Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Quintero Verdict

As you probably know by now, Juan Leonardo Quintero was sentenced to life in prison today for the murder of decorated Houston Police Officer Rodney Johnson.

I will not criticize the decision of the jury, because I wasn't there, and I don't know what they saw or what did or did not factor into their decision.

That being said, I think the decision is a travesty.

I believe that whenever a person thinks of what the ultimate police officer should be, that they need only to look to the example set by Officer Johnson. A veteran police officer who had stayed in the patrol division like Officer Johnson did is clearly an officer who likes being out and interacting with his community and doing everything in his power to improve it. The stories of his bravery, dedication, and kindness resonated throughout the trial and the media's coverage of it.

To put it mildly, the term "a credit to the Force" doesn't seem to have even scratched the surface in describing this fine man.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of good and evil, we had Quintero.

A convicted sex-offender and previously deported felon who, after shooting Officer Johnson multiple times in the back and head, called the dying hero a "nigger" in his final moments.

The jury had two questions to answers in deciding his fate.

The first was whether or not Quintero would be a continuing threat to society. The jury answered that he would.

The second was whether or not there was evidence that was sufficiently mitigating that would warrant a life sentence be imposed, rather than death. This question is commonly referred to as the "safety valve" question. If a juror finds any reason from the evidence that life is more appropriate than death, they only have to answer "yes", and Life it is. The Quintero jury did not reach a unanimous verdict on this, rather they reached a 10-2 verdict that the answer was yes. That was all that was required by law.

Where the jury found mitigation is beyond me. Quintero was raised in a strict household where none of the other children had turned out to be cop killers, and his "insanity" defense had been rejected during the guilt/innocence phase.

Playing arm-chair quarterback, I think the jury just didn't want to give a death sentence to someone.

Because God knows that if anyone deserved to die for his crime, it was Juan Quintero.

The District Attorney's Office was represented by three of the best prosecutors in the building: Lyn McClellan, John Jordan, and Denise Bradley. If they couldn't secure the death penalty against this monster, then nobody could.

What I fear is that today's verdict is more reflective of the changing attitude of our society, specifically in Harris County, Texas. When voices are more vocal in support of a child molester/cop killer than they are for one of the most honorable peace officers to ever hold a badge, what does that say about the shift in our values?

Have we really gotten to a place where victims of crime, and advocates of victims of crime can be shouted down by those who argue that it is the law (not to mention those who enforce it) which is barbaric, rather than the criminal? Do we really want to celebrate that somewhere Danalynn Recer is toasting her great success today, while the Johnson family is left to wonder what it was that made this crime somehow less deserving of the ultimate punishment?

Susan Johnson, Officer Johnson's sister, said that in prison, Quintero would most likely join one of the prison gang's and be a celebrated member by virtue of the fact that he killed a cop. I fear that her statement is nauseatingly accurate.

Tonight, my heart goes out to the family and the memory of Rodney Johnson. I have so much admiration and awe of the job that Peace Officers of Harris County do every day.

No single officer seems to have embodied those qualities which I look up to more than Officer Johnson.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

All of us in law enforcement respect the verdict of the jury, but judging by the Chronicle's message boards, many citizens and law enforcement disagree with this verdict of life.

I agree with the prosecutor's argument on the issue of future dangerousness...what could be more dangerous than a cop killer, who kills a cop while locked in the back seat of the patrol car.

I am in a quandrty as to mitigation evidence. I also disagree with Bennett in his analysis that it was fine lawyering by Racer and Lane that saved the killer's life. My guess is that it was a compromise verdict, split on the issue of insanity. But that's just a guess.

At times like these, I feel like the two old sheriff's in No Country for Old Men, I just don't know what to think about what made those jurors give life.

I hope that Officer Johnson's widow gets a large judgement from the defendant's employer. Meanwhile, while the killer is celebrated in prison as a cop killer, he'll be able to see his relatives every visitation day, while Officer Johnson's family only has his memory to console them.

Where the hell is the justice in that? I pray for Officer Johnson's family.

Tex

jigmeister said...

I know that Denise, John, and Lynn feel badly, particularly for the family and the law enforcement community. They shouldn't. Knowing them, they did all that could be done and once you have done all you can do, have no regrets and this guy will never experience freedom again in his life. Job done.

Al K. Holic said...

