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article imageOp-Ed: Dead man walking from James Hanratty to Duane Buck

By Alexander Baron     Sep 17, 2011 in Crime
The death penalty is back in the news again for all the wrong reasons as the execution of a convicted murderer in Texas is stayed by the US Supreme Court.
The death penalty is an issue that often results in heated debate with proponents for and against arguing with instinct rather than with reason. On the pro-side there is the eye-for-an-eye brigade, and on the other are the whinging liberals, with all shades of opinion in between.
Last Thursday, Duane Buck was scheduled to die by lethal injection for a double murder in 1995. There is no question about Buck’s guilt; he was sentenced to death in 1997, and as always in the United States, his conviction has been subjected to proper scrutiny by the appellate courts.
His execution was halted at the eleventh hour on the basis of an appeal that is, at best, spurious. Buck you see is black, and according to one report his case is “tinged with racial controversy” because “His defenders blame his death sentence on courtroom testimony by a psychologist who said black men are more likely than others to be repeat offenders after leaving jail.”
As usual, this is a total distortion of the truth. In the first place, as stated, there is no controversy over Buck’s conviction; he was found fit to plead, and was convicted on compelling evidence. Secondly, at his trial, a defense psychologist testified that he did not believe Buck would be a future danger based on several factors, primarily that he had no prior violent criminal record, and did not display violent tendencies.
On cross-examination, Dr. Walter Quijano was asked the following question:
“You have determined that the sex factor, that a male is more violent than a female because that’s just the way it is, and that the race factor, black increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?
To this, the good doctor replied simply “Yes”.
This one word has now yet again unleashed the all-pervasive racist conspiracy so beloved of Chris Bambery and his ilk, but what do the question and the answer mean in context?
Simply that men are more violent than women, and that black men are more violent than white men. The truth of this first statement is attested by both the history of the world from when Cain slew Abel, and the current murder statistics of the United States and everywhere else.
Let us for the sake of argument ignore the second claim; the defense psychologist is also claiming – truthfully – that men are more dangerous as well as more violent than women, so if he had not made any allusion to race, Duane Buck could still have appealed on the grounds of sexism, right?
Clearly, this appeal is contrived, for surely poor men are more likely to murder for material gain than billionaires. A case could even be made out for physically repulsive men being more likely to commit rape in the future than handsome ones.
So should Duane Buck executed? Clearly many people believe he should, and by no means all of them are white, but before we answer that question, let us consider the case of James Hanratty, who was hanged for murder in England nearly forty years ago. He was back in the news last month when the Camden New Journal carried a story by John Gulliver about the fascination of his case for the artist Norma Buddle. John Gulliver – or perhaps that should be John Gullible – is the journalist who was duped by Nazi-hunting fantasist Gerry Gable in December 2009.
For those interested in the minutiae of the case, the full judgment in Hanratty’s second (and posthumous) appeal against conviction can be found here, but briefly, in August 1961, Hanratty committed a truly shocking crime, first kidnapping Michael Gregsten and Valerie Storie at gunpoint, then murdering Gregsten before raping Miss Storie, shooting her several times, and, leaving her for dead, driving off in Gregsten’s car.
Miraculously, Valerie Storie survived, although she was left paralysed for life. Hanratty was arrested two months later, charged on October 14, 1961, committed for trial between November 22 and December 5, and tried the following year for the murder only – as was the custom as that time.
Hanratty’s trial for the A6 Murder as it is known, opened on January 22, 1962, and ended with his conviction on February 17. At the time, it was the longest murder trial in English criminal history, although many have now lasted longer, including the Shipman trial, the trials of Levi Bellfield, and the trial of Rosemary West.
Hanratty appealed his conviction, the appeal was dismissed on March 13, and he was hanged at Bedford Prison on April 4, 1962.
An official photograph of James Hanratty who was convicted of the A6 Murder. Hanratty was widely and...
An official photograph of James Hanratty who was convicted of the A6 Murder. Hanratty was widely and erroneously believed to have been innocent.
Public Domain
The controversy over Hanratty’s conviction continues to this day; space does not permit a full analysis, suffice it to say that all this controversy – including the confession of Peter Alphon, who was put up to it by Jean Justice – is manufactured. There is absolutely no doubt that the right man was hanged for the A6 Murder. Consider the time scale though, less than six months from arrest to execution including appeal; this was typical at the time, the point being that in the overwhelming majority of murder cases there is absolutely no need for a delay of more than a decade between conviction and execution.
The case of Duane Buck is by no means exceptional, indeed there are some inmates who have been on death row for over two decades; cop killer and poster boy Mumia Abu-Jamal has been there close to three decades, and although he is alive today only by virtue of a long series of spurious appeals, he is not the longest serving death row inmate.
The very fact that for whatever reason convicted murderers can spend so much time on death row is ludicrous, scandalous, and a waste of money. It has also been argued with some justification that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. So what is the solution?
The State of Texas and other US states have clear mandates from their respective citizens to apply the death penalty, but if in the first instance it were to be applied only to the worst of the worst, and in the second, if it were to be speeded up considerably, there could be no reasonable objection to its continued employment.
The worst of the worst are serial killers, men who have murdered again and again and again. In such cases, the chance of any sort of miscarriage of justice is close to non-existent, so where evidence of guilt is absolutely overwhelming, what possible objection can there be?
Clearly, such men can never been released – except, apparently, in Scotland – and in any case, they don’t have much to look forward too. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, a life sentence with no parole is not a soft option.
Finally, what is to be done with those few serial killers who have some sort of mental impairment? The simple answer is that they too should be executed. It makes no sense to execute intelligent people but not to execute dumb ones; even those who are criminally insane should be held accountable for their actions; as in the case of Joe Paraskeva, madness is and should be no excuse, a claim with which convicted serial killer Ian Brady heartily agrees.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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