About This Blog

Entries beginning with a number are a continuation of the old Judging Crimes blog, which was long focused on the two meanings of its name: the way crimes are judged in America, and the, uh... occasional defalcations and derelictions of the berobed.

Judging Crimes took a long hiatus for some of the reasons explained here.

Entries beginning with Book 'em! are book reviews and commentaries. No attention is paid to the imperatives of book marketing. As Calvin Trillin once pointed out, the average shelf life of a book in a bookstore falls somewhere between milk and yogurt, but in these days of long-tail online marketing that matters less to everyone, and I don't see why it should matter at all to reviewers. Most posts will be about books that have been around long past the time when yogurt would have solidified.

Other entries will be... well, I'm curious to find out what the others will be.

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Test Drive the Book!
« 410. Translating the euphemisms | Main | 408. Conventions »
Wednesday
Nov182009

409. Let Sarah be Stephen

Sarah Palin has been getting a lot of unfavorable fact-checking attention for her insta-book, proving yet again that there's no such thing as bad publicity, unless you're a news-gathering organization and must explain why you put 11 reporters to the task.  (Perhaps because entering "Sarah Palin fact check" into Google News returns 4,591 articles?)

Here's proof of the lamestream media bias: Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit is getting a free ride, despite this week's ritual Supreme Court per curiam slapdown

Here's the background, from the California Supreme Court's 1988(!) opinion affirming a conviction for a  1981(!!) murder:

During the week preceding the murder, Vasquez, Bolanos and others had "partied" at [19-year-old Steacy] McConnell's house. Vasquez "ripped off" a quantity of amphetamine pills from her; the party ended with McConnell throwing Vasquez and his friends out of her house two days prior to the murder. The group subsequently discussed their general dislike of McConnell.

Don't you hate it when people get all angry and stuff when you steal their amphetamines?  Anyway, they decided to burglarize her house. 

En route to Victor, defendant suggested that he alone would approach the house on foot, using the metal bar if needed to force entry. Bolanos pulled over a short distance from the house; defendant left his wristwatch behind, concealed the bar under his jacket and walked to the residence. In accord with the plan, Bolanos and Vasquez waited several minutes, then drove up and backed into McConnell's driveway. Vasquez could not find the key to the trunk. As Bolanos got out of the vehicle to assist Vasquez, he heard repeated knocking or banging noises coming from within the house. They thought defendant was having trouble with the stereo. Vasquez entered to assist him. Bolanos remained in the car, still hearing the rhythmic thumping sounds as Vasquez walked up to the front door.

Shortly, defendant and Vasquez emerged from the house carrying stereo components. Defendant alone was covered with blood sprinkled on his face, pants and shoes. Vasquez "looked like he had seen a ghost." Defendant informed Bolanos he had to "take out a witness" because she was home. He explained that McConnell heard Vasquez and Bolanos drive up, and that he hit her with the bar when she looked away from him, and continued to hit her approximately 15 more times.

 The bar in question was a "steel dumbbell bar."  This is what it did to Steacy McConnell:

He bludgeoned McConnell to death with an iron dumbbell bar; the force of the 15 to 20 some-odd blows leaving her with gaping wounds and a cracked skull. Her defensive wounds plainly evidenced a desperate struggle for life at defendant's hands.

 And if that's not ghastly enough for you, Steacy's parents found her later that same day, still alive but unconscious.  They got her to a hospital, but she

died a short while later from cerebral hemorrhaging due to 15 to 20 gaping wounds to her head which cracked her skull. The pathologist testified there would have been sounds "like a cracked pot" associated with the blows which fractured the skull, and blood would have splattered in a manner consistent with the blood patterns found on the door jambs next to where she was found.

Remember, the sound of the blows was clearly audible to the murderer's accomplices outside in the driveway.  But at least the murder "did not involve ... needless suffering on the part of the victim." 

That's what Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote, in an opinion joined by Judge Richard  A. Paez, though I'm not sure they meant to say Steacy McConnell didn't suffer, or that it was needful that she do so.  At any rate, all nine justices of the Supreme Court professed that they "simply cannot comprehend" that assertion: "McConnell suffered, and it was clearly needless."

Reinhardt and Paez found that the murderer's counsel was ineffective at the death penalty proceeding for failing to introduce mitigating evidence.  The nine justices unanimously disagreed:

We begin with the mitigating evidence [defense counsel John] Schick did present during the sentencing phase. That evidence was substantial. The same Ninth Circuit panel addressing the same record in Belmontes’ first habeas appeal agreed,recognizing "the substantial nature of the mitigating evidence" Schick presented.   It reiterated the point several times. ...

On remand from this Court, the Court of Appeals... changed its view of this evidence. Instead of finding Schick’s mitigation case “substantial,” as it previously had, the Ninth Circuit this time around labeled it "cursory."   [citations omitted]

The Supreme Court pointed out that in 2005 "the Ninth Circuit"--by which they meant Reinhardt, author of both opinions, and Paez, his toady in both--"label[ed] the mitigation evidence Schick presented 'substantial'" while in 2008 they "label[ed] the same evidence 'insubstantial.'"

There's even more but you get the idea.  What struck me as I read the various opinions is the close resemblance between Reinhardt, Paez and Sarah Palin. 

What they have in common is their possession of the truth.  Whether the truth is backed up by the facts  is beside the point.  In the judges' case, their opposition to the death penalty is of such overriding moral significance that the law and the facts don't matter, and in particular the violent death of a 19-year-old girl doesn't matter.  They find it easy to dismiss her suffering, the way other true believers once dismissed the moral significance of "the necessary murder."

The really great thing about Reinhardt's amorality is that it provides him with reason to congratulate himself on his superior morality. 

Palin, too, is in possession of the truth.  She defended her "death panel" claim by saying it "rang true for many Americans."  It rang true because it confirmed what they already knew to be true.  Whether it was actually true was a trivial point compared to that.  She doesn't find it necessary to defend the factual accuracy of her book--she attacks the media for pointing out its inaccuracies.  

And she's right to do so, of course.  Just ask her soulmate, Stephen Reinhardt.

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