Piece of crap defendant, meet pieces of crap jury members--life it is then.

Fresno Bob said...

Two other things to consider. Life without parole as an option also makes it harder to secure a death sentence. Also, with all the bad media coverage about how "the system is broken", I would imagine that might make the jury more cautious.

This is tragic. Officer Johnson's family is in my prayers.

Brew95 said...

Could the judge have issued a directed verdict and over ruled the jury in this case?

Ron in Houston said...

I don't know that I'd call society not punishing on an eye for an eye basis a travesty.

In this case things worked as they should. You had good prosecutors and good defense lawyers. The result is simply justice.

We can let our emotions get the best of us or be philosophical about the ethics of the death penalty; however, in this case the result is the result of a system that we established.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

AHCL, you write: "God knows that if anyone deserved to die for his crime, it was Juan Quintero."

It's one thing to put words in Pay Lykos' or Clarence Bradford's mouth, but try to refrain from assumning, please, that you know the mind of God!

Also, how can you say you'll "not criticize the decision of the jury," then in the next breath declare the sentence a "travesty"? How is that not criticizing?

I think part of the failure to secure the death penalty may lie in the attitudes in DA's office, demonstrated when you speak of "scoring" the death penalty as though the trial were some kind of game. It's NOT a game, and the jury knew that, even if the lawyers don't behave like it.

Ron nailed the situation with this comment: "... things worked as they should. You had good prosecutors and good defense lawyers. The result is simply justice."

The reason Danalynn Recer started the GRACE center was because she'd worked for years on death penalty appeals and found that ineffective lawyering up front was a prime reason Harris County has so many death sentences. This case shows her analysis may be right.

Finally, in my view, LWOP is a harsher sentence than death, actually. Everyone dies but not everybody spends their whole life in a cage. The jury's verdict hardly "supports" Quintero, as you bizarrely claim. It punishes him, quite harshly, for the rest of his born days.

Michael said...

AHCL:

"I will not criticize the decision of the jury.... That being said, I think the decision is a travesty."

Well, which is it? Calling the decision a travesty sounds like criticism to me.

"Because God knows that if anyone deserved to die for his crime, it was Juan Quintero."

What does this say about your assumption that God does know who deserves to die for his crimes? Are you saying the jury violated God's wishes by not sentencing Quintero to death? What is your answer to the myriad Christian faiths (to say nothing of the other religions) that believe God commands it is always wrong for a man to kill another man?

"What I fear is that today's verdict is more reflective of the changing attitude of our society, specifically in Harris County, Texas."

Why is it fearful that the justice system is reflecting the values of society? Isn't that what a jury is supposed to do? I don't see anyone rooting for Mr. Quintero, who I think is barbaric, but I don't think we should answer barbarism with barbarism.

Finally, like Grits, I wonder why everyone is so sure that death is a penalty. Why do you think getting the needle is worse than waiting to die for decades in prison?

Anonymous said...

Right, because "God knows" isn't just an expression. He's actually suggesting that he has the Ark of the Covenant tucked away in his closet.

Muck said...

I didn't sit in the jury room, so I can't know why the jury chose the sentence it did. Following it every day, it seemed much more of an open-and-shut case than many I've covered. But that's why attornies for both sides always tell us you never know how a jury will rule.

Whether justice in this case was served or not is open for debate. However, to automatically equate a jury verdict, any jury verdict, with justice is, I fear, an over simplification. If a jury's decision automatically equated to justice then there would be no need for appeals, no cases overturned, no Supreme Court rulings overturning decisions (sometimes even their own).

I think too, there is a tendency to want to put things behind us and move on as well as an inherent mistrust of the judicial system. So often, life does not truly mean life, it can mean a really long time before being eligible for parole. If you're Officer Johnson's family, you now have hanging over your head for decades that Quintero may get out. Regardless of whether it happens or not, it niggles away at the back of your brain until the day you or he dies. It definitely makes it hard for the victim's family to move on. Death has a much more definite sense of finality.

Just an observation at any rate.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Brew95,
No, the judge cannot give a verdict that overrides the jury's verdict.

Tex,
The jury's verdict made me think about No Country for Old Men, too. If there is anyone who hasn't seen that movie or read the book, I highly recommend it.

Grits and Michael,
I'm not criticizing the jury's verdict, but I do disagree with it. I don't understand it. But I also don't know how they received the information presented during trial or what they did with.

