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?).

Monday, November 15, 2004

Hostility House

Why would persons representing a religious group (I won’t say what faith or denomination, but you can probably guess who), decide to set up a “hospitality house” for the purpose of comforting friends and family members of condemned murderers within walking of a state prison (where executions are performed) and not do the same kind of thing for families and friends of victims of other violent crimes?

It’s hard to be sure what possesses or motivates some persons to do the things they do. Some choices we humans make are signs of wisdom. Other choices that certain persons or groups tend to make are indicative of indifference, desperation, and ignorance or are just plain unfortunate or misguided. It’s not good judgment or wisdom that drives persons to do bad deeds or reward bad behaviors that much is sure. And “meaning to do well” is not an excuse for a poor performance as a human being or lapse in judgment. As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. It’s also worth saying that “some folks just take a different road”.

Obviously the decision to set up a “hospitality house” only for family members and friends of convicted murderers (to the exclusion of other deserving and disadvantaged persons and groups) has to be driven by something, but what? It’s easy to see that there is a need for persons to visit and communicate with convicted felons (not just murderers on death row) so what is it about a death sentence that makes it more “special”? Murderers sentenced to “life without parole” have friends and family who wish to visit them? Why no offers of “hospitality" for them too? It is also self evident that all of us, who are alive today, will die one day and inmates who die naturally in prison are just as dead as those who are executed. So have these persons, who created a “hospitality house” excluded otherwise deserving persons from their thought processes or dismissed their needs? Perhaps, but maybe the real motivation behind their veil of “hospitality” is to make a statement against a punishment (death penalty), by not providing a service to others they know to have a real need. It’s the exclusion of certain persons who might disagree with them that sends the message they really want to communicate, not the service they promise to provide to persons who are related to condemned murderers. Maybe “hospitality house” is a misnomer and “hostility house”, more appropriate?

Does anything prevent these persons from offering “hospitality” as they see fit? No. Nor is anyone proposing to actively protest their actions or shut them down. They are entitled to express their views anyway that they wish, as long as it remains within the law. They are acting out what they perceive to be their faith when they offer their “hospitality” to persons they choose to advocate for (with morality strings attached).

These persons offering “hospitality” are not really in the business of helping those that they claim to. Their efforts are really a passive form of hostility to the families and friends of victims who support the execution of their loved ones murderer. The alternative to saying what they mean in more simple terms might require some additional justification. They’d just be competing for the same attentions (and money) that other groups who oppose capital punishment do too.

If there is any comfort to come from these passive but hostile actions by this supposedly religious group (even holy scriptures support an occasional and deserved execution), it’s in dismissal. Yes, this group has dismissed the families of real victims in their quest to oppose executions. This doesn’t mean that in other ways that persons who oppose their point of view won’t get the same kind of support from another source. Persons who happen to support executions or advocate for real victims can dismiss these so-called “hospitality houses” and what they really stand for (hostility) because in the end, their existence is irrelevant.