Category Archives: Death Penalty

Colorado General Assembly to Consider Repealing Death Penalty; Savings to be Used to Solve Cold Cases

For reasons I have expressed in earlier posts, I am opposed to the death penalty. I simply do not trust our criminal justice system enough to make a life or death decision on the innocence or guilt of an individual (based on recent news concerning Dr. West and others, it seems my distrust in the system is completely justified). I am very pleased to learn that the Colorado General Assembly is taking a hard look at this issue and considering repealing the death penalty and using the money saved to help investigate cold cases.

The Rocky Mountain News reports:

The idea of abolishing the death penalty in Colorado and using the money it takes to prosecute such cases to solve so-called cold cases stirred debate in a House committee late into the night Monday.

House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, revived his bill that just missed passing the House in 2007. The threat of death does not deter people from committing murders, he said, and the $370,000 spent to prosecute those cases could be better spent on investigating unsolved murders.
Since 1967, Colorado has executed one person and there are only two people on death row, Weissmann said. During that time, there have been 1,435 unsolved homicides.

Considering that the death penalty is so rarely enforced in Colorado, it seems to me that even those who support the death penalty should recognize the incredible costs associated with placing less than a handful of individuals on death row. The families of these 1,435 victims have just as much right to bring the killers of their loved ones to justice as those who wait for the day of execution for the ones who have taken their loved ones from them.

The article continues:

But several opponents of Weissmann’s bill said it’s based on a false argument.

Attorney General John Suthers noted that the Homicide Assistance Unit that works to solve and prosecute death penalty cases also has assisted 19 of the state’s 22 judicial districts with cold cases.

Colorado Bureau of Investigation Director Ron Sloan said that a Cold Case Task Force formed in 2007 is nearing the point where it will bring together federal, state and local analysts to review cases that are referred to it.

Plus, Suthers said, there are times when the possibility of receiving the death penalty is necessary to deter crimes. Those include instances in which someone who has been sentenced to or is facing life in prison might want to kill witnesses or commit an act of terrorism, he said.

I disagree that the bill makes a “false argument.” If the state saves $370,000 by no longer prosecuting death penalty cases, that’s $370,000 the cold case units have to work with that they currently do not. And if Colorado has only executed one person since 1967, how does having the death penalty on the books deter individuals from committing homicide?

I think we all instinctively know the answer: it doesn’t.

Dr Michael West Filmed Committing Attempted Murder

Over at Reason, Radley Balko has published a damning article and video of Dr Michael West attempting to murder a man named Jimmie Duncan.

In 1993,  [Dr Michael West and Dr Steven Hayne]  conducted an examination on a 23-month-old girl named Haley Oliveaux of West Monroe, Louisiana, who had drowned in her bathtub. The video shows bite marks mysteriously appearing on the toddler’s face during the time she was in the custody of Hayne and West. It then shows West repeatedly and methodically pressing and scraping a dental mold of a man’s teeth on the dead girl’s skin. Forensic scientists who have viewed the footage say the video reveals not only medical malpractice, but criminal evidence tampering.

The dental mold came from the teeth of the man babysitting the girl at the time of her death.  The manufactured bite-mark evidence put the man, Jimmie Duncan on death row.  I am convinced that Mr Duncan, who was described by witnesses as being very remorseful and in hysterics with shame, was guilty of negligent manslaughter.  Nowhere in the United States are people executed for manslaughter through negligence.  In his attempt to make him look more depraved than he actually is, by attempting to send him to the death chamber without justification, Dr West was attempting to murder Jimmie Duncan, as surely as if he had booby-trapped Duncan’s car with a bomb connected to the ignition system.

This might seem like an isolated incident, except for the fact that Dr Hayne has conducted nearly every autopsy of crime victims performed in the state of Mississippi in the past 20 years.  In cases where Dr Hayne could not find evidence to help convict criminals, he frequently sent the bodies to Dr West, who had a special test for bite-marks that has never been reproduced by any other forensic specialist.  And, like any monopoly, the monopoly criminal apprehension organization operated by the Mississippi state government refuses to revisit all the cases affected by these men’s testimony.

