[DP] Fwd: Guarding Death's Door
caroleadamsjohnson at hotmail.com
Sat Jul 12 10:40:47 CDT 2003
>From: Rick Halperin <rhalperi at mail.smu.edu>
>Reply-To: TCADP-BOARD01 at yahoogroups.com
>To: TCADP-BOARD01 <TCADP-BOARD01 at yahoogroups.com>
>Subject: [TCADP-BOARD01] death penalty news-----TEXAS
>Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2003 11:06:15 -0500 (Central Daylight Time)
>Guarding Death's Door
>The death penalty is under attack. Scores have been wrongly convicted of
>capital crimes, and most Americans believe at least one innocent has been
>executed. Who can fix the system? Meet Ronnie Earle, veteran Texas
>prosecutor, death-penalty supporter - and a D.A. who has learned from his
>own terrible mistakes
>On March 20, a man named Keith Clay died in Texas. His death was largely
>unremarkable except for one thing: he was the 300th person executed in
>Texas since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized capital punishment in
>One need not ignore the savagery of his crimes - prosecutors said Clay
>stood by while a friend murdered a father and his 2 kids on Christmas Eve
>1993, 11 days before Clay himself butchered a store clerk - to pause at
>300 is an impressive milestone, not only because it exceeds the number of
>executions in the next five top death-penalty states combined, but also
>because it was reached so quickly.
>It took nearly 2 decades for Texas to consummate its first 100 death
>sentences after 1976--but only 5 more years to pass 200 and just 3 after
>that to hit 300. (The total has since climbed to 306.)
>The approach of the 300th execution happened to coincide with a period of
>intense scrutiny of capital punishment. In January the departing
>Republican Governor of Illinois, George Ryan, delivered the biggest blow
>when he commuted the sentences of all 167 people who were to be executed
>in his state.
>"Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error," Ryan declared,
>"error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty
>deserves to die." He and others argue that problems like racially
>motivated prosecutions, coerced confessions and unreliable witnesses have
>made the system capricious.
>Such worries may help explain why many states with capital punishment -
>there are 38 in all - seem to be wavering. The number of executions in the
>U.S., excluding Texas, fell to 38 last year from a peak of 63 in
>1999.Despite the high-profile second-guessing, most Americans favor
>capital punishment even though they don't fully trust the system that
>administers it. Not long before the 300th execution in Texas, a poll by
>the Scripps Howard Data Center found that 3/4 of Lone Star residents
>supported the death penalty.
>But a shocking 69% also said they believe the state has executed innocent
>people. National polls have generated similar results. In a Gallup poll
>released in May, 73% of the respondents said they thought at least 1
>innocent had been put to death in the previous 5 years. Yet only about 1/2
>of Americans favor a moratorium on executions to ensure that those on
>death row should be there.
>In other words, most of us believe the death-penalty system is broken -
>and we don't care.Which means that if the system's flaws are to be fixed,
>they must be fixed from within. And because prosecutors have great control
>over how a murder case is investigated and whether it deserves the death
>penalty, they will have to drive any meaningful reform.
>So where do you find a D.A. willing to both ignore public opinion and
>challenge his colleagues in the criminal-justice system?
>Surprisingly, in the heart of Texas.The career of Travis County district
>attorney Ronald Earle coincides precisely with that of the modern death
>penalty. Earle was 1st elected D.A. in 1976, the year the Supreme Court
>reinstituted capital punishment. At the time, he enthusiastically backed
>"I thought it was too simple to talk about," he says in a clipped Texas
>But after prosecuting violent crime for a quarter-century, Earle doesn't
>believe capital punishment is so simple. To be sure, he still supports
>death for those few brutal murderers he believes would never stop killing,
>even in prison. And Earle can still summon the swagger of your typical TV
>He says executing serial killer Kenneth McDuff, who is thought to have
>murdered at least 11 people, was "like shooting a rabid dog."
