Interview: MIKE GRAY

Mike Gray, author of The Death Game: Capital Punishment and the Luck of the Draw, was kind enough to send me a copy of his book and answer questions about it for my latest newspaper column. Unfortunately, he had little memory of the book or the topics covered… but here is a copy of his words, anyway.

GS: Here in Wisconsin, we do not have the death penalty. Do you see similar legal problems — such as the poor or minorities getting sentenced to life unfairly?

MG: I have no data but it seems impossible that poor or minorities are not suffering in Wisconsin as they are everywhere. People who can afford the best lawyers don’t get the death penalty, period. Same with draconian sentences.

GS: Which is the bigger legal hassle: the defense trying to prove a client innocent, or a prosecutor trying to sentence a guilty person to death, given all the appeals and loopholes?

MG: The answers vary from case to case and state to state.

GS: “Death Game” was published in 2003. What improvements (or setbacks) have happened since then?

MG: I haven’t kept track of developments but my impression from the newspapers is that support for the death penalty is waning nationally. I ascribe that to the dozen or more “death row innocence” cases in Illinois alone, with similar stories drifting in from Texas and elsewhere. There is no doubt now among well-informed critics that we have executed innocent people.

GS: Is your concern with the death penalty more practical (costs, errors, etc.) or moral (all murder, even by the state, is wrong)?

MG: My primary concern in pragmatic. The death penalty doesn’t work. When everything is running smoothly you’re still talking about several years until the guilty party — if in fact he’s guilty — is actually subjected to execution. With life-without-parole the sentence begins immediately and the survivors can begin recovering instead of waiting years for vengeance that may never occur. That’s cruel and unusual punishment for the victims.

GS: I found one passage unclear, which may be due to my limited knowledge of the law. You said at one point the Supreme Court couldn’t hear Gary Graham’s case because a favorable outcome would create a new rule of law, which couldn’t be applied retroactively. Could you explain this, and how does it apply to the later Court decision to outlaw execution of minors?

MG: I can’t remember. Too long ago.

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