Thursday, September 16, 2010

Death Penalty Part 2

Put this in the co-incidence file. 

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Kentucky (over and up, as European oriented maps go) and while there I picked up a copy of my father's Lexington Herald. 

For some reason the Lexington Herald has replaced the Louisville Courier-Journal as the paper of choice - I don't see how either of them get to Knott County in time for morning delivery, but that's a whole other post.

Anyway, on the front page of the Lexington Herald was a headline that a judge had halted the scheduled execution (scheduled for today), of a person who was going to be executed with the last dose available in the whole state of one of the drugs used for lethal injections.  Two other people were given temporary reprieves. I wrote a post last week, in which I think I remarked on how arbitrary it seemed, and what a general bummer it would be to be the last person executed before executions were halted for awhile.

The judge halted the execution because the "protocol" for executions did not match state law.  I'm not exactly sure what that means, but  I think it means that their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual for lethal injections needs to be updated.   Specifically mentioned in the article was how to handle condemned inmates who may be pregnant, and how to determine who may be mentally retarded, or criminally insane.  In Kentucky, it is, in theory, illegal to execute a mentally retarded person, tho prosecutors seem to go to great lengths (from what I read) to not allow tests to prove someone is or isn't retarded.  Apparently the reality of how these types of inmates are handled is not matching state law. 

So the conviction was not over turned, the sentence was not changed, it was just halted until the state crosses it's T's and dots its I's.  (Lower case I's, of course).

Gregory Wilson was scheduled to die today.  He was convicted of a terrible crime, involving a rape and murder in Northern Kentucky back in 1987.   He had an accomplice who was female, and she is serving a life term.

Same crime, different sentences - part of what I consider the arbitrariness and capriciousness of it all.

I don't think I'd want to know these people, especially not the people they were back in 1987, and I doubt that 23 years of prison has done anything to help their disposition.  I don't know.  But I'd feel perfectly safe if people like Gregory Wilson had life sentences, without parole, in some high security prison.  If they're guilty, put them in a cell and throw away the key, I really don't have much sympathy.   

What bothers me though, is that mistakes have been made, and occasionally, a totally innocent person is executed.  It has happened, and it will happen again.  Gender, quality of legal representation, race, wealth, all sorts of things play into who is sentenced to death and who isn't, things that have nothing to do with the law or the crime committed. 

Early in my school years - very early - I remember being taught the principle that it was better that "10 guilty persons escape, rather than 1 innocent person suffer".  I looked it up because I could not remember who said that - it was William Blackstone in the 1760s, and the principle is ultimately biblical in origin.  I think that principle has been turned on its head these days.  A small number of people who drive cars will die in car accidents, everybody knows that, but still consider driving an acceptable and even necessary risk.  I think it's the same attitude states with the death penalty have - they know it's possible an innocent person may occasionally be executed, but they consider that an acceptable risk for society as a whole.

Well what about the victims?  If a family member or someone you know is murdered, you want someone arrested and imprisoned for that.  But what if you had nothing to do with it, but you were arrested and convicted on circumstantial evidence?  Because you had opportunity, perhaps a motive could be construed, what if you were in a certain place at a certain time, made phone calls at a certain time, who knows?  What if an eye witness says they saw you somewhere, and you don't know what they're talking about because you were never there?  Or you were there the day before & they got their dates mixed up? I don't know how often things like this happen, but it's certainly possible. 

I walk ol' Pickles thru a grassy patch between some railroad tracks and some woods most days.  What if one day a dead body turned up there, and one of the construction workers working on the new city hall across the road said they saw a tall goofy looking guy with a ticked-up almost hound dog walking out of there?  Next thing I know I'd be talking the local Barney Pfife & who knows what would happen. 

It's a stretch, I know.  But I want all those T's and I's crossed and dotted.   Too often they arent.  People get really upset when someone is acquitted on a "technicality".   I'm glad those technicalities are there.  They're called laws, .

I don't know where I'm going with this.  I don't want dangerous criminals in society, there's enough walking    around already.  But people are not infallible, life is full of random events and co-incidences and I'm uncomfortable with the death penalty.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very hard subject to write about, but you did a good job and put a lot of thought and heart into it.