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Man Gets 4,060 Year Prison Sentence:

For sexual assault of three teenage girls. The judge ordered the sentences to be served consecutively. He'll be eligible for parole in 3029.

Prufrock765 (mail):
Make that "eligible for parole in 3209"! no freedom in the 31st century for him!
If I were that guy, I'd look into cryogenics very soon.
7.7.2008 10:34am
Jebs:
Here's a question:

If and when radical life extension technologies ultimately become available, will prisoners serving life sentences (or very very long ones) have the right to access those technologies at public expense? Should they?
7.7.2008 10:39am
Paul Milligan (mail):
In fairness, I hope he gets credit for time served ! :-)
7.7.2008 10:43am
A.W. (mail):
Mmm, but whatever we do, we shouldn't kill him. no, that would be cruel and unusual.

So sayeth the Lord (Anthony Kennedy).
7.7.2008 10:43am
Oren:
AW, he wouldn't have been eligible anyway.
7.7.2008 11:00am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I've never heard of a sentence this long, before. That must make it unusual. And it's certainly cruel.
7.7.2008 11:01am
JoshL (mail):

I've never heard of a sentence this long, before.


I have. It's called "life without possibility of parole" (or something similar, depending on where we're talking about).
7.7.2008 11:09am
theobromophile (www):
Jebs,

Probably not. We mandate that prisoners receive medical care, but we do not, for example, mandate that they receive plastic surgery at taxpayer expense. While life-extending technology would, unlike plastic surgery, have an effect on health and longevity, it would likely be so outside the mainstream of medical care that prisoners would have a tough time demanding access to that which most Americans cannot afford.

In theory, if an extraordinarily rich person contracts a rare disease for which there is limited treatment or no cure, he may spend his millions of his own money to develop pharmaceuticals to help his condition. Any American can legally set up a foundation to distribute grants to start-ups for this type of thing, but we do not consider that to be the standard of medical care.

I wonder, though, if a prisoner would actually want such a thing. If he were sentenced to life in prison, under a regime that counts "life" as "until you die," not "99 years," I can't imagine why he would want to extend the sentence. Would you really sign up for another 100 years in a prison?
7.7.2008 11:24am
surrender_monkey:
Well, the 3 lead suspects of the Madrid bombing in 2004 were convicted and received sentences ranging from 34,000 to 43,000 years in prison. But they won't be serving more than 40 years.

So my question for this US case: Does this really mean that J.Pope is going to serve the whole sentence (well.ok.assuming that he lives long enough to become 4,060+ years old)?
7.7.2008 11:27am
Gary McGath (www):
Many years ago in a comic book, when the Flash caught a criminal called "the Top," he predicted that the Top would be sentenced to a thousand years in jail. (He'd used a giant spinning top to try to change the Earth's orbit, or something like that.) The Top punningly responded that no one could "top" that sentence. I guess he was wrong.
7.7.2008 11:32am
Boyd G (www):
I'm just trying to imagine transitioning from one life sentence to the next consecutive one.

"Okay, you're dead, now you can start serving your next life sentence. Just think, once you've completed this one, only 38 more life sentences to go!"

And my apologies to attorneys (but not politicians), but what kind of idiot thinks that a life sentence has to equate to a specific number of years?

*shakes head*

They musta been Aggies that come up with that thar ideer.
7.7.2008 11:53am
emsl (mail):
It reminds me of the story of the judge (can't recall who it was supposed to be) who sentenced a defendant to 100 years in jail. When the defendant said "But your Honor, I can't possibly serve all that time!" the judge said "Serve as much as you can."
7.7.2008 11:59am
byomtov (mail):
I can't imagine why he would want to extend the sentence. Would you really sign up for another 100 years in a prison?

