Tag Archives: death penalty

Ethics Dunce, Judicial Division: Arkansas Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen

 

That’s the judge lying down. At least he wasn’t wearing his robe…

Arkansas circuit judge Wendell Griffen granted a temporary restraining order last week halting the Arkansas Department of Corrections from executing seven condemned prisoners within eleven days as it had planned, as Griffen barred the use of one of the ingredients in the lethal drug “cocktail.” A federal judge followed up quickly with anothee order likewise barring Arkansas from proceeding to execute anyone with a lethal injection. Mission accomplished,  Judge Griffen decided to reward himself by attending an anti-death penalty rally in which he participated with elan, playing a condemned prisoner lying prone on a lawn chair as if it was a gurney.

What fun! And what an idiot! No ethics alarms went off, despite the fact that he was flagrantly displaying his bias against the death penalty immediately after interfering with the state’s law enforcement based on a fair and objective interpretation of the law.

State officials were outraged, and argued that Griffen’s conduct proved that he was not capable of impartiality in capital cases. Ya think?

Yesterday the Arkansas Supreme Court pulled Griffen from all pending death penalty and lethal injection protocol cases. It also referred him to the state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to determine whether he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct.

Good. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

A Remorseful Prosecutor Apologizes

Above: Glenn Ford Today. L-Ford in 1983 R-The apologetic prosecutor

Above: Glenn Ford Today. L-Ford in 1983 R-The apologetic prosecutor

Now THIS is a #1 Level apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale.

It’s more than an apology, really: it approaches self-flagellation. The tragic aspect of the confession and apology of former prosecutor  A.M. “Marty” Stroud III,  is that no one can really apologize for what he did, not after 30 years. For Stroud was the lead prosecutor in the December 1984 first-degree murder trial of Glenn Ford, who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering Isadore Rozeman. Ford was innocent, and was finally released a year ago. His is a classic, horror story of justice derailed. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

When Ethical Causes Are Pursued By Unethical Means: The Anthony Porter-Alstory Simon Mess

What does this picture have in common with the Alstory Simon case and the Illinois criminal justice system? Read on...

What does this picture have in common with the Alstory Simon case and the Illinois criminal justice system? Read on…

All Americans owe a debt to the many non-profit organizations across the country dedicated to freeing innocent prisoners, some of them sentenced to die, who were wrongly prosecuted and convicted as a result of breakdowns in the justice system or prosecutorial corruption. Their work has served as an invaluable fail-safe, it has focused attention on needed reforms, and it has rescued innocent lives before they were completely destroyed. As a reminder of the corruptive power of good intentions, however, the recent release of a convicted murderer put in prison by one of these organizations serves as an ethics cautionary tale. Apparently one such “innocence project” believed that it was worth sending an innocent man to prison for a murder he did not commit in order to save the man originally convicted of the crime from execution.

In 1998,* Illinois death row inmate Anthony Porter, convicted in the 1982 murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard, was apparently proven innocent 48 hours before his scheduled execution. A Northwestern University professor and his students working with the Medill Innocence Project had obtained a videotaped confession by a man named Alstory Simon, admitting that he, not Porter, was the real killer. Porter was ultimately released, in 1999.

The governor of Illinois at the time, George Ryan, a longtime supporter of the death penalty, claimed that he was so shocked by the near fatal miscarriage of justice that he halted all executions less than a year after Porter’s exoneration. Eventually he commuted the sentences of every prisoner on death row, saying the state’s capital punishment system  could not be trusted. The Simon confession leading to Porter’s exoneration drove the shift in public opinion that caused the Illinois death penalty’s demise in 2011.

Happy ending? Not exactly. In 2005, witnesses who implicated Simon announced that they had fabricated their stories in exchange for money and a promise by the Northwestern professor, David Protess, that he would work to free two incarcerated relatives of one of the witnesses. Then Alstory Simon recanted his confession, saying that he had been persuaded by a faked videotape of witnesses implicating him in the crime, and promises of a short prison sentence and a movie deal if he confessed to a crime he didn’t commit. Last week, an Illinois judge ordered Simon released from prison after  prosecutors agreed that he was probably not guilty. He had spent almost 15 years in prison. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Ethics Dunce (Again): Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen

No danger of an innocent being unjustly executed here...

