Denying the Certainty of Death…

A convergence of random occurrences has me thinking about the death penalty lately.

I have always though that crime is committed primarily by young people or emotionally immature people who had no understanding of right or wrong or, more precisely, no fear of consequences.

And when it comes to violent acts, I have often found that the acts were committed by people who had no appreciation for the value of life. And their lack of appreciation stemmed from no concept of, much less fear of, death.

And this brings me to the first of my random convergences. While reading, of all things, GQ magazine, I came across a quote from a book review for E.L. Doctorow’s novel Homer & Langley:

And then there was that feeling one gets in a ride to a cemetery trailing a body in a coffin — an impatience with the dead, a longing to be back home where one could get on with the illusion that not death but daily life is the permanent condition.

In many respects, this last line sums up much of the problem in youth crime and violence. When they are committing it, they think that life is eternal. In turn, they obviously lack the moral compass to understand the permanence of their action.

This then brings me to my second convergence. Last week I attended a three day death penalty seminar; it was also my first death penalty seminar. And being someone who considers himself somewhat of a trial hawk, I was at first put back by the tenor of the seminar, which focused primarily on the penalty phase (this presupposes you lost the actual trial).

But as I listened more, I understood why the seminar was so penalty phase focused. It was attended by people (defense lawyers) who not only understood the value of life, they witnessed the raw capriciousness by which the State attempts to take the life, that the law and sentiment is in their favor, and this leads to a rush to judgment in death penalty cases by jurors. So, attorneys must be prepared, with the relaxed evidentiary rules in the penalty phase, to humanize their client and calm the passion that has been created.

And in many ways, I realized that the same immaturity and “nothing to lose mentality” the state exhibits is no different that many youthful offenders. And so, comes the mantra of death penalty lawyers that Death is Different – and it must be defended as such.

And this brings me to the final convergence, about what true punishment is, specifically death – but not a quick painless death, not a death without human suffering. No, you see I do believe in the death penalty, but not state sponsored death. No the true death penalty is a natural death, a natural death in a small cell, watching your life waste away.

I can not think of anything more demoralizing, more painful, than to sit in a cell and come to the realization that life as a permanent condition is nothing more than an illusion. That there will be no escape and your existence is nothing more to sit in a solitary cell and watch your body waste away, to count the seconds, to never know when the death will come. The diseases of age will sit in, the ravages of cancers, strokes, heart attacks. To me, that is punishment, that is an eye for an eye.

And this brings me to my final convergence, but also the first one. Last April i was president of the Central Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and at our annual banquet we honored one of Florida’s most respected trial judges and death penalty experts, the Honorable O.H. Eaton. I suspect that few people understand the true value of life and death as he does.

But he said something very simple, that I think I would adopt as my approach when the day comes I am in the penalty phase of a death penalty trial. He told me that the fundamental thing lawyers fail to make jurors understand is that – Life means Life.

Specifically, there is no parole in Florida anymore. If someone is not sentenced to death – or more aptly, to die early at the state’s hands; they will instead spend the rest of their natural existences in a prison, a maximum security prison, for their entire life until God decides it is time for them to die – until God has determined that they have suffered enough.

And to even the most conservative juror, I think that would be true punishment…

Author: Richard Hornsby

Orlando, Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer and DUI Attorney Richard Hornsby is Board Certified in Criminal Trial Law by the Florida Bar and represents clients throughout Central Florida in all criminal defense and DUI defense cases.

6 thoughts on “Denying the Certainty of Death…”

