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May 13, 2010

13

a sentence of death and its aggravators

by Andrea O'Connell

There are a total of 15 possible aggravators that the State of Florida can use to measure whether the severity of a crime rises to meet the requirements of applying the death penalty law.

Although the State did not list the aggravating factors they were considering when they filed their death penalty notice for Casey Anthony, they have answered today. This afternoon, the state of Florida filed a motion that lists five (5) out of a possible 15 aggravating factors that correspond with the murder of Caylee Marie Anthony.

The 5 aggravating factors used by the people of the State of Florida will be:

Florida Statute 921.141(5) D, H I, L, and M.

The five aggravating factors, as written are:

D) The capital felony was committed while the defendant was engaged, or was an accomplice, in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting to commit, any: robbery; sexual battery; aggravated child abuse; abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult resulting in great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement; arson; burglary; kidnapping; aircraft piracy; or unlawful throwing, placing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb.

H) The capital felony was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.

I) The capital felony was a homicide and was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.

L) The victim of the capital felony was a person less than 12 years of age.

M) The victim of the capital felony was particularly vulnerable due to advanced age or disability, or because the defendant stood in a position of familial or custodial authority over the victim.

I have never given a great deal of thought to the death penalty until I saw the movie Dead Man Walking, and learned about the work of Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking.

Sister Helen became a very passionate activist against the death penalty after becoming a pen-pal and then a spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier, a Louisiana convicted murderer.  Sonnier was waiting on death row for his appointment with death when he and Sister Helen began their correspondence.

When Sonnier requested that Sister Helen become his Spiritual Advisor while he awaits his appointment with death, she began visiting him.  This was the mid 1980’s and Sister Helen had the unusual opportunity to see close-up how the death system worked, which, of course, prompted her book, followed by the movie of the same name.

The book:  Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize,  was also an international best seller and has been translated into 10 different languages.

If you live in a state with the death penalty, as I do (in Florida), then the state will murder via the death penalty in your name. You and I pay for the death penalty via our state taxes. You see, we are the people of the state, and the good people in the State Attorney’s offices work directly for us.

Please know, I do not disrespect the law, on the contrary, I believe in the law, I uphold the law and am proud to be in the United States of America where the law, for the most part, is equal for all….well, at its heart, it is.

I also support Attorney Andrea Lyon in her quest to free Casey Anthony from the death penalty.

It should not be inferred that I think Casey Anthony does not deserve punishment if she is found guilty of capital murder, on the contrary.  But I will never wish death upon Casey Anthony.

To learn more about forgiveness, listen to Sister Helen in the short clip below.  Take the journey and learn about her work. Learn about the death penalty. Vote for Leaders who do not support it.

Websites dedicated to the work of Sister Helen Prejean:

http://www.prejean.org/

http://www.deathpenaltydiscourse.org/

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13 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 13 2010

    I can see where you’re coming from but I’ve had the sad experience of having a relative be a victim. I know the torment that exists when you realize a 3 year old will never go to school, hug you again, or smile at you, while some freak who took them from you and made their final moments torture gets to live out their natural years.

    Some of them never have any remorse and the prison system in the U.S varies in how their prisoners are treated-some of it is barely punishment at all.

    I can’t say the death penalty is right. I seriously doubt it is-putting the power to take away life into the hands of a system, even when it’s recipients are the worst people, is a dangerous and dubious thing.

    But I do know that if the freak that killed my cousin had escaped the death penalty and was alive today, that would tear at me.

    Reply
  2. Andrea
    May 13 2010

    Iasciel:

    I am so sorry for your loss; I got a lump in my throat reading what you wrote. I do understand how you feel, too.

    I often wonder how I would feel if someone I loved were taken like your cousin was…. to be totally honest, depending on the circumstances, maybe I’d want death, too. I can not say with 100% certainty. It’s a terrible thing to struggle with, and I understand victims and how they feel.

    I never experienced the horrors you describe and I am truly thankful, but sorry for you. So sorry.

    Thank you for visiting here…. i really appreciate your comments and sharing.

    Reply
  3. Kitt
    May 14 2010

    Hi Andrea,
    I’m a little scared to say it, but will be honest. I am for the death penalty. But I feel there has to be no doubt whatsoever that the accused/convicted had committed the crime.

