"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Thursday, October 22, 2015

More Death Penalty Silliness

On Shea's blog, another attack on Sacred Tradition and a confusing conflation of arguments.  The first thing bothering Shea this time is that death penalty proponents supposedly place too much weight on the words of Dismas, the Good Thief, related in this passage from Luke 23:
And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.  But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil. And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom.  And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise. 
Now, I don't know anyone who hangs their hat on this passage alone, or even as a mainstay of the obvious and overwhelming approval of the death penalty in Scripture.  It is, however, one more place in Sacred Scripture where the death penalty is either merely assumed to be moral or expressly stated to be so.

It's significant, if not decisive, that St. Luke added this detail, and did not record any rebuke of Our Lord to the Thief's claim that the two criminals were being justly executed.  In fact, the Lord right after the Thief's statement assures him of Paradise.

And after all, when God Himself says in Genesis,
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image 
it's pretty clear that He approves of the death penalty precisely because of the inherent dignity of man (almost the direct opposite conclusion drawn by our contemporary clerical class, which argues, against Scripture, that the dignity of man means that the death penalty is immoral).

 And while Shea smears those who cite this passage of Scripture in Genesis as "quot[ing] Scripture like a fundamentalist," he may not realize that he is smearing folks like Cardinal Avery Dulles, not a noted fundamentalist as far as I know, and a man whose education, erudition, and judgment I certainly find more convincing than Shea's.

I've laid out the strong Scriptual basis for the death penalty here in summary fashion;  and Shea doesn't really deny it, in fact he has tacitly conceded that there is no Biblical basis for his abolitionism.  And Catholic Sacred Tradition is absolutely unambiguous about the morality of the death penalty in Natural Law, in Scripture, and in Tradition.  This can't be emphasized enough, because charlatans like Shea are devoted to making us forget about anything prior to 1969.

Hell, Shea doesn't want people to remember anything prior to 2011 apparently, because in the distant past, i.e., four years ago, the same author, so far from arguing that the "Catholic" position was abolition, wrote a defense of the limited use of the death penalty versus the supposed "death penalty maximalists" who he excoriated.  In that article, he clearly laid out the current teaching and some of the Tradition of the Church, which is that the death penalty is morally admissible, though it should be used rarely, if at all these days.  As he well put it, "with the death penalty, as the Catechism makes clear, the Church has always recognized that Caesar may use the sword to punish serious crime."

But now Shea wants us to believe that even the limited use of the death penalty which was Magisterial four years ago is moot, because of "the call of the last three popes to abolish it."

It must indeed be difficult to shore up one's positions to keep up with the constantly shifting sands of the fickle ecclesiastics whose notions about hot button political topics like the death penalty and "global warming" are always in flux depending on their national, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds.  I would recommend avoiding getting bogged down in these constantly shifting sands by standing firmly on the revealed rock of the perennial Magisterium.

In the same confused post, Shea also resorts to his old tactic of conflating the just and measured use of the death penalty as it is practiced in the Christian West, with the horrible excesses and murderous injustice of Islamic dominated regions, as though the due process, years of appeals, and extremely limited use of the death penalty in this country could be comparable to the wanton, reckless, and arbitrary use of barbaric methods of death imposed by the Muslims.

It's the logical fallacy of association and the bottom of the barrel resort for those who lack rational arguments.  In short, it's a cheap huckster's ploy and a demagogic device.  It's a losing argument's last resort.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Virginia Executes Rapist/Killer

Virginia just executed a serial killer:
The El Salvador native was sentenced to death in Virginia in 2010 for the murder of a young couple more than two decades earlier. Rachael Raver and her boyfriend, Warren Fulton III, both 22, were found shot to death in a wooded area a few days after being seen at a Washington, D.C., nightspot.
Prieto was on death row in California at the time for raping and murdering a 15-year-old girl and was linked to the Virginia slayings through DNA evidence. California officials agreed to send him to Virginia on the rationale that it was more likely to carry out the execution.
He has been connected to as many as six other killings in California and Virginia, authorities have said, but he was never prosecuted because he had already been sentenced to death.
As a Wa Po reporter observed about the execution: "We watched what appeared to be an utterly painless death for a man who brutally killed nine people and devastated nine families," It astounds me that any who claim to value life would want the walking piece of garbage who committed these crimes to be spared.