>But like the rest of us, Earle has now watched broken souls walk free
>after years of wrongful incarceration; 56 have been released from death
>row in the past decade, either because they were deemed innocent or
>because of procedural mistakes, according to the Death Penalty Information
>Unlike the rest of us, Earle still has to enforce the death penalty. He is
>often plagued by doubts when he must decide whether to seek death. "I
>agonize over it," he says. "There was a time when I thought the death
>penalty ought to have wider application, but my views have evolved."
>Today deciding whether to seek the death penalty is easily the hardest
>part of his job.For a D.A., especially one from Texas, Earle is unusually
>vocal about his doubts. But many other prosecutors share his mix of
>philosophical support for the death penalty and nagging uncertainty about
>which cases are right for it. "When I first became prosecutor and had a
>death-penalty case, I looked forward to it ... Now I get one and dread
>it," says Stanley Levco, who has been the prosecuting attorney in
>Vanderburgh County, Ind., since 1991.
>Levco strongly backs capital punishment, but he says capital cases take so
>long and cost so much that he wonders which ones are really worth it. "I
>tell this to the victim's family: there is an excellent chance this person
>will not die."
>D.A.s have other concerns too.
>The National District Attorneys Association has called for DNA testing "at
>any stage of a criminal proceeding - even up to the eve of execution"--
>and stiff penalties for defense lawyers who don't adequately represent
>capital suspects. But Earle is going further. He is trying to do in his
>corner of Texas what death-penalty opponents say is impossible: enforce
>capital punishment flawlessly, ensuring that the innocent never spend a
>day on death row and the guilty are sent there only after trials free of
>bias and vengeance.
>Earle hopes that by raising every conceivable doubt about defendants
>before he decides to seek the death penalty for them, he can slay the
>"demon of error" invoked by Governor Ryan and achieve total certainty in
>the capital system.
>It's a laudable goal.
>The trouble is, that's not his job. Jurors are supposed to determine
>innocence, and judges are supposed to ensure fairness. Most prosecutors
>feel an intense obligation to let the system work as it's built; crusading
>just isn't part of the prosecutorial gene pool. But Earle believes that,
>as he puts it, "the system cannot be trusted to run itself." It needs a
>watchdog, a backup.
>Hence Earle has created virtually a second Travis County justice system
>for murder cases: well before any trial begins, he and his top lieutenants
>decide for themselves whether someone is guilty and deserves to die. If
>there's even a hint of doubt, they deny jurors the option of a death
>sentence. That approach has isolated Earle.
>Other D.A.s say he worries extravagantly over minor problems.
>Abolitionists have little use for him because he still sends people to
>die. But Earle's exertions raise an intriguing question: Does it take
>someone like him - someone who has more or less come to detest the death
>penalty - to save its credibility?
>Ronnie Earle - even enemies call him Ronnie - is among the longest-serving
>D.A.s in the nation. He is also one of the most admired - and most
>controversial. Earle has been re-elected 6 times, and he can probably keep
>his job as long as he wants. His popularity doubtless owes something to
>the low crime rate in Austin, the county's biggest city (and state
>capital). In 2001, according to FBI figures, Austin had the 4th lowest per
>capita murder rate among U.S. cities with 500,000 to 1 million residents.
>Earle's capital locale has extended his visibility beyond the county. He
>was one of the first prosecutors in Texas to create a victim-assistance
>program, in 1979; later he helped write a state law requiring every D.A.
>to open an office to connect crime victims with social services. He helped
>start Austin's Children's Advocacy Center, which works with abused kids,
>and a family-justice division of the D.A.'s office, which prosecutes those
>accused of domestic violence and helps their families get back to normal.
>A lot of prosecutors view such do-gooderism as a waste of time, preferring
>to devote themselves to cases guaranteed to go Live at 5. Earle, by
>contrast, rarely appears in court. He would rather attend, as he did
>recently, a conference in a motel ballroom off Highway 35 to talk about
>how to fight substance abuse.
