2007-11-20

A good reason why I'm opposed to the Death Penalty

From the department of criminal-incompetence:
Prosecutors had linked the weapon to Kulbicki through forensic science. Maryland's top firearms expert said that the gun had been cleaned and that its bullets were consistent in size with the one that killed the victim. The state expert could not match the markings on the bullets to Kulbicki's gun. But an FBI expert took the stand to say that a science that matches bullets by their lead content had linked the fatal bullet to Kulbicki.

The jurors were convinced, and in 1995 Kulbicki was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his 22-year-old girlfriend. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

For a dozen years, Kulbicki sat in state prison, saddled with the image of the calculating killer portrayed in the 1996 made-for-TV movie "Double Jeopardy."

Then the scientific evidence unraveled.

Earlier this year, the state expert committed suicide, leaving a trail of false credentials, inaccurate testimony and lab notes that conflicted with what he had told jurors. Two years before, the FBI crime lab had discarded the bullet-matching science that it had used to link Kulbicki to the crime.

Now a judge in Baltimore County is weighing whether to overturn Kulbicki's conviction in a legal challenge that could have ripple effects across Maryland. The case symbolizes growing national concerns about just how far forensic experts are willing to go to help prosecutors secure a conviction.
To be honest, there's every chance that the guy who was charged with this crime actually did it. Fortunately he was not executed, but the same could not be said for other instances of incompetence within the law-enforcement community.

In this particular case, the prosecution hinged upon the man's use of a .38 calibre handgun to kill his girlfriend. An expert witness, an engineer and scientist, concluded before the court that the bullet used to kill the woman was fired from the man's handgun. Many years later, the credentials of the expert were found to be false and the "expert" committed suicide as a result. When the forensic evidence of this particular case was then re-examined, it seems that the bullet could not have been fired from the man's handgun.

Bungling police officers, unqualified experts, drunk defence lawyers and corrupt juries bedevil too many criminal cases around the world, especially in the US. No system of justice is perfect, though it is in the interests of everyone that professionalism and objectivity be paramount in any criminal trial.

The main reason I oppose the death penalty is that, too often, convicted murderers have ended up being executed and then posthumously exonerated by evidence of unprofessionalism, incompetence and bias in the trial process. The advantage of throwing a murdered in jail for the rest of his life is that, if he is eventually found to be innocent, then the means exists for recompense.

Having not worked in professional law enforcement, I am not aware of the pressure that policemen, judges, lawyers and experts may have upon them. History shows us, however, that even in a modern society innocent people can end up being jailed because of unprofessional and subjective. The imprisonment of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the death of Jean Charles de Menezes are examples of conduct unbecoming law enforcement officials in the face of public and political pressure.

Mistakes will always be made when people are charged with criminal offenses, and those whose job it is to enforce the law try very hard to ensure that they do the right thing. It is the interests of society to have professional, unimpeachable, transparent and accountable law enforcement. Yet when mistakes are made, there should be a way of ensuring that those who suffer are compensated. This can't occur when the person has been executed.

There are many reasons why the death penalty should not be practised in a modern nation. The fact that innocent people have been executed is one of the most important reasons for its abolishment. Sending murderers to jail for life - without possibility of parole - is a far better solution.

17 comments:

BLBeamer said...

"...especially in the US."

Really? There are many problems with our legal system, but do you really think the US's is the worst in the entire world? Worse even than, say, N. Korea?

I don't oppose the death penalty per se. I think it was appropriate for this guy, for example.

The possibility of executing innocent people is, of course, of paramount concern. How many people in the US do you think have been executed who were afterwards proven innocent? I would not be surprised that the bad old days of the Jim Crow South had many such instances. How many since say, 1970? I'm asking because I don't know, not because I have some ulterior motive.

One Salient Oversight said...

When I said "World" I should have said "Developed world".

For some more info on my position, Click here.

Dave Lankshear said...

Beamer, a few months ago I saw a doco on New Orleans and the incredible poverty down there. It was incredible how many black people were executed compared to white people. It was incredible how the "poor" were appointed lawyers that did not turn up, turned up drunk, or slept through the whole trial. Great defence when your very life is at stake!

The legal system in New Orleans and other discriminatory parts of America is just sanctioned murder.

BLBeamer said...

This is a serious issue. Please don't mistake my questions for me thinking otherwise.

But, Moran's article doesn't give any idea how many or even if innocent or wrongfully convicted people have actually been executed. He asserts it, but provides no examples.

