In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many r…

History of mental illness not likely to keep Parkland shooter off death row

NRA V. teenagers
This talk of the Parkland shooter’s mental illness. It won’t last.

By the time Nikolas Cruz goes on trial for 17 counts of murder, and 17 counts of attempted murder, only his defense lawyers will still be arguing about a disordered mind and diminished culpability.

But at the moment, it’s politically convenient to characterize the 19 year old as so obviously unhinged that blame for the Parkland horror belongs to the school district, law enforcement and social services agencies that failed to anticipate his murderous potential. Which shifts attention away from the military-style assault weapons so freely available to homicidal fantasists.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement Wednesday lambasting the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Children and Families for failing to take “the necessary steps to involuntarily commit” Cruz, who had been characterized by DCF in 2016 as a “vulnerable adult due to mental illness.”

Grassley also took a swipe at gun control advocates, “political opportunists,” trying to “interject their extreme agendas into his debate.”

Gun rights conservatives would rather discuss Cruz’s psychological maladies. Not guns. NRA spokesman Dana Loesch called him “nuts” and “crazy” and an “insane monster.”

President Trump characterized Cruz as a “savage sicko.” He tweeted, “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed.” Trump was careful not to mention that it was an AR-15 that enabled Cruz to transform sicko thoughts into mass murder.

It’s a familiar trope, employed after mass shootings, to counter arguments for gun control. “One of the things we've learned from these shootings is that often, underneath this, is a diagnosis of mental illness,” U.S Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said in October, after a gunman with an AR-15 (and with no known mental disorder) killed 58 people in Las Vegas.

NRA and Congress wash handsA month later, after another AR-15 killer murdered 26 worshipers at a Texas church, Trump insisted, “This isn't a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level.”

Nikolas Cruz, indeed, was a sicko, as the president said. But not sicko enough, apparently, to spare him from death row.

The Broward State Attorney’s Office filed notice in circuit court Tuesday that, never mind Cruz’s history of mental problems dating back to 2002, prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty.

Because in Florida, even someone who the president himself declared mentally deranged can be held to the same standards of criminal culpability as a clear minded defendant. Even in capital cases.

Last year, Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project released a study that examined 48 capital convictions from five Florida counties, finding that one of every five of those death row inmates “were diagnosed with or exhibited substantial symptoms of a severe mental illness.”

In 2013, in a particularly grotesque example, Florida executed John Errol Ferguson, who before his Miami crime spree, had been committed to a state mental hospital as a “grossly psychotic” paranoid schizophrenic who “did not know right from wrong nor the nature and consequences of his acts.”

Inexplicably, Ferguson was released from the state hospital. Within a few months, he had been implicated in eight murders.

Despite medical records dating back 47 years with at least 40 different diagnoses of delusional or schizophrenic behavior or outright insanity, he was dispatched to death row.

Rocket launchers and teenagersAlbert Holland was given the death sentence for the 1990 murder of a Pompano Beach police officer, despite his history of mental illness and despite being found not guilty by reason of insanity in two previous robbery cases. In a bizarre twist, the judge in his case ruled that while Holland was sane enough to stand trial for murder, he was too deranged to act as his own lawyer.

Crazy Eddie Gryczan, however, was allowed to fire his public defender in his 1996 trial in Broward Circuit Court. Gryczan, with a long history of serious mental disorders, had stabbed his mother five times, broken her neck, placed a bag over her head and then hung out with her rotting corpse for 11 days before calling 911.

Gryczan, acting as his own lawyer, demanded that the jury give him the death penalty. The jurors complied but Judge Paul Backman, in a nod to civilized society, gave Crazy Eddie a life sentence.

So this talk of mental illness won’t matter. Florida has plenty of precedent for consigning such as Cruz to that state psyche ward otherwise known as death row.

Source: Sun Sentinel, Opinion, Fred Grimm, March 15, 2018

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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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