Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Olympic boondoggle

If you have any delusions that the use of public money to build stadiums or host sporting events provides an economic benefit to a city or country, please take a couple of minutes to read these articles about the burning dumpster fire that is Rio de Janeiro and the Summer Olympics.

"Rio de Janeiro governor declares state of financial emergency ahead of Olympics" The Guardian (6/17/16)

"As the Olympics near. Brazil and Rio let the bad times roll," New York Times (6/25/16)

"Rio visitors greeted with 'Welcome to Hell' banner," Yahoo Sports (6/28/16)

The only folks who claim that hosting these types of events and building fancy new playgrounds for fat cat owners are the owners themselves, the organizers of the games, league officials and every local politician who has his or her hand in the fire.

As I have stated before, if these really were money-making propositions, there would be no shortage of investors willing to pony up the bucks to make them happen. The very fact that state and local governments end up picking up the tab for these expenses tells you all you need to know about whether or not they are economic engines.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Update: What's in a name?

In the spirit of throwing good money after bad, South Texas College of Law has decided to double-down and fight the lawsuit filed by UH.

I can't think of a good reason to do so - other than so much time and money has been sunk in this flight of idiocy that no one has the good sense to pull the plug on it.

Anyway, here's South Texas College of Law's response to the lawsuit.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What's in a name?

The other day I received a letter from something called the Houston College of Law. The letter stated that Houston College of Law was the new name for South Texas College of Law (the law school I attended). The letter also contained the usual gibberish about strategic plans, mission statements and the like.

Apparently someone along the line decided that the name of the school needed to be changed. Never mind that South Texas has a sterling reputation when it comes to advocacy competitions. Gerald Treece has put together one of the best advocacy programs in the entire country.

But someone with a market research firm decided that didn't matter. And, to top it off, that firm decided that the scales of justice should be white against a red background. Hmmm. Doesn't that color scheme sound familiar?

So we are supposed to forget about 96 years of history and pretend that a law school is just as much a commodity as soda, shoes, cars and phones. Not that law schools are paragons of virtue as they have marketed their schools without a thought to what fate awaits their graduates. Apparently that federally guaranteed student loan money is just too much to ignore.

However, as Lee Corso would say "Wait just a minute!"

On Monday the Board of Regents for the University of Houston filed suit in federal court against South Texas College of Law arguing that the name and color change is a trademark infringement and designed to confuse the public and seeking an injunction to prevent the name change.

I hope UH is successful with its suit. I hope that South Texas has to crawl back downtown with its tail between its legs. Allowing a marketing firm to dictate the name of a school is beyond ridiculous and every member of the board of South Texas the participated in this process and that voted to make the name change violated their fiduciary responsibility to the students, faculty and donors. This exercise in stupidity will result in untold legal fees and expenses that would have been much better used to enhance the education of the law school's students.

The President and Dean of the law school, Donald J. Guter, should do what Roy Hodgson did after England lost to Iceland yesterday - resign.

I should probably go down and buy as much gear as I can with the new name on it because once the court rules against South Texas, all that merchandise could beome collectible - or at least be a conversation starter.

See also:

"University of Houston Law Center files suit against unranked law school," Above the Law (6/27/16)

"UH files suit over Houston law school name change" Houston Chronicle (6/27/16)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Now for something completely different

There is a new podcast I ran across on the NPR One app a couple of weeks ago. It's called Criminal and it deals with, surprisingly enough, criminal matters. But it does so with a level of sophistication. I highly recommend it.

So far I've listened to pieces on grave robbing by medical schools in the 18th and 19th centuries and a clash between the KKK and the Communist Workers' Party in the 1970's.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Why is two greater than four?

Why are we so concerned about the possibility that the Second Amendment might be restricted by legislation but we show no concern when the Nine (now Eight) Wearing Robes carve out restrictions to the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments?

This topic is nothing new to readers of this blog but, given the massacre in Orlando, it's timely once again.