>Predictably, those in the movement for community justice, which tries to
>combat the sources of crime as well as punish it, swoon over him. "He has
>a track record going back years of working toward crime prevention by
>working in the community," says Catherine Coles, a fellow at Harvard's
>Kennedy School of Government who studied Earle's office in the '90s.
>He wasn't always so progressive.
>In the early '80s, when Reagan conservatism was ascendant, Earle sounded
>pretty much like any other law-and-order D.A. He spent a lot of time in
>court, and he stood out as a Democrat willing to aggressively prosecute
>corruption in his own party. (The G.O.P. didn't nominate a candidate to
>oppose Earle during the entire 1980s.)
>He seemed particularly conservative on the death penalty. In 1982 he said
>in a Limbaughesque radio commentary not only that he backed capital
>punishment but that it "reaffirms our humanity" and fulfills "our moral
>responsibility." He called it "society's right to self-defense."
>But even back then, Earle felt more hesitant about the death penalty than
>he let on. He had prosecuted only 2 death cases, and they had taken a lot
>out of him.
>Physically, capital cases require weeks if not months of work. More
>important, Earle found that his get-tough bravado afforded only weak
>protection against the emotional turbulence of a capital case. Working
>every day to ensure someone's death - even if he deserves it - can test
>At first, I thought justice was vengeance," he says, settling back into
>the chair in his 2nd-floor office, which is not far from the pink-granite
>capitol. "D.A.s feel they have to give voice to the anguish that victims
>feel. And I tell you, that's a righteous anger. You look at these
>guys"--the killers, he means--"and some of them are monsters, just awful."
>Many prosecutors don't concern themselves with why they become awful, but
>Earle has a theory: "People learn to act through what I call the ethics
>infrastructure, that network of mommas and daddies and aunts and uncles
>and teachers and preachers"--he continues the list for some time--"who all
>teach us how to act. And that infrastructure has atrophied.
>When I was growing up"--Earle is 61 and was raised outside Fort Worth--"my
>mother had seven sisters and a brother. My dad had six siblings. So I had
>all these aunts and uncles plus my mother and father, and that structure
>is powerful. People don't have that now. And nobody is taking care of the
>So it's almost as if most of the people we send to death row, it's like we
>can say, 'Look what we made you do.' Most of them - if they had someone
>who had intervened in their life at an appropriate point, this would not
>have happened. And that's sad to realize. That doesn't necessarily make
>you squeamish about using the death penalty, but it does make you more
>discerning about it."
>Earle has always been hard to pin down politically and culturally. He's
>not an unreconstructed liberal - and there are plenty of those in Austin -
>nor a conservative Democrat. He's an oddity. He grew up on a cattle ranch
>yet never eats beef. (Though when teased about that at a restaurant
>recently, Earle ordered the venison to show he would eat red meat.) He
>drives the beat-up pickup required for a Texas politician, but it's a
>Nissan. He has the scraggly hands of someone who broke several fingers
>playing football as a young man, but he has a deep fondness for academics.
>3 years ago, he and his wife Twila taught a University of Texas (UT)
>course earnestly titled "Re-Weaving the Fabric of Community." His weak
>spot for intellectuals was evident in 1978, when he got his 1st death
>case. A young police officer, Ralph Ablanedo, had stopped a red Mustang
>for a traffic violation on a spring night. Prosecutors said the passenger,
>possibly fearing that the cop would find the drugs he was carrying,
>reached for his AK-47. Officer Ablanedo was shot several times (he was
>rushed to the hospital but died in surgery). A frantic chase ensued. The
>gunman, David Powell, fired at other officers but eventually surrendered
>Earle, who had been D.A. for less than 18 months, was pretty green.
>When it came time to decide whether to seek death, he consulted Robert
>Kane, a UT philosophy professor. Kane has written extensively about how to
>encourage what he calls the moral sphere--"an ideal sphere in which
>everybody's rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are being
>respected," as Kane describes it. Sitting in Earle's home in the summer of
>1978, he told the D.A. that sometimes, society must use the death penalty
>to send a message that it will protect people in vulnerable situations
>people like cops alone on the streets.
