Friday, April 21, 2017

Death Be Not Proud

I live in the deep red sea. The nightly news is awash with criminal reports and endless fear mongering. The Christian ethos here runs towards revenge and retaliation despite the fact that both are clearly put the anti in Christ. But listen to sermons of a Sunday and they are all about an eye for an eye, spare the rod spoil the child and other such wonderful Biblical tales that seem to confirm or validate why they can carry guns, abuse their children and stand their ground.

Much like their obsession with history there is an obsession with guns and someone taking them.  By someone they mean the Government.  And while no executions have been done in Tennessee since they were halted by the Court in 2015, it doesn't mean they are not looking at ways to resuscitate that one.   But the state has been quietly avoiding that issue and let's hope it stays that way while I continue to reside here.

The kerfluffle in Arkansas continues to illustrate how the private sector can have influence over politics in a good way.  When Drug Companies are stopping the shipment of drugs to States to ostensibly murder people has been the most interesting corporate decision ever!  Shame they can't examine why they need to raise the prices of drugs needlessly, be they generic or name brand. But hey we can't have it all.

But the real issue that is not truly part of the debate is that there are many many innocent individuals imprisoned, often on death row for no reason.  The story below continues to illustrate the true problem that enables the Justice sector to try and convict individuals based on flimsy, such as poor forensic data, to non existent evidence, my personal favorite still is the blind eyewitness.

Louisiana Man Who Spent Three Years on Death Row Has Murder Charge Dismissed


Louisiana has dismissed all charges against a man who spent several years on death row after his infant son died in 2012, in a case that drew national attention to a parish that sentenced young black men to death at an unusually high rate.

Rodricus Crawford, 28, a resident of Caddo Parish, La., in the northwestern corner of the state, was sentenced to death in 2013 after prosecutors argued that he had suffocated his son. But Louisiana’s supreme court threw out his conviction in November after finding that the jury selection in his case may have been racially biased. Mr. Crawford was released from prison later that month.

In a statement announcing that it would not retry Mr. Crawford, the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office acknowledged evidence suggesting that at the time of death, his son had pneumonia and bacteria in his blood that indicated sepsis. The state said that it could not meet the burden of proof to gain a new conviction for Mr. Crawford.

Cecilia Kappel, one of Mr. Crawford’s lawyers, described him in an interview on Thursday as someone who should never have been facing such a stark sentence to begin with.

“They can’t even justify prosecuting this guy for negligent homicide, let alone capital murder,” she said. “It shows the arbitrariness of the death penalty.

“Now he’s having to start from zero at 28 years old,” she added.

From 2010 to 2014, among counties with four or more death sentences, more people were sentenced to to be executed per capita in Caddo Parish than in any other county in the United States. Many of those cases were prosecuted by Dale Cox, whose conduct attracted national interest after he told The Shreveport Times in a 2015 interview that Louisiana should “kill more people.”

Mr. Cox, who returned to the district attorney’s office full-time in 2011 and became the parish’s acting district attorney in 2015, prosecuted four of the 16 people sent to death row from Caddo Parrish in those years.

Mr. Cox, who could not be reached for comment, gained a reputation for inflammatory comments and behavior inside and outside the courtroom, and was even accused of threatening opposing lawyers. In Mr. Crawford’s case, according to The New Yorker, he wrote a letter to state’s probation department asking that the convicted man be forced to endure “as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies.”

Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, who has tracked Mr. Crawford’s case closely, said that Mr. Cox’s behavior could not be understood outside the context of Caddo Parish, pointing toward the county’s long history of lynchings and to a monument to the Confederacy that sits right outside its courthouse, as well as its brief status as a Confederate capital. He said a Confederate flag continued to fly on the monument as recently as 2011.

“When one black juror expressed his displeasure at that, he was excused for cause,” Mr. Dunham said, referring to a case that was not Mr. Crawford’s. “They found that his objection to the Confederate flag was reason enough for him not to serve on a jury.”

Caddo Parish even captured the attention of the United States Supreme Court. In a 2016 dissent to a ruling on another Caddo Parish case, Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted that the parish “imposes almost half the death sentences in Louisiana, even though it accounts for only 5 percent of that state’s population and 5 percent of its homicides.”

