Patterico's Pontifications

11/17/2009

More on Supreme Court Reversal of 9th Circuit on Death Penalty Case

Filed under: General — Jack Dunphy @ 10:06 pm

[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.

–Jack Dunphy

Ana Marie Cox: Here Is My Review of Sarah Palin’s Book, Which I Have Not Read

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:04 pm

I cannot claim to have completely read Ana Marie Cox’s entire review of Sarah Palin’s new book. I stopped cold when I read this line:

I cannot claim to have completely read “Going Rogue” — I had to skim the last 150 pages (or more than one-third). I only got the thing into my hands late Monday afternoon with a deadline of early evening.

I had to skim the rest of Cox’s five-paragraph “review.” Something about smoking, I think.

UPDATE: Unlike the “review,” the comments are worth reading. They absolutely savage Cox.

Yes, I Know My RSS Feed Is Jacked Up

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:57 pm

I have e-mailed the tech guy (who is really mostly a former tech guy helping me out when he can) and he has said he’ll look at it.

Sorry for the problem. We’ll see if we can get it fixed.

ACORN: We Turned Giles and O’Keefe Away in L.A.

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:50 pm

ACORN took the bait, and the L.A. Times dutifully reported it:

Said O’Keefe: “Although he did not kick us out, he was the only employee in our nationwide ACORN child prostitution investigation who would not assist us.”

[Updated at 10 p.m.: In an email, ACORN disputed O'Keefe's claim, saying that the filmmaker earlier had gone to an ACORN office on South Grand Avenue in L.A. with the scenario and was turned away.]

OK. I guess we’ll see.

They’ve lied before. I don’t know why they’d be telling the truth this time.

Is ACORN lying? I know which way I’d bet . . .

L.A. Times’s David Savage Neglects to Share Reinhardt Lies with His Readers

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 7:43 pm

This morning I wrote about how the Supreme Court caught Judge Stephen Reinhardt calling a lawyer’s presentation “substantial” in one opinion — and then, in a later opinion, calling that same presentation “insubstantial” . . . when characterizing it that way helped him reverse a death verdict.

The L.A. Times‘s David Savage wrote about the Supreme Court decision today. Do you think Savage mentioned Reinhardt’s curious little shift of phrasing?

If you guessed “no” you win the grand prize.

P.S. If you want to know where to go to claim your prize, then you probably think you deserve a medal for being able to eat your own breakfast. Real impressive feat, Sherlock. You figured out that the L.A. Times didn’t rat out a liberal judge! What, pray tell, was your first clue??

A Mississippi Court of Appeals Case

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:29 pm

Defendant kills cop. He moves for a change of venue, arguing that he can’t get a fair trial where the cop was killed, because the cop was the son of the police chief. He presents two affidavits from witnesses saying that “because there was a bias of the public to the facts of the case and there was ill will” toward the defendant, the defendant “could not receive a fair trial” in the county where he killed the cop.

Defendant successfully has the venue changed from County A to County B, which was a county suggested by the defendant.

Two months before trial, defendant seeks to move the trial back to County A. Turns out a lawyer in County B has told defendant’s lawyers that “it was doubtful that an impartial jury could be impaneled” in County B.

The court, apparently believing it lacked authority to send the case back to County A (where the affidavits had claimed the populace was biased against defendant), instead moves the trial to County C. Defendant makes no complaint about the case being moved to County C — until he is convicted, at which point he raises the change of venue issue.

The defendant raises many other issues in the appeal, all of which are soundly rejected by the court of appeals. But the court reverses based on the change of venue, saying that the defendant had a right to be tried where the crime happened, absent some justification offered by the trial court. And the trial court did not expressly say that he did not want to return the case to County A because he didn’t think defendant could get a fair trial there.

Judgment: reversed for new trial.

That is the essence of an opinion I read today (.pdf) from the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

A de facto member of the defense team is pleased — because, he says, pretty much everyone in County A now knows about this case, and opinions are split along racial lines. So, it’s looking like a hang at worst.

