Massachusetts gets a little Texas, a little Utah
September 24, 2003 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Massachusetts governor has new plan to get death penalty re-introduced. Romney claims that his science is so tight that guilt will be irrefutable. It's an interesting angle to take to change legislation. I do, however, wonder how science can irrefutably detect crooked cops.
posted by Mayor Curley (33 comments total)
I don't know about crooked cops, but science can tell when a politician is lying - their lips move.....
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:30 AM on September 24, 2003

Mitt Romney - Death Penalty and gambling/slot machines. What a winner, this Guvnah' .
posted by troutfishing at 7:32 AM on September 24, 2003

I get nervous any time people start exalting science, rather than compassion or justice or a thoughtful examination of the facts, as the best means of determining who deserves to live.

Presumably those sentenced before DNA testing were judged guilty using the best science available at the time. The fact that that science wasn't good enough shouldn't lead us to believe that today's science is any less fallible.
posted by occhiblu at 7:38 AM on September 24, 2003

I don't know about crooked cops, but science can tell when a politician is lying - their lips move.....

I couldn't agree more with that statement.
posted by a3matrix at 7:41 AM on September 24, 2003

What really irritates me is that given that Romney's a Bishop in the Mormon church, his religious convictions and acceptance of DNA evidence are at odds.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:49 AM on September 24, 2003

I do, however, wonder how science can irrefutably detect crooked cops.

Not to mention District Attorneys.
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:01 AM on September 24, 2003

James Alan Fox, professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University - "Science is performed by scientists and scientists are human beings and they are not infallible," Fox said. "Science is irrefutable, but scientists can make mistakes. How can the governor guarantee whether evidence is planted or mishandled or incorrectly tested?"

I agree with his assesment of the human component, but "science" is constantly being refuted and examined, reformulated and advanced.
posted by Blue Stone at 8:10 AM on September 24, 2003

No-one in the US ever lost an election by promoting the death penalty. Clinton included. State-sponsored killing = votes.
posted by riviera at 8:25 AM on September 24, 2003

"Well, I'm sure they'll be able to fix it. You can't stop modern science. Can't stop it, you can't stop it. Can't stop science. Can't be stopped, no way, no how, science just marches--"
posted by brownpau at 8:33 AM on September 24, 2003

Romney said the commission will not study whether Massachusetts, one of 12 states that do not have a death penalty statute, should reinstate executions. Rather, he said, its mission is to determine whether an air-tight system can guarantee that only the guilty are sentenced to death.


Next question.
posted by straight at 8:48 AM on September 24, 2003

You have to be a pretty sick fuck to go to all these lengths just so you can kill people. Not much better than the people you want to kill I reckon.
posted by carfilhiot at 9:03 AM on September 24, 2003

Mayor Curley... um, they're not at odds.

Upon reading the article, it sounds more like Romney wants to produce a litmus test for evidence used in court that would allow the death penalty to be administered with greater confidence that the cases were solid.

If you believe that the death penalty is an appropriate penalty, then going to these lengths to assure its appropriate use seems like a noble venture...

That said, there are so many variables in the process that I think such confidence is damn near impossible to come by.
posted by silusGROK at 9:20 AM on September 24, 2003

Mayor Curley... um, they're not at odds.

Um, yeah, they are. He's a representative (a bishop, no less) of the LDS church. The LDS church says that DNA evidence is not reliable because it would suggest that a major tenet of their religion is untrue. However, Romney is suggesting that DNA testing is dependable enough to be a deciding factor in whether someone lives or dies.

I realize that he's not acting as a Mormon bishop in the death penalty issue, but either he believes that DNA is dependable and The Book of Mormon is false, or he believes that you can't count on DNA info and it shouldn't be used to determine someone's fate.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:31 AM on September 24, 2003

I have this disturbing image in my head now of Romney jumping for joy in his house, laughing "hooray! Now we can kill people again!" I find it more disturbing that he's probably not alone.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2003

How can we ever change minds about the reliability of death sentences if we can't get the percentages back up?
posted by yerfatma at 9:42 AM on September 24, 2003

Mormons don't believe in DNA?
posted by aramaic at 9:47 AM on September 24, 2003

This is what happens when science overtakes religon:
"The Book of Mormon, made public by Joseph Smith in 1830, is a cornerstone of church doctrine and is taken literally by the faithful. It teaches, among other things, that many American Indians are descendants of ancient Israelites who came to this continent 600 years before Christ -- a time period within the reach of modern archeology and genetics"

Hey Joe, you're full of shit and your followers are idiots.
posted by 2sheets at 9:55 AM on September 24, 2003

Hey Joe, you're full of shit and your followers are idiots.

