Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Monday, September 19, 2005

Nevada Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty for Murderer/Child-Abuser

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Nevada handed down an opinion in Weber v. State, 121 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 57, upholding a jury verdict sentencing Tim Weber to death for sexual assault on a child under 14, use of a minor in producing pornography, possession of a visual presentation depicting sexual conduct of a person under 16, two counts of first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon, two counts of attempted murder with the use of a deadly weapon, two counts of first-degree kidnapping, two counts of burglary, three counts of sexual assault on a child under 16, and three counts of open or gross lewdness.

Weber lived with his girlfriend, Kim (no last name provided, for obvious reasons), and Kim's three children: a 17-year-old boy, a 15-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl. On the morning of April 4, 2002, Weber raped the 14-year-old, murdered Kim, and murdered the 15-year-old. The 15-year-old was found face-down on his bed, with a t-shirt stuffed in his mouth, duct tape around his mouth and eyes, and around his wrists and ankles. A plastic bag had been wrapped around his head, and the coroner found the bag full of blood, vomit and hair. The coroner determined he had choked to death very, very slowly after vomiting through his nose. There were 45-pound dumbbells on his arms, and injuries on his arms indicated he had struggled to get free.

Kim's naked body was found stuffed into a Rubbermaid tub in the closet, with a plastic bag over her head. Wounds on the back of her head indicated she died of blunt force trauma.

A search warrant turned up copious child pornography on Weber's computer, including images of Weber having sex with the 14-year-old girl. Confronted with this evidence, she admitted that Weber had been raping her for five years, meaning she was nine years old when it began (also meaning it started the same time Weber moved in with Kim).

The number of witnesses (the girl survived and testified to her rape, and several friends saw the middle child get in the car with Weber) is overwhelmingly corroborated by fingerprint evidence on the bags and duct tape. There is simply no doubt that Weber committed these atrocious crimes.

I have expressed some doubts about the wisdom of the death penalty: from a penalogical perspective, the existence of the penalty is not an effective general deterrent (although of course it is a very effective specific deterrent). From a judicial perspective, there is simply too much doubt in many cases -- not just about the identity of the killer, but about the prejudices of the jury, unfairness in the process, racial motivations, and the effective assistance of counsel (often overworked public defenders making very little money with very few resources). From a religious perspective, I believe in a just God who will make things whole, and that the ultimate judgment represented by capital punishment may in wisdom be better left to Him, and that God can change the heart even of a murderer.

And yet, cases like this one are the reason I have not formally abandoned support for the death penalty. I am aware that many of the arguments in favor are weak, and that many arguments against are very strong. But an undefinable concept like "justice," although it cannot be quantified, is something that human beings intuitively sense, and it is a feeling that may easily be outraged by less than full vindication. Perhaps going to a liberal law school softened me up to capital punishment (and perhaps, instead of the school, it was simply the fact that I took a far more detailed look at the question than I ever did before school), but as "softened" as I've become, I cannot read a case like Weber and feel that the result was wrong.

Update: In looking for more information on this story, I found the web site of a local news channel which printed the last names of the victims. I think that's absolutely outrageous, given that the horrible experiences suffered by the two survivors are now in the public domain. I won't link that one, or the piece by the Las Vegas Review-Journal which does the same thing.

I think that's terrible.