Tales Of The Slippery Slope: Paroling Sirhan Sirhan

RFK assass

Newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón issued a directive that his office’s “default policy” would be not to attend parole hearings and to submit letters supporting the release of some inmates who had served their mandatory minimums. Now Sirhan B. Sirhan, the convicted assassin of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, will be a beneficiary of the policy as he faces a California parole board for the 16th time tomorrow. in a prison outside San Diego. Unlike the first 15 times, no prosecutor will oppose his release.

Sirhan is now 77. He escaped execution when California, being California, abolished the death penalty and his sentence was reduced to life with the possibility of parole. Instead of death, then, his punishment for murdering a possibly transformational U.S. political leader might be only 53 years behind bars. It could have been fewer: under the California law in effect when the assassin struck in 1968, a life sentence with parole would have made Sirhan eligible for release after only seven years. Now the parole board will evaluate him as an inmate who has had no disciplinary violations since 1972, and has expressed remorse, sort of: at one, “I have feelings of shame and inward guilt … I honestly feel the pain that [the Kennedys] may have gone through.” On the other hand, he has never expressly admitted his guilt and now claims not to remember shooting Bobby.

Funny, you’d think he would recall something like that.

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A “I Must Be Missing Something” Ethics Quiz: Arizona’s Execution Option [Corrected]

gas chamber

Usually ethics quizzes on Ethics Alarms involve borderline ethics conflicts or dilemmas that I can’t make up my own mind about. Not this one: on this one: my mind is virtually made up. The arguments that the Arizona plan to use cyanide gas in future executions is an ethics outrage because of previous uses of cyanide gas seem contrived, emotional, and, frankly, weird, with no ethical validity whatsoever. But the intensity of these arguments make me wonder if I’m missing something, and Voilà! An Ethics Quiz!

The state of Arizona allows condemned inmates to choose the gas chamber, rather than lethal injection, if they committed a capital offense before November 23, 1992. Arizona’s attorney general, Mark Brnovich, is seeking to complete the execution of two men who committed murders before that date, and Arizona officials are reconditioning the state’s mothballed gas chamber in case they pick gas over a shot. Arizona authorities plan to use, if it comes to that, hydrogen cyanide to concoct the fatal agent of death. Cyanide gas is a particular gruesome way to die. It takes almost 20 minutes, in some cases, and this is a problem for some people.

Not for me: I find the obsession with making sure executions of the upper tier monsters who earn capitol punishment as pleasant as a spring day to be incomprehensible, and always have. We’re killing someone. It might hurt a little, and it won’t be pretty. An 18 minute judicially sanctioned death isn’t “cruel and unusual,” especially if the subject chose it. What I find cruel and unusual is the way our endless system of appeals dangles executions over the heads of Death Row inmates like a Sword of Damocles from Hell.

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So Do You Oppose The Death Penalty, Or Don’t You?

Absolutism is a bitch, as people used to say about Emanuel Kant behind his back. Absolute means absolute, and by taking an absolute position, you have waived the right to retreat, as rational ethical beings must sometimes, to the shelter of the Ethics Incompleteness Principle. Thus I confess to being thrilled at the dilemma President Biden has found himself in as the Supreme Court considers whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving partner of the Chechnyan terrorist bother act that bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013, deserves the death penalty.

Oh, gee, let me thin–YES! Of course he should die. The position here on capitol punishment is that having the ultimate punishment as the penalty for ultimate evil is crucial in order to maintain society’s reverence for human life and the rule of law. I don’t care if we only haul out “Old Sparky” for true monsters, like the Cheshire home invaders, Jeffrey Dauhmer, and James Earl Ray. Heck, I don’t care if you decide to only execute Tsarnaev and monsters like him, meaning those who, like him and his big bro, plant deadly shrapnel bombs where they know a happy crowd and families will be gathering for an annual event, where they killed three people, injured 260, many of them badly, including seventeen people who lost limbs. The brothers also killed a law enforcement officer as they attempted to escape.

Opponents of the death penalty are a funny bunch, and by funny I mean “they love grandstanding until they learn the details.” In the aftermath of the D.C. Snipers case, pollsters found that a significant percentage of those who said that they were unalterably opposed to capital punishment also said “buuuut I wouldn’t fight making an exception with those snipers.”

Then you are not opposed to capital punishment. It’s that simple.

