Scumbags and the Death Penalty

I used to be a strong proponent of the Death Penalty. Then, I used up a considerable amount of my “life energy” when I was hired to represent a hard working, naive, farmer, who was lured into a relationship (ladies, he really was!) that led to a shootout in the hayfield between their farms. Sadly, my client entered the hayfield with a deer rifle with scope, .22 pistol, shotgun, and sawed off baseball bat.

The Judge called us in, advised we had a tough jury who hadn’t reacted (not a blink, wink, or smile) to our closing argument. He told us to expect life without mercy, and congratulated us on a job well done. Shaking in our boots, my co-counsel, client, and I, awaited the verdict. I was crushed by a verdict of 2nd degree murder. The judge, who had been such a comfort, gave him 22 years! But, the fellow he killed was a nasty fellow, and my client got out this year, 11 years or so after he went away. I have no doubt he will return to farming and a law abiding life. What if I had a “bad day” in my closing argument, or forgot to interview a key witness. In a death penalty state, my client would have died. (Since the time of the post, my former client was released, returned home to a peaceful life, and died of natural causes. Ed.)

Yes, his victim is still dead, as far as I know. But, he had a 9 mm. pistol, and he rammed my client’s pick up truck with his tractor. And, he enraged a fellow that shouldn’t have been enraged.

600 hours out of my life, and I am glad my client isn’t dead. His appeal to the WV Supreme Court was his trial lawyers’ incompetence. The very same judge spoke up for us and stated in open court that we did a good job. The WV Supreme Court denied the appeal.

I believe in the death penalty for the “really bad guys”; the 911 terrorists and the guys who rip babies from wombs. But, the unibomber, and the guy that shot President Reagan, were very sick guys.  I had a long conversation in a psych ward with a man who guarded his house every day with a rifle, ready to shoot the first spy who walked up his walk. He knew he was crazy and had many rules to distinguish spy from regular persons, but he was fully prepared to shoot you or me if he decided we were the spy sent by the devil. If he did, he wouldn’t deserve the death penalty, for defending himself against deadly spies. That does not mean he should not be locked away for life. (I asked him if he realized he was sick and probably imagining that these strangers were dangerous. He responded in the affirmative, but said, “I will know him when I see him.” Ouch!)

So, it is a bit complicated. I know one guy who deserves to sit in “old sparky”. He is the guy who engaged my poor lonely divorce client in an Internet conversation. Her husband had been unfaithful, and she needed love and attention. He provided a simulacrum of that. BUT, before he came to visit and sweep her off her feet, he needed to fix his truck, which had a myriad of problems. $11,000 dollars later, he stopped writing. (His scam put her in the hospital and could have caused a suicide.)

Where did my client get $11,000? From her share of the 401K of course? Did he get his, before I got mine? Of course. Would I shoot him if I could get away from it?………………that’s the moral question……………not if I could break both knees with a baseball bat. So, I guess I am not fully committed to the death penalty, but I am still for it in the right situations.

I tried to have a bit of humor here, but here is a sobering thought. “The Innocence Project” has freed something like 200 convicted felons, with DNA results. Most recently, just this week in fact, the semen in the corpse of an 11 year old girl was NOT that of the man who lost 30 years for raping her. He was a 22 year old musician. Now he is 52, but he is not an “ex-con”, because he was just acquitted. Life used to be so much easier when things were black and white.

By the way, my client who was convicted of second degree murder was NOT a scumbag. The guy who talked the vulnerable lady in need of love out of $11,000 was. And, I can spot the guy who deserves the death penalty. I think he cut me off in traffic today. Where did I put that baseball bat?

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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