AP: Don’t Worry About Those Terror Trials

Filed under: Law,Obama,Terrorism — DRJ @ 5:13 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The AP reassures Americans not to worry about the Obama Administration’s civilian terror cases because Zacarias Moussaoui’s case went so well:

“Zacarias Moussaoui was a clown who could not keep his mouth shut, according to his old al-Qaida boss, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But Moussaoui was surprisingly tame when tried for the 9/11 attacks – never turning the courtroom into the circus of anti-U.S. tirades that some fear Mohammed will create at his trial in New York.

And that wasn’t the only surprise during Moussaoui’s six-week 2006 sentencing trial here – a proceeding that might foreshadow how the upcoming 9/11 trial in New York will go.

Skeptics who feared prosecutors would be hamstrung by how much evidence was secret were stunned at the enormous amount of classified data that was scrubbed, under pressure from the judge, into a public version acceptable to both sides.

Prosecutors were surprised when they failed to get the death penalty – by the vote of one juror.

No one was more surprised than Moussaoui himself: At the end he concluded an al-Qaida member like him could get a fair trial in a U.S. court.”

The AP cautions us not to expect a speedy trial because Moussaoui’s case “churned through years of pretrial hearings and appeals” before he plead guilty in 2005. During that time, his behavior wasn’t quite so tame:

“During the long run-up to trial, Moussaoui’s abusive tirades in handwritten motions and outbursts in hearings created concerns the jury trial would devolve into chaos. Brinkema threatened to lock him in a separate room watching by video if he tried that.

Mindful of that threat, Moussaoui sat quietly at his separate table flanked by deputy marshals. On the few occasions he was called upon to speak, Brinkema kept him tightly on topic.

His theatrics were confined to one-liners – like “Victory for Moussaoui! God curse you all!” – that he tossed off to spectators as he left the courtroom after the jury departed for lunch or the day.”

So don’t worry, Americans. After all, what can go wrong?

– DRJ

PS — Don’t worry about the attorneys either. They can’t all be like Lynne Stewart:

“A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered a disbarred civil rights lawyer convicted in a terrorism case to go to prison and said a judge must consider whether her sentence of a little more than two years behind bars was too lenient.

Lynne Stewart, 70, has been free on appeal since she was sentenced in 2006. The three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its nearly 200-page ruling almost two years after hearing arguments in the case.

Stewart was sentenced to two years and four months in prison after she was found guilty of passing messages between her client, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, and senior members of an Egyptian-based terrorist organization.”

PPS — The AP article understates the chaos of the lengthy Moussaoui proceedings. Read this Wiki page to get an idea of the circus it really was.

Stimulus Statistics (Updated x2)

Filed under: Government,Obama — DRJ @ 4:55 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

Recovery.gov lists jobs “saved or created” by the Obama Administration’s stimulus plan in Congressional districts that don’t exist:

Here’s a stimulus success story: In Arizona’s 15th congressional district, 30 jobs have been saved or created with just $761,420 in federal stimulus spending. At least that’s what the Web site set up by the Obama administration to track the $787 billion stimulus says.

There’s one problem, though: There is no 15th congressional district in Arizona; the state has only eight districts.

And ABC News has found many more entries for projects like this in places that are incorrectly identified.”

The Obama Administration cites human error, saying it can only report what it’s told:

“Some recipients clearly don’t know what congressional district they live in, so they appear to be just throwing in any number. We expected all along that recipients would make mistakes on their congressional districts, on jobs numbers, on award amounts, and so on. Human beings make mistakes,” [Communications Director Ed] Pound said.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Democratic Congressman David Obey says it’s outrageous and the Obama Administration should “work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes.”

– DRJ

UPDATE: It’s been 24 hours and it’s still not fixed. Yee-haw!

UPDATE 2: The Washington Examiner has a map of inflated job numbers. It currently shows “75,343 bogus jobs ‘created or saved’ by the Stimulus.”

2010: Alarm bells for Dems from Arkansas

Filed under: General — Karl @ 1:44 pm

[Posted by Karl]

Rep. Vic Snyder (D) has had it pretty easy in Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District since his election in 1996. In this century, he has generally won re-election by roughly 15% margins. He ran unopposed in 2008. The Cook Political Report has considered it a “Tier 2″ district leaning Democratic.

