It is clear the the 2022 Ethics Alarms Award for the Most Incompetent Elected Official of the Year is going to come down to the wire. Oregon Governor Kate Brown, already a strong contender (as she was in 2021 and 2020), just delivered a pure grandstanding exhibition that insulted multiple juries, undermined the rule of law, and in effect lowered the penalty for vicious murder to that of far less heinous crimes.
Her decision to commute the death sentences of 17 convicted killers who have forfeited the right to live in civilized society is legal, and the power she has to make it is necessary. There has to be some safety valve for the justice system, which is bound to fail as all systems do, and making the executive the final arbiter of extreme and unusual cases is the best of several flawed options. However, many governors abuse this power, and, like Brown, use it to pander to a political base. Here, from Oregon Live, is the list of the seventeen men on Death Row that Brown feels deserve to continue to live at taxpayers’ expense: Continue reading →
On July 5, 2005 in Kirkwood, Missouri, police were executing a search warrant. While they were in his home, twelve-year old Joseph Long suffered a seizure and collapsed. Police, maybe thinking he was faking, maybe worrying about being distracted from their jobs, maybe because they were just cold-hearted bastards, did nothing to help him, and wouldn’t let his mother intervene either. The child died. Two hours later, the same officers responded to the same neighborhood after getting reports of illegal fireworks being set off. Kevin Johnson, the dead child’s older brother, spotted officer William McEntee, one of the police who had been at his home earlier that evening. “You killed my brother,” he said, and fired a gun at the officer multiple times, killing him.
Johnson was tried, sentenced to death, and now, 17 years later, has run out of appeals. He’s going to be executed. His daughter, Korry, just two when he murdered the police officer, is now 19 and wants to be among the limited number of attendees at her father’s death. Missouri has a statute, Revised Code Section 546.740 that determines who is eligible to watch an execution: Continue reading →
That’s Alan Eugene Miller, who was convicted of murdering three men in 1999. Nobody disputes that he is guilty. The only question is how and when he will be executed, as he received the death penalty and deserved to. The fact that he is still breathing 23 years after his crimes speaks for itself, and is self-evidently absurd, a direct consequence of the moral and ethical confusion over capitol punishment. People like Miller—that is, people who have forfeited their right to continue living in a civilized society—cost law abiding citizens millions by the time they finally get their just desserts.
This story is especially infuriating as well as ridiculous. Alabama passed a law in 2018 that gave death row prisoners a choice between being killed by a lethal injection and dying by a nitrogen hypoxia, which is death by being deprived of oxygen.
[Observation:Why a condemned prisoner should be given any choice at all is beyond me. As Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, said, Miller’s three victims didn’t get to choose whether they would be shot in the chest.]
Miller is, we are told, afraid of needles, so he chose suffocation.
[Observation: This already sounds like a Monty Python skit. Again, who cares what he’s afraid of? Presumably he’s also a bit afraid to die. So what? Why should the state, or the society he betrayed, have any ethical obligation to yield to his delicate sensitivities?]Continue reading →
It’s not surprising that last week’s decision in the Arizona case of Shinn v. Ramirez and Jones didn’t get much coverage outside of the legal media. The decision is procedural rather than substantive, and the majority opinion by Justice Thomas in the 6-3 holding is hard sledding. Nonetheless, it is a classic example of law trumping ethics. The Justice Sotomayor dissent, joined by the other two liberal justices, argues that it trumps law as well.
I would not argue that law must never trump ethics, for law requires consistency and systemic application over the long term to have credibility and integrity. However, Shinn involves a man facing the death penalty, and the decision by the conservative justices chose the virtues of finality over the possibility that the government might be executing an innocent man.
As regular readers here know, I strongly favor capital punishment, but only when there is no doubt whatsoever about the facts and the guilt of the convicted defendant, when the crime is so cruel, horrific and premeditated that normal murders seem tame in comparison, and when the procedural due process is followed to the letter.
Certain themes and issues are certain to recur on an ethics blog and never be resolved. Among them are abortion, “hate speech,” illegal immigration, reparations for slavery, drug legalization, gun control, war (HUH! What is is good for?], climate change and capital punishment. From the captain’s chair at Ethics Alarms, some of these seem more difficult than others. Capital punishment is not among them. [Above is the sensational and illegal photo in 1925 of the first woman ever sent to the electric chair as the switch was pulled. Ruth Snyder, a housewife from Queens, New York, took a lover and recruited him in a plot that ended with her husband’s brutal death; a reporter had a secret camera device strapped to his leg. Her story was the basis of many fictionalized versions, including the classic film noirs “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and the brilliant expressionist stage drama “Machinal” by Sophy Treadwell.]
