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Cheering For Death At The Reagan Library Debate

One of the odder moments of last night’s debate at the Reagan Library came near the end, when Rick Perry was asked about his state’s record level of executions and questions about whether the system is adequately protecting the rights of the accused:

WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you…

(APPLAUSE)

Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

PERRY: No, sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.

But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.

WILLIAMS: What do you make of…

(APPLAUSE)

What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?

PERRY: I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of — of cases, supportive of capital punishment. When you have committed heinous crimes against our citizens — and it’s a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear, and they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our citizens. And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.

(Transcript)

Not surprisingly, both Perry’s response and the audience reaction have gotten considerable reaction from pundits. Steve Benen, for example, sees it as a sign of how Perry thinks more broadly and is not surprisingly repulsed, while Ta-Nehisi Coates isn’t surprised at all. It’s Rod Dreher coming from the right, however, that best captures my own reaction to the whole sordid episode:

I said  here last night that the California GOP audience cheering the announcement that Texas has executed 234 condemned murderers under Rick Perry was a vile, repulsive thing. Even when I was for capital punishment, I believed this. Justice may require execution, but we should never rejoice in taking the life of another human being.

In a later post, Dreher struggles to come up with a hypothetical example of something that could happen at a Democratic debate that would be equally as chilling as the sight of people cheering death:

In the comboxes, Cfountain72 has offered the perfect analogy from the Left: if a liberal audience had cheered at the mention of abortion rates going way up in a candidate’s state. Even if one supported abortion rights, there would be something chilling and disgusting over an audience actually applauding the ending of unborn life.

The difference, of course, is that the public is far more divided on the question of abortion than it is on the death penalty. Polling continues to show that executions garner high public support, especially in the most egregious circumstances one can imagine. Moreover, while some on the pro-life side would disagree, there is a distinct difference between a vocal supporter of a woman’s right to choose and being a vocal supporter of abortion. I don’t think I’ve actually met a pro-choice person who thought abortion was something to be celebrated in the manner that you see people celebrating the execution of a murderer. And that blood lust is disturbing.

I’ve made my own position on capital punishment clear here before:

There was a time when I was a supporter, albeit a reluctant one, of capital punishment, but that time has come to an end. For one thing,  I’ve come to the general conclusion that the state should not have the power to take anyone’s life, even when they’ve committed a violent and horrible crime. Additionally, ever since the advent of DNA evidence, we’ve seen far too many instances of innocent men imprisoned for crimes that they clearly did not commit to think that it hasn’t happened in a capital punishment case.  Finally, my own professional interaction with the criminal justice system on a regular basis made it clear to me fairly early on that the system was far too imperfect to trust it with the power of life and death, and this is especially true when a defendant facing a death sentence is forced to accept court-appointed counsel that lacks both the experience and the resources that a private-hired attorney would. The question of whether you live or die shouldn’t depend on whether or not you’re rich enough to hire a good lawyer, but, far too often, it does.

It’s a minority position, obviously, and I don’t consider most of the people who support the death penalty to be evil or anything like that. I can relate to the desire for retribution that motivates that support largely because it’s a position I used to agree with, and to some extent still do. For example, while I oppose the death penalty I don’t lose any sleep over the fate of Timothy McVeigh. At the same time, though, I didn’t cheer when he died and I don’t really understand why anyone would. Killing McVeigh didn’t bring back any of the people he killed, and some would argue that ending someone’s life in their 30s is the easy way out compared to forcing them to spend the rest of their lives in a SuperMax prison under 24 hour surveillance.

Perry’s response, and the crowd’s reaction, was all the more disturbing given the documented problems with the Texas death penalty system. It’s already been fairly well established that Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed by Texas in 2004, was not guilty of setting the fire that killed his children. At the very least, the evidence that was uncovered after his death would be enough to warrant a new trial, but that’s not possible because Willingham is dead. That’s not the only problem case in Texas, though. Recently discovered forensic evidence suggests that Claude Jones, who was executed just before Perry became Governor for a 1989 murder during a liquor store robbery, may also have been innocent. Again, nothing can be done because Jones is dead. In both cases, the swift and limited appeals process in Texas made it difficult for defense attorneys to even discover the facts that argued in their clients favor in time to halt the execution. Between these cases, and the questionable processes that wrongfully kept Cory Maye on Mississippi’s death row for a decade, there ought to be enough to cause any person to think twice before cheering for the death penalty.

It’s unfortunate that neither moderator last night asked Perry about these cases, because as Governor he sits at the head of the process, and the process is clearly flawed. In reality, though, it’s pretty clear that this is not going to hurt Perry politically:

The issue doesn’t seem as if it will play a significant role during the primary campaign, and if it does, it’s likely to be to Perry’s advantage: Though all the Republican candidates favor the death penalty, none of them have a record on it. Perry’s support for capital punishment will be yet another element of his executive experience to stress and another way of appealing to the base over Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman — neither oversaw executions during his time in office, since Massachusetts has no death penalty and Utah didn’t exercise the one on its books during Huntsman’s tenure.

(…)

While he was Texas governor, Bush presided over 152 executions. Gearing up for the 2000 campaign, Bush sought to play down that record but drew attention for the case of Karla Faye Tucker, who became a born-again Christian while in prison for killing two people with a pickax. Despite calls for mercy from Pope John Paul II and Pat Robertson, Tucker became the first woman executed in Texas for 135 years after Bush turned down her request for a 30-day reprieve.

