Cruel And Unusual

Yesterday, the State of Arizona executed double-murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood. Using a new two-drug combination, State doctors sedated Wood at 1352 and then administered the death drug. The names of the two drugs have not been released. He was pronounced dead at 1549.

The fact that it took nearly two hours for Wood to die has sparked new debate on the death penalty and whether it is “cruel and unusual” punishment. I have to ask, though, how do we define cruel and unusual? Let’s start with the individual words. According to Merriam-Webster, the standard definition of cruel is, “disposed to inflict pain or suffering : devoid of humane feelings : causing or helping to cause suffering : terrible and unfair.” It also says, “used to describe people who hurt others and do not feel sorry about it.” The standard definition of unusual is, “not normal or usual : different or strange in a way that attracts attention.”

The argument could be made that an execution is exactly that – different or strange in a way that attracts attention. It doesn’t attract attention for the cruelty, though. Put those two words together and it paints a much more accurate picture.

The word “cruel” brings to mind a psychopath – a person who sees the suffering of others as entertaining. That is how I would describe Joseph Wood.

Joseph Wood and Debra Deitz shared an apartment in Tucson in 1989. He was unemployed while she worked at her father’s auto shop. Wood’s bouts of rage and abuse often attracted attention; Debra frequently wore sunglasses to hide blackened eyes. Her father, Eugene Deitz, had attempted to accept Wood into the family at first; when he realized what Wood was doing to his daughter, Eugene made clear he disliked Wood. Wood let it be known that he didn’t like Eugene, even telling other people that “get him back” and that Eugene would “be sorry.” On June 30, 1989, a neighbor called police to report a very loud and violent fight coming from Wood’s apartment. The responding officer reported seeing cuts and bruises all over Debra’s body. Less than a week later, after yet another violent fight, Debra ended the relationship, took what she could carry, and moved back in with her parents. She took out an order of protection against Wood. That didn’t stop him from making more than twenty attempts to contact her at either her parents’ house or her father’s shop. On August 4, 1989, he left multiple messages on Debra’s answering machine, including one that ominously said, “Debbie, I’m sorry I have to do this. I hope someday somebody will understand when we’re not around no more. I do love you, babe. I’m gonna take you with me.”

The morning of August 7, 1989, Eugene and Debra went to the shop early in the morning. Wood called three times, each time being hung up on by either Debra or Eugene. The two left the shop for supplies; Wood called a fourth time and was told they would return shortly. At approximately 0850, a Tucson police officer noticed Wood driving “suspiciously” near the shop. The officer, a female, followed Wood’s vehicle. Wood parked at the shop and entered. After walking in the door he pulled out a .38 revolver. Many of the other six employees yelled at Wood to put the gun away. Instead, he walked up to Eugene at the front desk, raised the gun, shot him in the chest…and then smiled. The officer outside heard the gunshot and called for backup. Wood walked outside, saw the officer, and went back inside, pointing the gun at Eugene again. Eugene’s 70-year-old brother Donald tried to wrestle the gun away, but Wood shot him as well. Wood then made his way back into the shop and found Debra. He grabbed her by the throat and pressed the gun to her chest; Debra screamed, “no, Joe, don’t!” Wood yelled, “i have to kill you,” called her a bitch, and shot her twice in the chest. Police arrived and ordered him to drop his weapon. He did, but then picked it up and pointed it at officers. Officers opened fire, striking him several times. After being transported to U of A medical center, Wood survived, later to be tried and sentenced to death.

There has been so much to-do about Wood’s “botched” execution that you almost can’t find anything online about what he did to his victims. It absolutely disgusts me that the press is making so much noise about Wood gasping for air for an hour and a half that everyone has forgotten why he was being put to death in the first place. During his final words, Wood had the nerve to call on his “Christian conversion” – he said that he’d prayed for peace for everyone watching, and that G-d would forgive everyone present.

Those are not the words of a penitent man. In fact, they strike me as the words of a man who is still enjoying the pain he inflicted on an entire family 25 years ago. There is no Judeo-Christian scripture in creation that absolves one of the worldly consequences of one’s actions. In fact, according to scripture, even if G-d forgives you, you’re still culpable for anything you may have done. I fail to see why anyone administering the execution would need G-d’s forgiveness.

Richard Brown, Debra’s brother-in-law, was in the shop the day of the shooting. He spoke after the execution, only after a parade of reporters talked about how “disturbing” the execution was. He put it most succinctly when he said, “this man conducted a horrifying murder, and you guys are going, ‘oh, let’s worry about the drug and he felt!’…These people that do this, that are on death row, they deserve to suffer a little bit. This guy’s been here for 25 years getting medication, eating, roof, bed, clothes, shoes – where are they [the victims] at? Oh, that’s right, they’re dead. They’ve been dead for 25 years…I saw the life go out of my sister-in-law’s eyes right in front of me as he shot her to death. I’m so sick and tired of you guys blowing this drug stuff out of proportion, ’cause to me, that’s BS…all the witnesses that were there, friends of mine, still, friends of the family, still – it’s not just about him! It’s about other people that suffered, that are still suffering!…it’s about the victims. It ain’t about the guy that went to sleep and never woke up.”