>But, Kane told Earle gravely, "the burden is on you to show that no lesser
>punishment would do that job."
>Earle took that burden seriously, and by the end of his 2nd death case,
>also in 1978, he was worn out. The defendant was George Clark, who
>hadabducted a young woman from Sears, raped her and stabbed her 38 times.
>Earle won a death sentence, but instead of trumpeting his victory, he gave
>a morose press conference calling it "a sad day for everybody." When a
>friend of the victim's brought him a congratulatory bottle of whiskey,
>Earle was aghast. "This is not a celebratory event," he scolded.
>Citing the administrative demands of running a large D.A.'s office and the
>talent of his staff prosecutors, Earle never again personally prosecuted a
>In the late '80s, Earle seemed to flirt with outright opposition to
>capital punishment. His office brought no death-penalty cases in 1988 or
>'89 and only one the following year. He took to telling people he was
>worried that capital punishment had become "a coarsening factor in the
>Then along came Kenneth McDuff. Decades earlier, in the summer of 1966,
>McDuff and a friend abducted 3 teenagers - 2 boys and a girl. After
>robbing them, McDuff shot each boy in the head several times. Then he and
>his accomplice repeatedly raped the girl before crushing her throat with a
>broom (he was called the Broomstick Killer). Not surprisingly, he was sent
>to death row.
>But in 1972, when the Supreme Court ruled the U.S. death-penalty system
>unconstitutional, McDuff's sentence - like those of some 600 other
>death-row inmates across the U.S.--was commuted to life.
>In 1989, as pressure mounted on prisons to relieve overcrowding, McDuff
>was paroled along with many other longtime inmates. He settled in Waco,
>Texas, and it wasn't long before young women in the area went missing.
>Authorities believe McDuff killed as many as 8 before police finally
>caught on to him in 1992.
>Earle's office prosecuted McDuff for the murder of Colleen Reed, a
>28-year-old accountant he had kidnapped from an Austin car wash, raped and
>killed. In 1994 McDuff was again sentenced to die, and he was executed 4
>Earle says anyone who opposes capital punishment must grapple with the
>lessons of McDuff's case. "He was a clear and present danger," says Earle.
>"I guess a true [death penalty] abolitionist would say, 'Put this guy in
>prison for life,' but he had already gotten that punishment, and he got
>out. Also, murderers can kill again in prison. It happens all the time.
>The death penalty is a necessity in these cases."
>By 2000, Earle seemed to have found a balance with capital punishment. He
>usually reserved it for the most gruesome murders, but that year he also
>sought it for Leonard Saldana, who had killed his ex-girlfriend.
>Death-penalty prosecutions in domestic-violence cases are rare, and rarely
>successful. Jurors can often be convinced that killing one's lover in a
>rage doesn't warrant execution. (Saldana got a life sentence. Earle later
>said he sought the death penalty partly because he wanted to send a
>message that he took domestic violence as seriously as any other crime.)
>But just as the Saldana case was wrapping up, Earle learned that his
>office had mistakenly prosecuted 2 men for the 1988 murder of Nancy
>DePriest, a 20-year-old mother killed at the Pizza Hut where she worked.
>To Earle, it had seemed a horrific but fairly straightforward case: not
>long after the murder, a man named Christopher Ochoa, who worked at
>another Austin Pizza Hut, signed an intricately detailed confession. Ochoa
>said that he and a co-worker, Richard Danziger, had raped DePriest and
>that Ochoa then shot her in the head. The confession said the 2 had
>sexually violated her corpse and then washed it off in the restaurant
>Danziger denied the crime from Day One, but Ochoa's graphic confession
>helped convict them both. Partly because neither Danziger nor Ochoa had
>the violent criminal history typically needed to convince jurors of future
>dangerousness, Earle's office didn't seek the death penalty; the 2 were
>sentenced to life in prison. But in 1996 another Texas inmate, Achim
>Marino, started writing letters - to police, to the Austin
>American-Statesman, to Governor George W. Bush and eventually to the
>D.A.'s office - saying he had killed DePriest. Few believed him until
>2000, when DNA tests revealed that Marino was in fact the sole killer.
