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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ohio-Based U.S. Judge In January: Said Death Penalty Should Halt

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- At the start of this year, a federal appeals court judge said he would no longer vote to uphold any death penalty convictions from Ohio. Hardly anybody noticed. Now the American Bar Association shares many of the same concerns that were initially raised by Judge Boyce F. Martin. From The Daily Bellwether's archives:

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.


  1. "At the start of this year, a federal appeals court judge said he would no longer vote to uphold any death penalty convictions from Ohio."

    Why wasn't he immediately removed from the bench? It is his job to consider each case separately on its merits. If he is saying beforehand that he will refuse to do his job he should no longer be feeding at the government trough.

  2. Hi LargeBill --

    Nah, it doesn't work that way on the federal appeals bench, nor the Supreme Court.

    Judges are appointed nowadays because of their political philosophies or ideology. How do you think Roberts or Scalia made it to the Supreme Court? And that is not a comment meant to take a shot at conservatives -- it is just meant to illustrate how things work at that level of the judiciary. The abortion debate has a lot to do with this, how things have evolved when it comes to the appointment process.