bureaucracybusters

TIME TO REFORM THE DEATH PENALTY

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 20, 2022 at 12:10 am

On June 8, justice finally caught up with Frank Atwood.

On September 17, 1984, eight-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson was riding her bike home when Atwood kidnapped and murdered her. Then he left her body in an Arizona desert.  A hiker found the child’s remains about seven months later.   

Making Vicki’s murder even worse: Atwood had previously been convicted of “lewd and lascivious acts and kidnapping” two young children in California.

Ten days after Vicki’s disappearance, eyewitness testimony and physical evidence led to Atwood’s arrest. He was charged with one count of kidnapping. 

Atwood’s trial began in January, 1987. He was found guilty of first degree murder on March 26, and sentenced to death on May 8, 1987. But it took until 2020 for all of his appeals to be exhausted. 

Finally, at just after 10:15 a.m. local time, on June 8, Atwood met his own death by lethal injection at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, Arizona. 

Arizona Supreme Court issues execution warrant for Frank J. Atwood - The Gila Herald

Frank Atwood

While Atwood had no concern for the pain of others, he had plenty of it for himself. He tried to halt the execution by claiming the procedure would violate his constitutional rights. 

How? 

In an appeal to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Atwood’s lawyers claimed that lying flat on the execution table would cause him excruciating pain due to a spinal condition he developed while in prison.

The appeals court agreed with a federal judge in Phoenix, who noted that the table can be raised to an inclined position.

A district court dismissed Atwood’s “poor, pity me” excuse and on June 7, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision to execute him.

A typical execution room

The next day, the United States Supreme Court dashed Atwood’s last hope to escape justice and denied his petition to halt the execution.

About 111 inmates remain on Arizona’s Death Row.

The Atwood case offers serious reasons for a complete overhaul of how the death penalty is administered. 

First: There is genuine wisdom in the saying: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”  

Imagine how the parents and relatives of Vicki Hoskinson have felt for 36 years:

  • Knowing that she died violently, probably after being sexually abused.
  • Knowing that she wasn’t given even the dignity of a funeral—that her body had been left in the desert, with her remains scattered by animals.
  • Knowing that the man responsible for her death was not only still alive but had far more rights conferred on him by the State than he had provided Vicki.
  • With every appeal they had to relive the horror of their loved one’s brutal murder.

63 Love the Fog ideas | eerie, cemeteries, old cemeteries

Second: The life of a murderer should not be considered as sacred—if not more so—than the lives of those he has murdered.

People don’t get sent to Death Row by stealing food or picking pockets, as they did in England during the 19th century. They don’t even get there by killing someone accidentally or in the heat of passion.

According to 18 U.S. Code § 1111: “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing; or committed for the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, escape, murder, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated assault abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery, or perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child, or children….is murder in the first degree.”

They get there, in short, by deliberately choosing to take the life of someone—and then doing so.

Third: The insanity defense should be abolished. 

Too many perfectly sane murderers use this as a defense to escape justice for the human carnage they have left in their wake. Even if they are ruled criminally insane—on a “Hannibal the Cannibal” level—they should not be allowed to avoid the death penalty.

Consider this: A beloved dog gets rabies. It isn’t his fault. But from now on he presents “a clear and present danger” to everyone he meets. The same is true with someone who has demonstrated a taste for cold-blooded murder.

Fourth: The number of appeals should be severely limited—to three or four, at most.

This would ensure that the accused had his sentence carefully reviewed, and yet allow a fair time for justice—acquittal or execution—to occur.   

Fifth: Violent offenders should not be released, even if they’re not given the death penalty.

The rate of recidivism in the United States is 70%. Within three years of their release, two out of three former inmates are rearrested and more than 50% are reincarcerated. 

Atwood had previously been convicted of “lewd and lascivious acts and kidnapping” two young children in California. Had Atwood not been released, he could not have murdered Vicki.  

It’s true that some inmates have radically turned their lives around in prison and spent the rest of their lives as model citizens. But this happens so rarely and unpredictably that taking this chance is not worth jeopardizing the safety of the public at large.

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