Death Penalty For The Man Who Didn’t Kill

Texas will execute Kenneth Foster on August 30th for the murder of a man whom prosecutors acknowledge was killed by someone else. Foster’s crime? He agreed to participate in armed robberies and did with two incidents, but the murder occurred extemporaneously at another, unplanned place.
Is this execution fair? It’s certainly legal:

Kenneth Foster Jr. is scheduled to be executed in Texas later this month for the murder of Michael LaHood, even though everybody — even the prosecutors — knows Foster did not kill the man.
Mauriceo Brown, who has admitted to shooting LaHood to death in August 1997, was executed last year, but barring an unlikely 11th-hour commutation from Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, Foster will meet the same fate on Aug. 30.
On the night of Aug. 14, 1997, Foster, Brown, DeWayne Dillard, and Julius Steen were drinking and smoking marijuana when they decided to use Dillard’s gun to commit two armed robberies, according to Foster’s attorney, Keith Hampton.
As they drove home, LaHood’s girlfriend Mary Patrick appeared to flag their car down. According to testimony from Dillard and Steen, the car pulled over and Brown exited the vehicle. There had been no discussion that he would rob or kill LaHood, and he was effectively “acting out of an independent impulse,” according to testimony.
After Brown shot LaHood, Foster, who was 19 at the time, became very anxious and started to leave the scene, but Dillard and Steen made him wait for Brown to get back in the car. They drove off, but were arrested shortly thereafter, Hampton said.

Texas has a legal concept known there as the “law of parties”, a concept that every state uses to ensure that all members of a group that commit a crime share the guilt, not just the triggerman. It eliminates the finger-pointing that arises during trial, when defense attorneys start shifting blame to co-defendants in attempts to get their client off the hook. However, that usually does not apply to sentencing, especially when the triggerman admits to the murder.
Not everyone in this case got the death penalty. Only Foster and Brown did, and Brown has already been executed. The other two conspirators pled out and got lighter sentence, even though apparently they forced Foster to continue with the group. Normally,in cases such as this, the non-shooter would get sentenced to life rather than executed.
No one doubts that Foster should be in prison for a very long time. Participating in two armed robberies should have landed him there for decades. Moreover, since his group committed a murder, he bears responsibility for that crime as well. But should the punishment for the non-shooter be the same as for the shooter?
Let’s take a look at another famous case of armed robbery and murder. Kathleen Soliah participated in an armed robbery as a member of the SLA, a notoriously violent group. In the course of the robbery, someone shot and killed a bank employee. Soliah went on the run, and didn’t get caught until 23 years had passed. She got six years for her participation in the murder of Myrna Opsahl, a ridiculously short sentence but the longest possible under the plea deal she made.
This is what bothers me about the death penalty. Its application is inconsistent, and it has the potential for abuse, which this case arguably demonstrates. Even if I supported the death penalty — which at one point I did — applying it to a known non-shooter would seem a miscarriage. Texas Governor Rick Perry should think about breaking his streak of non-intervention in this case.
UPDATE: Before the comments get too far afield, I’m not arguing that Foster is not guilty of murder. Clearly he is, and would have been in any state, not just Texas. I’m arguing that the death penalty is excessive in a case where he was the getaway driver and not the shooter.
UPDATE II: On the other hand, in this case we have a shooter who gets out of jail after seven months:

After spending a total of seven months in custody, the Tennessee woman who fatally shot her preacher husband in the back was released on Tuesday, her lawyer told CNN.
Mary Winkler, a 33-year-old mother of three girls, was freed from a Tennessee mental health facility where she was treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, lawyer Steve Farese said.

Does The NAACP Endorse Dogfighting?

Michael Vick had a bad day in court, as one of his co-defendants apparently flipped and will cooperate with federal authorities. However, Vick got some public support from the NAACP — which accused the government of “piling on” in prosecuting Vick:

The president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP criticized the prosecution of Vick at a news conference Monday morning. Dr. R.L. White, Jr., accused the government of “piling on.”
“There’s a penalty in football for piling on,” White told reporters. “After a player has been tackled and somebody piles on, they’re penalized for unnecessary roughness. Today, the NAACP blows the whistle and warns the powers that be that you are piling on.”

