January 29, 2010

"I am infinitely sorry that I killed Ralph Ablanedo... I stole from you and the world the precious and irreplaceable life of a good man."

David Lee Powell's apology for a murder that took place in 1978 comes on the eve of his execution.
Ablanedo had pulled over Powell's girlfriend, Sheila Meinert, near downtown Austin for not having a rear license tag. Powell, who was wanted at the time for misdemeanor theft and for passing more than 100 bad checks in Austin, was riding in the car.
Evidence showed Ablanedo was walking toward the vehicle when he was shot through the back window with the AK-47 in semiautomatic mode. The fallen officer tried to get up and Powell opened fire again, switching the weapon to full automatic mode.
Powell and Meinert were arrested at a nearby apartment complex parking lot following a shootout with other officers. Meinert later testified that Powell gave her a grenade and told her to remove tape from it. She said she became hysterical and shoved it back to him.
Officers testified that Powell threw it and started running away. The grenade was found about 10 feet from a police car but failed to explode because a safety clip hadn't been removed.
How can it take so long to carry out the death penalty? Powell has been tried — and sentenced to death — 3 times. He recently failed in an attempt to get a 4th trial. (You can read the case here: PDF.)


The Drill SGT said...

How can it take so long to carry out the death penalty? Powell has been tried — and sentenced to death — 3 times.

In Texas, no less, after killing a police officer with an AK47?

I would have thought this guy would have been dead long ago.

Jury problems?
Incompetant Counsel?

perhaps Beldar will show up and give us the scoop.

Skyler said...

Why so long? It's a good question. It wouldn't cost so much if they didn't delay it so.

With DNA science we should be executing more people and quicker than ever because of the lack of doubt.

Florida said...

How can it take so long to carry out the death penalty?

Because his first trial was unfair (had to be, or he wouldn't have gotten a second one). And then because his second trial was unfair (had to be, or he wouldn't have gotten a third one). His third trial was fair (one presumes, because a fourth one hasn't been ordered - yet).

There's no disincentive for defendants and their lawyers to lie to the court. Powell had maintained his innocence ... until now, but his lawyers knew he was guilty ... yet they continued to "demand justice."

When lawyers are sanctioned for bringing frivolous claims to the bar, then the wheels of justice will spin faster. But since most of the legislators are lawyers ... won't happen.

I'm certainly not demanding one week between sentence and execution. There are too many prosecutors who commmit misconduct to allow that.

But certainly there is middle ground to be found between one week and 30 years.

Doesn't matter, though. Any time a rabid dog is put down society is improved. And this guy got to spend 30 years locked up - hopefully as somebody's bitch.

So, maybe there's a special kind of justice after all.

This guy got 30 years ... and the death penalty.


AllenS said...

Just wait until Khalid Shaikh Mohammed starts his appeal process.

Pogo said...

"How can it take so long to carry out the death penalty? "

Primarily because the law and lawyers are in large part opposed to the death penalty, even when it is the law.

It's exactly how Obama plans to get around the SCOTUS ruling he derided.

Florida said...

"With DNA science we should be executing more people and quicker than ever because of the lack of doubt."

DNA isn't the absolute proof you seem to think it is. The injustice of DNA evidence is that people believe it is incontrovertable.

It is not.

And up until recently, judges would routinely deny defendants the right to cross-examine lab technicians testifying against them, for example. The right to cross-examine your accusers - a fundamental legal principle in America - is only recently being enforced by courts.

They complained it would make trials take too long. No ... seriously. That's what they claimed. Fking unbelievable.

Samples can be tainted. Blood can be planted. Lab technicians are low-paid technicians mostly, who make plenty of mistakes. Prosecutors do commit misconduct - all the time. (Remember the Duke Rape Case?)

So, just because some DNA exists ... doesn't prove guilt.

Florida said...

"Just wait until Khalid Shaikh Mohammed starts his appeal process."

He won't ever be tried.

Obama is lying to you ... just like he lied when he said he would close Gitmo.