Now the first thing we can do is forget about these ideas floating around that if you are on the government's "No Fly" list you shouldn't be able to buy a gun. There are no concrete criteria for being placed on that list. No one notifies you if you are placed on that list. There is no criteria for removing yourself from that list. Sure, "No fly, no buy" has a nice ring to it - but it's a nonstarter.

Besides, how many of the folks who carried out mass shootings in this country over the last decade were suspected terrorists? Would such a measure have stopped any one of those shootings? Highly doubtful. But it would allow politicians to say they did something in response to Orlando.

As I have said before, what we really need to do is address the gun culture in this country. And we can't do that without addressing racism. As the old white guard have found their numbers decreasing (and their influence over politics receding), the worship of the Second Amendment has become louder.

I suspect the reason such a stink is made over the Second Amendment is because those who held sway for so long because of the color of their skin know that the days of white power in the United States are coming to an end. They have some delusion that by holding onto their guns they can forestall the inevitable. 

They like to trot out the trope that an unarmed populace is at the mercy of its government. Let's look at that for a second. The US government has nuclear weapons, "smart bombs," jets, helicopters, ships and an arsenal of deadly machine guns and other arms at its disposal. Do you really think your shotguns, semi-automatic rifles and .45s stand a chance? Stop being deluded by Red Dawn.

You say you're worried about the slippery slope that gun regulation might bring about? What about the shredding of the Fourth Amendment? Or are you not worried about that because it only protects "them." 

And that's what this is really all about. 

One day you will wake up to find the Fourth Amendment is gone. But then we'll still have the Second Amendment. Some comfort that will be.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A common sense decision

Terrence Williams was convicted of murder for killing Amos Norwood in 1984. Mr. Williams said he did it because Mr. Norwood had abused him when he was a child. Nonetheless, the District Attorney, Ronald D. Castille, made the decision to seek the death penalty.

In 2012 a Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) court stayed the execution and ordered a new sentencing hearing as a result of Brady violations on the part of the prosecutor.

In 2014, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court reinstated Mr. Williams' death sentence.

Nothing new there. Except that the chief justice was Mr. Ronald D. Castille. The same Ronald D. Castille who signed off on the death sentence almost 30 years before.

Yesterday, in Williams v. Pennsylvania, No. 15-5040 (2016),U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy was the swing vote in a 5-3 majority that decided a judge must recuse himself from ruling on a capital case in which he had a "significant personal involvement" as a prosecutor.

Makes perfect sense to me.

But the question is why did this have to go to the highest court in the land to make such a basic finding? Mr. Castille, of course, thinks the ruling is ridiculous. But it's Mr. Castille's logic (or lack thereof) that I find ridiculous.

Mr. Castille was an elected district attorney. He made the decision to seek the death penalty against Mr. Williams. He made that decision for any number of reasons. And he thought everything was kosher when the question of whether or not to reinstate the death penalty in the case came before him in his role as Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court. At what point did this train run off the rails?

Mr. Castille's concern is that a good number of judges come out of the prosecutor's office and that their fingerprints are all over too many cases to keep track of. He's worried that judges will have to recuse themselves by the bucketload as a result of this opinion.

Maybe he's right.

And maybe that's not such a bad thing were it to happen.

Whether Mr. Castille wishes to admit it or not, his vote in the case in 2014 was nothing more than an affirmation of a decision he made in 1984 that someone deserved to die. He wasn't going to second-guess himself. There was no chance he would have voted against reinstating the death penalty because that would be an admission that he was wrong in the first place. I doubt seriously that any of his colleagues on the bench were going to call him out on it, either.

The conflict of interest is clear and Mr. Castille should have recused himself without being asked because of his involvement in the case at the trial court level. His failure to do so, and his insistence that he did nothing wrong or suspect, speaks volumes about his judgment, or lack thereof.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Hypocrisy 101

Last fall 24 year-old Jamar Clark was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer. That much is not in dispute.