Grits,
You've been a bit testy lately. I wasn't planning on going all theological with the post, but maybe since prosecutors do the Lord's work, it just couldn't be helped. Just kidding. Don't blow a gasket.

Anonymous said...

Grits

How much room do you have in your home? The only reason I ask is, I'm looking for a place to send all of the losers on my docket as a residential placement, and since you love criminals so much, I'd like to do what I can to make sure you get to exercise all the rehabbing you can stand on this fine crew of folks.

Me, if Quintero was on fire, I wouldn't urinate on him. But that's just me. I'm a stupid, conservative old cop that went to law school and then became a career prosecutor.

I guess if I was a liberal blogger, full of ideas (and full of other things too), I'd criticize everyone who didn't agree with me and my skewed world view.

I say unto Grits, if you were a man at all, you'd join the police force for two years. I bet you'd have a different perspective on a lot of the issues you dog cops and prosecutors on in your blog. Hey, and then you wouldn't have to be beg blogging for money.

Grits has all kinds of ideas, and Lord knows he is very, very critical of those of us in the trenches. But the time has come for Grits to put his money where his mouth is. Well, maybe not money, unless his bloggers are sending him some...

I don't think AHCL is being critical of the jury verdict in this case. As prosecutors, we are allowed to respect the verdict, and at the same time, disagree with it. C'mon, you worked for the ACLU, didn't you read that 1st amendment at some point in your life?

Yours in doing the Lord's work as a prosecutor,

Tex

Michael said...

Tex:

Can you show me the place in Grits' post that says he loves criminals? If not, can you admit that you are a liar and have broken one of the Commandments of the God you profess to believe in? Excuse me, that you profess to work for?

And how do you work for God? Do you kill gay people? Why not? The Bible commands it. It also requires adulterers to be stoned to death, as well as people who work on the Sabbath. (Do you prosecute a lot of Houston Texans?)

AHCL is allowed to respect the verdict and disagree with it. For that matter, she's allowed to say she won't criticize it, and then criticize it. But then Grits and I can call her on that. And you have to hand it to AHCL -- she approves our posts. Me, I give Grits and Mark Bennett hell when they spew their ad hominems at folks on the right (don't I, boys?) because it makes it look like our side's on the low road. But Tex, your post looks just like you wanted to take shots at grits and nothing else. If so, go back to the Chronicle. Better yet, log off the internet and start prosecuting -- which, contrary to your theocratic Christianist advocacy, is the PEOPLE'S work.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"I give Grits and Mark Bennett hell when they spew their ad hominems at folks on the right (don't I, boys?)"

It's true, Michael recently counted eight ad hominem attacks in one response comment I'd written to someone espousing Tex's worldview. It was very embarrassing. I was aiming for ten. ;)

Tex, there are many different kinds of courage in the world. If YOU were a man at all, you'd issue your smears under your own name instead of a pseudonym. Cowards attack anonymously, real men stand behind what they say. Which are you?

pro.victims said...

Grits, Michael,

For some reason, folks on the political left always assert that long prison terms are "more punishment" than death sentences. I don't think that's because you REALLY believe that living a long time, even in restricted conditions, is better than death. You just assert that argument because you erroneously believe right wingers want WANT "bad guys" to suffer, so you raise it hoping that the cruel, bloodthirsty masses will say - "Yeah, we want them to suffer MORE, so lock them up so the SUFFER! Don't kill them, let them LIVE!. Because LIFE is worse than DEATH." Come on.

It's a false assumption to think the other side wants these guys to suffer. Over the years we've gone from chopping off heads and hangings and electrocutions to lethal injections in a progressive quest to seek less cruel ways of doing the deed.

Truth is, the death penalty is a form of incarceration. With the exception of Christ, death is an incarceration very few folks have escaped from. It's pretty much a sure thing, with no hope of escape. We have had death row inmates make it over the wall - even the most secure prison isn't fool-proof. The death penalty is for those folks who are so dangerous, that we need to make sure that they, more than anyone else, cannot ever get at the rest of us. We really aren't so tiny, spiteful and hateful that we want to torture people by keeping them locked up for years and years. What we want, is to take the most dangerous human beings and put them as far away from the folks they will hurt, as certainly as we can. Death is pert-near escape proof.

