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“A National Embarrassment”: Maine Gov. LePage; Bring Back The Guillotine

Maine Gov. Paul LePage says the guillotine should be brought back so there can be public executions of drug traffickers.

In a radio interview Tuesday on WVOM, LePage said legislative proposals to increase prison sentences for drug traffickers do not do enough.

“I think the death penalty should be appropriate for people who kill Mainers,” LePage said. “We should give them an injection of the stuff they sell.”

He said he was “appalled” at critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, who are angry over his comments, saying they are protecting drug traffickers.

“What we ought to do is bring the guillotine back,” he said, interrupting the hosts. “We could have public executions and we could even have which hole it falls in.”

LePage, who is no stranger to controversial remarks, earlier this month got into hot water for comments he made about drug dealers impregnating white women.

“With the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty — these types of guys — they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home,” LePage said at a town hall event. He added, “Half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom LePage has endorsed for president, defended his surrogate at the time.

“We all know that he shoots from the hip, and when he does that there are going to be times when even he, in retrospect, thinks he shouldn’t have said,” Christie said in an interview with “Morning Joe.”

 

By: Eliza Collins, Politico, January 26, 2016

January 28, 2016 Posted by | Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, Paul LePage | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Guillotine Finds A Modern-Day U.S. Proponent”: Maine’s Idiotic Gov Paul ‘Rage’ LePage Wants To Roll Back The Clock

Capital punishment has evolved over time, but the progression tends to move in one direction. As we discussed last year, those who believe that the government should have the authority to kill its own citizens have adapted over time to changing norms and technologies. When one method of execution is deemed gruesome, cruel, or of dubious efficacy, policymakers move towards another.

The standards have shifted more than once: from stoning to guillotines, nooses to firing squads, electric chairs to lethal injections. In each instance, the idea has been to make the killing process cleaner and more sanitary.

Occasionally, however, we’re confronted with an official who likes the idea of rolling back the clock. Politico reports today that Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) endorses use of the guillotine.

“I think the death penalty should be appropriate for people who kill Mainers,” LePage said…. He said he was “appalled” at critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, who are angry over his comments, saying they are protecting drug traffickers.

“What we ought to do is bring the guillotine back,” he said, interrupting the hosts. “We could have public executions and we could even have which hole it falls in.”

It’s not altogether clear whether the governor was serious. With Paul LePage, it’s often hard to tell.

But the broader point about contemporary conservatives looking backwards for methods of executions is nevertheless true.

When Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) last year raised the prospect of bringing back the electric chair when chemicals for lethal injections are unavailable, Deborah Denno, a professor at Fordham University School of Law and a national expert on capital punishment, said something interesting: “[T]hey’re going backwards. They’re going back to using a method of execution that was basically rejected because it was so problematic. That’s never happened before.”

As it turns out, some others want to go backwards, too.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 26, 2016

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, Paul LePage | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Capital Punishment On Hold, For Now”: Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida’s Death Penalty System

The future of the death penalty in the United States is murky, and we know there are some justices who believe the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment necessitates the policy’s end.

The resolution of that debate, however, remains on the horizon. Today’s decision on Florida’s death penalty isn’t entirely what it appears to be at first blush.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Florida’s death penalty law unconstitutional because it requires the trial judge and not the jury to make the critical findings necessary to impose capital punishment.

That’s at odds with a string of Supreme Court cases which held that facts that add to a defendant’s punishment – known as aggravating circumstances – must be found by a jury.

It was an 8-1 ruling, the entirety of which is online, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death,” she wrote for the majority. “A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”

The sole dissent in Hurst v. Florida was written by Justice Samuel Alito.

So now what happens? The defendant, Timothy Lee Hurst, will see his case go back to the lower courts, while lawyers scramble to review the convictions of other inmates on Florida’s death row.

For opponents of capital punishment, it’s certainly a victory, but it’s worth emphasizing that it may be short-lived.

In this case, Florida’s current law was struck down, but the ruling focused on criminal procedure in the courtroom. The question of whether the law is cruel or unusual is left for another day.

The Miami Herald reports that state lawmakers are already preparing to “fix” what the Supreme Court said is broken.

