Monday, February 25, 2013

To Kill a Murderer

Sultan Knish

Twenty years ago, Nathan Dunlap walked into a Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora, Colorado. Holmes, the future mass killer who would go on to make Aurora briefly famous after opening fire in a movie theater, was six years old at the time. Just old enough to patronize a Chuck E. Cheese.

Dunlap had been fired from the restaurant in the spring of that year and told a friend that he wanted to get even, go in and take all the money. One cold wintry evening he walked in, put a gun to the head of a 19-year-old girl at the salad bar and pulled the trigger. Then he killed three others and stole $1,591 before being arrested by the police.

Over the next twenty years, Dunlap and his lawyers did everything possible to get their client off. They claimed that his trial lawyers were incompetent, that he was abused as a child and that he had mental problems. That same claim is made by the defenders of nearly every murderer on death row.  There has yet to be an inmate on death row who isn't a mentally ill child who was sexually abused by his incompetent lawyers.

Dunlap's case went to the Colorado Supreme Court three times and once to the Supreme Court. And that means that after twenty years, he may finally be executed. The taxpayers of Colorado have spent millions fighting Dunlap's lawyers. Aside from the usual attempts to keep Dunlap from facing the death penalty, the ACLU sued Colorado over exercise privileges for the Chuck E. Cheese killer.

"Depriving Mr. Dunlap of fresh air, sunshine, and outdoor exercise for 15 years is cruel and unusual punishment,"  the ACLU legal director said last year.

In Georgia, the murderer sympathy vote is swarming around Warren Lee Hill.

Like Dunlap, Hill is a multiple murderer. In 1986, Hill shot his girlfriend 11 times. Four years later he beat another inmate to death in prison with a nail-studded board. Hill was finally on the verge on being executed, but his defenders had one last gimmick arguing that Georgia can't kill Hill, because he only has an IQ of 70.

America's greatest mentally retarded president, Jimmy Carter, came out in Hill's defense and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in a half hour before Hill would have faced justice. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is not supposed to handle death penalty cases, but activist judges know no boundaries and the court has stepped in to halt two of Georgia's executions in two days.

Hill only began claiming that he was retarded in 1996, ten years after his original murder, at which point his IQ scores, formerly in the mid-70s, dropped down to a more appropriately low level. Despite supposedly being retarded, Hill had managed to serve in the military and hold down steady jobs, not to mention murder two people. But no one has established whether Hill is mentally retarded within a reasonable doubt.

Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, who has also claimed that drone strikes are a war crime, declared that "the world community is again watching Georgia with great concern as it prepares to carry out another grotesque and unjust execution." The South African Heyns did not say whether he would be willing to be locked in a cell for 24 hours with Hill and a nail-studded board.

Andrew Cook, the other death row inmate on whose behalf the 11th Circuit intervened, came up with an even better gimmick. Cook claimed that he couldn't be lethally injected with pentobarbital without a doctor's prescription. What should have been a punchline to a standup comedian's joke is an actual tactic that pro-murderer death penalty opponents are using to stop Georgia from killing murderers.

European drug companies are refusing to supply drugs that can be used for lethal injections to the United States leading to a shortage of pentobarbital. Lethal injection however is only the most painless way to kill murderers. There are other less cleaner ways that states will have to resort to if the drugs aren't available. The electric chair is used in nine states, the gas chamber in four states and the firing squad in two states. If we ever run out of bullets, gas and electricity, New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state, authorizes an old-fashioned rope hanging if the drugs run out.

Cook, who can't be killed without a doctor's prescription, murdered a young couple by a lakeshore lover's lane 18 years ago. There is no word on whether he got a doctor's note before killing Grant Henderson and Michele Cartagena. Cook didn't know the young couple, he just wanted to see if he could kill someone and get away with it. Now he wants to see if he can get away with murder by demanding that a doctor write a prescription for his lethal injection.

In Florida, the battle is on over Paul Augustus Howell. Howell tried to murder another member in the Jamaican Posse drug ring with a pipe bomb because she could tie him to the murder of another drug dealer over a kilo of cocaine. The bomb was put inside a microwave oven which was gift-wrapped and driven to her in a stolen car by a member of the gang. The car was stopped along the way and Jimmy Fulford, a state trooper, unwrapped the booby-trapped oven suspecting that there were drugs inside. Instead the bomb exploded in his hands. That was over twenty years ago.