There was a famous case in the US where a man was convicted and eventually executed for the rape and murder of his sister in law. He claimed his innocence every day, got on Time magazine's cover as an example of a wrongfully executed man, had hundreds if not thousands of people contributing time and treasure believing he was the poster child for wrongfully convicted and executed people.

This past year, DNA evidence was used to prove that he did in fact rape and murder his sister in law. He had been lying all along and those who were convinced he was innocent based on his sob story were duped.

How should someone like Bundy in my linked article, who was cunning and had a proclivity to escape and killed as soon as he did, be treated? Is he not a menace to society?

I'm all for strict limits on capital punishment, but I believe it must be available for such as Bundy.

BLBeamer said...

Dave, I'm no advocate for the status quo. I don't know what doco you're talking about, but NOLA is and has been corrupt for decades.

Since I don't know the figures, the mere fact that NO is a majority black city seems to me to be one reason why more blacks than whites would be arrested and convicted and subsequently executed from there. How many have been executed from NO as opposed to other parts of Louisiana?

What are the other "discriminatory" parts of the US?

Dave Lankshear said...

Sorry Beamer... I honestly can't remember the documentary I saw or I'd google it and try and find a review. I think they said the capital punishment rate was high on a 'per capita basis' so the defence that lots of black people live in New Orleans ain't gonna fly.

However, this site looks worth a visit.
Perhaps the most important factor in determing whether a defendant will receive the death penalty is the quality of the representation he or she is provided. Almost all defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys. In many cases, the appointed attorneys are overworked, underpaid, or lacking the trial experience required for death penalty cases. There have even been instances in which lawyers appointed to a death case were so inexperienced that they were completely unprepared for the sentencing phase of the trial. Other appointed attorneys have slept through parts of the trial, or arrived at the court under the influence of alcohol. The right to an attorney is a vital hallmark of the American judicial system. It is essential that the attorney be experienced in capital cases, be adequately compensated, and have access to the resources needed to fulfil his or her obligations to the client and the court.

The fact that you guys have charities such as A Fighting Chance doesn't really say a lot for the quality of legal defence when it comes down to a matter of life or death. A Fighting Chance's mission statement is:-

To make qualified investigators accessible to indigent capital defendants; to ensure prompt and thorough investigative assistance and mitigation development to indigent capital defendants; and to improve investigative standards in the death penalty defense community by recruiting, training, and supervising potential investigators.

Why is this necessary? Surely if the state is going to kill someone, they are going to offer the best defence money can buy — even to the poor black "murderer" (allegedly) from New Orleans or Texas.

A play called The Exonerated would probably be worth seeing just to balance out any "Fox news" syndrome you might be suffering from. ;-)

BLBeamer said...

Dave - The play sounds interesting and I'm all for it. I hope it gets a wide and lengthy run.

It's impossible for me to comment on a doco you don't remember any details about. I only responded to what you seemed to be saying.

What would you suggest be done to someone like Bundy? Being in favor of the death penalty for certain heinous crimes is not the same as being in favor of prosecuting and executing innocent people.

Not sure what you meant by my "Fox News syndrome". I'm sure I don't know their view on capital punishment, and if they have one it's unlikely to be the same as mine.

Dave Lankshear said...

Don't worry about the "Fox news syndrome" thing, I was just having a joke. You read and study far more than the average Fox-news watching American, and so I salute you.

But you don't need to have seen the doco I watched, just go to... DeathPenaltyinfo.org
because they basically make the same case.

***Their argument again***

Perhaps the most important factor in determing whether a defendant will receive the death penalty is the quality of the representation he or she is provided. Almost all defendants in capital cases cannot afford their own attorneys. In many cases, the appointed attorneys are overworked, underpaid, or lacking the trial experience required for death penalty cases. There have even been instances in which lawyers appointed to a death case were so inexperienced that they were completely unprepared for the sentencing phase of the trial. Other appointed attorneys have slept through parts of the trial, or arrived at the court under the influence of alcohol. The right to an attorney is a vital hallmark of the American judicial system. It is essential that the attorney be experienced in capital cases, be adequately compensated, and have access to the resources needed to fulfil his or her obligations to the client and the court.

BLBeamer said...

Dave - I don't know how I can make my opinion any clearer: I agree there are serious problems in our justice system. Reform - serious, genuine reform - is needed.

But capital punishment should still be allowed in cases such as Bundy.

I'd be curious why you believe there is absolutely no crime too heinous nor amount of evidence too overwhelming to allow for that.