There's actually sort of an interesting question here. It seems to me that there might be decreasing marginal disutility in the length of more common prison sentences, that is, a ten-year sentence is not twice as bad as five years. Maybe you get used to it, learn your way around, get moved to a lower security prison, etc. Does this show up in plea bargain negotiations?
7.7.2008 12:04pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
I'll bet he still gets paroled. I seen people who got life without the possibility of parole, get paroled.
7.7.2008 12:05pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
How about execution without the possibility of parole? Can we bring that one back?
7.7.2008 12:18pm
Stacy (mail) (www):
So if reincarnation were real, should we be working on a way to hunt down criminals living their >1st life to ensure they serve all subsequent life sentences? Paging Philip K Dick...
7.7.2008 12:25pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Zark.
Which is why death penalty proponents don't seem to trust the folks who claim, stoutly but with all fingers and toes crossed, that they favor LWOP for the otherwise capital cases.
7.7.2008 12:26pm
OrinKerr:
Yeah, but the next thing you know, some defense attorney will make a clever lawyer's argument that will get the guy out of jail with only half his sentence served.
7.7.2008 12:35pm
justwonderingby:
1. this case, 4060 year sentence
2. Case last year = AZ man received 200 years for 20 child images
3. many convicted of homicide get sentences less than 20 years

thus

Is the argument that SCOTUS put forth in Kennedy whereby the DP is only appropriate for homicides because it's the worst crime around congruent with sentencing reality?

Seems like sex crimes are treated more harshly than homicide these days.
7.7.2008 12:41pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'Which is why death penalty proponents don't seem to trust the folks who claim, stoutly but with all fingers and toes crossed, that they favor LWOP for the otherwise capital cases.'

Amen.
7.7.2008 12:46pm
theobromophile (www):
I heard somewhere that there is a movement afoot in Europe to do away with LWOP, as it is cruel, inhumane, does not give the criminal a chance at rehabilitation, etc. Apparently, we're moving towards a penal scheme that is based on modern parenting: "No! Stop! If you do that again, I'll be forced to tell you 'No' a second time!"
7.7.2008 12:56pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Does anyone know how a LWOP gets converted into a parole? I suspect the governor uses his commutation powers in some fashion.
7.7.2008 12:57pm
krs:

There's actually sort of an interesting question here. It seems to me that there might be decreasing marginal disutility in the length of more common prison sentences, that is, a ten-year sentence is not twice as bad as five years. Maybe you get used to it, learn your way around, get moved to a lower security prison, etc. Does this show up in plea bargain negotiations?


Depending on the length of the sentence, some convicts might think of the calculus in terms of how much life they'd have remaining after prison, and precisely which years of their life they'd lose. In some instances, I think it might work the opposite way.

I'm sure all sorts of arguments show up at plea bargain negotiations.
7.7.2008 12:59pm
Mad Max:
Explain again why death is not a good penalty in such cases?
7.7.2008 12:59pm
Oren:
Zarkov, considering the gov'nah can just pardon the guy outright, how is that shocking?

Aside from such pardons and commutations, I've never hard of a LWOP getting out (except in a body bag).
7.7.2008 1:01pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Yup! But there's some hope that if he behaves himself he'll get out in the 25th century. And that's about right for raping three teenagers.
7.7.2008 1:02pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@theobromophile: I saw that argument suggested in a legal journal once: Since Dutch law explicitly says that one of the purposes of incarceration is rehabilitation, imposing LWOP would be in violation of the law. (LWOP exists under Dutch law, but it's been imposed maybe 30 times in the last 20 years, most notably for the guy who killed Theo van Gogh. Then again, we only have about 200 homicides a year anyway.)

I could check, but I think only about half of EU member states have LWOP on the books in the first place.
7.7.2008 1:10pm
theobromophile (www):
Thanks, martinned. :)
7.7.2008 1:15pm
Bpbatista (mail):
Did the Judge clear this with Anthony Kennedy before hand?
7.7.2008 1:21pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
I'd be ok with life imprisonment if it was truly:
a) life without the possibility of parole
b) life without the possibility of escape
c) life without the possibility of commutation or pardon by a liberal governor
d) life without the possibility of harming other prisoners who themselves might be redeemable human beings

I think most of the cost of execution comes from frivolous appeals that are really disguised abolition attempts. Curtail such abuses and the death penalty would really shine in a lot of these cases.

