Monday, March 29, 2010

Now for Another Cosmic Moment

Back in 1997, the Skeptical Spouse and I drove out to Palm Desert to get a good look at comet Hale Bopp. We drove up into the hills on some dirt roads to get a bit further away from the lights. We stopped for a moment and, from out of the dark, our car was suddenty and maliciously attacked by a big Cujo like dog, who was wagging his tail. "Don't open the door!" she said. "Don't worry about that," he replied.

We moved to another spot, well away from the first. We stared at the comet from inside the car, given that there must have been dozens of Cujo like dogs just waiting for comet watchers who might put their guard down for just that one fatal second.

What was most impressive about the comet was not its brightness, because it certainly wasn't bright enough to illuminate cunning predators. Nope, it wasn't the brightness that was so impressive. It was the extent. If you didn't look directly at the comet, if you used your peripheral vision (as you are supposed to do at night), the comet and its tail together seemed to span the windshield.

There may be a legal moment of cosmic magnitude unfolding before us. Allow me to get you up to speed quickly, as if it's the beginning of another episode of "24".

In our last episode, defense lawyers in a death penalty case submited one zillion pre-trial motions, as usual. The Judge looked at one of the motions and said (in effect): "The death penalty is now unconstitutional in Texas because innocent people have been executed." Everyone went absolutely and irretrievably crazy. "Hurrah!" or "This guy is nuts." Rick Perry himself clutched his chest and said "It's the big one, Elizabeth." The Judge rescinded his order, asked the parties to submit arguments by April 12, and said he will make his final ruling on April 27. 

Now you're up to date.

If the judge sticks by his guns, expect the prosecution to appeal and expect the defense to demand a speedy trial or a dismissal for lack of a speedy trial. If he reverses his earlier ruling (which I think is unlikely), it will be another set back for abolitionists.

The defendant is John Green. He is along for the ride, at least for now. The defense attorneys are Casey Keirnan and Bob Loper, and they have stumbled onto the defense-attorney mother lode.

The Judge is Kevin Fine. He is a recovering alcoholic and ex-drug-user (just to make it interesting), is pretty well covered with tattoos (just to make it more interesting), and a Democrat elected to office (just to give Rick Perry the vapors).

Cosmic moments are rare. I present two below. One is a done deal. The other is a maybe. The done deal is from 1994 when ex-comet Shoemaker Levy 9 crashed into a now-battered but still rotating Jupiter.

The second is Judge Kevin Fine explaining his thinking on why it might be legally impermissible to execute factually innocent people. Time will tell whether of not he impacts the Jovian legal system.

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