I actually felt that juries were getting away from sentencing death because of the life without parole option. So, when I was called by the Federal judge in the Eastern District of Texas about two years ago to represent this man accused of murdering a fellow inmate in a Beaumont federal prison, I readily accepted, thinking that the Federal court does not generally seek the death penalty, and even if they did seek death, since we are in Texas, we would have the LWOP option.
When the discovery materials started arriving from the Assistant United States Attorney who was assigned to prosecute this case, I soon learned that this “simple” case was not so simple after all. My client had been convicted of juvenile murder at the age of 15 years in Washington, D. C.
The DC Gang in Beaumont Federal prison stuck together. Instead of an ethnic group, like the Hispanics with the Mexican Mafia or the Texas Syndicate, the DC crew consisted of young and old men who were from the DC area. They helped each other and took up for each other.
In May 2005, a man was transferred to Beaumont from Atlanta. This man had been a snitch against two of the other DC crew members. The Beaumont inmates learned he was there, with them, and conspired how and when to take him out, to “punish him.”
My client, unfortunately, became involved in this plan and was accused of putting the snitch in a headlock and holding him while another of the DC crew members stabbed him, and stabbed him, over and over—106 times. My client told me a tale that sounded believable and I actually did believe him. He seemed to be sincere. And, that was important because he was going to have to get on the stand and tell it to the jury.
Needless to say, this is a very shorthand version of this case. The reason I am relaying this to you is because a jury came back to me and said that I failed; that they did not believe any evidence I presented to them; nor did they believe my client’s testimony. The jury pronounced a death verdict for my client.
I was sitting there wondering how I was going to get over this. I wanted very much to get a life sentence for this young man. You may say, “Scardino, what is your problem? The man has now been convicted of killing three people.”
So, even though people like the "Unabomber," Ted Kaczynski, or Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, and other hardened criminals received life sentences—which are being served at the famed ultra-security Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado—this jury in Beaumont, Texas did not think this young man was deserving to live at all. Spending a lifetime in a facility like Supermax would not be a walk in the park.
What I do not understand is why we feel that we have to kill. Is it revenge? Why can’t the defendant be placed in a box for the rest of his life. God knows that he will be punished. No human contact for years would be enough to make me nuts. Sensory deprivation would be a big punishment. And, studies show that it costs a lot more to execute an individual than to place him in this box for the rest of his life. Don’t ask me to explain that statistic to you. I can’t. I just know that it is there. I would think that the cost of minimal care, minimal food, minimal needs all around, would not be as expensive as appellate lawyers, briefs, retrials, more appellate briefs, more lawyers, more appellate courts, etc. for years.
Here I am, one week after hearing that death verdict, and I cannot shake the sadness. Sometimes I just break out in tears. I have been told that I get too personal with my cases; that I care too much. And, this was a criticism, not a compliment.
But, no, that is not to be for my young client. He will be sent to Death Row. He will be appointed some hotshot appellate lawyer who will begin the appellate process that will take years. In the meantime, he will sit, alone, and have his memories. He will remember seeing his “family” during the trial after eight long years and the shame of it all was unbearable. He will remember not being able to look at his aunt—not that she did anything to help many years ago—in another lifetime—but she was his aunt and someone he cared about when he was a child. And, more shame. And, more loneliness and more hopelessness, and more waiting. And, for no reason other than 12 people said he should die, but another set of 12 people said other criminals get to live.