December 10, 2005


John Cole has this story of a man who thought his house was being invaded by burglers, defended himself and his family, and now has been sentenced to death.

Wind Rider has sent a letter to the Mississippi governor, asking him to take a fresh look at a man who has been sentenced to death for shooting a police officer. The mention of that kind of crime alone is generally enough to have someone put to death in this state and quickly. However, in this case it would be a mistake. In fact, charges never should have been brought in the first place.

To begin with, the police were executing a no-knock raid in the middle of the night and did not identify themselves upon entering the residence. By itself, this is a profoundly stupid policy. A man with no prior criminal record is woken in the middle of the night as people crash through his door and he has a wife and child, as well as a duty to protect them. He acts on that duty only to find out that the person he shot was a cop.

Given that they didnít identify themselves, they must bear most of the blame in this situation. When someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night any reasonable person would assume they are criminals until told otherwise. Charges should have never been brought and the state should have reconsidered the wisdom of doing these kinds of home entries.

To make matters worse, the police broke into the wrong house. The man was living in a duplex and they broke into the wrong half of it. With the hysteria around the case ó usually justified when a police officer is killed ó itís highly unlikely that any reasoned thought was brought to bear in reaching this verdict. I hope Wind Rider is successful in his appeal to Governor Barbour.

Posted by binky at December 10, 2005 07:25 PM | TrackBack | Posted to The Ever Shrinking Constitution


Sounds like he shouldn't even have been charged, much less convicted and sentenced.

Posted by: JohnN at December 11, 2005 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

And that the police department is engaged in some seriously stupid actions. It's important enough to get a "no knock" warrant and they can't even take the time to find the right house?

So that baby is leaving you time for blogging still?

Posted by: binky at December 11, 2005 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

*almost speechless*

I'm going to come back to this in a day or three and make some comments. As a liberal, a gun owner, and someone who doesn't particularly trust authority anyway, I'm having a hard time not writing a five or six page rant.

Posted by: StealthBadger at December 11, 2005 01:11 PM | PERMALINK

I saw something on this saying that this was Cory Maye's version of the story, and that the police say they did knock, so that's probably how a jury would convict him. I agree that a no-knock warrant where the police don't identify themselves is a pretty assonine idea.

Posted by: Morris at December 12, 2005 12:44 AM | PERMALINK

They still got the wrong house (or, half a house). I think it is reasonable that any law abiding citizen who has someone storming in for no reason in the middle of the night is going to think he or she is under attack and move to defend him or herself. Hell, if there is a good reason for the cops to be in there people might react and defend. This is one of the reasons I am against - for me, personally - having guns in the house. In the midst of confusion, unless one is a trained special forces hardass who can wake instantly with iron reflexes, chances are poor that the gun is going to help the situation. My brother, on the other hand, has several guns, and sleeps with one within reach, maintaining that "if you have to shoot 'em, make sure they fall inside the house" (or at least did, before Florida made its shoot 'em anywhere law).

Back to the original point, the police really screwed up by invading the wrong house. I see your point that the guy sould have asked questions first and shot later, but I don't agree with you that in the middle of the night in the rush to protect his home and family, that it would have been the natural course of events. From what I have read, it sounds like everyone should have treated it as a grave and tragic mistake on the part of both the police and the homeowner. That the guy is sentenced to death for such a mistake is obscence, as John Cole said.

By the way this thing is exploding all over the Right and Left. Some focus on the issue of race and others don't, but given the history to the application of the death penalty in the south (I think I've linked to Radelet and others before on discusions) it's hard not to wonder about how race plays into the death penalty decision. Capital murder? Very hard to see the justification.

UPDATE: Even more from The Agitator and Battlepanda on the L v R response.

Posted by: binky at December 12, 2005 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

If you follow this through to the Balko (Agitator) post to which Cole cites, you find two things that interest me (without the record and a full write-up from a source with clear legal savvy, I'm hesitant to expound on the larger issues):

1) First of all, the jury heard testimony that the police had announced themselves prior to entering the bedroom. Love it or hate it, that's enough, under the law, to permit a jury to find first-degree murder under the facts of this case. It falls to juries to sort out conflicting testimony, and under all but the most unusual of circumstances, jury determinations (explicit or implicit (those ascribed to the jury to explain a general verdict)) of fact are beyond the reach of trial and appellate courts.

2) If, as Balko claims, one or more post-trial attorneys have failed to file timely appeals (or any at all, as is suggested), the United States Supreme Court almost certainly -- especially in a capital case -- find this ineffectiveness per se, and send it back either for new trial or for the consideration of a proper appeal on the merits. So as to this assertion, something seems rather fishy.

I'm no friend to the death penalty, and I'm no friend to no-knock warrants, but I suppose I'm a bit too close to all this to freak out or take non-lawyers' indignation overly seriously. The case, plainly, is tragic. But that doesn't mean it's legally suspect.

Posted by: moon at December 12, 2005 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

And Moon, you will note that the thrust of my comment was that before it got to the point of a capital murder trial, saner heads should have prevailed. Or, correct my lack of legal knowledge, is the bringing of capital charges automatic?

Posted by: binky at December 12, 2005 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

it's not supposed to be. in most if not all jurisdictions, the prosecution must provide pre-trial notice of its intent to bring the death penalty. merely bringing a murder-one charge in these jurisdictions is insufficient to properly inform the court and the defense.

that said, there's one pennsylvania jurisdiction that i know of in which the DA is on record as indicating that wherever an argument can be made that the death penalty is appropriate, said DA expects the ADA's to do so, bar none.

which is, in my view, not cool, as it necessarily encompasses cases like the one addressed in this thread.

Posted by: moon at December 12, 2005 01:51 PM | PERMALINK
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