Tuesday, December 13, 2005


The execution of Stanley (Tookie) Williams last night was flawed in respect to timing. He was sentenced to death for murder 25 years ago, for a killing that occurred in 1979. A final indignity was the difficulty, or failure, to find a blood vessel for the needle for 15 minutes after Williams was strapped in a modified dentist chair.

With due respect to the United States Supreme Court: you are responsible for the quarter of a century delay in justice. How can you justify such criminal justice procedure? Why is this not “cruel and inhuman” in itself?

Executioners, how about stepping up, shooting Williams with a tranquilizer dart, and then start the procedure? Or offer him a tranquilizer pill if he wants to sit up and look at the audience and spend a few more minutes before the needle is injected; or skip the needle if he wants to do it by some cocktail. The idea is to end his life, not torture him.

Governor Tony Anaya is in the news today. We like and respect Governor Anaya, but he was wrong, and deserves no respect, by and for the way he handled the death penalty during his term. When he ran for Governor, he was forthright in saying he opposed the death penalty, but he misled us when he said that there would be no executions on his watch. The misleading was his omission of an intention to commute every death sentence in New Mexico while he had the power.

Governor Anaya commuted the death sentences of all on death row in New Mexico just before he left office (1984?). There were four or five. He said he would commute the death sentence of a child rape murderer, if the death sentence were imposed in December, but the Judge said I am in control of my calendar, and the sentencing hearing will be in January. That murderer was the first one executed since 1960, and the only to date, to die by lethal injection.

Makes us think of the “Red Light Bandit,” Caryl Chessman, who pretended to be a police officer (red light shining on top of car) and raped in California. One of the women he raped became insane. The jury said death. Twelve years later (yes, 12), Chessman went to the gas chamber. Later, the United States Supreme Court ruled that no one can be executed for any crime against a person except murder.

Perhaps we should give up on the death penalty. Nullification has set in. The juries are reluctant, the Courts are reluctant, the United States Supreme Court is woefully incompetent in this field. Congress is paralyzed, but the blame really lies with the Supreme Court, which affords a review (properly so) of the State’s procedures; but which then clouds and obscures and delays and drags its feet and the feet of the numerous federal Judges, until a quarter of a century goes by between the time that Cain slays Abel and Cain pays the price.

Most of the death penalty cases are not worthy death penalty cases, that is part of the problem. The idea that you take a life, you forfeit your life, sounds good in the Bible, but it does not work. People will not enforce that rule. They should not enforce that rule. The death penalty should be reserved for extraordinary cases, those in which the people, if all sat on a jury, would rise up and say, “Outrage! Kill him!”

Socrates had a jury of 500. Majority rules. After conviction, the jury, in a sentencing proceeding, imposed the punishment, choosing between two: the convict suggested one; the prosecutor suggested another (a glass of hemlock). We could at least have a jury of 1200, by use of video and on-line technology. The idea of leaving life or death decisions to a group of twelve persons who are called for jury duty and have no acceptable excuse (or who want to serve), is unreasonable in the 21st Century. How about a 12 person jury in Texas, handing out sentences of 900 years (murder) and 15 years (Candy Barr, stripper, for one pound of marijuana)?

Question: is it time for a complete review and overhaul of our criminal justice system, including the question of where the police power should reside? For example, in California and about a dozen other States, a doctor can prescribe, and a patient, especially the terminally ill, can take, smoked marijuana as medicine. Yet, the federal government has laws on the books that make the doctor and patient federal criminals. Is this not worthy of attention?