Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

December 19, 2005

An Innocent Man on Death Row

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:04 am

No, not “Tookie” Williams, who’s “innocent” only in the eyes of people who think it’s OK to kill Taiwanese immigrants. This is something competely different.

Radley Balko has this summary:

Sometime in late 2001, Officer Ron Jones collected a tip from an anonymous informant that Jamie Smith, who lived opposite [Cory] Maye in a duplex, was selling drugs out of his home. Jones passed the tip to the Pearl River Basin Narcotics Task Force, a regional police agency in charge of carrying out drug raids in four surrounding counties. The task force asked Jones if he’d like to come along on the raid they’d be conducting as the result of his tip. He obliged.

On the night of December 26, the task force donned paramilitary gear, and conducted a drug raid on Smith’s house. …

As the raid on Smith commenced, some officers – including Jones — went around to what they thought was a side door to Smith’s residence, looking for a larger stash of drugs. … The door was actually a door to Maye’s home. Maye was home alone with his young daughter, and asleep, when one member of the SWAT team broke down the outside door. Jones, who hadn’t drawn his gun charged in, and made his way to Maye’s bedroom.

Cory Maye was in that bedroom with his 18-month-old daughter. He shot and killed the man he thought was an intruder bent on harming his daughter or him — but who turned out to be a police officer looking for the next-door neighbor.

Cory Maye — who had reason to fear for his life, and who, no prior criminal record whatsoever, had no reason to believe someone breaking into his apartment would be a police officer — is now on death row in Mississippi.

Balko continues:

Police said at trial that they did announce themselves before entering Maye’s apartment — Maye and his attorney say otherwise. I’m inclined to believe Maye, for reasons outlined in this post. However, even if they did, announcing seconds before bursting in just before midnight, isn’t much better than not announcing at all. An innocent person on the other end of the raid, particularly if still asleep, has every reason to fear for his life.). Maye, fearing for his life and the safety of his daughter, fired at Jones, hitting him in the abdomen, just below his bulletproof vest. Jones died a short time later.

Maye had no criminal record, and wasn’t the target of the search warrant. Police initially concluded they had found no drugs in Maye’s side of the duplex. Then, mysteriously, police later announced they’d found “traces” of marijuana. I talked to the attorney who represented Maye at trial. She said that to her knowledge, police had found one smoked marijuana cigarette in Maye’s apartment. Regardless, since Maye wasn’t the subject of the search, whether or not he had misdemeanor amounts of drugs in his possession isn’t really relevant. What’s relevant is whether or not he reasonably believed his life was in danger. Seems pretty clear to me that that would be a reasonable assumption.

It apparently wasn’t so clear to Mississippi’s criminal justice system. In January of last year, Maye was convicted of capital murder for the shooting of Officer Jones. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Let’s summarize: Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn’t named in the warrant, and wasn’t a suspect. The man, frigthened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door’s been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town’s police chief. He’s later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.

Documents from the case are here.

Balko also quotes Mississippi’s murder and self-defense laws, which seem to make it clear that, from the facts that are not in dispute, Cory Maye did not violate the law:

Here’s the text of Mississippi’s “capital murder” law, for which Maye was convicted and sentenced to death:

“(2) The killing of a human being without the authority of law by any means or in any manner shall be capital murder in the following cases:

(a) Murder which is perpetrated by killing a peace officer or fireman while such officer or fireman is acting in his official capacity or by reason of an act performed in his official capacity, and with knowledge that the victim was a peace officer or fireman…

Emphasis mine. The question is, did Maye know that Jones was a cop? I’ve yet to see trial transcripts or the police report, but Maye’s former attorney tells me that the police team conducting the raid insist they announced themselves before breaking into Maye’s apartment. The jury, I suppose, therefore concluded that a reasonable person in Maye’s position should have known that Jones was a cop.

Maye’s former attorney has her doubts. I have mine, too. There’s plenty of reason to suspect otherwise. First, it’s doubtful that Jones and the officer who broke the door down ahead of him announced themselves. It’s clear from the warrant that they weren’t even aware the target of the warrant was a duplex with a second, separate residence. What’s more, Jones stormed Maye’s bedroom unarmed, a pretty clear indication that the police didn’t believe someone else was taking up residence there. Why would a cop announce if (a) the SWAT team has already apprehended the subject of the raid, and (b) the entering cop desn’t suspect there’s anyone else in the room he’s entering?

