Thursday, August 23, 2007

The 400

Last night's execution of Johnny Ray Conner was the 400th since Texas resumed the death penalty.

In theory I don't oppose the death penalty, but I oppose the way we carry it out in Texas. It's supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst, but instead it's applied arbitrarily to those with crappy lawyers, no money, and disproportionately depending what county you live in.

Let's face it: There aren't any rich guys on death row. The death penalty in Texas is the poor man's justice. Or really, the poor and unlucky. Even in Texas, the nation's most prolific capital punisher, less than 2% of murderers receive the death penalty.

The clearance rate for murders nationally (the number of crimes solved and prosecuted) has declined to 60%. So there's a 40% chance a murderer won't get caught, and a greater than 98% chance if they're caught that even Texas won't apply the death penalty. That's not an even-handed administration of justice, and it certainly creates no meaningful deterrent.

Texas has three more executions scheduled before the end of August, including Kenneth Foster who didn't actually kill anyone, and five presently scheduled for September. Given that, perhaps the title of this post should have been "The 400 ... and counting."

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Scott: Your comments concerning the arbitrary sentencing/poor defense representation, etc., are consistent with all sentences in Texas, not just capital offenses.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

The "didn't actually kill anyone" is such a garbage comment. You don't necessarily have to be the triggerman to be a murderer. All you have to do is look at the Muhammad/Malvo terror spree in Virginia and Maryland. Sign up for a robbery spree wherein people have a gun stuck in their faces and I don't think you have the right to play the babe in the woods when, quelle surprise, someone gets shot.

Oh that's right, the conspiracy ended and they were going to go home (after following Mary Patrick), but that flirty, scantily-clad woman called them over to flirt.

Can I please have some of those drugs--I'll put them to better use than having them make me swallow whole such BS.

outspoken woman said...

Thanks for your comments, Scott, and to anonymous 8:39AM. Both are accurate.

I suppose we should now be convinced that by legally murdering Johnny Ray Conner we have allowed the victim's daughter and sister some form of closure. If the truth be told, there is no closure when you lose a person you love. The execution of Johnny Ray Conner will not bring the victim back to life. It will not change the circumstances of anyone affected by the crime.

At what point do we say the killings must stop...both the illegal ones and the legal machine called Texas?

Seems that we are having a run on executions with the lineup in place. Hope those SSI's in Huntsville can clean the killing room fast enough for the next one.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@8:59 - A garbage comment? He was in the car 70' away. We've already been through this - I thought you were satisfied after you'd convinced yourself?

Tim said...

The only problem with this entire debate is it took 8 years for him to be executed. Should have happened right after he murdered those innocent people.
Sympathy and compassion for killers who commit armed robbery? Give me a break. Too bad he couldn't have "returned to Allah" a long time ago.
T.J.

spearshaker said...
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Anonymous said...

We love God, though he wiped out the whole planet in a flood. But TJ cannot find compassion for someone who did not pull the trigger in an offense committed when he was 19. Killing Kenneth Foster won't bring Mary Patrick back. I wonder if TJ considers himself a Christian? If so, I can recommend some Bible verses on on the value of sympathy and compassion he might want to look at.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Spearshaker - not specious according to the CCA minority opinion in Foster's case, which said there was evidence of "actual innocence." The majority used a procedural claim to avoid looking at that evidence, which I don't think is proper in a death penalty case. Foster's critics claim the evidence of innocence should be discounted, but that's not what the majority opinion said - they just said they wouldn't look at it.

This isn't a murder for hire or a drive by shooting, so I disagree with your analogy. The shooter got out of the car, talked with the victim in a non-confrontational way, then shot her far away from the vehicle.

I don't know any more about this case than what's been in the papers, blogs and the CCA opinions, but IMO it's not justifiable to kill him over this (I'm not saying he doesn't deserve punishment, the question is what sentence), certainly not if capital punishment is supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst.

spearshaker said...
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spearshaker said...
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Anonymous said...

"This isn't a murder for hire or a drive by shooting, so I disagree with your analogy. The shooter got out of the car, talked with the victim in a non-confrontational way, then shot her far away from the vehicle."


