Monday, December 12, 2005

Not Seeing It

[Slightly polished since John Cole linked over here, and frankly the post was (is) not one of my best... Feel free to wander around and check out some of the stuff from the last couple weeks—stuff I think is much better, but no one ever read.]

I'm not going to weigh in heavily on the case of Tookie Williams. Lots of folks on the left seem all worked up over granting this guy clemency. He is less than twelve hours from being executed, and for some reason is getting the full special Hollywood and media treatment. Why?

If you are opposed to the death penalty, I guess there is cause for concern and you should speak up. What I do not understand is why this guy has become a cause célébre for mercy.

There are actually people on death row who deserve to be defended and have their cases publicized. Tookie Williams is not one of them.

Now, I should point out, I am not particularly familiar with the details of this case, but nothing I've read over the last week has given me any reason to: a) doubt his guilt, or b) believe he deserves clemency. Tookie's a bad guy, convicted of four brutal murders, scheduled to meet a fitting end.

But here's where I really go off the liberal rails. I have no problem with the death penalty.

In theory, and for certain cirumstances. Period. It doesn't mean I am a "hang 'em high" gung-ho advocate, but I don't have a problem with executing those guilty of heinous crimes. I realize that gets me in some shit with some of my readers (I am looking across the street) but that's the truth. If I have a problem, it's with the implementation of the death penalty, and the chance that the wrong person might be executed, but not with the punishment itself.

As for Tookie Williams, his supporters claim he is "redeemed." That he might be doing good work with his writing against gangs. Fine. But he still was convicted of, and admitted to, multiple murders. [UPDATE: Williams still maintains his innocence—I am not convinced—in fact, this undermines any claim of "redemption" to me.] There seems to be no question as to his guilt or innocence. He may be working against gangs now, but he still founded the Crips—who are responsible for countless more death, crimes and misery. If the Governator believes Williams could do more good for society alive in a cell than on a gurney, and grants clemency (he won't), that's fine with me, and lucky as hell for Williams. I am not lobbying for a needle to go in his arm, but I will not give it a moment's thought if it does.

I often question whether it is "civilized" for me to think this way, but ultimately, it's not hard for me to think in terms of whether or not a person deserves to be executed or not. If the crime is bad enough, the circumstances are clear enough, and an incredibly high standard regarding that person's guilt is met, I've got no problem with the ultimate punishment.

All of that said, I support a moratorium on all executions in this country to address the complete fiasco that is the legal system in regards to capital cases and the unfair implementation of the death penalty. I would rather never have another horrible murderer executed than have a single innocent person put to death.

So count me as FOR the death penalty, but even more FOR things like the Innocence Project.

UPDATE: orf at The "Oh, Really Factor" has a much more thoughtful and well-written (than mine) post up on the death penalty here. After some consideration she opposes it. That's cool for her. Many people I hold a lot of respect for opppose the death penalty. And it is a position I can respect as well.

I don't reallly feel like I've put forward much of a compelling argument in my post, I'm not feeling very articulate today, I'm a bit distracted, but I thought I'd get my opinion out there while the topic was hot.

I also want to note, that I completely agree with Virginia governor Mark Warner commuting the death sentence of an inmate a week or so ago. (Where was the Hollywood outrage over that one? This was a guy where genuine questions about his guilt were raised, and Warner quietly commuted his sentence without enduring any pressure that I was aware of.)

UPDATE 2: Thanks to John Cole for the link. I wish it was to a piece I actually felt was well-written and less thrown together, but beggars can't be choosers... I should also acknowledge that John turned me onto a case that really is an outrage this morning. The case of Cory Maye. I have been following up and compiling a lot of links on this and will post a thread on it later. It deserves more effort than Tookie. Follow the links in John's piece for the story.

Steve Gilliard, a vocal opponent of the death penalty, can't work up any sympathy for Tookie either.

UPDATE 3: Angry Bear links to some interesting facts on deterrence here. The statistics cited here indicate that the death penalty is NOT an effective deterrent. That is probably true to a large degree, since many, if not most, murders are crimes of more passion and desperation than not. I find it difficult to believe that it is not a deterrent in the case of planning a crime where decisions ahead of time can impact the outcome (ie: a bank robbery or something). If you are planning a criminal endeavor and you can be confident that you will recieve a capital sentence if you kill someone during the commission of your crime, you might adjust your plans accordingly (maybe that is my non-criminal mind making that assumption, but it seems sensible to me). Also undermining these findings in my opinion is the fact that in many states the chance of you actually getting executed are pretty slim. It took almost thirty years for Tookie...

