Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Going full throttle on the train to hell

Going full throttle on the train to hell

In a court of law, an experienced defense attorney like Marty Liebermanmay be able to get the better of Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas,but in the court of public opinion, he has no chance.

"He knows how to get the media's attention," Lieberman said.

Thomas snaps his fingers and every TV station in town rushes over to hisoffice. He keeps his face on TV through public service advertisements. Heappears on radio. He writes op-ed columns for the newspaper.

Putting away bad guys is the perfect political stepping-stone. Just askGov. Janet Napolitano. During his time, Thomas has transformed theprosecutor's office into a public relations juggernaut.

Lately, he has pulled out a prosecutor's ace in the hole: the deathpenalty. He's pushing a proposal in the Legislature that would speed updeath-penalty trials, and he's asking a Superior Court judge to increasethe caseloads of death-penalty defense attorneys. Lieberman claims thatsuch attorneys already are overwhelmed by the more than 130 capital casesin Maricopa County. Pima County, for example, has fewer than 10.

Thomas and I played telephone tag on this subject Monday, not quiteconnecting. But in an essay he wrote for the Republic earlier this month,Thomas said, "The issue is whether the death penalty will become, onceagain, a meaningful deterrent to would-be murderers. I alone in this system am working to make this happen."

The death penalty has been called a one-way ticket to hell. But such casescrawl along the rails of the justice system like an old trolley car,stopping and starting. With Thomas at the controls, it would be more of anexpress train.

"It's real easy for him to make headlines and say, 'Justice delayed isjustice denied,' " Lieberman said. "But when you get to the nitty-gritty,people want to make sure these cases are done right. That takes time.Police have done the job for prosecutors. A defense needs time."

Put another way, "They cannot be done correctly if they are rushed throughthe system," said James Keppel, the presiding criminal judge.

Lieberman founded the Arizona Death Penalty Forum, which argues againstcapital punishment.

"If Thomas has his way, Maricopa County is going to pass Texas (indeath-penalty cases)," he said. "It's nuts. It makes the death penalty apolitical issue and it shouldn't be."

Lieberman and others believe there should be a nonpartisan statewidecommission to decide which cases fit the death penalty. As it is, countyprosecutors get to decide, meaning that a killer's fate could bedetermined as much by an election as by his crime.

"People also seem just as satisfied with the punishment of life withoutparole as they are with the death penalty," Lieberman said. "That coststaxpayers less and makes more sense."

However, Thomas says that the stalling tactics of defense attorneys oftenslow the process. He points to the fact that it takes an average of 19years for a murderer in Arizona to be executed. The truth is, that seemslike a long time when we're talking about the worst of the worst.

Then again, there was a time when a local man named Ray Krone wasconsidered to be such a cold-blooded killer.

In the early 1990s, Krone was convicted of a horrific murder and spent 10years in prison, including a stint on death row. DNA evidence exoneratedhim. In Krone's case, speeding up the process may have made some peoplefeel a lot better about the sluggish justice system, but only until thewrong guy was executed.

(source: Arizona Republic)

No comments: