Execution Scheduled For Next Week To Put Georgia Back On Trial

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

In September 2011 the execution of Troy Davis for killing police officer Mark McPhail of Savannah created national and international headlines.  Those opposing the death penalty claimed there were witnesses who had recanted.  There were stories of jurors who had second thoughts.  It was widely reported – incorrectly – that there was no physical evidence linking Troy Davis to the crime.

In short, a full-fledged media and PR campaign was launched to not only convince the public that an innocent man was going to be put to death at the hands of the state, but as is usual in these high profile cases, the entire concept of a state imposed death penalty was put on trial.

When fighting against many who chose to defer accurate facts in order to appeal to raw emotion, it was difficult to assert that the family of Mark McPhail and the rights of the victims needed equal time and consideration.  The balance of justice through the eyes of those victimized by heinous crimes was one of the central reasons I argued that Troy Davis needed to be put to death. 

His case had been thoroughly reviewed by the Georgia and US Supreme Courts many times.  He received all due processes available under the law.  In the end, the system worked.  The McPhail family received what most of us would try to call “closure” – though that’s a concept that any of us that have ever been close to a case such as this would understand never actually exists.

I say that to assert that I remain confident in my opinion that Troy Davis should have been put to death under the laws of Georgia.   The facts of the case and integrity of the legal system remained true, and insulated as they are designed to be from the court of public opinion which was actively manipulated to create a different result.  And that must be understood so that I can contrast with the bigger issue of today.

Warren Hill is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection next Wednesday, February 19th.  He is scheduled to die for murdering fellow inmate Joseph Handspike when he was already in jail for another murder.  Complicating the issue is his IQ, which in the low 70’s is just high enough by Georgia Standards to not be considered mentally impaired, but also low enough that most states would not make him eligible for the death penalty.  Again, Georgia and its death penalty will be on trial in the court of public opinion, providing further fodder to chip away at an already difficult to impose law.

But beneath the headlines that we are sure to hear (and that frankly are more valid than the specious claims raised in the McPhail case), there is another matter that makes this execution problematic.  The relatives of the victim do not want this execution to proceed.

This is not a late recantation as was alleged the case in the McPhail case.  Rather, the family of Mr. Handspike says they were not even given notice of the trial – much less allowed to testify in the sentencing phase.

It is commonplace for the family of victims to give impact statements during sentencing.  Much of this time the testimony is given to ensure that a harsh punishment is handed down, though occasionally there is a request for leniency.  The family of Joseph Handspike wasn’t given the courtesy of attending, much less to have their wishes considered.

The victim nor the murderer in this case are sympathetic characters.  But if our justice system is to remain blind, we must  consider the basic rights that we would afford to the least among us.  With both killer and victim already in jail for murder it’s easy to look the other way while thinking that Georgia taxpayers are better off because the expense of housing two men for the rest of their lives has been spared.

A system of justice requires us to protect those who are less than sympathetic. Warren Hill is a two time murderer and will frankly never be a producing member of society, as any alternative to his death at this point would be life behind bars.  Still, he has rights under the law that are afforded to the rest of us when facing judgment.  The selective omission of a victims’ statement likely made a difference in his case.

It appears Georgia got this one wrong.  The headlines will tell us that again next week.  This time, however, they will likely be right.

For my earlier opinion on why the IQ of Warren Hill is equally significant, please refer back to this column.


  1. Trey A. says:

    Charlie, I agree that Hill should not be executed. However, I disagree that our justice system is “blind” to begin with. It simply is not. Mountains of sentencing, incarceration and recidivism evidence make that abundantly clear.

    I oppose the death penalty on moral and religious grounds. I am a true Catholic pro-lifer. But, for non-believers, one of the more compelling arguments in favor of eliminating capital punishment is that it is not blind (or fair) in practice. Data shows that wealth, status and ethnicity of both the victim and the murderer absolutely influences whether or not the death penalty is pursued. For instance, Handspike’s lack of wealth and status as a prisoner most likely contributed to prosecuting authorities’ decision not to consult Handspike’s family in this case.

  2. Noway says:

    A two time murderer, even if he’s of low IQ, should pay for the crime he was convicted of. Carry out the sentence.

    • Rick Day says:

      The problem is the price is too high. That is the issue, not whether he should ‘pay’ or not.