Assuming we can overturn Georgia/Roper/Kennedy/etc.
7.7.2008 1:23pm
Sam Hall (mail):
theobromophile

"..."No! Stop! If you do that again, I'll be forced to tell you 'No' a second time!"

Is that the same as the UN threatening to send Iran "a harshly worded letter?"
7.7.2008 1:25pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Oren:

"Aside from such pardons and commutations, I've never hard of a LWOP getting out (except in a body bag)."


It happens, but it doesn't get much publicity. The high profile cases that would get publicity don't get paroled for that very reason. I suspect the MSM does not want to give LWOP any coverage because they feel it might increase public support for the death penalty.
7.7.2008 1:28pm
Allen G:
He'll be eligible for parole after barely serving a quarter of his sentence? Something is wrong with the Texas justice system.
7.7.2008 1:33pm
Bender (mail):
Theobromophile


We mandate that prisoners receive medical care, but we do not, for example, mandate that they receive plastic surgery at taxpayer expense.



In the Peoples' Republic of Massachusetts one of our Commisars judges ruled in the past year or so that a man serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his wife was entitled to have sex-change surgery at the expense of the state. The Corrections Department -- considering recent decisions emanating from the state supreme court -- has apparently decided that resistance would be futile and is paying for the surgery. (As a side note, the wife's discovery of her husband's perversities was one immediate motive for the murder. So in this case the state seems to be furthering the goals the convict had in mind when he committed his crime.)
7.7.2008 1:38pm
Tennessean (mail):
A. Zarkov: Just out of curiosity, have an example?
7.7.2008 1:38pm
Anon21:
Zarkov: Can you provide an example of "it happen[ing]" (that is, a prisoner sentenced to life without possibility of parole being paroled)? Note that commutations and pardons by an executive are not examples, because executive clemency is a plenary power that applies regardless of any conflicting legal authority, statutory or judicial.
7.7.2008 1:39pm
Hoosier:
I just can't believe that this guy will be eligible for parole! He should serve his sentence, after what he did!

Damned liberals.
7.7.2008 1:41pm
theobromophile (www):
Bender - That doesn't surprise me. I might have heard about it, then blocked it out. :)

On a side note, there's a huge issue with giving sex-reassignment surgery to prisoners, especially male prisoners. If you then keep them in a male prison, you're not acknowledging their gender identity. If you put a wife-killer - who likely retains his pre-surgical upper-body strength - in with the women, you're endangering them.

Sam Hall - pretty much.
7.7.2008 1:44pm
Oren:
It happens, but it doesn't get much publicity. The high profile cases that would get publicity don't get paroled for that very reason. I suspect the MSM does not want to give LWOP any coverage because they feel it might increase public support for the death penalty. [Citation Needed]
7.7.2008 1:49pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Remember, it doesn't count because commuted LWOP prisoners don't go free. Oh wait, I guess it does count.

I suppose that if you artificially limit the enormous number of ways that LWOP prisoners can reoffend despite their sentences, then sure, LWOP is just as effective a form of incapacitation as the death penalty.

Sucks that 5/9ths of the supreme court lives in your bullshit fantasy land instead of the real world.
7.7.2008 1:51pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Assuming that Mr. Pope lives another forty years, he'll be out of prison before he's completed even one percent of his sentence. Talk about early release!
7.7.2008 1:56pm
byomtov (mail):
I'm sure all sorts of arguments show up at plea bargain negotiations.

krs,

I wasn't thinking about the arguments used, which no doubt are many, varied, and often quite imaginitive. I was thinking in terms of the tradeoffs in the mind of the defendant deciding to risk trial or take an offer.
7.7.2008 2:14pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Oren. "aside from". Comforting. Comforting.
7.7.2008 2:27pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Oren and Anon21:

From Wikipedia on LWOP for the US:
Even when a sentence specifically denies the possibility of parole, government officials may have the power to grant amnesty or reprieves, or commute a sentence to time served.
Notice that it says "government officials" and not just "The governor."