Wise words. I wish the weak-hearted among us would listen closely.

…Because Evil Persists

In his anti-execution documentary Into The Abyss, Werner Herzog asked a prison chaplain, “why does God allow capital punishment?” In my last post I responded that the better question is, “why does God allow sociopaths to continually victimize innocent people?” Not one filmmaker or movie star has asked that question. I’m here to tell you that the arguments against the death penalty are philosophically shallow and intellectually vapid.

One of the statements made by Delbert Burkett, father of convicted murderer Jason Burkett – whose partner in crime was executed by the State of Texas in 2010 – was, “killin’ Michael Perry isn’t gonna bring those people back. It’s not gonna raise anyone from the dead.” That’s a comment made by every anti-death penalty celebrity in the world, particularly in the US. Capital punishment is useless because it doesn’t bring back the victims, they say. It’s cruel and unusual punishment. We never have the right to take a human life.

(The same group of people will demand abortion rights in the name of a woman’s right to choose and find ways to dehumanize a human fetus to rationalize murder to their so-called consciences. Go figure.)

That argument is emotional at best. It carries no truth. If our aim was to bring back the dead, then there would be no point to punishment at all. Why sentence someone to life in prison? I mean, it’s not going to bring their victims back from the dead. Why would we send a man to prison for kidnapping and raping his ex-wife? It’s not going to stop her nightmares or put a stop to her fear of quiet parking lots. Why should we send a man to prison for stealing cars and breaking into homes? It’s not going to replace the lost sense of security that his victims deal with now.

See how silly that argument is? If we’re not using the death penalty at least in part for punishment, then there would be no point – and punishment is half of the point. The other half is deterrence. Those who oppose the death penalty claim that it doesn’t deter anything. I wholeheartedly disagree, and the numbers prove that argument wrong.

According to the numbers, when the Supreme Court halted the death penalty for a few years in the early 1970’s, murder rates skyrocketed almost overnight. It took time for the death penalty to be re-instituted, and once it began to gain traction again in the 1990’s murder rates dropped by nearly half. During a long portion of time, many murderers confessed and later said they did so because they knew they wouldn’t be executed for their crimes. As for complete deterrence, nobody has any illusion that the death penalty will put an end to murder; if elimination were our standard for punishment, we still wouldn’t be putting people in prison. Capital punishment has been proven to deter murders, but we’ll never really know how many people have been stopped from committing murder for pecuniary gain because nobody in their right mind will admit that they considered committing a murder. Those who would admit it are likely in dire need of regular phenobarbital treatments, anyway.

It’s not as if I have never struggled with my belief in the death penalty. Because I carry a gun, I have considered at length whether I would be willing to take a life if the situation called for it (I don’t think you should carry a gun unless you ARE willing to kill, and you’d best know how you feel and what you think about doing it before you end up needing to in self-defense). I won’t know until and unless I ever have to commit the act, and I hope like hell that I never have to, but I’ve also been faced with death in my duties as an EMT and I have given death a lot of consideration – both my own death and that of others. My faith tells me I should forgive. My faith also tells me I should be able to balance justice and mercy, and know when the greatest lesson will be learned from one or the other.

So many criminals in our society depend on the faith-based mercy of others. That dependence has been fulfilled so often that it has morphed into expectation. I have met so few inmates who actually intended to change their behavior that I have a hard time believing that any of them care to change. I have met many, however, who struck me as being so evil that their very presence in the room made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I’ve worked with inmates whose self-serving behavior and subsequent excuses screamed “PSYCHOPATH!”

Our justice system will never be perfect, but we have to be willing to accept that there is evil in this world and there always will be no matter what we do. As long as human beings are running the show in this world there will be imperfection. Evil will persist no matter how much we wish we could reason everyone into being good. We have to be willing to accept being uncomfortable once in a while to make sure evil doesn’t win. That means that we have to accept that not all life is indispensible; those who have made the choice to objectify others and make victims out of innocent people forfeit their lives, even to the point of execution.

As for the argument that it’s cruel and unusual punishment…horsefeathers. Ask the victims about the fear and extreme pain they experienced before they died. Ask their surviving friends and family what they experience every day after losing their loved one.

We Will Kill You Back

My home state is set to execute Humberto Leal Garcia, Jr. today by lethal injection for the rape and murder of 16-year-old Adria Saucedo. Looking at the facts of the case and the evidence, it really is open and shut; forensic evidence along with witness testimony was absolutely damning. This morning, the Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision against a stay of execution. The case, however, won’t die – any more than other cases involving foreign nationals, particularly Mexicans sentenced to death in Texas. Jose Medellin was executed in 2008 despite the argument that he was never given access to the Mexican Consulate.

