Too Late to Stop the Hangman?

From Salon:

“Missouri is determined to execute Joseph Amrine for murder even though every prosecution witness and the jury foreman now say he’s innocent and new witnesses point to another man. Why? A federal law says the evidence came in too late.”

The whole story is here.
Please read this, and if you feel that this man may be innocent, contact the governor of Missouri, Bob Holden, asking him to grant a pardon, or at the very least a new trial, using the following contact information:
Governor’s Office In Jefferson City
Missouri Capitol Building, Room 218
PO Box 720
Jefferson City, MO 65102-0720
Telephone: (573) 751-3222
FAX: (573) 751-1495

80 thoughts on “Too Late to Stop the Hangman?”

  1. Actually, the interesting thing would be if you could get a survey of the income levels of the inmates… I would be willing to bet that 99.44% of them are from at or below the poverty level. The racial bias exists because the majority of urban poor are minorities, and there is a MUCH larger police presence in any city than in the country, where the majority of poor whites live.

  2. I hate to say this but this is why I prefere the Canadian legal system..no death penelty. Thank God.
    And I agree….a large amount of black people find their way to death row then white people. It’s not a perfect system, but again…almost every gov’t and judicial system need a ‘boost’ lest things like this happen, but…as the world at large has ‘bigger’ problems to deal with this often ends with nothing being done then a lot of bitching.

  3. Hi gang. Well, this is a dangerous fray to jump into, but I’ll contribute my two cents.
    My dad was a cop for 20 years. I grew up on the mantra “We wouldn’t arrest them if they weren’t guilty”, and I believed it…until my final year of law school when I took a class that changed my life.
    To graduate, the ABA requires that you take a seminar class and submit a final research project. The classes were supposed to give us an in-depth knowledge of one particular area of the law. I chose “Capital Punishment” because I thought, at least it would be interesting reading (sick, I know, but YOU spend two years in legal texts and see what it does to your brain). At any rate, I went in there with the mantra “kill ‘em all” and came out…knowing that there simply isn’t a simple solution to this problem.
    First of all, let me say that I can see the truth in EVERYONE’s side of this debate. To even be eligible for the death penalty, you have to commit “murder plus”- and let me tell you, these are some of the most shocking and unspeakable crimes you can imagine. It is much easier to think that the people who commit them have somehow forfeited their humanity than to imagine that such darkness can live inside of us. It is also true, however, that the death penalty is distributed on a grossly unfair basis. Someone commented on the “Race” card earlier, and what the statistics had to say. Based on the cases we studied race does appear to play a major factor in “who gets it” (though studies suggest this has more to do with economic factors than actual ethnicity). The statistics that were quoted are misleading because they only refer to people who actually received the death penalty. Before the trial even begins, a determination is made whether a person is “death eligible”—in some states a judge decides that, and in others a jury does (though the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether allowing a judge to make that decision robs an accused of their constitutional right to a jury of their peers. If they decide that it is unconstitutional, literally HUNDREDS of inmates may have their sentences commuted). I did my study on gender in the death penalty, and found only TWO cases since the death penalty was reinstated in which women had received the death penalty and actually been executed (caveat: I haven’t updated my research since graduation). BOTH of them were portrayed as lesbians/unfeminine at trial.
    But that isn’t what changed my mind.
    The last week of class, we didn’t have any assignments. We toured the death chamber death row at the prison in Lucasville, Ohio. Let me tell you, you will NEVER believe that prison is a country club if you have heard those gates close behind you just once. The thing that struck me most about the death chamber (aside from that “this MUST be a movie set” feeling) was how detached everything was. The tubes for the lethal injection machine ran underground to a separate room where three people press a button at the same time so that no one ever knows “who did the deed”.
    While we were walking out. I saw a cardboard box with the word “Sponges” scrawled almost illegibly across the side. “Why are they keeping cleaning supplies in here?” I wondered aloud to the guide.
    They didn’t. They were soaked in salt water to conduct electricity in the chair.
    Somebody’s life- death- was in that box, and it didn’t matter enough to print in even letters.
    I realized, looking at that box in that hidden little room, knowing from the past three months that actually receiving the death penalty was like “being struck by lightning” (as the Supreme Court said in the case which temporarily suspended the death penalty), that capital punishment, as it currently exists in America, does not fulfill any of the objectives of the justice system. Those criminals aren’t an example: no one sees them, and we claim that we don’t want to make them suffer. We certainly aren’t reforming them. At a minimum, I suppose, we are keeping one person from committing further crimes…but at what cost? Are we willing to be wrong.
    Okay, sorry for gabbing- I know that you come here to read Wil’s thought, not mine, but I couldn’t be quiet this time. I’ll leave you with two thoughts which might spark interesting discussion:
    In my class, I learned that death penalty OPPONENTS favor a move back to public execution. They feel that (in addition to seeing if America really has the stomach for this to be done) it would at least serve as a better deterrent to crime. Discuss.
    It could be argued that (in light of the socio-economic, gender, and race-based issues) it would be fairer to execute MORE people, rather than less.
    By the way. I’m really impressed by how (mostly) intelligently and calmly people are expressing their opinions on this topic. It is, by nature, something people feel passionately about one way or the other.