    Years ago, a good friend of mine lost one of her daughters to a child molester/murderer. He kidnapped 3 of her 4 daughters. They were ages 2, 4, and 5. He molested all three.

    The 5 year-old (I’ll call her Sally) would have been 6 yrs the very next day.

    This will be a bit graphic, but the facts. After molesting all three girls, he injected himself with yet more dope (the 4 yr old was a reliable witness, plus he himself admitted to this) and then he took Sally to the kitchen. While he held her over the sink, he stabbed her several times in the chest. He then turned her over and stabbed her in the back. Following that, he put a dog choke-chain around her neck and pulled it tight. He then put her in a large trash bag and hid her in the attic.

    He was convicted and sentenced to death, which is what I wanted for him.

    Several years later, there was a story in the local paper about inmates on Death Row in the Oregon Penitentiary who were petitioning for certain rights they felt they should have. He was among the petitioners. One of the rights they felt they were being denied was the right to have ice cream. WHAT? Really? It ’bout knocked my socks off. Unbelievable!

    Anyway, I got off-track. In the end, this murderer’s death sentence was changed to LWOP. I can live with that as well. So I guess for me, there was alot of emotion involved in my wanting to see this monster put down.

    Reply
    • Andrea
      May 14 2010

      Hi Kitt,

      I can certainly, certainly understand how you would feel, knowing this horrendous tragedy that you’ve described. I am glad you shared this with us, but it is deeply disturbing – the images…. I don’t have the words right now to say how deeply affecting this is, suffice it to say, the images will be with me for days to come. This is the kind of animal-like behavior that makes being anti-death penalty so difficult for many people. And, in reality, “animal-like” is not quite the right description because animals would not do that to their own.

      I feel a little guilty talking about forgiveness when I read something like this experience, Kitt. I cannot imagine Sister Helen Prejean forgiving this monster; I am going to write to her to see if she’ll help us understand how it is possible for us to forgive this man. How could anyone, especially the family, forgive this? I doubt I would be able to. I wonder if the man begged for forgiveness, would anyone forgive him? Would God forgive him?

      But, still Kitt….and I am even uneasy about saying this, but I could not ask for this man’s death even though I felt like throwing up when I read it. Even though the request for ice cream boiled my blood, and makes me feel a kind of hatred for them all, I still couldn’t do it. But, I would never condemn a victim of a crime like this for wanting to take up the sword and enact revenge. I completely understand.

      I cannot thank you enough for sharing this – this is exactly what makes this issue so terribly difficult for everyone – evil like this.

      I am sorry you have had to live with this horrific scenario all these years and I am profoundly sorry for your friend.

      Sending love and peace……

      Reply
  4. jon
    May 14 2010

    I kind of swing back and forth on the death penalty. In some cases, let’s say Manson, I think he should have been put to death years ago. His influence didn’t stop once he was in San Quentin, but he continued to give orders to his followers from there long after he was sentenced.

    Personally, I want to see Casey Anthony suffer and by that I mean spend a long time in jail, like the rest of her life. For the party girl, addicted to her cell phone, texting, clubbing, being the center of attention and having a good time (esp. with the guys) what could be a better punishment than being deprived of all of this for the next 40-50 years? Also, for someone who was used to getting her own way most of the time, being under the thumb of the law will be especially oppressive. And, don’t forget, there’s also the treatment she’ll get from other prisoners for having murdered her own child. The needle would be too quick and easy in this case.

    I think the death penalty has to be looked at insofar as the circumstances of individual cases are concerned. I still think the reason they’re pushing the DP in this case is to threaten her with it so that she and “dream-on” team might decide the State is serious and have her own up to it and get this over and done with.

    Reply
    • Andrea
      May 14 2010

      Hi Jon,

      Oh boy, yes, Manson, the devil incarnate. You’re right, he sure did give orders, but did he have any influence after he was in jail? i can’t remember the particulars….

      Me too, I want her to be in jail without the possibility of parole, perhaps life plus 450 years would be sufficient!

