"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Louisiana Prosecutor Becomes Blunt Spokesman for Death Penalty

Dale Cox
Dale Cox
In a much-discussed dissent from the Supreme Court's ruling on lethal injection last week, Justice Stephen G. Breyer laid out the problems, as he saw them, with the death penalty. Among them was "arbitrariness in application," including how simple geography can determine whether someone convicted of murder would be sentenced to death.

"Between 2004 and 2009," Justice Breyer wrote, "just 29 counties (fewer than 1 % of counties in the country) accounted for approximately 1/2 of all death sentences imposed nationwide."

Caddo Parish, here in the northwestern corner of the state, is one of these counties. Within Louisiana, where capital punishment has declined steeply, Caddo has become an outlier, accounting for fewer than 5 % of the state's death sentences in the early 1980s but nearly 1/2 over the past 5 years. Even on a national level Caddo stands apart. From 2010 to 2014, more people were sentenced to death per capita here than in any other county in the United States, among counties with 4 or more death sentences in that period.

Robert J. Smith, a law professor at the University of North Carolina whose work was cited in Justice Breyer's dissent, said Caddo illustrated the geographic disparity of capital punishment. But he said this analysis did not go far enough. Caddo, he said, has bucked the national trend in large part because of one man: Dale Cox.

Mr. Cox, 67, who is the acting district attorney and who has secured more than 1/3 of Louisiana's death sentences over the last 5 years, has lately become one of the country's bluntest spokesmen for the death penalty. He has readily accepted invitations from reporters to explain whether he meant what he said to The Shreveport Times in March: that capital punishment is primarily and rightly about revenge and that the state needs to "kill more people." Yes, he really meant it.

And he has been willing to recount his personal transformation from an opponent of capital punishment, a belief grounded in his Catholic faith, to one of the most prolific seekers of the death penalty in the nation.

"Retribution is a valid societal interest," Mr. Cox said on a recent afternoon, in a manner as calm and considered as the hypothetical he would propose was macabre. "What kind of society would say that it's O.K. to kill babies and eat them, and in fact we can have parties where we kill them and eat them, and you're not going to forfeit your life for that? If you've gotten to that point, you're no longer a society."

Mr. Cox later clarified that he had not seen any case involving cannibalism, though he described it as the next logical step given what he at several points called an "increase in savagery."

Source: The New York Times, Campbell Robertson, July 7, 2015

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