January 2010 Archives

January 29, 2010

Roeder Murder Trial- Jurors Get it RIght

It took the jurors in the Scott Roeder murder trial all of 37 minutes to convict him of the first degree murder of Dr. George Tiller,brushing aside Roeder's immoral defense that the killing was justified because Dr.Tiller performed abortions.  (See my previous day's blog entry for more information about the case.)

Sometimes American juries are derided for their seemingly irrational decisions.  I think it's worth saluting this Wichita, Kansas jury for getting it right. 

January 28, 2010

Scott Roeder Asks Jurors for a License to Kill

Scott Roeder is charged with murdering Dr. George Tiller.  Testifying in his own defense at the trial, Roeder admitted that he killed Tiller.  And the killing was totally premeditated- Roeder bought a gun, practiced his shot, and killed Tiller inside a church.

Roeder explained that he had a good reason for shooting Tiller- Tiller performed abortions.  Roeder had the chutzpah to explain that "It's never up to man to take life," perhaps temporarily forgetting that he did exactly that when he shot Tiller. 

Roeder undoubtedly hopes that the jurors will find this a valid reason for killing, and if not acquit him at least convict him of nothing more serious than manslaughter.

If the jurors accept this disgusting defense, people like Roeder would have a license to kill anyone who disagrees with their religious beliefs.  Maybe today it's an abortionist, but who knows who would be next.  If your God disapproves of homosexuality, no problem, kill homosexuals.  If your God disapproves of inter-racial dating, no problem, kill those couples.  I write in the hope that sanity prevails on the jury and that Roeder spends the rest of his sorry life in prison.  

January 25, 2010

Lab Analysts in the Courtroom- Confrontation Over the Confrontation Clause Continues

In the 2009 Melendez-Diaz case (decided by a 5-4 majority vote), the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause gives criminal defendants the right to cross examine lab analysts who run tests that determine such matters as the alcohol content of a driver's blood or whether white powder is an illegal drug. Outraged prosecutors in many states have attacked the practical effect of the decision.  They argue that under-funded and under-staffed forensic labs were unable to keep up with the demands for testing even before Melendez-Diaz was decided, and that if analysts have to hang around courtrooms the labs will fall so far behind that cases will have to be dismissed.  Prosecutors also argue that cross examination is unnecessary when analysts don't exercise subjective judgment but instead simply report the results of tests that machines carry out.  

In Briscoe v. Virgina (2010) the Court passed up a chance to clarify the scope of Melendez-DiazBriscoe involved the legitimacy of a state law that allowed prosecutors to offer lab test reports into evidence without calling the analysts as witnesses, and then (upon request from the defendant) producing the analysts for defendants to examine as part of the defense case.  The Court chose not to decide whether this procedure is constitutional, instead returning the case to the state for "consideration in the light of the decision in Melendez-Diaz."  So for some time to come, the increasingly bitter confrontation over the scope of the Confrontation Clause continues.

January 15, 2010

Death Sentences in California

In 2009, 29 convicted defendants were given death sentences in Califonia. This was up from the 20 people sentenced to death in 2008, and was more than the number of death sentences handed down in Texas and Florida in 2009 combined.

Despite the increase in the number of death sentences, California has not carried out an execution in 4 years and probably will not execute anyone in 2010.  As a result, San Quentin's death row houses 697 prisoners, about 20% of the nationwide total.

Many of these prisoners have undoubtedly committed horrible crimes.  But in an era when the state is too broke to spend money on law-abiding students and people who can't afford medical care, spending millions of extra dollars to convict and house "the worst of the worst" seems a terrible waste of public money. LWOP sentences (life without possibility of parole) are a far cheaper alternative that protect society as well as death sentences do.   

January 11, 2010

Rodney Alcala- Will Trial No. 3 prove that he's a serial killer?

Rodney Alcala has twice been convicted of killing 12 year old Robin Samsoe in Huntington Beach (CA) in 1979.  Each time he was sentenced to death.  But both convictions were reversed, so here in Jan. 2010 Alcala is again on trial for killing Robin Samsoe.

Robin has plenty of company this time around.  As Alcala remained in prison, DNA testing linked him to the deaths of 4 other late-1970's CA murder victims.  So Alcala now is charged with 5 murders.

Ironically, Alcala's first conviction was reversed because the trial judge allowed the prosecution to offer evidence of Alcala's violence towards girls other than Robin. Now that evidence rules have changed and Alcala is charged with other crimes, Jury # 3 will hear plenty of evidence suggesting that Alcala is a serial killer.    

Alcala has chosen to represent himself.  That's less of a gamble than it seems.  He is now 66 years old, so even if he is convicted and the conviction is upheld, the chances that he'll be executed are virtually nil.