Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Today is the start of the sentencing trial for John Couey, and while I have mixed feelings about the death penalty there are cases that really make me want to believe in it. The case in the news recently about the old lady that got mugged, is one of those cases. Anyone who would hurt a child or an elderly person it could be argued has no place in society, and more than that, they have no right to life. Maybe I could say on some points that I do not believe that people have the right to life, if the right to life that they have been given has been abused. Jessica Lunsford had a right to life, she had a right to be a happy little girl, and that right was taken away from her. How can we extended the right to life, to someone who has blatantly abused his right by taking away another's. The defense is going to argue that he is not mentally sound, and that is a reason that he should be saved. I find this to be an empty assumption on two counts. One he knew what he did was wrong, when the police came to the house after it happened, but before he was a suspect he fled out the back door. The second being that I have seen the tape of his interview with the police the first time he was taken in, he is mentally sound enough to lie, and to lie well to the police about his relationship with Jessica and where he was living at the time of the crime. Everything I have seen points to the fact, that he may have been abused as a child, and he may be slower than average, but it does not rise to the level that would lend itself to the court granting him mercy.
Of course I wonder also if this makes any difference. The state of Florida is not executing prisoners for the time being, and it is unclear when they will restart. Given that it will take time to go through the process the state has set up to examine the death penalty. Compounded by the wait that may take place between re-instating the death penalty and Couey's name coming up on the list. It is fair to say that even if he is served with a death sentence by the jury, he could spend years in jail and given his health and age might die in jail from other causes. Given a life sentence, may in the end serve much the same result. If he is placed in the general population, it will not be long before he is murdered.
The prosecution opened their case talking about the circumstances that make this a death penalty case. Saying that in some cases, the death penalty is just the right thing to do. Some of the circumstances are the nature of the crime and its premeditation.
The defense attempted to bring some compassion for Couey, who they say was not only mentally challenged but abused throughout his life. They are not attempting to argue that this is an excuse for the crime, they argue a punishment should be paid. They say that a life sentence would be punishment enough.
The prosecution put on the stand a teacher and a counselor from her school. They talked about the impact of the case on the school and the children and parents of the school. Many of the children they said were fearful after the crime, and the community was in shock that something like that could happen there.
The next witness is the medical examiner, who talks about Jessica being buried alive. He told the jury how someone would suffocate to death when they were buried alive.
The first witness for the defense, was via a video taped statement given earlier. Couey's uncle talks about how Couey was abused by his father and picked on by other children while growing up. One incident that has been discussed before, his step-father slamming Couey's head in the door is brought up. Another incident, Couey's step-father is said to almost have drowned young Couey in a fish pond. Couey's step-father has denied all charges of abuse.
Following witnesses were mostly experts presenting evidence that Couey was retarded. An IQ expert talked about how Couey's IQ scores are in the range of mental retardation. In fact a separate hearing will be held to see if Couey fits the states standards for retardation, and if he does he cannot be put to death. Another witness, a brain scan expert, talked about how Couey's brain was not properly functioning and that he had damage to the part of his brain that controlled sexual functions. A psychologist who testified earlier in the trial has returned and presented evidence that Couey is retarded, saying that across his testing history he has tried to cover up his mental illness, but a consistent stable mental condition has been shown. Couey's organic problems, and abuse problems were compounded by drug problems, a history of which is detailed through testimony.
The prosecution has come back at the defense witnesses by asking hard questions.Attorneys asked the brain scan expert, if someone could have the same brain injury and not kill someone, the answer was yes. Further the prosecution questions the stories of abuse, calling them at one point a family legend. When challenged on this point, the witness was asked if anyone had seen it, and the answer was no. The prosecution claims that many of the conditions that Couey is said to have, are not present in his health records, or his mental history. The prosecution then asked the psychologist, what was controlling Couey, when he raped and murdered Jessica Lunsford. The psychologist did not have an answer.
The final witness in court today was another video taped recording of a family member talking about Couey's history and how he was unsound. The witness, an aunt talks about when he was living with her, an incident when she woke up to find Couey on top of her trying take down her under pants. Couey was about ten years old when this took, place and his aunt attempted and failed to get him put into a psychiatric hospital.
The defense has rested its case, and the prosecution has a couple more witnesses left to bring to the stand. The case could go to the jury by Thursday. This really is going to hinge on who the jury thinks is the biggest victim in this case, Couey or Jessica. The prosecution has been focusing on the nature of the crime, and the defense has been focusing on the nature of Couey's life.