  1. Glad I saw this one! Wow, that was something but I don’t agree. (sorry) Eye for an eye to me is that person suffering.. wondering when they’re last click has clocked. Some people actually do good in jail.. they “thrive” there and why? Because they are bottom feeders. They feed off other low lifes and live happier lives than they did on the outside. Not to mention.. who foots the bill? They enjoy (yes enjoy) 3 hots, a cot and better heatlh care than I have. So where is the justice in that? The ‘God’ issue.. well, we won’t go there. There wouldn’t be dead raped babies.. just my opinion… like I said, let’s leave ‘God’ out of it. I came here tonight after seeing Pipitone’s sit down with “the girls” lol.. where was Baez? I think they could have used him tonight. Which brings me to my question Mr. Hornsby, Why are “the girls” all of a sudden making this “personal?” maybe even desperate? I heard ‘alot’ and in alot I mean, 100 times more than we HAVE heard of Poor Casey.. poor casey.. her LIFE.. her poor baby.. flesh, blood, tears, fright, wow all these emotions at once. It didn’t work for me AT ALL. I think I may have actually lost some respect here tonight for “the girls.” Maybe it had to do with listening to Lyons in her seminar.. the same one you attended? She under estimates the public and I felt insulted my intelligence but I’m from Texas where we hang em high. I was OUTRAGED when baby grace, aka, riley sawyer killers were not killed. I am holding out for cell justice. So what do YOU think about the sudden change? Too sudden? I think so but wanted your opinion. Thanks and I will bookmark and try to return to see if you got this. Oh and I wanted to say this.. the only way I think I could possibly feel a hint of emotions for casey (without her coming clean) would be to see her crying, weeping to her parents about being scared and unsure in her attorneys. to see her show ANY emotions for her child would be a start but would she have to fake it? So far the only time I have seen her emotional was for Casey. Sorry I had to drop that in! Thanks! Respectfully, Sheri

  2. @Sheri
    Sheri, I has not watched the WKMG piece until I read your post and did so specifically so I could answer your question, so here goes.

    I actually thought that this was their best interview ever. If you actually listen to what Ms. Lyon says; she is more concerned with insuring that Ms. Anthony’s case is fully investigated and litigated.

    It seemed clear to me that she thinks a poor job was done prior to her entry into the case and she si playing catch up. I did not hear Ms. Lyon say anything over-the-top or outlandish.

    If anything I think she was very cautious and careful with her comments. She was not overy confident like Baez has been in the past. Rather it was clear her concern was being overly cautious for her client and doing everything right.

    As for Ms. Baden, she does not impress me and I think she is a hanger-on that Ms. Lyon has to deal with because she is already in place. Unless this case ends up in Broward county or Miami-Dade county, her New York state of mind will become a new york pain in Casey Anthony’s rear.

    But all in all I think the interview was very good – if anything, it signified a shift in authority for the Casey Anthony defense team. It looks like Ms. Lyon is slowly giving Baez and Baden lesser roles – which is what Casey Anthony needs.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. The Death Penalty Phase..

    I am in a agreement with most you said on this particular subject. I could not sit on a Death Penalty Case.
    I know in the case of Casey Anthony, it seems that some have become so consumed with the Death Penalty that I am not sure if they are going to be OK/happy if the Jury’s punishment is Life in Jail without the possibility of Parole.
    I am a firm believer that Justice will be served if Casey never gets to get out of jail, if she spends every day of her waking life behind bars, that is Justice for me, but for some it seems the only way justice is served fully is for her to receive the Death Penalty.
    I want Life to mean just that, Life.
    No possibility of Parole down the road, no free trip home just because one gets terminally ill while incarcerated. Why did our laws get so empty, meaningless. To say one gets life in Jail, then to hear they can get parole in a few years seems to be very contradicting.
    Regarding the Seminar you went too, I will never be able to understand how an Atty views the Jurors as killers, when the one they are defending have killed another human being. I can not understand that whole way of thinking, as to kill someone you have placed yourself in that situation where others get to decide your fate. You loose your rights, you can loose your life. For an Atty to view the Jurors as the one’s that get to decide one’s fate is one thing, but to even think of any of the Jurors as killers is a bit off. One should always go to the core of the issue, and that is ” If your client chooses to kill another human being” they are not a part of the norm” and they should not be allowed to roam the streets, and yes sometimes the Jury will choose death over life in Jail.

    Look at your client with open and honest eyes, if they are the killers, then that is that.. “They are the Killers”. As a Defense Attorney defend them as best as one can, while up holding the Highest Integrity… that is what makes one a Good respected Attorney, and even better, it makes one a Good and Respected Human being.

    all above is in my Opinion..

  4. sherilynn..
    Oh my gosh!!!! It has been way way way tooo long..So good to see you.. I will message you in few days.. Hope all is well with you.. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving..
    I had a gut feeling that was you..
    check you messages in a few .. ((((((((( ))))))))))))

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