No danger of an innocent being unjustly executed here, Richard…Now what?

Most Ethics Dunces named on Ethics Alarms are being chided for one, possibly anomalous, instance of ethics cluelessness, but not Richard Cohen. He is a lifetime, career-long ethics dunce. It is noteworthy when he writes something that doesn’t reek of ethics confusion.

Today he is blogging about the death penalty. There are coherent, powerful arguments that have been and can be made against the death penalty, but Cohen doesn’t bother with any of them, which, as a reflex old-school liberal, he should at least know by heart. No, he attacks the decision of Eric Holder to approve his Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s request to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber as “political cowardice using one invalid argument after another, and by the way, curse you, Richard Cohen, for forcing me to defend Attorney General Holder.

Here are Cohen’s “arguments”:

  • The death penalty is a horrible crime on par with Tsarnaev and his brother intentionally killing and maiming innocent spectators of the Boston Marathon. Such an absurd statement carries a high burden of proof, which Cohen doesn’t even attempt to meet.
  • “[The death penalty] is the sine qua non of lack of thought, a medieval tick of the political right, a murder in the name of murder that does absolutely no good, unless it is to validate the killers’ belief in killing.” Ironically, Cohen’s post is the sine qua non of lack of thought. Since the death penalty has been around continuously since well before Medieval times, calling it a medieval tick is about as fair and accurate as calling religion, warfare, and property laws  medieval tics. Of course it does good: the fact that a vicious anti-social murderer is permanently removed from society and no longer uses up resources, space and oxygen that can be better employed in the furtherance of humanity is an absolute good, and that those contemplating similarly heinous acts are on notice that the same fate awaits them is also good. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Bioethics, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society

Perspective: The Trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb (1924), Clarence Darrow’s Closing Argument, And Judge Caverly’s Sentence

Darrow and his clients

Darrow and his clients

I just commented, on the controversial post here about Judge Boyd and the media frenzy regarding the “affluenza” defense offered by Ethan Couch’s lawyers, that the fact that so many of the comments, many of them angry, focused on the fact that a spoiled, rich kid got a break, or, as they used to say in the old days, mercy, that I began thinking about the famous Leopold and Loeb murder trial.   In 2011, I  posted a shortened version of Clarence Darrow’s famous closing argument in that trial, one of my favorite of all courtroom speeches, and it seems appropriate to do so again. It is far from a perfect parallel, but any excuse to revisit Darrow at his best is a good one.

 Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were, like Ethan Couch, young, rich and spoiled; they also were Jewish and gay. Their crime was  far worse than Crouch’s: they planned and executed the murder of a child just for the fun or it, and to show that they could outsmart authorities. (Ironically, they were arrested almost immediately). The two teenagers were charged with the premeditated murder of fourteen year-old Bobby Franks. Both defendants were brilliant students (Leopold, the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Chicago; Loeb, the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan),  and the sons of wealthy and successful Chicago businessmen. Neither showed any remorse for their terrible crime. There is no question that had they been poor, they would have been sentenced to die, and would have been hanged. Their parents, however, could afford to hire Clarence Darrow, a foe of capital punishment who had never had a single one of his often guilty clients executed. They got their money’s worth.

His summation on August 22, 1924, remains perhaps the most persuasive and eloquent argument against capital punishment ever made in a court or anywhere else.  It is also an argument for mercy, and especially mercy for the young. The plea worked: Judge John L. Caverly spared Leopold and Loeb, and he sentenced them to life imprisonment without parole—under the circumstances and in those days of rough justice, a gift. In his sentencing statement, which is posted here after Darrow’s summation, Caverly did not indicate that he was swayed by Darrow’s eloquence or reasoning. Caverly based his sentence on the ages of the defendants. Darrow was counting on this particular vulnerability of Caverly, who had helped establish juvenile justice courts in Chicago. Later, Nathan Leopold suggested that he and Dickie Loeb might have gotten the same result if they had simply submitted their birth certificates into evidence.

