blogadmin | 11 November, 2008 18:33
MULTI-MILLIONAIRE COMMITS MURDER, ESCAPES DEATH PENALTY
The headline could have been ripped from the pages of a Galveston newspaper, circa 2003.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of
the day real estate heir
This headline is more recent, however. It refers to a case in New Hampshire, where a jury last week: convicted businessman John Brooks of murder for hire and murder during a kidnapping, confirmed that his crime involved several aggravating factors, and declined to impose the death penalty.
Prosecutor Kirsten Wilson commented philosophically, "The law is set up in a way that makes it incredibly difficult to sentence someone to death, and it should be that way."
Her statement alone would tell you this is not a Texas case -- especially not one from .
Since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for executions to resume with Gregg v. Georgia in 1976, Texas has eclipsed all other states in manifesting its enthusiasm for the ruling, carrying out nearly 4 out of every 10 executions.
Unless Durst's mountainous wealth is taken into account, the laissez-faire outcome of his 2003 trial is an anomaly for Texas, which this year is on track to carry out 20 executions -- more than half of the U.S. total. No millionaires are among them. Harris County was the source for so many of these bodies and bodies-to-be, Houston's home county may very well end 2008 as the point of origin for more executed prisoners than any state, besides Texas, of course.
The assembly-line pace of executions in Texas belies the fact that nine inmates have been freed from its death row after being found innocent and two have received clemency.
Even those who declare that Texas has enough checks to make an unjustified execution highly unlikely might feel less blustery if asked to declare it the 11 former denizens of death row. A system full of safeguards can kill an innocent person more easily than it can eliminate error and bias.
Common sense and statistics both say that wealth, social status, the race of the killer, the race of the victim, and wealth -- did I say "wealth"? -- are significant factors in determining whether a convicted killer gets the death penalty or is allowed to live.
In editorializing about Brooks' sentencing, the Concord, N.H., Monitor recalled that the U.S. in 1972 declared it "incontestable" that the death penalty would be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual if imposed with any consideration of the "race, religion, wealth, social position or class" of a defendant.
"But the decision to kill in the name of the state or to spare someone found guilty of a capital crime is made by human beings," the editorial mused. "Prejudice, conscious or unconscious, will always be present. The death penalty can never be administered equally, and thus should not be administered at all."
Wise words, though perhaps wasted in a state like New Hampshire where the death penalty option has gone unused since 1976. Maybe the editorial should be republished in a state or county whose prosecutors seem to spend less time pondering their own fallibility.
Elizabeth Ann Stein produces EXECUTION WATCH on KPFT FM Houston 90.1, HD-2 and www.executionwatch.org. The program, hosted by Ray Hill, airs at 6 p.m. Central Time any day Texas executes someone. It is designed to counteract the virtual news blackout in the mainstream media when prisoners are executed. She has worked as a political reporter for United Press International, police reporter at a daily newspaper, and an editor for PC Week.