Kevin Drum chimes in on Tookie and then segues over to Cory Maye. Good. This case needs publicity big time. See also CORY SI, TOOKIE NO by Max, who then really hears it from his readers.


S.W. Anderson said...

Amazing, how your thoughts line up with mine. I think of Richard Alan Davis, Polly Klaas' killer, and feel not the slightest doubt he deserved the execution he got.

It's always seemed to me that if we are prepared to spend trillions on national defense, as we have just since the start of the Cold War; and if we're prepared to send some of our best and brightest people off to fight and die protecting our freedoms and way of life, there's no excuse for letting our freedoms, safety and way of life be ruined from within by murderers, sadists, rapists and so forth.

So, I have no problem in principle with making the worst criminals pay the ultimate price for their crimes.

However, I have serious problems where people have not received a fair trial with the benefit of a high-quality legal defense. I'm put off by prosecutors who are out to score, whether that means doing justice or just doing in some poor person against whom a plausible case can be made. And, I'm put way off by the number of people on death row who've been found innocent because of DNA evidence or the confessions of others.

My bottom line is that while society has a right to take out its garbage, so to speak, I want a higher standard, before the appeals even get under way, for determining who that awful designation should be applied to. As recent reviews of the system have shown, we're nowhere near there now.

Suspect Device said...

I agree fully. I have rave misgivings over how the death penalty is applied in this country, but I have no problem with the idea that society is permitted to remove -- kill -- persons who present clear and distinct threats to that society. I wouldn't be upset if the death penalty went away, and I don't long for more criminals to be executed. But it seems to me that when you have an individual like, say, Ted Bundy, or Timothy McVeigh, execution of that individual isn't so much a matter of deterrence, but of protection.

Mr Furious said...

I'm not even under the illusion it's for "protection," because that's not really much of an issue—they are never coming out again. And Hannibal Lecter movies aside, they would never really be able to escape.

I look at it this way, and it answers, somewhat, the issue of a "civilized society" supporting the D.P.—these murderers have no claim for mercy from a "civilized" society when they violated the basic tenets of that society. The people I would support executing are animals that have removed themselves from civilized society by virtue of their conscious, willing decisions.

Yeah, in a perfect world there would be no need for a death penalty (and that is a luxury those in Europe judge us from), and like you, I won't really miss it if it's gone, I just don't find in as abhorrent as some.

I will say this in support of Tookie (sort of) I do find it shameful that he had to wait nearly thirty years for the sentence to be carried out. At this point, one could argue, what is the point of executing him now.

S.W. Anderson said...

. . ."I do find it shameful that he had to wait nearly thirty years for the sentence to be carried out."

I heard people make this point on both TV and radio yesterday, and it struck me as odd.

If I'm not mistaken, many of those years (maybe all of them) were taken up with appeals, reviews and delays sought by Williams' lawyer(s).

The fact remains that his guilt was established and verified over all that time. His conviction was upheld, the verdict stood. All these years later, he was not one bit less guilty of horrible crimes than on the day after he committed the last of them.

That's the terrible thing about murder. If you steal from someone, there's a chance to make restitution. Even if you assault someone causing serious injury, there's at least a chance doctors and time can heal and repair the damage. Murder is for keeps.

To those who've lost a loved one or friend because Williams committed murders, those 30 years are no doubt so much undeserved borrowed time in which he got to see the sun, visit with people who mattered to him, etc. — all of which his victims could not enjoy.

Thirty years seems a ridiculously long time for the system to make sure, but I would rather it err on the side of being very sure before executing someone. I'm glad there's been some discussion and hand-wringing about all this, even though I think Williams deserved what he got.

Like murder, execution is forever, so we should all have second and third thoughts, and real misgivings, about the whole matter.

ORF said...

Thanks for the props (and the links) MF, but I have to confess to my own equivocation over the death penalty. My objections to it are not really about the morality or squirm factor involved, but rather the economic costs and general ineffectiveness of it. It's unbelievably taxing to the state to continue to oversee the myriad appeals and reprisals that nearly every last death row inmate seeks; no one just accepts their sentence and what is more, jurors are not above being hung when it comes to making the determination to put a man away, so there are often two or three trials before a verdict is even handed down. Like you said, it took nearly 3 decades for Tookie to actually receive the penalty meted out to him. In the meantime, a shitload of time, energy and money gets spent. Tookie actually had to balls to use his position to try to do a little good while he was behind bars, but what did say Geoff Dahmer or Timothy McVeigh do while they were in their cells? Not a whole lot.

And speaking of McVeigh, the only reason he was executed so "swiftly" (it took what, five years?) was because he a) committed a federal crime and b) there was an entire country expecting retribution, instead of a mere handful of angry family members like in most "normal" death penalty cases.