Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Impending Execution of Christopher Thomas Johnson: My Analysis

I presented the case against and (best as I could) for Christopher Thomas Johnson here. If you have not read that post and the comments, you are unlikely to understand this post.

I almost didn't open deliberation in Johnson's case, since his guilt is abundantly clear. He not only admitted his guilt, he encouraged his own execution to the extent it seems almost as if he was pursuing suicide by State, as PolyWogg observed.

I am nonetheless pleased with my sagacity in opening the case to deliberation because of the quality of comments that followed.

Anonymous J is unwilling to stand in the way of a self-confessed murderer who volunteers for the needle. Sweet and to the point.

In what seems like a clear cut case, PolyWogg opens her discussion with "I see only five possible things to debate." I suggest readers elsewhere would find nothing to debate.

Simply Anonymous wonders whether the state had proven intent, then ponders whether it would be cruel and unusual punishment to sentence him to life imprisonment when he demanded to be executed. An interesting question.

English Observer wonders about mental health issues, suggesting that the State should have satisfied itself that Johnson was sane before it pursued his execution. (I suspect the State did have him examined, and the psychiatrist indicated Johnson knew right from wrong. That's about all it takes.)

And there was not a single, mindless "Let him fry and good riddance" in the lot.

In every case in which I sit as a juror, whether physically or vicariously, I look for weaknesses in the State's case. They have the burden of proof, even in a case such as this, and I refuse to relieve them of that burden. There are a couple issues in the case that attracted my attention.

Looking at what little timeline information is available, I see the mother went to bed after 1 AM, got up at 9 AM, and saw bruises on the baby. The doctor also noticed bruises on the child's body. Since it takes a while for a bruise to develop, the assault must have occurred at least in part some time before the bruise became obvious. As a juror, I would like to know how long it takes for such bruise to occur. I would also like to know if bruises can form postmortem. As I juror, a possibility hits me. The bruises were caused by an earlier assault.

The ME also said that the baby suffered 85 recent and separate injuries of great variety (and cruelty). How long would it take to inflict so many injuries, I wondered. At one every 6 minutes, that would be 10 per hour. That would take 8.5 hours of intermittent violence. If instead the injuries were inflicted at the furious rate of one every 6 seconds, that would be 8.5 minutes of unrelenting violence. Neither seems likely to me. I wondered a bit more if some of the injuries might have been pre-existing.

Also, Johnson stated that it was the hardest that he ever hit the baby. That sure sounds as if he had hit the baby previously.

At this point, I would suspect that the baby had experienced abuse earlier. I would also suspect that the mother could not have been ignorant of Johnson's violence towards her child. I would suspect there was more to the story than I was being told.

None of my musings, however, made any reasonable case that Christoper Thomas Johnson might be factually innocent of the crime for which he is scheduled to die. I therefore stand mute with respect to the propriety of his execution.


Anonymous said...

Hidey ho, SJ. Interesting, I guess I was looking at the case from more of an "appeal" perspective than if I was on the jury. I too find the # of bruises difficult to understand, but the statement that it was the hardest he'd ever hit him was sufficient for me to accept that not all of the bruises were from this assault. As to whether bruising can show up later, the answer is yes -- although they show up as I recall more as trauma to the body. That the child was abused seemed likely even from the perspective that it didn't seem like he suddenly "snapped" so much as he probably just went too far. And, I agree that it is unlikely that the mother was ignorant of the outcome. Although, it also suggests to me that it is quite possible Mom was also involved in prior abuse or even the cause. But, like you, I don't see anything to suggest he's factually innocent or even reasonably not guilty.

After that, the only thing I can add is that you assumed facts not in evidence -- PolyWogg is a "he", not a "she" (nick for Paul, not Polly) :)

aka Paul

tsj said...

Mea culpa. I did indeed assume facts not in evidence, just as I would have had I written "he" and not "she." It is one of the weaknesses of our languauge that the writer is not allowed a gender-neutral, singular pronoun for a third person.

Had you signed your comment "The PolyWoggs", I could have safely relied on the pronoun "they." Had I written to you directly, as I am now, I could have relied on "you", whether or not you are plural or you is singular.

But instead, I wrote my way into a cruel corner, having to guess. I could have restructured the sentence, but I was tired and weary, and I cheaped out. I even recognized that I did not know your gender, and I'll admit I was influenced by the Poly portion of the name. (I would have been influenced differently if you had signed PaulyWogg.)

But I also had some insight you could not have had. By far, the majority of people who identify themselves to me when requesting assistance or offering help are female.

So as it turns out, you too assumed facts not in evidence: that my error was based solely on your anonymous handle.

It's almost as if life keeps trying to teach us a lesson everywhere we turn.

Anonymous said...

Therein lies a massive difference between our legal system & yours: our system rigorously invests in finding out whether people's mental state has affected their judgement. He would not have been able to defend himself, moreover he may well have been able to enter a "Diminished Responsibility" plea. Whether or not he would have been able to uphold it is a different matter altogether.

An observation: our most dangerous psychopaths are in high security mental units, considered unsuitable for prison; your most dangerous psychopaths are on death row, considered unsuitable for Planet Earth!

The US criminal justice system by turns amazes me and scares me to death.

An English Observer.

Post a Comment