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Letters to the Editors

Public suffers too often from judicial arrogance

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000

Re: Tragic tale is replete with comic relief, June 19.

What is it with judges? They think they are above the law and can act as self-appointed gods!

This story reported on Edward Prado (I refuse to call him a judge and would not want him deciding my fate) and the song he played in his courtroom:

Imagine me as God, I do

I was appointed by the president

Appointed forever

My decisions cannot be questioned by you

I'm always right.

When you take this attitude and look at Mary Jo Melone's column on June 15 (In search of honor in the halls of justice), you get a very gloomy picture of the people who can change our lives on a whim.

Average people don't stand a chance if a judge takes a dislike to them. Heaven forbid that you don't dress to his standards or anger him in any way. Is it any wonder that all respect for authority is slowly being eroded? These are the same people who put repeat offenders back on the streets.

We need tighter standards and a better review commission to protect us from this holier-than-you attitude -- and a quicker way to remove them if they can't do the job. Each one should be as impartial as on his/her first day on the bench. If they can't treat every case as their first, then they should step down.
-- Nick Rougas, Clearwater

A clueless system

Despite the recent news of miscarriages of justice, many people still don't realize that the courts are not concerned with "truth."

A few years ago, I met a judicial candidate (endorsed by all the respectable groups) and I asked him if he was concerned about convicting innocent people. The conversation was surreal.

"How could an innocent person be convicted?" he asked. "If someone is convicted, they are guilty."

"No. I mean, what if a person who did not commit the crime is convicted?

"The jury said that that person did commit it," he replied.

In desperation I asked, "What if a person who God knows did not do the crime is convicted?"

In so many words, his reply was: "Huh?"

I don't know how many other judges actually do not believe in any reality outside of official reality, but this vignette does show why we can have a judicial system that is so clueless. Unlike medicine, which has autopsy and statistical analyses and a morbid obsession with past errors, the law is more concerned with "finality" and precedent and regards all errors as aberrations unworthy of analysis.

Until the law attains a professional level of awareness comparable to that of medicine, hundreds of thousands of people will continue to be convicted of crimes that they did not commit.
-- Gregory McColm, Tampa

Treat the mentally ill, don't execute them

Re: The execution of the mentally ill Thomas Provenzano.

Just think what it would mean in the long run if the money spent on execution went instead for treatment of the mentally ill. And what does the death penalty do for us? Ask what it does to us. Killing anyone by the state makes murderers of us all.
-- Margo Yazell, St. Petersburg

Executions aren't inhumane

Re: Executions show appalling lack of humanity, letter, June 15.

Why are people against the death penalty for criminals and silent when thousands of innocent young men are sent into war to kill other innocent people and be killed? Anyone on death row is done in with less pain than they caused their victims, so why is this inhumane?

If I am a murderer because the state got rid of Bennie Demps, I am proud to wear the label.
-- Perry Good, Port Richey

Let us not be killers, too

To kill another human being because that person has killed someone else does not even the score. It makes both sides killers equally.

Since our legal system is cumbersome as well as often faulty and biased, it now appears (through DNA and other means) that many innocent people may have been put to death. Even one innocent death is one too many. Can we afford this in an advanced Western culture? All of Europe has given up the death penalty. Might we not investigate the reasoning that prompted England, France, Italy, etc., to abolish the death penalty?

That often-quoted saying "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" comes from the Old Testament of the Bible, not the New Testament. Yes, society produces insane and vicious brutes who must be isolated from the rest of society. But isn't it our obligation to find better answers than to become killers ourselves?
-- Eleanor Carlson, St. Petersburg

Execute them swiftly

The death penalty is very fair and humane.

The death penalty is around to kill the 1,000 to 2,000 inhuman criminals and to keep the hundreds of thousands of regular law-abiding citizens safe from harm (known dangers).

The death penalty should be used more often when criminals are sentenced to death instead of letting them live (leech) on death row for 15 to 27 years. By letting them stay on death row, that shows all the wanna-be criminals that the justice system protects them instead of the victims and future victims.

Use the death penalty for first-degree murder, rape and pedophilia. Use the same judgment (death) regardless of race, gender or age. Children can now commit the same exact violent crimes as adults, including rape, child molestation and murder, which should carry the same consequences. Don't allow "the mentally ill" or "the disabled" to get special treatment either. In order to be fair and serve justice, everyone must be given the same judgment/punishment of death.

