The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

19 February 2007

Like we're sociologically sick

Silly me, I thought life without parole meant, well, life without parole. What was I thinking?

Daniel Hawke Fears was convicted in September 23, 2004 for the killing of two women, Patsy Wells and Reba Spangler and shooting several others during a shooting spree covering 20 miles of U.S. 64 from Sallisaw to Roland Oklahoma. A Sequoyah County jury convicted Fears to two terms of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; nine terms of life imprisonment; and 120 years.

On July 7, 2006 by unpublished Opinion the Court reversed and remanded the case to the District Court of Sequoyah County for entry of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. Attorney General Drew Edmondson filed a Petition for Rehearing on July 19, 2006. The Oklahoma Criminal Court of Appeals issued an order staying the mandate on July 20, 2006. On January 26, 2007 the Court denied the Petition for Rehearing and ordered Fears to a mental facility in Vinita, Oklahoma. The jury in this case was denied its decision and essentially ruled incompetent.

United Victims group is asking the Legislature to investigate possible Constitutional violations in the appeal of Fears v. State under Article 8, Section 1 & 4 of the Constitution of Oklahoma. Court members may have violated their oath, consciously disregarded state law and incorrectly cited the "Oklahoma Truth in Sentencing Act" as law that was repealed July 1, 1999 without ever taking effect.

This presents a problem only when you look at the general porosity of state law: says United Victims head Roger Nix, son of Patsy Wells, "According to the loose mental laws in Oklahoma, in 30 days he could be free to walk."

And, well, someone who claims that aliens were controlling his brain is probably not someone who ought to be running around loose, Officer Krupke.

Posted at 5:26 PM to Soonerland


Gee, Charles, as someone who has previously been skeptical of a culture of victimhood, it's strange to see you buy into this idea without any of your trademark skepticism.

So, if we're to believe all of this, we can trust 12 average people to deliver the right verdict but think that trained mental health professionals are going to think a man this sick is "cured" in 30 days in a move that would certainly cost all of them their jobs, if not their medical licenses.

When appellate courts set aside trial jury verdicts against big corporations that give people "something for nothing," that's justice. If they rule in a 44-page ruling that the law was not followed correctly, and the question of law about whether the state met its burden to disprove an affirmative insanity defense means the verdict gets set aside, that's suddenly "against the law?"

Every defendant, criminal or civil, moves for the verdict in favor of the people (or plaintiff) to be set aside because the jury didn't do its job correctly, and guess what - sometimes it gets set aside! That's why the motion is on the books. You know as well as anybody that a directed verdict of "not guilty" doesn't mean "life without parole doesn't mean life without parole" and it's beneath you to imply otherwise.

As for quoting the victims, well, I think that's why from the Magna Carta onwards, civilization decided that victims don't get to set punishments. If somehow you think locking up a mentally-ill 18 y/o in a mental hospital for life is somehow "better" than putting him in the state prison because maybe he won't suffer as much, congratulations - you're human (and you're wrong - they're both holes). There isn't anyone arguing that the kid was sane; they're only arguing that because he didn't shoot the police as well that he "knew right from wrong," which is the kind of remote diagnosis of which Dr. Frist was proud in the Schiavo case.

Rooting for people who were mentally ill to get more punishment because you can is not only probably a symptom of a different mental illness, it's a waste of breath and ink. John Hinckley, Jr., could be the sanest individiual on Earth today and he's still never getting out of St. Elizabeth's mental hospital until one of the Reagans advocates for it. This guy ain't getting out of Vinita until the families of his victims advocate for him, either, currently scheduled for the 12th of Never.

No one can really possibly believe the guy will be released in 30 days or even 30 years. They just want him to hurt more, and this is a handy excuse. Falling back on the idea that jury verdicts "must never be overturned" or someone else has to go to jail, well, that really shouldn't even be the subject of serious argument, should it?

Posted by: Matt at 1:47 AM on 20 February 2007

When you hear "life without parole," think "Willie Horton." He'd been sentenced to life without parole, too...and Massachusetts let him out on weekend furloughs that gave rise to a very interesting presidential campaign commercial.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at 3:55 AM on 20 February 2007

Having been at one time a guest of this state's mental-health facilities, I am not exactly sanguine about their ability to keep tabs on this fellow. And I'm not keen on the let's-impeach-the-judges movement; on the other hand, I'm also not buying the idea that it should be quashed because, hey, they're judges.