The argument went that Medellin, who had been brought to the United States as a small child, had never been notified of his right to notify the Mexican Consulate and seek their counsel during his trial on the same thing – double rape and murder, a crime that he committed with friends as part of a gang initiation. Evidence in that case was outrageous and could not be denied; a nylon belt belonging to one of the gang members was found broken on the body of one of the victims, the rest of the belt in possession of its owner; a ring bearing a large “E” had been stolen by another gang member and given to his girlfriend; blood was found all over the shirt of another gang member; yet another was videotaped smiling at the scene of the crime. Along with this, witnesses and gang members who testified pretty well sealed the fate of Medellin and four of his friends – they received the death penalty. Later, after SCOTUS ruled that those who committed heinous crimes while under the age of 18 could not be put to death, two of the killers had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Medellin’s trial did not end until 1997, four years after the murders, yet his lawyers had failed to mention to anyone that he’d been denied his right to speak to the Mexican consulate – even though until then he believed he was born in the US and had no idea that he was actually an illegal from Mexico.

One year after the crime that shook Oak Forest, Humberto Leal was at a party with 16-year-old Adria Saucedo. Witnesses said that Saucedo was intoxicated and high on cocaine while several men at the party supposedly raped her. She was later put in Leal’s vehicle, and multiple witnesses said she left with him; a short time later, Leal’s brother showed up in absolute hysterics, screaming that Humberto had returned home covered in blood, saying he’d killed a girl. Partygoers immediately began searching for the girl and found her dying of severe head trauma, the 40-pound asphalt rock used to beat her to death in the dirt beside her, a stick with a screw still in it protruding from her vagina.

At first, when questioned, Leal claimed that he was taking her home when she got upset and jumped out of the car. When told that his brother had also given a statement about what he’d really said, Leal corrected himself: he said she jumped out but he had followed her and pushed her down, then when he saw blood coming from her nose and mouth he ran away. Police searched his home and found Adria’s blood-spattered blouse in his room. Luminol testing showed that blood had been present on the passenger-side seat and door, but a serious attempt to clean it up had been made and there wasn’t enough left to test. Bite marks on Adria’s face and neck matched Leal’s teeth. With more than enough evidence to convict, the prosecution easily won a conviction.

There are many, however, who are screaming that he should have been given access to the Mexican Consulate.

Why? He was brought here to the US when he was not quite two years old. I’d be willing to bet he didn’t know he wasn’t a US citizen, either, and it didn’t come up until much later. The argument being made by President Obama and several others is that Texas’ refusal to stop his execution and give him a new hearing about consular access will put Americans abroad in danger of being deprived of the same right.

How is that? How often are Americans given access to our consulate in Mexico when they’re arrested for petty offenses? There are a number of stories of Americans being arrested by crooked cops and being treated horribly in squalid jail cells, their possessions stolen and sold, while families fight tooth and nail to get them the things they need, much less get them home. Talk to Dawn Marie Wilson, stopped by Mexican police with her husband on their boat just off Mexican shores. During a search of the vessel, police confiscated a prescription – written by an American doctor and filled at a Mexican pharmacy, they accused her of possession of an illegal prescription. Without access to the US consulate she was sentenced to five years in Mexican prison, where she says drugs and prostitution were rampant and there was no sanitation, running water or adequate food. She was freed in 2004 after a year and a half – and Mexican police stole her credit card, charging $4200 on it.

Ask Tillie Blount, whose son James was arrested for possession of Thorazine despite there being no history at all of drug or alcohol use. James was tossed in a dank cell with 60 other inmates and appeared to US consular officials to be disturbed when they saw him. He was beaten to death by five inmates and a guard while he paced and talked to himself in 2000.

Ask attorney Dick Atkins, who reports that thousands of Americans go to foreign jails in Mexico every year, often languishing for months without being charged – some for years without charges or trial. In Mexico, those involved in traffic accidents often go to jail if they don’t first go to the hospital, regardless of who caused it, until the investigation is complete – and he described one case where an American was rear-ended by a Mexican (yes, the Mexican caused it) and was taken to jail. In other countries, he says that food and medical care are hardly adequate (India, Mexico), it can be nearly impossible to find a person incarcerated (China, and torture is rampant (Saudi Arabia). In most other countries, pretrial detention can last for years, often without bail.

I’m sorry, but I’m having an awfully hard time feeling sorry for the animal who tortured, raped and murdered a teenage girl and left enough forensic evidence to convince Hellen Keller of his guilt. He didn’t have access to the Mexican consulate? Aw, poor baby. My heart bleeds peanut butter for him. His life in US jails and prisons has been a vacation compared to what he would have gotten in Mexico, death penalty included. At least his death will be peaceful.

I don’t believe for one second that Americans will be in any more danger overseas than they already are with things being the way they are. When was the last time you heard of a US attorney demanding $70,000, a new house and a new car from the family of a suspect incarcerated for trying to pass counterfeit money to buy prescription medication? Aside from all of that, America is a sovereign nation, one not required to obey international law. John Kerry can kiss my ass with his global litmus test…if we spend all of our time trying to make everyone else in the world happy, we’ll never get anything done. Our laws are ours, and nobody else gets a say.

