Thursday, March 1, 2012

Overcharge much?

In Alabama, a grandmother made her 9 year-old granddaughter run for three hours, while holding weights and without water. This was to punish the girl for eating chocolate, which she wasn't supposed to eat because of a medical condition. The girl died and while officially autopsy results are still pending, dehydration seems a pretty likely cause of death. Despite being a bleeding heart liberal defense attorney, I don't object to this woman being prosecuted. For child abuse. Maybe child endangerment. Maybe even some kind of involuntary manslaughter. I know what Kansas charges might fit, but I don't know the ins and outs of Alabama state law, so I'll defer to those prosecutors when they decide to charge her with...

capital murder???


I'm almost at a loss for words. But, of course, with me that never lasts very long. Though I do have to say one more "WTF?" before moving into my rant. Is this prosecutor serious? Is this prosecutor seriously interested in pursuing the death penalty here? Is this prosecutor seriously interested in expending hundreds of thousands of dollars on all of the things that go along with a capital murder charge? The jury questionnaires and lengthy jury selection. The longer trial. The mitigation investigation the defense has to do. Is this prosecutor seriously wanting to take this case down that road?

And how is something like this possibly capital murder anyway? I'm used to thinking of capital murder being a case of intentional killing. That's what's required in Kansas. But under Alabama statutes, it sure looks like a person could face the death penalty for recklessly causing someone's death "under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life." Wow. Again, I don't really know what to say to that. Seems a tad over the top to execute a grandmother for overzealous punishment. Yes, it was way, way overzealous. Mean. Awful. Cruel. Criminal, even. But punishable by death? It's unfathomable to me that people think that way. I hope I will never understand that level of bloodlust.

Surely this case won't really proceed as a death penalty case. Surely this is just bravado by the prosecutor right now. Surely reason will prevail. Right?


Burt Likko said...

Now, see, this is what I was talking about in my comment a few days ago. Capital punishment, if it is to be used at all, should be reserved for the worst of the worst. People who intentionally torture their victims to death, stuff like that.

Grandma here, she was negligent. Yes, she should have known that that much physical activity, under those conditions, was dangerous. There's a whole constellation of appropriate sorts of things to charge her with. She's not a monster.

I don't even see malice aforethought, which if I remember law school correctly was the element that distinguished murder from manslaughter.

But what do I know? I'm just a guy slogging his way through civil cases.

S said...

At the VERY least, it should be reserved for people who actually intend to kill people!

I was pretty horrified to see the Alabama statutes seem to allow the death penalty for this. I need to do more research, though, to see if they ever actually have sentenced someone to death for this kind of depraved indifference.

Heck, in my state, I don't think I'd even charge her with our version of depraved indifference. I'd stop at the much lower involuntary manslaughter at most.

Rob Osterman said...

TV Chair Lawyer thoughts....

Set the qualifying condition for Capital Murder at "Intentionally and without reservation cause the death of another."

So, we have this 9 year old, running around, I presume some kind of laps, like around the block or around the property. Or with Grandma chasing her. I just can't see this kid running in a straight line for 3 hours. So that means that while she ran, Grandma had to see what was happening.

So let's assume, for the sake of argument that Grandma had 3 interactions over the 3 hours with the girl as she ran, without water. That means 3 times she had to see this girl, dying of dehydration. She watched the girl run herself to death, over a 3 hour period. About as long as it took the Titanic to Sink.

Should she but put to death for this? I can't say. But I think about the idea of ~watching~ someone slowly die of dehydration and I think that the prosecutor's outrage isn't totally in left field.

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