Monday, October 25, 2010

Seven to One - But Those Votes Don't Count

Sidney Cornwell is 33 years old.  If the state of Ohio gets its way, he won't get to be 34.
It was 1996 in Youngstown, Ohio.  Cornwell was a self-described "enforcer" for the Crips.  On June 11, 1996, going after some Bloods and then, he says trying to throw a scare into them, he shot at a house. Three-year-old Jessica Ballew was killed, Donald Meadows, Sam Lagese, and Marilyn Conrad were wounded.  Just under a year later, on May 23, 1997, Cornwell was sentenced to be killed.
And so it proceeded, as these things do.
The sentencing jury heard that Cornwell, like the vast majority of the men on death row, came from a broken, abusive family and had no emotional support that wasn't counterproductive.  The jury heard that he was shy and lacking in self-confidence and that he was a fat child who underwent breast reduction surgery at 13 in hope that his classmates would then stop ridiculing him for his weight.  What the jury didn't learn is that those things were not personal choices based on laziness but a result of undiagnosed (and therefore untreated) testosterone deficiency and Klinefelter's Syndrome.
Thursday, the Parole Board issued its recommendation. Not surprisingly, they said he should be killed.  After all:
  • He was a member of the Crips, and he did the shooting and killing.
  • He isn't telling the truth when he says he didn't intend to kill the folks he shot at.
  • Although his case has been reviewed by a number of courts, none of them reversed his death sentence.  [Of course, if any of them had, the Parole Board wouldn't be holding a hearing and making a recommendation about whether the sentence should be converted to a life sentence - it already would have happened.]
  • Besides, the crime was awful.
So said 7 of the 8.  This time, though, there was a dissent for life.
  • I concur with the dissent in the Sixth Circuit's opinion and the conclusion that "a diagnosis of Klinefelter Syndrome would have a reasonable probability of affecting the outcome of the penalty phase and rendering the state-court finding of no prejudice objectively unreasonable because (1) having a genetic disorder is itself a strong mitigator and was a subject not addressed at the penalty phase, (2) a mitigation case centered on a genetic disorder, as opposed to an overweight individual who is lazy by nature would induce much more sympathy from the jury, and (3) Klinefelter Syndrome could indeed reduce Cornwell's blameworthiness, something that the weight-based evidence did not accomplish."
  • Cornwell's diagnosis of Klinefelter's Syndrome is evidence that the jury was not aware of or presented with.  I cannot conclude that it would have made no difference to the outcome of the penalty phase, as it seems reasonably probable that a juror may have viewed Cornwell, and the other mitigation evidence presented, in a more favorable light.  This evidence is significant enough to question the reliability of the outcome of the penalty phase and conclude that the exercise of executive clemency is warranted.
That came from Cynthia Mausser, Chair of the Parole Board.  And of course she's right.  Genetic defects are different - not just different in degree, but different in kind - from moral failings.  Juries know that.
Still, no one else joined her in calling for a life sentence.
On the other hand, none of their votes really count.  The only one that does belongs to Governor Ted.  He's rejected the Board's recommendation before.  Still, I'm not optimistic.
The killing is scheduled for November 16.
He's got just over three weeks.
Cornwell, too, I'm afraid.


  1. So by your logic we cannot execute a murderer if:

    1 - He or she is a member of a social athletic club comprised largely or exclusively of racial minorities or economically disenfranchised people or societally challenged people

    2 - The defendant states that the killing was unintentional

    I'm being facetious. On a more serious note, the defendant is a member of the Crips gang. I don't know if you've had much experience with Crips gang members, but I'm willing to bet that you won't find many of these members singing in the choir next Sunday. These are violent people and they prey on the law abiding citizens - who are almost always arrested in the unlikely event that they defend themselves with a firearm. How about championing one of these cases for a change?

    I think it's very likely that the defendant is telling the truth when he stated that he didn't mean to kill anyone. He may even say that he's sorry the little girl got shot. I think it's even more likely that he doesn't care one way or the other. Those deaths are not keeping him awake nights.

    As much as I find fault with our legal system (and I find a lot of fault here), I'm not going to miss this criminal.

  2. Cornwall has Klinefelter's syndrome.
    His victim has "my life ended at age 3 because I was shot by a murderer" syndrome.

    I'm not surprised about who the Governor and overwhelming majority of the Board felt more sympathy for...