making sure they knew I had been in an accident, and that sort of thing. I don't remember any of it, including traveling to the hospital, other than a vague recollection of people telling me I was in shock. It was only after I started asking how my girlfriend was (she ended up in a neckbrace) that I had a sense of where I was, and a nurse talked to me about being in shock and what had been going on since I got in the hospital.

And this was for a simple, stupid car accident. My kids being burned alive in my house? I'd like to think they'd be holding me back from running through the flames, but for all I know I'd be catatonic for a week, or doing god-knows-what to cope.

Then again, after having that happen to my kids, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want my life to go on, so maybe I should move to Texas just in case.
posted by davejay at 10:00 AM on September 18, 2009


It has to be infallible when it comes to killing its own citizens.

It's late, I don't think anyone's gonna read this, but I just want to say this again. The government will never be infallible when it comes to killing its own citizens. If you are in favor of the death penalty then there must be benefits (in terms of deterrence and retribution, I guess) that outweigh the occasional execution of an innocent person. Fallibility is built in and can never be corrected for.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 2:38 AM on September 19, 2009


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