At about the time the death penalty was declared unconstitutional, paroled LWOPs did get some publicity. Circa 1976 I can remember Spencer Michaels at KQED interviewing a paroled LWOP (or so they reported) because he wrote a popular book. He had no remorse, and when asked about how he felt about his brutal murder which deprived the family of a father, he refused to answer saying he wanted to put all that behind him. Michaels dropped the matter and show no hostility towards the paroled murderer who was making money off his crime.
7.7.2008 2:30pm
martinned (mail) (www):
@A. Zarkov: 1) Whether officials other than the governor may commute a sentence would seem to be a matter of state constitutional law. (Could it be done through some kind of legislative enactment, like an amnesty bill?) I imagine the wiki page simply wanted to be careful on this point.
2) If an LWOP is lawfully commuted, talking about "paroled LWOPs" is clearly incorrect.
7.7.2008 2:35pm
On a Bender:

In the Peoples' Republic of Massachusetts one of our Commisars judges ruled in the past year or so that a man serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his wife was entitled to have sex-change surgery at the expense of the state.



Ha Ha, I get it... It's funny because it's like Massachusetts is like a communist state, and the judges aren't really judges, but communist party officials. Hilarious!!!
7.7.2008 2:40pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Martinned:

"If an LWOP is lawfully commuted, talking about "paroled LWOPs" is clearly incorrect."

I think you're making a distinction without a difference. The public doesn't want certain felons released period. The anti death penalty advocates push LWOP as an alternative, and sell it as an absolute. I suspect the process of releasing a LWOP follows procedures similar to a parole. It would not surprise me if parole boards didn't even handle these cases. It's only formally not a parole. Do you understand that it's all about not letting these people go? What you call it is irrelevant.
7.7.2008 2:56pm
trad and anon:
In that case, A. Zarkov, see U.S. Const. Art. V, or equivalent state constitutional provisions. Or get the Supreme Court to rule the pardon power unconstitutional, which you can probably do with a few more GOP appointments.
7.7.2008 3:07pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
As is often the case with these stories as reported by the mainstream media, we don't really know the facts.
40 incidents of some sort of sexual contact with three teens over several months, during which they didn't report it.
The girls might be 13; they might be 19. They might not have reported it due to threat of torture, or they might have been having a good time. The contact might have been voluntary or involuntary, might have been forceful or threatening, or not.
Although the present value of the cost of a 4000 year sentence is about the present value of the the cost of a 40 year sentence, it's still a heck of an unfunded mandate.
This is in Texas. I forget if Texas has an enforcible proportionality-in-sentencing provision in the state bill of rights. If cruel and unusual is based on evolving standards, does it run from the beginning of the sentence, or should we predict how things will evolve in 4000 years?
7.7.2008 3:09pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
article links to this article, Guns may be allowed at Texas colleges
7.7.2008 3:13pm
Oren:
I think you're making a distinction without a difference. The public doesn't want certain felons released period.
Then they should amend their state constitutions to deprive the executive of the power to pardon criminals.

Talk about misdirected blame.
7.7.2008 3:18pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"In that case, A. Zarkov, see U.S. Const. Art. V, or equivalent state constitutional provisions. Or get the Supreme Court to rule the pardon power unconstitutional,..."

It's easier to just execute them.
7.7.2008 3:20pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Another article has more background info.
7.7.2008 3:20pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Then they should amend their state constitutions to deprive the executive of the power to pardon criminals."

