Thursday, August 23, 2012

Update: Last minute reprieve

The State of Texas really wanted to stick that needle in John Balentine's arm tonight and pump a lethal dose of pentobarbital into his veins.

But the United States Supreme Court had something to say about that. Last night, less than an hour before he was scheduled to die, Mr. Balentine found out the Supremes stayed his execution - the second time his execution has been stayed in the last hour.

Mr. Balentine argued that his trial attorneys were deficient as they failed to present mitigation evidence during the punishment phase of his trial. The Court will consider his review next month. Should the court decline to review the case, Texas can once again go about planning Mr. Balentine's murder.

The debate over mitigation evidence highlights the capricious nature of the death penalty. If the purpose of the death penalty is to punish a murderer and to deter would-be murderers, then the background of the defendant shouldn't matter. The focus should be solely on the crime at hand. But when you bring mitigation evidence to the table you make the process more akin to a lottery.And to that mix you must add the randomness of whether a given defendant's attorneys have the time, money and expertise to sift through their client's background.

Even if I weren't opposed to the cold-blooded murder of inmates by the state, I would have a problem with the inconsistent way in which the death penalty is meted out. Any system in which an accomplice gets the needle while the gunman dies in prison cannot be saved.

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