Florida lawmakers are prioritizing a fix to Florida’s death penalty sentencing procedures after the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a state law giving judges the final say on capital sentencing.

House Criminal Justice chairman Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said his committee will take on a bill to address the Supreme Court’s problems.

The article added that another member of the Republican-run legislature intends to use this opportunity to consider broader reforms to the system, including a proposal to “require jurors to unanimously find that there are aggravating circumstances in a case, which would warrant a death sentence. Right now, it only takes a simple majority – 7 of 12 jurors.”

Capital punishment in Florida is, for now, on hold. That may not last long.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 12, 2015

January 13, 2016 Posted by | Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, Florida | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Still Remains Popular Within The State”: South Carolina’s Complicated Relationship With The Death Penalty

If prosecutors convict Dylann Storm Roof and then seek the death penalty—and despite calls from Governor Nikki Haley, it’s not clear they will—the Charleston shooting suspect could be sitting on death row for a long time. The last execution in South Carolina was in 2011, despite a list of 44 people awaiting execution. The pace of executions has slowed to a crawl, in a state that has put 282 people to death over approximately the last century. And the reasons that this slowdown has happened may also give prosecutors pause in this case.

In its earliest days, South Carolina was notoriously expansive in its definition of what qualified for the death penalty; a slave could be put to death for destroying grain, for instance. It is still one of the top 10 states for per capita executions, following the Supreme Court suspension of the dealth penalty in 1976 and its subsequent reinstatement. But South Carolina’s relationship with capital punishment has gotten complicated, some for reasons that align with national trends and some specific to the state. On one hand, it’s a place where, just last year, a judge posthumously exonerated a black boy executed in 1944—the kind of case that has led some states to move away from the death penalty. On the other hand, months later, a state legislator sought the reintroduction of firing squads to make it easier to execute criminals.

One cause of the statewide drop in executions helps explain why there would even be a doubt about whether Roof will face the death penalty: It’s expensive. In 2012, one South Carolina prosecutor who had intended to seek the death penalty changed his mind because of the cost. “Once you file for the death penalty, the clock gets moving and the money, the taxpayers start paying for that trial,” he said, reflecting broader angst in the state about the price of death penalty trials, appeals, and retrials, compared to a life sentence. Mathematically, if fewer prosecutors seek the death penalty, the result is fewer executions. Roof’s case would seem a likely candidate to set aside the question of cost, and some predict the death penalty will indeed be sought. But then, it would surely be one of the costlier death penalty trials, because there’s a link between a case’s prominence and its price. (The prosecutor leading the Roof case is controversial with the black community.)

But there are other reasons for the decline in the execution rate, according to South Carolina government officials, namely the difficulty in acquiring drugs needed for lethal injections. “Right now, what we’re doing is we are looking and reaching out to pharmacies and suppliers et cetera to try to find pentobarbital,” S.C. Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said, explaining how the shortage contributed to the slowdown. “We have thus far not been successful at that.” The availability of drugs is an issue other states are confronting, too. Overall, the drop in executions in South Carolina and the reasons for that are “consistent with across the country,” says Emily Paavola, executive director of the state’s Death Penalty Resource and Defense Center.

But the death penalty still remains popular within the state. Nationwide, public support for capital punishment has fallen, partly stemming from the number of exonerations of death row inmates and partly stemming from declining crime rates; that has, in turn, driven politicians in many states to oppose capital punishment. But even death penalty opponents admit that the same shift has yet to happen in South Carolina, except, Paavola says, with regard to the use of the death penalty for the mentally ill, the subject of a poll by her group in 2009.

Opponents of the death penalty have tried to seize on the case of South Carolina’s George Stinney to shift public attitudes. Even among historical exonerations, Stinney’s case stands out: The 14-year-old was electrocuted more than 70 years ago after a two-hour trial that convicted him of beating two white girls to death; in 2014, he was posthumuously exonerated by a judge who cited the all-white jury and a compromised confession. “The case has haunted the town since it happened,” the Washington Post wrote, and “Stinney’s case has tormented civil rights advocates for years.” One of the defense attorneys working the case said the state needed to correct the record. “South Carolina still recognizes George Stinney as a murderer,” Matt Burgess told CNN. “We felt that something needed to be done about that.”