In March the Hennepin (MN) County Attorney, Mike Freeman, decided not to bring charges against Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, the two officers involved. In justifying his decision, Mr. Freeman ignored eyewitness accounts that Mr. Clark was handcuffed at the time he was shot and killed.

Yesterday the US Attorney in Minneapolis, Andrew Luger, announced that no federal civil rights charges would be filed against either of the officers. Mr. Luger defended his decision by stating that the accounts of what happened that evening were so "deeply conflicted" that he didn't think his office could proceed under the theory that Mr. Clark was handcuffed at the time he was murdered.
"Given the lack of bruising, the lack of Mr. Clark’s DNA on the handcuffs, and the deeply conflicted testimony about whether he was handcuffed, we determined that we could not pursue this case based on a prosecution theory that Mr. Clark was handcuffed at the time that he was shot. And, in fact, we reached the conclusion, based on all of the evidence that we reviewed, that the evidence suggested that Mr. Clark was not, in fact, handcuffed when he was shot.
Our second area of focus was what happened when Mr. Clark and the two officers were on the ground. We wanted to know whether the available evidence would support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers acted in a manner that was objectively unreasonable, even if Mr. Clark was not handcuffed."
-- US Attorney Andrew Luger
Of course that reasoning does not work in reverse. How many times have you picked up a case file and found contradictions between what the arresting officer says and what eyewitnesses say?  I would ask how that worked out, but, since you're reading a case file in court, we know what happened.

How many times has a prosecutor told you that it was up to the jury to decide whether the testimony and evidence was conflicting?

The only time it matters that evidence and witness statements are "deeply conflicted" is when the person being investigated wears a badge for a living. The only time a suspect's denials are given any credence by a prosecutor is when that suspect wears a badge for a living. The only time that a person is actually presumed innocent unless proven guilty is what that person wears a badge for a living.

I don't know what the answer is. Should a local district attorney be allowed to have the last word in whether a police officer should be prosecuted for taking the life of an unarmed person? We all know that the grand jury is used to shield district attorneys from criticism. When prosecutors don't want an indictment they will tell the grand jury to do what they think is right - and then when the grand jury declines to indict, the district attorney can tell the public the decision was taken out of his hands.

And the notion that the Feds should be called in to investigate ignores the reality that federal prosecutors are just as beholden to law enforcement as local prosecutors are - not to mention that murder is a state crime in the first place.

Of course we wouldn't be having this conversation if the mainstream media and public didn't swallow the prosecutor's justifications hook, line and sinker.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Execution Watch: 4/6/2016

Tomorrow night the State of Texas will murder again...

PABLO VASQUEZ was convicted of the capital murder of a 12-year old boy. The 1998 slaying stirred up talk about Satanism down along the Rio Grande. His accomplice, Andy Chapa, pled guilty and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

For more information on Mr. Vasquez and his case, click here.



Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, April 6, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Update: Disbarred attorney reinstated

When last we left Houston attorney Robert Bennett he had been disbarred after a trial on alleged ethics violations. The State Bar alleged that Mr. Bennett violated two ethics rules. What made the matter a bit odd is that the State Bar never recommended that Mr. Bennett be disbarred - that sanction came from Judge Carmen Kelsey of San Antonio.

Today the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston overturned Mr. Bennett's disbarment finding that the evidence was insufficient to support the allegation that he refused to return an advanced payment of an unearned fee to a client. The Court did, however, uphold the finding that he violated the rule against an attorney taking a position during litigation that unnecessarily increases the cost of litigation or unreasonably delays resolution of a matter.

As a result, Mr. Bennett has been reinstated to the bar.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Getting around the Fifth

On Tuesday the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Baltimore police officer William Porter would have to testify at the trial of five other officers charged with the manslaughter and other crimes in the death of Freddie Gray last April. You may recall that Mr. Porter was the first officer tried in the matter (ironic considering he is the only black officer charged) and that his trial ended in a hung jury.