Before you get all high and mighty, look at the evidence: the LDS offered the Book of Mormon during commercial breaks on Saturday mornings (WSBK38-Boston). The illustrations clearly showed Jesus preaching to fair-haired folks and the water was on the other side from where it is in the Bible's illustrations.

Besides: you can't understand the original tablet Smith found without a secret decoder ring, so how do you know who's right? I think Smith's assassination was pure marketing. No one in their right mind would follow someone named Joe Smith, but Brigham Young, that's a leader's name.
posted by yerfatma at 10:04 AM on September 24, 2003

You have to be a pretty sick fuck to go to all these lengths just so you can kill people. Not much better than the people you want to kill I reckon.

My thoughts exactly. I don't think his religion matters at all (it's no wackier than any other), but his fervent desire to move backwards instead of forwards is frightening. But I guess the appearance of being TOUGH ON CRIME!!!! is more important than anything else.
posted by biscotti at 10:05 AM on September 24, 2003

Hey since when one needs to be a genius ? It's obvious that scientist can make errors, politicians do all the time, lawyer, businessman, chimney cleaners. They're all the same human beings.

But NONE of them can resurrect dead people, unless they're so full of drugs they believe they are Jebus.

Of course people should be worried about death penalty because if your lawyer isn't paid enough or good enough he's not going to win and you're going to die.
posted by elpapacito at 10:18 AM on September 24, 2003

you can't understand the original tablet Smith found without a secret decoder ring, so how do you know who's right?

See, I got one those rings in '88. It had Toucan Sam in the center. I decoded the crap out of those golden plates, and it turns out that Joseph Smith was wrong about them being written in "reformed Egyptian". It's really just the english alphabet shifted four characters ahead. Most of the stuff was about John Harvey Kellogg being the One True Prophet.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:44 AM on September 24, 2003

Ray Krone marked the one-year anniversary of his release from prison with a dinner with his family and his girlfriend Tuesday evening.
Krone ... walked out of an Arizona state prison April 8, 2002, after new DNA evidence excluded him in the 1991 murder of a Phoenix bartender. He was later cleared of the crime. Krone spent more than 10 years in prison, including some of years on death row.

On September 18, 2003, Calvin Willis was released from prison after serving 22 years for a crime he did not commit. Postconviction DNA testing excluded Willis as the perpetrator of a 1981 rape for which he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

More than ten dozen persons have been released from prisons in the USA because of post-conviction DNA testing. Not as well known is that thousands of people -- the exact number is unknown -- have been released from jail before conviction by DNA testing. They were arrested and imprisoned because the police erroneously believed they were guilty. The DNA exoneration of so many pre-conviction defendants -- some jailed for two or more years -- also demonstrates that the chances of an innocent person being jailed are better than one would have thought. In 2002, Dwight E. Adams, director of the FBI Laboratory, disclosed that since his agency began using DNA testing in 1988, about 25 percent to 30 percent of the individuals suspected of committing crimes have been cleared through DNA technology (The Oklahoman Nov 2, 2002).
posted by matteo at 10:52 AM on September 24, 2003 move backwards instead of forwards is frightening.

More death penalty, I say, is a step forward.

You have to be a pretty sick fuck to go to all these lengths just so you can kill people. Not much better than the people you want to kill I reckon.

That's if you look at these "people" as simply people. To me, they aren't. A murderer is just that, a murderer and deserves to die (at the hands of whoever in fact). I applaud Romney.

The fact that that science wasn't good enough shouldn't lead us to believe that today's science is any less fallible.

But... but it IS less fallible. That's a fact. Science and technique is less fallible than it was in the past. How can you say it's not? Sure, PEOPLE are just as fallible (or crooked). But when someone has better, less fallible tools and resources to work with, one gets better, less fallible results.

If today's science wasn't less fallible, the DNA testing wouldn't be setting "guilty" people free.
posted by Witty at 10:54 AM on September 24, 2003

you can't understand the original tablet Smith found without a secret decoder ring, so how do you know who's right?

