Monday, June 01, 2015

People v. Charles (Cal. Supreme Ct. - June 1, 2015)

I've read hundreds of cases in which, in my mind, the defendant was far more deserving of death than in this one.  Yet those defendants are sentenced to life and this one gets sentenced to the needle.

Seems somewhat arbitrary.

Not that what Mr. Charles did was at all okay.  It's not.  He killed his family:  his mother, father, and 19-year old brother.  For seemingly no reason.  He had dinner with 'em.  No arguments or anything like that.  But he inexplicably decided to come back later that night and kill them.  Stabbing his brother to death, choking his mom, and beating his father to death with a wrench.

Utterly no (rational) reason.

It's also not that Mr. Charles had otherwise indicated his profoundly righteous inclusion in the category of defendants properly sentenced to death.  He was an auto mechanic in a shop.  He had friends and family who still loved him notwithstanding his senseless crime.  He seems to have been completely nonviolent prior to this heinous act, and had utterly no prior criminal history whatsoever.

Hardly the poster child for a death sentence.

It also bears mention that this is this fourth penalty phase trial for Mr. Charles.  The first jury deadlocked on the penalty, and the prosecution retried him.  The second jury decided on death, but the trial court reversed this decision for juror misconduct.  The third jury deadlocked on the penalty again.

The fourth time, however, was the charm.  At least for the state.  Sentenced to death, and unanimously affirmed by the California Supreme Court.

You can't find manifest fault with the logic of the California Supreme Court's decision.  The jury found the guy guilty, and for ample reason.  What he did justified a death sentence under existing law.  There didn't seem to be an manifest impropriety in the process of the trial (though a couple of the prosecutor's statements during closing argument seemed a bit excessive to me).  Plus, there were reasons the jury decided to impose the death sentence.  It was a triple murder.  Twenty years ago, right after being first put into prison, Mr. Charles put a choke hold on a fellow inmate in the shower and knocked him unconscious.  And there was also a hacksaw in his prison cell.  Presumably Mr. Charles was scared after being sent to prison and looking to escape.  All these things undoubtedly explain why the overwhelming majority of jurors in all of his various penalty phases thought that Mr. Charles should be killed.

Yet from the perspective of someone who -- unlike the jury -- has seen a plethora of reported murder cases over the past couple of decades, it's hard for me to say that what Mr. Charles did was qualitatively different -- or even qualitatively worse -- than a ton of other cases in which the defendant was not sentenced to death, or in which the death penalty was not even sought.

You spin the wheel and you select some people for death.  Some people would be fine with that.  But that's a little to arbitrary for me.

And what we have is only slightly qualitatively different.