As to whether "no one can possibly believe" this guy will get out in X amount of time, well, life is full of possibilities.

Posted by: CGHill at 7:13 AM on 20 February 2007

Hey Matt,
I don't remember seeing you at the 2 week long trial...so I guess you read the 2 ft. thick transcript?

So you don't think Fears could get out of the Forensic center? Let me refer you to Title 43A, Section 7-101 (you'll have to do your own homework) but it basically says that a "consumer" may be released to "willing family members or friends" for a "convalescent leave" based entirely upon the opinion of the director of the facility. If he stays out for 12 months they'll have to discharge him. This is a public safety issue.

Our group is not seeking revenge, we simply want to keep the community safe from a person who has demonstrated that he is capable of killing. What happens if he's released on meds and he decides to stop taking them?

The real issue in this case is Daniel Fears took a huge dose of CCC (triple C) before he went on the rampage. He then called his friend and asked "do you want to go on a ride into oblivion?" (he declined), then he nearly ran over my niece which started this rampage. Greg Caughman told him to slow down and this made Fears mad. That's about it, he was a mad punk. After he killed my mother (she got up after the first shot, so he shot her again) then shot my stepfather. Then he aimed the gun a a neighbor woman across the street who had befriended him on his occasional visits to his father's house. He aimed at her, but then declined to shoot her, got in his truck and drove away.

His bottom-feeding lawyer said "Fears was playing a game...the "aliens" told him to shoot as many people as he possibly could in the least amount of time" ....except his friend across the street.

The jury didn't think he was insane, due in part to the fact that he demonstrated several times that he was aware of what he was doing.

The fact is, he'll be out on the street shortly if we don't do something about it as a community.

Would you want him living next door to you or your family?

Posted by: Roger Nix at 9:11 AM on 20 February 2007

Roger, I don't mean to even comment on your pain because it's not something I comprehend - empathy, sympathy, none of that even comes close to what I'm imagining.

Nonetheless, it's not hard to find the statute you mention, and section B of that item plainly states that discharge shall be for a person" who is no longer a risk to self or others as defined in Section 1-103 of this title." I think there's a pretty strong note for this guy's case file that if he was found mentally ill and *not* "under the influence of drugs," then being weaned off the drugs does not make him sane.

Section C is closer to what you mention, and it only allows such leavings "in accordance with policis prescribed by the Commissioner," and it's going to be a *lot* easier for you and your family to advocate for stricter administrative regulations from the Commissioner of Mental Health than it would be to try to impeach anyone. Thanks to the David Hall-era laws, the meetings where those things are decided (if they ever change at all) are all open to the public, and probably about 4X as transparent as any legislative process. You don't have to convince dozens of legislators to change a law; you just have to convince mental health professionals that this guy remains dangerous - and I still don't really imagine they're going to argue against that very much.

Plus, it says in the statute, "A convaelscent leave or visiting status may be granted rather than a discharge when the complete recovery of the consumer can be deteremined only by permitting the consumer to leave the facility." I admit this is possible, but it doesn't sound likely to me. I'm as liberal as they come, and I don't know anyone who's pushing to see violent offenders released from any kind of custody.

But this is not why I commented - I commented to chide Charles for pretending that he doesn't understand what a directed verdict is, or that somehow "life without parole" doesn't mean what it says, at least in Oklahoma, at least in the post-Willie Horton era. It's a well-understood topic, even "answers.com" says so:

A directed verdict is not made by a jury. It is a verdict ordered by the court after the evidence has been presented and the court finds it insufficient for a jury to return a verdict for the side with the burden of proof. A court may enter a directed verdict before the jury renders its verdict. If the court allows the jury to make a verdict but then disagrees with the jury's evaluation of the evidence, the court can decide the case by issuing an order. For example, under rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a court can grant a judgment of acquittal to a defendant. In civil cases the court can issue a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

This has all been true for hundreds of years, and arguments that "the jury was ignored" or such are just silly - courts direct "not guilty" verdicts in response to convictions unsupported by evidence all the time, and such phrases about "ignoring juries" are designed to inflame the public, not serve the law. It's even more confusing when it's "not guilty by reason of insanity," because the state then has an affirmative duty to refute a burden of insanity met by the defense. Just like courts direct acquittal for defendants who got convicted for being unsympathetic instead of for having been proven guilty, they direct these verdicts if the defense met their burden and the state didn't refute it.

