Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cutting a Deal?

They're picking the jury that will, at least in the short run (though not all that short given how long the trial will likely take) determine what is to happen to Anthony Sowell.
The expectation is clear:
He'll be found guilty of pretty much everything including, and really this is the only relevant part, the aggravated murders of 11 women and the accompanying death specifications.
Of course, expectations are sometimes frustrated, but that really is the likelihood.  The minimum sentence for aggravated murder with death specifications is life in prison with eligibility for parole (not parole, eligibility for it) only after serving a full 25 years in prison.  Sowell is 51 years old.  If he received the minimum sentence for each aggravated murder and for each of the numerous other charges, and if all the sentences were run concurrently, even with credit for time served he would not be eligible for parole until he was around 75.   And of course, he wouldn't get parole then.
But that's a silly calculation, since it's simply not plausible that he'd get so little time.  Aggravated murder with death specifications (or without them, for that matter) can also be punished by a sentence of life without the possibility of parole (death in prison).  As a practical matter, that's the sentence he'd get whether by stacking life with parole eligibility sentences or by simply imposing it for at least one (but more likely all) of the 11 women.
So, and assuming that the evidence comes in as the public and the press and the prosecutors expect (I have no inside information), and assuming the jury decides what the public and the press and the prosecutors expect them to decide, there will be only one question.
Will Anthony Sowell's sentence be to die in prison of natural causes or to be murdered in prison by the state of Ohio?
Either way, it's death. In prison. Sometime.
And as we know, that sometime won't be next week or next month or even next year.
Like it or not, if Anthony Sowell is sentenced to be killed, the sentence will be reviewed and evaluated by court after court.  That will take time.  He might even get a new sentencing proceeding.  Or even a new trial.
Did I mention that he's 51?  Did I point out that unless he turns out to be not guilty, he'll never again live as a free man?  Did I explain that he will die in prison?  Did you get it that almost certainly the only real question is whether he'll be murdered in our names while he's in prison?
Thomas J. Sheeran in the Columbus Dispatch and Stan Donaldson in the Plain Dealer both had stories this week about families of the 11 women and the desire of many of them to put all this behind them.  They don't need a trial.  They don't need another murder. Just let him plead guilty and spend the rest of his life behind bars.
From the Dispatch.
Some relatives of 11 women allegedly killed by a man on trial are seeking a plea deal to spare the emotional ordeal of seeing the "horrors" play out in court, two attorneys representing families said today.
The attorneys said relatives of at least six victims have signed an appeal asking Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason to strike a deal in the case against Anthony Sowell, 51.
"They are concerned about the emotional trauma that the trial is going to cause on their families," Christine LaSalvia said.
"They are really just looking for closure. And I think, just as a way of avoiding reliving what happened and the horrors of what happened, they would prefer not to go through the trial."
Of course, that's not everyone.  From the Plain Dealer.
[N]ot all the families mind hearing what will be said in court and want the trial to take place. They feel Sowell should be held accountable for his alleged crimes.
"I want to see the whole process play out," said Carline Long, 56, aunt of Imperial victim Leshanda Long. "I don't mind hearing the details and I do not want him to get off easy and not have to answer for what he has done." 
Some might think about Sowell spending the rest of his life, however many years, confined to a cell, with no hope of release, knowing he will die without again breathing free air, walking outside, controlling his own life, living in a cell, locked down, behind bars as much as 23 hours a day, and at the end death. Is that "get[ting] off easy and not hav[ing] to answer for what he has done"? 
On the other hand.
[M]any others say the trial will only bring back their pain. Frances Webb, 49, sister of victim Janice Webb, said she doesn't look forward to the trial.
"We really don't want to deal with the court formalities. Some of us have been subpoenaed and we don't want to go back to that place or those emotions," said Webb. "We already put our sister to rest; we don't want to do it all over again." 
The Dispatch again.
[County prosecutor Bill] Mason said Friday he was determined to get the death penalty. A plea deal likely would mean sparing Sowell's life in return for a guilty plea.
Friedman said a life sentence without parole would be similar to a conviction, death sentence and Sowell dying in prison awaiting the outcome of many years of appeals.
Determination is easy.  Getting a death sentence is hard.  Getting it carried out is harder, which is sort of Friedman's point.
I don't know what will happen.
Pleas can occur pretty much any time before sentence is imposed.  If Mason's office is willing, and if Sowell is willing, it can be done.
Then it can be over.
And they can move on.  Not closure.  There's never that when you've lost someone.  But moving on.  And a focus on healing rather than hating.
Otherwise, there are months to go.  With uncertainty as the outcome.  And if the jury should say death, years more of litigation.  So the families can relive it again and again.  While they wait.  And Sowell does.
Or they can just call a halt.
It's really about that stark a choice.

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