In March, SCOTUS heard arguments in an appeal of the ruling last year by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, That court upheld Tsarnaev’s convictions on 27 counts agaianst him, including First Degree Murder, but ruled that his death sentence should be overturned because the trial judge had not questioned jurors closely enough about their exposure to pretrial publicity and had excluded evidence concerning Tamerlan Tsarnaev, his older brother and accomplice.

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Another Reason We Must Always Have Capital Punishment…[Corrected After Many Failed Attempts]

Lawrence Anderson

Sometimes monsters get loose.

That’s Lawrence Paul Anderson above. He has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder after he had been sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2017—just a few years ago— for a probation violation in a drug case. He was granted clemency last year by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board as part of a mass commutation program. Then, about three weeks after his release, Anderson forced his way into the Chickasha, Oklahoma home of Andrea Lynn Blankenship, 41. He killed her, then he cut out her heart. .He then took her heart across the street to the house of his aunt and uncle , cooked it with potatoes (personally, I prefer my human hearts with rice, but different strokes…) and tried to feed it to them “to release the demons,” he said later. Then Anderson attacked the couple and their 4-year-old granddaughter, killing his uncle and the little girl by stabbing them. Anderson’s aunt survived the attack but suffered stab wounds to both of her eyes.

The district attorney in charge of the case, Jason Hicks, said during a news conference last week that he might seek the death penalty for Anderson. “When is enough enough?” Hicks asked. “We have put politics and releasing inmates in front of public safety.”

Democrats in Congress have introduced a bill to eliminate the federal death penalty. I had just finished reading a standard issue op-ed diatribe against the death penalty when I learned about Anderson’s rampage. A couple of weeks earlier, I had seen the documentary on the horrific Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion, which I described in this post:

Planning to rob the home of the Petit family, the two broke into their house and found William Petit sleeping on a couch on the porch. Komisarjevsky bludgeoned him with a baseball bat and tied him up, leaving him bleeding and semi-conscious in the basement. The two men locked his wife, Jennifer, and their daughters, Hayley, 17, and Micheala, 11, in their bedrooms, as the invaders gathered money and valuables. Then Hayes forced Jennifer, at gunpoint, to withdraw $15,000 from the family’s bank account. After they returned from the bank, Komisarjevsky raped Michaela, the 11-year-old, and Hayes raped her mother. William Petit managed to escape the basement while this was happening, and crawled to a neighbor’s house to get help. Hayes strangled Mrs. Petit, poured gasoline on her corpse, around the house, and over both daughters, who were tied to their beds. Then Hayes and Komisarjevsky set everything aflame. 17-year-old Hayley and 11-year-old Michaela died from smoke inhalation before they could burn to death.

Hayes and Komisarjevsky were convicted and sentenced to die; Hayes wanted his lawyers to cease appealing. But while their lawyers were fighting the verdict and after the public’s memories faded, the Democratic Connecticut legislature abolished the death penalty in the state.

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Law Vs. Fallacy: The Jurisprudence Of Justice Sotomayor

us-supreme-court-justice-sonia-sotomayor

I haven’t been moved to do the research, but I would not be surprised if Barack Obama is owed the prize for the worst nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court ever to be confirmed by the Senate. That would be Sonia Sotomayor, the self-described “wise Latina” who was picked using the same criteria that led to Joe Biden choosing Kamala Harris as his VP: checking the right boxes. Obama was seeking a Hispanic judge (another first!) and a woman, but managed to choose a judge with weak credentials whose selection insulted better judges, female judges and Hispanic judges who were more qualified than her, and there were a lot of them. Since her confirmation, Sotomayor has introduced touchy-feely “compassionate” arguments exactly where they should never show their mushy heads: in Supreme Court oral arguments and opinions. Some of her opinions read as if they were composed by anyone with a law degree, though her law clerks are expert at stuffing them with the requisite number of case cites for appearances sake.

The latest example of Soromayor’s sentimental hackery was her dissent in the case of U.S. v. Dustin John Higgs, in which the Court, by a 6-3 vote (guess the three!) turned down the writ of certiorari of a man convicted of kidnapping and murdering three women, and sentenced to death. Justice Sotomayor began,

After seventeen years without a single federal execution,the Government has executed twelve people since July. They are Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken, Lezmond Mitchell, Keith Nelson, William LeCroy Jr., Christopher Vialva, Orlando Hall, Brandon Bernard, Alfred Bourgeois, Lisa Montgomery, and, just last night, Corey Johnson. Today, Dustin Higgs will become the thirteenth. To put that in historical context, the Federal Government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades.