Prosecutors sought to compel Mr. Porter to testify against his fellow officers in their trial under a grant of limited immunity. Mr. Porter refused, citing his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Prosecutors argued that since they wouldn't be able to use any of his testimony against him at his re-trial, that Mr. Porter's Fifth Amendment protection wasn't being violated.

The highest court in Maryland agreed with prosecutors and ordered Mr. Porter to testify.

I am deeply troubled by the court requiring a man who is facing criminal charges for the same incident being compelled to provide testimony at the trial of the other officers. While the words he says from the stand aren't admissible at his trial, you better believe that prosecutors will parse his testimony for anything they can use at his re-trial. That testimony will be compared to the statements he has given in the past and prosecutors will jump on any inconsistencies or contradictions.

While the Maryland Court of Appeals may be living under the fiction that prosecutors only want Mr. Porter's testimony because he is a witness to what happened to Freddie Gray last April, the truth of the matter is the prosecutors are trying to find a way around the Fifth Amendment. They couldn't call Mr. Porter to the stand at his own trial because he has a constitutional right to remain silent. This cynical end around is nothing more than a ploy to force him to testify under oath. Make no mistake. This is all about the government forcing a criminal defendant to undergo cross-examination on the witness stand.

This case is also an example of how bad facts make even worse law. Sure, the court may very well try to couch its ruling in all sorts of language that seeks to limit the scope of its holding, but they have now given prosecutors a new tool to use in compelling a criminal defendant to testify. This guiding principle of American jurisprudence is why the Fourth Amendment looks like a slice of swiss cheese. It's why we are strapping down citizens accused of a misdemeanor and jabbing a needle in their arm.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Execution Watch 3/7/2016

Tonight, that staunch defender of life, Gov. Greg Abbott will once again preside over the murder of another...

COY WESTBROOK is a former security guard who was sentenced to death for a 1997 shooting spree in which his ex-wife and four others were killed at an apartment complex in Channelview, just outside Houston. Mr. Westbrook's lawyer says he is mentally disabled and shouldn't be executed. The psychologist, Dr. George Denkowski, who declared Mr. Westbrook fit to fact a capital murder charge has since had his methods discredited.

For more information on Mr. Westbrook and his case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, March 9, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Execution Watch: 1/27/2016

On Wednesday the State of Texas will kill again...

JAMES FREEMAN was given the death penalty following his conviction in the 2007 slaying of a game warden in El Campo during a chase by law enforcement officials.

For more information on Mr. Freeman and his case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, January 27, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Execution Watch: 1/20/2016

On Wednesday the State of Texas will carry out its first murder the year despite having a self-described pro-life governor. Apparently Greg Abbott's pro-life stance only applies when attempting to prevent women from exercising their legal right to terminate a pregnancy. But then again, our wing nut political leaders can rarely be accused of consistency in their political beliefs...

RICHARD MASTERSON was condemned for the 2001 choking death of a Houston female impersonator. A federal appeals court set in motion the assignment of an execution date when it refused to grant Mr. Masterson the permission he needed to file an appeal with the US Supreme Court. His attorneys argued that his previous attorneys were deficient in representing him and that his confession to police was improper.

For more information on Mr. Masterson and his case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, January 20, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Execution Watch: 11/18/2015

Tonight the State of Texas will murder...

RAPHAEL HOLIDAY, Convicted of capital murder in a Madison County fire, later determined to be arson, that resulted in the deaths of his young daughter and her two half-sisters in 2000. In 2014, The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused claims by Mr. Holiday's attorneys that testimony against him was allowed improperly at his trial in Huntsville in 2002, that his indictment was flawed and that a juror was removed improperly during jury selection.

