On August 28, jurors in the Michael King trial in Sarasota, Florida found King guilty of raping and killing 21-year old mother, Denise Amber Lee. Here is a photo of Lee’s father, Rick Goff, listening to the last 911 call Denise managed to make, in which she was recorded begging for her life. It’s worth remembering that the families were forced to sit through all the courtroom games the defense played while trying to get King off on a technicality. Which technicality? Any and all of them, of course.
Immediately following the jury’s conviction, the sentencing hearings began. King’s lawyers set out to argue that a childhood sledding accident rendered him incompetent, a mitigating factor the jurors would have to weight against his crimes — if it was true.
Before the trial, King’s lawyers had attempted to have King declared incompetent. Then, during the trial, he stumbled around acting catatonic, putting on a show. At one point, the judge stopped the trial and ordered him evaluated — again. The judge was probably trying to prevent grounds for later appeals, and King was found to be competent.
But here is a troubling thing: even though King was found competent, the fact that the judge requested the test, instead of King’s own attorneys requesting it, is also grounds for appeal. His lawyers didn’t request the test themselves, at that very moment, though they made the case for incompetence at other moments, so King can claim that he had insufficient counsel.
Get it? If the judge hadn’t ordered the test, the absence of the test could trigger an appeal, and because the judge did order the test, then that’s grounds for appeal.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: the justice system is crippled by the power of the defense bar.
Likewise, one of the arguments they were allowed to make against a death sentence is the fact that King wasn’t drinking or using drugs. But if he had been drinking or using drugs, that could be a mitigating factor, too.
So the man in the picture above is not done re-living his daughter’s horrific death: he is now facing ten or twenty more years of sitting in courtrooms, watching the lawyers play games on behalf of her killer.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune slipped into advocacy for the killer at several points in their coverage of the King trial, but it was their story choice during the sentencing phase that really crosses a line.
Two days after the jury returned a guilty verdict, when they were about to begin deliberating sentencing, the Trib published an article implying that the jurors might have nightmares and psychological problems if they voted for death. Of course, the reporter quoted so-called academic experts (actually, academic anti-death penalty activists), who claimed to have conducted objective research:
Studies by professors and other death penalty experts suggest that some jurors lose sleep, some have nightmares and many keep the experience shielded from their closest family and friends.
Well, of course they do. Being forced to confront a murderer’s actions and autopsy photos is also disturbing. Knowing that the man you have just sentenced to death is about to become a media darling and cause célébre for the next twenty years probably causes some compunction, as does being accused of everything from bad faith to bloodthirstiness to vengefulness to racism, which are things that get said every day in courtrooms and classrooms and the news about jurors who vote for death. Oh, and religious impropriety, also:
One lesson central to the many faiths is to hate the sin but forgive the sinner. So even if jurors find the defendant a monster, it can be difficult to choose death.
the Tribune reporter scolds.
In a news story.
Is it the death penalty, or the murder, or the false accusations of bias that actually keep jurors awake at night? Is there “research” measuring that? You certainly won’t get a straight answer from the Capitol Jury Project, consulted here and described as an objective research group studying “why people make the decision they make, how they interact with other people making the same decision and whether it affects their lives.”
Actually, the Capitol Jury Project is one of many anti-death penalty groups that use public tax dollars to manufacture research designed exclusively to overturn death penalty laws. The project’s director, William J. Bowers, is indeed an academician, but he calls the death penalty “Legal Homicide,” works as an “activist in the trenches,” and testifies in courtrooms that jurors are incapable of comprehending or fairly applying the law. If I was a juror, I would not let them interview me for one of their many studies seeking (and inevitably, finding) bias or incompetence or heartlessness in jurors.
Or post-traumatic stress disorder, as the Tribune implies. Of course, the reporter didn’t seek the otherwise journalistically de rigeur “opposing view” offered by death penalty supporters, who observe that jurors often experience pride and satisfaction in helping see justice done by sending killers to death row.
That viewpoint just isn’t newsworthy, you see. And wouldn’t it be inappropriate to raise such a subject on the eve of the sentencing deliberations?
Tomorrow: Coming Down on the Jurors, and Turning Michael Smith into Society’s Victim