Some of his victims, may they rest in peace (photos from WaPo article):

Rachel Raver
Stacy Siegrist, 19 when abducted, raped, and killed by Prieto

Yvett Woodruff, 15 when raped and killed by Prieto
Left, Warren Fulton, III, 22 when killed by Prieto, and Tina Jefferson, 24 when raped and shot to death by Prieto

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Justice in Georgia

The State of Georgia executed a vile murderer yesterday, Kelly Gissandaner, who plotted and conspired the brutal murder of her husband.

Certain Leftist Christians  ignore or distort the perennial and positive judgment of the Church on the morality of capital punishment (up to and including the latest official Catechism), and believe that a subjective profession of Christian faith immunizes a criminal from a lawful sentence being carried out by the state.  The natural virtue of Justice vindicates the value of human life by imposing the ultimate punishment for those who dare in their arrogance and evil to take upon themselves, as it were, the power of God in deciding when another human being dies.

The Christian Left ignores that one purpose of the very existence of the state is to secure justice for its citizens.  Whether a condemned murderer sings "Amazing Grace" or becomes the most elevated saint in history is utterly irrelevant to this duty of the state to vindicate Justice by imposing a congruent penalty for crimes.  And for the horrific, inhuman crime of murder, only one penalty is possible to address the moral dis-equilibrium that crime causes.

The exercise of this virtue of Justice exists totally independent of and apart from the salutary effect of specific and general deterrence that consistent recourse to the death penalty generates; and totally apart from the worthy goal of protecting society (including prison staff and other inmates).

Moreover, the Christian Left's position is incoherent:  on a practical level, who could reasonably suggest that the state is competent to decide if an inmate had sufficiently "repented" or become "holy" enough to escape their sentence?  And if this did become a rule, one can imagine how many wondrous death row conversions would suddenly occur.  Individuals can afford to be liberal and even gullible about such things, no harm done by assuming the best.  Governments, however, have a responsibility to society to carry out the law and justice, not to become arbiters of the genuineness of a claimed conversion.

Rather than wringing their hands for the just and salutary execution of a murderer, rather than confusing private "blood vengeance" for public and societal Justice carried out pursuant to due legal process and judicial review, one would hope (in vain!) for at least a passing mention of the poor victim of this horrible crime.  His name was Douglas Gissander, and he was struck in the head and repeatedly stabbed in the neck by his wife's lover at her instigation, so she could collect life insurance money and be with her co-killer.
Forgotten by Some, not by All
As his family stated,
Doug is the true victim of this pre-meditated and heinous crime. We, along with our friends and supporters and our faith, will continue fighting for Doug until he gets the justice he deserves no matter how long it takes.
May this family have some peace and satisfaction knowing that human justice has finally been carried out.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rendering Offenders Harmless, Part 43

Violent Canadian inmate escapes from prison; "Spagnola has served time in the past for manslaughter and assault and is considered a high risk to reoffend."  Do tell.

But no worries!  Our bishops have assured us that  “Society can protect itself in ways other than the use of the death penalty.”  We eagerly await their guidance as to what these "ways" are so that we can implement them soon, because what we're doing now to protect society is clearly not working.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Rendering Offenders Harmless, Part 42

It's been a busy season for murderers breaking out of the prisons that supposedly render them harmless so we have no need of the death penalty anymore.

In the latest, which received little media coverage because of the more spectacular New York prison break, a convicted killer's girlfriend on the prison staff helped him escape from a North Carolina prison.

Thankfully this escaped killer was caught without incident.