But bringing up the death penalty in the presidential election moved far fewer voters than expected, said Elaine Kamarck, an adviser to Al Gore’s 2000 campaign who is now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

“We tried and tried to make it an issue,” she said. “I think it probably was an issue with some people who were already uncomfortable with [Bush]. But I’m not sure that it was one of the issues that really moves large numbers of voters.”

The Texas execution record is more likely to help Perry than hurt in, even in the General Election. It’s just pretty sad that people think it’s okay to cheer about it at the same time.

 

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. ponce says:

    Most of the people who elected George W. Bush twice are still around.

    Perry would be a fool not to play to them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  2. PD Shaw says:

    Having not watched the debate, I was a little confused by the piece until I saw that the relevant portion of the transcript was not quoted:

    WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you…

    (APPLAUSE)

    Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

    Its probably worth remembering that Clinton campaigned for President using state executions as photo-ops to show his toughness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. EddieInCA says:

    Doug -

    No matter how many times you write it, you still don’t get it:

    Craziness in the current GOP isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 3

  4. Just to draw a connection to a previous post, the problem with our drone policy is the same as the problem with the death penalty. They may be justifiable if one assumes they are being applied based on perfect knowledge, but once you get into the real word and highly fallible govermnet decision making, they quickly become monstrous.

    And they both underline how insincere much of the supposedly small government right is. One of the advantages of that philosophy is a healthy distrust of the sausage making that goes into the government’s decision making process. But that is hard to square with cheerleading two of the biggest examples where wrong decisions destroy innocent lives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  5. Boyd says:

    First and for the record, I oppose the death penalty for much the same reason as Doug: the “criminal justice” system is far too imperfect, and once their dead, it doesn’t matter if you figure out they weren’t guilty, they’re still dead.

    That being said, I view the audience reaction to Governor Perry’s response to be a celebration of justice rather than a celebration of the state killing people. I’m neither condemning nor condoning those who applauded, I just wanted to mention what I see as another facet to the issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  6. John Burgess says:

    I agree with Boyd here.

    I’m not for capital punishment because the system is flawed. It is ‘justice’ of a sort, however imperfect. It is the ‘justice’ that was being applauded in repudiation of the insinuation that capital punishment was in itself morally wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  7. @PD Shaw:

    Thanks for pointing that out, I’ve updated the quoted portion of the transcript

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Wayne says:

    When people cheer for pro choice, they are not cheering they are not cheering on abortions? However when they cheer for justice and the right to choose the death penalty, they are cheering on executions?

    It looks like someone is blinded by his ideology. I am pro choice to but I recognize they are killing an unborn who has done nothing wrong why the death penalty kills people who have done great wrong.

    Where you upset when people cheered UBL being killed?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 10

  9. mantis says:

    @Boyd:

    That being said, I view the audience reaction to Governor Perry’s response to be a celebration of justice rather than a celebration of the state killing people.

    Really? You think he’d get the same level of applause if Williams had said “Your state has put more people in prison than any other governor in modern times….?” I don’t. In fact, I wonder if people would cheer that at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. @Wayne:

    I am pro choice to but I recognize they are killing an unborn who has done nothing wrong why the death penalty kills people who have done great wrong.

    See what I mean? Doesn’t even recognize the possibility someone could be executed wrongly. If you were executed you HAVE done great wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  11. gVOR08 says:

    Shorter Mataconis, and more to the point. When Rick Perry said

    The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing

    he lied.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  12. Franklin says:

    @Boyd: Possibly. While trying to think why one would cheer about this in a group setting (or should I say with a mob mentality), I feel more like the reaction was saying, “yeah, we support the death penalty unlike those libtards who are soft on crime.” I question whether they understand that people in their own party could have a more nuanced position. On the other hand, maybe I’m reading way too much into it. It could just be Perry supporters finding an opportune time to chearlead.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    It’s ironic isn’t it that conservatives who claim to want limited government want to grant government the power to execute fellow citizens — innocent or guilty.

    They want a government big enough to kill you, but small enough to let you die for lack of medical care.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 4

  14. samwide says:

    @Boyd:

    “I view the audience reaction to Governor Perry’s response to be a celebration of justice rather than a celebration of the state killing people. ”

    My first thought was that the reaction only showed how deeply frightened the base of the GOP is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  15. Tano says:

    @Boyd: @John Burgess:

    I honestly cannot imagine how you could watch that clip, or read that transcript, and come to the conclusion that the audience was applauding “justice”. That seems like a huge stretch toward wishful thinking on your part.

    The question mentioned only the number of executions, and the fact that it was larger than any other place. And the applause came reflexively after those words. No time to even calculate, i hundreds of separate brains – oh, maybe that means that justice was done!

    And besides, one can assume that those who go to a debate like this are relatively aware of the major issues, and anyone who has been following the Perry phenomenon was almost surely waiting for someone to ask him about the fact that he presided over the execution of an innocent man. I know that the instant I heard the questioner mention “death penalty”, I was expecting the question to focus on the innocent guy. That is the context in which the applause happened.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  16. Ernieyeball says:

    A lot of folks think death is an appropriate penalty for capital crimes because of their belief in some sort of afterlife of eternal retribution. I hear them say this all the time.
    If the executed is actually innocent, well, some how they will end up in heaven and it’s all good.
    Of course there is no rational evidence for any of this.
    The executed are just dead. The end. Their punishment is over.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  17. mantis says:

    The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing when an innocent person is sentenced to death, the governor fires the commission members investigating the case two days before a hearing and replaces them with people who will spike the investigation.