Don’t whine about how bad America is. We’re a shining light in this world. If you ask me, the bad guys have it way too easy in prison. Believe me. I saw it with my own two eyes. As for Humberto Leal, he and his family wanted to live here – they get to abide by our law. Put him to death and send everyone a message that if you kill someone here, in the words of Ron White, “we will kill you back!”

The Inhumanity

Yesterday, the oldest death row inmate in the United States died of natural causes. He was 94 years old.

Born in 1915, Viva Leroy Nash was first arrested at the age of 15 in 1930 after an armed robbery and was sent to a federal prison in Leavenworth, KS. After that, he ended up in Connecticut where he shot a police officer (the officer survived) and was arrested a short time later in Dallas, Texas. He served 25 years in prison for that shooting. After that, he landed back in Salt Lake City – where he’d grown up – and he pulled off another armed robbery and murder in 1977. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

Somehow, this honest-to-God winner got assigned to an offsite work crew and in October 1982, he escaped. He ran for three weeks before robbing a coin shop in Phoenix. During the robbery, he shot employee Greggory West. A neighboring shop owner held Nash at gunpoint until police arrived and arrested him. Nash was then sentenced to death in the State of Arizona.

1982 was 28 years ago. 28 YEARS. At the time of his death his lawyers spoke fondly of him and talked about his deafness, near-blindness and wavering dementia. They spoke as if it had been a travesty that Nash had died in prison the way he did. As if society was wrong for not letting him go.

The real travesty is that it took 28 years for a death row inmate to die.

Those who are opposed to the death penalty, think about this: Nash, from the time he was 15 years old, did nothing but hurt people. Armed robbery, assault, murder, all of it caused nothing but pain. If he didn’t know it was wrong he wouldn’t have tried to run from the authorities when he committed the crimes. He knew what he was doing was wrong and he knew there would be a high price if he got caught. He learned early on how to play the system.

By the time he was caught in Utah in 1977, everyone should have known he would be a threat as long as he was alive. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s moratorium on executions, he was given two life sentences. Rather than sending him to a maximum-security facility, though, they gave him assignment to a work crew and he escaped to kill another day. For all we know, he may have committed more crimes that we didn’t finger him for.

It was a shame that he was allowed to founder in prison for 28 years. It was a shame that he was blind, deaf and approaching dementia. It’s a shame because he shouldn’t have been allowed to live as long as he did.

The arguments about those freed from death row by DNA evidence hold little water. There have been an extremely low number of those (I think a total of three) and most others released from death row have not actually been released from prison. Most have had their death sentences commuted to life sentences for one reason or another (one was commuted because the offender was 17 at the time that he murdered a nurse in Arizona and stole her truck and lived in her home after the crime and bragged to his friends about it, supposedly he was “too young” to understand what he’d done). Others have been granted pardons, but those are few and far between, too.

Nowadays when a person is accused of a crime, it’s because there is pretty damning evidence that the accused actually committed the crime. Our justice system is badly broken and needs to be fixed. If a person convicted of murder is sentenced to death, no more appeals for two decades–set aside one court to hear all death penalty appeals and give each convicted offender a maximum of one year. If the appeal is heard and denied before then, the death warrant should be signed and within 24 hours the death sentence should be carried out. It should be automatic.

I have no more tolerance whatsoever for liberals who think that the death penalty is wrong. Tell that to Bryan Wayne Hulsey, who murdered my friend Tony while he was on duty as a Glendale Police officer in 2007. He had only been out of prison for three months before he did that, and Tony wasn’t the first cop he’d attacked, and Tony’s family still waits and hopes for justice. Tell Deb Shuhandler and her two daughters; they just laid Eric, a 16-year-veteran of the Gilbert police department to rest after he was killed by another lifetime thug. Tell the children of Josie Greathouse Fox that the death penalty is wrong; their mother was a sheriff’s deputy in Millard County, Utah and was shot to death by an illegal alien drug offender.

Tell the walking wounded all over this nation who have survived losing a piece of themselves to murder that the death penalty is wrong. Tell them that it’s inhumane to take the life of the flab of human debris that killed their loved ones. We are all tired of hearing about how those people have rights. We had rights, too. As far as I can tell we still do. Don’t we have a say?

The Shadow of The Death Chamber

John Allen Williams served in the Louisiana National Guard for seven years before volunteering for active duty in the United States Army. He was discharged as a sergeant after his service in the first Gulf War, having attained the Expert Rifleman’s Badge, the highest non-sniper shooting rank in the Army. In 1987, while serving, he also joined the Nation of Islam.

Shortly after his discharge from the Army, Williams helped provide security for the so-called “Million Man March” in Washington, DC, which was spearheaded by the Nation of Islam. Directly after that he moved to Antigua, where he engaged in offshore fraud activity, returning to the United States sometime in 2000 or 2001.

In October of 2001, following the attacks on 9/11, Williams changed his name to John Allen Muhammad. He’d also brought someone back from Antigua with him–a young man named Lee Boyd Malvo.

