So… Scott Peterson gets the Death Threat Penalty

I’m not sure it means all that much in practical terms for the jury in the Peterson trial to sentence him to death. The media has made a big deal out of the fact that the State of California is not in the habit of executing those so sentenced. I really feel for that jury: it’s one thing to read about the atrocities men commit against their loved ones in the paper. It’s another thing entirely to spend 9 months talking about one guy, and the evil things he allegedly did, while he, his family, and his victims’ family sits on.

To the Peterson jury: Good on you. You made it through this one, and from the sound of things you made a tough call.

A friend of mine was a juror for a local murder trial. The ex-husband in that sad story murdered his ex-wife with a shotgun at her front door… while their daughter looked on. The daughter testified against her dad. My friend’s experience was gut-wrenching, but fortunately not drawn out. He came back to work after the trial at peace with himself, which is probably as much as any juror in a capital trial can hope for.

I’m also reminded of the recent Lori Hacking case here in Utah. Mark Hacking is yet another man whose lies and infidelities (whether consummated or not) led him down a darkened path where the only exit he could see required him to commit a murder. Ah, the deceptions we practice upon ourselves when we begin deceiving others… foremost among them is the mistaken belief that we can choose a destination other than the one at the end of the road we’re on without having to leave that road first.

I have little doubt that Scott killed Laci. Sure, it’s POSSIBLE that this was a third-party crime, but even without evidence, when the wife is murdered, the lying, cheating husband is ALWAYS the suspect at the top of the list. We married men have a horrible, horrible track record. Not all of us, mind you, but there’s this small, sociopathic segment in our demographic that makes us all look like potential killers, like murderers waiting only for a motive.


39 thoughts on “So… Scott Peterson gets the Death Threat Penalty”

  1. I suspect Peterson will still manage to die. I just don’t think it’ll be at the hands of the state so much as those of the inmates in the prison. Sending a pregnant-wife-killer to jail is tantamount to a death sentence anyway – criminals though they may be, inmates don’t generally take kindly to abuse or murder of women and children.

    1. The number of deaths in California prisons, as of a few years ago, was less than 20 per year:

      In the 29 badly-overcrowded state prisons for men, more inmates died violently in 1997 than at any time in more than a decade, according to statistics compiled by the Associated Press. Sixteen prisoners died at seven prisons, the highest toll since 19 deaths in 1987.

      Nevertheless, it happens.

      And Mr. Peterson’s situation will be well known. If his attitude in prison is anything like his attitude before, he will not focus on making friends and building alliances. And a cocky loner in prison is a target for takedown.

      ===|==============/ Level Head

      1. This might sound a bit cold blooded.

        Whenever I hear the Peterson Trial on the news, I always got the impression that I must have tuned in 5 minutes into the story and I missed the part where they explained why it was significant.

        I don’t mean to sound cold blooded and ghoulish, but there are murders around the country every day that never make it past one mention in the local paper. I didn’t pick up on why this one was any more worthy of national coverage than any of the others.

        I’m more in the camp of: ‘Every man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.’ Surely if Laci Peterson and the child’s death is worth this much coverage, so are all the others?

        I just don’t understand why all the news editors decided to plaster this one across the airwaves for… months and months.

        1. There are some case which gain prominence because they involve “celebrities.” On the other hand, some cases gain prominence simply because… someone just picks it up and suddenly, it’s national news.

          1. I think you’re right, but I guess that’s what bothers me.

            It seems they picked this particular criminal case for its “Entertainment Value”.

            I am not entertained by watching people in mourning.

  2. Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ had a very insightful passage that addressed the difficulties inherent in administering justice, especially in instances of capital punishment. It went something to the effect that a happy medium is necessary between paralysis and arbitrary action, otherwise the system in question would not persist. Come to think of it, didn’t it use the stoning scene from the Bible?

  3. I’ve thought a lot about it which is worse – to send an innocent man to die for a crime he didn’t commit, or to let a guilty man go free.

    I mean, I think Scott did it, too. I didn’t think they’d succeed in convicting him, but I was wrong. And I’m glad he’s getting the death sentence.