      Speaking of how Casey was so addicted to her cell phone, and the internet social media, I think it’s really weird how Baez puts down his IPhone right in front of her at the defense table (yeah, i notice details like that!!!) and I’ve seen how she looks so longingly at it. I have seen him do that twice and I thought, if he’s doing that on purpose, it’s just really cruel! LOL! Heck, it’s not like she can pick it up and start texting!

      My opinion of why they are seeking the death penalty, is because they are following the law. The State of Florida has met its burden and is required to file.

      But, what is so odd here, good defense attorneys would have seen the writing on the wall (as the rest of us following this case had seen), and would have attempted to either:
      1) Go for an insanity plea,
      2) Convinced Casey to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty BEFORE the death penalty was mentioned, or
      3) if Casey refused to entertain a plea, a good attorney might have walked away from the case, like NeJame did the Anthony’s,

      I have a criminal defense attorney in my family, he’s not following this case, but he knows about it (from me!) and he said that if he had the case, he would have convinced Casey of the truth of the matter – that the odds are stacked up against her and try to deal with the State before they even entertained the idea of the death penalty. He said, once the death penalty is on the table, that’s it – there’s no plea, it’s the end of the line – the case will go to trial.

      He said he’d have put her through a lot of psychiatric tests to have her evaluated for insanity because it would be her only hope, in the end.

      She missed some real opportunities that a Public Defender would have helped her with, she just had to have the notoriety, and so did Baez. I don’t think that’s justice, I think its just poor lawyering.

      have a great weekend!!!!!! TGIF!

      Reply
  5. Ideas
    May 14 2010

    I don’t think the death penalty has anything to do with forgiveness. The death penalty is a consequence within a civil society. Forgiveness is a mindset or emotional reaction from one individual to another.

    A criminal facing death can accept his punishment whether forgiven by those around him or not. His main concern should be the eternal state of his soul and whether he has forgiveness from God. THAT kind of forgiveness is a spiritually legal pardon because through Christ, God’s Son, the consequence of eternal death is taken on by Christ himself as his substitute. The spiritual law is then satisfied with a death, and the criminal can enjoy eternal life in peace with his God.

    This is why many people feel satisfied when a criminal is executed. It is civil justice and an answer to the life that was taken away. No, nothing can bring that life back, or make things all better, but it is an answer and an assurance that our society cares and values life.

    Reply
    • Andrea
      May 14 2010

      Hi Ideas,

      You’re right, the laws regarding the death penalty are meant to be a consequence and a punishment whether there is forgiveness, or not. I guess what I was trying to say was there are some in this world, like the Amish, and others who can and have forgiven the most heinous of acts….. I think they find a kind of redemption in that. And yet, for most of us it may not be possible because we are only human, after all.

      I would not forgive a criminal who does not admit to his or her crime and beg for forgiveness. But, I would want to forgive, and hope I could forgive someone who is completely repentant to the victim and to his or her God.

      I don’t see how spiritual law is satisfied by another human being killing another human being out of revenge. I think that damns the person who has injected the criminal on behalf of the community. In my way of thinking, that’s completely uncivil and certainly against God who is all loving and all forgiving.

      I have read that witnesses of someone dying in the (for lack of a better description) death chamber are traumatized for many many years to come. The witnesses experience great guilt despite initially having felt great satisfaction for the revenge of their loved ones’ death because it ends up not being closure when the victim witnesses the death.

      I don’t know a great deal on this topic other than the bits and pieces that I have read, and what I feel in my heart….

      Your comments are so lovely, though, Ideas…. I see why your nickname is Ideas… they are full of depth……

      You always enlighten me….thank you

      Reply
      • Ideas
        May 14 2010

        Sorry to be confusing….the spiritual law says that the wages of sin is death. I was differentiating this law from the civil law of DP. DP is only death of the body. The condemnation in the spiritual law is eternal death. God is not taking revenge when He condemns us. Nor do I think that the DP (a separate, civil law) is revenge, although those involved may think of it as revenge, hatred, or even a weird pleasure.

        The spiritual law is not satisfied with humans killing humans or the DP. The spiritual law applies to the ultimate judgment. It’s an extremely harsh law that says someone must be perfect to go to heaven. (Sister Helen quoted this from Duet–chose life by following the whole law of perfection (in its context)) We can’t so we are all condemned. Christ’s death on our behalf is the death that satisfies this law because death is required for the sins, Christ’s blood washes ours, and His righteousness is imputed or given to us so that we are undeservedly perfect in the sight of God. This and only this is the gospel and the only way to find true peace and happiness.

