October 22, 2007

1992 Quintuple Murder Death Sentence Overturned, When All That Should Matter Is ‘Did He Do It?’

Filed under: Scams,Taxes & Government,Wide Open — Tom @ 10:28 am

Will This Now Be One of The ABA’s “Problems” with the Death Penalty?


Yet another death-penalty case appears to be lost, thanks to successful defendant brinksmanship (bolds are mine):

In 1992, Cincinnati homicide detectives David Feldhaus and Harry Frisby faced William Garner, a man who broke into an English Woods apartment, stole electronic equipment, then set the home on fire to cover his tracks.

Five children died in the fire.

Only a 13-year-old escaped, dropping from a second-story window as a wall of fire flared across his bedroom doorway.

….. Garner confessed, was convicted on five charges of aggravated murder and sentenced to death.

Now, 15 years later, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Garner’s Garner’s request for further judicial consideration of his conviction.

The court determined Garner didn’t understand his Miranda rights and reversed the conviction. The 2-1 decision released last month found Garner was poorly educated and borderline mentally retarded.

The court ordered Garner be retried or released.

At issue is not only if police read defendants the Miranda warning, but whether they make sure the suspects understand them.

Police and prosecutors are puzzled how they are supposed to do that.

….. (Assistant Hamilton County Prosecutor Gerald) Krumpelbeck called Garner a “street-smart kid” who was no stranger to the criminal justice system and the Miranda process. He also noted Garner was deemed competent to go to trial and that there were no insanity issues.

“Garner understood his rights,” Krumpelbeck said.

Don’t miss the video of the reactions of the victims’ surviving family members at the link (warning: hanky alert).

Coolidge notes that Garner was Mirandized by the book.

The idea that William Garner was at all mentally handicapped is breathtakingly (pun intended) absurd. The bolded items show intelligence and flexibility skillfully applied towards an unspeakably evil purpose, along with nerves of steel and shocking ruthlessness:

Hours before the fire, Garner slipped into University Hospital, looking for an easy mark. There, he found (apartment unit residents Marshandra) Jackson and Addie Mack, who had fallen and hurt her wrist.

Garner snatched up Mack’s purse when she wasn’t looking, stealing money and her apartment keys.

He took a taxi to the English Woods apartment, telling the driver to wait while he retrieved his belongings. He carted out electronic equipment, at one point waking up one of the children.

Garner spun a tale about her mother sending him to check everyone and sent her back to bed with a glass of water.

Before leaving, Garner set three fires in the apartment.

Then, he grabbed the phone and smoke detectors and left, Krumpelbeck said.

In late September, an American Bar Association-sponsored Ohio Death Penalty Assessment Team claimed to have found serious problems in how the death penalty is administered in the state:

Ohio’s death penalty system is so flawed it should be immediately suspended while the state conducts a thorough review of its fairness and accuracy, a team of lawyers concluded in a study released Monday.

The system is full of racial and geographic imbalances, too many defendants don’t get adequate legal help and too many protections of offenders’ rights are absent from the capital punishment process, according to a 30-month review of Ohio’s death penalty system by the American Bar Association.

The review said Ohio met only four of 93 ABA recommendations to ensure a fair death penalty system. The ABA team asked Gov. Ted Strickland to halt executions to allow a review of the system.

At the time, the ABA report was also blogged on by fellow Wide Open blogger Jeff, who supports what he claims would be a “temporary suspension.”

If the Garner case now becomes an example of one the ABA team would consider somehow “tainted,” that study should be burned on the figurative embers of that English Woods apartment. It inappropriately places perfect legal procedure above the facts and circumstances of the crime. Did the ABA team even attempt to determine if there was any kind of real doubt about the defendants’ guilt in any of the cases they reviewed? Did they not care?

In capital cases, I care about the legal nuances only after I get the answer to this question: Did he or she really do it? If yes, and without a doubt, as with Garner, all the legal maneuvering and posturing in the world doesn’t change the fact that there is nothing wrong with the verdict — or with carrying out the consequences of that verdict. It may be (but not in this case) that those who didn’t “follow procedure” may deserve discipline — but that has no impact on whether or not the capital crime was committed.

The Enquirer story has a troubling, but unfortunately not surprising, sidebar:

How Judges Karen Nelson Moore, Boyce L. Martin and John M. Rogers split isn’t surprising.

An Enquirer analysis done earlier this year of six years of death penalty decisions by 6th Circuit judges showed the 14 justices consistently voted along partisan lines.

Judges appointed by Republican presidents voted to deny inmate appeals 85 percent of the time, and judges appointed by Democrats voted to grant at least some portion of those appeals 75 percent of the time.

Moore and Martin were appointed by Democratic presidents and Rogers by a Republican.