Read about the crimes Bundy committed and the ruthlessness with which he committed them. There was no reasonable doubt of his guilt.

One Salient Oversight said...

I'm happy for this bloke to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

My problem, Beamer, is that for many, many years I believed in the death penalty. It was only when I realised that its use led to abuse that I gave up on it.

I would have been happy for Bundy to spend the rest of his life behind bars. That may not sound like justice, but you can't execute the guy multiple times to make up for what he did anyway.

And what are you doing being awake at this time of night?

One Salient Oversight said...

Allow me to be pithy.

If the price I pay for not having innocent people killed by the state is for murderers to spend their life in jail, I'm happy to pay it.

Dave Lankshear said...

The "cost" of protecting the innocent by keeping the guilty in jail for life might actually be a "saving" when speaking financially. (I assume you meant the "cost" of not feeling satisfaction over the death of the Bundy's of the world?)

From what I've read (over a decade ago in my welfare diploma) it seems that feeding and clothing someone in jail for life is far, far cheaper than the MILLIONS spent on the legal appeals process that stays their death. Sure the "guilty" verdict often costs a lot in it's own right. But now we are discussing the extra legal action in the constant appeals and stays of execution.

The bottom line is it's far cheaper to feed, house, and imprison them than it is to feed, house, and entertain all the lawyers getting fat off the legal games in the capital punishment system.

BLBeamer said...

The threat of the death penalty was enough to get this sick twitch to agree to tell the families where he had stashed the bodies of their loved ones.

He had been uncooperative until the prosecutor announced he would seek the death penalty.

Neil, I would prefer that reforms be instituted to ensure that capital defendants get the best possible protection and defense. These reforms should include serious penalties for malicious malfeasance on the part of prosecutors, judges and police.

However, I don't understand why you believe our choice must be only between either the flawed system we have or no capital punishment.

I'm on holiday, remember?

Dave Lankshear said...

You're up playing Computer games, I just know it!

Oh well, I've got to take a break... "My brain is full".

BLBeamer said...

One more thing. My views have changed also on this subject, Neil. I used to be opposed to the death penalty, but events have shown me that I vastly underestimated the depravity people are capable of. And I'm not referring to the depravity only of criminals.

My state has had a disproportionate share of criminals who helped convince me to change my view.

I mentioned Bundy already. As an aside, my (future) wife was at Sammamish State Park the day Bundy abducted Ott and Naslund. My wife was 17 at the time and fit the profile of women Bundy favored.

Ridgway lived within 10 km of my home and dumped several of his victims within 3 km of my home. He would have had to drive past my house to get to his dumping ground.

Neil, you have children. How comfortable would you have been knowing that this guy was only in prison and planning for his moment?

One more case, and this is the one that finally caused me to change my view. Campbell vowed to exact revenge on Wicklund when he was convicted of raping her. Yet he was prematurely released into the community where Wicklund lived and she was not even informed. Why doesn't deathpenaltyinfo.com mention these cases? Because, pure and simply, they don't care about anything but eliminating the death penalty.

So, yes, we need reform in the application of our death penalty cases, but we also need reform in our parole and sentencing laws. I am not alone in doubting that when someone is sentenced to "life with no chance of parole" that it means the person will never be released.

Unless and until the legal system is reformed to provide the population with the surety that we are protected from violent, depraved persons, the death penalty is almost all we have left.

I could go on, dear brothers in Christ, but before you are so vocal about your opposition to the death penalty in America, you ought to try to understand the entire spectrum of views rather than trusting tendentious documentaries and web sites.

Ron Lankshear said...

Many years ago I saw Nous sommes tous des assassins (1952)
which was about the horror of using the portable guillotine and the Stress it caused on the warders who had to creep into the cell in stocking feet and grab the "victim".


Neil BL was concerned about your quote of USA cases - whereas I was thinking "knocking the poms again" re the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the death of Jean Charles de Menezes (I cannot believe the Police chief is washing his hands of that one). To me the case that busted the Capital punishment was 10 Rillington Place.
Timothy Evans was hanged and then they find a serial killer Christie in the same premises. A clear example of the danger of the death penalty for one crime.

As I said one crime - so I am hearing what BL is saying about serial killers like Bundy. But suppose we had say a law that says 3 convictions and you are out - there is still the issue of the method and who does it and the impact on them.

The old story about firing squads and a couple of rifles have real bullets was so that blokes could think it wasn't me that killed him. Of course the ones whose rifles kicked would know but the concept is out there

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