  4. I have been involved in Australian law enforcement for 8 years now and as a matter of course I keep up to date with jurisprudence in many onther countries, including the United States of America.
    I have two observations, but please understand, I don’t live under your judicial system and my own biases come into play in my thoughts.
    1. Justice should NOT be politically motivated. Far to often USA justice seems to be connected with the political ambitions of those applying the justice. Elected officials should not interfere or influence the judicial process – doctrine of seperation of powers must mean something surely! Justice needs to be applied with fairness, consistency and compassion – with particular regard to NATURAL justice, the consideration of what is RIGHT must accompany the application of the law.
    2. The Death penalty is the absolute. It is the extreme. In almost every other democracy on earth it is non-existant – why does the land of the free and the home of the brave feel the need to use it? it is not even universally popular in the USA – about 54% of the pop. oppose it according to surveys quoted in the NY times (online newspapers – gotta love em!)
    Heinious crimes disgust and revolt us all equally and while our gut reaction is almost always an immediate desire to see the perpetrator suffer horribly, we are also capable or rational thought, and I know that true justice is not revenge.
    Put his shoes on your feet. Dozens of innocent people have been released from death row, dozens have been executed can you in good conscience allow another when you can participate in stopping it?

  5. You put a very interesting perspective on this conversation, Stephanie.
    I, personally, don’t know what I feel about the death penalty, anymore. It’s an interesting suggestion, returning to public executions. I, for one, would NOT want to watch something like that… but I wonder how our society in general would take to it…? I just keep having these flashbacks to the mob scenes in “A Tale of Two Cities” or “The Count of Monte Cristo” …people actually ENJOYING watching an execution.

  6. Perhaps I’m just silly and naive, but I just can’t even imagine taking someone else’s life… no matter what they did.

  7. Good point. Look at history. The Roman Colluseum. eh? Gladiators fighting to their doom. Crowds cheering as murders happened right in front of them.
    I am not so sure that society wouldn’t embrace this idea inside and possibly not embrace it on top.

  8. This was attached to a reply to one of my posts and I’d like to know if it was aimed at me as well:
    “Anyway, I just want to take a second and point out the mantra of WWDN: Argue *ISSUES* not *PERSONALITIES*. Let’s behave like adults, and leave the flamewars for someplace else.”
    I thought I was arguing the issue, if my posts didn’t come across that way I’m sorry.

  9. Well, this is pathetic – it looks like another racial injustice thing to me – and I’m white, for what it’s worth. I will call tomorrow and voice my opinion.

  10. On my planet, we don’t kill people because paperwork is burdensome.
    I’d really like to go home now.
    This place is scary.
    Not in a good way either.
    Somewhere, some place far away, a milk carton bears the face of Lermontov.
    My mom misses me.
    Mom, this is ALL fucked up.
    Lermontov needs bus fare.

  11. Intersetlar ESP?
    (I was going to coment on the death penelty thing, but everyone’s already said stuff I agree with, and said it better than I could have, so I’ll laugh at the joke instead :-)

  12. KAKAZE – I doubt that post was referring to you. I’m sure it was just aimed at those few who decided to make their arguments personal instead of purposeful. I didn’t agree but I wasn’t offended. I guess this is why smiley faces and such are so popular. They take the edge off when it isn’t feasible to change the tone of your voice :)
    See?

  13. Boy, I wasn’t trying to be first….was amazed it occurred. But also as a person living in Texas, yes my state executes a lot. (a Shrub thing) Has it reduced the crime level? No, not really.
    My personal opinion is that once convicted, a sentence should be carried out immediately. It takes years and years before a convicted felon is executed — giving them time to “find God” or “make peace with their faith” — two options they never gave their victims.
    Plus their execution is more peaceful than what they did to their victims. I’m bloodthirsty enough to wish that McVeigh had been strapped up to some C4 and all the relatives that wished to participate in his execution had been given radio transmitters to blow his butt up… some would have been dummies…but he would have gone as violently as though he killed. Eye for an eye.
    But when justice is subverted… things need to be looked into… people need the right to see/face their accusers and to get justice. When the decision is made… that’s it.
    In this particular instance when so many facts and non-fgacts are blurring the lines of justice – the man deserves a second trial and allowing the evidence to be brought to light. Then no matter what the final decision… that’s it.
    I know that Texas (along with other states) may have executed people wrongly or detained them behind bars wrongly. But if we want change we must demand it. It might be us next time…
    Peace…
    ***THE BEEJ***

  14. Wil, thanks for the heads up on this. I live in Massachusetts, but I called Gov. Holden’s office this morning to voice my opinion and to show that this case is drawing national attention. I hope that the people involved can see their way through to doing true justice, as opposed to contributing to the cycle of violence.
    And you’re just about the coolest guy in the world. I’ve known this since I was about 13, but this post, and this blog in general, really shows it. Take care, and keep rocking it out!