Such an approach is a logical fallacy called “appeal to emotion.” That’s not law, that’s sentiment, assuming one is moved to tears by the idea of multiple convicted murderers finally being executed after years of expensive appeals and stalls. Sotomayor seems to think the fact that the “Federal Government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades” and that it was 17 years before the Trump administration did what should have been done all along has more than trivia value. So what? The U.S. has a death penalty, and finally has decided to follow through on it. Good.

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They—We—Executed Orlando Hall. Good.

lethal drug

One area in which the likely arrival of the Biden administration will surely signal furious back-tracking efforts will be the perpetual moral and ethical controversy over capital punishment. The execution of Orlando Hall was the eighth since the Trump administration revived capital punishment for federal crimes and the first of three scheduled during the presidential transition, if there is one.

The progressive way of the moment is to minimize or eliminate any punishment whatsoever for crimes. President-sort-of-elect Biden, in an exuberant moment, said during the campaign that there shouldn’t be prison time for any non-violent crimes. (Any non-violent crimes, Joe?) In the throes of the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck, the bonkers concept has been promoted by the Black Lives Matter constituency that the justice system is so racist that punishing any black citizen for any crime is perpetuating “systemic racism.” Here’s Ellie Mystal, The Nation’s “justice correspondent,” writing way back in 2016:

“Black people lucky enough to get on a jury could use that power to acquit any person charged with a crime against white men and white male institutions. It’s not about the race of the defendant, but if the alleged victim is a white guy, or his bank, or his position, or his authority: we could acquit. Assault? Acquit. Burglary? Acquit. Insider trading? Acquit.Murder? … what the hell do you think is happening to black people out here? What the hell do you think we’re complaining about when your cops shoot us or choke us? Acquit. Don’t throw “murder” at me like it’s some kind of moral fault line where the risk of letting one go is too great. Black people ARE BEING MURDERED, and the system isn’t doing a damn thing to hold their killers accountable. Sorry I’m not sorry if this protest idea would put the shoe on the other foot for a change.”

Mystal isn’t alone, and since the death of Floyd with a white police officer’s knee on his neck, his logic, if you can call it that, has become infectious. Race is a factor that may signal bias by jurors: major political leaders, pundits are and academics are arguing directly that all whites are prejudiced against blacks, and Mystal’s ilk are calling on black jurors to acquit even guilty black defendants as cultural “tit for tat.” (Ellie’s a lawyer and still reached this conclusion, and still is employed as an authority. But don’t get me started on Ellie.)

It is time to reconsider and perhaps revise the absolute principle the Supreme Court articulated in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), the landmark decision ruling that a prosecutor’s use of a peremptory challenge in a criminal case, dismissing a juror without stating reason for doing so, may not be used to exclude jurors based solely on their race. After all, if all whites are secretly or subconsciously hostile to blacks, they can’t be trusted to judge the guilt of a black defendant, and if blacks are being urged to fight systemic racism and “mass incarceration” by acquitting guilty black criminals, they can’t be trusted either.

Maybe what we need is all Asian-American juries.

But I digress…slightly. Here was the ABA Journal’s headline regarding the execution of black death row inmate Orlando Hall: “Federal inmate tried by all-white jury is executed after Supreme Court lifts execution stay.” Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, the so-called liberal minority on the Court, dissented from the Supreme Court order allowing the execution to proceed without explaining their dissent. They don’t have to. Biden has said he will work to end the use of capital punishment by the federal government, reversing President Trump’s support for it: the Left considers the death penalty to be an 8th Amendment breach, “cruel and unusual” punishment.

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Ethics Outburst, 7/15/2020: An Execution, An Exoneration, A “Never Mind!” And More Freakouts…

1. Least surprising ethics revelation of the day: Kanye West is an asshole.  After posting this,

..sending the news media into a frenzy, setting off speculation about how much of the crucial black vote his candidacy might siphon off from Joe Biden, exciting all of those who inexplicably take the man seriously after ample evidence over the years that he is emotionally unstable, West has decided a mere eleven days later that he doesn’t want to run after all. His organization had hired 180 people who trusted him.

If there is a more irresponsible celebrity alive, I don’t want to know about him. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly'”

Hayes and Komisarjevky, the Cheshire, Conn. killers

Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on my post about the recent SCOTUS capital punishment opinion spawned another COTD. The immediate catalyst was my answer, within the post, to Steve’s query about what crimes I think warrant executions. One of my answers referenced the Cheshire, Connecticut home invasion and murders, which I wrote about extensively here.