On October 3, 2002, the Beltway Sniper began the infamous rampage that gripped the country for three weeks. By the time it ended on October 24, 10 innocent lives had been snuffed out and three had barely survived their wounds. After an exhaustive search that police remained very tight-lipped about, they found John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo sleeping in a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice–a former police vehicle–which had been outfitted specifically for the attacks. It had been modified so that a sniper could fire from inside the closed trunk.

Found on them was a Bushmaster XR15 .223 hunting rifle with a laser sight–which was linked to 11 of the 14 shootings as well as shootings in Louisiana and Alabama–and a laptop computer stolen from a shooting victim in Alabama named Paul LaRuffia (he survived his wounds) that had been previously unconnected to the Beltway Sniper attacks. The computer had detailed maps of all of the shootings they had committed and information from the news on their victims. Just a year after the crime, Malvo, who was a minor at the time of the shootings, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and Muhammad was sentenced to life by the state of Maryland–but sentenced to death by the state of Virginia.

His death warrant signed this week, John Allen Muhammad is scheduled to die by lethal injection on November 10. His lawyers are trying to use all of the last-ditch tools they have to stop his death. I do not believe they will succeed. Even Virginia governor Kaine, who says he is against the death penalty, refuses to grant him clemency.

I have to ask all of those out there who favor hate-crime legislation on the basis that stiffer penalties will reduce hate crimes, since the vast majority of you are also against the death penalty…what makes you think that more time in prison will make a man think twice about committing a hate crime, yet the shadow of the death chamber won’t? How can anyone claim that more time in the clink will make a person reconsider a crime of passion while at the same time claiming that requiring a man surrender the air in his lungs won’t make him think again?

John Allen Muhammad deserves to die. So does Lee Boyd Malvo, minor or not–that worthless flab of human debris knew perfectly well what he was doing. Were it up to me, the surviving victims (to include the families of those killed) would each be given the opportunity to put a bullet in his body at his execution. That would be the only thing that would come close to being fair.

God forbid we violate his rights. Never mind that his victims weren’t given their rights; we would be uncivil if we didn’t make sure his rights were upheld. Sometimes I feel absolutely filthy when I read these stories and hear about how states either can’t or won’t give the death penalty. I feel as though the bad guy always wins when some bleeding heart manages to make a judge or jury see things their way.


I’ve blogged before about Shawn Grell.

To recap, back on December 2, 1999, Grell picked his two-year-old daughter Kristen up from daycare, took her to McDonald’s, fed her, played with her–then drove her out to a remote stretch of desert in Apache Junction where he doused her in gasoline and lit her on fire. Investigators were able to determine that baby Kristen had walked around and stamped her little feet for at least 60 seconds (likely more) before she finally collapsed and died in the dirt.

The big controversy surrounding this case hasn’t been what Grell did. No…it’s been whether or not he should be put to death for his crime.

He was originally sentenced to death in 2001. But his defense attorneys, determined to win, started fighting for him and won a new trial. I was supposed to go to his sentencing today, but car trouble put the kibosh on that.

I got a text message as soon as the verdict was read: a jury sentenced him to death yet again.

Defense attorney Gary Bevilacqua said immediately afterward that Grell had been diagnosed as mentally retarded and that he has a “cognitive disorder” that leaves him unable to control his impulses. That’s awfully convenient. The word “cognitive” describes the ability to understand and the word is frequently repeated in decisions handed down by the Warren court in the 60’s. So Bevilacqua is claiming that because Grell doesn’t understand what’s going on, he can’t control what he thinks of doing.

I call bullshit.

This argument is one made frequently by people accused of heinous crimes and the defense attorneys bent on winning their case in court. The system was originally designed to enable the honest pursuit of truth and stop the invasive process that European justice was back in the 18th century. Today, however, reactive and activist courts (such as the Warren court) have turned American justice into a farce. It’s not about asking, “did you do it?” anymore. It’s about winning. It’s not about being fair to all involved, it’s about giving the accused a fair chance to beat the system.

In 1962, Gallegos v. Colorado set the major precedent for due process for juvenile offenders. Gallegos’ full name has never been published because he was only 14 years old at the time of his crime; he and two of his friends followed an elderly man into his hotel room, beat him and robbed him of $13. Police spotted Gallegos with his younger brother one day and invited the young boys to sit in his patrol car to escape the heat, whereupon Gallegos immediately admitted his crime. The officer had no idea who Gallegos was and apparently, Gallegos had no clue that the officer really was just trying to be nice.

Within two weeks he was convicted of assault to injure and adjudicated as delinquent (meaning he was sent to what amounts to a prison for teenagers). Shortly after his conviction, the victim died of his injuries and Gallegos was tried for first degree murder. He was quickly convicted. When the case made its way to the Supreme Court, the argument was made that because of Gallegos’ youth, the police should have immediately contacted his parents before any questioning took place (even though he wasn’t even questioned before he told a cop what had happened).

Unfortunately, this case had a massive backlash in normal adult cases as well. In the opinion written for the court, the following was written by Justice Douglas: “we deal with a person [the defendant] who is not equal to the police in knowledge and understanding.”

What this did was set another precedent, one far more dangerous. It gave defense attorneys the ability to argue that because a person cannot understand or outwit the police, the process is unfair.

