Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Fair Trial? Meh. String 'em Up

Time and time again this court has commented on the impropriety of a prosecutor's argument throughout the course of a capital case. Time and time again we have given prosecutors the benefit of the doubt, declaring their conduct to be nonprejudicial in view of overwhelming evidence of guilt.
However, despite our best efforts to clarify the limits of acceptable advocacy, and our stern warnings to avoid such inappropriate conduct in the future, some prosecutors continue to unabashedly cross the line of vigorous but proper advocacy. In doing so, they taint the fairness of our criminal justice system.
Ohio's late Chief Justice, Tom Moyer, wrote that in 1999.  Admonition without consequence.  Threats without substance.  Next time.  One of these days.  Just wait.  

It proves, ultimately, to be as Moyer said: Bull.  We teach them to cheat.  

Q               What do you call a prosecutor who lies and cheats to get a conviction?
A               Your Honor.
The particular case at issue there was that of Angelo Fears.  He was on death row after a trial riddled with prosecutorial misconduct.  It "pervaded the trial, especially the penalty phase." Enough to taint its fairness said Moyer (joined in his comments by Justice Pfeifer).  But of course, they were alone.  Justice Sweeney (Francis, Sr., for those of you familiar with the spate of Sweeneys who've sat on Ohio's courts), writing for himself, Douglas, Resnick, Cook, and Lundberg Stratton agreed that the prosecutor cheated up a storm.  

But Fears was guilty, so who really cared if the State cheated?  Ends justifying the means and all.  But really, don't do it again.  We mean it this time.  Just like we did last time.

I'm getting sidetracked here.  I don't actually want to write about prosecutorial misconduct or the willingness of the courts to let them get away with it.  Really, I just bring it up as background.  Because when you get right down to it, it never much mattered whether Angelo Fears got a fair trial or a fair sentencing proceeding.  He was guilty.  They said he should die.  Nothing else mattered.

Nothing else much mattered then.  Nothing else much matters now.

This morning, the Supreme Court of Ohio, by a vote of 6 to O'Neill, said that Angelo Fears should die.  Not in the abstract.  We shall all die, after all.  But in the concrete.  The concrete of a small room in a small building at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.  On September 17, 2015.

Of course, there are whole bunches of men slated to be killed there before we get to Fears.  He is, in fact, 14th on the list.  First is Billy Slagle on August 7 this year.  Nobody cares whether he got a fair trial, either.  

After all, he's guilty.  They said he should die.  Nothing else mattered.

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