Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Impending Execution of Martin Link

Martin Link is scheduled to be executed by the people of Missouri on 9 Feb 2011 for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 11-year-old Elissa Self. I find no credible evidence that Link might be factually innocent of the crime.

For those of you convinced that we execute only guilty people, I suggest you consider the many cases of people wrongfully executed. Examples include (but are no means limited to) Johnny Frank Garrett, Frances Elaine Newton, and Cameron Todd Willingham.

For those of you opposed to the death penalty under any condition, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the details of some of the crimes for which people are condemned to die. For the details of the crime committed by Martin Link, I offer the following description taken from his appeal State v. Link.
On Friday, January 11, 1991, just before 6:30 a.m., eleven-year-old Elissa Self left her house at 3844 Humphrey Street in South St. Louis to walk less than three blocks to catch her bus to Enright Classical Junior Academy, a school for gifted children. It was a cold, rainy morning, and Elissa's mother insisted that she wear boots and carry an umbrella. Elissa never arrived at school, and at about 8:20 a.m. the school called Elissa's parents to tell them that Elissa was not present. Elissa's parents drove around the neighborhood looking for her, but they were unable to find her, and they went home and called the police.
During the next four days, police canvassed the neighborhood, interviewed possible witnesses, and investigated calls and letters on possible sightings. On Tuesday, January 15, 1991, two persons who were scavenging at the Black Bridge recreation area along the St. Francis River, 135 miles south of St. Louis in Wayne County, found Elissa's body in a large pile of debris that had washed up on the riverbank. Police soon searched the area and found Elissa's boots, but none of her other belongings. One of the small boulders that defined the perimeter of the parking area had been pushed out of place, and there was a tire rut in the gravel leading up to that boulder.
Elissa's body was autopsied twice. The autopsies revealed two fresh oval-shaped bruises on Elissa's upper left arm, which were consistent with someone grabbing her arm tightly. Her lips were bruised and torn on the inside from being pressed against her teeth. The autopsies also showed that she had been raped. Her external genitalia were bruised and swollen, and there was a five-millimeter tear in the area leading to her vagina. Her hymen had been torn as well. Inflammation had begun in her vagina, and blood in her panties had partially dried, indicating that she survived for some time after the rape.
The cause of death was ligature strangulation. There were two long, thin bruises, about five to seven millimeters wide, around her entire neck. These bruises were consistent with a cord having been wrapped completely around her neck, with each end of the cord held in front of her. A pathologist testified that Elissa had been strangled to death slowly, losing consciousness after about five to ten minutes and dying after about thirty minutes. Although she still may have been alive when her body was dumped in the river, the amount of brain damage she sustained from the strangulation indicated that she never would have regained consciousness. Because the cold water had preserved her body, the time of death could be established only during the interval between the time of her kidnapping to twenty-four hours before she was found.
At about 9:24 p.m., on January 26, 1991, eleven days after Elissa's body was found, a City of Kirkwood police officer saw Martin Link driving with a headlight out and attempted to pull him over. Link led the officer on a high-speed chase, eventually crashing his car into a telephone pole, and was then taken into custody. In a search of the car, officers found a jar of petroleum jelly with Link's fingerprints on the jar and flecks of blood embedded in the jelly. In addition, officers took tape lifts from the inside of the car in order to obtain fiber evidence.
During the investigation, officers discovered that Link had grown up five blocks from where Elissa was kidnapped and had attended the school near Elissa's bus stop. In the early 1980s, Link lived in a house less than a mile away from the Black Bridge recreation area, the place where Elissa's body was found. At the time Link was arrested, he was living in South St. Louis, about 1½ miles from where Elissa was kidnapped.
Officers also discovered that Link was registered at a motel just outside of St. Louis from January 9, 1991 to January 11, 1991. Link checked out at an unknown time on January 11, the morning that Elissa was kidnapped. That night, at about 1:55 a.m. on January 12, Link checked into a motel in Desloge, Missouri, which is about seventy miles north of Black Bridge on a direct route from Black Bridge to St. Louis. A witness noted that Link's car was loud, "like a car that had a bad muffler on it." At about 8:30 a.m., Link called the S & S Muffler shop and "was very insistent" that he get his car fixed that day. He was told to bring in the car that afternoon and did so at 2:30 p.m. He explained to the employees that he was coming from further south and that he had to get his muffler fixed or else he would get a ticket in St. Louis. While he was at the shop, he kept pacing in the waiting room and checking to see if the work on his car was finished.
As part of the investigation, a special agent at the FBI crime laboratory compared three fibers found on the front passenger seat of Link's car with fibers from the sweater Elissa had been wearing when she was kidnapped. The agent determined that the fibers found in Link's car were "consistent with having come from the victim's sweater."
DNA tests conducted by two different labs showed that Link's DNA matched the DNA found in sperm cells on vaginal swabs taken from Elissa's body. The state's DNA expert set the odds of such a match at one in 6,600. The testing also revealed that Elissa's DNA matched the DNA in the blood found in the petroleum jelly jar seized from Link's car. The odds of that match were one in 48. The joint probability of both of these matches occurring by chance was less than one in 300,000.
Link did not testify at trial, but he called two witnesses who had reported seeing Elissa after 6:30 a.m. on January 11, 1991. He also called a detective who had worked with one of these witnesses to make a composite drawing of a man she allegedly saw with Elissa, but who did not resemble Link. He also called two witnesses who worked as buyers in the clothing industry to testify to the large number of cotton/ramie sweaters, like the one Elissa wore, that were imported every year. He called two DNA experts to testify that the DNA tests performed by the other two laboratories were faulty. In addition, one of the DNA experts and a third expert testified that the state's conclusions about the probabilities of Link's DNA being found in the sperm on the vaginal swab and Elissa's DNA being found in the blood in the petroleum jelly jar were incorrect. Finally, Link called an accident reconstructionist who testified that the boulder at Black Bridge could not have damaged the muffler on Link's car.
In rebuttal, the state presented its own accident reconstruction evidence. Investigating officers testified that they obtained a car of the same year and model, with the same kind of tires, bumper arrangement, and exhaust system as Link's car. They backed the car up to the boulder that had been moved out of place at Black Bridge, whereupon the tailpipe and muffler made contact with the boulder, thus showing that the boulder could have caused the damage to Link's car.
I oppose the execution of people who might be factually innocent of the crime for which they are to die. I suspect that to prevent the execution of the factually innocent, we might have to ban the death penalty entirely.

With respect specifically to the execution of Martin Link, I stand mute.


Anonymous said...

There is an old saying that says “An eye for an eye and soon the whole world would go blind”. I, like the author of the article in The Skeptical Juror (and any sane rational human being) believe that the execution of the innocent is probably one of the worst horrors of our species. To be put to death at a known place and time would be horrible enough, to be innocent of the reason, true hell.
In the case of Martin Link, or more aptly put, the hideous death of 11 year old Elissa Self, what can anyone say? That Martin Link perpetrated a primal urge upon an innocent child? Or perhaps that because of his prior abuse as a child (according to The Forgiveness Foundation) Link should be excused from the ultimate penalty this planet offers? That it is possible (even with the DNA evidence) that the wrong man was sent to the gallows?
All are arguments, not necessarily good ones, but arguments none the less. If we are to believe that at our very core we are spirit, then in essence by doing something to destroy the body (i.e. kill it) we only release the spirit. If you take that approach, then all that was accomplished in the execution of Martin Link is that he was kicked off the planet. If you believe in reincarnation, then it’s only a matter of time before he is returned as another life form. Perhaps as a human (a better one for the trouble I would hope) or maybe even a lesser life form (but that depends on you reincarnation belief matrix). If you believe that death is the ultimate finality of existence, then Martin Link is gone forever never to return or subject the human race to his existence or behavior again. Of course if that were the case you would think that by now we (as humans) would have wiped out all the evil on the planet by now, and that certainly does not look like the case.
At any rate, my prospective is this; that while I deplore the thought of the taking of life, there are unfortunately circumstances under which it seems appropriate. In the case of Martin Link’s execution it should be noted that he was allowed to live in prison approaching twice as long as the victim’s entire life. Add to that is the fact that at 47 years old (the time of his execution) that Martin Link had lived four times as long as the victim of his crime. Now I don’t know if this reading audience has seen the movie “A Time To Kill” but crime in that movie the crime is very close (scary close) to what happened to 11 year old Elissa Self. The most horrifying last moments of a young girl’s (or anyone’s for that matters) life could not be imagined. For that alone our collective consciousness screams for justice. So while I will continue to struggle with the conflict of the importance of the taking of human life for any reason I believe it was due time to send Martin Link along for whatever is awaiting him, or at least deny him further breath on the planet. I also believe that it would have been more appropriate to have sent him along in the same manner that he did Elissa Self, rape and then slow strangulation followed by drowning. Like I said, it’s a struggle to deal with the conflict of a innocent 11 year girl dying is such a hideous manner, and the perpetrator having such a quiet pleasant slumber ending after 20 years of hot meals and shelter. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Yes I know, I should pray more.

JJ said...

Don't get me wrong, this was a horrible tragedy what happened to that poor young girl and her family. However, the way they came to suspect Link makes little sense to me. Cops 135 miles away pull him over for a headlight out, then he runs and gets pinched after a chase.

The cops then "spotted a jar of petroleum jelly with specks of blood and Link's fingerprints on it"? I'm sorry, but just spotting a jar of vaseline with flecks of blood in a car from some dope who ran from cops to beat a traffic warrant would not resonate with me that it is "probably the guy who killed that girl 135 miles away".

Just seems like a HUGE leap from traffic arrest to murder suspect of an 11-year old girl victim. Not to mention the DNA probabilities are nothing compared to what you normally see in cut and dry cases today. I certainly hope a lot of info is being omitted.

Anonymous said...

JJ, Please, re-read the rest of the evidence! You missed some details that put him in the area on those days and much more.

God in heaven is the final judge and He knows the truth and the best reward or punishment for all.


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