Someone please tell me when this became acceptable. How did we get to a point in criminal justice that we are willing to let known dangerous criminals go free on technicalities such as the one Bevilacqua is suggesting, that Grell can’t understand what he’s done? Grell has been fairly insistent from day one that he knows exactly what he did. No doubt Bevilacqua really wanted to win state conservatorship for his client, meaning he’d never go back to prison; now he’s just hoping that the Supreme Court will rule that he’s retarded and thus can’t be executed.

The argument here goes that a retarded person isn’t able to understand the weight of what they’ve done. I beg to differ. Just because a person isn’t considered of average intelligence does NOT mean they are incapable of understanding their crimes. And it is an insult to the conscience that we are willing to accept low-grade or even no justice at all in the name of protecting those who may or may not understand what they’ve done.

Trust me, folks–Shawn Grell knows perfectly well what he did. It was a period of hours from the time he picked his daughter up until he doused her in gasoline and lit her on fire. It took time to buy the gas can at Target, go to a gas station–and even after that, nearly an hour for Shawn to find the spot that he felt was “just right.”

Nobody on Earth can convince me that this waste of space and air, this example of evil personified, was merely acting on impulse and didn’t understand what he was doing–or that he couldn’t control himself. As reprehensible as I believe it to be, one may argue that shaking a baby is impulsive. What Grell did, though, took too much time to be argued as having been done on “impulse.”

It’s quite a leap from wanting to be fair and trying to find the truth to where we are–arguing that a person is innocent because he can’t control his impulses. I have seen many people in prison who committed crimes on impulse; that doesn’t make them any less guilty.

There Is Some Justice

Back in May 2005, I was living with a friend who happens to be a cop. On Tuesday the 10th I was headed to work and noticed three helicopters hovering over an area not far from the I-17 freeway; I knew enough then to know something was very, very wrong. I got home that evening to the news that Phoenix police officer David Uribe, a 22-year veteran of the force, had been shot in the neck, face and head during a “routine” traffic stop. Worse, police had little to go on other than the information that Uribe had given his TRO (dispatcher) just before he was killed.

When my friend got home, we talked about how no traffic stop is ever really routine. Officers are taught never to become complacent because you never know what that driver may be thinking or planning. Most people in the general public–particularly self-absorbed asshats like Steven Anderson–don’t stop to think about this before giving an officer grief for pulling them over. I was reminded of this every time my friend came home late. I was sharply reminded of it when another friend, a cop whom I’d known since long before he put on a badge, was also killed in the line of duty during a supposedly routine traffic stop. The press always calls it routine. Then again, they still report that Tony served in Iraq when he never went (though he served his country with distinction and pride).

Uribe’s widow, Kerry, said later that she knew the instant she saw David’s partner at the door that he was gone. She said that she’d already shut down by the time they reached the hospital. After leaving the scene of a suicide, Uribe pulled over a Chevy Monte Carlo with plates that had been stolen from a Scottsdale dealership. When his TRO asked him where he was, he didn’t respond. Seconds later witnesses to the shooting call 911, saying that he’s been shot in the head and doesn’t look alive; one bystander with medical training attempted to help, but Uribe was likely spared the pain upon the first bullet’s impact.

Two of the detectives assigned to the case–Jack Ballentine and Alex Femenia–had been cops longer than I’d been alive. As they were examining the scene a patrol officer discovers the Monte Carlo, hood up, several hoses pulled from their tanks, the gas cap removed and newly-spent .380 shells on the pavement. They found that it, too, had been stolen and they had a location for the thief. Inside they found a receipt for a local Denny’s restaurant and hit the jackpot with security camera images of two men who fit the suspect descriptions, and the images made it on the evening news. I remember watching it. One tip, from the mother of a barely-legal woman, turned up the main suspect: Donald “Donnie” Delahanty, then 18. He’d been bragging to everyone he knew that he’d kill any cop who pulled him over.

Within 48 hours, Donnie Delahanty and his friend Chris Wilson were in custody after a near-sleepless investigation. Johnny Armendariz, who’d been sitting in the back seat during the crime and wordlessly walked away from the other two as they attempted to burn the car (hence the dislocated hoses, open gas tank and shell casings), turned himself in and testified against them. David York, an Arizona State corrections officer who was on administrative leave after “pissing hot” for methamphetamines (meaning he failed a drug test), was sentenced this past November to three and a half years in prison for helping the two men by hiding a gun and burning their blood-stained clothes in his barbecue pit. Witnesses, including Armendariz–the only one in the car who didn’t lie or try to hide–proved that Delahanty had reached across Wilson from the passenger seat and shot Uribe in the face.

Today, after his defense attorney tried to pin the blame on Wilson as the shooter, Donald Delahanty was found guilty by a jury. A friend sent me a text message as soon as she left the courtroom to give me the news.