It seems pretty clear which party criminals like William Garner who want to game the system to its fullest extent should favor. All-knowing, all-seeing Judges Moore and Martin need to tell the victims’ survivors how they can be so sure that Garner suffered such an incredible brain drain in the short time between the crime and his apprehension.

Cross-posted at Wide Open.



  1. There is definitely some mental retardation involved in this case but not by the murderer. Retarded judges are in abundance in the United States.

    Comment by Scrapiron — October 22, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  2. Now Bizzy…forgive me for not being as snarky or pointed as I normally am towards you. Because I actually am interested in trying to have an impact on your opinion on this one.

    By the account posted here, it certainly sounds like Garner should fry on the merits of what he did. Let’s just assume this guy is guilty as sin, and both you and I, GOPer and DEM, generally support having the strong arm of the law whack him vicious.

    However, there’s a policy question here. Shouldn’t there be recourse against the police when they violate someone’s Miranda rights (of course, allegedly)? I mean, regardless of whether you support Miranda procedures or not, they’re in place…and until they’re overruled, we need to make sure they’re enforced.

    So how do you get the cops to enforce Miranda if they know courts will uphold confessions and evidence obtained in violation of Miranda protocol? As far as I know, there’s only two widely accepted avenues for the courts to go down to officially discipline cops…a 1983 action for civil damages by party whose liberty has been violated by the action (Garner in this case), or suppress the evidence and confession on constitutional grounds.

    A 1983 action doesn’t quite do the trick in most Miranda situations. Courts are hesitant to impose large fines that actually adjust behavior because they can be debilitating to police departments and community safety. Also, people are often willing to violate constitutional provisions if they know they can get away with it with just a fine. Finally, the folks that would bring a 1983 action are the same folks being prosecuted, and they’re already in jail (most likely focussing on an appeal), so there’s little incentive for them to bring suit in civil courts that aren’t going to get them released. So in the grand scheme of things, 1983 actions in Garner’s case are pretty worthless and have little impact on police behavior..

    And that leaves suppression of evidence and statements…the same action you’re railing against in this post. Like I said, Garner sounds like he deserves the chair. But unfortunately, court procedure affects not just Garner’s case, but all cases. Are the liberty interests of all citizens greater than this conviction? Probably.

    Now, I’m not addressing the other big issue you raised in your post…whether police officers need to ensure folks subjectively understand their rights. That’s a whole different can of worms… one that you can probably rightfully critique. I just hate to see knee jerk reactions in general against constitutional protections.

    Carry on.

    Comment by Jerid — October 22, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

  3. Moore and Martin should be removed from the bench and disbarred.

    Comment by largebill — October 22, 2007 @ 5:31 pm

  4. Jerid, on the policy question, which is a good one:

    - The cops in this case were applying the law 15 years ago based on standards in place 15 years ago. Punishing them retroactively based on a court’s (IMO flawed) review of the case seems out of bounds.

    - The punishment for wayward cops would have nothing to do with money. If they really do deliberately break the Miranda protocol, they should be prosecuted criminally, not civilly (that is just a lottery game), unless that breach causes an incorrect verdict and the falsely convicted perp to do time he should not have done. If the person really did the deed, the fact that he was not properly Mirandized is NOT a reason to turn him loose, but STILL a reason to go after the cop criminally.

    - Garner’s liberty has NOT been violated. He is right where he should be — in jail. Hopefully he will ultimately end up in the chair. I am relatively sparing in who belongs in the chair, but he is one of them.

    - The liberty interests of all those wrongfully convicted as a result of police misconduct such as improper Miranda, evidence suppression, etc. are affected. Garner’s is not. You can apply the results of a police error that nevertheless does not change Garner’s guilt to situations where it would affect someone’s guilt. I don’t see the conceptual difficulty of that, nor should the legal system, and I do not see how taking that approach jeopardizes constitutional protections.

    Comment by TBlumer — October 22, 2007 @ 7:30 pm

  5. “However, there’s a policy question here. Shouldn’t there be recourse against the police when they violate someone’s Miranda rights (of course, allegedly)? I mean, regardless of whether you support Miranda procedures or not, they’re in place “and until they’re overruled, we need to make sure they’re enforced….And that leaves suppression of evidence and statements.”

    It is tough to know a bad guy got off. But I’d rather some bad guys get off some, then have District Attorney Nifong abuse such as in the case with the Duke Lacrosse players.

    A good reply to Jerid though. In general, I’d tolerate some cases being over-turned on technicalities in order to keep a check on govt power as held by the police and prosecutors. But changing the Miranda rules 15 years later? And to new rules that are so vague as to create lots of new problems?

    So my simple solution is to reduce the attention and time on Death Penalty appeals by having a “Life Sentence” really be a permanent life sentence, no probation.

    An interesting post, and good discussion comments.

    Comment by Cornfed — October 22, 2007 @ 10:09 pm

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