Rendering Offenders Harmless, Part 41

Two convicted murderers escape from high security Clinton prison in Dannemora in upstate New York.  They planned to kill the husband of a prison worker who aided their escape.

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo boasted that this prison was the harshest in the state, from which no one had escaped in 100 years.
I wonder if any bishops would care to meet these two in a dark alley?

Martin Horn, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction and a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that "Clinton is as secure a prison as you'll find anywhere in the United States.  If it can happen at Clinton, it can happen anywhere."


[Wiki, by the way, has a not-exhaustive list of notable prison breaks over the years.]

Parole, Rising From the Grave

It seems our Governor here in Virginia wants to resurrect parole,  which was wisely abolished 30 years ago.

So despite what a sentencing judge or jury, having heard all the facts and evidence of the case, and the facts and evidence in mitigation of sentencing, would be supplanted by an appointed board.  Presumably like before, a jury would not be told about the possibility of parole when fixing a sentence.

Yet another example of why, despite the beliefs of the bishops of Virginia and others, mere incarceration cannot to a moral certitude protect society from violent offenders, who, under a parole system, could be released on an unsuspecting public.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Virginia's Bishops Wrong on Theology, Wrong on Penology

To my dismay, the bishops of my own state of Virginia, one of whom is a fairly orthodox man, have issued a statement on the death penalty in Virginia. 

As with most pronouncements on this issue by American bishops, it is full of both theological error from a Catholic point of view, and factual error from the point of view of criminal justice and penology.

Theologically, the bishops strongly imply that the death penalty is not simply prudentially uncalled for given the mysterious "improvements" to our criminal justice system, but rather is immoral as being opposed to "human dignity" or the "Gospel of Life:"
The death penalty does not provide true healing for those who mourn, nor does it embody the Gospel of Life, which each of us is called to affirm even in the most difficult circumstances.
By ending the use of the death penalty we would take one important step – among significant others we must take – to abandon the culture of death and embrace the culture of life.
Let us take the more courageous step and choose life instead, even when it seems “unlovable.”
The notion that these, and other bishops have floated, that it contravenes human dignity or that it violates the "Gospel of Life" and embraces the "culture of death"  to execute an offender, is an absurd and anti-Christian error with zero support in either sacred Scripture or the Tradition of the Church, which has always and everywhere taught that life is not an absolute value, but may justly and without sin be taken in certain circumstances, such as self-defense, just war, or capital punishment (See, Rev. Thomas Williams, L.C., “Capital Punishment and the Just Society” in Catholic Dossier, Vol. 4, No. 5 (Sept./Oct. 1998), and here,  here, and here). Period, end of story.  Any who claim to be orthodox Christians but deny these simple moral truths are deluding themselves and are in serious error;  moreover they attack the Church by implying that for 2,000 Her understanding of this issue was wrong.

Beyond their attempt to imply that the death penalty is per se immoral, the bishops tell some flat out lies about its use:
 Since 1973, some 152 death row inmates nationwide – including one in Virginia – have been exonerated.
This is an extremely misleading claim, but others have floated this lie.  In fact there is strong evidence that not one factually innocent person has been executed in this country since the reintroduction of capital punishment in 1976.  Which is to say, the "error rate" in death penalty cases is, so far, zero.  But the Catholic Left has picked up on disinformation peddled by the advocacy outfit DPIC, which has been thoroughly debunked.

The case in Virginia referred to by the bishops, Earl Washington, Jr., was a legitimate exoneration, but it also was an example of how the "system," so criticized by the Left, actually works. Washington was convicted largely on the basis of a confession, but when DNA technology advanced enough to test evidence left at the crime scene, it became apparent Washington was not the rapist.  A Democrat governor commuted his sentence to life imprisonment, then a subsequent Republican governor fully pardoned Washington and released him from incarceration.  In other words, the system worked. And given modern developments in forensic science and DNA technology, the growing expectation by juries that forensic evidence be present before a capital conviction,  and the increasingly careful and selective process prosecutors are using in seeking death sentences, error rates can be lowered even further.

