Thursday, November 18, 2004

Columnist misunderstands Miller case

Re: Educated suspects get break

Once again Sheehan “gets it all wrong”. As president of the “Death Row Inmates Have Feelings, Too, Club” readers reasonably expected that Ruth Sheehan would vehemently oppose any efforts to give jurists an opportunity to sentence Ann Miller-Kontz to death. Instead she threw readers a curve ball and some twisted logic. Sheehan’s feigned astonishment that the State did not seek an execution for Eric Miller’s accused murderer only confirms her lack of understanding of capital punishment. Whatever Sheehan’s “education” might happen to be on this subject (or murder cases in general), it surely doesn’t pass for knowledge.

Was Sheehan’s comparison of Miller-Kontz (a petite female with no criminal record to speak of) to Matthew Grant (a young man on probation that displayed an escalating pattern of criminal behaviors at the time he murdered a law enforcement officer) fair or objective? I don’t think so.

Grant acted alone when he pulled the trigger on Mark Tucker and even though he had help afterwards, that is more or less irrelevant. The two murders were committed for different reasons and by different persons. Each perpetrator has presented their own unique risks to the public in the past (even before the murders) and capacity to commit future violent crime (after their conviction).

The full story of Miller-Kontz may never be known because one suspect in that murder committed suicide and can’t be interviewed. Questions about culpability might not be so clear in the case of Eric Miller’s murder, when you compare them to a case that is more clear cut like Mark Tucker’s. If prosecutors are occasionally conservative in the way they handle certain cases it might also be related to how much strong and convincing evidence could be presented to a jury, and what they might NOT do. Not all murder cases can be tried capitally. If a District Attorney reasonably believes that a jury will not recommend an execution (based on the facts of the case) he can pursue a life without parole sentence.

If Sheehan believes that the accused/alleged murderer in the Miller case is equally eligible for a death sentence when compared to Matthew Grant, she is dead wrong. If reasonable persons compare Matthew Grant to Michael Peterson, it’s obvious that Peterson would be more likely to die of natural causes behind bars (Mike Peterson isn’t physically comparable to a 19 year old punk who’d have a lot more opportunity to escape, kill another inmate or corrections officer or commit additional crimes during his incarceration) before he might ever be executed.

Prosecutors are often forced to make their decisions on how to prosecute a case based on efficacy, yet Sheehan doesn’t understand this (obviously). In her mind, all murders and murderers are the same. Would she use the same logic if the murderer or victim were one of her own? I don’t think so. While we’re talking about reasons why a prosecutor might seek an execution in one case and not in others, why shouldn’t Sheehan consider the desires of the families of the murder victims? I suspect that thought never crossed her little mind. She hasn’t respected that notion in the past.

So if Sheehan faults prosecutors, she’s entitled to her opinions. That doesn’t mean her thoughts on the subject stand up to the facts related to each of these cases or that her “attention deficit” for these things should be overlooked. Maybe readers should consider that she’s just not qualified to comment on this subject (and others) and that her last column proves her irrelevance (or lack of education?).