Just like he lied when he said he would oppose the health care reform act's "individual mandate."

Just like he lied to union members when he said he would oppose Cadillac taxes.

Obama is a serial liar.

I've made a small fortune betting my friends that Obama will do the exact opposite of whatever he announces. Just recently collected mucho dinero on the Gitmo deadline passing without the prison closing.

If he says it, you can take it to the bank that he's lying about it.

So, he says he'll try KSM in New York.

Won't. Ever. Happen.

AllenS said...

Just wait until Khalid Shaikh Mohammed starts his appeal process. Which will be argued in New York City.

Oligonicella said...

Because there's always one or more people who feel sorry for the bastards and try to ensure they won't be executed as they should be.

Richard Fagin said...

Because opponents of the death penalty, some for honest reasons and others for not so honest reasons, have made it impracticable to administer. They can't get it outlawed, so the goal is to erect as many roadblocks as possible.

MadisonMan said...

Why'd it take so long?

I'll guess 'cause he is white.

muddimo said...

It took so long because judges and legislators do not care enough to make it otherwise. Do not blame lawyers. Lawyers work within a framework.

Bob_R said...

I think that the death can be used as a just penalty, but I don't think that our justice system does so. This is another bit of evidence for that conclusion. The public grants the state a monopoly on administering penalties. If it wants to keep that monopoly it needs to ensure (among other things, some more important) that penalties are not seen as capricious. Even in states that use the death penalty relatively often like Texas and Virginia the administration of the death penalty seems to me far too random. We've had a couple of prominent local murders in SW VA, and I've never been sure who was going to get the death penalty. If it really is to the point that we execute murderers whose lawyers are in the "sweet spot" of badness that doesn't get the case overturned but doesn't keep the needle out of the client's arm, than I'm not sure the death penalty is worth the trouble.

Larry J said...

Back in early 1988, I was in Sunnyvale, CA. One morning, I visited a Lockheed facility for some training. That afternoon, a man named Richard Farley entered a building across the street and went on a mass murder spree. Farley was captured after a short standoff, tried and sentenced to death in 1992. Not only is Farley still alive, but the first round of his appeals didn't take place until April of last year. It could easily take another 10 years for his case to exhaust all of the appeals.

If there ever was a case where there is absolutely no doubt about a convicted murderer's guilt, this is it. And almost 22 years after he killed all of those people, it may take another 10 years for his sentence to be carried out, if then. It's a freaking monstrocity and the legal/judicial systems should be ashamed. Does the phrase, "justice delayed is justice denied" mean anything anymore?

Chris said...

Powell is a bit of an outlier so probably not the best example to use in a polemic against the glacial pace of capital punishment cases.

bagoh20 said...

"How can it take so long to carry out the death penalty?"

Some people have rapid onset Stockholm Syndrome at the drop of a hat.

The time the execution took was 30 years of additional punishment for the family of the victim. If you ever have a family member murdered you really understand the meaning of "Justice delayed is justice denied."

When my brother's murderer finally died of natural causes after being released from prison after serving 20 years. My mother and I both cried with joy and relief. It was impossible to forget or get over it until then. 20 years of suffering and prison expense to accomplish what? He committed additional crimes when he was released on parole once. There is no excuse for having all the trappings of trial and justice and then after utilizing it all and coming to a guilty verdict to then let pure emotion decide to ignore all that effort and not carry out the sentance.

I understand in cases of possible innocence, but often there is no doubt, and a ridiculous bit of theater is played out while victims suffer. It's a game played by lawyers, who of all professions, seem the least interested in reducing the negative effects of their values and work.

Richard Dolan said...

"How can it take so long to carry out the death penalty?"

It's an odd rhetorical question, since Althouse knows the complicated answer better than almost anyone.