But the Stinney case hasn’t put a halt to a steady stream of bills introduced in the Statehouse that meant to make capital punishment easier, like the legislation introduced by State Representative Joshua A. Putnam to allow firing squads to be used when lethal injection drugs aren’t available. Overall, Paavola’s group has watched the list of factors that makes a case qualify as death-eligible grow since 1976. “The Legislature has, over the years since the death penalty was reinstated, expanded that,” she said, but she noted that individual prosecutors have used their discretion differently. ”From our perspective, the result is, often, very arbitrary selection.”

The Death Penalty Resource and Defense Center isn’t commenting on the Roof case, at least not yet. But on the day of the Charleston shooting, the group called it a “sad day for all in SC.” And the group noted that it had just recently started working with State Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was among the murdered. He had been helping them fight a bill that would hide information about how lethal injections are carried out from the general public.

 

By: Tim Starks, The New Republic, June 19, 2015

June 22, 2015 Posted by | Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, South Carolina | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Once Imposed, Death Cannot Be Undone”: What Do You Think Now, Justice Scalia?

To the Honorable Antonin G. Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States:

Dear Sir:

Twenty-one years ago, your then-colleague, the late Justice Harry Blackmun, wrote what became a famous dissent to a Supreme Court decision not to review a Texas death penalty conviction. In it, Blackmun declared that he had become convinced “the death penalty experiment has failed” and said he considered capital punishment irretrievably unconstitutional.

The death penalty, he wrote, “remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination … and mistake. … From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

You mocked him for this stance in an opinion concurring with the majority, invoking as justification for capital punishment the horrific 1983 case of an 11-year-old girl who was raped then killed by having her panties stuffed down her throat. “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection,” you wrote, “compared with that!”

A few months later, the very case you had referenced came before the court. Henry Lee McCollum, a mentally disabled man who was on death row in North Carolina after having been convicted of that rape and murder, applied to the court for a review of his case. You were part of the majority that rejected the request without comment.

The demagoguery of your response to Justice Blackmun is pretty standard for proponents of state-sanctioned death. Rather than contend with the many logical and irrefutable arguments against capital punishment, they use a brute-force appeal to emotion. Certain crimes, they say, are so awful, heinous, and vile that they cry out for the ultimate sanction. For you, Sabrina Buie’s rape and murder was one of those, a symbol of why we need the death penalty.

As you have doubtless heard, it now turns out McCollum was innocent of that crime. Last year, he and his also mentally disabled half-brother Leon Brown (who had been serving a life sentence) were exonerated by DNA evidence and set free. A few days ago, McCollum was pardoned by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

The case against him was never what you’d call ironclad. No physical evidence tied him to the crime. The centerpiece of the prosecution’s case was a confession McCollum, then a 19-year-old said to have the mentality of a child 10 years younger, gave with no lawyer present after five hours of questioning. “I had never been under this much pressure,” he told the News & Observer newspaper in a videotaped death row interview, “with a person hollering at me and threatening me … I just made up a false story so they could let me go home.”

But he didn’t go home for over 30 years. You and your colleagues had a chance to intervene in that injustice and chose not to. Not incidentally, the real culprit avoided accountability all that time.

The argument against the death penalty will never have the visceral, immediate emotionalism of the argument in favor. It does not satisfy that instinctive human need to make somebody pay — now! — when something bad has been done. Rather, it turns on quieter concerns, issues of inherent racial, class, geographic, and gender bias, issues of corner-cutting cops and ineffective counsel, and issues of irrevocability, the fact that, once imposed, death cannot be undone.

Those issues were easy for you to ignore in mocking Blackmun. They are always easy to ignore, right up until the moment they are not. This is one of those moments, sir, and it raises a simple and obvious question to which one would hope you feel honor bound to respond. In 1994, you used this case as a symbol of why we need the death penalty.

What do you think it symbolizes now?

 

By:Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 15, 2015

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Antonin Scalia, Death Penalty, SCOTUS | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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