Friday, November 25, 2022

Gratuitously Cruel and Unusual

 July 5, 2005.  Kirkwood, Missouri.  Police executing a search warrant.  Joseph Long, 12 years old, suffers a seizure and collapses to the floor..  Police stepped over him - repeatedly.  Failed to offer him help.  Refused to let his mother in the house to help him.  Joseph Long died.  Kevin Johnson, Long's older brother, stood by helplessly.

Two hours later,  two hours after Joseph Long died, police, including officer William McEntee, returned to the neighborhood after reports of fireworks.  It was McEntee's second visit that night as he'd been part of the search time.  Johnson, still and understandably distraught, saw him. "You killed my brother."

Then Johnson shot him.  Multiple times.

As you might imagine, Johnson being black and facing an all white jury for killing a cop, Johnson ended up on death row.  The good people of the State of Missouri plan to kill him next Tuesday.  Ho hum.  Shit happens.  Especially (but really not exclusively) to black guys caught up in the Missouri Criminal Justice System.  

OK, nothing new here.  The usual voices (mine is one, but you knew that if knew me or you'd been here before) oppose the execution for all the usual reasons - both the general ones about the death penalty in general and the specific ones about the facts and background of this case.  To date, they've had no effect.  The courts so far have all signed off on the killing, the governor is unmoved.  Unless something breaks, always a possibility with several days to go, they'll strap him down and kill him next week.

But see, there's something else.  Really, someone else: Kevin Johnson's daughter, Khorry Ramey.  She's 19 years old now.  Nineteen.  That's the same age her dad was 17 years ago when he watched his kid brother died and then killed Officer McEntee.  Johnson wants her to be there.  More importantly, she wants to be there.  Needs to be there.  To watch ti happen.  To say good-bye in the most intimate and personal way she can.  

To help her, somehow, this victim of the state's killing machine, deal with the trauma those good people of the State of Missouri are inflicting on her by killing her dad for the trauma he . . . . OK, you, know the drill.

Anyhow, here's the thing.  Missouri has a statute, Revised Code Section 546.740 saying who can watch when it kills someone:

546.740.  Execution, witnesses. — The chief administrative officer of the correctional center, or his duly appointed representative shall be present at the execution and the director of the department of corrections shall invite the presence of the attorney general of the state, and at least eight reputable citizens, to be selected by him; and he shall at the request of the defendant, permit such clergy or religious leaders, not exceeding two, as the defendant may name, and any person, other than another incarcerated offender, relatives or friends, not to exceed five, to be present at the execution, together with such peace officers as he may think expedient, to witness the execution; but no person under twenty-one years of age shall be allowed to witness the execution.

It's that last clause,"no person under twenty-one years of age," which Khorry Ramey being 19 and all, just doesn't qualify.  

And so Missouri said no.  And so Khorry Ramey sued.  And so, Missouri could have said to the court,"OK, in the interests of common decency and since we're already committed to a course that will certainly damage the kid maybe we can just let it slide and agree that, as applied to Johnson's kid this is unconstitutional."  And the court would have said, "Dandy.  Khorry wins.  Case dismissed.  Let's eat some leftover turkey."

It could have done that.  It would have been the decent thing to do.  It would have been fair and just and morally right.

Of course, that's not what happened.  Today, the Honorable Brian C. Wimes of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division (let's make this as wordy as possible) issued his opinion.  Missouri wins.  Oh, sure, 

Plaintiff alleges she will suffer harm that is “real, palpable, and devastating,” and no remedy is available at law to compensate her for the emotional harm she will incur if she is barred from attending her father’s execution. (Doc. #8). The Court does not discount these allegations of emotional harm and does not dispute they are irreparable, both in a personal sense and a legal sense.

But tough noogies.  And fuck you.

Strictly speaking, it's not cruel and unusual punishment because it's not punishment at all.  But this is a blawg, not a court.  And what the prison system and the good people of the State of Missouri and the Honorable Wimes are doing is sure cruel, and damn well ought to be unusual. And, oh yeah, gratuitous.


  1. I found your post from this other law blog, critiquing your opinion. Thoughts on this?

  2. Q: Does the Honorable Brian C. Wimes of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division actually have the authority to rule in favor of Khorry Ramey? After all, the law clearly says (insert several thousand words here), and it's understood.

    My own opinion is that Kevin Johnson should never have been convicted. Just let me sit on that jury and see what happens. Officer William McEntee is guilty as hell of depraved indifference and got what he had coming to him. More or less, anyway. Then we have the all white jury.

    So - here we all are. Yes, the daughter will suffer 'real, palpable, and devastating' harm, but she's old enough to serve in the military, old enough to vote, old enough to drink, so in my opinion she's old enough to watch as her father passes into the next life.

    Good job, Jeff. Keep it up!

    1. He should have been convicted for something--we can't have armed vigilantes doling out deadly justice wherever they see fit--but the death penalty for murder, in what was clearly a crime of passion motivated by the immediate death of his brother due to the action and inaction of his target? That verdict astounds me.