As with other issues on which the courts have given themselves the power to decide divisive policy issues, we are always only an appointment or two away from a decision effectively abolishing the death penalty. That ruling could come in many guises -- new procedural rules, the exquisite parsing of jury instructions, jury selection/'death qualification' standards, proportionality requirements, etc. Everyone involved in litigating these cases knows that. Because the constitutional standards applied in these cases are open-ended and vague (to say the least) notions derived from Equal Protection/Due Process clauses, and have no other textual basis (and thus no textual limitation), it just becomes a matter of the inventiveness of counsel in framing Equal Protection/Due Process arguments and the willingness of judges to adopt them.

The history of 'death penalty' jurisprudence in state and federal courts since Gregg v. Georgia shows how that cycle has played out over time, as the membership of courts of last resort change. Once the game begins, however, there is no way to end it (short of a constitutional amendment, that is).

Peter V. Bella said...

How can it take so long to carry out the death penalty?

Forever. Look at Wesley Cook- aka Mumia Abu Jamal.

I wonder how long it will take to make Powell an international celebrity victim like Cook.

He will have to change his name first. Something catchy like Maliki Tiki or something.

Chris said...

Richard Dolan nails it.

Larry J said...

Powell is a bit of an outlier so probably not the best example to use in a polemic against the glacial pace of capital punishment cases.

He may be an outlier in Texas but the article mention there are 5 other men who've been on Death Row in Texas longer than Powell. He certainly isn't an outlier nationally.

wv: blessemi, blessemi mucho!

Jim said...

The Bobby Greenlease killers were executed 90 days after they killed little Bobby Greenlease in 1953.


Unfortunately, we have left this to the lawyers. If we put some 6-sigma quality engineers on the job, then we could have greater confidence that we were only executing guilty persons, at a lower cost, and in less time.

Oh, and another thing, this lethal injection: Get a DVM to put down the convicted. I've never had a pet put down where I wasn't present and they weren't peaceful. Why do we need an MD when they are ethically against it and DVM's obviously aren't?

Chip Ahoy said...

I do not know the answer to this troubling question. Here, let me ponder it, say, for thirty years or so.

Wait! A conclusive thought intruded. Here's your answer: that is the death -- a slow and lingering nagging closeness to death until finally at long last WHAM, the dragged-out desultory death is conclusively over.

traditionalguy said...

Pogo...Most lawyers are in favor of the death penalty...just not for our client. The SCOTUS keeps opening up newer and better glimmers of hope in the latest death penalty challenges, and that re-opens all of the Appeal delays with a chain of new appeals and execution stayed until the SCOTUS rules. This dude was so guilty that the only issue must have been his mental state at the time. Tell the Congress to fobid the use of the defense by mental capacity of the accused, and enact a Constitutional amendment if necessary, and most delays will disappear in the clearly guilty cases.

Chris said...

@Larry J, My bad. I thought I read that he was the longest on death row in Texas. Mea culpa and all that jazz.

Chris said...

I'm pro death penalty for certain crimes but I still think the system is pretty fucked up. First thing. Get it out of the hands of prosecutors. I know it is hard to give up that kind of leverage but so be it. Let the death penalty be a jury decision separate from the determination of guilt. Second, decide what crimes deserve the possibility of the death penalty and write them down specifically. No more special circumstances. Keep it simple.

Sigivald said...

I'm shocked, actually.

For once, I think perhaps the first time since I started looking, a weapon identified as an AK-47 in a press report of a crime in the US really was an honest-to-god AK-47.

traditionalguy said...

Chris...your ideas are the current system. The jury decides the issue of death penalty in the separate trial and is restricted to what Aggravated crimes they can give that penalty for. Lawyers advice:" shoot him once and it is Life, but empty the gun and it is Death."

Chris said...

@TG, not exactly. I always hear about the prosecutors seeking the death penalty. Take it out of their hands. I may be naive but I think there should be a list of crimes that can be dealt with using the death penalty. If first degree murder bugs you drop it down to killing a cop or killing someone after being convicted of a felony or killing someone in jail or whatever. Once you open up aggravated crimes you (a) create a political agenda where people keep adding and subtracting aggravations and (b) you give appellate courts a ton of room to remand or overturn. Keep it simple and let the jury decide.