    FTFY, Rickers. Scumbag.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  18. Boyd says:

    @mantis:

    You think he’d get the same level of applause if Williams had said “Your state has put more people in prison than any other governor in modern times….?”

    Nope, but I think that misses the point. Generally, capital punishment is used to punish the most heinous of crimes, and justice for that kind of crime tends to bring the most satisfaction to people.

    Then again, I’m just trying to understand people. Others here are more interested in judging those who applauded the governor’s statement, so we necessarily pursue different paths in the discussion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  19. mantis says:

    Generally, capital punishment is used to punish the most heinous of crimes, and justice for that kind of crime tends to bring the most satisfaction to people.

    Then they aren’t cheering justice. They’re cheering death and vengeance.

    Then again, I’m just trying to understand people. Others here are more interested in judging those who applauded the governor’s statement, so we necessarily pursue different paths in the discussion.

    You’re judging them just the same as I am. You judge them to be passionate about justice. I judge them to be passionate about deadly vengeance, not justice. Get off your high horse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  20. jan says:

    @Boyd:

    I view the audience reaction to Governor Perry’s response to be a celebration of justice rather than a celebration of the state killing people.

    Good point Boyd, and one that I agree with.

    Also, comparing a fetus’s death (an innocent, for all intensive purposes) via abortion is not equivalent to a murderer’s death via execution. Yes, they both are dead. But, one can be legally killed through a decision of simply not wanting the child, the other is through a decision rendered via the justice system. Even with the imperfections of our courts being considered, there is still no moral equivalency here.

    Quite frankly if you are against capital punishment (as I am) then abortion should be viewed less as a right and more as a medical need, making it less arbitary and more justified.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  21. Boyd says:

    @mantis: You’re 100% correct, mantis, as always.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  22. mantis says:

    @Boyd:

    Sarcasm detected, and appreciated. ;)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  23. ponce says:

    You judge them to be passionate about justice. I judge them to be passionate about deadly vengeance, not justice.

    I judge them to be cheering stupidity, greed and violence, the cornerstones of the Republican party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  24. James in LA says:

    The death penalty is a cop-out. If you wanted to punish, you make them test subjects for longevity ointments. Keep them around for the jobs no one wants to do. This can be done humanely while also being exceedingly unpleasant work. Let them pine forever for a death that will not come.

    Just don’t let the power fail.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Don’t mess with Texas.

    Hell, even Texas’ Democrat district attorneys have cojones. Its state court system is laden with hard-core conservatives, i.e., rational adults. The U.S. Attorneys down there have got cojones. Its federal district courts are dominated by conservatives. The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is one of the most conservative in the nation. Perry is the archetypal example of a true law and order hawk.

    Texas is bad for criminals and liberals and a helluva lot of good for society at large.

    I too applaud Texas’ criminal justice and jurisprudence systems.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 15

  26. mantis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    I too applaud Texas’ criminal justice and jurisprudence systems.

    So you’re a fan of the execution of people wrongly convicted?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  27. bandit says:
  28. Wayne says:

    @michael
    There is a big difference between limited government and no government.

    @Stormy

    Yes it is possible someone could be wrongly executed. Maybe UBL had nothing to do with 911 and took credit for something he didn’t do. How terrible to have executed him right?
    There are many measures to insure the innocent don’t get executed. Many of the cases that supposedly show someone was wrongly executed are not as cut and dry as many anti-death penalty try to make out.

    There is no perfect system. Like the system that allow criminals out of prison for crimes and they end up killing innocent people. Surely you wouldn’t insist on never letting people out of prison once they committed a crime. Many more innocent people have died because of letting criminals out than innocent people ever been wrongly executed.

    I work at a prison on death row when I was younger. There was one guy that I thought shouldn’t have been put to death. He did commit the murder and was a violent person but IMO could be rehab. The one the press including foreign press made off as innocent and\or deserving of reprieve was guilty as hell and a slime ball. One inmate that did get a reprieve turned back into scumbag. There were plenty of other inmates that should be put to death. Not a big percentage of the population but some are a waste of breath. Even other inmates would agree with us officers on that one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  29. bandit says:

    It’s ironic isn’t it that conservatives who claim to want limited government want to grant government the power to execute fellow citizens — innocent or guilty.

    How stupid can you possibly be? Anyone receiving the death penalty was tried by a jury of their peers and found guilty.

    They want a government big enough to kill you, but small enough to let you die for lack of medical care.

    Even stupider – no one can be denied care in the US regardless of their ability to pay.

    Your ignorance is barely fathomable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

  30. michael reynolds says:

    On the subject of the cheering: I’m a moderately bloodthirsty guy myself. I popped a bottle of Champagne when Osama Bin Laden caught a bullet. My wife and my kids and I all drank a toast.

    I like it when evil men die. No apologies.

    So I don’t oppose the death penalty on humanitarian grounds, I oppose it on the grounds of fallibility combined irreversibility. The death penalty is unacceptable and it gets even more unacceptable when it’s being overseen — as it is in Texas — by reckless buffoons who use executions to pander for votes. That kind of carelessness with the lives of fellow Americans is criminal.

