DEATH and DESTRUCTION
by Leigh Lundin
So much crime news flooded the network this week, I couldn’t fit in more than a taste. Some are very serious, but I’ll try to lighten the load.
Arizona is becoming weirder by the week, no longer a place for odd-tasting ice tea in pretty packaging. Denied a liquor permit to open a bar, one man plotted death and destruction at the 2008 SuperBowl. After buying an assault rifle and ammunition, he wrote letters to major newspapers and a couple of web sites about his plans: "I will sacrifice your children upon the altar of your excess."
Setting aside he writes better than some authors and that booze and ammo don’t make great partners, he turned himself into police a half hour before doing the deed. Score one for him.
For the threats, he received a year in lockup. However the appeals court decided a death threat against a corporation is not a crime– threats are only considered crimes if directed at specific individuals. Score two for the dude, zero for common sense.
The ruling strikes me as strange. Another Arizonian, Tim McVeigh, targeted a building rather than individuals. That toll: 168 people, 19 children, ~700 injuries.
FaceBook death threats are nothing new, but one burst into reality when the first three teens on a list of one hundred were gunned down two weeks ago, ages 16, 17, and 19 (or 15, 16, 17, according to other reports). Originally, an unknown party posted the list with 69 boys and a few days later added 31 teen girls.
Thus far, no one has come up with a theory that makes sense. Score zero for common sense.
Ohio News (and Mystery Clues)
Another execution is imminent in Dick Stodghill’s old stomping grounds and once again many– including local newspapers and professionals– believe the evidence indicates the man, Kevin Keith, is either innocent or unfairly tried.
After a couple of days reading evidence, I’m far from convinced of innocence, not like, say Georgia’s Troy Davis case. My meter indicates maybe 50-50, but any doubt or unfairness should give us pause when a life is at stake and it seems likely the trial was tainted.
As mentioned in comments last week, the 1996 federal AEDPA act cut off many federal judges’ remedies for unjust convictions and even proof of a demonstrably wrongful conviction of an innocent person is no basis for relief in a habeas case. As a result, the case was dumped in the lap of a clemency hearing.
Clemency boards are often accused of rubber stamping convictions. The Ohio board did little to offset that view, wrapping up their summary with the statement "we believe that considerable deference should be afforded the findings of the jury and trial…"
On the one hand, an impressive array of supporters argue misidentification, pointing to another suspect not considered by the police, Rodney Melton. Kevin Keith’s supporters assert investigative error (and perjury in one instance), prosecutorial misconduct, a non-existent witness, and unheard witnesses who place the accused elsewhere. No personal evidence and little physical evidence can be tied to Keith, which includes tire tracks that may have been misidentified. There are charges of a contaminated jury, accusations leveled about jury threats but also improper ties, such as a juror who babysat for lead detectives on the case. Finally, one of the victims doesn’t think Keith was the perpetrator.
A large body of expert testimony was considered and discounted or disregarded by the board regarding eye witnesses and that memory tends to fade with time rather than radically improve as seems to happen in so many critical cases.
On the other side, I agree some of the prosecution problems can be explained. I give the police captain accused of perjury a sizable benefit of the doubt. I don’t think he lied at all, but made a simple mistake in interpreting a nurse’s surname, the so-called non-existent witness.
While the captain shouldn’t be accused of perjury, in a death penalty case tiny details matter and an error like that shouldn’t be used against the defense.
To me, the most intriguing physical evidence was a partial license plate number embedded in a snowbank by what was believed to be the getaway car. The car left behind the numbers 043. Police discovered the grandfather of one of Keith’s girlfriends owned a car with a tag ending in 043. Prosecutors said "open and shut" and the jury agreed. Guilty.
If this happened in a novel, you wouldn’t believe it, but it wasn’t enough to sway either jury or board. Remember the alternate suspect mentioned above?
His license plate also contains 043.
The DEA is looking for native speakers of ebonics.
Really. I wouldn’t lie to you. They should either hire June Cleaver from Airplane or score zero for jivin’ us.