        To many, even possibly for Sister Helen, this world is all or most of all there is. They succumb to misunderstandings of what must be done in this world, the sweet as well as the harsh. If the criminal she was in contact with was repentant, there is much joy in the next world for him.

  6. weezie10
    May 14 2010

    Kitt that’s just a tragedy about your friend. I’m sure she will never ever be the same and probably cries every day about what had happened. I can see why people get so emotional about their DP views. As long as their isn’t a persona affect on my family, I choose LWOP, however, if someone were to do such a heinous thing to anyone I loved, I might and probably would change my stance on DP. As such, in Canada it doesn’t exist therefore, noone is really plagued by that decision. I wonder if Canada made the right determination. ONce you don’t have that choice, then it’s pretty cut and dry.
    LWOP. But I always keep harping on the fact:

    LIFE SHOULD MEAN LIFE, no parole hearings nothing. But up here it’s quite different and it is going to take a long time before we have properly addressed the most heinous of crimes to the punishment. I wish more people would fight for it, but as usual it takes a terrible crime to make a country stand up and be heard.

    Good post Andrea.

    Reply
  7. weezie10
    May 14 2010

    Ideas; Wow you said some pretty powerful things.
    “Forgiveness is a mindset or emotional reaction from one individual to another”. Quite true.

    Criminals never believe that their punishment is just, and I do not know that they “accept death”. We know that Death is not a detterant to crime. We do know that victims on the most part don’t feel any better once the needle has gone in and the criminal is pronounced Dead. We know we can’t bring back the dead. We know that victims of crime usually fall to dark depths and need assistance with their emotional and psychological health. We know that the State has a duty to search for and umpune the criminal, deciding what charges should be brought forth, and argued. We do know that the Defense are their to uphold the accuseds’ rights. Everything in between is what people are talking about, in the Anthony case for example. Once the verdict is handed down, the accused waits for his/her punishment faze of the trial. There are a lot of stop gaps before the ultimate DP is performed. For those who have been innocently put to death, I have no words. I guess you could say they gave their life on behalf of those poor and innocent and murdered people. Does that make it right? No. Because it could be your loved one who is falsely accused and you could never imagine how it could affect you and your family if they were found guilty. I would like to say fry to Casey but I can’t. I do want justice for Caylee and I pray that the justice system and 12 jurors will give her that, in spite of the DP. It’s pretty apparent that Casey is now getting some idea of the hot water she is in. DUH. That’s only taken 2 1/2 years.

    NO TO DEATH YEST TO LWOP.

    Reply
  8. Kitt
    May 14 2010

    Yes, LIFE SHOULD MEAN LIFE. I’ve never understood how it doesn’t.

    Good example: In 1983, about 35 miles from where I sit right now, a monster named Diane Downs shot her three children, killing one daughter and critically wounding her other daughter and her only son.

    She told crazy stories, just like Casey did/does. In the end, Downs was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and assault. I don’t know how the attempted murder of one of those children was lowered to only an assault charge/conviction.

    Downs was sentenced to LIFE + 50 years. At the time she committed the crimes, Oregonians had voted out the death penalty, I forget how many years prior. It was re-instated by voters shortly after she was convicted.

    So, life + 50 for her. Yet, just back in December of 2008, she was up for parole. How the heck does that happen? Needless to say, parole was denied. She is incarcerated in Washington now, but faced the Oregon parole board via video.

    Her crime was so heinous that I believe nobody who lived in this county, possibly even the entire state, at the time will ever forget it. And I believe she will never be granted parole.

    So my question remains (rhetorical)…why does she come up for parole? I think she faces the board every two years from here on out. I don’t see the purpose. I suppose if I did some in-depth research on my state’s laws, and perhaps her case specifically, I might find the answer to that.

    Life should mean life, with no chance of parole.

    Reply
  9. Kitt
    May 14 2010

    Oops..need to make a correction; Downs is now in a California prison, not Washington.

    Reply

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