“Given these facts,” he continued, the defendant in the case in question, “may well have received the death penalty not because of the comparative egregiousness of his crime, but because of an arbitrary feature of his case, namely, geography.”

Much of this is based in racism, classism and of course a maniacal need to be big brother. Crime and Justice is about fear and loathing.  These two factors enable a lazy compliant Government to obscure facts, maintain power and in turn disregard the citizens and their needs to have a more productivity society that would be a much more effective reducer in crime as that would require money, intent and of course effort.  God forbid we have a Government willing to do this thing called work.  Funny how he who excuses accuses on that front, but I digress. 

As for those who do buck the system find themselves facing a backlash that places them at risk. Funny how that works out.

Lock ’Em Up? Prosecutors Who Say ‘Not So Fast’ Face a Backlash

MARCH 30, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. — In Tampa, the top prosecutor says too many children are charged as adults. In Houston, the district attorney will no longer press charges in low-level marijuana cases. And in Chicago, prosecutors will no longer oppose the release of many nonviolent offenders who cannot afford to post bond.

Two more newly elected prosecutors, in Denver and Orlando, have vowed not to seek the death penalty, even for the most egregious killers.

They are part of a new vanguard that has jettisoned the traditional lock-’em-up approach, instead winning over voters by embracing alternatives to harsh punishment. But in their eagerness to enact changes, some are facing a backlash from law enforcement groups and more conservative politicians.

In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, warned that failing to punish drug crimes would make Houston akin to a “sanctuary city” for illegal enterprise. In Chicago, a suburban police chief warned that a move to classify more shoplifting cases as misdemeanors was “a slippery slope.”

But nowhere has there been more vitriol than in Florida, where a battle over the death penalty shows just how volatile an issue capital punishment remains, especially when the death of a police officer is involved.

Aramis D. Ayala, the new chief prosecutor in Orlando and a Democrat, announced on March 16 that she would no longer seek the death penalty. Almost immediately, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, moved to replace her in the case of Markeith Loyd, who is charged with killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and, during a subsequent manhunt, an Orlando policewoman. “Every citizen should be outraged,” he said of Ms. Ayala’s decision.

This week, state legislative committees proposed cutting her budget by more than $1 million, saying it was to cover the costs of other jurisdictions that are assigned her capital cases. Some lawmakers are now calling for her suspension. On Thursday, Ayala supporters from across the state traveled to Tallahassee for a rally, while her opposition protested in Orlando.

In court papers, Ms. Ayala, the state’s first black elected prosecutor, said removing a prosecutor because of a disagreement over her use of discretion was “unprecedented.” The NAACP, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and other groups denounced the governor’s intervention, with one caucus member calling it “a lynching.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Ayala appeared in court to argue for a delay while she fights Mr. Scott’s order. She was represented by Roy L. Austin Jr., a former Obama White House official who also served as a high-ranking civil rights lawyer for the Justice Department. Florida law allows the governor to appoint a special prosecutor in cases where he finds “good and sufficient reason” that “the ends of justice would be best served.”

Still, Mr. Austin said the governor had overstepped. “I don’t know how she is expected to operate with him deciding which cases he is going to take off of her hands or not,” he said.

Chief Judge Frederick J. Lauten of the Ninth Circuit Judicial Court denied her request, saying that Mr. Scott’s order should be presumed legal.

Ms. Ayala is adamant that her moratorium on the death penalty was not based on emotion, but rather on research that shows that states with capital punishment are no safer than states without it.

She said she could not look victims’ relatives in the eye and promise an execution while knowing that the inmate would in all likelihood appeal for decades.

Ms. Ayala, 42, said one of the inmates on death row in her state was convicted when she herself was just 2 years old.

“This is not a moral decision; it is not a personal opinion,” she said. “When I look at this, it’s the right decision based on the facts.”

Beth McCann, the Denver prosecutor who made a similar commitment to end capital cases, said Ms. Ayala’s decision took particular courage because she had death penalty cases pending when she took office. Denver did not.

“I, for many years, personally felt the state shouldn’t be in the business of killing people,” Ms. McCann said. “I’m the only district attorney in Colorado who has publicly said they will not bring the death penalty, although I know there are some who share my view.”

