October 5, 2018
This past week has provided America with some stark contrasts within the justice system. The question on everyone’s mind seems to be — how long is too long?
This week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about an Alabama death row inmate, Vernon Madison, who murdered a police officer 33 years ago. While on death row he has been stricken with vascular dementia and doesn’t remember his crime.
The court tasked with deciding Madison’s fate is one justice short as a result of the delayed, and beleaguered, confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh — due in part to an alleged sexual assault occurring 36 years ago.
Certainly, a murder conviction and alleged sexual assault are two very different things, but sparing someone death by lethal injection and taking a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court are also very different.
The similarities relate to time and redemption.
Madison was 34 when he was charged in 1985 with shooting Mobile police Cpl. Julius Schulte to death as he responded to a domestic violence call.
At a hearing in July 1985, Madison entered a plea claiming his innocence and wrote a letter to the court saying his civil rights were being violated. “I am of poverty, but I’m not without knowledge of the law,” he wrote.
Kavanaugh is 53, he grew-up in an affluent neighborhood in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. His life of privilege included attending the elite Georgetown Preparatory School and Yale University for his undergraduate and law school degrees. He served as a clerk for Supreme Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the man he seeks to replace.
Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court was delayed following compelling testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleging that in 1982, at a friend’s house, Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed, drunkenly groped her, tried to take off her clothes and put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.
Judge Kavanaugh says the woman who accuses him of assaulting her and the wider circle of classmates and acquaintances who say he misrepresented a history of alcohol abuse and aggressive conduct, according to the Washington Post, are “simply misremembering the past, and that their distorted recollections cannot be substantiated by more reliable evidence.”
As with Kavanaugh, “misremembering the past” and “distorted recollections” have had an impact on Vernon Madison. The fogginess is not that of witnesses or friends it’s Madison’s own memory that has faded.
Last year, the High Court reversed a federal appeals court ruling that had struck down Madison’s death sentence. The lower court found that Madison had suffered strokes in prison and could not remember the crime — he could not make sense of his punishment.
The Supreme Court reversed, finding there is a difference between condemned inmates who cannot recall their crimes and those who cannot “rationally comprehend the concepts of crime and punishment.”
Attorneys for both Madison and Kavanaugh must surely hope that the public will stop focusing on the past and pay more attention to who their clients are today.
Neither Madison nor Kavanaugh have suggested that the crimes they have been accused of, or in Madison’s case convicted of, are insignificant. But some will have us believe that the passage of time has rendered their decades-old conduct less significant.
Is murder ever insignificant? No rational person would make that argument. Is examining the teenage exploits of a hard-drinking, jock who didn’t understand the word “no,” insignificant to the confirmation process for a seat on the United States Supreme Court? A lot of people think it is insignificant.
Madison’s days are numbered, his health is failing. His ability to harm another person has diminished to zero. The U.S. Senate will have to decide the potential harm, if any, to our legal system — and our nation — when considering what impact past conduct should have on the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
To visit the column CLICK HERE