Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Yet another death penalty rant...

If you read this blog regularly-- and I know some of you lurkers do-- you might already know how I feel about the death penalty.  I am generally not in favor of it.  I'm no fan of criminals, but on the whole, I don't think putting them to death is the fairest way to punish people who commit serious crimes.  That opinion was strengthened today when I read about former Louisiana inmate Glenn Ford, who was just released from prison after spending almost 30 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit!

Mr. Ford, now 64 years old, was convicted in 1985 by an all white jury for the murder of jeweler and watchmaker Izadore Rozeman, who in 1983 was fatally wounded at a shooting at his Shreveport shop.  Ford knew Rozeman because he had worked as Rozeman's gardner on an occasional basis.  In 1984, local officials charged him and three others in Rozeman's death.  The other men were eventually freed, but somehow Ford was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty.

Ford has always claimed his innocence, but it took decades for the truth to be proven.  His attorneys Gary Clements and Aaron Novod managed to show that Ford was inadequately represented at his trial by inexperienced counsel.  Moreover, important evidence was suppressed that would have indicated the actual perpetrator of the crime instead of Glenn Ford.  At this point, Izadore Rozeman's homicide is "unsolved".

As I sit here in my comfortable house, thinking about what the past 29 years must have been like for Glenn Ford, a variety of emotions cross my mind.  I'm relieved for Glenn Ford that he wasn't executed; yet I'm outraged that he had to spend almost half his life in a prison cell.  I'm happy that justice finally prevailed; yet I'm shocked that it took almost three decades for the truth to come out.  I'm glad Mr. Ford will get to see his grandchildren; but sorry that he had to miss out on raising his sons'.  Above all, I thank God that he's not dead; yet it chills me to think about what might have happened had he been incarcerated in Texas or Virginia, where the death penalty tends to be carried out with astonishing speed.  Texas executes more than any other US state, but Virginia seems to execute more efficiently.

According to Wikipedia, Texas has executed 510 inmates and currently has 292 on death row.  Virginia, by contrast, has executed 110 inmates, but there are only ten on death row right now.  Oklahoma, likewise, has executed 110, but 52 are on death row now.  If you are on death row in Virginia, chances are you will meet the executioner sooner than you would if you were on death row somewhere else.  This is an old article, but it offers some official data…  There is no doubt that had Ford been in prison in Virginia, he would long be dead  by now.

I don't know if Ford will be compensated for the 30 humiliating years he spent on death row.  I think he deserves to be, even though that money will come from taxpayers.  I just don't know how you can apologize for something like that, but at least the public isn't having to apologize to Ford's family for killing an innocent man.  At the same time, I feel badly for Izadore Rozeman's family, who may never get closure.



  1. I don't like the death penalty either. There are probably some cases where it's appropriate, but by the time the appeals processes have been exhausted, It would have been much more cost efficient just to incarcerate the criminal for life. Some would say to shorten and simplify the appeals process, but with human error and a person's life being a stake, perhaps we should not do that. When the crime is incredibly heinous, or when the criminal keeps killing peson after person once he's been locked up, and the criminal is incredibly obviously guilty, I can see it, but what qualifies as "incredibly obviously guilty" for me may not be the same as it would be for someone else. Factor in the idea that a person usually gets however much justice he can pay for and the over-representation of minorities on death row compared to others convicted of having committed the same crimes, and the practice becomes far less sanctionable.

    Scott Peterson, for example, is probably about as evil a criminal as I can imagine. i'm quite confident he killed his pregnant wife, and I think the jury got it right. I feel perfectly OK about him rotting in a prison cell, as I felt like the evidence, however circumstantial, was more than sufficient for a conviction. On the other hand, it's not beyond all possible doubt that some piece of evidence could one day exonerate him. It's beyond reasonable doubt that such will ever happen, but not beyond all possible doubt. "Beyond reasonable doubt" is enough, in my opinion, to send a person to prison. I would feel terrible if Peterson or anyone else were wrongly convicted and incarcerated, but we know it's going to happen once in a great while. "Beyond reasonable doubt," however, probably shouldn't be enough evidence to condemn a convicted criminal to death. Capital punishment is just too final. (Duh.)

    1. Yup. Like you, I think there are cases that are so horrible that I would probably want the perpetrator dead. But, as you so eloquently pointed out, capital punishment cases are often not quite fair and/or there's a chance that the jury will get it wrong.

      I think that as long as there is any chance the wrong person is going to be blamed, the death penalty should be off the table. I would rather someone spend their whole lives in prison than see an innocent person be executed. How do you apologize for something like that?


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