Statistics suggest that she is right: Many prosecutors have made the same decision, they just have not said so out loud.

Death sentences were handed down in only 27 counties nationwide last year, compared with 60 in 2012, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit research group that opposes capital punishment.

In part, this has been driven by the increasing reluctance of jurors to impose capital punishment, which in turn has made fewer prosecutors willing to go through the enormous trouble and expense of seeking it.

In Raleigh, N.C., six back-to-back juries gave life sentences to killers whom prosecutors had sought to execute, prompting Lorrin Freeman, the Wake County district attorney, to say last year, “I do think at some point we have to step back and say, ‘Has the community sent us a message on that?’”

Her office sought capital punishment in two more cases this month, but again, the jury declined. Ms. Freeman has said she will continue to weigh the death penalty case by case.

The new breed of prosecutors was helped into office by voters skeptical of wrongful convictions, mass incarceration and evidence of racial bias

But some change-minded prosecutors won without Soros money, showing that attitudes across the country are changing regardless of outsize political contributions, said David A. Sklansky, a professor at Stanford Law School who closely follows the issue.

“It’s now possible in at least some places for district attorneys to campaign successfully and win office on a platform that’s not just harsher, harsher, more, more punishment,” he said. “That was unheard-of 10 years ago.”

Bob Ferguson, the attorney general of Washington State, said, “I think our public’s view of our criminal justice system has evolved.” Speaking out against the death penalty, he added, “is not the third rail people think it is.”

In January, Mr. Ferguson, a Democrat, was joined by his Republican predecessor, Rob McKenna, in calling for the state Legislature to abolish capital punishment. The bill did not get out of committee.

Ms. Ayala, who was elected in November with the help of more than $1 million from Mr. Soros, did not campaign on a platform of ending the death penalty, causing some to accuse her of masking her intentions. In response, Ms. Ayala has pointed out that executions in Florida were suspended until recently because of court challenges. In a court motion, Ms. Ayala said she took office intending to pursue the death penalty if it were reinstated, but changed her mind after “careful, intensive and individualized consideration” of the Loyd case.

“I think we are entering a time where people want accountable and smart people in power,” Ms. Ayala said in an interview. “They want someone who isn’t just emotionally based or ‘This is the way we always have done it.’ But, ‘Is this smart? Is this reducing crime?’”

Joshua Marquis, a district attorney in Oregon and a board member of the National District Attorneys Association, said if he opposed the death penalty, he would not have run for office. Ms. Ayala has substituted her judgment for the law, added Mr. Marquis, a Democrat.

Jeffrey L. Ashton, the incumbent whom Ms. Ayala defeated in the Democratic primary last year, agreed. “That’s not a prosecutor’s job to decide which law they’ll follow and which they won’t,” he said. “I think it’s illegal, honestly.”

The morning after Ms. Ayala’s announcement, dozens of clergy, activists and families of murder victims flocked to the steps outside her Orlando office to both praise and criticize her. One of the Pulse nightclub victims showed up in a wheelchair calling for an eye for an eye, even as the mothers of three murder victims took Ms. Ayala’s side.

As the clergy members spoke out in her favor, Rafael Zaldivar photo-bombed their news conference with a poster of his murdered son, Alex, killed in 2012 by a man against whom he was to testify in a home invasion case.

“I was stunned to hear what she had to say,” Mr. Zaldivar said.“She is taking up a political agenda from the far left.” He argued that the election had been “bought” by Mr. Soros.

But Ms. Ayala’s supporters say that conservative organizations have donated to prosecutors’ races for decades. Ms. Ayala insisted that she had never met Mr. Soros, and that nobody from his team had discussed the death penalty with her during the race. “It’s not a quid pro quo where I owe him something,” she said.

Mr. Soros and his representatives declined to be interviewed for this article.

The mother of Mr. Loyd’s ex-girlfriend said she supported Ms. Ayala’s decision.

“When it comes to death penalty, you have to understand that we want is closure,” said Stephanie Dixon-Daniels, whose daughter Sade Dixon, 24, was murdered in December. “He’s not going to be executed for another 30, 40 years anyway.”

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