Friday, April 8, 2011

Cheating the Hangman

The idea is that we want to kill them.
  • Planned
  • Cold
  • Calculated
Our formal, legal, considered response to unspeakable acts by irredeemable people.
Call it retribution or revenge or punishment or just desserts or murder, the goal is the same.  We want to kill them.
Except sometimes we don't get to.
Edward Wayne Edwards was on death row in Ohio.  On March 8, a panel of three judges in Geauga County, in open court, sentenced him to die for the murder of Dannie Law Gloeckner, his foster son who changed his name to Danny Boy Edwards because of their close relationship.  In 1996, Edwards killed Danny Boy in order to collect on the young man's life insurance.
Edwards has a history.  It's been suggested, apparently with some degree of substantiation, that he was the Zodiac Killer.  He spent a few months, beginning in November 1961, on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.
In 2009, he was charged with a pair of murders in 1980 in Wisconsin.  He entered a guilty plea.  Then he called authorities in Ohio.  He  confessed to a pair of killings near Akron in 1977.  And to killing  Danny Boy in 1996.
He had to own up to the last one to be eligible for death.
And Edwards wanted to die.  More precisely, he wanted to be killed.
And so, charged with aggravated murder and death specifications for the 1996 killing of Danny Boy, he waived a jury and asked to have the case heard by a three-judge panel.  He pleaded guilty before the panel and stipulated the facts of the killing.  There was no other evidence presented.
The panel found him guilty.  The case went to a mitigation hearing.  The panel's sentencing opinion explains.
The Defendant declined to present any mitigating evidence during the sentencing phase.  He made no statement.  He waived preparation of a Pre-Sentence Investigation.  This case is unusual, therefore, in the aspect that there is little from which evidence of mitigtating factors may be found.
The record will reveal that the Defendant voluntarily and knowingly declined to present any evidence of mitigating factors.  The Court informed him of the implications of failing to present such evidence.
Those implications, plainly and simply, are that he would be sentenced to die.  That's probably not exactly what he was told.  But it is what he wanted.
He told the panel he was waiving his right to appeal and that he should not have appellate counsel.  He ordered his trial counsel not to file a notice of appeal.
He was 77 years old.  He had diabetes and bunches of other ailments.
He wanted to be killed.
The victim's half-sister, Jai-Dean Copley of Garden City S.C., asked the judges during the hearing to spare Edwards' life.
"It's what my brother would want," she said. "Do not give this man (Edwards) what he wants. He's taken and taken his entire life." 
The judges didn't listen.  They gave Edwards what he wanted.
He was sentenced to be killed.  The court set August 31 as the date.
And then it gets legally complicated.
In State v. Ashworth, the Ohio Supreme Court said that it is required to review every death sentence for appropriateness and proportionality.  Section 2929.05(A) of the Ohio Revised Code says the same thing.  But without a notice of appeal, the Court may have no jurisdiction to review anything.
And Edwards was committed to not having a notice of appeal filed.
August 31 was less than six months from sentencing.
Would the Ohio Supremes find a way to step in?
Would anyone figure out a way to get them in?
Would Edwards change his mind?
Ohio had six executions scheduled between the day the panel told Edwards he was to be killed and the day they scheduled his killing.  We've already had one of them - Johnnie Baston.  The next, Clarence Carter, is planned for Tuesday.  The idea is one a month.  August is supposed to be Brett Hartman on the 16th.  September is Billy Slagle on the 20th.  Edwards on August 31 mucks up the scheduling.
But then . . . .
Edward Wayne Edwards was 77 years old.  He had diabetes.  He had bunch of other ailments.  The surviving relative of his victim didn't want him killed.  Her half-brother wouldn't have wanted that, she said.  Only Edwards wanted that.  She told the panel.
Do not give this man what he wants. He's taken and taken his entire life.
Is it punishment to give the sentence the criminal wants?  Does it provide retribution to give him the present of what he desires?  Is that vengeance?  Will we better protected from this man who was sentenced while handcuffed to a wheelchair, too ill to walk?
If the law requires a death sentence, then Mr. Bumble was right.
The law is a ass -- a idiot.
I had a client on direct appeal of his death sentence.  The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed his sentence.  I asked the US Supreme Court to hear the case.  Before the state could respond, he died.  In the bizarre world of capital litigation, we call that a win because the state didn't get its pound of flesh.
The hangman (OK, the guy who pushes the plunger on the lethal injection machine) was denied.
You'll notice that I've written about Edwards mostly in the past tense.
Last night, Thursday night, Edwards died of natural causes.
Disappointing both parties in State v. Edwards.
He didn't get the pleasure of being murdered.
The state didn't get the pleasure of murdering him.
Maybe there is a God. And maybe she was trying to tell us something.

Fuck you.  Grow up.
Anyone listening?

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