    If anyone should be opposed to the death penalty it should be conservatives. They’re supposed to be the ones who don’t trust government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  31. michael reynolds says:

    @bandit:
    You assume juries are incapable of error, and you just flat don’t know what you’re talking about on medical care. And you accuse me of ignorance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  32. The Olde Man says:

    This the State that was forced to release a death row inmate back when the Supreme Court changed its position on the death penalty? And the guy went out and killed a bunch of people?
    Might be one reason for their reaction. The recidivism rate amongst the executed is infinitely small.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  33. Wayne says:

    Can you name one fetus that committed a serious crime?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

  34. Alanmt says:

    The crowd reaction was disgusting, moblike, and an expression of angry vengeance, not justice. But it wasn’t surprising.

    Justice, including its elements of due process and forbearance from cruel and unusual punishment, require an elevation above emotions, a confluence of ideals and rationality, that the average joe, untrained in law in general and constitutional law in aprticular, just doesn’t have. One has to transcend the baser elements of one’s humanity. Many cannot.

    I am an elitist. When it comes to the administration of criminal justice, the better citizens are. But not everyone has that ability.

    I love my mother. She is a generous, thoughtful, kind and giving person. Except when talking about the punishments that ought to be visited upon heinous criminals. If she were given authority over sentencing, there would be a furious old testament bloodletting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  35. ImpeachOBAMA says:

    @Tano: He WAS NOT an innocent man, he was found GUILTY by a jury of his peers under the laws of the greatest juris prudence system in the world. I worked with lawyers (both plaintiff and defense) for over 18 years and can say with without a doubt that defense attorneys will lie, spin, manipulate, pay for perjury and streeeeetch the truth as far as it takes to get an acquittal. They don’t care if the accused is guilty or innocent – it’s the game they crave. The game is who can one-up the best. Who can spin the best and who can WIN. So, the prosecution won and the defense lost. Deal with it. The crime was committed and it was a horrible one. An unthinkably cruel one. Getting off on a techinicality DOES NOT negate the crime. Grow up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 15

  36. ImpeachOBAMA says:

    @Tano: He WAS NOT an innocent man, he was found GUILTY by a jury of his peers under the laws of the greatest juris prudence system in the world. I worked with lawyers (both plaintiff and defense) for over 18 years and can say with without a doubt that defense attorneys will lie, spin, manipulate, pay for perjury and streeeeetch the truth as far as it takes to get an acquittal. They don’t care if the accused is guilty or innocent – it’s the game they crave. The game is who can one-up the best. Who can spin the best and who can WIN. So, the prosecution won and the defense lost. Deal with it. The crime was committed and it was a horrible one. An unthinkably cruel one. Getting off on a technicality DOES NOT negate the crime. Grow up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 13

  37. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds: Total aside, but thanks for the thoughtful response regarding kids and philosophy the other day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. Rob in CT says:

    ImpeachOBAMA

    Awesome. I await further posts with breathless anticipation.

    I’ve heard your description of defense attorneys applied to prosecutors (the incentives there being power, typically) as well. People are fallible and, thus, so is out justice system.

    I’m like many who have already posted in this thread: I’m not against the DP in theory, but practically the way our justice system works means I cannot support it, at least at this time.

    If the DP really were only applied to people guilty of heinous crimes and if it really were applied consistently, I don’t have any objection to it. I wouldn’t cheer it, mind you. Ugh.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  39. Fiona says:

    I found the applause disconcerting but not surprising. I think it had everything to do with vengeance and blood lust, little to do with justice. However, I also think Perry’s record for executions will play well in the heartland and will help rather than hinder his campaign.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  40. Rob in CT says:

    Vengeance + tribal affirmation (we’re Rs, those stupid Ds have a problem with this governor with balls, hah, we’re with him!), sure.

    I think it’s messed up, but I have bigger concerns with the base of the GOP than their excitement about the DP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  41. michael reynolds says:

    @Franklin:
    No problem. It’s fun to occasionally talk about something I actually know something about. ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. anjin-san says:

    It would be interesting, and probably instructive, to see a breakdown of those who were executed by income level, education level, and race.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  43. Jay Tea says:

    Had I been in the audience, I would have cheered, too. Because Williams presented a very biased and presumptive question, and Perry basically told him to cram it. “How do you sleep at night” isn’t a policy question or a philosophical question or a substantive question, it’s an attack.

    My own answer: “Brian, usually on my side. Next question?”

    OK, slightly more serious. I’d say the above; then, after the audience quieted back down, I’d say “Seriously, you apparently don’t know it, but in Texas the role of the governor in capital cases is limited to being able to issue a single 30-day stay, one time only. And that came about after one of my Democratic predecessors was selling pardons and commutations.

    “That being said, the laws are clear: if you are convicted of committing the most heinous crimes in Texas, you very well might be subjected to the ultimate penalty. That is the will of the people, as expressed through their elected representatives, and it happens to be my opinion, too. So the answer to you question: I sleep quite nicely, thank you, secure in the knowledge that the will of the people is the law of the state.”

    It’s a comparable question as to asking Obama about the DREAM Act by saying “Mr. President, you champion a bill that would actually make it more advantageous to be an illegal alien than an American citizen in certain circumstances. What would you say to the parents of a young American who has been denied admission to a college in order to make room for an illegal alien? Especially one who will be charged less tuition than their own child, a citizen of the United States, would be charged?”

