STORY: "America's Deadliest Prosecutors" by Robert J. Smith, published by 'Slate' on May 14, 2015; (Robert J. Smith is a senior fellow at Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute and a visiting scholar at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.)
SUB-heading; "The last stubborn, bloodthirsty devotees of the death penalty."
GIST: “I think we need to kill more people,” Dale Cox, a prosecutor in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, said recently. He was responding to questions about the release of Glenn Ford, a man with Stage 4 lung cancer who spent nearly three decades on death row for a crime he did not commit. Cox acknowledged that the execution of an innocent person would be a “horrible injustice.” Still, he maintained of the death penalty: “We need it more now than ever.” Cox means what he says. He has personally secured half of the death sentences in Louisiana since 2010. Cox recently secured a death sentence against a father convicted of killing his infant son, despite the medical examiner’s uncertainty that the death was a homicide. Rather than exercising caution in the face of doubt, Cox told the jury that, when it comes to a person who harms a child, Jesus demands his disciples kill the abuser by placing a millstone around his neck and throwing him into the sea. The nation suffered more than 10,000 homicides last year, yet only 72 people received death sentences—the lowest number in the modern era of capital punishment. The numbers have been steadily declining for the better part of a decade. Most states are abandoning the practice in droves. Even in states that continue its use, capital prosecutions are being pursued in only a few isolated counties. What distinguishes these counties from neighbors that have mostly abolished the death penalty, in fact if not in law? Perhaps the biggest factor is the presence of a handful of disproportionately deadly prosecutors who represent the last, desperate gasps of a deeply flawed punishment regime. Most of their colleagues are wisely turning away from a practice that has revealed itself to be ineffective at deterring crime, obscenely expensive, inequitably administered, and not infrequently imposed upon the innocent. But America’s deadliest prosecutors continue to pursue death sentences with abandon, mitigating circumstances and flaws in the system be damned..........Not surprisingly, death sentences drop precipitously after these prosecutors leave office. ........These drops underscore the degree to which prosecutors such as Dale Cox, Jeannette Gallagher, Juan Martinez, and Bernie de la Rionda are out of step with the times. Twenty years ago, when support for capital punishment was at an all-time high, these prosecutors often touted their death sentences proudly, like medals of honor to display to a receptive public. Today the electorate is in a decidedly different mood. The curtain has been pulled back not just on our nation’s deeply flawed application of the death penalty, but on broad swaths of the justice system. These prosecutors increasingly look irresponsible and reckless, wasteful of precious public resources, and decidedly lacking the humility or judgment required of public officials entrusted with life-and-death decisions. We can only hope that, unwittingly, their inability to temper their own bloodthirsty impulses will further illuminate the ugly truth about capital punishment, and hasten its demise once and for all."