Monday, March 15, 2010

In Search of the 54: Part II

It's been a few days since my claim that I was going to review all 450 Texas executions since 1976 in search of others who might have been factually innocent.  Plenty to report on that issue, and I'll do that before too long. Right now I would like to mention something I found in one particular case.

The case is Texas vs. Granville Riddle. Riddle was convicted of murdering Ronnie Bennett by bludgeoning him with a tire iron. During the trial, Riddle claimed that Bennett made homosexual advances towards him, so he hit Bennett in the knee with the tire iron to ward off the advances. Because Bennett persisted, Riddle hit him in the head with the tire iron, and thereby unintentionally killed him.

Because of details I haven't included here, I consider this case a slam dunk for Texas. On my 0  to 10 scale of being worthy for further review, I scored this one a zero. What I found worth mentioning here was the manner in which Texas refuted Riddle's claim that he acted in self-defense. The State of Texas pointed out that the victim had a blood alcohol level of 0.29, and argued that level would have rendered him unconscious.

Seems reasonable to me.

The Granville Riddle trial was in 1989. In 1995 the State of Texas argued that the 5'9" Hank Skinner was capable of killing Twila Busby and her two hulking sons despite having a blood alcohol level of 0.24. I realize that 0.24 is less than 0.29, but Hank's condition was further aggravated by a triple load of codeine. The state did not dispute the toxicology, they merely claimed that Hank was insensitive to alcohol.

Seems unreasonable.

If Ronnie Bennett had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 coupled with a triple codeine level, I have little doubt Texas would still have argued Bennett was unconscious and incapable of any aggressive action. And had Hank Skinner's blood alcohol level been 0.29 unaggravated by any codeine, I have little doubt they would still have argued he was unimpeded by alcohol as he killed the three people.

In Texas, the significance of any particular blood alcohol level is variable, depending on whether it helps or hinders obtaining a conviction in a capital murder case. 


I've run across a second case of interest: Texas v. James Moreland.  Moreland was convicted of stabbing two men to death, the first because of amorous advances which seemed to be leading homosexual rape, and the second  because the guy startled him. Texas rebutted Moreland's defense by pointing out that the first guy had a blood alcohol content of 0.19 and the second had a blood alcohol content of 0.24. The medical examiner testified that testing indicated both victims had stopped drinking and had probably fallen asleep from 1½ to 2½ hours before their deaths.

Now we have a case where we have one blood alcohol level equal to that of Hank Skinner, and a second less than that of Hank Skinner, and we have Texas arguing that this was sufficient to cause loss of consciousness.  Also, neither of these two men carried a triple load of codeine in their blood to boot.

Clearly if Hank Skinner had been murdered by (for example only) Robert Donnell, and Donnell had claimed self defense, Texas would have argued that Skinner could not possibly have attacked anyone, since his 0.24 blood alcohol level would have rendered him unconscious.

This is getting ridiculous. 

The series continues here.

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