I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…
There was good news, and bad news, in the Death Penalty Information Center’s 2017 Year End Report.
The good news was that death sentences and executions in the United States were the second lowest in a quarter century, and public support for the death penalty was at its lowest in forty-five years. The public thirst for vengeance that properly belongeth to the Lord was at near-historic lows.
The bad news was that the leader of the free world felt mighty parched, expressing irritation both privately and publicly that more people aren’t gassed, electrocuted, poisoned, or — in the case of folks with no Norwegian blood in them at all — simply lynched.
The President of the United States’s enthusiasm for the death penalty seems to know no bounds. He’s called for it hundreds of times, over decades of promotional blathering urging “very fast” trials followed by equally fast executions. So far he hasn’t suggested it be the other way around.
In one case he called for a beheading. In many cases he’s called the unconvicted defendants “animals.” Most of them black or brown animals, as was the case with the Central Park Five, teenagers wrongly accused, convicted and imprisoned for the 1989 beating and rape of a white female jogger.
Both as President and, before his election, as a merely private son of a bitch, most of Trump’s public calls for execution have come before the inconvenient niceties of an actual trial and conviction. One gets the strong impression that if he could, he would simply drag defendants into the street and stone them to death.
To the President’s tremendous disappointment, however, things seem to be going the other way. Florida, for example, last year joined the rest of the states in requiring unanimous jury recommendations for death. And Alabama abolished its practice of judicial override, which until then permitted judges like Roy Moore to overrule a jury recommendation for life just because the justice struck out with his latest fourteen-year-old.
There was mourning in Harris County, Texas, which has executed more prisoners than any other county in the nation. In 2017, for the first time since 1974, the county went 0 for 2, neither executing nor even sentencing anyone to death.
Four men were exonerated in 2017, and four others won commutations to life sentences, further upsetting the President. One of the exonerated men was sentenced to death after the white prosecutor told the Louisiana jury, from which he had worked tirelessly to remove all black jurors, that Jesus Christ himself commanded that the black defendant be killed, and later instructed executioners that he should receive “as much physical suffering as it is humanly possible to endure before he dies.”
Now, that’s a prosecutor that only his mother could love — his mother, and President Trump. Trump himself thinks that an execution oughtn’t be canceled, just because the prisoner didn’t do it. The Central Park Five? During his Presidential campaign, Trump said it was “outrageous” that they were exonerated and not executed for the crime they didn’t commit. That sentiment itself seems outrageous, but in all fairness to the President, every one of those defendants was dark-skinned.
Some have found it surprising that the President hasn’t called for the death penalty for his political opponents, like Hillary Clinton.