Will the NAACP clarify this statement? Are they now endorsing dogfighting and opposing the prosecution of those who allegedly stage these events and slaughter dogs who don’t perform? Filing charges in court when grand juries hand down indictments does not qualify as “piling on” — unless one wants to argue that the alleged activity should go unprosecuted completely.
Vick could be innocent of the charges, but that will be the jury’s decision. In the meantime, the NAACP just take a 5-yard penalty for offsides, and perhaps keep their mouths shut until after the trial. Something tells me that Vick can afford better representation than Dr. White.

Who Knew Whole Foods Market Sold Spam?

The CEO of Whole Foods Market apparently likes role playing, especially on the Internet. In fact, he likes it so much that he donned the full sock-puppet, praising his company and his own good looks while pretending to be someone else entirely on Yahoo message boards. The SEC has begun an informal investigation into his activities:

On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog — or the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.
Or so thought John Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods Market, who used a fictional identity on the Yahoo message boards for nearly eight years to assail competition and promote his supermarket chain’s stock, according to documents released last week by the Federal Trade Commission.
Mr. Mackey used the online handle “Rahodeb” (an anagram of his wife’s name, Deborah). In one Internet posting sure to enter the annals of chief-executive vanity, Mr. Mackey wrote as Rahodeb, “I like Mackey’s haircut. I think he looks cute!” …
For executives like Mr. Mackey, sock-puppeting is probably more gratifying than effective in swaying opinion or stock prices — until they get caught. Then it is embarrassing, and for chief executives, at least, potentially illegal. Laws carefully prescribe what executives of public companies can say. The Wall Street Journal reported on its Web site Friday night that the Securities and Exchange Commission had begun [an informal] inquiry into whether Mr. Mackey violated security laws with the posts.

Mackey, it turns out, was too cute by half. His competitors now can go back through years of message-board postings and sue for any false or misleading information Mackey may have posted. If he put out false or confidential information in an attempt to boost his stock price, he could go to prison. The Times notes that Conrad Black just got convicted on a similar allegation.
On one hand, we can get a chuckle at chuckleheads like Mackey who play games on the Internet in hope of boosting his fortunes with comments about cute haircuts. However, what does it say about how Wall Street execs see investors? Do they think all of us are suckers who will buy Whole Foods stock just because Mackey has a cute ‘do? Every day I receive dozens of spam stock tips in my e-mail, so someone somewhere apparently thinks they can sell saps on at least some of it.

Exploding Backpack In Las Vegas

UPDATE: Not a terrorist attack. See below.
State and federal authorities have swarmed over the Luxor Hotel after an explosion in its parking ramp this morning. A man carried a backpack into the second level of the parking garage and it exploded, killing the man carrying it and injuring another:

A backpack exploded in a parking garage attached to a Las Vegas hotel early Monday, killing a man who had picked it up and injuring another person, authorities said.
The man had removed the backpack from atop his car when it exploded shortly after 4 a.m. on the second floor of a parking behind the Luxor hotel-casino, said Officer Bill Cassell, a police spokesman.
The second person was taken to an area hospital.
Aerial video showed no apparent damage to the parking structure, where entrances were blocked while police, firefighters and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents investigated. No further information was immediately available.

Terrorists used exploding backpacks in the 7/7 London bombings, and of course, today is the seventh of May, so there could be some connection between the two. No news agency has posted any further details as of yet, but I will be keeping tabs on the news channels today to see if anything else develops.
I would say that this appears botched, and unlikely to have been part of a terrorist attack, unless we see other explosions. A backpack explosive is designed to kill people, not damage structures, and I suspect the man wanted to get it into the casino first before touching it off, if he was part of a terrorist network. If so, we will see more casino attacks in rapid succession. If not, this may be just a lunatic operating on his own.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin reports that the person who died worked at the hotel, and retrieved the backpack from a car, where it was left:

The explosion happened around 4 a.m. Reports were that the device was inside a backpack, which was on the vehicle. When the employee went to remove the object, the explosive went off. The employee was taken to the hospital where he died.
Officials say the victim appears to have been the intended target.

