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Life in Prison Too Harsh for a Killer?

AP has a story about Wilbert Rideau, who in 1961 robbed a bank and took three employees hostage. He shot all three, and stabbed teller Julia Ferguson to death. He confessed to the crime, and was sentenced to death. Pre-trial publicity marred his case, and an appeal created a landmark Supreme Court case in which his conviction was thrown out, and he was granted a new trial. Because of racial irregularities in the trial process and changes in the law, he was granted a total of three new trials, the last of which followed his sentence being commuted to life in prison in 1970 as a result of the Supreme Court temporarily striking down the death penalty. In his most recent trial--the first to feature a racially mixed jury--he was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, and has been released based on 44 years of time served.

Now, there were multiple, serious problems with his case, including pretrial publicity, the racial composition of the grand jury, and the racial composition of the jury. But one thing never changed: there is no question that he committed the crime. He has never denied it. Nonetheless, the Left has become quite enamored with his case. You see, he is a respected writer. He has even been on the speaker circuit from prison. He narrarated an NPR documentary. He’s Oscar nominated! Oh, and by the way, he has never denied that he shot and stabbed Julia Ferguson--a mother, a caretaker for her invalid father, and a Sunday school teacher.

I know that there are many with strong feelings about the death penalty, but this is not even a death penalty case (at least, not after his sentence was commuted in 1970). No, this is a case which asks whether life in prison is a fair punishment for someone who admittedly killed a woman in cold blood. (As best as I can tell from the articles, his sole defense was that he stabbed her because he felt rushed, and that he didn’t walk in the bank with the intent to do that. But it is black letter law that intent can be formed in the twinkling of an eye--or, in this case, in the raising of a knife.) A friend who has been involved in multiple death penalty cases once commented to me that if the death penalty were abolished, the left would then target life-in-prison as being too severe. One needs look no further than the statement of Rideau’s lawyer to see that case being made already: "The stabbing of Ferguson was ’a terrible act, a criminal act, one for which he deserves great punishment, but not one for which he deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life,’ [Rideau’s attorney Juilian] Murray said."

Discussions - 8 Comments

If stabbing someone is a horrible crime, but one that doesn’t deserve life, then what does? And, why, after he has confessed to the crimes is he still given a trial? Sometimes I wonder if our system in place is there to protect the people or the criminals.

"one for which he deserves great punishment, but not one for which he deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life,"


Is this a joke? I bet if he killed someone in the attorney’s family, life in prison wouldn’t seem so barbaric anymore. What a crock.

I feel that his lawyer needs to serve some time for "felonious asininity".

Gawd, the apocalypse may be near.

I suspect you’re right about the Left and how it would go for the next slice off the salami if the death penalty ever gets abolished in this country.

A useful bit of research would be to look at all those European countries that now make opposition to the death penalty an article of almost-religious faith, and see whether they ever actually impose life sentences and carry them out. (Remember that death-penalty foes always push "life w/out parole" as their "I’m tough on crime, too" alternative.)

My hunch is that you’d find that all those Euro countries which revile capital punishment also rarely impose--and never enforce--actual life sentences even for extremely heinous crimes. Whether this distaste for harsh punishment will survive the wave of Islamofascist terrorism that is building against the soft and sheltered "Eloi" societies of urbane Europe, we shall see. Holland may be the canary in the coal mine--it’s arguably Europe’s most permissive society, and it also has w/in its borders what seem to be some highly cruel Islamofascists.

This must be one of the most pointless posts I’ve ever seen here at No Left Turns. Yes, yes, everyone here in the little club agrees he should stay in jail for life.
yawwwwwn. Next post please...

Unfortunately, Mr. Kanze, the club at NPR is rejoicing in his release. Is it any wonder that the left has taken a beating for years for being soft on crime?

Well, if you don’t like the radical leftist propaganda at NPR (chuckle), just switch your radio back to Rush or your tv to Fox News for the straight, unbiased, unadulterated facts and NEWS.
Have they called for Rideau to be lynched....um...errr..executed yet?

To Lori Hahn,

As for Rideau, it does concern me somewhat that he is now allowed to be free. But allegedly he has been called "the most rehabilitated criminal in America." He served 44 years, and for the crime he committed, a jury determined that he had been imprisoned long enough (as a manslaughter conviction meant he would go free).

You said that you "wonder if our system in place is there to protect the people or the criminals."

Considering that the United States has the highest percentage of its population in jail or prison, it seems that we the people are being protected from a lot of criminals.

Are criminals non-people? You have probably interacted or lived next to some (released) criminals at various points in your life, whether you know it or not.

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