Second, even if Jones or another officer did announce themselves, there’s still penty of reason to think a reasonable person in Maye’s position could still not have known the invaders were police.

It was late at night. It was dark. And Maye was frightened. Further, given that Maye wasn’t a criminal, wasn’t a drug dealer, and wasn’t the subject of the warrant, you could make a pretty good case that a guy like Maye would assume that anyone breaking down his door in the middle of the night would be anybody but a cop. He certainly hadn’t done anything to merit such a violent apprehension. Instead, a reasonable first reaction would have been to assume it was an intruder about to do him or his daughter harm.

Which brings us to self-defense. Maye’s actions didn’t meet a capital murder charge on its face. But he also had the right to defend himself, his daughter, and his home. Here’s Mississippi law on justifiable homicide:

(1) The killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or omission of another shall be justifiable in the following cases:


f) When committed in the lawful defense of one’s own person or any other human being, where there shall be reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury, and there shall be imminent danger of such design being accomplished…

Put yourself in Maye’s shoes. You have no criminal record. You’ve done nothing wrong. In the middle of the night, in a bad neighborhood, you awake to find someone attempting to break down your door. The door flies open, and a man in black paramilitary gear comes storming into your bedroom, where your infant daughter also happens to be sleeping.

Not only is that set of circumstances “reasonable ground” to think that someone is about to do you “great personal injury,” and that you’re in “imminent danger” of said personal injury being accomplished, you’d be crazy not to take quick action to defend yourself.

The SWAT team was in Maye’s home illegally. And they failed to exercise due dilligence in obtaining the search warrant, given that they were obviously unaware that the target of the warrant was a duplex with a second residence. These are facts.

I’d argue that the town of Prentiss, and the men who executed the warrant owe Maye compensation. Lots of it. Instead, we’re arguing about whether Maye ought to be put to death for defending himself.

Something’s very wrong, here.

Here’s another interesting tidbit:

[S]everal people have asked about a legal fund, and about the adequacy of Maye’s current counsel. I don’t know about any defense fund, and I’m neither qualified nor the appropriate person to start one up. Should one get going, though, I’ll be sure to post the details. When I called the Mississippi ACLU shortly before putting up the first Maye post, they had never heard of his case. Perhaps they’d be the most likely source of competent representation for him.

Now, is it really reasonable to believe that there is a disputed death penalty case in Mississippi, and the Mississippi ACLU has never even heard of it? That’s really strange. That’s really, really strange.

The national media doesn’t seem to have taken any interest in the case, either. Keith Boykin thinks this is because Maye is black and the dead officer is white. But that doesn’t sound right to me; normally the media folks love a story with a racial angle like that — as does the ACLU.

What’s different about this case is that anyone taking the side of Cory Maye is taking the side of the right to self-defense, and by implication supporting Second Amendment rights.

And if there’s one constitutional right the ACLU opposes, and most of the national media opposes, it’s the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. They are not going to support Cory Maye, because that would undermine their position in support of gun control and against the right of self-defense. In their book, it’s OK, or at least forgivable, for Tookie Williams to muder a white convenience store clerk and three Taiwanese immigrants — but to be so uppity as to defend your own home and family is the only crime worthy of the death penalty they oppose for actual criminals.

Follow-up: Silent Running has an open letter to Governor Haley Barbour and Orin Kerr at Volokh Conspiracy and Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber have some comments as well.

And, lest you think the solution is not to have a gun and/or not to shoot intruders, that won’t protect you either. The Last Blog reports that under similar circumstances “The Denver Police killed the wrong man because not only did they misidentify the victim the mistook a soda can for a weapon.”

Katrina killed the rich, too

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:41 am

A few days ago I noted that contrary to national media reports and the claims of Democratic politicians (sorry for being redundant there!), those killed in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina were in fact disproportionately white, not disproportionately black. (Whites make up 28 percent of the city’s population but 36.6% of the Katrina fatalities; blacks are up 67.25 percent of the population and 59.1 percent of the fatalities.)