    But that little “what if” in the back of my mind makes me wonder which is worse, and I think, in general, I’d rather err on the side of KILLING the INNOCENT GUY.

    Which surprises me, frankly.

    But when you think about the eternal perspective, the innocent man, though robbed of his life, will get to return to his maker — all in all a good thing, from what I hear — and the victims can have some degree of peace that justice has been served… even if they’re mistaken.

    (When our mother was killed by a drunk driver, the drunk driver died too — and I gotta tell ya, that spared me a whole lot of bitterness and hatred that would’ve hurt no one more than me.)

    Whereas if the guilty guy goes free, he’s free to commit more crimes, to destroy more lives, etc.

    Am I alone in this leaning?

    1. No. But it is controversial.

      At the same time, we like our cars, though tens of thousands of innocents die per year as a result, a situation that you are all too personally familiar with. You have my sympathy.

      It does mean that human life is sometimes considered precious above all else, and sometimes considered something to exchange for convenience.

      I enjoyed your strip, by the way, and I’ve read it all.

      ===|==============/ Level Head

    2. As an atheist, I object pretty strongly to what I see as the ending of the only existence a person has.

      (not intending this to be a pro vs con debate on religion, just making my counterview clear)

      1. Well, even taking the afterlife out of the picture, doesn’t it seem like the moment you take another’s life, you’re revoking your own right to live? I mean, if some psychopath went around killing people, but nobody drew a gun and shot him because “then he’d be DEAD!”… then more people will die.

        I can understand from that perspective not wanting to give the death penalty for any crime less than first degree murder, but it still seems like you’d want to execute murderers.

        1. From where I’m sitting

          I oppose the death penalty because I do not believe that the state has the right to kill its citizens. I also hold war to be immoral on these grounds, but acknowledge that the real world doesn’t conform to ideal circumstances. The death penalty, however, is a circumstance in which the real world can be made to conform to the ideal. And since I do not believe in an afterlife, to take someone’s life against their wishes is among the most horrific crimes I can contemplate. Compounding that wrong (execution) does not help.

          1. Re: From where I’m sitting

            That’s an understandable position. I disagree with it, as I’m sure has been made clear, but I respect your right to hold it, and to vote in hopes of enforcing it.

            In fact (and this will likely turn your stomach), I respect your right to hold that opinion enough that I will support our government in the killing of those who would attempt to remove your right to voice your opinion.


          2. Re: From where I’m sitting

            You’ll notice I acknowledge that we live in the real world. I also acknowledge that rational people can disagree. This makes me utterly unsuited for discussing things on the Internet.

            *ahem* OMG HOWERD U SUKC!!!!!111

            There we go. Feels more natural, you know? 😉

          3. Re: Ah, MUCH better…

            [obscene exclamation]!!! [insinuation about questionable sexual proclivities]!!!!11 [profanity]!!!1 [derogatory assessment of mental acuity]!! lololololollol!!!!!!!!!!11

        2. Well, even taking the afterlife out of the picture, doesn’t it seem like the moment you take another’s life, you’re revoking your own right to live?

          Again (by the way, when I say “again” it’s because I’ve made the point in some other reply to somebody) – the problem is that absolute proof that the guy on trial is the guy who committed the crime is generally well-nigh impossible to find. And if it turns out later that you got the wrong guy, there’s no taking back the death penalty.

    3. Another view about convicting the innocent…with any crime or penalty. I’ve always thought that the natural inclination fot the authorities is to say “one crime, one convicted perp. OK draw a line and on to the next one”. And there’s a fair workload to get through, too. But convict the wrong individual and the true criminal is still out there, committing more crimes. Not that anyone will connect him to it unless he’s a serial killer or similar.
      But Timothy Evans was hanged for Christies crimes…

      And you can’t undo an execution.

    4. Un-Freaking-Believable.

      Randy, don’t use your blind faith on subjects of airy abstract metaphysics like life after death to justify killing innocent people. If you don’t let Muslim terrorists off the hook when they play the faith card, you can’t do it yourself. Faith gets a bad enough reputation for this as it is. Deservedly so. And you’re not helping. It is not OK.