    Actually, now that I think about it, I’d like to see Obama asked that one…

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  44. Jay Tea says:

    @anjin-san: While you’re at it, anjin, apply the same analysis to their victims. (I’m presuming that they all killed people.) I’d hate to think that we’re punishing the killers of folks on the lower socioeconomic strata disproportionately.

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  45. mattb says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s ironic isn’t it that conservatives who claim to want limited government want to grant government the power to execute fellow citizens — innocent or guilty.

    Actually it’s worse than that. According to conservatives government is at best largely inept and at worst largely corrupt. Taking their arguments at face value, it does very little correctly. So I am still interested as to why would anyone give it the power to kill it’s own citizens.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  46. mattb says:

    @ImpeachOBAMA:

    I worked with lawyers (both plaintiff and defense) for over 18 years and can say with without a doubt that defense attorneys will lie, spin, manipulate, pay for perjury and streeeeetch the truth as far as it takes to get an acquittal. They don’t care if the accused is guilty or innocent – it’s the game they crave.

    I’ve been in a position where, for almost the last decade, I’ve had the chance to see a lot of trial transcripts, and I can say that much of what you’ve just written can be applied to prosecutors as well — some of whom have no problems suppressing evidence, saying things in court that manipulate the jury (which though they may be stricken from the record — depending on the judge — still hold great emotional control), and generally speaking push every rule possible because it’s about winning at all costs (i.e. the game) — especially if they are interested in higher office (which many of them are).

    The thing is that generally speaking, the game is also weighed in their favor (especially on appeal). So attempts to present one side as corrupt and the other as white knights is problematic. There are exceptional lawyers on both sides. Unfortunately there are others, on both sides, who care very little about the letter of the law and far more about W’s & L’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  47. PD Shaw says:

    @anjin-san: “a breakdown of those who were executed by income level, education level, and race.”

    You’re holding the wrong end of the bat. It’s the socio-economic status of the victim that most correlates with whether someone is executed. But from my experience at a death penalty defense organization, those executed all appeared to have serious drug-abuse problems or mental-handicaps.

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  48. David M says:

    @ImpeachOBAMA: Even if everything you claim is true, describing death penalty trials as “games that either the prosecution or defense wins” still has to be one of the better arguments I’ve heard against the death penalty. If anyone thinks allowing the government to play games with peoples lives is a good thing, I have a hard time seeing that as conservative.

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  49. Jay Tea says:

    @mattb: “Limited government” refers to limited only to those areas where the Constitution has defined that it has a role. Capital punishment is by and large carried out by the states, as is proper; the federal government has its death penalty, as is proper. Because both have it as penalties for crimes in areas that fall within their bailiwicks.

    Hope that helped.

    J.

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  50. Lgbpop says:

    @michael reynolds: I don’t see how you make a comparison between apples and oranges. Every society has the right to determine how it’s going to deal with its lawbreakers, even if said solution includes execution. Frankly, I’d prefer good old-fashioned exile to a penal colony or an island in the middle of the ocean such as Kerguelen or St. Helena. Still, there are circumstances where getting rid of an incorrigible criminal for good are warranted.

    It’s not even close to being the same thing as an individual choosing to have an abortion. Society may approve or disapprove of the act of abortion and even go so far as to make sure the mother is fully aware of her action’s consequences but society does so in loco parentis. The mother obviously doesn’t want the baby to live, and society has the right to look after the interest of the baby. If a society chooses not to allow abortion at all, the mother is free to move somewhere where the procedure is allowed.

    Neither situation has anything to do with big government or small government, either.

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  51. MarkedMan says:

    FWIW, and I can’t vouch for it’s accuracy, but during the OJ Simpson trial, at the point where everyone assumed he would be found guilty and was only wondering if he would get the chair, one death penalty specialist said “no way, absolutely cannot happen”. The others in the discussion, incredulous, asked how he could be so sure. “Because all the (2000+?) people on death row in the US had a state appointed lawyer. Not a single one had a private defense attorney. Only the poor get sentenced to death in the US.”

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  52. anjin-san says:

    @PD

    Interesting input, thanks.

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  53. MarkedMan says:

    And just to add fuel to a different fire, from my point of view the main difference between pro and anti-abortion factions comes down to the question as to whether a fetus is really a person/child. Presenting your argument against abortion as if those on the other side agree with you that a fetus is a full person from the moment of conception may make you feel like you have the moral high ground, but it’s really just knocking down straw men. If I believed a cell mass requiring a microscope to view was a fully aware human being I would be as adamantly anti-abortion as anyone. But I don’t believe that and the vast majority of pro-choice people don’t believe it. If you want to change our minds about abortion then you have to start there.

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  54. Jay Tea says:

    @MarkedMan: I make a point of avoiding abortion discussions whenever possible. But I do have two questions that tend to make the proponents of both sides squirm a bit:

    1) At what point does a fetus stop being a parasitic cluster of cells and become enough of a human being to deserve the same protections of the law as, say, Sheikh Khalid Mohammed?

    2) If abortion were made illegal, who should be charged with the crime, and what should the penalties be?

    J.

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  55. mattb says:

    @Jay Tea:

    “Limited government” refers to limited only to those areas where the Constitution has defined that it has a role. Capital punishment is by and large carried out by the states, as is proper; the federal government has its death penalty, as is proper. Because both have it as penalties for crimes in areas that fall within their bailiwicks.