Someone apparently targeted the employee, leaving the backpack where the killer knew the employee would retrieve it. That’s what the news reports in Las Vegas say at the moment. It seems like a strange way to kill one specific person, and I expect this to get more clarification or to change as the day rolls along.
Michelle also reminds us that al-Qaeda has scoped out the Luxor in the past, as well as Las Vegas in general. The 9/11 plotters made several trips to Vegas in the months before the attack, too.
UPDATE III: As I noted earlier, it was not likely a terrorist attack, despite one blogger who apparently couldn’t read that far into the post. Terrorists would have wanted to blow the bomb up inside the casino, not in the parking garage. Unfortunately, one man still died in the attack.
I don’t consider it irresponsible to discuss all of the different possibilities when news reports come through talking about backpack bombs. The early reports in that sense were apparently incorrect, but it’s still pretty unusual to leave a bomb waiting in a parking garage in the hope that the victim will pick it up. It should be an interesting case to follow.

Nifong And Durham: Worse Than You Think

Mike Nifong faces disbarment and almost certainly a flurry of lawsuits over his negligent and malicious handling of the Duke lacrosse players accused of rape by a mentally unstable woman. He may not be the only one on the hot seat, however, as the Durham police department apparently also failed to follow its own procedures and imcompetently investigated the charges. Police chief Steve Chalmers will finally issue a report on how his department investigated the woman’s allegations, and it appears he has much to defend:
The allegations of misconduct against District Attorney Mike Nifong have taken center stage, but an examination of police and prosecutorial records raises questions about whether the police ceded control of the investigation, violated their own policies, created false records and failed to pursue basic investigative leads. …

On March 31, Nifong directed Gottlieb and Investigator Benjamin Himan to show Mangum pictures of all 46 white lacrosse players (Mangum had said her attackers were white, so the team’s lone black player was not named as a suspect). Mangum had earlier looked at photographs of 36 lacrosse players and failed to identify an assailant.
Nifong’s directive violated Durham Police guidelines, which says that identification procedures should include five fillers — photographs of people unrelated to the case — for every photograph of a suspect. Gottlieb did not include any fillers when he showed the photos to Mangum, who picked out four players as her assailants, three of whom were charged. …
In July, Gottlieb produced his written report that seemed to shore up Nifong’s identification procedure. Gottlieb reported that on March 16, Magnum had precisely described the three men who were later indicted, including this description of Finnerty: “W/M, young, blonde hair, baby faced, tall and lean.” This description, however, contradicted handwritten notes taken by Himan during the interview, which described the three men as heavyset, dark, chubby or short.

That’s a serious charge of misconduct by the police sergeant, Mark Gottlieb. He falsified records in order to press forward a case against these three young men. So far, the public has believed that the unethical and potentially illegal behavior was confined to Nifong’s office — but this indicates that the police investigators were heavily involved in deception as well.
Unfortunately for Durham residents, it’s not the only instance of malfeasance:

The police department’s conduct involves not just what investigators did, but what they didn’t do. The rape charges rested on the uncorroborated words of Mangum, who gave multiple, conflicting versions of the alleged assault. Police never pressed her to resolve the contradictions. They waited seven months to interview her colleagues and boss at the Platinum Club, a strip club in Hillsborough where Mangum danced.
According to Nifong’s files, police waited six months to pull the report on Mangum’s 2002 arrest on charges of stealing a taxicab from a Durham strip club. Mangum’s behavior that night echoed her behavior after the lacrosse party and could have raised cautions about her reliability.

This is indefensible. The police want to investigate a serious crime, and they wait seven months to interview witnesses when the accuser can’t get her story straight. Recall that it took only days for Nifong to start talking about the three defendants in highly prejudicial terms to the media. Only after half a year had passed from that point did the police — under the direction of Nifong — get around to interviewing witnesses to Mangum’s background and behavior.
Eyewitness testimony does not improve with age. Details get lost and information gets more confused, as a rule. The delay would be inexcusable under any circumstances, but when the accuser’s story contradicts itself in substantial ways, police should be interviewing witnesses immediately before arresting people. Instead, they lollygagged for months — and even when the DNA results came back, they didn’t act with any alacrity.
And some of this just shows a great deal of incompetence among the so-called professionals of Durham:

For example, when police first searched the party house at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd. on March 16, two lacrosse team captains told police that Kevin Coleman, a lacrosse player, had taken photographs of the party. Police never subpoenaed Coleman’s camera or the time-stamped photographs, even after some of the images appeared on national television and the Internet. Police never obtained cell phones belonging to Seligmann or Finnerty, or their computers, or instant messages or e-mail.