Given the thousands of people that Hayne and West helped put behind bars, there is a near certainty that many innocent people have been sent to jail for crimes committed by others.  One could argue that that amounts merely to malpractice.  However, the last time I checked, when one person tampers with a crime scene for the purpose of framing an innocent man with a crime while obsucring the actual guilty party’s role, it is called being “An accessory to murder after the fact”

I strongly encourage our readers in Mississipi to question the news media and government officials regarding the destructive trail of injustice left by Dr’s West and Hayne.  Their victims cry out for justice.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

Quote of the Day: The Death Penalty Edition

From Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. dissent in Doss v. Mississippi

[T]he most terrifying possibility in a system where the death penalty is dealt arbitrarily: innocent men can be, and have been, sentenced to die for crimes they did not commit. In 2008 alone, two men – both black – convicted of murders in Mississippi in the mid-1990s have been exonerated fully by a non-profit group that investigates such injustices.

One of these men, Kennedy Brewer, spent an astonishing six years on death row. Just as a cockroach scurrying across a kitchen floor at night invariably proves the presence of thousands unseen, these cases leave little room for doubt that innocent men, at unknown and terrible moments in our history, have gone unexonerated and been sent baselessly to their deaths.

Hat Tip: Reason Hit & Run

Che, Mao, and Pop Culture

One thing that disturbs me to no end is the way despotic Communist serial killers like Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Mao Zedong are iconic figures in American pop culture. When I see someone wearing Che’s ugly mug on his/her chest, I want to ask him/her: “Do you really have any idea who this man was or what he did?” I suspect that if I were to ask, I’d get a blank stare.

This short video below from reason.tv features interviews with two individuals who lived under the thumbs of Che and Mao. Neither are what you would call fans of these pop culture icons.

25 More Reasons for Criminal Justice Reform

20 months ago I wrote a post (click here) to recognize the successful efforts of The Innocence Project in exonerating 200 wrongly convicted (14 of which were on death row). In the time between that post and this one, the Innocence Project has helped 25 more wrongfully convicted regain their freedom! If this trend continues, we could see 275+ wrongfully convicted set free by the organization’s 20th anniversary in 2012. While this is all very good news for these individuals and their families, much more needs to be done to prevent others from being victimized by the state.

Many states offer nothing with regard to compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Of those which do, the IRS insists on collecting taxes from this compensation (a complete moral outrage). The Innocence Project is working to correct this injustice.

25 states do not have laws which require forensic evidence to be preserved post conviction. For those who wish to appeal and challenge their convictions, the chances of proving their innocence are much dimmer. One of the main reasons these states refuse to preserve biological evidence is the costs associated with storage.*

There are many other reforms which need to be made with regard to the use of informants (who have an incentive to tell the authorities what they want to hear to shorten their sentences), government fraud and misconduct, and unsound science (among other needed reforms).

I would also submit that it is time to revisit the issue of the death penalty. We now have 225** reasons to demand a national moratorium on the death penalty; 225 cases where the system failed, convicted the wrong person, and allowed the real perpetrators walk free. Even one innocent person killed by the state is too many.

In closing, the following is statistical data about the 225 exonerations In the Innocence Project’s winter 2008 Newsletter: The Innocence Project in Print.

Innocence by the Numbers: Eyewitness Misidentification

Percentage of wrongful convictions cases later overturned through DNA testing that involved eyewitness misidentifications 76%

Percentage of those misidentifications that were cross-racial 51%

Percentage of those cross-racial misidentification cases where a Caucasian witness’ misidentification led to the wrongful conviction of an African-American or Latino defendant 90%

Percentage where an African-American or Latino witness’ misidentification led to the wrongful conviction of a Caucasian defendant 1%

Percentage of all the misidentification cases where eyewitness testimony was the central evidence used against the defendant (without other contributing evidence like false confessions, invalid or improper forensic science, or snitch testimony) 20%

Percentage where more than one eyewitness misidentified the same innocent defendant 37%

Highest number of eyewitnesses misidentifying the same innocent defendant 10

States where eyewitness misidentifications have contributed to a wrongful conviction 32

States that have passed reforms to improve eyewitness identification procedures 7

States Legislatures considering eyewitness identification reforms for 2009 12 and the District of Columbia

» Read more

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