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Top Mueller Prosecutor’s Upcoming Book Will Explain How Investigators ‘Could Have Done More’
‘The judge was just wrong to insert it into this case.” That was the take of the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in an unusual Sunday ruling, issued because a lower-court judge had manufactured a bogus reason to try to prevent a death sentence from being carried out today. This is par for the course in capital-punishment litigation. It is why, if Daniel Lee is actually executed as scheduled on this afternoon, his will be the first federal death sentence carried out in 17 years.
Lee committed a brutal triple murder in 1996, killing the family of an arms dealer during a robbery aimed at obtaining arms and money for a white-supremacist organization. Under the heading of “heinous,” it would be hard to check more boxes than that. But murder is a grisly business, and there are many that would rightly be described as heinous. There are so few executions, though, that we’d have to call them “statistically negligible” were it not for the seriousness of empowering the state, in all its patent imperfection and incompetence, to take any human life.
The number of executions as a percentage of total homicides is infinitesimal because, over the last half century, the law has made them so difficult to carry out. Many states, whether out of philosophical qualms, court rulings, or sheer exhaustion at the extensive, expensive litigation involved, no longer abide capital punishment. The Death Penalty Information Center reports that 22 states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment. Of the 28 that retain it, three — California, Pennsylvania, and Oregon — have suspended it.
There was a federal moratorium for 16 years after the Supreme Court, in its series of confusing, conflicting opinions in Furman v. Georgia (1972), invalidated three state death sentences. The Court’s most left-wing justices opined that capital punishment is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s proscription against cruel and unusual punishment (which is applicable to the states under the 14th Amendment). The majority of the Court either would not go that far or flatly rejected this view. Nevertheless, the justices’ varying opinions impelled Congress and the states to assess their procedures to determine whether capital cases were being conducted fairly, with particular attention to racial discrimination.
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