You guys make it sound like the Mormons are idiots. In reality, God came down and TOOK the tablets/gold plates from Joe, so there's no annoying questions of whether Joe translated it right (no mean feat for a guy who only spoke English).

Decoder rings my ass, that's the word of GOD. Stop blaspheming.
posted by norm at 10:58 AM on September 24, 2003

Witty, you're right, I phrased my sentence badly. Today's science is less fallible, but still not infallible, was the point I was trying to make.

If Romney has his way, however, Massachusetts, which doesn't currently have the death penalty and is therefore not killing anyone, would be executing more people than it currently does. This is not a way to scale back wrongful executions.

As for the death penalty in theory, I've always believed that many people deserve to die. We just don't have the right to kill them.
posted by occhiblu at 11:17 AM on September 24, 2003

As for the death penalty in theory, I've always believed that many people deserve to die. We just don't have a reliable means of determining who they are.
posted by straight at 11:57 AM on September 24, 2003

A couple of points.

On the death penalty:

I don't have any problem with using death in the punishment of certain classes of criminal behavior... that said, I have serious doubts about it's deterrent value and fair application -- at least as it is currently used in the US.

(On preview, straight's remarks strike a cord with me)

It's my understanding that Massachusetts does not currently use the death penalty... and I would hope that it would stay that way. Barring a complete overhaul of the judicial system, the death penalty is just poor policy.

(On a personal note : many years ago my sister was the victim of a serial killer... if the person who killed and mutilated her is ever brought to justice, I would prefer life incarceration over the death penalty as punishment.)

If the article is accurate, it would appear the Gov Romney believes that the death penalty has value, and is working hard to assure that the evidentiary standards are on par with the gravity of the punishment.

The issue for me is not that Romney is pursuing better science... it's the original assumption that the death penalty offers _any_ value within the current regime.

On Mormons and DNA:

Wow. There sure is a lot of assuming going on in this part of the thread.

Ad hominem and light-hearted (but nevertheless offensive) comments aside, I think this issue bears investigation.

First, let me state DNA testing does not run contrary to current, official Church doctrine... in fact, BYU (which is owned by the Church) is active in genetic research and (if memory serves) has contributed a great deal to various genome projects. Moreover (and much to my own chagrin), Salt Lake City is a hotbed of the bio-technical industry -- specifically those parts of the market dealing with genetic testing and research.

Second, saying that it must be against Church doctrine because a man was excommunicated for his research is stretch : you must not only believe that the journalist reported the events carefully and with due insight, but you must also believe the spin of a man whose comments on his own excommunication lack any counterpoint -- as the Church does not discuss these private proceedings.

Third, in my own experience with these disciplinary proceedings, I can attest that they are decidedly local matters, that often are much more complex than a casual observation would suggest.

Fourth, if anyone here has actually _read_ his thesis, I would enjoy reading your impressions.

Fifth, while it is popularly believed that many native American tribes are descendents of Semitic nomads, a casual reading of the Book of Mormon does not lend itself easily to this hypothesis... nor does current, official Church doctrine address the issue.

Finally, what the Book of Mormon does say is pretty straight forward, but lends itself to a number of interpretations -- many of which are in no way undermined by the genetic findings reported in the article linked.

If you're up for the read, I've got a little to say on the matter of genetics and Book of Mormon peoples.

First a little background :

As a result of the confusion surrounding the building of the legendary Tower of Babel, a group of people bound by a common language left the fertile crescent and after many years arrived on the shores of the Americas. Where, and among whom they fell is not addressed.

Thousands of years later, some of their descendants comprise the ruling class of a people that reside somewhere in the general vicinity of other key players in the story.

These people are collectively called the Jaredites after one of the leaders of that original group of nomads (Jared).

Shortly before the fall of Jerusalem (circa the reign of King Zachariah) a small band of people (a couple of dozen on the outside) from that city flee the impending destruction and wander in the wilderness for a number of years before crossing the ocean and landing somewhere along the shores of the Americas -- where, exactly, and whether they were alone is not addressed.

These people are called the People of Lehi (the leader of the group)... shortly after their landfall in the Americas, the group splinters into the followers of the eldest sons (called Lamanites) and the followers of one of the younger sons (called Nephites).

The Book of Mormon is a record kept by this last group, and is self-admittedly not overtly interested in the politics or history of the people, except as they touch on religious matters.

Shortly after the fall of Jerusalem another small band of people (headed by a son of the fallen king) flees the destruction and eventually arrives in the Americas as well.

These people are called Mulekites, after the son of the fallen king.

The Nephites flee the violent overtures of the Lamanites, and move as far away as they can.

After the schism, there is discussion of very large populations of Lamanite groups in the wilderness surrounding the Nephite enclave.

A couple of hundred years after the schism, the People of Nephi (a people whose ruling class is comprised of the descendants of the original Nephite group) encounter the People of Mulek (a people whose ruling class is comprised of the descendants of the original Mulekite group) -- a meeting which takes place shortly (within a few years of) the fall of the Jaredite dynasty. The Mulekite group is subsumed by the Nephite group.

At the end of the book, Mormon and his son Moroni -- descendants of the original Nephi -- recount the destruction of their society at the hands of outside bands collectively called Lamanites.

Through out the account, prophesies are made to the effect that descendants of the Lehi will be receive the account in the last days by the hands of the religion that brings the account to light.

Okay... those are the salient points for this discussion.

Here are my own observations and conclusions:

Of the groups mentioned in the Book of Mormon, only one is decidedly Semitic -- the People of Lehi -- and that group numbers at the outside a few dozen people. From their landfall, until the destruction of the Nephite society a 1000 years later, the book is a tale of the constant thinning of blood lines until at the end "Nephite" and "Lamanite" are both political, rather than hereditary terms.

I believe that there remain in the Americas, descendants of the People of Lehi... but I would be hard-pressed to believe that there are any with a bloodline pure enough to be genetically significant. I would also be hard-pressed to find them among the many more people who have absolutely no relation to Lehi at all.

So there you go... and all of this in a thread about the death penalty.

Oy vey.
posted by silusGROK at 1:04 PM on September 24, 2003

Those innocent of crimes that bring to question the warranting of the death penalty, do not deserve to die. For those who do commit cold blooded murder, hangin's too good fer 'em. I say we come up with punishment that doesn't let them off the hook. I think being on death row indefinitely can be a much greater punishment than a quick and speedy death sentence. We don't have to actually kill them, just convince them that we eventually will. If years later we find out we're wrong we can always let them out of death row. Granted, the innocent man will be pretty ticked off by then, but at least he ain't dead.

The truth is this:

Sure there's the humanitarian "right thing to do" part of the argument, which is not to fight fire with fire. If there's the chance that putting even one innocent person to death is possible, we become nothing more than the very thing we kill, the very injustice we're trying to prevent. We defeat the purpose. The end does not justify the means, if a single innocent life is lost. Moreover, if there was ever a chance of redemption for any guilty soul, we blot out that chance irreversibly. I wanted to believe in the death penalty. It just doesn't work.

There's also the common sense thing. The death penalty has existed in one form or another since the birth of civilization. One would think, if it was a suitable solution to extreme criminal behavior, that by now it would have actually worked and there'd be no more crimes of that nature. Again, obviously, it doesn't work.

However, there's also the economic side of the argument. If someone's got life in prison with the possibility of death and no chance for parole, they obviously are no longer capable of providing a valuable service to the community. They can't hold a job. They can't vote. They can't pay taxes. They can't do anything but take up a small amount of space in a crowded prison, and eat three square meals a day, and require countless millions spent every year with security and power and other resources to keep them locked away safely and consistently. I mean if we could just lock them inside a crate and store them underground somewhere and forget about them that'd be great. We can't. It's inhumane. So we keep a slice of humanity alive that has no redeemable productive thing to offer back to humanity, and in some cases the individual in question would do all he could to undermine and destroy humanity if given a chance.

We throw gobs of money at the problem. Our prison system is a money pit. The majority of those in the system may have a chance at redemption, yes, but those who wind up on death row, what are the odds at that point that the resources humanity invests in the upkeep of that life are going to be rewarded?

So. Humanitarian Concerns and Common Sense says keep them alive. Economics? Not so much.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:14 PM on September 24, 2003

Pure economics can actually be used to support abolishing the death penalty:

North Carolina: The death penalty costs $2.16 million more per execution than the cost of a non-death penalty murder case with life imprisonment (Duke University, May 1993)

Texas: a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. (Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992)

California: In Los Angeles County, an average death penalty case costs $2,087,926, vs. $1,448,935 for life imprisonment without possibility of parole—cost of the death penalty in California

(All three from here.)
posted by occhiblu at 1:41 PM on September 24, 2003

So. Humanitarian Concerns and Common Sense says keep them alive. Economics? Not so much.