Uh Grits, you just blew all your credibility on this case. LaHood was a male, not a female, and he was not talked with in a non-confrontational way.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I've said repeatedly I don't know the facts of the case and can't argue them - I'm basing my position on the CCA's failure to examine all the evidence.

I don't know all the specifics of the other 7 cases scheduled for execution between now and the end of September, either. I can't argue them or Foster's case on the merits, and don't want to. I'm sorry if that harms my credibility, but it's commenters here, not me, who want to debate the minute details in the blog comments after we've already been around and around on it.

Here are two things we can agree on: Nobody thinks Foster was the shooter. And nobody thinks he wasn't culpable for his actions that night. I just think the courts should examine all the evidence before they let somebody die.

BTW, good thought 10:30, but I assure you the last thing the death penalty is about in this state is Christian values. best,

spearshaker said...
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PJR said...

I agree with Tim. He should have been executed 8 years ago very soon after he was convicted. In many of the the blogs on CNN and other news agencies, including this one, I read complaints about our justice system (handling of someone who is guilty and the injustice of how/when someone is put to death). No one talks about the pain and suffering the families of the victims face or the fact that an innocent life was snuffed out horribly by a selfish individual. I do grant that mistakes in executions have been made and the system is not perfect and for those reasons and the honor of the innocent we must be diligent in continuously improving the system in their honor. However, society has zero use for people like Jonny Ray Conner and the fast we rid ourselves of those violent criminals, the better we all will be. It is about time we stop whining about how they are treated and worry more about their detrimental effect on society.

Anonymous said...

I think most of you are missing the main point that Scott made: that is that 98% of murderers do not get executed. There is disproportionate justice at best. I'm with him, I'm not completely opposed to the death penalty, I just think it ought to be used very sparingly. After all, who really suffers when a person is executed? For him/her it is over - so the folks we really punish, if we punish anyone with the death penalty, is the family of the person executed. I guess their pain makes up for the pain of the victim's family. Is that it? Old Salty

Don said...

So, PJR, we just need to get rid of all the people that "society has zero use for" based on the laws that are in place now? Or just some peoples opinion? Or what? If, for example, we whack all the people I think are worthless, that might not be too good, either. As for nobody talking about the pain and suffering of the victims' families, come on. Everybody talks about it, and feels the pain. Killing more people doesn't help that. The mistakes and injustices of the system are what needs to be talked about, because some of it can be fixed if enough people become aware and talk about it. Nobody feels sorry for the cold blooded murderers that the death penalty is supposed to be for. But if we kill them, let's be sure we have the right person and the facts, ma'am. That's not always the case.

Anonymous said...

PJR: if 12:24 is right, can we start with the legislature and the Gov.... call it a mess up the Capital offense and put them to real work...perhaps TYC, directing traffic out of Houston for the next hurricane....

Anonymous said...

The complaint that "Even in Texas, the nation's most prolific capital punisher, less than 2% of murderers receive the death penalty" is ridiculous. The whole capital murder scheme is designed to winnow out those murderers that are not (as you say) "the worst of the worst."

It's lamentable that the rich get advantages in the criminal justice system. The fact that there aren't a lot of rich people on death row might perhaps have something to do with the fact that they don't commit a lot of grizzly capital murders. And before you tell us about some rich guy that killed his wife, keep in mind that killing your wife is not generally going satisfy the capital murder statute.

Finally, you'll be happy to hear that, at least in Tarrant County, defense attorneys get paid a small fortune to work on capital cases.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@2:26 - How about a millionaire killing a 71-year old neighbor, chopping off her head, then dumping the body in Galveston Bay? (Robert Durst).

If you think the system is getting the worst of the worst, I'd challenge that. The other factors I mentioned - especially quality of defense counsel, what county you're prosecuted in, and dumb luck - IMO account for the distinctions between which murderers die. There are plenty of people among the 98+% who committed crimes more egregious than Kenneth Foster.

Anonymous said...

"@2:26 - How about a millionaire killing a 71-year old neighbor, chopping off her head, then dumping the body in Galveston Bay? (Robert Durst)."