I’ll play: I believe non-lethal crimes that ruin lives to the magnitude that Bernie Madoff did with his Ponzi scheme ethically support a death sentence. Last week the late investing whiz’s sister and her husband were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide that was probably another consequence of his crime.
I read the Bucklew case, where the SCOTUS decided, quite sensibly, that there is no right to a painless execution. 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 needed to either get that sixth conservative justice on the Court or get Breyer out of there. Continue reading →
Good, and also legal, ethical, just, fair and necessary.
Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion in United States v. Tsarnaev. It is, like most Thomas opinions, long, careful, thorough, and persuasive. The dissent by Justice Breyer, in contrast, is uncharacteristically weak, and the other two “liberal” justices did themselves no favors by joining it. Essentially, it is an example of exactly the judicial legislating that conservatives rightly complain about. Breyer grasps at a dubious legal straw to do indirectly what he cannot do directly: ban capital punishment, which is both legal and constitutional. His whole argument in his own nutshell:
During the sentencing phase of his murder trial, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev argued that he should not receive the death penalty primarily on the ground that his older brother Tamerlan took the leading role and induced Dzhokhar’s participation in the bombings. Dzhokhar argued that Tamerlan was a highly violent man, that Tamerlan radicalized him, and that Dzhokhar participated in the bombings because of Tamerlan’s violent influ-ence and leadership. In support of this argument, Dzho-khar sought to introduce evidence that Tamerlan previously committed three brutal, ideologically inspired murders in Waltham, Massachusetts. The District Court prohibited Dzhokhar from introducing this evidence. The Court of Appeals held that the District Court abused its discretion by doing so…. This Court now reverses the Court of Appeals. In my view, the Court of Appeals acted lawfully in holding that the District Court should have allowed Dzhokhar to introduce this evidence.
Yesterday was the anniversary of one of The Boston Strangler’s more audacious murders: Albert DeSalvo (right, above) raped and strangled Mary Sullivan in her Boston apartment, then left a card reading “Happy New Year” leaning against her foot. She was the 13th and last victim of the maniac who terrified the Boston area between 1962 and 1964. I had a near meeting with DeSalvo: in 1964, he knocked on the door of my family’s neighbors, the Morelands, one afternoon. I saw him; of course, I didn’t know who he was or why he was there. It turned out that he had the wrong address, and went to the street parallel to ours in Arlington, Mass. and murdered the woman who lived at the same house number.
DeSalvo was a serial maniac. In the late 1950s, he knocked on the doors of young women’s apartments, claiming to represent a modeling agency and telling them he needed to take their measurements. Then he fondled the women as he used his tape measure. Police called him “Measuring Man.” Next he broke into hundreds of apartments in New England, tying up the women and sexually assaulting them. He always wore green handyman clothes and became known as the “Green Man.” But “The Boston Strangler” was the name that stuck. DeSalvo avoided execution or even the full life sentence F. Lee Bailey negotiated for him. He was stabbed to death by an inmate at Walpole State Prison after less than a decade behind bars.
Richard Ramirez, aka.”The Night Stalker,” was, amazingly, worse than DeSalvo; last night I watched a documentary about his reign of terror in the ’80s. A Satanist, Ramirez murdered at least 15 people, committed burglaries and rapes, and sexually molested children. He remained defiant throughout his trial, and though he was sentenced to death, California’s endless appeals system kept him alive, at great taxpayer expense, long enough to perish of cancer after less than twenty years in prison.
Both DeSalvo and Ramirez are excellent examples of the kind of anti-social predators who warrant society having and using a death penalty to establish the ultimate punishment for those who have unequivocally forfeited their right to exist in civilized society. For people like them, capitol punishment is ethical. Allowing them to live on society’s dime is unethical, as well as unjust.
1. To lighten the mood, consider this public service spot by Hawaii’s Department of Health. “Keiki” is Hawaiian for “child.”
Yes, this is the level of awareness so many of our state bureaucracies exhibit. The thing was actually greenlighted. After it had been viewed many times, the video was pulled. “As soon as I saw it this morning, I thought, ‘Hey guys, let’s pull this,’ ” Brooks Baehr of Hawaii’s DOH told reporters. “The intentions were noble, but it was clearly not our best work.”
Boy, I hope it wasn’t their best work. With thinking like this going on in our health departments, no wonder the pandemic is still with us. Continue reading →
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.
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.