Saturday, March 13, 2010

Texas Judge Rescinds Controversial Death Penalty Ruling

Harris County, Texas sends more inmates to death row than any other county in the nation. Last week, a judge in Harris County declared the death penalty unconstitutional. The ruling came in response to a number of pretrial motions filed on behalf of John Edward Green Jr., who is pending trial on a 2008 robbery, murder of a woman and the wounding of her sister.

State District Judge Kevin Fine made the ruling, saying he could assume that innocent people have been executed. Judge Fine didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that as a trial judge he really has no authority to make a ruling overturning the death penalty. The decision is a bit strange and apparently so is the judge.
According to the Associated Press, Fine is heavily tattooed and campaigned for judge as a recovering alcoholic and former cocaine user.

The judge's ruling has generated a great deal of attention, not much of it favorable. Apparently, this free wheeling jurist isn't immune to criticism. He has now withdrawn his opinion and has scheduled a hearing on the motion to rule the death penalty unconstitutional.

Judge Fine took back his controversial ruling and asked Harris County prosecutors and defense attorneys to submit motions on the issue. Fine will then have an evidentiary hearing April 27, when the court will hear testimony on whether innocent people have been executed in Texas.

Casey Keirnan, one of Green's defense attorneys, told the Associated Press that the case is "headed in the exact direction we want it to go."

"This is the very first legal proceeding where a court is going to look into the issue as to whether or not we have executed innocent people in Texas," Keirnan said. "It's now taken on a life I've never dreamed it would. It's so amazing to me."

My Take

Keirnan is right about one thing--this is amazing. A renegade judge makes an irresponsible ruling to generate attention for himself and a cause--the abolition of the death penalty. However, it's clear that even those opposed to the death penalty are leery of Fine.

A tattooed, former party boy, "activist judge" will not be welcomed as the face of the anti-death penalty movement. His ruling will also ignite the passions of every politician who wants to win an election on the "law and order" ticket.

Judge Fine's ruling, and its subsequent rescission, may ultimately do more harm than good for the anti-death penalty movement.

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