For more information on Mr. Holiday and his case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, November 18, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tonight on Reasonable Doubt

Tonight I will be a guest on HCCLA's public access show Reasonable Doubt along with Sarah Wood at 8pm on Houston Media Source TV. If you don't get that channel on your cable package (or if you've cut the cable), you can catch the live stream at

Reasonable Doubt is co-hosted by Jimmy Ardoin and Damon Parrish II. Topics tonight will include the death of Sandra Bland, how to handle a police encounter and why black lives matter.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Piling on? Maybe.

I'd like to think of it as more slowing down to see the aftermath of the wreck on the other side of the freeway, though.

Of course I must be talking about Christopher Dupuy, the former county court judge in Galveston County.

His latest brush with the law is both the funniest, and most pathetic. It seems that Mr. Dupuy got upset when two lady friends decided that they no longer wanted to be friends with one of the most unqualified people to ever sit on the bench.

Instead of moving on with his life, Mr. Dupuy allegedly posted fake ads on a website stating that his ex-girlfriends would perform sex in exchange for money.

Mr. Dupuy does, however, remain the poster child for straight-ticket voting Republicans in Galveston County. With the exception of a few devoted wingnuts, Mr. Dupuy would never have sat on the bench had the carpetbaggers in the northern end of the county not voted for anyone (and anything) with an "R" after it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Exposing religion for what it is

Some time ago I wrote in this very space that the Supreme Court had no choice but to recognize same-sex marriage across the nation. Once the first state recognized it, the Equal Protection Clause left no wiggle room.

Not ones to let something as fundamental as the law get in the way, our wingnut governor, Greg Abbott, and wingnut attorney general, Ken Paxton, have announced that they think the Supreme Court got it all wrong. According to these two paragons of ignorance, the Court's decision infringes upon the religious freedom of all the hate-spewing, right-wing, bible-thumpers who are desperately holding on to an image of America that never really existed.

And I, for one, am glad they are all trumpeting the religious freedom angle because this argument shows, once and for all, what religion is really all about.

Gov. Abbott (who sometimes makes Rick Perry look like a scholar and a statesman) sent out letters to the heads of state agencies hours after the Supremes ruled, that it's okay to withhold benefits from same-sex couples if such an arrangement offends the religious sensibilities of the agency heads. What? Has Greg Abbott never read the Fourteenth Amendment? Has he never heard of Loving v. Virginia?

Just what part of every citizen being guaranteed equal rights under the law does he not understand?

Religion has been used throughout history to justify oppression and repression. It has been used to justify the stealing of natural resources. It has been used to justify slavery and Jim Crow. Invoking it to defend discrimination in the choice of marriage partners is the latest use of the "opiate of the masses" to justify the second class treatment of a group of people. So far as I know, the only purpose of religion is to indoctrinate the masses into believing that their state of repression is willed by god and that they will get their equality once they are dead.

And to think that millions of people have fallen for that. Just think about it. When you're dead, you're fucking dead and it doesn't matter whether there's equality or not.

At some point Abbott and his minions will get slapped down and the State of Texas will be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era. Until then I can sit back and enjoy watching the curtain getting pulled back on religion and exposing it as the con that it is.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A small measure of justice

Maybe the name Charles Sebesta rings a bell. If not, maybe the name Anthony Graves will.

Mr. Sebesta was the prosecutor who withheld evidence at Mr. Graves' murder trial over 20 years ago. Mr. Graves spent 12 years on death row as a result of Mr. Sebesta's unethical and illegal conduct.

For all of the injustices our clients face, there are moments where justice does prevail. Sometimes it's a day late and a dollar short, but it prevails nonetheless. Yesterday was one of those days.

Yesterday Charles Sebesta was disbarred by the State Bar of Texas for his actions in prosecuting Anthony Graves. While Mr. Sebesta has lost his ticket to play, nothing can make up for the years Mr. Graves spent in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Nothing can make up for the years he lost and the moments he never got to experience.

But at least Mr. Sebesta is being held accountable.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Execution Watch: 6/3/2015

On Wednesday night the State of Texas will attempt to murder...

