DEAD TO RIGHTS
Re: Who Should Die? [cover story, June 28July 4]. It may be true, as Sara Catania suggests, that a national consensus is emerging against executing the mentally retarded. Six justices of the United States Supreme Court apparently agree with her. Unfortunately, her well-intentioned compassion masks a deep pessimism about the integrity of our justice system.
The jurys role in answering the question raised in the headline is conspicuously absent from Catanias critique. She is unwilling to acknowledge the fundamental role of juries in deciding what is just. Last week, in his concurring opinion in the death-penalty case of Ring v. Arizona, Justice Scalia wrote, Our peoples traditional belief in the right of trial by jury is in perilous decline. The retroactive mental-health analyses injected into capital cases by biased experts and half-informed journalists accelerate that decline.
Rather than take on the jury system directly, Catania muddies the rhetorical waters by suggesting that the people on death row may not be guilty at all. If that were true, then they should be freed outright, not merely given life sentences. But Catania does not go that far. Because she cant. The evidence of guilt in capital cases is consistently overwhelming. Often, the convictions are based on statements coming out of the defendants own mouths. Ironically, that fact is used by Catania as proof that death-penalty defendants are often retarded. But if, as Catania reports, Jesse Morrison turned himself in, why does that necessarily indicate he is mentally retarded? Does a murderers willingness to accept punishment preclude society from imposing it? Have we fallen so far down the rabbit hole that we think only the retarded show remorse?
In deciding whether a defendant should be executed for his horrific crime, the jury might hear evidence of brain damage, an abusive childhood, a history of drug addiction, or the influence of his wicked friends. By sentencing the defendant to death, the jury expresses its view that none of that evidence forgives the defendants extraordinary violence. Maybe the jurors dont believe the evidence, or maybe it just doesnt move them. Or maybe they believe that, even if the defendant cant add fractions or keep a job, the hole the defendant tore in the social fabric must be mended with a death sentence.
In each capital case, the jury, a group of 12 citizens no different from anybody else, has reached a considered consensus about what is just. There is nothing cruel or unusual about that.
Kyle Brodie Los Angeles
As the prosecutor of Stanley Bernard Davis, let me set the record straight. What Sara Catania failed to state was that Davis secretly recorded jailhouse tapes, of conversations with his co-defendants, established that he was the shooter and that he had committed a kidnap-robbery in the same location one year earlier. On tape, Davis stated to his co-defendants that the reason he shot the two college students was because the earlier kidnap-robbery victim was allowed to live and that that victim had almost sent Davis to prison. (Unfortunately, the victim would not or could not pick Davis out of a lineup.) Davis also stated on tape that Brown (the immunized co-defendant who was separated from Davis and the other two co-defendants) had to be killed because he might confess and testify against them. Davis mail intended to set this up was intercepted, and the plot failed.
None of the co-defendants was legally death-eligible; that is why Davis, the shooter, was the only defendant tried for a death sentence. Co-defendant Bennet was brain-injured and was allowed to plead to two second-degree murders. We did sensitively exercise our discretion as to the only mentally deficient individual in this case. The reason Brown got immunity was that the search and seizure in regard to all evidence against him was legally suspect and subject to suppression. Further, the tapes made clear that Davis was the sole shooter.
Davis own statements convicted him and qualified him for the death penalty. He was not the victim in this case.
Harvey Giss Northridge
As a licensed clinical psychologist and a Goldwater conservative, I frequently read your publication, because, even though I usually disagree with the opinions expressed, I find them interesting and thought-provoking.
Sara Catanias article opposing the death penalty for retarded individuals was indeed thought-provoking but, unfortunately, was significantly misleading. First of all, the diagnosis of mental retardation is never made based on an I.Q. score alone. The I.Q score is used along with a measure of adaptive functioning, so an individual with a score of 69 is not necessarily mentally retarded not unless his adaptive-functioning score is also below a certain level.
The most blatant error was in Catanias list of the 10 retarded death-row inmates in L.A. County. It should be noted that only an I.Q. score of 69 or lower (along with the measure of adaptive functioning) can begin to qualify a person for the diagnosis of mental retardation. A score of 70 to 79 is considered in the borderline range, and a score of 80 or higher is in the low average range of normal intelligence. Not one of the 10 individuals on the list had an I.Q. score in the mentally retarded range (69 or lower). All were in the borderline range, and at least two were reported as being possibly in the low-average range. There is a margin â of error, so some of the scores in the low 70s might actually be in the high 60s, and some of the scores in the high 70s might actually be in the 80s. The majority of the scores cited were actually 75 or above, suggesting that the higher probability is that, of the 10 men cited, more actually had an I.Q. score in the low-average range. One of the individuals actually scored in the low-average and in the normal range on two of his three I.Q. tests.
This is an important issue that should be debated, but articles should be accurate in terms of the facts, so people can make informed decisions.
Rick Hunnewell, Ph.D. Valencia
The feature article Who Should Die? by Sara Catania would have been a coup had it not been for the demoralizing cover of a hanged inmate on your cover.
Am I missing some significance, or did you simply intend to shock and offend? Not only was it in poor taste, but it upset my children and gave me the impression your publication has no consideration for the families of those behind bars.
Im disappointed by the lack of consideration shown in the approval of such cover art.
D. Hogan Playa del Rey
I object to the cover of L.A. Weekly showing the convict hanging. Hanging has all but been abolished as a method of killing convicts.
Please try to be more respectful of the friends and family who live through these heinous executions even as members of society such as yourselves gawk on the sidelines.
Donna Metcalf Los Angeles
THE CONTINUING HORROR
Re: the article on Demon Lover Diary [The Horror, the Horror, June 2127]. I am appalled that Paul Cullum continues the slander/myth that the filmmakers tried to murder the documentary crew. Its common knowledge in the Michigan film community (and there is such a thing) that no such event happened and that voice-over and special effects were added to create this impression. The documentarians did this to punch up their show, give it an ending, regardless of what effect it would have on Jacksons reputation. (Hey, who wants to work with a guy that might blow your brains out?)
The fact that the documentary filmmakers really have not completed another film in more 25 years, while Jackson (regardless of what you think of him) continues to work in production, says quite a bit. In fact, its kind of sad that theyre still hawking that decades-old effort.
Robert Dyke West Bloomfield, Michigan
Re: the charming Ms. Sandra Ross mention of me in her gossipy report from the closing night of The Strip [Slush, June 28July 4]. While flattered that Ms. Ross remarked upon my dropping trou and further that she enjoyed seeing my great set of gams, it must be noted that I was not wearing dazzling white boxers under my dropped trou. I was not wearing anything at all.
Chris Wells Los Angeles
Sandra Ross replies: Either I saw what I saw, or Chris Wells should get himself to a tanning salon.