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."