>One of Ochoa's attorneys, Keith Findley, says his client signed the
>confession only because police had threatened that he would get the death
>penalty if he didn't. Earle and assistant D.A. Claire Dawson-Brown, who
>worked on the case, say Ochoa may have been frightened in the police
>station, but they point out that he told the same story for years
>afterward. Nonetheless, 2 innocent men had been convicted - and one will
>pay for the rest of his life.
>In 1991 a fellow inmate wearing steel-toed shoes kicked Danziger in the
>Part of his brain had to be removed, and he now lives in a residential
>treatment facility in Jacksonville, Fla.Earle was devastated. He felt
>awful for the victim's family, for Danziger and Ochoa, and, frankly, for
>himself. He told Bryan Case Jr., one of his most trusted assistant D.A.s,
>he was sure the Danziger-Ochoa debacle would mean the end of his political
>But instead of hunkering down, Earle admitted the system had screwed up.
>He asked Case to lead a task force to review hundreds of the office's old
>cases for any other errors. If an inmate still claimed innocence and if
>biological material from the crime still existed, prosecutors investigated
>Eventually they whittled down the list to seven inmates for whom new DNA
>tests might establish innocence. (None of the tests have been conducted
>yet because a new state law requires that the already overworked courts
>oversee the process of locating and testing biological material.)
>After Danziger-Ochoa, Earle realized how lucky he had been that he had not
>sought the death penalty against the men. He was more determined than ever
>to ensure that no innocent went to the death chamber - he couldn't live
>with himself if that happened. But is it possible to create a flawless
>system within a flawed one?
>You might think that deciding whether to seek the death penalty is a
>simple matter of applying the facts of the case to the letter of the law.
>But capital statutes contain wide room for interpretation.
>To win a death sentence in Texas, for instance, prosecutors must first
>convince jurors "beyond a reasonable doubt" that a defendant is guilty of
>capital murder, which is an ordinary murder compounded by at least one of
>several aggravating factors, ranging from murdering someone you know is a
>cop to killing a child under 6. Second, the jury must find - again, beyond
>a reasonable doubt - that "there is a probability that the defendant would
>commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat
>Consider the language. The prosecutor must erase any reasonable doubts
>that jurors can conjure not just about a past event but also about future
>ones. The latter presents an enormously tricky challenge for Earle's
>effort to achieve certainty, since no one can be sure about the future. In
>the face of that incertitude, many prosecutors punt: they seek the death
>penalty more often than not and allow jurors to determine whether the
>defendant is truly guilty and so dangerous that he must die.
>In the past decade, Earle has asked for the death penalty only 17 times
>out of a total of 63 capital-murder cases--27% of the time. (In Texas
>"capital" murder doesn't necessarily mean a death-penalty case; it's the
>designation for any aggravated murder, and prosecutors have full
>discretion in deciding whether to seek death in such cases.)
>By comparison, according to David Baldus of the University of Iowa,
>Philadelphia prosecutors seek the death penalty in about 70% of eligible
>cases. The figure is roughly 60% in Lincoln, Neb., and 45% in Georgia and
>In other words, if Earle wants moral certainty that no innocent is ever
>executed, other prosecutors want another kind of moral assurance - that
>most killers will get the maximum punishment possible. Appellate courts
>are left to sort out mistakes. Who's right? Actually, both are.
>According to Texas law, guilt and future dangerousness are matters for
>jurors, not prosecutors, to decide. Earle shouldn't shoulder
>responsibility for the entire system.
>But the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the prosecution's main job
>"is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done." Texas
>has incorporated similar language into a law, one Earle often quotes.Why
>can't we have it both ways? Why is it so hard to have a death penalty and
>make sure only the guilty receive it? Because of cases like The State of
>Texas v. Delamora.