Howell's defenders are making the usual arguments about unqualified lawyers. And the lawyers are always unqualified. Each set of lawyers claims that the previous set was unqualified and neglected to provide a proper defense by exploiting every possible gimmick. The gimmick in the Howell case is that his lawyer's wife apparently received a death threat from one of Howell's associates back when he was defending him in a previous drug case.

Apparently getting a death threat from the associates of the man you are defending in a previous case represents a conflict of interest.

Like every other murderer out there, Howell's lawyers have also claimed that he was abused as a child and might be mentally ill, if not mentally retarded. With that kind of legal obstacle course, it's a wonder that any murderer ever makes it to the end of the line. But you can always count on Texas to deliver the goods.

In 1994, Carl Blue filled up a Big Gulp cup with gasoline, threw it at his girlfriend and then set her on fire with a lighter. Carmen Richards-Sanders died horribly after clinging to life for 19 days with burns over 40 percent of her body. Even in Texas it took 19 years to get Blue, who had been smoking crack before the attack, to his final end.

Along the way, Blue's lawyers claimed that he was also retarded because he had been born premature and had to be kept in an incubator and that the attack had only been a prank, even though Blue told his girlfriend, "I told you I was gonna get you" as she was burning up.

Blue said that he didn't feel that he was guilty of murder, but that he still expected to go to heaven and wanted to be buried in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. There's no telling whether he will get his wish, but the cowboy state did execute the Big Gulp killer, making him the first Texas killer to die this year. And the second killer in the United States to be sent beyond the reach of any living ACLU lawyer and into the jurisdiction of the dead ACLU lawyers in the underworld.

In Tennessee, Christa Gail Pike, the only woman on death row, is also pleading mental illness and mental retardation. In 1995, Pike lured another girl whom she suspected of trying to steal her boyfriend into the woods, stabbed her with a meat cleaver and carved a pentagram on her chest. The torture went on for 30 minutes until the victim's skull was finally smashed in with a chunk of asphalt. Pike even kept a piece of her victim's skull in her jacket as a souvenir, despite claiming that the brutal murder had just been another prank that got out of control.

At her sentencing, the prosecutor read a letter that she had written to her boyfriend. "Ya see what I get for tryin' to be nice to that hoe? I went ahead and bashed her brains out so she'd die quickly instead of letting her bleed to death and they f***ing fry me!" 

Like Hill, Pike didn't stay idle in prison. Instead she tried to murder another inmate with a shoelace over yet another romantic triangle. And she filed numerous appeals. Her original lawyers were incompetent and she suffered from PTSD and all sorts of mental problems. The latest filings claim that Pike should have gotten a change of venue, a fairer jury and a gag order on the media. It claims that death by electrocution is cruel and unusual punishment and that the victim's skull should not have been submitted into evidence. Finally the claim claims that Pike's original lawyers were incompetent because they failed to argue that the death penalty was illegal under international law.

As February fades, these are just a few of the battles being fought for decades by prosecutors against the murderers and their defenders. It is a long slow war that costs millions and that ends only when the needle goes in and the life of a murderer ends.

The details of each battle remain mostly the same. Each murderer is a victim. Each one was abused as a child and suffers from mental illness and diminished intelligence. Each one was denied a fair trial. There is little point in paying attention to these monotonous defenses of evil. What is interesting is the motivation behind them.

The Pro-Murderer Anti-Death Penalty lobby is very wealthy and very active. The rights of criminals have always been more protected than those of victims and the war being waged on the death penalty is an international campaign.

While the parents of victims wait decades for closure, the international left wages a ceaseless war against them.

In Tennessee, the mother of Pike's victim has been waiting nearly twenty years to bury that piece of her daughter's skull. As long as Pike lives, the State of Tennessee has to hang on to it as a piece of evidence in the legal war between Pike's defenders and the People of Tennessee. Only when Pike is dead, will her victim finally be buried at last.

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