Monday, September 13, 2010

NPR (Lopez) Call for Commutation of Sentence

Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review believes Teresa Lewis should receive a commutation of sentence from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, at least if the facts are as author John Grisham has presented them in a recent Washington Post editorial.

Grisham's piece oddly begins with the suggestion that Virginia "already has a serious relationship with its death penalty" because 1) only Texas has executed more inmates in the last three decades and 2) on Sept. 23 it will enter "new territory" if it "executes a female inmate for the first time in nearly a century." We gather that Grisham would the death penalty in any case but, after that, we are completely baffled as to his meaning. Is executing a woman more unacceptable than a man?  What backward, sexist, patronizing view fuels this outlook?

Grisham says outright Ms. Lewis "is not innocent." She confessed to the police and plead guilty to a judge. In addition, the evidence against her was "overwhelming." Consequently, her lawyers advised her to plead guilty and place her fate in the hands of the judge. It appears that they also guessed that the judge would sentence her to life in prison, in part, because no woman had received the death sentence in Virginia since 1912. Perhaps Virginia's Southern Gentleman judges also think the death penalty is inappropriate for women.

Lewis was sentenced to death. Three co-defendants, however, were sentenced to life in prison, the reasoning being, in part being that Lewis "was more culpable than the men, who shot their victims as they slept. The killings were her idea, [she] was the mastermind; she recruited [the men] to do the dirty work; she wanted the money; and so on."

Grisham states "much" of the above argument "went unchallenged at Lewis's sentencing hearing" without offering an explanation as to why. But he says "it has since been challenged." The counter arguments? Lewis is said to have an IQ of  "just above70," she has "dependent personality disorder," she is addicted to pain medications and she has not been violent in the past. The cynic might note that, taken together, these arguments, if at all valid, would actually appear to make a very excellent case that Lewis IS innocent!

Yet Grisham argues (and produces letters suggesting that) Lewis was actually manipulated by a co-defendant who committed suicide while in jail. For a writer of fiction, he seems to have no imagination for the possibility that the non-violent, pliable Lewis may have been manipulated in the judicial process - like during her confession to the police! He does say:
In this case, as in so many capital cases, the imposition of a death sentence had little do with fairness. Like other death sentences, it depended more upon the assignment of judge and  prosecutor, the location of the crime, the quality of the defense counsel, the speed with which a co-defendant struck a deal, the quality of each side's experts and other such factors.
We admire Grisham's quaint desire that the law is the same for everyone, everywhere. But such natural law perspectives have been hard hit by Legal Realism and Behavioral Jurisprudence. By Grisham's standards, there is very little "fairness" in many other kinds of cases, where the best predictors of judicial decision making are (and have long been) the party identification of judges, their backgrounds and experiences, etc. Welcome to the real world judiciary Mr. Grisham! Join us more often!

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