Impulses

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.