    Fair… though being a NY’er it’s hard for me to imagine any Conservative thinking that their State Government is all that much better than the Feds…

    Other state governments perhaps (grass is always greener)… but listening to conservative talk radio I know that pretty much any complaint about the federal government is typically also levied at the State Gov as well.

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  56. Jay Tea says:

    @mattb: Let me give you a little recent history from here in New Hampshire. Our Attorney General at the time took on two death penalty cases at the same time. Case 1: Out-of-state gang member shot and killed a cop. Case 2: millionaire had a handyman he thought had stolen from him beaten to death. She got convictions in both cases, but the jury gave the gang-banger death and the millionaire life. And yes, the gang-banger was a black man in his 20′s, I believe, while the millionaire was an older white guy.

    Personally, I’d have gone for death in both cases. But just because the jury didn’t go for death for the rich guy, I wouldn’t give the black guy a break. I don’t believe that two wrongs make a right. Letting one guy off because another guy didn’t get the same penalty doesn’t work for me.

    One factor that might have played into it was that a year or two before their paths crossed that horrible night, the cop had encountered the gang-banger before. He’d been injured, and the cop had saved his life. And then, later, the gang-banger was confronted by the cop at 2 in the morning. The gang-banger panicked and fired pretty much blindly, and it went right through the cop’s head. If I’d been on the jury, I think I’d have let that sway me — he’d killed the cop who’d saved his life.

    Oh, and some more trivia. The AG in question finished off the trials, went on maternity leave, then came back after having a little girl and ran for higher office. She’s now Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). So there’s at least one US Senator who’s actually put someone on death row personally.

    J.

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  57. MM says:

    So the consensus defense of the cheerleading last night is “but abortion” with a side of “what about other random bad things!”.

    Interesting.

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  58. Tano says:

    @ImpeachOBAMA:

    He WAS NOT an innocent man, he was found GUILTY by a jury of his peers under the laws of the greatest juris prudence system in the world.

    So you are saying that the finding of the jury trumps the real world fact of whether he did or did not commit the crime?

    I am not a lawyer. To me the word “innocent” means that you did not commit the act; guilty means that you did. Irrespective of what a jury later finds.

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  59. anjin-san says:

    But just because the jury didn’t go for death for the rich guy, I wouldn’t give the black guy a break. I don’t believe that two wrongs make a right.

    So Jay does not believe equal justice under the law is important. Big shock, that. But he did throw in a cliche, so this is good to go from the tea party perspective.

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  60. Jay Tea says:

    @anjin-san: Sheesh. If we were speaking, I’d say you got too much wax in your ears, but what’s the visual equivalent?

    The gang-banger got justice. The rich guy did not. Are things improved, justice-wise, by giving the gang-banger the same break?

    The notion of “better 100 guilty men go free than one innocent man be hanged” doesn’t apply here — both are guilty. And I don’t subscribe to the “least common denominator” theory of justice.

    Mattb: Here’s another example. Two men were imprisoned in Massachusetts. John Geoghan was a (defrocked) pedophile priest. Joseph Druce was a convicted first-degree murderer, serving life without parole. Druce stalked Geoghan in prison, cornering him in a cell, jamming the door shut (with a book which had had just enough pages ripped out to be precisely the perfect thickness). While guards frantically tried to pry the door open, Druce to death.

    Druce was promptely arrested, charged, tried, and convicted of another first-degree murder. For several months, he was taken out of prison, transported to court, attended his trial, and returned to prison on a daily basis. In the end, he was given a sentence of life without parole. A second sentence of life without parole.

    A difference that makes no difference is no difference. For committing a second first-degree murder, Druce was, in essence, given daily trips out of prison that he had been ordered to never leave, then told once again he would never leave the prison. From his perspective, his murder gave him a nice little series of day trips.

    What is keeping him from getting bored with the prison again, and committing a third murder so he can go to a new trial? Last time he chose a pedophile priest — hardly the most sympathetic victim. Next time it could be a guard. And there is not a single thing that Massachusetts — which has no death penalty — can do to punish him. He’s already living with their most severe penalty.

    As the old song goes, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” As someone serving life without parole in a state without a death penalty, Druce is, in some ways, the freest man in the world. There’s literally nothing more the state can do to punish him. So why shouldn’t he commit a third murder?

    Personally, I would view life imprisonment as worse than death. And I think that, were I in Druce’s situation, I’d be tempted, too, to commit another murder just for the change of pace and scenery.

    J.

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  61. @Jay Tea:

    Personally, I would view life imprisonment as worse than death. And I think that, were I in Druce’s situation, I’d be tempted, too, to commit another murder just for the change of pace and scenery.

    So fear of punishment is the only thing that keeps you from murdering people?

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  62. Jay Tea says:

    @ponce: Most of the people who elected George W. Bush twice are still around.

    Perry would be a fool not to play to them.

    Conversely, most of the people who actually voted for Al Gore and John Kerry are still around, and are expecting to be taken seriously. They must be laughed at, and loudly.

    J.

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  63. Jay Tea says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Good lord, have you been taking dumb lessons from WR? If so, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth, and he’s a hell of a teacher.

    In those circumstances, surrounded by the scum of society, I very well might be tempted to seek out and try to murder someone else who had also been sentenced to life without parole. Hell, I might even find someone who agrees with me, and we’d flip a coin on who kills who.

    As I have never committed any crimes meriting either death or life without parole, and am highly unlikely to do so in the future (just playing on statistics), it’s a moot point. But if given the choice between the two (say, for refusing to sign up for ObamaCare), I’d take “death.”

    J.

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  64. mattb says:

    @Jay Tea:

    A difference that makes no difference is no difference. For committing a second first-degree murder, Druce was, in essence, given daily trips out of prison that he had been ordered to never leave, then told once again he would never leave the prison. From his perspective, his murder gave him a nice little series of day trips.

    I have a hard time seeing “trips” to court as a “vacation” or any other particular boon.

    Jay, what comes across in your various citations is that you have a strong sense of moral outrage and appear attracted to ideas of a system of justice in which the punishment is customized to each particular situation — and creating laws that allow for that sort of flexibility. I understand that point of view.

    But I disagree with it. I’m of the opposite perspective — I’m willing to accept the idea that I’m willing to accept that the state can no longer “punish” Druce if it means that we will never execute an innocent person.

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  65. Jay Tea says:

    @mattb: I have a hard time seeing “trips” to court as a “vacation” or any other particular boon.

    matt, imagine you’re serving life without parole. You spend nearly every minute of every day in a tiny cell, just the same four walls to stare at. Nothing ever changes.

    Then, you’re given an opportunity to spend your weekdays getting out of your cell, shower, change your clothes, go for a van ride, and spend the day in a courtroom. Sunshine, fresh air, new scenery, new people, and you’re the center of attention. And that goes on for several weeks.

    Who wouldn’t be tempted?

    And the point of Druce never being able to be punished any more isn’t to punish Druce — it’s to protect those around him. It’s to give him an incentive to not murder a third time. I don’t believe in “custom punishments” and “poetic justice” — if we’d captured Bin Laden alive, I’d have wanted him put to death in the quickest, cleanest manner possible.

    On a related tangent, I’d like to see any prisoner serving life without parole to be able to petition for the death penalty. Sure, it’d have to be loaded up with conditions and precautions and whatnot, but I think giving the prisoners the choice would be a humane thing to do. Conditions like, say, after they have served five years, undergo a psychiatric exam, can back out at any minute prior to the last 24 hours, and can only petition once — if they change their mind at the last minute, they don’t get to ask again and play games with the system for their own entertainment.

    I probably should flesh that out into a full essay for Wizbang, but it seemed vaguely germane here…

    J.

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  66. anjin-san says:

    The notion of “better 100 guilty men go free than one innocent man be hanged” doesn’t apply here — both are guilty

    If we were talking about an isolated incident and not a systemic problem, that argument might hold water. As it is, it sounds like pretty typical right wing boilerplate. In the end it amounts to “I don’t really care much about justice, I just want to feel safer.”

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  67. george says:

    There is a big difference between limited government and no government.

    Except giving the government the right to kill its citizens is the biggest right there is – after that everything else is small potatoes. Killing someone is an irreversible step; its much less limited than raising taxes or creating government health care (which is quite reversible).

    Its just odd to think a government shouldn’t be allowed to interfere enough in someone’s life to provide health care, but can interfere to the much larger extent of taking away their life.

    I can understand that people say we need to have capital punishment (I disagree, largely because I think the process is far too error prone); I can’t understand that people say that capital punishment is consistent with limited government. Its one or the other.

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  68. mattb says:

    @Jay Tea:

    you’re given an opportunity to spend your weekdays getting out of your cell, shower, change your clothes, go for a van ride, and spend the day in a courtroom. Sunshine, fresh air, new scenery, new people, and you’re the center of attention.

    Jay… as someone with more than a bit of an inside baseball udnerstanding of the criminal justice system, let me just say that this sort of narrative really doesn’t match the reality of the situation of being a prisoner appearing in court – especially at the federal level. This description has far more to do with a TV/Movie image of the CJ system than the real world.

    And the point of Druce never being able to be punished any more isn’t to punish Druce — it’s to protect those around him. It’s to give him an incentive to not murder a third time

    The issue is that you are attempting to craft a situation to deal with an exception — the truly psychotic individual — instead of the rule. And while I am a firm believer in prisoner rights, I don’t see how protecting prisoners from an occasional psychopath should be more important than protecting all citizens from the possibility of wrongful execution by the state.

    Further, I think there are more effective ways to ensure prisoner protections than the death penalty.

    To put your argument in a different way, given that the average death row inmate spends more than a decade in prison before an execution, in Druce’s case it’s possible that he still might have murdered the priest. After all, once you know that you’re going to be executed, what’s one more murder.

    BTW… I don’t think the answer is to “speed up the process of execution.” Given the number of people who have been exonerated after years on death row alone suggest the importance of that length of time.

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  69. Steve Verdon says:

    If anyone should be opposed to the death penalty it should be conservatives. They’re supposed to be the ones who don’t trust government.

    No kidding, the disconnect is staggering to say the least.

    My feelings are pretty much the same as yours Michael. I think there are people who should die for the evil things they have done. However, I don’t trust the government not to f*ck it up and execute the wrong person. When combined with the irreversible nature of the death penalty, all thoughtful and well intentioned individuals who have a healthy skepticism of government power should find the death penalty unsupportable.

