Thursday, September 9, 2010

Parole at 107

I was going to write about upcoming executions in Virginia (Teresa Lewis) and Kentucky (Gregory Wilson).  Both cases are striking and worthy of attention.
Consider Wilson. 
Here's the opening of a lengthy report by Andrew Wolfson in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The judge posted his plea on the courtroom door: “PLEASE HELP. DESPERATE. THIS CASE CANNOT BE CONTINUED AGAIN.”

After more than a year of begging for lawyers to defend Gregory Wilson's capital-murder case for the maximum state fee of $2,500, Chief Kenton Circuit Judge Raymond Lape Jr. finally found two takers in May 1988.
But one of them, John Foote of Florence, had never tried a felony, let alone a murder case. And the other was William Hagedorn of Newport, a “semi-retired” lawyer who volunteered to serve as lead counsel for free, though he had no office, no staff, no copy machine and no law books.
Hagedorn practiced out of his home, where he displayed a flashing “Budweiser” sign. His business card gave the phone number of “Kelly's Keg,” a local bar. And as Foote would later say in an affidavit, Hagedorn “manifested all the signs of a burned-out alcoholic.”
After an unusual trial in which Wilson sometimes represented himself, while at other times yielded to Hagedorn, who came and went from the courtroom, Wilson was convicted in September 1988 of the abduction, rape, robbery and murder of Debbie Pooley, 36, an assistant restaurant manager in Newport, and sentenced to death.
Years later, it would be revealed in court papers that Wilson's co-defendant, Brenda Humphrey, who testified against him, was taken each day of the trial to the chambers of Lape's colleague, Circuit Judge James Gilliece, where they had sex.
Ah, but the evidence is overwhelming (as it tends to be when nobody challenges it).   And why should it matter that he may not be legally eligible for execution (retardation and competence are issues) since he's waited so many years to fuss about those things.
Wilson is scheduled to be killed September 16, though there are several challenges still working their way through the courts and at least one judge, Phillip Shepherd, is expressing qualms.  According to Tom Loftus in the Courier-Journal, Shepherd is
concerned that state regulations may fail to prevent an insane or mentally retarded person from being put to death.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has held you cannot execute someone who’s insane,” Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said during a two-hour hearing on the regulations. “The U.S. Supreme Court has said you cannot execute someone who’s mentally retarded. ... These regulations, it seems to me, could be followed to the letter and yet someone who is mentally retarded could still be executed.”
Concern, of course, is one thing.  Action is something else.  And whatever Judge Shepherd does, you know there will be appeals.
Then there's Lewis.
Teresa Lewis, a borderline mentally retarded woman charged with "masterminding" the murder of her husband and stepson in 2002, is slated to be the first woman in almost a century to be executed in Virginia this month.
Lewis, 40, pleaded guilty to hiring two men, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller, to murder her husband and stepson so that she could collect a $350,000 life insurance policy. Both triggermen were handed life sentences, but Judge Charles Strauss gave Lewis the death penalty, reasoning that she was "clearly the head of this serpent."
Except it turns out that Shallenberger, before he died, wrote a letter to another inmate explaining that it was his plan.  He needed money, had met Lewis, and knew he could manipulate her into going along with his scheme.  The mentally retarded woman as pawn, rather than mastermind.
Again, though, really, if she wanted not to be killed just because it isn't right, and because maybe it's unconstitutional, she should have spoken up sooner.  And she did admit to being the mastermind, so it must be true.
Sure, maybe.  They're planning to kill her September 23.
* * * * *
As I said, I was going to write about Lewis and Wilson, but then Doug Berman posted about John Bunz.
It was on March 21 this year that, as Stephen Watson and Matt Gryta explain in the Buffalo News,
Sometime after getting up that morning, Virginia and John Bunz got into a quarrel over "her health care issues," said Amherst Police Detective Lt. Richard S. Walter.
Walter said he could not be more specific about the nature of those issues; Amberleigh's executive director previously told The Buffalo News that Virginia Bunz was in good health for her age but had been slowed by a hip injury.
"She gets agitated -- he gets agitated," Walter said in explaining the crime. "At some point, he gets a hammer from somewhere in the home."
John Bunz hit his wife about 30 times with the hammer, police and prosecutors said, first in the hands as she tried to defend herself and then repeatedly in the head.
"It was an extremely violent crime scene," Walter said.
Virginia Bunz died from blunt-force trauma from the beating, but John Bunz still grabbed a pillow afterward and held it over her face "to make sure the job was done," Walter said.
He then grabbed a kitchen knife and cut himself above his eyes, on his neck and on his wrists in an apparent suicide attempt.
Their daughter found the couple at about 10 a.m.
Bunz was originally charged with  second degree murder, but entered a guilty plea this week to first degree manslaughter, a deal apparently agreed to by John and Virginia's son and daughter.
I don't know what moves a man of 90 to brutally murder his 89 year old wife, a woman to whom he was married for 68 years.  (No jokes, please.)  More precisely, I don't know what moved this man.  It appears that nobody else much does, either.
Watson and Gryta do report that Bunz "showed little emotion as he apologized for his crime" at the hearing.  Nor, it seems, did he react when the judge imposed sentence:  17 1/2 years to be followed by 5 years of parole.  (So that if he screws up, they can send him back to the joint.)  Bunz won't, at least for a bit, be the oldest prisoner in New York.  That honor belongs to Theodore Spynier.  He's 101 and doing two years on a parole violation.  
All those years for Bunz . . . .  It's just silly.  He won't serve it.  Almost surely won't live to be as old as Synier.  I've talked before about impossible sentences and how they are self-mockeries. Bunz got a life sentence.  Death in prison.  Just say so and avoid the fiction.  But they can't.  Besides, there's that plea deal.  
For less time.
Because after all . . . Methuselah lived 900 years.
And they do plan to kill Wilson and Lewis.
Death in prison for them, too.


  1. The Gregory Wilson trial and his coming execution are an embarrassment.

  2. The execution itself was halted - for the moment, at least - by a Kentucky trial court that is concerned the administrative regulations concerning lethal injection illegally conflict with the controlling statutes.

  3. I saw that, collateral litigation on the new regs is going to go on for awhile I imagine. The way the Commonwealth has acted with regard to the "new" protocol has been obscene. They simply proffered the old one, didn't take any of the suggestions from public hearing and comment session, and even left in the neck insertion site until they were called out on it (one of the only things the Kentucky courts held unconstitutional in the state Baze litigation).