  15. Someone up there mentioned the death row inmates who were freed due to DNA evidence. May I recommend “Actual Innocence : When Justice Goes Wrong and How to Make It Right” by Jim Dwyer, Peter Neufeld, and Barry Scheck. Read about how cellmates of people on trial have lied to serve their own needs. About a law enforcement official who *made up* lab reports that sent at least one man to death row. About the unreliability of hair and fiber matching.
    Fascinating read. I recommend it to anyone interested in capital punishment, especially.

  16. That just ticks me off. Since when does evidence come in late? They have to kill somebody so it may as well be an innocent person? They better stop it.

  17. I just find it stunning when an issue of this magnitude can be solved by the simple application of common sense, and yet that common sense is buried under “rules and regulations.”
    One of the things that I didn’t see discussed here was that the prisoner who accused Amrine got early parole for his “co-operation” and then killed another man shortly thereafter.
    So the potentially innocent man is being executed and the potential criminal got to kill someone else.
    Wow.

  18. What the heck ever happened to “Better 100 guilty men should go free than an innocent man go to prison,” or whatever the quote is. (Okay, so the rant isn’t as effective unless you’ve got it just right, but damn.) I can’t beleive they won’t look into this further.

  19. Roman Coliseum? My friends, it seems to me we’re practically there. How far is “The Chamber” from bloodsport? Or WWF wrestling? I know, it’s all fake, and audiences (supposedly) know that. And both of those things are really very far from public executions.
    The deep, dark, cynical part of me, however, fears that public executions wouldn’t be a deterrent for crime any more than they are now. And I’m afraid they would get sensational TV ratings. (Any TOS fans here? “Bread and Circuses,” anyone?) I really believe that violence begets violence, and that public executions would be absoultely counterproductive. I hope I’m wrong, and I wish I had more faith in humanity than that. But in the face of stories like this one, it’s hard to have much faith in us at all.
    I’ll write my letter to the Governor, though. Maybe it’ll be effective, maybe not. It is only by challenging it one case at a time that the faults in the system can be brought to light.
    By the way, and slightly off-topic, did anyone hear the NPR report a few weeks ago about the bogus drug busts in Texas? I was so furious I about wrecked my car.
    Laura, new here, now rambling on

  20. “My personal opinion is that once convicted, a sentence should be carried out immediately. It takes years and years before a convicted felon is executed — giving them time to “find God” or “make peace with their faith” — two options they never gave their victims.”
    Correct me if I’m wrong – and I might be, since I don’t know the system so well – but don’t death row sentences get stretched out because of convicts’ rights to appeals?
    Mind you, seeing as how so many appeals are thrown out due to a lack of (what someone else well and simply put) common sense… yeah, maybe they might as well go through with the executions asap, instead of raising anyone’s hopes. Gah. Here’s hoping Amrine gets a new trial. I don’t think people should just be doled out pardons, mind you; but everyone deserves decent legal representation, and full access to witnesses and evidence. Amrine didn’t have these; many don’t, sadly.

  21. In the UK we dont have the death penalty any more. It was decided that if someone was so dangerous they would be locked up until they died. That way, if the court had got it wrong, they could be released, albeit with compensation. I cannot understand how a civilized nation can still have the death penalty. Of course, I am assuming that the U.S. _is_ a civilized nation.

  22. In the UK we dont have the death penalty any more. It was decided that if someone was so dangerous they would be locked up until they died. That way, if the court had got it wrong, they could be released, albeit with compensation. I cannot understand how a civilized nation can still have the death penalty. Of course, I am assuming that the U.S. _is_ a civilized nation.

  23. Two things:
    1) Tom Tomorrow said the most important thing to keep in mind about the death penalty in America through a few panels of “This Modern World” -http://www.salon.com/comics/tomo/2000/02/14/tomo/index.html
    2) A couple people have mentioned that Canada no longer has a death penalty. I should note that occasionally, members of parliament introduce private member bills to reinstate the death penalty. PM bills are somewhere around the level of “abolishing the government” on Parliament’s agenda, but they still need to be watched, just in case the death penalty becomes popular again.

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