That’s because Nifong and the police weren’t interested in justice. They just wanted a few Duke scalps to make themselves popular with the locals.
What an abject embarrassment the Durham justice system is. The state should take jurisdiction over the DA’s office and the local police and start firing people until the message gets through to the rest.
CORRECTION: The witnesses they waited months to interview were not partygoers but Mangum’s colleagues.

Miss America, Crime Fighter

Earlier this month, a former Miss America in her 80s got the drop on a thief with her .38-caliber handgun, shooting out one of his tires so that police could arrest him. Venus Ramey, meet Lauren Nelson, the current Miss America and the latest beauty-pageant crimefighter. Nelson teamed with John Walsh to take down some on-line sexual predators:

Miss America can add crime fighter to her resume. Lauren Nelson recently went undercover with police in New York for a sting targeting sexual predators. Officers with Suffolk County’s computer crimes unit created an online profile of a 14-year-old girl that included photographs of Nelson as a teenager.
“I got to chat online with the predators and made phone calls, too,” Nelson said by phone from Atlantic City, N.J. “The Suffolk County Police Department was there the whole time.”
The operation was filmed for a segment of “America’s Most Wanted” that will air Saturday on Fox. Police spokesman Tim Motz said the operation was ongoing and declined to comment Tuesday evening.
At least four men were arrested and face charges, said Avery Mann, a spokesman for the show. Another six men agreed to meet Nelson, of Lawton, Okla., he said.

This effort mirrors the series of staged events by NBC’s Stone Phillips that has caught dozens of men who prey upon young girls on the Internet. The producers work with local law-enforcement agencies and set up an on-line identity for their bait, having a young woman play the role of a young girl in order to catch the predators. When they arrive, they briefly meet the woman, who gives way to Phillips or Walsh, a camera crew, and a nightmare.
Kudos to Phillips, Walsh, NBC, Fox, and to Lauren Nelson — who shows that Miss America serves the community.
UPDATE: I’m told the NBC man to thank is Chris Hanson rather than Stone Phillips by CQ commenter GiovanniAPeters.
UPDATE II: Also, credit should go to the group that first implemented the strategy — Perverted Justice, as CQ commenter sgtted notes.

Bad Taste For The Ages

The Virginia Tech shootings have called into question a pastime among some college students that USA Today has apparently just discovered. Some students organize a game called “Assassin” on their campuses, which involves play-acting murders of each other until one person remains “alive” and wins the game. William Welch reports that the massacre has put a damper on the game and called some of the weapons used into question — but fails to report that “Assassin” has been around college campuses for over twenty years and has been controversial in the past:

After the horrors of the Virginia Tech massacre, a popular game on campuses nationwide called “Assassin” is raising concerns and prompting warnings from police.
Officers in three communities in Illinois and Pennsylvania urged students to halt the games, which involve ambushing other players with sometimes realistic-looking toy guns or other objects, after the Virginia Tech shooting last week that left 33 people dead.
Police say they worry that players, mostly college and high school students, would be mistaken for real-life killers, endangering themselves and others.
“Virginia Tech has heightened everyone’s concern and alerted them to what’s going on in the country,” said Leland Grove, Ill., Police Chief Mark Gleason. “It’s just terrible.”