I don't think it's necessarily the governor as they generally don't like the bad publicity that comes from pardoning a felon who has committed a particularly shocking crime. We don't need to amend anything. Just execute them.
7.7.2008 3:25pm
Dave N (mail):
As anyone who reads the VC knows, I am a death penalty prosecutor. I believe in the death penalty and continue to support it. That said, I think those who are concerned about those serving LWOP getting out because of a liberal governor or whatever are worrying too much.

First, I would note that not all states allow commutation or pardons for people serving LWOP. The pardon power differs from state to state and not all states give their governor the kind of power the President has.

Second, people serving LWOP have often committed heinous crimes and those having pardons power really don't want to be on the bad side of public opinion. Choosing to release someone who then commits another crime (Willie Horton comes to mind, but we should not mention that because it is theoretically racist to mention him) is very bad politically. Michael Dukakis will likely concur with me on this. There is no upside.

However, there are some death penalty abolitionists who also believe that LWOP is also cruel and unusual punishment. They point to the fact that European sentences are shorter (someone mentioned the Madrid train bombing defendants as an example). Given the "evolving standards" and "let's follow foreign law" standards that some judges seem to admire, this is a concern--perhaps not in my lifetime but certainly in my children's and grandchildren's.
7.7.2008 3:31pm
Philistine (mail):

I don't think it's necessarily the governor as they generally don't like the bad publicity that comes from pardoning a felon who has committed a particularly shocking crime. We don't need to amend anything. Just execute them.



If your concern is that LWOP should be repealed because it offers the ability by executive clemency to effect early release, why shouldn't the death penalty be repealed, because, after all, a death sentence can likewise be commuted by executive clemency?
7.7.2008 3:40pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I like the arguments that it's not really parole if the governor commits clemency. Therefore, apparently, we have nothing to worry about.
I think we've gotten past the folks who lie about wanting LWOP to protect the rest of us. They just want these guys out and aren't afraid to say so.
That's progress.
7.7.2008 3:49pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Martinned sez: 'Since Dutch law explicitly says that one of the purposes of incarceration is rehabilitation, imposing LWOP would be in violation of the law.'

True also in Virginia.

In the mid-'60s, a boy around 14 murdered a woman. He was put in a juvenile hospital but soon let out, because state law said criminally violent juveniles could be held only as long as they were making progress. The psychiatrists judged that this kid would never get better, so he was let out.

He promptly killed another woman. He was quickly tried as an adult and sent away for a long time. Wonder if he's out now?

The law for mentally deranged violent adults was different. They could be held indefinitely.
7.7.2008 4:07pm
Anon21:
Wikipedia's reference to "government officials" is meant to encompass hybrid arrangements like a Bureau of Pardons, where a board of commissioners may be responsible for issuing pardons or commutations, often in consultation with the governor. If you'll reread my comment, I asked you to exclude cases in which the sentence was reduced by "an executive," which I think you'll find applies to all of these varied state-by-state arrangements. As far as procedure goes, in cases where it's exclusively at the governor's discretion, there isn't always much of a system in place, just some sort of screening process by the state department of justice. Who gets pardoned or has their sentence commuted is mostly a function of political expediency plus connections to people in high places. Guess how many convicted murderers have such connections, or are likely to be publicity goldmines if pardoned or commuted? Unsurprisingly, the trend in recent decades has been for successful politicians to sell themselves as "tough on crime," and thus decline to issue pardons or commutations to persons convicted of violent crimes of the type that will earn one a sentence of LWOP.

The objections to LWOP based on executive clemency fail for the simple reason that they have nothing to do with LWOP. A governor (where authorized to do so by his/her state's constitution) can pardon a traffic offender, a petty thief, or a serial killer. S/he can commute a sentence of a $100 fine, life without possibility of parole, or death. Does the fact that some defendants convicted of murder and sentenced to death are pardoned and released undercut the effectiveness of capital punishment as an effectively incapacitating punishment, in your view? If not, it seems sophistic to deploy this reasoning selectively to argue against LWOP on that basis, given that LWOP as a sentence is neither more nor less susceptible to being commuted or pardoned away than the death penalty.

And yes, I realize that a post-mortem pardon is ineffective, meaning that if a death sentence is carried out before the liberal governor that prisoner was counting on to spring them comes along, then that person is still permanently incapacitated, which Zarkov and others see as a net positive. But given that it is rare to see less than a decade elapse between sentencing and execution, even for defendants sentenced post-AEDPA, it is generally not the case that state officials are racing against the pardon clock to get these offenders strapped to a gurney--there's a lack of inclination on the part of the governor or the state pardons bureau to commute the sentence of or pardon the offender, now or later.
7.7.2008 4:30pm
LM (mail):
Orin Kerr,

Yeah, but the next thing you know, some defense attorney will make a clever lawyer's argument that will get the guy out of jail with only half his sentence served.

I could live with that, because I consider this sentence excessive. As far as I'm concerned, two thousand years is payment enough for anyone's debt to society. (On the other hand, they'll probably have the bastard on work release for the latter half of his incarceration. That's an additional thousand years we'll all be at risk, and that's going too far.)
7.7.2008 4:55pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Arghhh.... wrote a long comment, then the posting screwed up and I lost it. Let me try to recreate it.

As a former pardon attorney for a governor (and general advisor on criminal justice and penal policy), I have a few observations.

The criminal justice system is, in many ways, just another big government bureaucracy. Like any big government bureaucracy, it makes mistakes from time to time, reaching a conclusion required by the rules but not actually desired by most of society. The governor, through the pardon process, can and should step in to rectify such individual errors.

For example, my former boss once commuted the sentence of a man convicted and sentenced to 7 years for the crime of attempted manslaughter. Because this was a "crime of violence" under our laws, he had to serve 2/3rds of this sentence before being eligible for good-time parole release. He had only served about 3 years when my boss cut his sentence short and had him released on parole.

Why did we release a violent criminal early? You see, his crime was to shoot the man who molested his daughter. After the shooting, the molester (he survived) was convicted of a non-violent sexual offense (basically, he fondled the 14-year-old girl) and was sentenced to about 5 years. Under our law, because it was "non-violent," the molester was released after serving about half the sentence. As the daughter was approaching her high school graduation, the molester was walking free, while her father remained incarcerated because he got liquored up and lost his temper when the police wouldn't arrest the molester until after the approaching long weekend.

In another case (which led to my white Republican conservative boss being given an award by the NAACP), we reduced the sentence of a woman convicted of possession of heroin and given LWOP (don't possess heroin in Louisiana, trust me... about 3 sugar packets worth would get you LWOP, until the law was changed recently). Eventually, evidence was uncovered which made it appear quite likely that her initial claim, that she (a young black woman) was locked up because the (white) DA wanted to discredit her before she revealed their affair. She was guilty of some drug offenses, to be sure, but she would never have received LWOP for what she actually did but for the DA's personal interest in her case. The 20 years she did serve before our commutation was appropriate in light of her actual crimes. We eventually pardoned her altogether, after she established a promising life upon reentry to society.

Beyond that, having observed a fair number of LWOP inmates and other criminals, I can tell you from experience that they are a varied lot. Some deserve their fate and much worse. They are cold-blooded, remorseless monsters. Others are quite remorseful but simply have triggers they can't control. These 2 groups need to stay in prison forever (the first bunch ought to be executed) for our own safety. Some, however, present a different story. There's the young man who heard another man was gunning for him, and went out and shot him first, to his everlasting horror. There's the man who shot at the ground to scare a robbery victim, when the shot ricocheted and cut the victim's femoral artery, leading to his death. The young man caught up with the wrong crowd, who is driving the get-away car when his cohorts botch the robbery and kill several people. Some few of these men, when they are old and grey, experience genuine remorse. They have come, over the years of their incarceration, to fully accept their actions and the terrible responsibility they bear. They no longer minimize their role, they no longer blame others for their actions. These men truly are rehabilitated. Keeping them incarcerated serves the vengeance component of incarceration, but not the deterrence or prevention (by locking up that specific dangerous individual) components.