      LWOP; cheap, effective and decades to work out bad convictions (yes, it really does happen)

  3. Ryan says:

    That’s the spirit…all true conservatives KNOW that it’s much better for the State of Georgia to spend hundreds of thousands…strike that….millions of dollars to have those lowly criminals executed, whereas not going through the ordeal of a capital punishment trial and then housing someone for the rest of there life only costs the paying tax payers a small percentage of those millions!
    The fact is, in EVERY study conducted on the implementation of the death penalty in states across this great nation, the results are always the same when considering whether the DP was implemented fairly…and that result is, it’s not. The Supreme Court actually heard a case that dealt with this very issue, McCleskey v. Kemp (a case out of good ol GA) where the study that was conducted over a 10 year period following the reinstatement of the DP in this country after 1972, a black man who killed a white victim was 4 times more likely to receive the DP than the opposite. The study also showed numerous other statistics that make the assertion that our justice system is fair in dealing with the DP is not just turning a blind eye to the situation, but in actuality its blatantly, openly ignoring reality.
    Feel free to attack this comment, or myself for that matter, but just to explain where I’m coming from. I have been and continue to be a fiscal conservative. I have no moral/religious convictions regarding the DP to the extent that it be implemented fairly, but in reality, in this country it’s just not. I do have a problem with the DP to the extent that the costs DO NOT justify the ends…especially to anyone who actually is a fiscal conservative. As conservatives, I have also thought it prudent that when there exist a problem, we should seek to find the best solution that fits with fiscal responsibility, and as far as incarceration vs. DP is concerned, conservatives who choose to turn a blind eye to the costs of such matters are no more conservative than the RHINOS that currently occupy the leadership of the Republican party.

    • Trey A. says:

      Hard to argue with that logic. When you stop surfing on emotion and actually talk in facts n’ figures, suddenly the death penalty sounds like a pretty awful idea.

    • Noway says:

      Sounds like you’re putting a fiscal price on justice, Ryan. Notice I said ‘justice’ and not deterrent. Prison time/punishment doesn’t deter anything. Never has. If it did then we’d see people not committing any crimes, from stealing cars to selling dope to anything else you can get sent to jail for. Take the selling dope example. Most of the folks in any jail are there for drug related crimes but you don’t see those types of crimes decreasing. In fact, out jails are literally bursting at their seams. The criminal justice system dispenses justice for illegal acts, not deterrence.

      • Ryan says:

        You can not equate drug crimes with other violent crimes. I actually work in the criminal justice field and I see each and every day the problem with simply locking someone up for drug crimes without treating the problem.

        In dealing with justice, without going to deeply into a philosophical discussion about what it is and whether it can ever truly be understood or reached, I would say that taking away someone’s right to liberty and their pursuit of happiness would be a an equal form of justice. Now I do understand the contention that someone of the “they took someone else’s life, so we should take theirs” mentality will comeback and say that simply locking them up is not enough, they deserve the same fate. I assure you that ultimately we are all human and we will all meet the same fate. But for a blanket argument that just because someone killed someone, the state should execute them because “justice” demands it, in my mind is a bit weak and without thought. As conservatives I believe that it would be in the best interest of the State to conserve the money that is spent/wasted in dealing with DP cases from the beginning. The alternative, while not always palatable to those true “red blooded ‘Mericans” is that in the end, they will meet the same fate, and at a lot less cost to the state.

        And Briefly to address the idea that the DP serves as a deterrent, without mentioning study after study that shows it is not, I beg the question, when someone plans a murder a la any serial killer in the past decade, the last thing running through their mind is whether or not they will receive the DP when they are caught….many simply make their plans with the intention of not being caught.

  4. Noway says:

    Because I do not thin the application was Charlie’s issue. I think he was arguing that the guy was to stupid to be executed.

    • Ryan says:

      My point was not that it was or it was not applied fairly necessarily. (As far as the law goes, I would reserve some questions regarding the same issue that Charlie addresses, mainly the State’s failure to notify the victim and allow for such testimony during the sentencing phase. So as far as that goes, I would be inclined to say that with regards to that, then yes, it wasn’t applied fairly).

      In addressing the overall scope of DP sentencing, I do not believe that it is applied fairly. When you look at statistical breakdowns of not just DP verdicts, but cases where the DP is sought, I think there are too many factors that play a part in deciding which cases the DP is applied too. (At least at the State level. The federal govt actually has a very unique system in how the decision is made on whether or not to indict as a DP case. There system is highly screened to remove any racial, sexual, etc… aspects of the person charged with murder or the victim.)

