The Real Facts of Capital Cases

This post, The Real Facts of Capital Cases,  by Kent Scheidegger, first appeared on  at

Marcos Bretón has this column in the Sacramento Bee on yesterday’s atrocity.
Personally, I would join in the cheering of Newsom if I weren’t haunted by the heinous details of unspeakable crimes committed by some of the men spared by Newsom’s pen and his flair for the dramatic.
Justice Thurgood Marshall famously claimed that if only the American people knew the truth about capital punishment they would overwhelmingly oppose it. Bretón believes the information deficit runs the other direction.
But in 1996, Michael Lyons was murdered at the age of 8. And honestly, Lyons wasn’t just murdered. To call what happened to Michael Lyons in a wooded area near Yuba City a murder is a misuse of the word. In truth, Michael Lyons was abducted, ravaged and tortured. His killer – an already convicted, violent sex offender named Robert Boyd Rhoades – did things to him that I cannot write here because they are too horrific.

The last time I wrote about Michael Lyons in 2012, I had long debates with my editors about what we could and could not share. My argument was this: That we in the media sanitize the crimes involving death row inmates by strictly hewing to industry norms of “good taste.”

And by sanitizing these crimes, we give the public a distorted picture of death row inmates. To hear Gov. Newsom talk on Wednesday, one might have thought that death row was populated by men who could be played by Denzel Washington or Bradley Cooper in a movie.

I especially like this passage, which follows a description of the crimes against Michael Lyons that is as graphic as the Bee would let him print:
That’s not even the worst of it. But when I gave a talk to a community group a few days after these words were published, an older woman approached me as I was leaving and scolded me for publishing such graphic details. They were “offensive,” she said.

I wanted to scream at her, “Offensive? Yeah, they are very offensive. That is the point.”

At times in my long tenure here at CJLF, I have hired law students or recent graduates who had been soaked in the pro-criminal bird bath of law school and had serious qualms about arguing in favor of capital sentences. The cure was to assign them a few cases where they had to learn the real facts, not the sanitized little blurbs we so often see. The reservations melted away as quickly as a pat of butter in a hot skillet.
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