Thursday, March 10, 2011

Executing the Death Penalty? Or will prosecutors seek legal loopholes to keep?

Too many prosecutors, particularly when it comes to violent crime, view themselves as being similar to Alex Vraciu, Jr., a Navy fighter pilot who -- with 19 "enemy" aircraft shot down -- was the fourth-ranking "ace" of World War II. Image provided by DePauw University.

To me, there was always something a bit perverse about the criminal prosecutors who insist they need to have a death penalty in order to do their jobs.

During my two-plus decades as a reporter-type person, I have known prosecutors who can give you the exact number of convictions they have gained in their career, and can even tell you the number of people who are on “death row” because of their work.

IT ALMOST SEEMS to me like a World War I (or II)-era fighter pilot, making marks on the side of his aircraft every time he shoots down an “enemy” fighter. Which makes me think their real opposition to Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision Wednesday to do away with the state’s capital crimes statute is because it challenges the very way they view their jobs.

I’d hate to think that the opposition being expressed across the state by state’s attorneys is because some of them are going to have to find a new way of evaluating their professional skill in putting people away from the rest of society, and because those prosecutors who have significant totals of death row inmates in their record now have a statistic that makes them appear to be incredibly obsolete – if not downright morbid.
If it reads to you like I’m being overly harsh with prosecutors, it is because my gut reaction in the hours following Quinn’s announcement that the death penalty in Illinois will be no more as of July 1 is one of disgust.

Not because of what Quinn did. I think he did exactly the right thing. Both in abolishing the capital crimes statute, and in realizing that Illinois would look incredibly stupid if 15 people continued to remain on “death row” in this state. So he officially commuted all of those sentences to life prison terms, without an option for parole.

BERLIN: Just talk, or going too far?
WHAT BOTHERS ME is the prosecutorial reaction, particularly the one coming from suburban DuPage County, where State’s Attorney Robert Berlin went overboard with his rhetoric in telling reporter-types, “Today is a victory for murderers across Illinois. Violent offenders can now murder police officers, kill victims during forcible felonies, kill multiple victims and kill witnesses without fear of receiving the death penalty.” I've heard hysterical defense attorneys who didn't get that carried away.

What bothers me more than his talk are his potential actions. There is a case in the DuPage County court system coming up that prosecutors were hoping to seek a death sentence for Gary Schuning. Berlin says prosecutors will decide what to do in the next couple of weeks.

Which sounds to me way too much like he’d like to find a legal loophole by which he could still get in one final “kill” before the death penalty disappears in Illinois.

Prosecutors knowing that the “spirit of the law” clearly says one thing, but they find a way to achieve the exact opposite. That kind of thinking is why so many people in our society don’t trust attorneys.

COULD WE WIND up with a system where Quinn has to keep alert in coming years for cases of condemned inmates whom he has to commute to “life without parole,” all because some prosecutor wanted to try to bolster his record with “one more kill?”

I can’t help but think that doing anything but accepting that Illinois is now among the third of the nation that does not have a capital crimes statute is repulsive – perhaps almost as much as the acts for which Schuning himself currently faces charges of murder (his mother and a sex escort, for those who want the titillating details).

I certainly find the fact that some prosecutors may try to slip in a final death penalty conviction before the “letter of the law” makes their behavior illegal to be more repulsive than the fact that another inmate from DuPage County, Brian Dugan, will now never have to face the threat of dying due to a lethal injection of three fatal chemicals.

If anything, the obsession some people have had with the death penalty with regards to Dugan and the previous inmates who once faced charges for the 1983 death of 7-year-old Jeanine Nicarico is some of the best evidence for why we’re better off not having it as an option.

SOME CASES JUST get people too worked up into wanting to create images of a dead inmate corpse. In those cases, the gut feeling gets the best of our society’s common sense, and caused many of the legal errors and flaws that are the reasons why Quinn felt the need to sign the bill into law.

Doing away with the death penalty keeps us from falling victim to our base, gutteral instincts. In some ways, it encourages those instincts to prevail. Which makes me wonder if we as a society are more safe in a state without capital punishment than one with it.

As for those people who want to think we’re now in the minority in doing away with capital punishment, I can’t help but note that the states without a death penalty include Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa – our Midwestern neighbors. Perhaps doing away with a capital crimes statute is merely evidence of Midwest common sense that we like to think we possess.

Perhaps we should be wondering why Missouri, Ohio and Indiana haven’t joined the rest of us – although in the case of the Hoosier State, those people are still quarrelling over smoking bans in public places. We should expect they will bring up the rear on this issue.


1 comment:

Atlanta Roofing said...

As others have said, it''s ironic that so many Americans like to trumpet about their values and their moral superiorit¬y, the US being a beacon of what a civilised democracy should be - yet, the US remains about the only civilised¬ country that just loves judicial killing.