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Family and Friends is my everyday journal. Captain's Log is where I pontificate on religion and politics.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Friday Book Review: Ultimate Punishment

This is the ultimate indepth and concise book on capital punishment. I'm going on a diatribe on the subject today.

1. When I was in college, it had only 1,500 living on campus. Jim Vanderbilt was a trainer for the college team my freshman year. Sophomore year he was just a regular student, but he was popular on campus. He married and transferred to West Texas State University between Amarillo and Plainview. The whole campus was shocked when the news broke, he was arrested for killing a state senator's daughter. None of us could believe it.

At the trial a number of women in Canyon, TX, testified that he abducted them at gunpoint and drove them around, then released them. They all said it was something sexual. A good number of women at Wayland said they remembered walking around the campus, and he would ask if they needed a ride and would give it to them. The didn't think anything of it, he was just being nice.

Jim signed a confession with the promise of the death penalty off the table. State senator daddy wouldn't have it. At the trial the police officer that witnessed his confession read it to the jury. He was convicted after thirty minutes deliberation and thirty minutes to return the death penalty.

That trial was easily overturned and at his second trial was given a life sentence, the state appealed and on the third trial he was given the death penalty again. He died of pneumonia, ten years later while being transferred to an appeal's hearing. 

2. For a good number of years, I taught the high school class street law. When I retired, I went to work for an attorney. 

We had a client needing a will, who was a well-known attorney, in fact my friend idolized this man. In the 1970's six members of a motorcycle gang were convicted of raping and killing a young woman. They were all given the death penalty. While they were awaiting the appeals process a young man in North Carolina became saved. He confided to the pastor of his church what he had done. The pastor counseled him to come forward and confess to his crime. The pastor helped him contact the defense attorneys handling the appeals of the six on death row.

This attorney that was our client flew and interviewed the young man and took his deposition back to New Mexico. The young man was extradited and in court confessed to the crime of raping and killing the woman ten years earlier. He was given a life sentence. The six wrongfully convicted men were then released from death row. This is a prime example of why capital punishment is meted out mostly on "the usual suspects." 

3. I had a student whose brother was involved in a headline murder case and the DA sought the death penalty. The leader was given life and her brother ten years. She was a bit of a basket case that year and my heart felt for her and family. At age 13 all girls are having trouble adjusting to their body changing, this just added that much more on top of it.

A rather long-winded way of saying I've had dealings with those involved in and with the death penalty.

I read Scott Turow's Ultimate Punishment when I first started teaching Street Law. I knew the topic would come up, and teaching at two inner city high schools with a strong gang presence with many of those students were in this class looking for loopholes when they got caught. At times half of my classes' students would be on parole and I had to deal with their parole officers. My one liner for them on the right to remain silent was, "The Bible says Samson slew 20,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. Most of those in prison used the same weapon." 

The whole book Turow practiced sophistry. He argued on each issue both pro and con with equal logic and reasoning. It's not until the last sentence of the book that he gives his opinion, and I'm not going to tell you what it is.

Those predisposed to eye for eye, life for life would agree with his con reasons. Those predisposed to anti-death penalty would agree with his pro.

One statement I felt tilted the scale to anti-death. He went to Germany, which does not have the death penalty, and asked one of their prominent judges why they don't. The answer was, "We will never give the state the power to execute someone again."

I personally have many reasons against capital punishment, and it vexed me that some of his arguments for it were valid to a degree.

The major point for being against it in my book is the cost. His reason for capital punishment was if it was only used for the "worst of the worst, and act as a deterrent that the cost shouldn't matter." A wet juicy raspberry on that logic.

Here's the history of the death penalty in New Mexico in the 20th century. There was only two persons put to death, the first was in 1959. He was the only one executed in the brand-new gas chamber. It was never used again.

The second one was Terry Clark. It reeked of politics. Terry Clark was arrested for raping a nine-year-old girl, while he was out on appeal of his conviction for raping an eight-year-old girl. We now have the Dena Lynn Gore law requiring a convicted felon be incarcerated while on appeal.

His brother informed on him. Here's where politics comes into play. It's 1986, outgoing democratic governor Tony Anaya had delayed the death sentences of all those on death row. He was morally against it. The newly elected republican governor Gary Johnson, yes that asshole running for president as a libertarian, on his campaign promised to execute them by lethal injection. Tony Anaya after the election used his power to commute those sentences to life. We did not have life without parole.

The attorney for Terry Clark told him at the arraignment to plead guilty, and request sentencing before Gary Johnson took office. If he was given the death penalty Anaya would commute it.

The judge delayed sentencing until after Johnson took office. This made Terry Clark the only person in New Mexico on death row for 28 years. The only reason he was executed was that Terry Clark asked for no more appeals. He wanted it over. He was executed by lethal injection. It took 28 years of appeals when he confessed to the crime!

It's never been given to the general public how that many years of appeals cost the state. All appeals on capital punishment are paid for by the state. I would dare say considering how much attorney's fees and court costs both state and federal for both sides would be in the millions. How can fiscal conservatives justify that much expense? 

At the time of his death the expense for inmates was twenty-eight thousand dollars a year. If he lived to be a hundred the cost to taxpayers would have been less than a million. 

The number one cause of death in California's death row is old age. Texas and Florida may have a conveyor belt death penalty process, but even those they execute have been detained for at least 10 or more years accumulating huge costs. Case in point Jim Vanderbilt.

New Mexico recently passed a law for life without parole and abolished capital punishment. The republicans are screaming about it every election cycle. 


Stephen said...

I can understand why Germans would be reluctant. This sounds like a book I'd read, because it's something I debate myself all the time. Part of me is against the penalty on both libertarian and Catholic grounds, and part of me is an American who grew up on westerns who has a strong law-and-order preference. I think if someone is caught red-headed doing something terrible, then sure - -frontier justice, hang `em high, whatever. Letting these people persist for decade after decade, costing the very public they injured thousands upon thousands of dollars, borders on a moral outrage.

P M Prescott said...

I totally agree, Stephan.

Priscilla King said...

Formal public execution is better than private revenge, but then people feel squeamish about causing pain, so we end up either releasing murderers to kill again or keeping them in better conditions than most of them could provide for themselves. My husband used to say he opposed the death penalty but favored life sentences to hard labor.

I know not all convicts are guilty, but if they are I say hard labor and let their friends and relatives have *all* responsibility for feeding them.

P M Prescott said...

The supreme court ruled hard labor was another form of slavery. It was abused as an easy way to get cheap labor for road crews and gravel pits. Machines now do most of that work. John Grisham's An Innocent Man is an Indepth look at life on death row. It's not a country club.