The related argument y'all mention is that death isn't a punishment because everyone dies. That falls flat, and no one thinks you believe that at all. One might argue (especially the atheists among us) that the most valuable commodity we have in life, is the length of our lives (again a false premise, if you are a Christian, but that's a whole other topic), but that's (also) a whole other discussion - I'm totally overlooking Michael's skewed and selective reading of Biblical text). Therefore, a drastic, forced shortening of life is a pretty darn severe punishment - in fact, if the length of your life is the most valuable thing you have, because without life, you have nothing else at all, then a drastic shortening of life would by definition be the MOST severe punishment possible.

Either way you cut it, it's bull to say that a life sentence is a more severe punishment. I agree with you, that in some ways, it's more cruel. But we aren't desiring cruel.

It's disingenuous for you to make the argument that life in prison is "more severe" punishment, because "more severe punishment" is not what folks really what want either (yeah, SOME want retribution, but most just want really bad guys to not hurt anyone else). You guys aren't really looking for more severe punishment for these crimes. If that were the case, y'all would be advocating life in prison with a daily beating or something. The truth is, you just don't think government should be in the business of killing. I won't take the position that there is anything wrong with you feeling that way. But your paternalism is showing, when you look down on those who believe in the death penalty, assuming we desire cruelty, and that you can convince us to be satisfied with a long cruel confinement. We just want a certain, escape proof confinement, without the risk that a proven human predator will kill again. The best prison ever. Death.

Michael said...

pro:

I think a lot of right-wingers DO want murderers to suffer, based on the number of commenters at the Chronicle who refer to Quintero as a scumbag, a subhuman, or other epithets -- but whie Grits and I believe that LWOP is suffering, it appears to me that death penalty supporters don't (since they prefer death to a penalty I think is worse). I'm not saying you're wrong so much as I'm saying your argument is not going to change my mind.

I'm not an expert on Christian theology (I'm a Buddhist, and a rank beginner on that too) but I thought many Christian denominations believe in life after death. When I was a teenager this idea mystified me why Christians to live as long as they could, if they were going to Heaven after they died. In short, I personally do not view death as eternal or incarceration but as a change in my soul's incarnation.

With regard to the idea that everyone dies, I was going to bring up the related (and I think stronger) argument that in some populations, everyone dies young. I wonder whether gang members, or young criminals in general, are consciously weighing a long, happy life against a death penalty when they commit murder, or whether they just assume they're going to get killed young anyway. Quoting from the Sting: "Dukey, if this thing blows up, the Feds will be the least of our problems". And I'm not an atheist, but I do believe a long life is important to my spiritual health.

The proposition "SOME want retribution", emphasizing some as opposed to "most" or "many", goes counter to the data I can determine, both from the Chronicle readers again, as well as the callers on the Austin radio shows discussing the verdict this morning. Maybe that's too small a sample, though. I wonder why so many of them are able to post so many times, but like liberals, more reasonable conservatives have real jobs where they have to -- what's the word -- WORK. (He said, making his 11th blog comment about Quintero today.)

I don't think I was being disingenuous, though. True, I wasn't advocating for LWOP because it's worse than death (though I really think it is). I'm a LWOP because I think killing is wrong. There are other reasons to oppose the death penalty, and I support many of them, but in the last analysis, I only need one.

PS Sorry I seem to have a skewed perception of the Bible. I didn't quote more barbaric passages, though they exist in great numbers; that doesn't mean the Book hasn't held a lot of value for me as an important source of spiritual wisdom and guidance.

Anonymous said...

Grits,

I think I'll just stay the way I am. I'm sorry you don't like my constructive criticism. I guess my comments are sorta like the groundless slags you make on god-fearing and decent police and prosecutors on your site, huh?

The only reason I think you should go serve the public as a police officer is that it would give you a little more realistic view of the real world. The world that many folks, prosecutors, crime victims and police live in.

Because I sure as hell don't live in an ivory tower.

By the way, I'm waiting on the Grits for Breakfast Solution site. I've seen the Grits the Complainer site. I think you have that complaining thing down. I'm ready to hear your ideas on fixing the criminal justice system, so long as it doesn't involve letting crooks out of jail or prison.

A Harris County Lawyer said...

Well Guys,
I think by ALL of our posts today that we've proven Johnny Holmes to be correct when he said that there was no point in debating the death penalty, because it is just something that is too fundamental to a person's fundamental moral and religious beliefs.