LESTER BOWER, whose recent interview with Execution Watch will air during the show. Bower may not be the longest-serving person on Texas death row, but he's close to it. Convicted in the 1984 execution-style murders of four men at an airplane hangar on a ranch north of Dallas, he had no previous criminal history and has steadfastly maintained his innocence. No fingerprints put him at the scene. No witnesses saw him there. The murder weapon never was recovered. Pointing away from him is the claim by an informant, whom police will not identify, that her ex-boyfriend and three others committed the murders in a drug deal. Courts have saved Bower from six previous execution dates.

For more information on Mr. Bower and his case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, June 3, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Monday, May 11, 2015

Execution Watch: 5/12/2015

On Tuesday night the State of Texas will kill again...

DERRICK CHARLES, condemned in the 2002 slayings of three people at their Houston home. A Harris County jury decided he should die for the deaths of his 15-year-old girlfriend, her 44-year-old mother and the girlfriend's 77-year-old grandfather. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused Friday to stop the execution. Mr. Charles' lawyers say he is mentally incompetent for execution and that they need more time and money from the courts to pursue their claim. An appeal for him is at the U.S. Supreme Court.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Tuesday, May 12, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Since KPFT is in the midst of a fundraising drive it is highly unlikely that the program will be heard on the broadcast channel so look for the HD channel or find it online.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Execution Watch: 4/28/2015

Tonight, the State of Texas will kill again...

ROBERT PRUETT., Condemned in the 1999 slaying of a prison guard at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas, Mr. Pruett had been slated for execution on May 21, 2014, but was granted a stay so he could appeal a judge's previous ruling. Mr. Pruett has steadfastly denied that he had any role in the guard's death. 

Mr. Pruett recently recorded a 20-minute interview with Execution Watch. If his execution is carried out, the interview will air unedited and in its entirety.

See also:

"Inmate set for execution seeks Supreme Court stay," Texas Tribune (April 28, 2015)


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Tuesday, April 28, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Since KPFT is in the midst of a fundraising drive it is highly unlikely that the program will be heard on the broadcast channel so look for the HD channel or find it online.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Execution Watch: 4/15/15

On Wednesday night, the State of Texas is planning to kill...

MANUEL GARZA, JR., Convicted in the 2001 slaying of a San Antonio police officer after a foot chase in which the men struggled and Mr. Garza grabbed the officer's gun, then shot him, according to court documents. His trial attorneys said he acted in self defense. Appellate lawyers said his trial attorneys failed to properly question jurors about their opinions on the death penalty, didn't submit enough mitigating evidence and failed to include complaints of excessive use of force that had been filed against the officer.

For more information about Mr. Garza's case, click here.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, April 15, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Execution Watch: 3/11/2015

On Wednesday night, the State of Texas is planning to use one of its two remaining doses of its death drug to kill...

MANUEL VASQUEZ, the last of three men arrested in the 1998 slaying of San Antonio drug dealer Juanita Ybarra. Vasquez, now 46, was the only defendant to receive the death penalty. One co-defendant was awarded a seven-year plea deal in exchange for his testimony against Vasquez. The other is serving a 35-year term. Vasquez was originally scheduled to be executed in August, but a paperwork problem led to a delay.


Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Wednesday, March 11, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at: > Listen

Monday, February 9, 2015

Food for thought

Here are a few items I picked up the last week or so that seemed particularly relevant for one reason or another...

If you represent defendants who are under the age of 25, you might want to listen to this interview Fresh Air's Terry Gross had with Dr. Frances Jensen about her new book The Teenage Brain. Dr. Jensen explains why the judgment of a young adult may be a bit impaired due to both biological and environmental conditions.

Former CIA agent John Kiriakou was released from federal prison last week after serving almost two years for disclosing the truth about the CIA's torture program. Mr. Kiriakou is the only person who has been convicted or sentenced to prison regarding the torture program launched under President George W. Bush. To date, not one person who signed the orders, supervised the torture or penned a memo justifying torture has been punished. Amy Goodman interviewed him on Democracy Now!  this morning.

