A jury Monday recommended that Gregory McKnight be sentenced to death for the murder of 20-year-old Kenyon college student Emily Murray. What makes this case unusual is that the judge overseeing the case initially prohibited the prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, not because the law did not permit it for the crime (it did), but because he believed that rural Vinton County, Ohio could not afford the defense. After Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery weighed in by filing an appeal, the judge relented and allowed the prosecution and court appointed defense to go forward.
And what a defense it was. Mr. McKnight’s lawyers attempted to pin Ms. Murray’s death on . . . Ms. Murray. They drudged up tragic details of her past to suggest that because she had attempted suicide in high school, maybe she killed herself. The only question then was whether this was before or after she drove 80 miles from her residence, rolled herself in carpet, and placed the carpet neatly in Mr. McKnight’s trailer. Talk about blaming the victim.
It is good that the state chose to challenge the judge’s determination regarding ability to pay, not merely because the decision to bring a capital charge was vindicated by the jury, but also because it leaves fiscal questions for the political branches.