Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Thursday 6 November 2003

The U.S. and its bizarre 'plea bargain' system of criminal justice

Firstly, I am vehemently opposed to to the use of capital punishment - state sanctioned killing, in peacetime, is no different (in the moral universe I inhabit) than killing committed by individuals or groups.

The 'Green River' killer, Gary Ridgway, yesterday agreed to statements read out in court by prosecutor Jeff Baird in front of Judge Richard Jones in the King County Superior Court (State of Washington), as part of his plea bargain agreement with state prosecutors, to avoid the death penalty. He admits to killing 48 women.

It is only recently that DNA evidence linked Ridgway to the killings (by strangulation), which took place betwen 1982 and 1984. He was arrested in 2001. Some of Ridgway's statements, as quoted in a BBC report:

The mindset of a pitiless killer

"I wanted to kill as many women as I thought were prostitutes as I possibly could."

"Most of the time I killed them the first time I met them, and I do not have a good memory of their faces."

"I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex."

"I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught."

So, not a character to elicit much sympathy.

I imagine the reason for the prosectuion agreeing to this plea bargain is that the DNA evidence is not strong enough to convict him outright - and for him to be executed outright. Or perhaps there are statute of limitations constraints. Not that I am encouraging the use of the death penalty, quite the reverse, but the whole idea of agreeing not to use the legal sanction in place, specifically because the killer has admitted to the killings is a logic a little beyond my undertanding. I would far rather that the death penalty was abolished completely in the United States, but while it is in place it seems hypocritical to do this kind of deal with a man who is quite obviously evil. From the way the court proceedings were conducted, including the participation of Ridgway (all seen on television here), it is clear he is not 'mad', nor 'unfit to plead'. It is also perplexing to me that Ridgway still wants to live, albeit incarcerated for the rest of his life, rather than take the quick route out.

Is it because he is white and quite a lot of the relatives I saw in the courtroom are black? Or is there some other aspect I am missing? Would he have received the same treatment in another part of the United States?

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