ZachsMind: Don't be forgetting their inalienable right to life.
posted by biffa at 2:13 PM on September 24, 2003

What I'm really hoping in this case is that Romney's commission finds out there is no way to make death penalty cases foolproof. Maybe then we can get over this idea that state-sanctioned murder of poor black men is the answer to our problems. I mean, here are the numbers: 35% of the executed are black, even though they only make up 13% of the population according to the census estimates. 180 capital cases involved a black defendant and a white victim, whereas 13 involved a white defendant and a black victim. We execute the mentally retarded (or we did until Atkins v. Virginia, in June 2002) and juveniles.

Not to mention the economic disparity that takes place in the assignment of capital punishment; if you can afford a high-powered lawyer, your chances of walking free are much better than if you have to rely on a public defender, particularly if your attorney is drunk at the trial, leaves out key evidence, or just plain doesn't give a damn about you.

This doesn't even begin to take into account all the massive flaws in the system (as matteo's post pointed out nicely). Anyone who thinks the death penalty is a good idea needs to see The Exonerated.

I mean, who are we to determine if someone should die, especially considering the egregious flaws and corruption in the system we have?

I'm being longwinded, but this really gets me in a tiff. I mean, I don't understand how people can say things like "More death penalty, I say, is a step forward." Why do you say that? How can you say that? Okay, I find my answer later in your post: That's if you look at these "people" as simply people. To me, they aren't. A murderer is just that, a murderer and deserves to die (at the hands of whoever in fact). See, that's where we differ. First of all, there's a difference between "murderers" and "people on death row". I see people on death row as a population beset by income disparity and racism, when compared to the population of murderers who do not pay for their crime with their lives. Of course, that's if they are even murderers; there are too many flaws in the system to allow us to keep executing people. Your statement is dangerous, Witty; the dehumanization of other people is, I believe, far away the thing most responsible for the atrocities man commits on one another. Of course it's easy to execute people if you stop considering them human beings. And your statement sounds like you're okay with vigilante justice, another dangerous phenomenon and certainly not a sign of progress no matter how you look at it.

Whew. Sorry for the longwinded post, but this whole topic gets me up in arms. I don't understand how, or why, people would want to kill their fellow man (be it through murder or execution).
posted by nath at 2:56 AM on September 25, 2003

While I understand and totally respect where you're coming from nath, I don't believe you're going to see much progress in this area of human nature. You're looking for progress in our need/desire to show more compassion and sympathy for the wicked and the evil. I'm just not that interested in it. I'm looking to rid.

Progress, to me, would be a steady decline, year after year after year, of the types of crimes that are punishable by the death penalty. I don't see that happening though. It never has, it never will. Why fight it?

I don't care if the death penalty isn't a deterrent. Name for me one punishment/sentence that is a deterrent? There aren't any. A life sentence isn't any more of a deterrent than the death penalty. But, to me, they aren't supposed to be. They're punishments.

Actually, now that I think about it, they are deterrents in a sense... to smart people. I'm sure there have been plenty people who stopped and thought about what could happen to them if they carried through with "the plan" (or even stopped in the heat of the moment). Very smart of them. The ones that don't are stupid and should pay the price for their stupidity. If that price is death... well then they should have thought a bit harder before killing 6 people with a hatchet.

The disparity in numbers of black verses white people on death row doesn't bother me. It does bother me, however, that there is a system in place that perhaps makes it more likely for a black criminal or a poor criminal to see death row than it is for whites or the rich. But once a criminal is on death row (assuming he/she is indeed guilty), it doesn't bother me one bit who they are, what color they are, etc. They are there for a reason... and probably a pretty good one. In other words, I don't feel sorry for the black child killer on death row. I'm pissed that the white one got a life sentence instead.
posted by Witty at 12:28 PM on September 25, 2003

Witty-- it's obvious we disagree on the effectiveness of the death penalty, and never will our two opinions meet. That's fine, I suppose.

But the problem isn't so much the death penalty for hatchet mass murderers or child serial killers; it's the death penalty being given out to people who are convicted of killing one person, and who might well be innocent, given the massive number of flaws in the system.

As long as our system is so flawed that we allow innocent people to be executed, I can't see standing by the death penalty in any circumstance.
posted by nath at 8:54 PM on September 28, 2003

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