I followed this case from the time it broke until now. Reports show that Delahanty and Wilson were involved in running meth from Tucson to Phoenix; Wilson had somehow escaped trouble until the shooting. More than making one feel absolutely invincible, meth makes a user absolutely paranoid; that is the only motive that anyone has ever come up with to explain Delahanty’s actions, but unfortunately it’s not farfetched. What’s most sickening about the whole incident is that had they simply sat through the traffic stop, Uribe likely would have taken the plate, issued tickets to each of them and let them go. Delahanty probably wouldn’t have gone to jail. And David Uribe’s family–including a son who is also a Phoenix officer–would not still be in mourning for the years lost with David.

Next month, the hearing will go into the penalty phase. The jury will decide whether there are aggravating factors that make it necessary to put Delahanty to death for his crime. My only gripe is that he’ll be allowed to live, bitch and appeal for at least fifteen years at our expense. But there is some justice, and David Uribe is the hero that human debris like Donald Delahanty will always despise.

God Will Grant Justice

Shawn Grell, currently on Arizona death row for murdering his two-year-old daughter Kristin, was recently granted a new sentencing hearing. The argument is whether or not Grell is legally considered mentally retarded; during his trial, Grell’s defense submitted two experts that said he was retarded, but when required by the court to submit to a State expert, Grell refused. The court decided then that Grell was not mentally retarded and sentenced him to death. With the Supreme Court’s ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, it became Unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment (which bars cruel and unusual punishment) to execute any person found legally mentally retarded. This decision was published after Grell’s sentencing and during appeal, and his defense lawyers jumped on it with both feet.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors are fighting battles over the most minuscule facts and findings. In most states, when the death penalty is considered, the burden is on the defense to present clear evidence of a mental capacity that makes the suspect incapable of understanding the gravity of his crime. Only New Jersey puts the burden on the prosecution instead. In Arizona, the defense is required to soundly prove that the suspect is truly mentally retarded; it begins with an IQ below 75, then goes on to at least two psychologists weighing in on a multitude of factors, not the least of which is the suspect’s ability to adaptively function in society.

After Grell’s flat refusal to submit to a state expert, it absolutely galls me that his defense is appealing the sentence on the grounds that their client might be mentally retarded. What’s more galling is that the Arizona Supreme Court granted the new sentencing hearing. Another argument being made is that Grell was sentenced by a judge rather than a jury–however, this was well before Arizona enacted the law that required death penalty sentences to be decided by juries. What the news hasn’t told you is that Grell knowingly waived his right to trial before a jury, opting instead for a judge-only trial, then tried to turn around and demand a jury for his sentencing in the first trial. The Judge, within her rights, said NO, you waived your right to a jury, you get me for sentencing, too.

What I’m about to do is going to be a little disturbing. If you are easily affected by descriptions of crimes, I suggest you skip this part.
Imagine you’re watching a young, blond man play with his toddler daughter at McDonald’s. He feeds her, takes her into the jungle gym, then puts her in the car and drives away. He stops to get some beer and drinks a couple while she sleeps in the back seat. He drives a little while longer, then stops to buy a small plastic gas can, then gets back in the car and drives some more. He then stops to fill the gas can, gets back in the car, and drives some more.

He makes his way out to Apache Junction, the middle of nowhere outside of Phoenix, and cruises for a desolate spot. He finally finds a drainage ditch about ten feet away from the road; the area is unpopulated except for this lonely stretch of state highway. The young man takes the two-year-old girl out of the car, still sleeping, carries her to the ditch and lays her on the ground. He has brought the gas can with him, which he opens–and begins to pour the gasoline over his tiny daughter’s sleeping form. She wakes up to the feel of the liquid on her skin and the stench of the chemicals. She looks at the young man, her father, wondering what he’s doing. She wonders why she’s in the mud with daddy looking down at her, innocently clueless as to what daddy is doing.

Then, the young man lights a match and flicks it at her, setting her gasoline-soaked body and clothing ablaze. She jumps up and screams, running around and stamping her tiny feet, crying for daddy. The horrific pain of the extreme burns is finally dulled by the smoke that chokes the oxygen from her blood, and she drops to her knees before falling face-down in the dirt. The young man gets in his car and drives around before going back to see if the fire had gone out. Then he stops at another convenience store for more beer, where he tells the clerk that he’d seen some kids setting a dog on fire by the roadside a few miles back. “What is the world coming to when kids set dogs on fire?” he asks the attendant, who was so disgusted by the tale that he never forgot it.

Later that night, the young man is pulled over for driving drunk and is arrested. Upon his release, he calls Capitol police and tells them what he’s done and where to find the little girl’s body. Officers reach the scene far too late; they find several charred patches on the ground, littered with melted hair clips, partially burned candy, and a trail of tiny footprints that forge a twelve-foot path to the body of the tiny girl they were told would be there. The only part of her body spared the third- and fourth-degree burns are the bottoms of her little feet.
I cannot imagine what it was like for the officer who had to go to Grell’s home to arrest him. Knowing what he’d done, had I been that officer, I’d have happily turned in my badge to slowly beat that monster to death. It is a testament to the goodness of the police officers you never hear about on the news that Grell was delivered to the Madison Street Jail without so much as a harmed hair on his head.