Some games have been cancelled due to the massacre, while others look for alternatives to weapons that bear resemblance to the real thing. In the picture published with the article, it shows two men tapping each other with spoons to score a “kill”. National organizers — who operate a web site to assist local groups in staging the games — also recommend socks to avoid any problems with realistic-looking toys.
And problems have arisen. Police have responded to calls about masked men stalking campuses. One incident involved three men walking into a movie theater and assaulting a woman while trying to catch their prey. Springfield (IL) police hav warned high school and college kids to drop the game and will arrest those they catch for disorderly conduct, tired of the calls they get from neighbors unaware of the game and believing themselves in danger from prowlers.
All of this should be very familiar. Twenty-five years ago, when I went to college, the fad had already been around for a few years — and it got the same criticism back then. At the time, the game was called “Assassin” or sometimes “Gotcha!”, and it had the same set-up: basically a game of “tag” for young adults. It inspired two dreadful movies in that decade, Tag: The Assassination Game, starring Robert Carradine and Linda Hamilton in 1982, and 1985’s Gotcha! with Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino. It inspired the same kind of scolding about tasteless and danger to the community, too, and some campus violence put a damper on it as well.
Will the massacre put an end to Assassin now? It’s unlikely. As long as young adults feel invulnerable, they will play-act at the macabre, and spoons and socks will not long satisfy that impulse. It’s one tradition that deserves to wither into oblivion.

Cho Tabloidism

We’re going to see a lot of these Seung-hui Cho stories pop up over the next few weeks — I never realized who I was with! — but perhaps none quite as weird and lurid as this one. Virginia’s WSLS television station gives a first-person account from a woman who went out on a “date” with Cho two weeks before he killed 32 at Virginia Tech … as an escort (via Hot Air):

“I’m just so shaken by this, I don’t know what to say.” Chastity Frye says she spent an hour, all alone, with Virginia Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui last month.
Frye said “He was so quiet, I really couldn’t get much from him, he was so distant, he really didn’t talk a lot. It seemed like he wasn’t all there.”
Frye works for an escort service. She says, Cho hired her, and the two met at a Valley View motel.
She says “I danced for a little while and I thought we were done because he got up and went to the restroom and began washing. And I said, ‘well, do you want me to go? I’m going to go ahead and go’. And he’s like, ‘I paid for the full hour, you’ve only been here for 15 minutes,’ and then he came back in the room. And I started dancing and that’s when he you know, touched me and tried to get on me and that’s when I pushed him away.”
I asked Frye if she was afraid at that point: “No, because he went away right away.” She said she didn’t see any guns, any ammunition, and nothing else that made her feel nervous.

Why did WSLS publish this account? Like so much of the information about the mass murderer, it tells us little about the murders or the murderer that we didn’t already know. He was a social misfit, so much so that he couldn’t even figure out how to handle an escort. The FBI confirmed the story through credit card receipts, the same way they tracked his weapons and ammunition purchases, which might tell us that he knew he wouldn’t have to pay anyone back. That he planned the murders was obvious from his NBC package.
Be prepared for more close encounters of the Cho kind. We’re going to hear from every fast-food clerk and every mall rat that crossed Cho’s path. These stories will fill the void that the factual reporting of the case leaves as people realize that they’ve heard just about every relevant fact from a press corps determined to exhaust this story.

The Arrogance Of Silence

This week, I wrote that our national character these days seems to demand that everyone assume that all tragedies belong to the entire country, and that we all have to participate in a mourning/healing cycle that imposes itself of the real victims of the tragedies. We saw this yet again with the Virginia Tech shootings, where the media invaded the campus for much longer than factual reporting required, to intrude on the community there and give a voyeuristic and vicarious account of the ral grief of the friends and family of the dead and wounded.
Now we have a suggestion that we extend this arrogance to the entire blogosphere by a group called One Day Blog Silence. They propose that all bloggers take Monday, April 30th off in honor of the victims at Virginia Tech:

Silence can say more than a thousand words.
This day shall unite us all about this unbelievable painful & shocking event and show some respect and love to those who lost their loved ones.
On April 30th 2007, the Blogosphere will hold a One-Day Blog Silence in honor of the victims at Virginia Tech. More then 30 died at the US college massacre.
But it´s not only about them. Many bloggers have responded and asked about all the other victims of our world. All the people who die every day. What about them?
This day can be a symbol of support to all the victims of our world!