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  70. Jay Tea says:

    @mattb: The issue is that you are attempting to craft a situation to deal with an exception — the truly psychotic individual — instead of the rule. And while I am a firm believer in prisoner rights, I don’t see how protecting prisoners from an occasional psychopath should be more important than protecting all citizens from the possibility of wrongful execution by the state.

    Gonna quibble here — it’s not to deal with a psychotic, but to deal with a situation uncovered by a psychotic. Druce’s murder of Geoghan was motivated by his psychosis, and was actually foreseen — some folks actually looked at his record and rantings and said “we probably shouldn’t put a pedophile priest anywhere near this guy,” but they were ignored.

    But as the case unfolded, I heard about his trial and said “WTF?” There was literally no point to trying him. My own suggestion was to simply leave it sitting until 1) he died or B) was at risk of somehow getting freed. The trial was a huge waste of time, money, and resources, as it would have literally no effect whatsoever on anything. Convicted or acquitted, he’d go right back to prison and continue serving his life without parole sentence.

    And then it occurred to me that it did make a difference — to Druce. It got him out of the prison (albeit under tightly controlled circumstances) for several hours a day for several weeks. That had to be worth something. And even if it was not more pleasant than hanging around the cell, he could end it at any time by pleading guilty.

    And he could repeat the process at any time, just by trying to kill another person.

    That circumstance is not unique to Druce. It applies to every single prisoner serving life without parole in every single state without a death penalty. And now, with Druce having pulled it off with such publicity (the pedophile priest angle ensured it got plenty of national attention), word of it got around. My advocating of a death penalty in general (in this case, for a murderer already serving life without parole) would put at least a potential check on future murderers.

    You know the song “Bobby McGee?” Brilliant lyric in there — “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” People in Druce’s situation are, in some ways, the freest people in the world, as they’ve got nothing left they can lose.

    And that deeply worries me.

    J.

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  71. Boyd says:

    NB to anyone who hasn’t been reading Jay Tea for more than 30 minutes: JT likes the line “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” A lot. As shown by how often he uses it. It’s gotten to the point where, when I hear the song, I don’t think of Kris Kristofferson, who wrote it, or Janis Joplin, whose version of it hit #1 on the Billboard Singles chart when I was a teenager.

    No, I think of JT.

    /PSA

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  72. Jay Tea says:

    @Boyd: Next time, put up a “SPOILER WARNING,” will ya?

    Sheesh…

    J.

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  73. anjin-san says:

    JT likes the line “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” A lot.

    Its worth noting that Kris Kristofferson is basically a raging liberal, and he probably would not appreciate JT using his work to support right wing political diatribes.

    Kristofferson is a remarkable guy, his bio is worth a look if you are not familiar with it:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kris_Kristofferson

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  74. Boyd says:

    @anjin-san:

    Its worth noting that Kris Kristofferson is basically a raging liberal, and he probably would not appreciate JT using his work to support right wing political diatribes.

    So he wouldn’t like it. And that matters to me because…?

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  75. Stan says:

    “… any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

    I guess John Donne won’t get to be governor of Texas.

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  76. anjin-san says:

    And that matters to me because…?

    Well, I would file it away as showing respect for an artist who’s work I admire. But the comment was a general one, not really directed at you and I am losing no sleep over what you think about it.

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  77. anjin-san says:

    So he wouldn’t like it.

    Got to add that this is a pretty typical Republican attitude. Republicans have a long track record of ripping off artists music to make political statements, and they are often not good about responding to cease and desist requests.

    Also, if anyone is not familiar with Kristofferson’s punk slapping of Toby Keith, it is worth looking up.

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  78. Raoul says:

    The abortion analogy represents another example false dichotomy of both sides equivalents-it is too bad our discourse has sunken so much. What about discussing the topic without having to drag us liberals around. Besides while abortion does represent an intrusive medical procedure which in many cases yields to better outcomes it does not amount to killing a human being.

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  79. Steve Z says:

    I think people are missing the point. Brian Williams was trying to have his Kitty Dukakis moment by asking Perry “how he sleeps at night.” That was kind of a shocking question, especially in light of how many people favor the death penalty. I think much of the applause was for Perry simply answering the question and kind of like “screw you” applause toward Williams for asking the question in that fashion. But that is just my opinion. I think there is too much going on in the context of that question and the answer to judge why people may have clapped. I think it goes way too far to suggest that people were clapping for the death penalty.

    Referring to the abortion analogy above, the example would be if Chris Wallace asked Hillary a question about abortion rate going up because of policies she supports and then asked her, “how does it feel to know you are murdering babies?” If she came up with a cogent response explaining that she felt that protecting a woman’s right to choose was important, I imagine that there would be raucous applause, not in favor of abortion so much as for her shoving the question back in Chris Wallace’s face.

    I think that was what happened here.

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  80. Raoul says:

    Can’t wait to read DM new false equivalent analogy after tonight debate and people cheering Paul’s non health care plan by allowing people to die- placing soldiers dying in foreign wars would be a nice touch.

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  81. Jay Tea says:

    @anjin-san: I don’t discriminate against people based on their political leanings. Kristofferson is a brilliant musician, and his line from 40 years ago is timeless wisdom. I will use it whenever I feel it appropriate (I almost always use it when discussing the death penalty and the Druce case) and will continue to give it proper attribution.

    You got a problem with that?

    J.

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