Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Velvet Hammer Speaks

Had the logistics been better, I'd be writing this from Madrid where I would be attending the 5th World Congress Against the Death Penalty.  The logistics weren't better.  I'm sitting at my dining room table in Ohio.  

Eve Stratton isn't there, either.  Maybe she should be.  Alan Johnson has the story in the Columbus Dispatch.
Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton said today that she has changed her views and now opposes capital punishment.
Stratton, a Republican who left office late last year, told members of an Ohio Supreme Court task force reviewing the death penalty, said while she did not have a strong feeling about capital punishment while serving on the court, her views have changed now that she’s retired.
All that time on the court, affirming death sentences right and left, finding no problem with the law itself except that the legislature didn't exempt the seriously mentally ill.  

(She could have cast her votes against death in when those cases reached the court; she could have said that serious mental illness was by itself a mitigating factor sufficient to prevent death; she didn't, just said that the General Assembly should enact the exemption.  But I'm carping, and this isn't the time.)

Now though, now that she no longer has a vote, she's had an epiphany and found a voice.
“I have evolved to where I don’t think the death penalty is effective,” she said in an interview. “I don’t have a moral inhibition....Overall, it’s just not the best way to deal with it on a number of different levels.”
Stratton said she has long opposed executions involving mentally ill defendants, but she now opposes capital punishment in general because she doesn’t see it as a deterrent and victim families don’t gain the finality they seek when the murderer is put to death.

Stratton said she would still have objections even if many of the issues being reviewed are resolved by Ohio Supreme Court task force studying the issue. 
Hindsight is easy.  She can relax now and just think about it without the pressure of actually having to decide whether this one or that one should die.  No more briefs to read, oral arguments to attend.  At leisure, it came to her.
Evelyn Lundberg StrattonThat's not altogether fair.  She took the cases seriously, I think.  She wasn't lying, wasn't showcasing the day she leaned forward over the bench and into the microphone as she did when asking a question during oral argument.  She looked at me standing at the podium, arguing about how and why the fact that my client was a black man who'd attended a segregated school after the Supreme Court said that was unconstitutional had some relationship to mitigation, how weighed with other stuff it should have got his death sentence vacated.  "Counsel," she said.
We struggle with these questions.  Can you give us some guidance?
Frankly, I don't think they did all/do all struggle.  For some it's easy.  Not so for she who was known as The Velvet Hammer for her approach to sentencing before she was appointed to be one of the Columbus 7.

Of course, opposition to the law isn't the same as a consistent vote.
Justice Pfeifer wrote our death penalty law.  He opposes it now.  But he'll vote to affirm death sentences he thinks legally justified as he'll sign off on execution dates because it's the law and he thinks it constitutional.  I suspect that would be Stratton's position, too.  Only O'Neill opposes the death penalty and will vote every time to save a life, as he dissents every time from the setting of an execution date.  But he thinks it's unconstitutional.  The others just say it's terrible law, worthless, bad policy.  And - and this is key - beyond repair.

So good for Stratton.  It's actually big news.  Another conservative Republican who's studied the thing and thought about it and says it's stupid and senseless and can't be made to work. 

Another voice.  A powerful one if she wants it to be.


Perhaps we'll both attend the 6th World Congress in a couple of years.

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