Some (few) of those men can and probably should be released, once they hit 60 or so, unless doing so would cause new anguish to surviving relatives of the late victim. They are no longer pose any greater risk to society than the average Joe. If the victims' survivors don't object, no harm is done by releasing them (and doing so achieves a lot of budget savings for the corrections system, allowing more resources to be devoted to currently dangerous young men).

That said, there should not be some wholesale release. There are plenty of con men in the prisons. They have a lot of time to learn how to feign "finding God" or whatever other shibboleth is being sought by the do-gooders du jour. A public official with a high profile should be required to evaluate each individual case and undertake personal political responsibility for the choices he makes regarding who to let out and when. The governor is perfectly placed to do that.

On a couple of the legal issues raised... The governor's pardon power generally stems from each state's constitution. It can thus be limited by the state constitution. For the reasons I outline above, I don't think it generally should be. A procedure such as we have in Louisiana is not bad. Under our constitution, the governor's power to pardon or commute a sentence is conditioned on the favorable recommendation of the 5-member Pardon Board. Its proceeding are all public, and all communications with it (other than letters from victims themselves) are public record... specifically including all letters from politicians in favor of clemency. If the pardon board denies the application, then it's dead until the inmate applies again. If the pardon board passes it, the governor still has the final authority whether to issue a pardon or not.

Let me, by the way, emphasize my belief that this should be a highly individualized, case-by-case determination. I strongly disagree with the efforts by some governors to essentially abolish the death penalty in their states by commuting all death penalty sentences to LWOP across the board. That usurps the power of the legislature to make laws. The governor's proper role is to review individual cases to temper the unthinking bureaucratic process.

Finally, there are other ways to reduce LWOP. The constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws applies only to laws which increase penalties, not to those which reduce them. Remember my earlier mention of LWOP for possession of small amounts of heroin? A few years ago, our legislature made a policy decision that such a harsh penalty was out of proportion to the offense, and reduced it from LWOP to up to 50 years in prison. The law also made those convicted under the prior law eligible for parole upon having served some certain number of years. At any time, the legislature has the authority (so long as the governor will sign it into law) to retrocatively reduce all sentences from LWOP to something less than that.
7.7.2008 5:08pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Clearly a lot of sentences are given out, including LWOP, that are excessive. For this reason, it makes sense for the governor or other "government officials" to have the authority to correct the excess. What's not reasonable is try promote LWOP as an alternative to capital punishment (which should be used sparingly) and then not mean it. It shows a kind of contempt for the public. Some governors do think they know better. For example Mario Cuomo threatened to pardon anyone given a capital sentence if the NYS legislature passed a capital punishment law over his veto.

The 4,060-year sentence is clearly excessive for the crime committed. I think this kind of excess could actually turn out to be counter productive. A rapist might just decide to kill his victim. After all, he eliminates a witness and the penalty for rape is no greater than the one for murder. The prime directive should always be public safety.
7.7.2008 6:06pm
Hmmm (mail):
There is no LWOP in TX. In light of this fact, the sentence is not excessive.
7.7.2008 6:31pm
Dave N (mail):
PatHMV,