I certainly understand where Grits and Michael are coming from, and I don't think that their opposition to the death penalty is, in any way, irrational. I just happen to disagree with it. (NOTE: See how I did that? I disagreed without criticizing.)

During my time as a prosecutor, I actually felt my belief in the death penalty diminish somewhat, although it, by no means, evaporated.

Tex and I, in our roles as prosecutors have probably dealt with the issue in a more "hands on" way, which, quite naturally will inspire more of a gut reaction in support of the death penalty. It doesn't mean we are wrong in our opinions, but we do see it from a different side then Grits and Michael.

I've seen a death penalty case from both the prosecution and defense side (believe it or not), and so I do see why it is such a divisive topic. Some day, I may post more about my experience with it from the defense side. It did change my life and it opened my mind.

But it didn't change my beliefs.

TxGoodie said...

Mr. Breakfast said, way back there...

"It's one thing to put words in Pay Lykos' or Clarence Bradford's mouth,"

Ohmy. I wonder if that was a bona fide typo or a Freudian slip? Or the way it is...

Victoria said...

As a practicing death penalty lawyer, all I can say is that when defense attorneys and prosecutors do thier jobs, the result is justice.

What i find striking in the posts advocating death is the singular lack of mercy and compassion for the defendant. It's like, "you didn't show mercy, so i'm not going to show you any". It is a testament to our great citizens that they have the strenght and courage to follow the law, listen to the mitigation, follow their own moral compass and make a very unpopular decision. It takes a lot of courage to do what one considers the "right thing"...when every has their own definition of what constitutes the right thing.

To paraphrase the words of Gandalf who was talking to Frodo in the mines when Frodo said, "it's a pity Bilbo didn't kill Gollum when he had the chance: And Gandalf said, "it was pity that stayed his hand. Many that live deserve to die and many that die deserve to live; can you be the one to give it to them? Do not be so quick to deal in judgment"

Jason said...

Who cares about legal arguments? He murdered an officer, nobody denied that he did it. There is no question of his guilt. So why debate on whether this man deserves to live or not? He may spend the rest of his life in prison, but he will be alive. He will be able to see his family. He will probably give TV interviews. He will be able to watch TV, eat 3 hot meals a day. He will be able to go to school, write a book. He can still have a life. That's more than can be said for Officer Johnson.

Not everyone in law enforcement respects the jury verdict. I think they didn't want to have to make a tough decision. Most people prefer others make the tough decisions so they can 'armchair' quarterback it later on.

Michael said...

"Who cares about legal arguments?"

Generally, people who practice law should. People who enforce law should. People who live in a country of laws should.

But that ideal has a lot of exceptions.

Anonymous said...

I have always been a democrat, a centrist democrat. People like Grits (by no means only him) have slowly pushed me into the "R" column. The tent can only get so big without it becoming crowded.

pro.victims said...

Victoria,

Really? You cite Gandolf?

Ok. Well, as to that conversation, Frodo was right.

VDub said...

provictim:

I can't help but cite Gandalf. I love LOTR. I'm a nerd. LOL.

In the end Frodo was right, but i'll wager people felt compassion and sympathy for Gollum as they witnessed his struggle; and they probably felt his chance at redemption faded away when Frodo betrayed him.

So, i can see a lot of parallels. Told ya...i'm a nerd

pro.victims said...

V:

Nothing wrong with being a nerd, or loving LOTR.

As for redemption - sometimes you just can't help or save people. They just don't want it. We should try, and others should try to help us. But, the clock, she is a-ticking. The curtain will fall. Each individual makes their own choice. Best we can hope for, is that when they do, it's an informed one.

Anonymous said...

The prosecutors had seven strikes left after seating that idiot jury. And those are the three best?

jigmeister said...

Anon 2:57. Having left over strikes by the state is not at all unusual. Voir Dire is completely different in a capital case and all who indicate they can never answer the questions so that death results are caused. That leaves the defense with only people who have no opposition to death and they generally use their strikes far faster. You take jurors one at a time and if you get good up front jurors and the defense uses up their strikes, when you get 12 and alternates, your done. The process can take 3 to 5 weeks.
The verdict is no reflection on the quality of the lawyers on either side. Why they decided the way they did is beyond me.