The conviction of Couey and vote of 10-2 for the DP earlier this week touched off a series of serious comments on the death penalty.
On one side of the debate was veteran Dade Prosecutor Abe Laeser. His approval of the verdict in particular and the DP in general touched off a bit of a furor and there were several responses and replies, which we summarize below.
Our brief thoughts: The discussion on the blog boiled down to this: are there people who are truly evil? Or can apparent evil be explained in modern medical terms- with issues like diseases of the frontal lobe, genetics which cause irresistible impulses, and the scars of a horrific childhood, being used to explain otherwise incomprehensibly evil behavior.
Mr. Laeser’s support of the death penalty is also under attack from distinguished jurists who have decided the system is broken and cannot be fixed. This is Rumpole's position. We do not enter the arena of “evil” because we believe this system is irreparably broken. We believe the system may well have executed an innocent man. And we know this legal system of ours has incarcerated over a hundred innocent men on death row, many for decades. We do not need to debate the evil issue. We do not have a system that works, and for us, the debate ends there.
The indefensible and undisputable fact is that over 100 people who were sentenced to death row were exonerated. Amnesty International reports that since 1973, 123 prisoners have been released in the USA after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death. There were six such cases in 2004, two in 2005 and one in 2006. Click on the AI link below for the source of these statistics.
What do we do when we execute an innocent person? What will the proponents of the death penalty say to that person’s next of kin? That in the name of justice (or vengeance) we killed your husband- we took a father from a child- and on behalf of the State of Florida, we would like to apologize?
Is that enough?
The Innocence Project reports that in Dallas County 12 Defendants who were convicted (not all were DP cases) have been exonerated within the last 5 years. That’s in one County in one State. Click here for the stats:
The United States remains in the undistinguished and small society of otherwise repressive nations that routinely execute their citizens.
In 2005, 94 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US. It doesn’t appear to us that we as a Nation are in the best of company on this issue. China executed at least 1700 of its citizens. Iran executed at least 94 people, and Saudi Arabia at least 86. There were 60 executions in the US.
Source= Amnesty International Web Site.
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote this in a dissent in 1994:
From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years I have endeavored...to develop...rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor...Rather than continue to coddle the court's delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved...I feel...obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies
Justice John Paul Stevens gave a speech in 2005 in which he acknowledged that because of the number of innocent people exonerated, the death penalty system in the United States was broken.
We find ourselves in the distinguished company of Blackmun, Stevens, and most of the civilized world in saying that the death penalty is an anachronistic penalty of the past, and that because of the real possibility that an innocent man will be executed, we do not support the imposition of the death penalty. Ever.
On the Blog Mr. Laeser got things rolling with this: ( We have edited the comments here for length- nothing was added. The full comment is still in the comment section.)
abe laeser said...
Miami-Dade jury recommends Death for Couey, by vote of 10-2.
Probably surprised the 5th Circuit prosecutors, who are used to 12-0 recommendations. Guess the crayons and coloring book were good for two votes. Even people who think that the death penalty is immoral probably have to spend time to convince themselves (again) on a case like this one. Is there a facility that is proper for a man who could kidnap, rape, and then bury this child while she was still alive? What is the right punishment for someone capable of this?
In ancient days the family of this innocent child would have had the right to carry out the death sentences. Maybe they were not all that uncivilized back then.
Anonymous fired back:
Dear Mr. Laeser,
Contrary to your assertion, the State of Florida v. John Couey is an easy case for opponents of the death penalty. Think about it. Is there really any doubt that these men who continually sexually molest little children do so because of a sexual impulsion that they cannot control? And from whence do you think this sexual impulsion comes? It's pretty obvious that this sexual impulsion is chemical--and therefore genetic--in origin.
And therein lies the rub.
Because as I'm sure even you would agree, if criminal behavior occurs because of a chemical imbalance due to a person's particular genetic makeup, then that person's ability to possess the necessary mens rea for the crime is vitiated. There is no question that John Couey and his ilk need to be locked away for a long time, possibly forever if treatment is not feasible, but executed? Never. That would be simply barbaric.
No, the case of the 30 year old (with multiple prior violent felony convictions) who barges into a 7-11 and executes the cashier for $100 is a much tougher one for opponents of the death penalty. But even here, my hunch is that one day, science will eviscerate the notion of free will that underpins our system of criminal justice. There is already evidence suggesting a genetic component to violent behavior. And as science digs ever deeper into who we are and why we behave the way we do, I suspect that we may someday have to abandon the system that "serves" us today.--
Not a criminal defense attorney
abe laeser responded: ..
I do not believe that the death penalty issue is capable of rational debate. You may see me as being irrational, just as easily as I may see you. However, that being said, people kill for a variety of reasons. Some do so for their personal pleasure. Couey may have had certain sexual desires. They are NOT genetic. They are NOT caused by chemical imbalance or brain damage. The boy who grows up on the farm and become involved in bestiality is not brain damaged. The child who is enticed into bizarre sexual acts, and eventually becomes the victimizer himself, is not chemically imbalanced. Even if the world wanted to concede that the sexual deviant cannot control his desires [every crime has an equal and opposite excuse], why did he have to kill his victim? He chose to do that to: (a) avoid discovery, (b) cause pain to the victim, (c) satisfy his own psychic pleasures, ad nauseum...
Now you want to blame some amorphous chemical imbalance for the fact that truly evil people inhabit this planet. If I follow your "LOGIC", perhaps we can do genetic testing and incarcerate children at birth to prevent future acts of horrible violence. Does that concept bother you? As a German Jew whose parents were in concentration camp, it sure as hell frightens me.
Maybe I am actually right, a few people become 'broken' in some fashion. Was it an abusive parent, their own victimization, crystal meth, the brain damaging car accident, the wicked step-sister --- somehow they are broken, unfit to live amongst us. They have become capable of a monstrous depravity and every form of evil.
Now what? Do we say: hormonal imbalance, damage to the frontal lobe, depraved because you were deprived? Or do we say: You have commited a vile crime and taken human life in a cruel manner. We must punish you for your criminal acts.You suggest: "Locked away for a long time"?
"Treatment"? I cannot treat evil, and neither can anyone else. Purely as a matter of retributive punishment for crimes already committed…Couey deserve(s) to be put to death. After 34 years of studying these criminals from a vantage point on the 'inside', I am certain that each had the capacity for free will. Perhaps their narcissism and anti-social traits made it easier to murder, but it was always their individual choice. They had the capacity, even at that last moment to either take a life, or not. They chose to kill.If that were not true, how could we ever punish the burglar, car thief, robber, or rapist? Does your 'fiction' about a lack of free will apply to all crimes? Or just the ones that are so evil that the rare use of the death penalty may be justified?
Rumpole says: Well there you have it. The issues framed for a lively debate.
Leave Markus and Markus alone already, and have at it.