Friday, September 09, 2005

People v. Cornwell (Cal. Supreme Ct. - Aug. 18, 2005)

I guess I agree with the unanimous California Supreme Court in this case that there doesn't seem to be any reversible error. And if it's a California Supreme Court case and it's a unanimous affirmance, you know that it's probably a death penalty case. And if the opinion is 71 pages, which indeed it is here, then you're pretty much sure of it. Which, indeed, is true. It's a death penalty case. And that's Glen Cornwell's sentence. Add another unanimous California Supreme Court affirmance to the pile.

Again, I don't know that I disagree with anything the Court says. Though, notwithstanding the absence of reversible error, are we really sure that Glen Cornwell is guilty? It's a "murder during a robbery" case. There's relatively scant evidence against the defendant. There are nine eyewitnesses to the crime. Five of them say that Cornwell was the perpetrator. But four of them say otherwise, including several witnesses 2-4 feet away from the murder who positively identify a particular other person as the murderer. (Plus Cornwell's got at least an alleged alibi.) And Cornwell is hardly your typical death penalty defendant anyway; some robbery priors, but no real violent offenses. Ever. And good in prison. With nothing really at all in aggravation.

With all this -- especially the lingering doubt about whether Cornwell is even guilty in the first place -- why exactly are we particularly excited to sentence this guy to death? Isn't there at least a fair risk here that the four eyewitnesses are right and Cornwell didn't do it? Do we really want to whack him and find out that we've killed an innocent man? By the way, his first jury deadlocked on the guilt phase. So you can't even say that "all the jurors thought he was guilty, so who are we to say there's lingering doubt?" There's doubt because there's doubt. Sure, maybe he did it. Maybe he didn't. And, notwithstanding the absence of reversible error, I'm a little concerned about that. Who shouldn't be?