      The main target was that too many times, those claiming to be conservative simply have the same reaction regarding DP cases….”Kill em all”, “eye for and eye”, and many other tired cliches that tout some for of Biblical (as they see it) justice or moral/social justice, but they (those conservatives) fail to see the economic or fiscal consequences of a local DA filing a death notice in an indictment.

  5. Jane says:

    If a person in an on going threat to society, The society has a right to self defense. This is The only case where I aprove of capital punishment. Same standard for war and abortion, self defense only.

  6. KD_fiscal conservative says:

    I never did understand why painlessly executing someone is a worse punishment than life locked in a cage. Having toured a few prisons…I would *want* to be killed if I knew I had to stay there until I died. I also never understood how a “pro-lifer” could be so “pro-death” on this issue. The “well he is bad” isn’t valid b/c that would assume that the criminal justice system and the people that run it are perfect.

  7. Rick Day says:

    No one should have the right to take the life of an atmosphere breathing human. Rather, it should be a privilege.

    Ergo, the state has abused it’s privilege to have the ability to take lives. Cops kill innocents, courts convict innocents, and the Prison Industrial Complex provides the ways and means to kill humans, either directly or indirectly.

    Reform has been ducked this term in favor of “Juvie” reform. It’s for the children! *smh*

    Let’s get biblical for a moment:

    Did Jesus deserve his death penalty for treason? His crimes were clear and he was judged by his peers. Even a well connected daddy failed him.

    More importantly, what would Jesus have to say about this issue, Follower? Do you care? Are you a selective Christian?

  8. Harry says:

    “No one should have the right to take the life of an atmosphere breathing human. Rather, it should be a privilege.” Yeah, that’s what we say about abortions – fetuses are humans, and don’t give us your artificial distinction of “atmosphere breathing.” The real difference is that babies are innocent and don’t commit aggravated murders. How many times do I have to write this and never get a decent response out of you people?

      • James says:

        Seriously, though, that’s some pretty bizarre reasoning: “we should not discuss the ethics or morality of state-sponsored execution because we allow abortions.” The two are morally and ethically dissimilar for a variety of reasons, but I’ll give you one.

        Suppose we as a citizenry decide to ban executions. Result – state-sponsored executions will end. Now, suppose we as a citizenry decide to ban abortion. Result – self-performed and back-alley abortions continue. We are discussing two completely separate issues. To try to analyze it as “killing = killing” does a disservice to both issues.

        • Noway says:

          James, both acts we’re discussing results in the death of a human being. Let’s take the ‘unviable tissue mass’ crap out of it, when talking about the fetus/child. Both result in death. I would argue that it’s more moral to execute a killer than an innocent child. I don’t see anything strange in the reasoning. And I’m not saying I’m pro life. I’m just pointing out the reality of both sets of circumstances.

          • James says:

            “I would argue that it’s more moral to execute a killer than an innocent child.” I don’t think anyone disagrees with this. The question is whether the state should execute the guilty. The answer to this question has nothing to do with abortion. And just so you know, I don’t buy the “unviable tissue mass” or “atmosphere breathings” arguments, either, even though I am sympathetic to abortion rights.

            • Ryan says:

              My only question would be, upon what source do you determine your moral compass? For a Christian to say that it is moral to take a human life because that person previously took a human life is to completely deny the teachings of the person upon the religion is based. Yes the old testament says an eye for and eye, but that along with many other old testament teachings were spoken to directly when Christ was asked about forgiveness. Is the person that the State is set to execute not equally a “life” within the same context that someone says “it’s wrong to kill another human being”

              For the non Christians out there, upon what do you determine your morals? The law of nature the strongest survive. It is not within nature for species to determine what is or what is not right and wrong, therefore those morals had to develop from somewhere. That being said, if killing someone is wrong, why should the state be authorized to do the very thing that you claim to be morally wrong?

  9. Noway says:

    Great point, Harry. These anti-capitol punishment weenies go all squeamish about putting to death, at least in this case, some murdering moron, but will say it’s ok to kill a baby coming out of the birth canal? Atmosphere breathing? Wow, rationalization comes to a new low. Those who are pro abortion will say well, it’s not viable yet, blah, blah, blah…An abortion stops the process/progress that will result in the birth of a human being. It kills.

    • Ryan says:

      No blah blah blah here, merely pointing out flaw in arguments by many of my conservative colleagues. Why do we as conservatives continue to cry foul when democrats spend money on outlandish projects at an outrageous pace, yet when the opportunity arises for conservatives to actually join a conversation and bring something to the table regarding a spending CUT, they immediately jump back to the dark ages?

