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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : editorials May 28, 2016

5/25/2013 1:03:00 PM
Editorial: Judges more qualified than juries to decide death penalty

When he sentenced cop-killer Anthony Lee Chaney 30 years ago, then-Coconino County Superior Court Judge William F. Garbarino ordered the death penalty on the primary murder count. He also handed down a life sentence on the corresponding felony murder conviction.

Afterward, when a young reporter asked Garbarino why he gave him death on one of the murder convictions and life on the other, he responded by saying he was weighing the prospects of how an Appeals Court would review the case.

“How so?” the reporter asked.

“Well,” Garbarino replied, “it might be considered cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a man to death twice.”

His tongue may have been firmly planted in his cheek, but there was some astute judicial wisdom in Judge Garbarino’s reasoning.

And that is exactly the reason we need such sound logic on the bench when making the obviously heart-wrenching decision about whether a murder defendant should be executed.

It was a decision that the jurors in the melodrama otherwise known as the Jodi Arias murder trial could not make last week. That really should come as no surprise. It’s hard to get 12 people to agree on much of anything, much less something so traumatic as life or death.

Death penalty decisions were made by a judge prior to August 2002. Juries decided guilt or innocence. It was a system that served Arizona jurisprudence quite well since the earliest days of statehood. That all changed when Arizona’s new death penalty statute was enacted.

What that law did was render a Superior Court judge impotent when his or her legal training, reasoning, compassion and wisdom was needed most. It more or less made the judge the director of legal traffic through the myriad twists and turns involved in a murder trial.

What’s most ironic about all of this is that one day when the Jodi Arias case is going through the appeals process, it will be real live judges making the decisions about the legal decisions, verdicts and sentencing in this case. It won’t be handed off to 12 jurors.

If we can trust the legal training and wisdom of a Superior Court judge to hand down a just and fair sentence in every other kind of criminal case from theft to robbery to assault to rape to white-collar crimes, we should be able to trust them even more when it comes to deciding the ultimate legal judgment of life or death.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Article comment by: Rosemarie Babcock

Well...."Thall Shalt Not Kill," if your going quote the bible then you should quote the rest of it too. What's fair is fair. How about, "AN EYE FOR AN EYE." Lest we forget that one. Let's recap here: Jodi Arias didn't just murder Travis Alexander, this was total overkill, and it was premeditated, if you ACTUALLY looked at all the facts. She stabbed him not once, not twice, but 29 times, then slit his throat with a violent force, and after all that she felt the need to shoot this poor man. Leaving him in his home for his friend to find him days later. I don't know about anyone else, but if that were my brother, you can bet that I would want more than just an eye for that. She deserves the death penalty because the crime was not only premeditated, but also so violent and she shows no remorse for what she did to the victim or toward his family. All she cares about is that she felt betrayed because the jury couldn't decide on the death penalty. She doesn't need time to sit for the rest of her life in prison and think about what she did, because she knows exactly what she did, and she isn't sorry, you can see it on her face, in her eye rolls, in her blank expressions, etc.

Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Article comment by: flaco comir

'Judges more qualified than juries to decide death penalty' -

When people claim they are more qualified to decide death over another - You have a Georgetown cult!

As a species, we continue to demonstrate our primitive desire for death as a form of revenge. We have created tools ( and chemicals) to make the act of killing as clinical and mechanical as possible - but it remains as primitive as a stoning, hanging or lopping off a head in the town square...

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Article comment by: Thall Shalt Not Kill

What kind of society have we become in that people unrelated to the crime actually pray that someone gets death? Arias committed a horrific crime and deserves to be punished. She is not one that should ever be allowed to walk freely amongst us. Arias said, "A death sentence is not justice, it is revenge." A pearl of wisdom staright from the murderer's mouth. What makes us any better than she when we choose to take a life? Because we call it justice? How, as a society, are we better that she? Because we kill humanely? How are we, as a society, not premeditating a murder just as she did? Jesus said, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone." What was the meaning of His message? It is not time to let the judges decide life or death, nor is it time to put it in the hands of the peolpe. No one is worthy of casting stones. It's time to put an end to the barbaric practice of executing people in the U.S. We are better than that!

Posted: Monday, May 27, 2013
Article comment by: Bob Loblaw

You have obviously never been in front of a Judge at the Yavapai Justice Center in Camp Verde! In this day and age, a judge is nothing more than an extension of the Prosecutors office. The two of them work with the Public Defender to get you through the judicial process as quickly as possible without any considerations regarding your innocence or guilt!

The justice afforded you is equal to the justice you can afford!

This is not meant to be a clever quip, just a simple truth.

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2013
Article comment by: Maybe We Might Change To...

no more death sentences. The max penalty
for capital crimes should be life in jail...etc.

Remember we in the United States have been
known to put people to death only to find out
we kill the wrong person...etc.

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