A second whopper the bishops tell is: "We must also be aware of the racial inequity inherent in the system..."  It's possible, but not believable, that the bishops, so keenly following this issue, did not see the study that demonstrated that race is simply not a factor in Virginia death penalty cases. Will they apologize to the prosecutors whom they have slandered as racist?

Of course, as always in these discussions, clerics who delve into the mechanics of the criminal justice system and penology have shown themselves utterly ignorant of the fact we have never found the magical "means" to "render offenders harmless" such that the death penalty would be rendered unnecessary.  And now that Pope Francis has declared that even life imprisonment is unacceptable, there is even less reason to believe that we can protect society merely by incarceration.

But the clerical Left will no doubt continue to try to undermine protection of the innocent and the just punishment of the worst offenders in Virginia..

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lies,Damned Lies, etc.

You know they've lost the argument when they resort to these tired canards.

The Catholic Left often attaches itself to arguments against the death penalty that are developed by hard left secular groups, not pausing to examine the groups or their specious claims in their rush to find some, any, plausible arguments against the just, limited, proportional use of the death penalty.

So the latest:  1) some cops and prosecutors are biased or corrupt, possibly even criminally so. Therefore, the death penalty must be abolished because we can't risk that capital defendants might have been set up.

And, a related point, 2) The Death Penalty Information Center says that loads of people on death rows have been "exonerated" and since we can't risk wrongful convictions and death sentences, therefore the death penalty should be abolished.

But it is abundantly clear, that as an advocacy outfit, the DPIC routinely abuses  the term "exoneration," often listing criminals as "exonerated" when their convictions are overturned for legal errors, for ineffective assistance of defense attorney claims, or for evidentiary issues that do not truly exonerate a defendant but throw some doubt on his level of guilt.

Others have noted this disingenuous use of the terms "exoneration" and the difference between actual innocence and legal innocence (legal innocence being trial errors casting doubt on the sufficiency of the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, which is not the same thing as "the defendant was innocent").  In a very detailed paper, the Institute for the Advancement of Criminal Justice, expanding upon a masterful concurring opinion of Justice Scalia in Kansas v. Marsh, 548 U.S. 163 (2006), has thoroughly debunked the reliability of the DPIC methodology. Those who have not read Scalia's opinion and the IACJ paper, have no standing to defend the DPIC numbers.

It can be said, clearly:  there is no proof that, since restoration of the death penalty in 1976, an actually innocent person has been executed.  Not one.  If there had been, we would know the person's name because the Left and their media allies would trumpet it constantly.  The error rate in death penalty cases, in the sense of an innocent person being executed, is therefore really zero.

As to the issue of police and prosecutor corruption, I have some extensive thoughts here.  The gist of my observations is that the system itself impliedly allows for the potential of a certain number of innocent people being convicted (by not demanding a standard of "absolute proof" or "proof to a metaphysical certitude"), so then it can be understood that the system is no way broken simply because some very small number of mistaken convictions occur.  We do not, and have never had, a system that adopts the old saying of Blackstone, "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer" in the sense that we fashion our system to be absolutely infallible in assigning guilt. There is, in effect, a built-in error rate inherent in the process.  

Yet the error rate is probably somewhere around .025 percent precisely because we continually strive for a zero error rate through an adversarial trial, appellate review, and even "external" checks such as media reports of corrupt police.

And as my post just below this illustrates, in death penalty cases, there are even more stringent reviews in both state and federal courts, often lasting for years, and an executive clemency "backstop" to provide a failsafe if, after the years and years of appellate review, some issue of actual innocence arises.  And given modern developments in forensic science and DNA technology, error rates can be lowered even further.

In sum, no system devised and populated by humans is perfect, but ours, unlike that in any period of history (when the Church unequivocally endorsed capital punishment) is heavily weighted to reduce error to as close to zero as possible short of simply abolishing punishment for crimes.