I don’t want to get too strident in my criticism, because I’m sure the organizers are well-meaning people who have gotten caught up in this sensationalized American mourning process, but silence makes no sense at all for either the V-Tech dead or “all the other victims of our world”. This assumes that “victims” will get more support by taking a day off from the computer to do … whatever anyone does when they’re not blogging. Going to the park, taking in a movie, getting together with friends — all of these are good for the blogger, but say nothing for “all the victims in our world”.
How did the blogosphere get selected for silence, anyway? Why not the mainstream media? Why not universities, which would have been more appropriate, if still a poor idea? How about engineering web sites, or something that had any connection to the shootings — instead of the rather arrogant connection to grief that some in the blogosphere and the media have claimed for the past week?
Want to make a difference? Speak out! Discuss the issues of the day, propose solutions, and work to get those solutions implemented. Don’t offer empty, meaningless gestures like a day of keeping your mouth and your laptop shut. (via Michael van der Galien at TMV and Outside the Beltway)

Therapy Nation

I don’t normally agree with Taylor Marsh on much, and on this post, I don’t agree with everything she writes. But she makes a point that NZ Bear and I discussed just a few minutes ago on the CQ Radio show (which you can stream from the sidebar) about the almost-choreographed national paroxysms of grief following any tragedy (via Michael Stickings at The Moderate Voice):

Yesterday we were treated to a media spectacle that was as gratuitous as it was blatantly self-serving, with each cable network trying to prove they cared more, could send the most people to cover it; could set up the best on sight situation room and every single anchor swallowed his or her orders like good members of the corporate hack pack. They made sure their cameras were trained on the families and students grieving in the gymnasium, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone’s loss, ripping the scab off of any privacy these people and this community could grab. We even had Mr. Bush and Mr. Kaine making sure they both were up front and on camera for the event, because they had to help the people grieve. The arrogance of some politicians is choking, isn’t it? Sure they cared, but who needs a politician when your life is falling apart? What was the point of televising the community’s private pain, and theses two politicians and their wives? Their wives? And why is the media sticking microphones in student faces so we all can listen to their tortured stories over and over again?
Have we lost all sense of dignity? When did our pain become something we’re so proud of we need to broadcast it… never mind. We are a therapy nation now, televising our grief for all to see. It’s what we now do best. But did the community of Virginia Tech need our prying eyes? It likely never occurred to anyone to ask.

Oddly, when NZ brought up this very point in our show today, the first analogy that came to mind was the celebrated film The Queen, for which Helen Mirren won an Oscar. The film gives an intimate look at the reaction of the royal family and of Britain to the tragic death of Princess Diana and the controversy caused by Queen Elizabeth for her initial detachment and reserve. She grew up in an era — World War II — where the British admired stoicism and reserve in the face of tragedies far more broad than the death of a family member. Elizabeth had not understood that the once-phlegmatic British had turned into Therapy Nation, where they needed their leaders to drop everything and cry along with them.
America appears to have transformed similarly, as Marsh notes rather bitingly in her post. To be fair, though, Kaine and Bush showed up to Virginia Tech because they would have received the same national outrage had they not. Unlike Elizabeth, they understand all too well that the national character has changed, and that people look to Presidents and Governors to serve as mourners-in-chief. That is driven by the media coverage, which Marsh also correctly if harshly castigates for their rush to create cool graphics and to intrude on the lives of students and others in the V-Tech community.
Did anyone ask them if we should have cameras on them 24/7?
And to also be fair, she makes a good point when she notes that the same news organizations who gave us blanket coverage of V-Tech, including Fox having Mike Gallagher argue for concealed-carry in the hallways of the school the day after the shooting, have not covered the dead and injured of Iraq in that kind of detail. I would also add that they do not cover the efforts at rebuilding Iraq, either, and that they do not give much air time to anything that lacks a really good explosion. Part of the reason for that is that news outlets don’t embed any longer, and many of them do not have any resources outside of the Green Zone.
As a nation, we seem to demand this dance of grief, expecting it to move along a timeline of our choosing, with anchors and other talking-head experts telling us when the “healing process” will begin, and how to achieve “closure”. My goodness, some of them started talking about healing processes on the same day of the shootings! It seems as though the nation has a greedy demand to make the grief of strangers our own, in order to connect ourselves to the real victims of the crime — and then to impose a schedule on grief on them. In that sense, the tone of the coverage is nothing short of ghastly.
I know many are upset about NBC’s decision to air the Cho package last night and this morning. Maybe we should ask ourselves about all the rest of the coverage, too.