The victim was a him.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Okay the victim was male. How does that change the argument? I was told millionaires don't commit grisly crimes. I pointed out a high profile case where it wasn't true. My error about the victim's gender seems irrelevant to the conversation. My point is we don't see the Robert Dursts wind up on death row, and what he did was worse, to my mind, than Kenneth Foster.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you're right, Grits. Facts don't matter. Had the victim been a female, it might have been a a different verdict, you think?

I don't know anything about the Foster case so, I'll not comment on that one. I didn't hear the evidence nor was I a juror. I'm opposed to the death penalty only because of the arbitrariness in which it's applied. Besides, I'd just as soon they rot in prison.

Yes, in Durst's case, the facts are relevant to any argument. The gender of the victim does matter when spouting off about it.

I understand you're confusion with facts. They don't suit you.

Anonymous said...

So, because one killer got the benefit of an idiot jury, capital punishment has to go away. Sounds like a pretty specious argument to me.

spearshaker said...
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spearshaker said...
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Gritsforbreakfast said...

I didn't say facts don't matter. Which facts about the Durst case do you think don't suit me? I admitted my error on the gender of the victim (I was writing from memory, not from research) and said it didn't change the point I made. It doesn't, unless you have an argument explaining why it does - all you've provided instead is a sneer.

And it's not one idiot jury. The death penalty is undeniably implemented in an inconsistent fashion in this state. The Durst case is just one example where a more heinous case than Foster's didn't get as severe a punishment - the death penalty in Texas is NOT reserved for the worst of the worst. It's more random than that.

Finally, as I've said repeatedly, I focus on policy on this blog. Those of you who want to re-try the facts of individual cases in the blog comments are welcome to do so, but it's not responsive to what I wrote and no one case's facts change the policy arguments or aggregate analysis. best,

Anonymous said...

The idea that each guy on death row has to be the "worst of the worst" is a fool's errand. Any system with different prosecutors, juries, judges etc. is going to have disparities in treatment. Granted, if it were up to me, I would rather have seen Durst get the big jab than Foster. His crime was worse. But the bottom line is that killers don't have a claim to some cosmic fairness. If that's your argument, fine, but one cannot have a death penalty with such a standard. In any event, I think pretty much every murderer should get death. So how's that for fairness.

Anonymous said...

7:36 Consider, grasshopper, if gave the death sentence to all criminals, there would be no recidivism. Might make probation much more effective too :)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:36 - you missed the point. I was responding to the claim that rich folks don't commit grisly murders.

Good luck with that death penalty for everybody idea. It's attitudes like that that are likely to get capital punishment abolished, IMO, for ovezealousness, which was my original argument about Foster in the first place, ironically. best,

Scott Cobb said...

In a minority opinion issued on August 7, 2007, three Republican, death penalty supporting judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stated:
"the applicant [Kenneth Foster, Jr.] has identified new facts that might support a bare claim of actual innocence".

These judges "would have permitted the applicant [Kenneth Foster, Jr.] to proceed on his fourth claim for relief and would have granted a stay of execution "to allow Kenneth Foster, Jr. to pursue his innocence claim through the ordinary course of habeas corpus proceedings.” These jurists further stated that based on the new evidence:

"it appears evident that the applicant [Kenneth Foster, Jr.] could not be guilty of
capital murder under either of the theories of the law of parties that were submitted to the jury."

Additionally, these judges stated:

"we do not know whether the applicant may ultimately be able to convince this Court by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would ever have found him guilty of capital murder under the law of parties, given this newly available evidence." But they go on to state: "we do think that he has presented facts that would be sufficient to support such a finding. On the basis of that showing, we would allow him to proceed to the merits of his actual innocence claim."

If Texas carries out an execution of a person who has new evidence that has not been heard in a court of law and which supports his claim of factual innocence, then Texas loses the moral authority to carry out executions of people for whom there is no doubt about their guilt.

Anonymous said...

"The Durst case is just one example where a more heinous case than Foster's didn't get as severe a punishment - the death penalty in Texas is NOT reserved for the worst of the worst. It's more random than that."

