[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----worldwide
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Mar 19 17:47:27 CST 2005
DEATH ROW FOE:
A lawyer tells Shaunagh O'Connor why he is fighting a crusade in print
against the death penalty in the United States.
Richard North Patterson, a lawyer himself, blames "lousy lawyers" for many
Richard North Patterson is horrified that during the trial of prisoners on
death row in the U.S., their lawyers have been found drunk, drugged or
The U.S. lawyer-turned-author, says one of the greatest causes of death
for these prisoners is having "a really lousy lawyer".
Patterson is known for his novels about the faults of the U.S. political
and justice systems. This time around, he takes on the death penalty - and
it's not difficult to determine that he is against it.
His latest novel, Conviction, is about Rennell Price, an African-American
inmate on death row. Poor and of low intelligence,Price's profile is
typical of those condemned to die. He's charged with the sexual abuse and
murder of an 11-year-old Vietnamese girl whose body was found in San
We are introduced to Price and his lawyers as they enter the last 59 days
in which they can appeal his case. Lawyer, Teresa Paget believes Price is
innocent and taking the rap for someone else. She leads the charge to have
his death sentence commuted.
"Imagine if someone said to you, 'You're going to have a stroke in 59 days
and you're going to die'," North Patterson says. "The mercy for most of us
about our death is that we don't know when it is going to happen. Those on
death row know to the day, to the hour.
"Imagine if the ritual were that you were going to be given your last meal
and a few hours later you would be killed. The whole atmosphere around you
changes because you are a dead man walking, to coin a phrase.
"A couple of days before the execution they stop visits to inmates for a
while to keep things calm, and you know all this." North Patterson writes
of a convoluted justice system designed "to facilitate executions rather
It is a system under which, based on DNA evidence, 117 people have been
A 40-year-old inmate interviewed by North Patterson was charged with
murder during a robbery that went wrong.
He was 18 at the time. His guilt is in question, yet he has been on death
row for 22 years.
"The length of time he has been on death row is not because he has
brilliant lawyers," North Patterson says.
"Typically it takes 10 years in the state of California to hear the appeal
of someone on death row. It's sheer bureaucracy."
The lawyers falling asleep at the trials of poverty-stricken prisoners are
hardly the brightest graduates Harvard has produced. And their fees are a
fraction of those earned by lawyers in high-profile cases.
"In some cases, in southern states, the entire fee for defending a capital
case is $500," North Patterson says."That was my hourly charge about 10
years ago when I was a lawyer."
North Patterson, who spent 17 years mainly defending and prosecuting
casesof large-scale financial fraud, has a colleague who "is one of the
best death-penalty lawyers in America" and is exhausted after each case,
sleeps for days, then gets up to do it all again.
"A death-penalty case consumes the lawyer's life," North Patterson says.
"You have a limited amount of time in which to find new evidence, or
evidence that shows why, if they are going to be found guilty, they should
not be put to death."
The author, who has written novels in the past on political campaigning
and gun control, divides his time between Martha's Vineyard on America's
east coast and San Francisco on the west, having the best of both worlds:
an ocean retreat and a home in the heart of a bustling city. He has 5
children aged 10 to 33 with his former wife.
Would he still be against capital punishment if one of his children were
to become the victim of a violent crime?
"I have thought about that because I have a 10-year-old son, and of course
I would be horrified, angry and want reprisal," he says. "But would that
reaction justify the system I have described that is geared towards
carrying out executions?
"I also wonder, at the end of the day, would the hole in my heart from the
loss of a child be eased by an execution?"
(source: Herald Sun, Australia)
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