Again, I don't know more specifics than what you've posted (I have no idea what "CCC" is but it sounds nasty), but if the defense met the "insanity" burden by law, the jury doesn't have the right to ignore that and put him in prison instead of the asylum anyway. That's jury nullification, and when the courts see it, they're supposed to act - but because of "innocent until proven guilty," they're always supposed to act in favor of the defendant. Rememeber the whole "sometimes guilty people go free so innocent people don't get convicted" idea?

Yeah, I know we seem to have the worst of both parts of that equation, and the whole "unpublished opinion" thing kind of makes my skin crawl. Most courts don't publish all opinions; the only exception is SCOTUS, and even they have taken pains to say "don't use this as a precedent" in a few weird cases (Bush v. Gore, anyone?). I'm not saying justice was served in your case, Roger. But neither will I pretend that directed acquittals are some bizarre concept that means sentences aren't harsh enough, as Charles implied at the top of this mess.

This is where you want the Scottish option: "guilty but insane."

Posted by: Matt at 2:38 PM on 20 February 2007

CCC is Coricidin Cough & Cold -- The cough medicine componenet -- dextromethrophan hydrobromide -- can cause a "high" if taken in large doses. CCC is popular since it is in tablet form and easier to take in large doses as opposed to cough syrup.

PS--There are many other example of Fears' sanity--such as not shooting at the one neighbor he knew and liked, looking both ways before turning, stopping at stop signs--these are all prime examples of sanity. The last two are definitive to many people, as he was aware of his OWN safety.

Posted by: Sharon at 3:33 PM on 20 February 2007

I don't want to get into an evidence argument (even though I may have started one, ugh, sorry about that), but my limited understanding is that "sanity" in criminal felony trials is whether you knew right from wrong, not whether you were aware of your own safety.

This, by the way, is what I hate about the law in general - I still have this ideal that it's supposed to be about the people (govt) seeking the truth and the defense trying to force them to prove their case, but this stuff about "they ignored the jury! Verdicts can't be set aside unless we agree!" just pushes the truth of the matter out of the way in favor of 'winning,' which serves neither the public good nor the public safety.

But feel free to ignore me - I'm one of the people who still believes the people did not prove their case against O.J. Simpson. Not that they couldn't have, but that they didn't.

(Well, actually, I'm one of the few who thinks he didn't do it, but that's only because there is an alternate theory that seems to fit the evidence much, much better than the prosecution's and explains his actions - read the last paragraph of this, and then read this for more detail. Doesn't really absolve O.J. at all, but it shows why skepticism can be a good thing. So, yeah, feel free to ignore me - I claim no special powers, I'm just a lifelong holder of minority opinions.)

Posted by: Matt at 2:52 AM on 21 February 2007

Matt

Thank you for your interest in this case.

The impeachment action we are calling for is a strategy to get another "Petition for Retrial" before the court via Drew Edmondson. If the judges are removed (certainly a long, long shot) then 3 more are appointed that may adhere to the logic of Justice Lumpkin. In addition, the Court is at fault here and the people of Oklahoma need to know about it. The Court is not above the law and using repealed laws in their Opinion is absolutely and positively wrong.

As for Title 43A, we don't want policy dictated by a Commissioner. We believe the law should clearly outline and address how demonstrated killers should be handled. We could sit back and pray the psychiatrists do the right thing, but we can't take that chance.

In the end, we may not accomplish anything but we have to try.

I ran across a quote from a psychiarist, Dr. Lee Coleman, M.D., from his book "The Reign of Error: Psychiatry, Authority and Law" (Published in part in "The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology" by Northwestern University -

"My experiences as a psychiatrist tell me that psychiatry should be stripped of its state-given powers for two main reasons. First, psychiatrists do not have the tools that society thinks they have. They have no special way of predicting who will commit a criminal act or of determining when a criminal is cured of antisocial tendencies. They have no tests to determine a person's innermost thoughts, even though the courts assume they do."

"Second, problems associated with psychiatric power are really ethical and political considerations rather than scientific or medical ones."

Posted by: Roger Nix at 11:05 AM on 21 February 2007