Get with the program, Grits. Durst was found not guilty of murder. What part of that verdict don't you get? If you're working from memory, then a little research is in order. Now, here's your sneer.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, every time we have a bunch of felons with nothing to lose make up a preposterous story (i.e., that while they were following Mary Patrick, they decided to call off the robbery spree), we're gonna have new hearings etc. etc. Those judges simply lost their nerve because they've been reversed by the Supreme Court (on some pretty BS grounds, by the way) recently.

The TCCA needs to buck up.

And no one is going to care a few days after Foster is killed, other than a few true believers.

Anonymous said...

Grits said, "The Durst case is just one example where a more heinous case than Foster's didn't get as severe a punishment...."

Durst was found not guilty of murder. So, what's your point? Don't rely on your memory---do the research. No sneer intended since you're so sensitive.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If y'all want to discuss my actual post instead of these individual cases, feel free. Scott Cobb raises the point all the folks expressing so much bloodlust in this string choose to ignore.

And you insist on missing the point on Durst. A commenter said millionaires don't commit grisly murders, but I replied that Durst did. I made no other comparison. Yes he was acquitted of murder, but he did the deed, nonetheless. His self defense claim was weaker than Foster's postion. It's just, as I originally wrote, capital murder is a poor man's charge. We don't send millionaires to death row, or usually to prison, for that matter. Which was of course my original point. best,

Anonymous said...

Durst didn't commit murder. He was acquitted. You are arguing with yourself.

sunray's wench said...

Having got to the end of 35 comments, I cant remember exactly who said what, but someone mentioned that the victims never get listened to. That is NOT the case: victims have the right to submit impact statements to the court before sentencing occurs ~ and sometimes the victims/families of do NOT want the death penalty to be given. THEY are the ones who are not listened to.

Where exactly is the unbiased justice when a prosecutor goes into a courtroom having told everyone outside that when they find the defendent guilty they will be pursuing the death penalty?

And for those who say your justice system works in Texas, then explain to me why it is that when fresh evidence is produced, it is still not a requirement that it be examined by a second judge (not to original trial judge) and that a new hearing is mandatory? I hear time and again about cases where submission of new evidence is dismissed ~ if the prosecutors are so confident that they have the right person, why are they so reluctant to have transparent justice? And dont tell me it would take up more time in the courts, because most on DR already sit there for roughly 10 years and that's plenty of time to re-examine new evidence.

Anonymous said...

To Anon at 10:27, Why do you insist in ignoring the facts of the case in favor of the findings of the Jury (Acquittal)? Why can't you tell the difference between facts and the decision of a court of law intrepreting the legal requirements in the case?

Once again, there is a difference between being legally innocent and factually innocent. You are the one grasping at straws to make a point! The CCA can make that distinction, why won't you?

Nurit said...

My, my, don't we get overwrought when it comes to killing someone for killing someone (or not? Grits, you have some bullies trying to convince you with their literary fist that you simply MUST change your mind about Mr. Foster. Ouch!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That's okay, Nurit, I've got a pretty decent pair of literary fists myself - I can take it. :)

Anonymous said...

Durst wasn't charged with a capital crime.

"In Texas, this is not a case that rises to a death penalty offense. For a capital murder case in Texas, you have to kill someone in commission of another felony crime. For instance a kidnapping, a robbery, if it's a murder for hire, a murder for insurance money, or the death of a child under the age of 6. Those are death penalty crimes. But if you kill someone just because you don't like them or you kill someone in a fight, that doesn't rise to a death penalty offense."


http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0310/27/ltm.01.html

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Right, the millionaire Durst wasn't charged with capital murder. But if you had to pick one of them to have running free on the street, would it be Durst or Foster? For me the guy who kills and then decapitates his victim is a worse danger to the public and more deserving of the death penalty than a guy charged as an accessory who never pulled a trigger, but to each his own. That's because the death penalty gets the unlucky, not the most dangerous.

Anonymous said...

How much does it take for you guys to realize that the information of two cases are getting mixed up in the comments? Almost nobody here would suggest Foster should be executed (at least not without a day in court to review the exculpatory evidence)... It is likely that a lot of people who consider capital punishment may have been made for Connor (or not..Personally it doesn't meet my standard of heinous-ity over other murders).