Crime, Death Penalty, Murder

Did James Holmes Draw a ‘Hanging’ Prosecutor?

The rush to judgment for James Holmes — the suspect shooter in the Aurora, Colorado movie massacre — is in full swing. I’m not here to defend this guy, but the bloodlust in our culture is fairly shocking. From the Daily News (via Marin):

I just, man, I’m just going to note, again, that BATMAN tries not to kill people. And I don’t think that comic book ideal is so unattainable for a civilized society. The desire for revenge is a natural emotion, but it doesn’t have to be public policy.

In any event, those looking for the ultimate vengeance against this apparent psycho might well get their wish. Though Colorado has been very cautious with its approach to the death penalty, the Holmes prosecutor has a reputation for going out of her way to seek it….

District Attorney Carol Chambers will be handling the Holmes prosecution. She held a press conference today, and addressed the death penalty issue. From ABC Denver:

Officials have 60 days to decide if Holmes will face the death penalty if convicted. However, Chambers said that decision will be made after consultation with the victims and their families.

“We want to get input from the victims as to whether we’ll seek the death penalty,” Chambers explained. “We want to give each and every victim and each and every case the attention it needs and deserves.”

The Atlantic published an in-depth article about Chambers, and they’ve noted she has a history of seeking capital punishment:

For better or worse, Chambers is Colorado’s most controversial prosecutor; hard-ass, always on the edge, seemingly always in some sort of trouble. More broadly, she’s also become a sort of national symbol in the criminal justice systems’ eternal war over capital punishment. In 2008, for example, Chambers daringly billed the state for charges incurred by her county in capital prosecutions, a move that raised hackles at the state legislature. At the time, Chambers’ office was pursuing six of the seven capital cases wending their way slowly through the state’s judicial system.

That’s a lot of pending capital cases for a prosecutor in a state which notably, and often proudly, does not embrace the death penalty the way many of its neighboring states do. Long the symbol of the Wild West, Colorado nonetheless has only three men currently on its death row and has executed only one man (Gary Lee Davis, in 1997) in the past 40 years. There are no scheduled executions, either. You would expect to find a prosecutor like Chambers in Texas. You’d reckon she would find a home in Georgia and Louisiana, too, which embrace aggressive death penalty prosecutions. But Colorado?

Not only do we have a death penalty, but we have one that is based on prosecutorial discretion, meaning your punishment for your crime can really hinge on the person who happens to be prosecuting you.

But Chambers might have to act fast if she wants to exercise her discretion:

It’s hard to know what Chambers thinks of the looming Holmes’ case. On the one hand, it’s finally a global forum for her. On the other hand, she almost certainly won’t be around for the case’s end. Chambers is term-limited. Her successor will be determined by November’s election.

Whatever happens, I think we need a process here that doesn’t feel like it’s subject to prosecutorial ideology or electoral politics. I think that’s what the families of the victims deserve.

The Colorado Massacre Draws a Controversial Prosecutor [The Atlantic]
District Attorney Carol Chambers on James Holmes case: No such thing as a slam dunk case [ABC Denver]

Earlier: Obama Says There Will Be ‘Other Days For Politics,’ But Will There Ever Be A Day To Address the Violence In Our Culture?

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