      Krenn, this is a pro vs. con on religion. Your “counterview” should be called “NOT being criminally insane.” When my super-tolerant progressive friends claim that faith in America is harmless and not a problem, I can show them case after case after case that it’s not much better than faith in the Middle East. This example is going in my archives.

      1. Re: Un-Freaking-Believable.

        As a society we have to be willing to take action, and ANY action on ANY subject with ANY set of consequences can be mistaken. We will NEVER have perfect knowledge.

        So the question is “can we as a society justly put people to death, even when there’s a non-zero chance that we’ll kill innocent people?”

        Let’s ask it differently. “Can we as a society justly go to war to defend our way of life, our homes, and our families, when there’s a non-zero chance that we’ll kill non-combatants, friendly soldiers, and innocent people?”

        In both cases I feel very strongly that the answer is YES. The checks and balances in our judicial system (innocent until proven guilty, jury of peers, guarantee of an attorney, etc) and the massive decision-approving structure of our military (going to war requires quite a bit of alignment among opposing factions within the government) ensure that the non-zero chance of killing innocents is closer to zero than at any earlier point in human history.

        The alternative is a paralysis in which our enemies and the criminals at home can thrive.


        1. Re: Un-Freaking-Believable.

          The checks and balances in our judicial system (innocent until proven guilty, jury of peers, guarantee of an attorney, etc) … ensure that the non-zero chance of killing innocents is closer to zero than at any earlier point in human history.

          The problem with this is that any one of these can go wrong. You can get an incompetent attorney, the jury can be racially or socially stacked against you, and the “innocent until proven guilty” thing actually holds up pretty well, so I don’t know what I was saying with the “any one of these”.

          the massive decision-approving structure of our military

          …? Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it’s always been my impression that under the War Powers Act, the President can pretty much start a war all by his lonesome should he so desire.

          The alternative is a paralysis in which our enemies and the criminals at home can thrive.

          That, my friend, is a classic example of a false dichotomy. Nobody with half a brain in their head is proposing that we choose between the death penalty and putting people back on the streets. The choice is between the death penalty (which, with the way it works in America, is wholly ineffective as a deterrent) and life imprisonment (which is actually cheaper and much less time-consuming than the death penalty).

          And to skip back a bit and answer one of your (I presume rhetorical) questions: No, I don’t think we can justly put people to death if there’s a chance that we’ll kill innocents. I’ve always felt that one of the best things about America is that our justice system has historically placed a higher priority on protecting the innocent than on punishing the guilty. The death penalty continually runs the risk of being a government-sanctioned murder of an innocent, and it offers little in return except vengeance.

          …Whew. Kinda got on a roll there.

      2. Re: Un-Freaking-Believable.

        Oh, and Randy’s faith is hardly blind. You don’t know whereof you speak, Matt. You may not believe like he does, but you have very little understanding of why he believes like he does.

        If you do want to understand his beliefs, you’re going to have to be willing to try to become a Mormon. You’ll be better for the attempt, but it would be silly to attempt it simply to improve your arguing position.


        1. Re: Un-Freaking-Believable.

          And I have to echo Howard here — my faith isn’t “blind”. One of the primary principles of what folks call “Mormonism” is that God answers prayers, and that if you ask him if something is true (like the scriptures, or some aspect of them), he’ll answer you. That first step — asking — is about where the blind faith ends. Once you have an answer, you can go on experience.

          That said, I wouldn’t expect anybody to blindly agree with me, either. And I wanted to hear what you thought, though we disagree. That’s why I posted my question in the first place.

          1. Faith and the blindness thereof

            First, let me say that Howard and Randy and the other people who post here are among a very small handful of people I know who have faith and live by it but can somehow manage to not be annoying or preachy about it, and the last thing I want to do is come across as some intolerant proselyte for atheism or skepticism or whatever -ism you want to attribute to me. That said, now I’ll go and say something that’ll contradict it. (Otherwise known as the “I have nothing against X; some of my best friends are X” argument.)

            If you can point to an answer from God that is indisputably and objectively so, there are a lot of people who’d like to see it. The problem with saying “my faith is justified by the answers/miracles/whatever I’ve seen God provide” is that it’s your very faith that causes you to believe that whatever phenomena you’ve observed really *are* answers or miracles or what-have-you. That faith, inasmuch as you don’t even realize you’re involved in an act of faith, is certainly blind.