According to Public Policy Polling (PPP) — a Democratic firm — those days are over:

Snyder’s approval rating is now 42%, with 46% of voters in the district disapproving of him. He’s at a solid 75% in his own party but with independents the spread is 30/56 and with Republicans it’s just 12/75.

A lot of Snyder’s issues can probably be traced to overall feelings about his party. 54% of voters in the district disapprove of the job Congressional Democrats are doing, 52% disapprove of Barack Obama’s job performance, and 50% express the feeling that Congressional Democrats are too liberal. Additionally 55% of voters say they’re opposed to the health care bill the House passed last week with Snyder’s support, including 91% of Republicans and 67% of independents. Snyder seems to be bearing the brunt of a lot of animosity toward national Democrats in his district.

The practical implication of all this is that the district looks like a toss up for next year. In possible 2010 match ups Snyder leads Tim Griffin 44-43, Scott Wallace 44-42, and David Meeks 45-42. Those close margins come despite the fact that none of the Republican candidates are well known- 67% of voters have no opinion about Griffin, 75% say the same of Wallace, and 78% are ambivalent toward Meeks.

The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman sniffs that the poll “confirms what we already knew: Obama radioactive in AR.” But PPP chose AR-2 as a “test case for whether the political climate is so bad for Dems right now that districts that haven’t been in the top tier of competitiveness for years might be in play, and it looks like the answer is yes.” Moreover, PPP’s description of the internals further deflates the lefty theory that that the GOP brand is so damaged that the 2010 Congressional campaign will not end as badly for the Dems as the 1994 campaign:

Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District is a good example of this. 16% of voters there don’t like the Democrats or the Republicans. But they give all three of Democratic Congressman Vic Snyder’s potential opponents leads of 37-40 points and they give the possible Blanche Lincoln foes we tested leads of 42-43 points.

There are very few people who dislike Congressional Democrats planning to vote for them this year anyway. But there are a fair number of people who dislike Congressional Republicans who are still planning to give them a chance.

It’s not just Arkansas, either. PPP’s analysis of the Independent vote in Virginia an New Jersey suggested that bloc had two components: (1) conservative voters voters who don’t call themselves Republican; and (2) true swing voters, who may be looking for a division of power. Voters do not have to love the GOP to love gridlock. Vic Snyder didn’t hear the alarm bells from those two states. He — and other Dems in swing districts — might want to start listening to them ringing now.

–Karl

Reinhardt Reversed 9-0 on Death Case; Supreme Court Catches Him Dissembling

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:51 am

As far as I am aware, liberal 9th Circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt has still never upheld a single death verdict in almost 30 years on the bench. The Supreme Court yesterday reversed Reinhardt 9-0, and as Orin Kerr reported, it was the third reversal in the same case:

The basic dynamic of Ninth Circuit “liberal lion” Stephen Reinhardt overturning a death sentence in a habeas case – and then the U.S. Supreme Court reversing Reinhardt — happens so often that it normally would not merit comment. But here’s a slight twist: Today the Supreme Court reversed Reinhardt for the third time in the same case, that of Fernando Belmontes, Jr.

The best part is the way Reinhardt’s opinions about the evidence changed from one appeal to the next. This is evident from the following quote from yesterday’s opinion:

On remand from this Court, the Court of Appeals—addressing Belmontes’ ineffective assistance claim for the first time—changed its view of this evidence. Instead of finding Schick’s mitigation case “substantial,” as it previously had, Belmontes, 350 F. 3d, at 907, the Ninth Circuit this time around labeled it “cursory,” Belmontes, 529 F. 3d, at 841, 861, n. 14, 866. Compare also Belmontes, 350 F. 3d, at 874, 901, 907 (labeling the mitigation evidence Schick presented “substantial”), with Belmontes, 529 F. 3d, at 847, n. 3, 874 (labeling the same evidence “insubstantial”).

Reinhardt wrote both opinions.

What accounts for this difference? In the earlier opinion, finding ineffective assistance of counsel had not been necessary to reverse the case — so it was OK to describe counsel’s efforts as “substantial.” The second Reinhardt needed to argue that counsel had been ineffective, the “substantial evidence” all of a sudden became “insubstantial” and “cursory.”

That’s how you do it when you are bound and determined never to uphold a death sentence. You say what you want to say, and the truth can pretty much go to hell.

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