Well, another canard is that Katrina killed mainly the poor — those who didn’t have cars and couldn’t afford to buy a ticket out of the city. As Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said,

“The ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role in who survived and who did not.”

(Keith Boykin has a list of similar comments here.)

Well, we’ve already dealt with the “skin color” part. Now onto the “economics” part: The Los Angeles Times — not exactly an organization known for its desire to point out the flaws in Democrats — reports that:

Katrina Killed Across Class Lines

The well-to-do died along with the poor, an analysis of data shows. The findings counter common beliefs that disadvantaged blacks bore the brunt.

By Nicholas Riccardi, Doug Smith and David Zucchino

The bodies of New Orleans residents killed by Hurricane Katrina were almost as likely to be recovered from middle-class neighborhoods as from the city’s poorer districts, such as the Lower 9th Ward, according to a Times analysis of data released by the state of Louisiana.

The analysis contradicts what swiftly became conventional wisdom in the days after the storm hit — that it was the city’s poorest African American residents who bore the brunt of the hurricane. Slightly more than half of the bodies were found in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, with the remainder scattered throughout middle-class and even some richer districts.

“The fascinating thing is that it’s so spread out,” said Joachim Singelmann, director of the Louisiana Population Data Center at Louisiana State University. “It’s not just the Lower 9th Ward or New Orleans East, which everybody has heard about. It’s across the board, including some well-to-do neighborhoods.”

Because New Orleans was one of the nation’s poorest cities, where more than one in four residents lives below the poverty level, many of the victims were still found in neighborhoods that were impoverished by national standards. But by the standards of New Orleans, those neighborhoods were economically stable, and deaths citywide were distributed with only a slight bias for economic status.

Of the 828 bodies found in New Orleans after the storm, 300 were either recovered from medical facilities or shelters that offer no data on the victim’s socioeconomic status, or from locations that the state cannot fully identify. Of the 528 bodies recovered from identifiable addresses in city neighborhoods, 230 came from areas that had household incomes above the citywide median of $27,133. The poorer areas accounted for 298 bodies.

The state official in charge of identifying Katrina’s victims, Dr. Louis Cataldie, said he was not surprised by the findings. “We went into $1-million and $2-million homes trying to retrieve people,” he said.

Many of the city’s wealthier neighborhoods sit on Lake Pontchartrain in the lowest-lying sector of town, [Richard] Campanella[, a Tulane University geographer] said. For example, Lakeview, a predominately white neighborhood that contains mansions valued at more than $1 million in addition to crowded streets studded with modest bungalows, fronts the lake and is adjacent to the 17th Street Canal. When the levee collapsed, the neighborhood was destroyed. The only neighborhood with comparable destruction, the Lower 9th Ward, sits on higher ground but was unluckily flanked by two broken levees.

(Anybody else remember reading that only the poor lived below sea level? )

Dean may have been right about age, but this had nothing to do with the government response to the hurricane after it hit:

Campanella … noted that 70% of the identified Katrina victims in New Orleans were older than 60, frequently lifelong residents who had ridden out other hurricanes and refused to evacuate. Elderly people are more likely to be wealthier and to live in wealthier neighborhoods.

Of course, with all the rhetorical mudslinging, we should not forget the tragedies, which often go beyond just deaths, if that is possible:

Of the 1,095 people killed by Katrina in Louisiana, the state has formally identified and released demographic data on 535. Many other victims are tentatively identified, though 93 remain unidentifiable. A couple of bodies are recovered every week, and officials say other victims may have been swept into the Gulf of Mexico, never to be found.

Medical and dental records were destroyed by the storm, and many corpses are so severely decomposed that traditional identification methods such as fingerprints are useless.

Even with the majority of the bodies identified, the state is unable to determine when most died, or how. Many death certificates bear the date of Katrina’s landfall — Aug. 29 — even though the victim could have died days later. Given the severity of damage suffered by bodies in the floodwaters, cause of death is also extremely difficult to determine and will never be known for many victims, Cataldie said.

Oh, Well.

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:18 am

Oh, well. I didn’t win.

It’s an honor to have been nominated, and to have received 54 votes, which is enough to know that they weren’t all from me. Thanks to all of you for your support. And keep reading and commenting! ;-)

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