A grade-school riddle went like this: Where does seven come before six? Answer: In the dictionary. The same riddle could be altered to ask when execution comes before exoneration, but the real answer to that unfunny joke is the United States of America.
OK – That may be an overstatement, but the continual discovery of men on death row who did not commit the crimes for which they were sentenced suggests that many innocent people have or will be snuffed out by order of the state. With more than 3,100 people on death row in the U.S., it is not hard to imagine several dozen innocents (a couple percent) rotting away at enormous financial cost. The only things working in favor of innocent inmates are the sluggish nature of executions in the U.S. (California, which leads the nation with 726 death row members has executed a whopping 13 people since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978), and the indefatigable exoneration efforts by various “Innocent Projects” established at universities and within non-profit organizations in states where capital punishment remains on the books.
September 3rd brought to an end some more unjustified death row imprisonments when two black guys in North Carolina – Henry Lee McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown, both of whom spent the last 30 years awaiting a stroll down the green mile from the time they were teenagers – were released after it was confirmed by DNA evidence that they had not committed the heinous crime for which they were incarcerated. The evidence incriminated another man who lived near the scene of the crime: Roscoe Artis who is now serving a life sentence for committing a similar crime to the one ascribed to McCollum and Brown. How Artis escaped while McCollum and Brown got snagged is a sordid tale of police coercion, crappy investigation and slipshod representation. The fact that the two suspects initially “confessed” obviously didn’t help their case, but as is becoming clearer, many bogus confessions are proffered under duress. It would not surprise me if dozens of death-row (and regular-row) inmates are sitting in cells today because they mumbled “yes” after being deprived of sleep, food, water and a lawyer for hours or days on end.
In February 1994, then-Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, apparently uncomfortable with capital punishment in the U.S. wrote an opinion stating that the death penalty as currently administered is contrary to the Constitution of the United States. Not one to sit back and stare at heresy, Justice Antonin Scalia responded with a stern defense of the status quo.
Returning to McCollum and Brown: the pair were accused of murdering 11-year-old Sabrina Buie whose raped and beaten body was found in a soybean field. This was a crime so heinous that Scalia cited it in his contrarian blast at Blackmun the liberal pussy. Scalia wrote, “The death by injection which Justice Blackmun describes looks pretty desirable . . . It looks even better next to some of the other cases currently before us which Justice Blackmun did not select as the vehicle for his announcement that the death penalty is always unconstitutional–for example, the case of the 11-year old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat.”
I wonder what Scalia would say today had the two falsely-convicted men gotten the needle before their exoneration became official. My guess: not a fucking thing. Instead he probably has his clerks off right now combing the files for a new death row case to substitute in for the now-debunked illustration of depravity. No doubt there are hundreds – let’s hope for his sake that he doesn’t land on another embarrassing example of U.S. jurisprudence gone off the rails.
(Sidebar: for more hilarity on this light-hearted subject, check out this recent article in Business Insider titled “Justice Scalia Says Executing The Innocent Doesn’t Violate The Constitution.” Even if by Scalia’s tortured logic this is technically true, shame on someone.)
RIP Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers died the other day at age 81 of complications during a “routine” throat procedure. To her credit, she didn’t look a day over 30 – for a cat, which after several facial procedures she began to resemble.
I think one of her more edgy, acerbic remarks captures much of the snark you’d expect to read in the obits and “in memoriams” to come: Just days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Joan supposedly called an acquaintance and suggested meeting for lunch at Windows on the Ground.
It brings a wry smile today, but at the time it bordered on bad taste. But that’s humor. After all, didn’t at least a dozen famous people claim credit for saying “Comedy is tragedy plus time?”
Joan had a lot of time and tragedy to work with. Shortly after her husband Edgar Rosenberg killed himself, Joan had dinner at Spago, an LA hot spot, with her daughter Melissa. Presumably offended by the exorbitant prices on the menu, Joan reportedly said to Melissa, “If Daddy were here and saw these prices, he’d kill himself all over again.” Tasteless and funny? Hell yeah.
Countless female comedians (far removed from the time they were called “comediennes”) owe their careers to Joan Rivers – Roseanne Barr, Margaret Cho, Kathie Griffin, Lisa Lampanelli.
And thanks to Joan they all may now say “cunt” without fear of retribution. RIP.