Scott said...

Capital punishment is turning into a make-work program for the judicial system.

If he had been sentenced to life in prison without parole, I bet he wouldn't have gone through three trials. And the thousands of hours that lawyers and other light-workers in the courts could have been used for other purposes.

Penny said...

Two years ago, New Jersey was the first state to abolish the death penalty after that ability was restored in 1976 by the Supreme Court.

Although the majority of the state's people supported the death penalty, abolition easily passed due to one overriding reason...Money.

It cost the state $72,602 per year for each prisoner on death row. Inmates kept in the general population cost $40,121 per year. It was estimated that repeal could save the state as much as $1.3 million per inmate over his lifetime, not including the millions spent by public defenders on inmates' appeals.

chuquito said...

To put this in perspective. I was born in 1979. I am now 30 years old. This dude committed a heinous, cold-blooded murder a year before I was born and is just now receiving his just desserts.

Gabriel Hanna said...

I think it is unfair that opponents of capital punishment have erected expensive procedural roadblocks that make capital punishment extremely expensive and time-consuming; then say that the capital punishment is ineffective because it is extremely expensive and time-consuming. This is not an argument in good faith. Some lawyers argue that the long wait between sentence and exectuion, produced by these very same lawyers, is in itself "cruel and unusual".

My sister used to work for a state Capital Defender. It was mostly staffed by anti-capital punishment absolutists--no matter what disgusting thing the man was guilty of or how clear his guilt, they regarding him as a martyr as soon as he was facing capital punishment.

The people who oppose capital punishment do so absolutely. Try asking one--if there was a way to get 100 percent - epsilon proof of guilt, and the process of execution 100% - epsilon pain-free, and cost the state a nickel, they would still oppose capital punishment.

I don't know whether capital punishment deters other people from committing the same crime, I suspect it really doesn't--there were times in history when it was applied to theft of property in excess of a shilling or something like that, and those times and much higher crime rates.

But in our time we have the problem of recidivism--a guy robs a convenience store, shoots the clerk, goes to prison, comes out, does it again. The majority of violent crimes are committed by people who have committed them before. No executed criminal has ever repeated his crime.

And violent criminals do commit crimes again, in prison against guards and other inmates, and out of prison. The Mexican Mafia is RUN from prison.

As for irreversability, prison time is also irreversible--see also the Amirault day care case which the Scott Brown election brought up again. Executing an innocent man and sending an innocent man to prison for twenty years before releasing him again is a difference in kind, not a difference in degree.

Gabriel Hanna said...


While the Mexican Mafia was founded in part to show reverence to Aztec and Maya heritage, its primary focus was to protect members against other prison inmates as well as corrections officers.[9] Deuel Vocational Institution was treated as an educational facility by convicts, where they would develop their skills in fighting, drug dealing, and creating weapons.[9]

Luis Flores initially recruited violent members to the gang, in an attempt to create a highly-feared organization which could control the black market activities of the Deuel prison facilities.[11] As a response to the increase in violence, the California Department of Corrections transferred some members of the Mexican Mafia to other prison facilities, including San Quentin Prison. This action inadvertently helped the Mexican Mafia in recruiting new members in both the prison and juvenile correctional facilities in California....

Members and associates of the gang remain fiercely loyal to the criminal organization both in and outside of prison, particularly in Southern California cities such as Los Angeles and San Diego. The gang asserts its influence over other gangs throughout Southern California by threatening violence against their members should they ever become incarcerated. Gangs and drug dealers who refuse to pay a protection "tax" to the Mexican Mafia are often murdered or threatened with murder. High-ranking members of the Mexican Mafia who are locked in private cells for 23 hours of each day are still able to communicate with their associates, through methods which range from tapping in code on prison plumbing pipes to smuggled letters.

But better a thousand innocent men die at the hands of murderers, than one guilty man be executed.