Here is Rich in Ct’s Comment of the Day on the post,Comment Of The Day: “SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly”:“SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly”:

“The Cheshire, Conn. murders.” This is the crime that broke my opinion of the death penalty. I was initially ultra-liberal on this issue, thinking that the death penalty was just not acceptable today, but moderated considerably.

My initial view was a rather unexamined belief, essentially unchanged from what I had expressed in a middle school essay a few years before the home invasion. In that middle school essay, I decried the state of Connecticut for “murdering” Michael Ross, a jolly good chap who killed 8 souls before the age of 24. (Stipulated, even in middle school, I conceded wooden jails of the Wild West, etc, could not reliably contain dangerous individuals, necessitating the death penalty.)

My main argument was that killing was WRONG. This was axiomatic, not allowing counter argument. The only mitigating factor for execution, the need to protect the public, was adequately addressed with modern maximum-security prisons.

Ross was the last criminal successfully executed by Connecticut, making the opportunities to reflect on an actual case study vanishingly rare. However, Connecticut had several placed on its death rolls, each hopelessly tied up in appeals (mostly by design). A distressing number of capital indictments came from prosecutors in Waterbury, the major city in northwestern part of the state. Waterbury has a unique reputation for corruption second to none (in a state with Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport, mind you); disgraced ex-governor Rowland was employed by the city when he was released from prison. Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly”

The Ruth Snyder execution…

Capital punishment is one of those irresolvable topics guaranteed to roil an ethics blog; it has also been a reliably emotional issue that does not break down along partisan lines. The recent Supreme Court decision in Bucklew that rejected, narrowly, a condemned man’s argument that an execution method that would be uniquely painful in his case rendered it “cruel and unusual” in violation of the Constitution was a good bet to produce a Comment of the Day, and sure enough it did, from always provocative Steve-O-in NJ.

Here is his COTD on the post, “SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly.”I’ll be back at the end to briefly answer Steve’s question.

What stuck out to me is the penultimate paragraph in Breyer’s dissent, in which he states that as we move forward there may be no constitutional way to implement the death penalty. That, I submit, is one more reason we need to either get that sixth conservative justice on the Court or get Breyer out of there. Breyer already came within one step of saying the death penalty should be outlawed in a 2015 dissent in which only Justice Ginsburg joined (surprise surprise) and which got a pretty severe smackdown from Justice Scalia.

There is something fundamentally wrong with a way of thinking that worries so much about the pain, humiliation, or other bad consequence suffered by a murderer and thinks almost not at all about his victim. It’s that kind of thinking that keeps Peter Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper) sitting in a UK prison on the taxpayers’ dime, Fowzi Nejad (the only terrorist to survive Operation Nimrod) living in London on the public dole, and means Michael Adebowale (who participated in what I can only describe as the assassination of Drummer Lee Rigby, for no reason other than he was a soldier) will see the parole board in 45 years. It’s also that kind of thinking that enabled Charles Manson to dodge death until the ripe old age of 83 and would have kept William Spengler (the West Webster shooter, who wrote that, “I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down, and do what I like doing best, killing people,”[ before setting a fire and ambushing the responding firemen, killing two of them) alive, perhaps to be paroled a second time, since he had already been imprisoned for 18 years after killing his grandmother with a hammer, had he not saved the authorities the trouble by killing himself. Continue reading

SCOTUS: There is No Right To Be Executed Painlessly

Good.

Russell Bucklew’s   girlfriend broke up with him, so he threatened her. She ran to a neighbor’s house, but Bucklew chased her down. First he shot the neighbor dead. Then he beat his girlfriend and raped her. Police arrested him after a shootout, but Bucklew eventually escaped so he could attack his girlfriend’s mother with a hammer.

Bucklew was tried and convicted, then sentenced to death under Missouri law. Does this conduct, once proven in court, warrant the death penalty? Personally, I would prefer the bar to be set a bit higher, but I’m not disturbed, as a member of society, to be partially responsible for Bucklew’s demise. He made it clear that he has no intention of abiding by the social contract, and society has no obligation to let him keep breathing.

Two weeks before his schedule execution, Bucklew raised a medical condition as a unique barrier for the use on lethal injection on him, as described by the Court:

“Mr. Bucklew suffers from a disease called cavernous hemangioma, which causes vascular tumors— clumps of blood vessels—to grow in his head, neck, and throat. His complaint alleged that this condition could prevent the pentobarbital from circulating properly in his body; that the use of a chemical dye to flush the intrave- nous line could cause his blood pressure to spike and his tumors to rupture; and that pentobarbital could interact adversely with his other medications.”

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