Don’t Stop: You’re Killing Me!

Scott Graham’s September 17, 2012 article, “Killer of Three Who Wanted To Die May Get His Wish,” in “The Recorder” reflects the absurdity of capital punishment as it is practiced in the United States. Ronald Deere killed his girlfriend’s brother-in-law and two children in 1982. Contrary to the expression “Runs like a Deere,” he plead guilty and requested execution, but Deere’s criminal prosecution is still going on. On Monday, September 15, 2012, Deere’s attorneys were arguing for Deere’s life against the state of California, in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court.

Michael Satris, a Bolinas-based sole practioner, argued that Deere is compelled by a mental disorder to self-mutilate and seek his own destruction. He wants to die for his crimes; so let him have his wish. In the twisted logic of capital punishment jurisprudence, Deere was competent enough to refuse examination by the prosecutor’s forensic psychologist, which prevented the trial judge from having enough evidence to rule him competent. This is like the insane prisoner on death row who cannot be executed until he has been treated and rendered sane. What is the point? Croak him while he is crazy. It would be added cruelty to bring him to sanity only to give him the needle.

This is not to say that capital punishment is the rational response of a just society to commission of a crime. There is no reason to have capital punishment, but a few hundred unjust deaths a year is negligible. This country sends thousands of young adults off to die in foreign wars. Thousands die of food poisoning because the government is too cheap to inspect our food supply properly and thousands more die because our society does not insist on proper health care for all. So why do we have this myopic, irrational approach to the death penalty? More to the point, why have the death penalty at all?

It is not cost-effective. Look at the Deere case. Even without a trial, tens of thousands of billable hours have been expended on litigation over whether to execute or imprison for life. If the sentence had been life with no parole, the prosecution would have been over within a year.

I represented hundreds of prisoners under life sentence as their appointed appellate attorney. Seldom is there more than one round of meaningful appeals. Occasionally there is a second trial. Legal costs for the prosecution is unlikely to exceed $100,000. That sounds like a lot, but death penalty cases go up and down the appellate ladder over and over. One million in prosecution costs is cheap for a capital case. It is much cheaper to house a murderer for life than it is to prosecute a capital case to execution.

No studies support the argument that capital punishment is more of a deterrent than a life sentence. In the first place, offenders do not want to go to prison, anyway. Secondly, a person who commits a murder is assuming that he or she will get away with it.

Apart from a crime of passion by someone who does not care whether he or she is caught, offenders expect to get away with their deeds. No one would decide to commit a particular murder simply because the state has no capital punishment. That decision would only occur if the offender expected to be prosecuted and had no aversion to life in prison. Would someone stick a hand in a meat grinder if assured that only the fingers would be lost and not the whole hand?

Ronald Deere’s case illustrates the insanity of capital punishment. Hopefully, in a few years we will look back on this era and wonder why we ever interpreted the Eighth Amendment to allow the state to commit murder.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2012 John B. Payne, Attorney

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