A lack of education or high intelligence does not absolve one of a horrific crime. Even the mentally retarded understand the finality of death and the fact that murder is wrong. Grell held a job and dated, proving he was perfectly capable of adaptive functioning. The way I see it, there’s a really simple way to prove whether Grell understood what he was doing. Does he understand that being burned is horribly painful? Yes. Does he understand that killing someone is wrong? Yes. Did he plan what he was doing? Yes–not only does the evidence from the convenience stores prove it, he admitted it openly to the media.

Considering the extreme evidence and the particularly depraved manner in which Grell committed this crime, I am left incredulous and flummoxed that we’re debating whether this guy understands his crime well enough to be put to death for it. Any person who has the capacity for such inhuman cruelty can only serve the world by leaving it. Either way, though, there’s a special circle in hell reserved for Shawn Grell. He’ll get there eventually, whether we help him along or not, and God will grant the justice that we don’t have the stomach for.

This is Why We Should Put Murderers to Death

You might be surprised to know that the crime itself isn’t my only reason for believing in the death penalty.  Then again…those who know me well might not.  😉

Today, Texas is catching up with all of the time they’ve lost.  Heliberto Chi, convicted of a 2001 slaying in Arlington (about an hour or so from Dallas), was put to death today in the same manner as Jose Medellin the other night.  His argument on appeal was the same: he was a citizen of a country other than the United States, and he was not given his rights to a meeting with the consulate of his home country (Honduras, in this case).  But apparently the International Court of Justice didn’t think his need was that pressing–they didn’t include him in their lawsuit against the US of A.

There have been articles aplenty about his crime; that’s not my point here.  His last arguments were that he had become a Christian, he “knew the Lord,” and because of that he should be forgiven–because God has forgiven him.  Since God has forgiven him, everyone else should, too.  Right?

What’s even more galling is that despite unbelievably compelling evidence, and despite Chi admitting his crime, the man had the patent nerve to walk into the death chamber and say, “God forgive them, receive my spirit.”  He talked to a friend who had worked for his release.  He looked at the family of his victims, but never–NOT ONCE–did he acknowledge them.  It’s that sort of thing that proves to me that Chi was never really a believer.  The bible teaches that God forgives, but there are still consequences for our actions in this life; there is still a law to be obeyed.  Just because God forgives your sin does not exempt you from punishment for your deeds, even if your life is required for them.

As a corrections officer, I saw people “find God” only to laugh about it after it helped get them out.  Then, they’d be back just a scant few months later (sometimes less), cursing the whole of society for putting them away yet again.  Everyone in prison is religious.  An extremely small percentage really believe.  You usually know who they are when they show genuine sorrow, either by apologizing as they’re executed or by really cleaning up when they’re released.

Why would Chi behave the way he did as he was about to die?  Wouldn’t you think he’d be more penitent as he got ready to meet his God?  Think again…this was his way of getting back at everyone and adding to the myth that anti-death penalty proponents like to shove in everyone’s face.  Poor, poor souls.  If he really believed, then I’ll see him when I get home.  I have a hard time swallowing that, though.  It wasn’t society that needed to be forgiven.  It was he who owed a debt to society.  Not even the Holy Bible contradicts that fact.

So why is that a reason to put them to death?  Because they feel no remorse.  No remorse means that if they’re allowed to live, they will commit further crimes against innocent people.  That is the most chilling part of it all, and it’s largely ignored.

The Deed is Done

The US Supreme Court made us all hold our breath today when it was announced that they would hear a last-minute argument and possibly issue a stay of execution for Jose Medellin.  His execution was scheduled for 1800 central time.  Three hours later, with the death warrant still valid and Medellin already moved from the Death Row housing unit at Polunsky to the death chamber at Walls (same facility, different units), it was announced that the Supreme Court would not issue any stay. 

So, at 2035 central, Medellin was strapped down to the table and allowed to say his last words.  At 2048 the first of the drugs, sodium thiopental, was administered, putting Medellin into a deep sleep.  Next came pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer given in such a high does that it paralyzes the diaphragm and renders the lungs useless.  Finally they gave him potassium chloride, interrupting the signals between the brain and heart, inducing cardiac arrest.  Essentially, the man died in his sleep.

Adolfo Pena, the father of murder victim Elizabeth Pena, said, “Fifteen years is a long time.  I wish those two girls could’ve lived that long.”  It’s sad that a man should have to say that–I wish my daughter had lived this long.  It’s sad that he’s saying it because a worthless flab of human debris robbed the world of his little girl and nearly got away with it.  What’s really incomprehensible, though, is that there are those out there who see this kind of crime and somehow still believe that the death penalty is cruel and unusual.  But since Medellin didn’t give his victims any painkillers before brutalizing them, I fail to grasp why his crime is not deserving of something far worse than what he received.

His final words, though, are worth repeating this time.  Usually, they’re not; usually, the condemned either claims innocence or says something completely off-kilter.  Medellin, in a strange turn, took responsibility for his crimes.  He said, “I’m sorry that my actions brought you pain.  I hope this brings the closure to what you seek.”