      • Noway says:

        Not a flaw of any kind, Ryan. Let the punishment fit the crime. He took the lives of two people. Our criminal justice system says the ultimate punishment for that is sometimes capitol punishment. In this case it has been determined that they guy should die. Let justice be served.

        • Ryan says:

          But yet you fail to acknowledge how justice is not being served in a manner that costs the state less money. I understand the argument that the SCOTUS has said the the DP is legal, what I do not nor will I understand is why or how someone can claim to be a conservative yet fail to acknowledge that the implementation of the DP is an expense that can and should be cut. Not too long ago the Macon Telegraph ran an article dealing with the (then) pending DP cases in Houston County and the expenses that the county had incurred because of them. The amount owed by the county (or the tax payers of Houston County) was nearly half a million dollars for what amounted to a year’s worth of work on 2 or 3 cases. That money would have been much better spent improving roadways, building parks, or something much more beneficial to the county than wasted on fees associated with DP indictments. Those that were facing the DP would for all purposes be spending the rest of their life in prison at a cost that is SIGNIFICANTLY less than the amount that had already been spent pre-trial in their cases. That’s the flaw that I’m talking about. No conservative can justify spending such money for such cases while at the same time claim that they want the government to be reduced in size and stop spending tax payer money.

          • Noway says:

            Well, I guess the costs for bringing a DP case to ‘term’, as it were, doesn’t bother me. It was also damned expensive to get Bin Laden but I’m glad we did it anyway. We just will agree to disagree, Ryan. No harm, no foul!

  10. Dave In Decatur says:

    “It’s easy to look the other way while thinking that Georgia taxpayers are better off because the expense of housing two men for the rest of their lives has been spared.”

    Charlie, this is actually a common misconception about the death penalty. Believe it or not, it costs more for a state to invoke the death penalty than it does to hand down lifetime in prison because a capital punishment trial is at least three times more expensive than when the prosecutor seeks a life sentence. A lot of that has to do with the cost of the lengthy appeals process, which in turn actually ends up leading to many prisoners dying before their executions (so you also end up paying for their long term housing costs anyway.) Regardless of how you feel about the death penalty in terms of deterrence or morality, it’s definitely more expensive to have the death penalty.

    • Harry says:

      If the anti-death penalty lawyers would stop with all the superfluous, meaningless appeals, then the cost would drop.

      • Dave In Decatur says:

        That has nothing to do with lawyer agendas. If you’re a defendant that’s been sentenced to die, you’re gonna file as many appeals as possible. That’s just basic self-interest.

        • Harry says:

          That’s not my experience. I actually went to an engagement where several of these agenda-driven anti-death penalty lawyers were present. They were bragging and comparing notes on how to stiff the justice system. Naturally I was not the most popular guest, as I let them know my opinion.

          • Dave In Decatur says:

            just because they’re present doesn’t mean they’re the ones actually filing the appeals. it’s not even possible for a third-party to initiate an appeal on behalf of a defendant in a criminal case. an advocacy group can file an amicus curiae brief when a case is in an appellate court, but they can’t be the actual litigant that files the appeal to begin with.

            • Harry says:

              Why are they even present then? To provide expert advice and counsel to the defendant attorneys, right? The effect is the same – gaming the system.

              • Ryan says:

                “Gaming the system”. Truth is, the reason such appellate process is available is because the Government has screwed up so many of these kind of cases (and every other kind of case as well). Cameron Todd Willingham is example #1 and there are too many to name that would fit the same bill.

                There have been too many wrongful convictions to count (not just in DP cases) that have resulted in too many violations of US Citizen’s rights. Is that justice? Is that fair? Is that what true conservatism is all about? To simply say that lawyers who work in this area are “gaming the system” is to make not just a ignorant stereotypical remark, but to completely deny truth and show that you do not understand why a lawyer is such an important part of our legal system.

              • Dave In Decatur says:

                But Harry, your original point was that you were blaming third party lawyers for the large number of appeals in capital punishment cases. Obviously they aren’t the ones that create those appeals, only the defendant/defendants lawyers can file them. If your real issue is with lawyers trying to “game the system,” you’re fighting the wrong battle here.

  11. saltycracker says:

    Death penalty vs. life in prison: Justice and truth do not necessarily represent our legal system but public costs are real. Today, life in prison might be a public efficiency over the costs/time to execute.

    Our prisons are overcrowded, our courts are overburdened and our public defenders well employed due to health issues – drugs and mental.

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