Monday, October 02, 2006

Correll v. Ryan (9th Cir. - Oct. 2, 2006)

A study in contrasts.

First, you have a dueling set of opinions -- Judge Thomas for the majority and Judge O'Scannlain in dissent -- that's fairly representative of civility and rationality. Judge O'Scannlain even begins and ends his dissent with the same three words: "I respectfully dissent." (And, unlike some dissents by various judges, he's not being sarcastic -- his dissent really is fairly moderate in both tone and substance.) Just what you'd like to see in the world.

By contrast, there are the facts of the underlying case, as well as the life history of the defendant -- both of which are anything but civilized and rational. Here's snippet of the former, which involved the premeditated (and utterly senseless) killing of three people and an attempt to kill a fourth:

"Nabors took his truck and followed Correll, who was still driving Cady’s car with the three victims, to a desert
area north of Phoenix. There, they forced the three victims out of the car and made them lie face down on the ground. Correll shot Snelling in the back of the head. Nabors then shot and killed D’Brito, and then tried to shoot Cady. The gun misfired a couple of times and Correll said “hurry up, hurry up, . . . okay, it’s cool, no cars coming, get a shell chambered.” After reloading the gun, Nabors was finally successful in shooting and killing Cady. After Correll and Nabors left, Snelling, who miraculously did not die, reported the crime. Rosen, whom Nabors and Correll had left in the house when they drove the other three victims into the desert, was later found in the house, killed by strangulation."

Similarly, here's a description of the life of the defendant -- Correll -- that led up to the killings:

"Correll had endured an abusive childhood. His mother was a Jehovah’s Witness, whose commitment to her church came before her commitment to her family. She spent most of her time with the church, often neglecting her six children’s basic needs. The children were required to attend adult bible study class with her three nights a week, for three hours per night. If they misbehaved or indicated that they were confused or did not understand the religious doctrine, they were punished. Correll’s father was largely absent but sometimes aided his wife in physically punishing their children. There was evidence of incest in the family.

When Correl was seven, a brick wall collapsed on his head. Although he was unconscious for some time after the accident, his parents did not seek medical treatment until several days later when he was still not back to normal. Several experts testified that this type of accident and the symptoms Correll exhibited then and now indicate a high likelihood of brain impairment.

Against this backdrop, Correll began experimenting with alcohol and drugs around age ten. He was using marijuana, LSD, and amphetamines regularly by age twelve. . . . It is notable that each of the six Correll children report that they had or have had substance abuse problems beginning in childhood or adolescence. Further, at least five of the six children spent time in juvenile correctional facilities, and all four of the boys in the family have spent time in adult correctional facilities.

In response to Correll’s obvious substance abuse problems, his parents intervened with beatings and threats of kicking him out of the house. . . . After Correll was shot in the arm at age 14, the hospital asked his parents to let him come home. They allowed him to recuperate at home for three or four days before asking the state to sever their parental rights. At that time, they cut off all communication with their son and considered him dead as required by their church’s teachings.

Correll became a ward of the state at age 14 and spent his teenage years in various state institutions described as “gladiator schools,” which were characterized as cruel and inhumane, even by those who worked there. He was placed in programs for low-performing students, which were referenced as “dummy shacks.” Within months of becoming a ward of the state, 14 year-old Correll became addicted to heroin.

Correll was committed to psychiatric institutions at least twice during his teen years and was described at age 16 as “severely psychologically impaired.” He was treated with a tranquilizer/anti-psychotic drug while institutionalized, and attempted suicide on two occasions. . . .

Methamphetamine eventually became Correll’s drug of choice, which he used whenever he could. . . . At the time of the murders, Correll was injecting a quarter gram to a gram of methamphetamine in one shot, and injecting three to four shots a day. According to expert testimony at the evidentiary hearing, Correll was in the top 1% of methamphetamine users in terms of quantity. During the period of time in which the crimes were committed, Correll’s typical pattern was to go seven to ten days without sleep, followed by one to two days of continuous sleep."

The (depressing) theme of the day: Wasted lives.

P.S. - This is another death penalty case where no one can be happy with the outcome. Correll was convicted and sentenced to death in 1984. Twenty two years ago. And we're just now resolving his first habeas petition and ordering a retrial of the penalty phase. So he's been on death row for 22 years now -- and in litigation the whole time -- and for what? More waste.