>On Feb. 15, 2001, Travis County sheriff's deputy Keith Ruiz was shot and
>killed while prying open the door to Edwin Delamora's trailer. Ruiz had
>gone with members of the Capital Area Narcotics Task Force to arrest
>Delamora on charges of selling methamphetamine. Frightened, Delamora fired
>his 9-mm pistol through a window in his front door. Prosecutors said the
>bullet hit Ruiz in the aorta, killing him. Delamora claimed he fired
>because he thought he, his wife and his 2 kids were being robbed.
>For Earle, it was a difficult case from the start. Because Ruiz was a cop,
>people would expect a death-penalty prosecution.
>But Delamora did not have a criminally violent history, which weakened the
>argument for future dangerousness. On the other hand, a jury might be
>convinced that a meth dealer who had brazenly fired a pistol through his
>door had a propensity for violence. Earle remained undecided for months as
>staff prosecutors worked up the case. During that time, the narcotics task
>force conducted a 2nd raid that ended in a fatality. And in yet another
>botched raid, members of the task force held several local residents at
>gunpoint while they searched their property for pot. They found only
>Earle has refused to speak publicly about the Delamora case, but
>associates in his office told me he knew what people were saying around
>town: those task-force guys were Rambo wannabes; it wasn't surprising that
>one of them had been shot. But no matter how aggressive the task force had
>been, it would be politically troublesome for Earle not to seek death for
>a cop killer. He looked forward to hearing what the death committee would
>Formally called the Capital Murder Review Committee, the death committee
>is composed of 10 people from the D.A.'s office, most of them senior
>prosecutors, who hear the evidence in a case and then vote on whether
>Earle should seek the ultimate punishment. Their recommendation isn't
>binding - legally, only the D.A. can make the decision - but Earle always
>considers it carefully. "The amount of information in each case is
>enormous," says Case, the assistant D.A. "You're looking not only at the
>crime itself, the evidence there, but, in addition, a person's entire past
>life is opened for scrutiny ... Maybe the guy was torturing cats when he
>was a kid." The death committee distills that material for Earle.
>Characteristically, Earle picked an interesting mix for the committee.
>One member is Ellen Halbert, a nationally known victims' advocate who in
>1986 was raped, stabbed, beaten in the head with a hammer and left for
>dead. The only nonlawyer on the committee, she is director of Earle's
>victim-witness division. Other members include Patricia Barrera, a
>devoutly Roman Catholic Latina who has a stained-glass cross affixed to
>her window and tries to reconcile her church's opposition to the death
>penalty with her duties as a prosecutor; Buddy Meyer, the gruff head of
>the trial division, who has a handlebar mustache and a picture of a Texas
>Ranger on his wall; and LaRu Woody, director of the family-justice
>division, who possesses a strong libertarian streak - she has a SMOKING
>PERMITTED sign in her office even though she doesn't smoke. First
>assistant D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg and 5 other veteran prosecutors round out
>The members met to consider the Delamora case several months before the
>trial, which was held last July.
>The death committee struggled with this question: Did Delamora know he was
>firing at a cop? Getting a capital-murder conviction would require proving
>he did. Meyer, the trial-division director, explains the reservations in
>the room this way: "The defendant was at home with his wife and children,
>and it was dark, and they were in the bedroom watching TV, and there was
>this loud banging on the side of their mobile home. The defendant felt
>there was evidence that these were people trying to break into his trailer
>and steal his dope and harm his family."
>In the end, though, most members sided with the cops. Other police
>officers at Delamora's trailer that night said they had clearly and
>repeatedly made their presence known.
>Barrera, the devout Catholic, voted against seeking death, as she usually
>does, but she was in the minority. Most people in the room went with their
>prosecutorial gut: "It's really difficult for prosecutors to be fully
>objective about cop killers," says assistant D.A. Case. "Some of us had
>doubts, and we knew Ronnie would have to make an effort at resolving them
>in that particular case... I don't know everything that he was thinking
>when he made that one. I do know it was very hard."
