Friday, October 14, 2011

Every Day a Little Death

It was November last year that a jury in Connecticut determined that Steven Hayes should be killed in revenge for the horrors he inflicted on  Jennifer Hawke-Petit, her daughters, Michaela and Hayley.  And on the survivor of the depredations Dr. William Petit (husband to Jennifer, father to Michaela and Hayley, avenging angel to all three).
I followed the trial, and especially the punishment phase, with some care.  I wrote several times about the case, about the jurors, about how despite their apparent basic decency, they all became complicit in a murder.  I wrote about how they were damaged by the trial, how they too became victims of Steven Hayes and William Petit and the madness of the Connecticut prosecutors and of our death system.
At which point it was time to do it all again. 
Same crimes, essentially the same evidence.  But different lawyers, different lawyers, and a different defendant.  This time it would be Joshua Komisarjevsky, the co-defendant.
Today Komisarjevsky was found guilty.
It cannot have been a surprise to anyone who paid even a bit of attention to what went on in New Haven Suprerior Court these last couple of weeks.  The evidence was much the same as the evidence against Hayes.  And while each blamed the other, the evidence shows that each was culpable.
Now it's time for part two.  Kill or not.
Komisarjevsky's jury (they are, ineluctably, his) will convene again on the 24th.  They will hear additional evidence and argument.  And they will decide whether Komisarjevsky should stay in prison for the rest of his natural life or only until he can be murdered.
It is grim, this business of deciding what to do with a man's life.
* * * * *
I received word today of an old friend, one who was seemingly riddled with cancer, who has been for a couple of years now fighting and clinging to life with passion and energy, with a strength almost beyond comprehension.  She had cancer.  Then more cancer.  And then more.  
Today, as I said, I received word that she is, amazingly, miraculously, apparently cancer free.  "No signs of cancer anywhere" say the doctors.
Perhaps it's just for the day, the week, the month.  Perhaps it's a cosmic practical joke and in six months she'll be dead, all the cancers returned.
But for today, at least, she's cheated death.
* * * * *
Joshua Komisarjevsky should be so lucky.  The odds are that the jury will determine that he should be murdered.  If so, if they do, it won't be a swift killing.  If it occurs at all, it will be years possibly decades from now.  After lawyers and courts have wrangled and argued again and again.  Dr. Petit will relive the agony.  He will, perhaps, hold more press conference, make more statements, continue to be the avenger.
And Joshua Komisarjevsky will wait.  As will Steven Hayes.  And someday.  Maybe.
* * * * *
The taxpayers of Cuyaoga County in Ohio spent something close to a million dollars (I'm guessing, I have no actual information, but it's an educated guess and probably right) to put Anthony Sowell on death row.  He was, you'll recall, convicted of raping and murdering 11 women.
The trial lasted weeks.  I am given to understand that there are over 13,000 pages of transcripts and about 7,000 pages of motions, briefs and orders.  The trial judge, as Ohio requires, appointed two lawyers to represent Sowell on his appeal.  Each of those lawyers is certified by the Ohio Supreme Court to accept appointed appeals in cases where the death penalty has been imposed. They are, that is, specially qualified.
Each must now read and digest all 20,000 pages.  Together they will decide upon issues to raise on appeal.  They will conduct research.  They will write and file a brief, likely a couple of hundred pages long.  They will reveiw the state's response.  They will write a reply.  They will prepare for oral argument before the Ohio Supreme Court and then travel to Columbus to present it.
All of that will consume, literally, hundreds and hundreds probably thousands to be honest about it, of hours.  20,000 pages, for godssake.  Did I mention that they'd have to do all that on fairly strict timetables?
Cuyahoga County paid something close to a million dollars to put Sowell on death row.  The two lawyers who are to represent him on appeal are, it seems to be paid no more than $5,000.  No not each.  A total of $5,000.  That comes to $2,500 each.  That would be about 12.5 cents a page.  With no pay for taking notes, internalizing, researching writing, reviewing, preparing, traveling, arguing.
And of course no money for the cases they will have to turn away, the practices they will have to shut down in order to meet the timetable demanded by the court.
Sowell has a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel on this appeal.
At 12.5 cents a page.

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