Here's a piece I wrote just before Mr. Kiriakou reported to prison.

Finally, I'm not much of a college basketball fan. The games are too micro-managed by coaches and the "action" on the court can put you to sleep. This weekend, the legendary North Carolina coach, Dean Smith, died. While he was celebrated in the media for winning championships the "Carolina Way," not much has been said about the amazing things he did off the court. Mr. Smith was responsible for integrating the ACC. He was also an outspoken critic of the death penalty. This piece from The Nation's Dave Zirin gives us a little more insight into the man.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Thoughts on the death penalty

I was recently asked by a commenter what I thought was a "fair" sentence for someone convicted of killing another.

The gentleman seemed to believe that the death penalty was appropriate - at least in that particular case. I won't put words in his mouth and assume that he supports the death penalty across the board.

I don't know the answer to his question.

I do know, as I have pointed out before, that killing a murderer doesn't bring any of the victims back to life. Killing him doesn't heal the wounds his actions caused. I also don't think it does anything to bring closure to the family and friends of his victim. The wounds will always be there - they just fade in and out in various degrees as time moves on.

There are three understood purposes of punishment in our criminal (in)justice system. The first is rehabilitation. Our penitentiary system owes much of its existence to religious sects who felt the best way to treat someone convicted of criminal activity was to remove him from the bad influences in his life and teach him another way to live. That's why most of our prisons are far removed from the "evil" influence of our major cities (in much the same way that most of our large land grant colleges are far removed from urban areas).

A second purpose is to deter others from breaking the law. If you see your buddy sent off to prison for breaking the law, maybe the message will hit home that it's best to obey the law. This, of course, only works for those folks who are able to weigh the costs and benefits of particular actions before deciding what to do.

The third purpose was to banish from civil society those who were blatant in their rule-breaking and expressed no remorse for their actions. One way to look at it is the folks we choose to banish from society are those folks that we're scared of.

I think it's a fairly safe bet to assume that our prisons long ago stopped serving any rehabilitative function. They have become warehouses for the mentally ill, drug addicts and folks who refuse to conform with the rules of civil society. We could add that prisons today are used as tools of social control to keep the poor and minorities from exercising any power.

Now our politicians and supporters of the death penalty will hang their hats on deterrence as being the reason we strap inmates to a gurney and murder them in cold blood. The idea is that the public sees what happens when you kill someone (well, kill someone whose life we've determined is more valuable than someone else's) and folks make a conscious decision not to do the same.

The only problem with that logic is that most murders aren't the act of rational actors. How many times is the victim of a murder an acquaintance of the murderer? How many times is the murder the result of an argument that two friends (or two relatives) had over a pool game or a bet or a small loan? How many times do we see someone killing their spouse or lover? Then you've got drug-related killings and "robberies gone bad."

We've been killing inmates for generations and we still  have people killing people. The death penalty never has been, and never will be, a deterrent.

The death penalty is about nothing more than revenge. Always has been and always will be. As such it serves no useful purpose within a criminal justice system.

Furthermore, the death penalty is forever. Once you've killed an inmate, they aren't coming back. It doesn't matter whether they were guilty or innocent. Just think about that for a bit. Over the past decade we have witnessed an incredible number of stories of inmates who spent decades in prison being exonerated when DNA evidence revealed the jury got it wrong.

Our system is run by people. We're fallible. We all get it wrong every now and then. Michael Morton was convicted of killing his wife. The district attorney hid evidence and his successor fought like hell to keep the evidence from being tested because he knew what it would reveal.

Innocent people have been murdered by the state. As long as we continue to strap inmates down and inject poison into their veins we will run the risk of another innocent man being killed. Is that a chance you feel comfortable taking?

I have no use for religion. I think it's nothing but a tool of oppression. But I'm not arrogant enough to say that I know who should live and who should die.

Are you?