>It's likely that Earle went with his gut too. If he has any doubts, he
>doesn't seek death. He decided that the state would go ahead with its
>capital-murder case, relying on the jury to determine whether Delamora
>knew he was shooting at a police officer.
>But Earle knew jurors could never be dead sure about that, and he took
>death off the table. "We believe we have to look at it that they are
>guilty to a moral certainty, almost beyond any doubt whatsoever," says
>"That's not the legal standard, but it's ours."At the trial, the jury
>found Delamora guilty of capital murder, and because death wasn't an
>option, he automatically received what Texas law calls a "life" sentence
>in prison no possibility of parole for 40 years.
>That wasn't enough for many Texans, who were furious: Ruiz's widow
>Bernadette and his boss, the county sheriff, were both quoted in the
>American-Statesman as criticizing the decision not to seek death. Texas
>attorney general John Cornyn, who was in the midst of a successful
>campaign to become a U.S. Senator, publicly attacked Earle. Nor was
>Delamora pleased; he is appealing.
>In most other jurisdictions that enforce the death penalty, Delamora would
>be appealing from death row. And maybe that's not such a terrible thing.
>After all, at least since 1976, the creaky contraption that is the U.S.
>death-penalty system has worked, in the most narrow sense: it hasn't
>executed anyone who later turned out conclusively - through DNA evidence -
>to be innocent (although it should be noted that states haven't allowed
>DNA testing in all disputed executions).
>Reformers like Earle hope that the capital system can promise something
>greater than merely preventing death at the last minute. It took someone
>like Earle to keep Delamora off death row - someone willing to ignore a
>grieving widow, the local sheriff and his own staff. Which makes Earle
>both courageous and freakish. It's one thing to understand that the
>vengeful emotions that accompany the death penalty can trump the factual
>certainties required to mete it out fairly. It's quite another to
>intellectualize the issue when a woman has lost her husband.
>But Earle has always been a little weird. A close observer of Texas
>politics e-mailed this description of him: "Thoughtful. Conspiratorial.
>Crusader. Half-whacked. Smart. Insightful. Wise. Nuts." Well, not nuts.
>But most of it has a kernel of truth. Earle's reputation as conspiratorial
>derives largely from the workings of his office's public-integrity unit, a
>watchdog office that prosecutes those (including elected officials) who
>commit crimes in the course of their dealings with the state. Earle's job,
>in other words, is to root out conspiracies.
>Earle is often suspected of bringing partisan cases on behalf of fellow
>Democrats. And while he has prosecuted 12 Democrats and only 3
>Republicans, his biggest embarrassment came in 1994, after U.S. Senator
>Kay Bailey Hutchison, a prominent Republican, was indicted for allegedly
>using state employees to do political tasks. Earle amassed thousands of
>documents as evidence, and many thought the new Senator could lose her
>But at a pretrial hearing, the judge and Earle clashed over the
>admissibility of the documents; fearing he would lose, Earle declined to
>present a case.
>Hutchison was quickly acquitted, and Earle was portrayed as a fool.
>Republicans have never quite forgiven him.Like most other prosecutors,
>Earle often sees himself as an advocate - for his constituents, for the
>state, for crime victims.
>Because of their role, prosecutors tend to be portrayed in popular culture
>as modern-day knights. But Earle has come to prefer another metaphor. "I'm
>the gatekeeper," he says. "I don't dare ask my boss, the public, to sit in
>judgment of somebody that I don't think deserves to die.
>That's why they elect me, to exercise that judgment and not bother them."
>Buried in that philosophy is something radical - the notion that the jury
>system, as it's currently constructed, can't be trusted to send only the
>guilty to death row. Most prosecutors wouldn't embrace that philosophy,
>which is why it may take an Earle, not a knight, to slay the demon of
>(source: Time, Inc., July 14)
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