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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

U.S. Judge Boyce Martin: Abandon The Death Penalty

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Federal appellate Judge Boyce F. Martin's opposition to the death penalty is so vehement he contended in an Ohio case this week it should be completely abandoned. Martin says most court-appointed lawyers defending accused murderers are underpaid and inexperienced. He believes their clients are sentenced to die even when there is a possibility of innocence.

''In our capitalist society, you get what you pay for," Martin said. "We are yet to show a willingness to adequately compensate members of many professions (public school teachers, military and emergency response personnel, social workers, and yes, attorneys for defendants who represent indigent defendants, to name a few) whose competent performance is most important to the functioning of our democracy."

Martin, 71, was appointed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter. He serves on the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and has been increasingly blunt in his criticism of capital punishment. He was pungent in his dissent Tuesday after the court refused habeas corpus for Michael W. Benge, of Hamilton, Ohio. Benge had a crack cocaine habit. He was convicted of killing his live-in girlfriend in 1993. The woman, Judith Gabbard, was dumped in the Miami River. He has been on Ohio's Death Row for nearly 14 years.

Martin postulates Benge may have been sentenced to death simply because his trial was held in Butler County, which may be stricter than others in Ohio. That make the death penalty arbitrary and unfair in his view. Martin said he has become a disciple of the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who believed capital punishment should be abandoned.

"As I have previously stated, 'I know my place in the judiciary, and I recognize that unless and until the Supreme Court deems it necessary to address what I (like Justice Blackmun and others) view as the inherent arbitrariness of the death penalty, my reflections on this topic will only be observations without the force of law. In the meantime, I add my voice to those dissenters who have hoped the Supreme Court 'eventually will concluded that the effort to eliminate arbitrariness while preserving fairness in the infliction of death is so plainly doomed that it -- and the death penalty -- must be abandoned altogether.'" (Quoting Blackmun.)

The entire text of the Benge ruling is HERE. Judge Martin's 7-page dissent begins on Page 13.

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