Well said. And thanks for the perspective from someone who actually had the responsibility to deal with pardons.
7.7.2008 7:38pm
TZiese:
Hear hear, PatHMV. Excellent post, and insightful too!
7.7.2008 8:03pm
TRE:
It is showboating to give this kind of sentence. The judge is probably up for reelection and decided to do it for political purposes. I'm not familiar with the facts of the case, but even assuming they were heinous enough to merit a harsh sentence, as they say, this is ridiculous. All it does is increase the criminal's chances on appeal.
7.7.2008 9:32pm
Cornellian (mail):
They could freeze the guy until he's eligible for parole in 3209 AD. See, e.g., "Demolition Man," a semi-good action movie starring Wesley Snipes.
7.7.2008 9:44pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Here in Canada there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as LWOP, due to the existence of the so-called "Faint Hope Clause" (Section 745.6 of the Criminal Code), which allows prisoners sentenced for crimes other than multiple murders to apply for parole after fifteen years. The process begins with an application to the Chief Justice of the province. If he or she approves, a jury is convened and a hearing held. If the jury unanimously approves the application, the prisoner is granted the right to apply to the parole board.
7.8.2008 1:40am
GaryC (mail):

Hmmm

There is no LWOP in TX. In light of this fact, the sentence is not excessive.


That explains part of the story of Kenneth McDuff, the poster thug of Texas death penalty cases.

McDuff was first sent to prison to serve 12 concurrent 4-year terms in 1965, but was released 10 months later on parole. He was sent back to prison on a parole violation but released again in a few months.

McDuff was first sentenced to the death penalty in 1968, for a triple murder and rape case committed when he was 20. The two teenage boys were killed execution-style, while the 16-year-old girl was raped repeatedly then strangled with a broomstick. (His partner in crime, who turned himself in and testified against McDuff, was sentenced to 4 months house arrest and 5 years probation, according to Wikipedia.) He was on death row in 1972 when the Supreme Court issued Furman v Georgia.

In 1989 the Texas prisons were so crowded that the state started releasing prisoners early, and McDuff was one beneficiary in October 1989. Somehow his conviction of bribery for trying to pay a member of the parole board $10,000 a few years earlier was ignored.

Within a few days he committed his next murder, to which he was not connected for years. He was sent back to prison on a parole violation, threatening to kill a youth, but was released again after two months.

Eleven months later he was stopped at a police roadblock when a kidnap victim in his car tried to escape. McDuff eluded the police and then tortured his victim to death.

Five days later he had an argument with his 17-year-old girlfriend, whose body was found years later in a sinkhole with her hands tied behind her back and her legs hobbled.

Two months later he and an accomplice kidnapped, raped, tortured (with cigarettes) and then killed another woman.

Two months later he strangled to death another woman.

Finally, in March 1992 he robbed, kidnapped, and murdered his final victim, who was found floating in a gravel pit. It was apparently impossible to tell whether she had been raped, since parts of her lower torso were missing.

In total, McDuff is believed to have killed 14 people, 11 of them after he had been initially sentenced to death then released from death row because of Furman.
7.8.2008 3:49am
A.W. (mail):
trad and anon

Right. It's the republicans who treat the constitution like it is merely a suggestion. Not the democrats, no, they preserve clearly written rights like the right to privacy. Or the right to a specific script read to you when you are arrested.
7.8.2008 8:59am
LM (mail):
Cornellian:

They could freeze the guy until he's eligible for parole in 3209 AD. See, e.g., "Demolition Man," a semi-good action movie starring Wesley Snipes.

Recommending "Demolition Man" should be a two or three hundred year offense. That said, since you at least had the decency to qualify your recommendation, I'd be OK with your eligibility for parole after a hundred years or so.
7.8.2008 2:41pm
Oren:
In 1989 the Texas prisons were so crowded that the state started releasing prisoners early, and McDuff was one beneficiary in October 1989.
...
In total, McDuff is believed to have killed 14 people, 11 of them after he had been initially sentenced to death then released from death row because of Furman.
I don't approve of Furman in the least, but blaming the court's decision for Texas' inability to raise enough revenue to incarcerate their prisoners doesn't make sense. The state of Texas knowingly released a dangerous individual before the end of his sentence!
7.8.2008 10:40pm