Yes, use DNA; yes, use all the best technology; yes, make sure they are guilty. And when they are found guilty, execute them swiftly.
-- Pamela M. Shear, St. Petersburg

A torturous execution

Re: The execution of Bennie Demps.

My definition of deceit is when words and actions do not match. I hope our elected representatives recognize that even the most bloodthirsty Floridian is not stupid enough to believe the political spin on the Demps' execution. A dying man screaming as inept executioners poke, stab, cut and bleed him for more than 30 minutes is torture -- pure and simple. It may not be as dramatic as a condemned man's head catching on fire as he is electrocuted, but it is definitely cruel and unusual. Obviously, lethal injection is not the softer, gentler way to end a life.

The Department of Corrections and Gov. Jeb Bush are spinning the state's version of the truth on Demps. The media do a fine job quoting every rotation of their political spin, while in the background, our governor and lap-dog Legislature attempt to discredit and disable the Florida Supreme Court, which is the only branch of government that might actually do something about botched executions. I don't see much reporting on this aspect of Bush's political agenda. Floridians should read between the lines and let the governor know that this ain't Texas.
-- Antonina Vaznelis, Spring Hill

Report both sides fairly and equally

Re: Study: Most death sentences flawed, June 12.

You ran a front-page story about a study critical of the death penalty. You gave it great prominence. I believe you also support repeal of the death penalty editorially. This is fine. Many people do, but even more people do not.

What I object to is the newspaper not just reporting the news but unfairly slanting the news. I am referring to the June 16 story buried on page 8B in which lawyers for Gov. Jeb Bush disputed the entire study as it applied to Florida and probably several other states (Lawyers slam study on death sentences).

Why wasn't this story given the same prominence as the first? Could it be because it differed with the newspaper's opinion? That's not fair and accurate reporting; that's using your editorial power to try to slant the news -- to bury on some obscure back page an article that differs with your opinion. When you do that, you lessen your credibility.

Come on. Please just report the news fairly and impartially. Your editorial opinion is out there for all to see. Just let the other side of the story be fairly and equally reported -- which, in this case, would mean front-page coverage, or at least a box on the front page directing readers to the story on page 1B.
-- J.C. Glutting, St. Petersburg

Errors make a weak argument

Re: Death penalty study shows system of errors, June 18.

Of the death sentences that were adjudicated over 23 years, "serious error" was found in 68 percent of the cases. So says a recent study. In fact, if you examine them determinately enough, you will find errors in 100 percent of all cases.

The anti-capital punishment claque thinks we should, therefore, end capital punishment, the unstated assumption being that it is better to awaken every morning of a prison sentence for years on end knowing you are innocent than to be executed knowing you are innocent. I'm sure sadists would agree.

But what about the possibility of new evidence, they reply, especially DNA evidence that might exonerate? The truth is that in the vast majority of cases there is no DNA evidence or additional evidence of any kind that will "prove" innocence.
And whether there are "serious errors" to anyone but lawyer types is another question. Notice, too, the study did not say all the errors involved the question of guilt or innocence.
If capital punishment is eliminated, the upshot will be that vicious and multiple killers who are guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt will get warm and dry quarters with three squares, medical and dental care and entertainment for the rest of their lives at taxpayers' expense. Meanwhile, their victims lie stone cold dead in their graves.
Francis J. Sullivan, St. Petersburg

Observations of bias

After reading your newspaper for the last month, I have reached two conclusions:

Gov. Jeb Bush needs to become a death row inmate in order to receive favorable press in your paper.

If you replace the word "Christian" with the word "Jew" on your editorial page, it reads like the Nazi newspapers of the early 1930s.

David S. Cook, St. Petersburg
Charity's return rate is cause for concern
Re: Some fear charity's gifts may be a danger,
June 17.
Although I would have some concern about the possible theft of cars because of miniature license plates on key chains, I have a greater concern over an organization that collects $400,000 in donations and spends $50,000, or 13 percent, on the six camps for troubled children. I would be curious to know how the 87 percent can be justified in expenses for a "non-profit group."
Betty Morgenstein, St. Pete Beach

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