[Guest post by Jack Dunphy]
Our host posted earlier (here and here) on Wong v. Belmontes, in which a unanimous Supreme Court overturned — for the third time — the 9th Circuit and upheld a death sentence imposed on Fernando Belmontes, who in 1981 murdered a woman in her home then sold her stereo for drug money. Yesterday on NRO’s The Corner, I addressed an aspect of the case I suspect most people, whatever their views on the death penalty, would find troubling, to wit, that the majority on the appellate panel had concluded that the Belmontes’s victim, Steacy McConnell, had not experienced “needless suffering” as she was beaten to death with a dumbbell. The Supreme Court disagreed:
We agree with the state court’s characterization of the murder, and simply cannot comprehend the assertion by the Court of Appeals that this case did not involve “needless suffering.” The jury saw autopsy photographs showing Steacy McConnell’s mangled head, her skull crushed by 15 to 20 blows from a steel dumbbell bar the jury found to have been wielded by Belmontes. McConnell’s corpse showed numerous “defensive bruises and contusions on . . . [her] hands, arms, and feet,” . . . which “plainly evidenced a desperate struggle for life at [Belmontes’] hands.” Belmontes left McConnell to die, but officers found her still fighting for her life before ultimately succumbing to the injuries caused by the blows from Belmontes. The jury also heard that this savage murder was committed solely to prevent interference with a burglary that netted Belmontes $100 he used to buy beer and drugs for the night. McConnell suffered, and it was clearly needless.
So zealous in their campaign against the death penalty were the majority on this 9th Circuit panel that they were willing to minimize the horrific death Belmontes inflicted on his helpless victim. Let death penalty opponents make their arguments, but not at the expense of the truth. Shame on those who would claim Steacy McConnell did not suffer needlessly.