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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Florida: Death row inmate's upbringing was 'perfect storm' to create problems

Shawn Rogers
A psychologist argued a former Santa Rosa inmate facing the death penalty for the murder of his prison cellmate was raised in a "perfect storm" of factors to make him unstable and impulsive.

In August, Shawn Rogers, 47, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of 24-year-old Ricky D. Martin. Martin and Rogers shared a cell in the state's Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in 2012, where Rogers bound, beat and stabbed Martin in what was reportedly a racially motivated attack.

After finding Rogers guilty of the murder, a jury unanimously recommended he be sentenced to death. However, Rogers gets the opportunity to present mitigating evidence directly to a judge in a last-ditch effort to be sentenced to life in prison rather than death.

In a hearing Friday morning, Dr. Jethro Toomer — a Miami-based forensic and clinical psychologist — took the stand for the defense and testified that Rogers' childhood trauma had an extremely adverse impact on his development.

Toomer said for children to develop into "normal functioning" adults, they need to grow up in an environment of safety, saneness, nurturance and predictability. He said Rogers had none of these things.

"Not only were (these factors) missing, but the onset was early," Toomer testified. "Mr. Rogers' records reflect at age 2, he was in (protective) placement already."

Toomer said Rogers had bounced between seven foster homes by the age of 9, had been abandoned by his mother and had been exposed to violence. Toomer briefly referenced Rogers suffering "blows to the head," but provided no context for the statement. 

The psychologist said Rogers showed signs of toxic stress disorder, which can occur when a child undergoes constant and prolonged adversity without the support of an adult. He said the disorder impairs the child's development, making them less capable of controlling impulses, of appreciating the consequences of their actions and of weighing alternate solutions to problems.

He described it as a near-perpetual state of fight or flight, noting those with the disorder are "unable to manage stress" and "the human reflex for survival remains elevated or is easily triggered."

Toomer said in decades of experience, he had not seen another individual raised in a "perfect storm" of negative influences like Rogers.

Still, Toomer's assessment was based on one interview with Rogers in October and a partial review of documents related to his case. Toomer admitted on cross examination Rogers had been seen by multiple other doctors, none of whom mentioned toxic stress disorder.

Prosecutors also pointed out that Rogers had been functional enough to represent himself at trial, which required planning, scheduling and questioning witnesses. They also noted Rogers had been capable of premeditation, stating Rogers admitted he plotted to kill a white person in retaliation for the 2012 shooting of black teenager Trayvon Martin.

The prosecution and the defense are scheduled to file their positions to Judge John Simon in writing in the coming weeks, with Simon then issuing a sentence at a final hearing. Simon did not set a definitive date for the hearing, but estimated it could come before the end of the month.

Source: Pensacola News Journal, Kevin Robinson, November 3, 2017


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

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