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HUNG JURY:  The Just-Us System Just Farted!

In one of the most confounding moments of the bizarre Arias trial, the jury hung on the punishment phase of the trial.  They deadlocked on whether to give her death or life in prison.

Predictably, the HLN Talking Heads commented on the Alexander family crying.  They would have cried regardless of the verdict, or lack of it!  Even the usually unflappable Judge Sherry Stephens choked up and had difficulty speaking.  The five second pause while she composed herself seemed to go on forever.  The defendant had a genuine emotional moment where she appeared to cry real tears, in contrast to her mostly blunted affect during her mitigation presentation.

Deadlocked eight for death and four for life, the exasperated jurors gave up.  The HLN talking heads talked about ONE JUROR who supposedly wouldn’t give in to death prior to this.  They were WRONG!  As has been said many times, “death is different.”  You cannot bring someone back from death. 

This case proves the futility of the death penalty.  The purpose of the criminal justice system is supposed to be to protect society from those who are dangerous.  Putting someone in prison for life is sufficient, and cheaper, it turns out, than executing them.

The way the death penalty is administered in Arizona is very costly.  There are three levels of appeal, and for every defendant who receives death, they are automatically assigned an attorney to appeal their case to the AZ State Supreme Court.  The numerous appeals can wend their way through the court system for more than 20 years.  In the case of death row inmate Debra Milke, she has gotten gray hair while in prison for 22 years!  While the Department of Corrections would like to hang onto her, it looks like she should be released within a couple of weeks.  Either that, or she has to be retried, which would be complete folly at this late date.

Appeals attorneys always say in their briefs that the death penalty constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” but I am not sure how they mean this.  I oppose the death penalty for two reasons:  it costs the taxpayers more than life imprisonment and is therefore fiscally unsound; and because being on death row means solitary confinement, and this is “cruel and unusual punishment.”  Not to mention that every time the defendant gets close to being executed, it is torturously stressful for both them and the victims’ families.  There should be no room in our modern society for government-sanctioned torture!

A very smart doctor, Atul Gawande, wrote an article for the New Yorker where he explains how solitary confinement is torture.  During Shawna Forde’s time as a pre-trial detainee and her trial and subsequent imprisonment I read his article and devoted a great deal of thought to the cruelty of solitary confinement.  The “Super-Max” prisons now put gang members in solitary for years on end.  Solitary can drive people mad, and often does.  The military does not permit solitary confinement for more than 30 days, and it is supposed to be used only as a disciplinary measure for those who have violated the rules.  Most of those who are confined to solitary will one day get out, and they will be really angry.  Do we want to return enraged people to society?  Won’t that lead to more violent crimes?

Humans are herd animals.  To deny us contact with other humans is cruel and unusual punishment.  It’s appropriate to use solitary for short periods to enforce administrative rules,  but keeping prisoners in solitary for YEARS is wrong.  It’s wrong ethically, and it’s wrong psychologically. 

All the groups crying about “human rights” need to turn their attention to prisoners who are in solitary for YEARS on end.  Ultimately, it is they who are treated as less than human, who have been deprived of their natural human rights.

Denying someone their freedom is punishment enough; nothing further is needed.  In fact, the routine dehumanization of inmates goes beyond punishment and constitutes some kind of twisted sadism. 

One can only wonder what sort of people are attracted to the “corrections” industry.  What are they correcting?  Are they teaching any lessons that anyone learns?