Posts Tagged ‘death penalty’

The Judge Sharon Keller case

Notice one thing missing in the New York Times’s discussion of the ethical complaint against Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Sharon Keller? That’s right: any discussion of the underlying merits of the appeal that Keller refused to permit to be filed late. The Supreme Court held in Baze v. Rees that lethal injection was constitutional. Michael Richard, who raped and murdered a mother of seven, had multiple levels of meritless appeals, and this is a complaint that he should have gotten yet another one at the eleventh hour to raise a brand-new attack on his death sentence, and that Judge Keller should have politely informed the lawyers that they were asking permission for a late filing from the wrong judge to pointlessly delay the execution for another year while the Court decided Baze. One hopes that this ethical complaint and related press coverage is looked at as the political attack that it is. See also Beldar’s earlier analysis and follow-up.

December 8 roundup

  • As governor, Huckabee signed a good tort reform package capping punitive and non-economic damages, and reforming joint and several liability and venue law, but the rest of his economic record is big-government. And David Harsanyi is critical of Huckabee’s claimed opposition to nanny-statism. [Insurance Journal; Human Events; Harsanyi; RCP; Michael Tanner @ FoxNews]
  • Update to the popular Bridezilla flowers lawsuit; florist files opposition. Lots of comments ensue. [Lattman]
  • South Dakota Supreme Court: no, you can’t sue a pharmacy for being a “drug dealer” when plaintiff steals prescription medicine for a disabled friend and injures himself OD’ing on it. [On Point]
  • Former litigator hired to invest $100m in court cases for UK hedge fund. [Times Online]
  • Atkins fallout in Texas and California, as professional anti-death-penalty experts there happily minimize subject IQs to call their intelligent clients retarded. Earlier: Feb. 2005; Sep. 2003. [Science Evidence blog; and again]
  • Heartbalm tort of alienation of affection withstand constitutional challenge in Mississippi. Earlier: Jul. 5; Nov. 2006, etc. [Torts Prof]
  • Bob Woodruff biography: I would have died if my injury happened in the United States because of fear of liability. [Murnane]
  • I’ve updated my paper on Thomas Geoghegan’s new book. [SSRN]
  • Overlawyered holds slim lead at ABA Blawg 100 popularity contest. But why aren’t any of you voting for Point of Law? [ABA Journal]

June 11 roundup

Updating earlier stories:

  • The Judge Pearson consumer fraud suit starts today. It’s exceedingly silly, but ATLA’s attack on Judge Pearson is hypocritical: the only difference between this consumer fraud suit and the consumer fraud suits ATLA supports is that it’s an African-American pro se going against a shallow pocket instead of a well-funded bunch of millionaires going against a deep pocket. The Fisher blog @ WaPo notes a publicity-stunt settlement offer. [via TaxProf blog]
  • Wesley Snipes playing the race card in his tax evasion prosecution would have more resonance if his white co-defendant weren’t still in jail while he’s out on bail. [Tax Prof; earlier, Nov. 22]
  • “Party mom host set for Virginia jail term” for daring to ensure high school students didn’t drink and drive by providing a safe haven for underage drinking. Earlier: June 2005. [WaPo]
  • Sorry, schadenfreude fans: Fred Baron settles with Baron & Budd. [Texas Lawyer; earlier Sep. 4]
  • Blackmail-through-civil discovery lawyer Ted Roberts (Mar. 19 and links therein) seeks new trial. [Texas Lawyer]
  • Second Circuit doesn’t quite yet decide Ehrenfeld v. Bin Mahfouz libel tourism suit (Oct. 2003). [Bashman roundup of links]
  • NFL drops claims to trademarking “The Big Game” as a euphemism for the trademarked “Super Bowl” (Jan. 31) [Lattman]
  • More on the Supreme Court’s “fake mental retardation to get out of the death penalty” decision, Atkins v. Virginia (Feb. 2005; Sep. 2003). [LA Times]
  • What does Overlawyered favorite Rex deGeorge (Sep. 2004) have to do with The Apprentice? [Real Estalker]

Bible ploy backfires

25-year-old Rhonda Maloney’s car was stuck in the snow early one February morning. Robert Harlan stopped, but not to help: he admittedly raped Maloney. Maloney escaped Harlan’s vehicle and flagged down a passing motorist, Jaquie Creazzo. Harlan responded to Creazzo’s rescue attempt by chasing after her, shooting her three times just outside the Thornton, Colorado police station, paralyzing her in the process. Harlan escaped; Maloney’s body, beaten and shot, was found seven days later. DNA and fingerprint evidence led to Harlan, who conceded the act in his trial, but sought to blame it on drugs. Nevertheless, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder.

At the penalty hearing, two women testified that Harlan had sexually assaulted them, as well. The jury was then instructed by the judge, as per Colorado law at the time, to make an “individual moral assessment” in deciding whether Harlan should receive a life sentence or the death penalty. (As a wise judge once noted to me, the judicial system cannot decide whether someone will die, but only when.)

In the closing arguments, Harlan’s attorneys invoked the Bible, and G-d’s mercy on Abraham, and asked the jury to impose a life sentence. With these instructions, some of the jurors allegedly consulted the Bible itself, and one juror says that a few considered the relevant provisions in Leviticus that countenanced a death sentence for murder. Eight years after the trial, the jurors were dragged in front of the court to testify; several jurors denied seeing a Bible in the jury room, but the judge resolved the disagreement by finding that the jurors did consult the Bible. By a 3-2 vote the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed. The death sentence was revoked, and a life sentence without parole was given.

Tough question: we probably don’t want Leviticus to be the law of the land. The pork lobby would never countenance Leviticus 11:7-8. On the other hand, the Colorado Supreme Court acknowledged that it would’ve been appropriate for a juror to speak the phrase “eye for an eye” in the course of argument during deliberations. And, indeed, during the voir dire, Harlan’s attorney asked one of the jurors about his feeling about that maxim. If jurors can be trusted with following the law in the face of an oral discussion, why does the written word have such power to cloud jurors’ minds? The precedent won’t matter much: Colorado changed its law in 1999 to have judges determine death sentences, though, of course, Ring v. Arizona put the jury back in charge of the decision. It seems a hair was split awfully thin to overturn a death sentence. The dissent seems to have the better of of the argument. (People v. Harlan (Colo. Mar. 28, 2005)); People v. Harlan, 8 P.3d 448 (Colo. 2000); Kirk Johnson, “Colorado Court Bars Execution Because Jurors Consulted Bible”, NY Times, Mar. 29; History Channel documentary; “Murderers’ Row”, Westword, Jun. 7, 2001; Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar press release, Jun. 24, 2002). The Coloradoans Against the Death Penalty page on the case has additional links. Why didn’t the Court let a new jury resolve the question instead of simply impose a life sentence? I don’t know the answer to that.

Side trivia note: in November 2001, Justin Goetz, armed with three firearms, set the Creazzo family’s car on fire and threatened to shoot his ex-girlfriend, Creazzo’s daughter–but the paralyzed Creazzo defended herself by shooting Goetz first. (Sue Lindsay, “Man sentenced in bid to gun down good Samaritan (17 years in slay attempt)”, Rocky Mountain News, Oct. 3, 2002; AWARE page on Creazzo).