            I’m reminded of the Protestant who told me that his faith was based on some sort of miracle that he had personally witnessed, but who couldn’t explain to me what the miracle was “because [I] wouldn’t understand the significance of it.”

          2. Re: Faith and the non-blindness thereof

            It’s simple, really. Faith can grow into a “sure knowledge,” but the proof provided by God is proof that can only be experienced by the individual for whom it was intended. “You recieve no witness until the trial of your faith,” to paraphrase the scriptures. You don’t get a witness as a result of the trial of MY faith.

            In short, the indisputable answer from God that I can point to is indisputable BY ME.

            If YOU want an indisputable answer from God, you must exercise enough faith to first pray to know the truth about whatever it is you’ve got questions regarding, and then exercise sufficient faith to receive an answer.

            There is a promise found in the text of the Book of Mormon that says just that. In essence “read this book, have faith — even if it’s just a DESIRE to believe, and then pray to know whether it is true.” (link — verses 3-5) You are neither required nor expected to rely on others’ answers to that question.

            Your Protestant friend had it pretty much right. TELLING you about the experience would only be useful insofar as it encourages you to go out and seek your own experience.


        2. Re: Un-Freaking-Believable.

          For the record, I support what you say about war and capital punishment. When I support it, I do so on grounds that I can share in common with my fellow man — no matter what religion he is– through observation and reason, like you have done here. Surely you see the difference in the way your brother supported the argument. Even supporting war and capital punishment, no way would I ever say that the killing of innocents is really for the best, as he did. I admit I can’t really know for sure how similar Randy is to the way I used to be when I was a fundamentalist Christian. But he sounds like I used to sound.

          1. Re: Un-Freaking-Believable.

            Now that I’ve read a bit of your lj, Matt, let me just add — in total sincerity, lest folks infer sarcasm or worse –that you atheists who possess love for your fellow man, and who care and want to make the world a better place — you folks I admire with an almost reverent awe. I’ve known several folks like you now, and I can say with certainty that the world is a better place for having you guys in it.

    5. But when you think about the eternal perspective, the innocent man, though robbed of his life, will get to return to his maker — all in all a good thing, from what I hear — and the victims can have some degree of peace that justice has been served… even if they’re mistaken.

      What bugs me about that is that it bears a striking resemblance to the arguments put forth in favor in some of the witch trials in the olden days. Y’know how they’d often test somebody accused of being a witch? They’d push her off a cliff or tie her up and throw her in a lake. If she was a witch, she’d use her powers to save herself. If she was innocent, she’d go to a good Christian death. And hey, her family can even have that “degree of peace” you mentioned, knowing that the charges against her have been cleared.

      if the guilty guy goes free, he’s free to commit more crimes, to destroy more lives, etc.

      Again – false dichotomy. The choice is between the death penalty and life imprisonment, not the death penalty and freedom.

    1. Re: Something to think about…

      Straight out of The Gift of Fear, by Gavin deBecker. GREAT BOOK.

      I’ve mentioned it before in my posts. Now is as good a time as any to mention it again, and to encourage everyone to read it.

  4. I agree that it’s ridiculous that this case got national coverage. I also thought it was ridiculous that OJ got that kind of coverage on his trial.

    That being said, the way Peterson acted after his wife went missing was very suspicious. I think he probably did do it. I think they had enough evidence to probably convict him. I don’t think they had enough evidence to sentance him to death.

    The state is supposed to help and protect people. Scott is almost certainly a murderer. Fine, slap him in jail, the bastard. Don’t kill him because there wasn’t a great deal of direct evidence. If somebody had SEEN him do it, or if there was her blood found in HIS boat (not just a hair on a pair of pliars) I’d say cook him in the chair tomorrow.

    Capital punishment is fine by me. I just wish we’d change one thing about it. And that is putting charges of attempted murder or murder against people who perjure during those trials. There are lots of examples of this, where to protect somebody people give false testimony against another. These people are no better than the killer.