I doubt that he would have bet his life on it. The pressure on Caverly to hang these two despicable sociopaths was overwhelming, and having Clarence Darrow put his decision in such heroic terms had to steel his nerve, if it needed steeling. Still, as with Judge Boyd in the Couch case, there is no way to be sure that he would not have spared Leopold and Loeb anyway. Also as in Ethan Couch’s case, critics said this was disparate justice, bought and paid for.

This is a condensed version of Darrow’s closing,  edited for The Essential Words and Writings of Clarence Darrow, (2007),  that I co-edited with historian Ed Larson.  Here is one of the great orators of the 20th Century, one of the great progressive thinkers in our history, and the greatest trial lawyer who ever lived, arguing for the life of two murderers and for the soul of our civilization. I do not share Darrow’s absolute rejection of the death penalty, but I always do for a few hours, at least, after reading this. Continue reading

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Filed under History, Law & Law Enforcement, Love

“Baghdad Bob” Dionne’s Orwellian Flackery

Baghdad Bob

There was a time long ago when columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. was legitimately regarded as the liberal twin of uber-consvervative Charles Krauthammer, a persuasive, analytical, fair, ideologically consistent political commentator. Somewhere along the line Dionne decided to recast his role as a full-time flack for the Democratic Party. His cheerleading became shrill and increasingly dishonest, often to the point of ridiculousness: James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal now regularly refers to Dionne as “Baghdad Bob,” after Saddam Hussein’s ridiculous Information Minister during the Iraq invasion, who issued straight-faced  on-air declarations that the Americans were being thrashed even as world viewers could see convincing contrary evidence in news reports, and Iraqi citizens could see the truth out their windows.

I now ignore Dionne, because he has no credibility at all. His readers must consist almost entirely of close-minded partisans on the left seeking comfort food, close-minded partisans of the right seeking an injection of adrenaline, and unsuspecting, trusting readers who don’t realizethat they are being misled. Having just finished posting here about Connecticut lawmakers passing a ban on the death penalty that is as cowardly as it is incoherent, my early morning head nearly exploded to see the headline on Dionnes’ column this morning about the same law. The headline?

“Connecticut’s Courage” Continue reading

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Filed under Government & Politics, Journalism & Media

Ethics Quote of the Month: Clarence Darrow’s Closing Argument in the Trial of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb (1924)

When capital punishment is in the news, it's time to listen to Clarence Darrow.

I know I have previously quoted portions of Clarence Darrow’s famous courtroom plea for mercy in the “thrill killing” murder trial of teenagers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. It can never be read too many times, however, and is an essential backdrop to any discussion of capital punishment. Darrow, who hated the death penalty and defended over a hundred clients facing it, never lost a capital punishment case. This, however, was the only time he articulated why he believed that capital punishment was wrong. 

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were charged with the murder of fourteen year-old Bobby Franks. Both defendants were brilliant students (Leopold, the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Chicago; Loeb, the youngest graduate of the University of Michigan), Jewish and the sons of wealthy and successful Chicago businessmen. Neither showed any remorse for their act, which had been coldly undertaken as a demonstration of their superior intellects. Darrow was hired by the Leopold and Loeb families to keep their sons from dying on the gallows, and he decided to plead their case directly to the judge.

His summation on August 22, 1924, remains perhaps the most persuasive and eloquent argument against capital punishment ever made in court or anywhere else. And it worked: Judge Caverly spared Leopold and Loeb, and they were sentenced to life imprisonment. This is a somewhat shortened version, edited for The Essential Words and Writings of Clarence Darrow, a 2007 paperback compiled by historian Ed Larson with some help from me. Here is one of the great orators of the 20th Century, one of the great progressive thinkers in our history, and the greatest trial lawyer who ever lived, arguing for the life of two murderers and for the soul of our civilization. I do not share Darrow’s absolute rejection of the death penalty, but I wouldn’t want to have to argue against him either. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, History, Law & Law Enforcement, U.S. Society