The Cautionary Instruction: Pursuing the monster — Fury or bluster

Friday, 17 May 2013 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

20130517wap gosnell 150This week, Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies authorities said were born alive before having their spinal cord snipped with scissors.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams called the case "arguably the most gruesome" he's seen. "I will not mince words, Kermit Gosnell is a monster.

Last week, three young women were rescued from a Cleveland home after being held captive for nearly ten years by Ariel Castro. The women were allegedly sexually assaulted, physically abused, tortured and at least one woman was beaten and starved in order to terminate multiple pregnancies.

"The first thing I said was, 'I knew it, I knew it,' " Fernando Colon, Castro’s neighbor, told the Los Angeles Times, "He's a monster. He's the opposite of what people thought he was."

These guys aren’t just criminals, they’re monsters -- no punishment is adequate -- extermination is the only recourse…right?

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty said his office will decide whether to bring aggravated murder charges against Castro, punishable by death in connection with the pregnancies that were terminated by force.

"Capital punishment must be reserved for those crimes that are truly the worst examples of human conduct," he said. "The reality is we still have brutal criminals in our midst who have no respect for the rule of law or human life."

Are these public declarations seeking the ultimate punishment just bluster?

This week, only days after Gosnell’s conviction, he was sentenced to three consecutive life prison terms without parole for each murder in exchange for waiving his appeal rights.

Can we expect the same thing down the road for Castro?

Nobody has ever been prosecuted [in] a full-fledged death penalty case based on pregnancy termination all the way through,” said Douglas Berman, a law professor law at Ohio State University.

Cuyahoga County has a history of using the death penalty as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations?

McGinty’s predecessor Bill Mason pursued dozens of offenders on capital charges each year. From 2009 to 2011, Cuyahoga County indicted 135 defendants on charges that could result in a death sentence. Only two of those offenders were sent to death row.

Hamilton County, home to Cincinnati, has sent the most inmates to Ohio's death row -- 61 over 30 years -- though the county has indicted fewer than 200 people on aggravated murder in three decades. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said in an interview last year, "To use the death penalty to force a plea bargain, I think it's unethical to do that."

When Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation last year to abolish the death penalty, prosecutors lamented the loss of an effective crime fighting tool. Although conceding that the death penalty should not be used as a bargaining chip, Illinois prosecutor Eric Weis said, “Most people fear death more than life; and most, when facing that, will take a second look.”

(Image: Dr. Kermit Gosnell in an undated photo released by the Philadelphia District Attorney's office. Associated Press)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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