    As for Randy’s statement up there, he should have phrased it better than “killing an innocent isn’t so bad cause they get to go back to their creator” because that’s a really REALLY bad way of putting it. Justifying criminal law actions through any religious argument is not kosher. The seperation of Church and State is to PROTECT us from that kind of argument. Because it’s not a long stretch from that to using religion as a tool against others.

    Also, killing somebody is hard on their family. If they’re guilty, that’s one thing. But killing somebody without damn good justification is another. I’m not convinced they had enough evidence to give Peterson the death sentance.

    Howard, you talked about war as well, and the inability for justice and war to completely avoid hurting innocents. That’s true. Which is why we need as close to absolute justification as we can possibly have before we execute a criminal or start a war.

    Our current war is, I think, and pretty good example of a war that wasn’t well justified and now we’re reaping all sorts of problems from it. And will CONTINUE to do so for at least another generation.

    The state holds human life is as worthwhile or worthless as we all agree upon. If we devalue it too much by executing people without really strong evidence and making war without rock solid justifications we will find the same thing happening to us.

    The jurors had an incredibly hard decision to make. I wouldn’t want to have been on that jury because it really did appear to be a hard case. Not knowing everything that was presented, I’m not positive on what I would have done as a juror, but I think I’d have convincted, but voted for life in prision.

    And I hope I would have managed to not vote to convinct him just to spite the asshat defending lawyers and their ‘showboating’ with the boat mockup they tried to put into consideration even after having it disallowed by the court. Idiots.

  5. A lifetime in prison is to me just as immoral as the death penalty. So I’m pro death penalty. It’s just as bad, but why pay for their food and shelter? Also, they can escape and get back to more killing. A government is suppose to protect the law-abiding citizens, not the criminals.

    What we need is better, more accurate ways to make justice. This will ensure that the guilty get the punishment, whichever it is.

    1. institutionalized

      A lifetime in prison is to me just as immoral as the death penalty

      Yeah, ever seen somebody who’s institutionalized? It’s real. I have a relative who’s that way, he’s been in and out since he was 15, and just keeps getting worse. He really can’t handle being ‘outside’.

    2. lifetime in prison is to me just as immoral as the death penalty.

      How so?

      Also, as I noted to someone else in here, it actually costs significantly more to execute somebody than to lock them up for life.

      And with regards to protecting citizens vs. criminals, the problem is that you can’t generally be entirely certain which is which – and there’s no taking back the death penalty if it turns out later you got the wrong guy.

  6. I’m afraid the technology doesn’t exist for what I’d do to criminals myself – especially since I’m indirectly paying for a prisoner’s upkeep, busywork courses, and so on. I don’t think that, for me, this is a matter of faith so much as it a matter of practicality – it’ll cost a lot to keep him alive, versus burying him after paying the few dollars required for his overdose of barbituates. And while some people escape prison, few people escape doctor-verified death.

    I’m not sure if they had enough evidence to convict him to death… but there was enough to at least convict him of the murder, if only due to his behavior. But I personally feel that a person who takes the power of life and death into his hands and commits murder does forfeit his protections from being killed.

    1. Y’know, it actually costs significantly more to execute somebody than to lock them up for life. If somebody is sentenced to the death penalty, an appeal is mandated by law. This results in substantially more (highly expensive) trial time, and further clogs the already overburdened justice system.

      1. The odd part is that I always thought that they managed to spend more in extras than it did to execute them, even counting lawyer fees… but that’s in the United States. In Canada, they can ONLY get life, and even then.. well, it costs easily twice as much as I make to keep one guy locked up for a year.

          1. Up in Canada, they get to take the equivalent of community college classes by mail, among other things. Basically, to keep one of them fed and housed costs at least $50,000 the last time I looked… which is more than I make. And we keep them like that for at least 5 years, sometimes ten years, and if they do get released spend more on the parole officers, monitoring, etc. If they stay in jail the whole time, then the costs only go up when they need more medical care as they age.

            Honestly, if the technology existed, I’d freeze them in stasis so they don’t experience ANYTHING – not even consciousness, so they’d wake up one day ten years, twenty years older. It might, depending on how the technology worked, even keep costs down… and scare them enough to avoid reoffending. Maybe.

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