Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dissing the Parole Board

The Board rejects the contentions advanced by Treesh's counsel that Treesh has significantly grown and improved as a human being since coming to prison and that he is two different people on and off drugs.  Treesh's institutional conduct throughout his incarceration belies counsel's contentions. So too does his recent refusal to be interviewed by the Board in advance of his clemency hearing.  Treesh's behavior including the gross disrespect he has repeatedly directed to prison staff, is indicative of a self-indulgent, petulant, and immature individual who lacks respect for authority, who is uninterested in conforming to ordinary rules of decorum; and who lacks sensitivity to the dignity and sensibilities of others.  That Treesh displays these negative qualities in prison, a structured and sober environment, strongly suggests that this is simply who Treesh is, with or without the intoxicating effects of cocaine.
Ohio Parole Board, Death Penalty Clemency Report on Frederick Treesh (Feb. 8, 2013) (emphasis added).

Fred Treesh isn't the first of Ohio's soon-to-be-executed who declined the opportunity to be interviewed by the Parole Board.  He is, I'm pretty sure (I'm not going back to read through all the reports just to check), the first to have his refusal be a formal part of the reason for urging the Governor to let him be killed.

I've never met Fred Treesh.  I can't speak to the substantive merits of whether the Parole Board's decision reflects accurately what happened that summer day in 1994 when Henry Dupree was shot to death.  I can't fairly address whether the jury got it right when they said he was the actual killer.  I can't tell you whether his Miranda rights were violated in any meaningful way.  All I know is what the courts have said, what the Parole Board said, and how the process works.

The jury said he's guilty and should die.  The trial judge agreed.  The court of appeals agreed (though not unanimously).  The Ohio Supreme Court agreed (they were unanimous, though Alice Robie Resnick only signed onto the conclusion, not the opinion).  The federal courts didn't find any reason sufficient to grant him any relief.  

The Parole Board, as always, finds all that meaningful, which of course it is.  Had the jury or one of the reviewing courts said otherwise, Treesh wouldn't be on death row and the Board wouldn't be deciding whehter they think he should be killed.

Really, it's the process though.  Here's how it works.

In the ordinary case, to get the governor to grant or deny clemency, the prisoner files an application with the Parole Board which then . . . blah, blah, blah.  It doesn't matter.  Death penalty cases aren't ordinary.  As they say, death is different.  This is just another way.  After all, the families of the murder victims have to have another formal opportunity to vent.

When it gets close to a serious execution date (Treesh is scheduled to be murdered March 6), the Parole Board begins proceedings.  Don't file a petition?  Doesn't matter.  Don't want the governor to intervene? Doesn't matter. Actively want to be killed? Doesn't matter.  The Parole Board will hold a hearing.  (Of course, if the prisoner is desperate for relief and wants a hearing, he'll get one, too. 

They don't bring the guy to the hearing.  Instead, there's an interview.  Assuming the condemned is willing to speak.

Some are.  Sometimes they talk about how they've taken responsibility for their crimes and turned their lives around.  They may talk about how sorry they are and express sympathy for the family and friends of whoever they killed.  They may talk about religion.  Or they may deny or deflect full responsibility.  They may claim innocence or diminished capacity.  Blame it on the drugs or the psychosis.  They may ramble off into a world of self-serving fantasy.  They may talk about a corrupt process or just point out as Jim Filiaggi did, that the whole process is a farce.  

Frankly, there's little evidence that the Parole Board cares much what they say.  If they express remorse and claim to have changed, it's just self-serving pap designed to save their lives.  If they say they're innocent or less than fully guilty, well that's a denial of responsibility.  It's not that the Board always favors killing.  It's that these interviews don't seem to matter much (though the Board's reports summarize and then reject them in some detail).

There are also written submissions and oral presentations.  Sometimes there will be films.  The prosecutor and an assistant attorney-general will speak and explain why the guy should be killed.  Victims of the crimes or the relatives of the dead guy may speak and urge more killing.  The condemned man's lawyers can speak and put on a show too.  Sometimes they do.  

Then the Board goes away and a bit over a week later they issue a report.  Whichever members of the Board were at the hearing vote.  They all sign the report.  Which the governor can rely on or reject or simply ignore.

There's nothing particularly unusual about Fred Treesh's case.  Less than fully responsible, disproportionate sentence, rush to judgment, rights violated, drugs and psych problems, by today's standards it's a life case, and he's a different person today than he was 18 years ago when the judge sentenced him to be killed.  No compelling reason to be merciful.  He doesn't deserve mercy.  

[Insert here my standard rap about how mercy isn't something deserved; it's an act of grace; it's about us, not them. Sigh.]

And so they voted no, as they mostly do.  Unanimously.  Let him die.  

And they added, for I think the first time, that part of the way they knew he deserved to be killed is that he blew them off.  He wouldn't go to the fucking interview.

Off with his head.

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