Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Norm Maleng gets it Right

I'm no fan of King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng.  I still hold his conduct in the Steven Farmer case against him.  Farmer used to get loaded on booze, hire underage male prostitutes, bind them, sexually assault them, and take pictures of them.  He wasn't a great guy.  Like all criminal types, he was a psychopath.  His pathology was much intensified by alcohol.  I met Farmer in A.A. in Seattle.  He impressed me with his physical beauty and his star quality.  He was always a bit of a whiner, though, and found it difficult to accept his own responsibility for his actions.

Farmer was young, attractive, and photogenic.  He had a number of friends and acquaintences drawn to him for that reason.  It also made for great TV news.  Not much of the Farmer case remains on the web, but you can find a little information here.

Maleng's misuse of the extraordinary power of the State against Farmer for his HIV status has forever tainted my perception of the prosecutor.  Steven Farmer has since passed away, released from confinement in the final few months of his life by the Governor of Washington, who at the time, was Mike Lowry.

I tend to be sangfroid about capital punishment.  I think Washington State does it right.  We've had four executions in the past 15 years: Westley Alan Dodd, Charles Campbell, Jeremy Sagastegui, and James Elledge.  Three were "volunteers" who chose not to pursue appeals.  Contrast that with Texas which has hundreds of executions per year.  I don't think that's right.  But it's their state and their society.  I prefer the way we do it here.

I've also lived in states which have no death penalty and that's fine with me.  I'm not for it--I'm just not always against it.

This past week Maleng announced that his office would seek death in the case of Connor Schiermann, a 25 year old self-described alcoholic who is accused of murdering the entire family next door, then setting the house ablaze in order to cover his tracks.  Maleng's actions in the Gary Ridgway case has thrown capital punishment in Washington into doubt.  Can anyone be justly condemned to death if the Green River Killer was able to elude it?

It is a valid question.  The law must always weigh the rights of the accused against the needs of society.  And while the law must apply equally to all, each case must be decided on its own merits.  Whether this or that defendant deserves death is a question no judge or prosecutor can answer.  Only a jury can impose that price.  Since Gary Ridgway never faced a jury, he was able to avoid that form of punishment. 

We're dealing with the law.  The law is about procedures and rules.  Justice can only be done by the firm and universal application of rules of evidence and procedure.  Schierman has plead not guilty.  He will be required to go before a jury and risk his life.  Schiermann's alleged crime meets my minimum standards, the standards I would personally employ as a juror in order to recommended a death sentence: multiple murder, murder of children, depraved motive. 

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