Head Games

Ring leader: Thanks for Paul Rubin's article "Off With Their Heads" (June 26). Mr. Rubin got it right when he summarized the United States Supreme Court decision in Ring v. Arizona as holding that jurors, not judges, decide whether factors exist to make a convicted murderer eligible for the death penalty. Arizona prosecutors lost their fight to keep the decision in the judges' lap. Thereafter, the press and prosecutors incorrectly characterized the decision as holding that juries, not judges, must impose sentences in capital cases.

Based on Rubin's article, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley continues to perpetuate this myth. He stated that "Defense lawyers may have won the battle in Ring, but they're losing the war," and should "be careful about what [they] wish for." But the difficulties described in Rubin's article stem solely from changes pushed through the Legislature by Romley and his cohort -- changes wholly unrelated to Ring. The new law requires taxpayers to pay huge dollars for sentencing experts and mitigation specialists at the inception of every single capital case. It also gives defense lawyers insufficient time to prepare for sentencing, rendering reversal a decade later likely. Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor criminal defense lawyers "wished for" these boneheaded, unconstitutional and fiscally irresponsible changes.

As for Romley's claim that prosecutors are winning the war, none should be practicing their victory dance just yet. Recently the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a California man's 1989 death sentence because his lawyers failed to competently investigate and present mitigating evidence to the sentencing jury. Thankfully, the higher courts still have the backbone to ensure justice for everyone.

Treasure VanDreumel
Via e-mail

Getting away with murder: Once again Paul Rubin has taken the high road to tell us what is wrong with the criminal justice system in Arizona. Or at least what's wrong, this time, with the death penalty.

While I am sure he feels that death should never be given (same position as Bob Storrs and Bruce Blumberg), I believe he is wrong. Sometimes it is the duty of government to make sure that one never has a chance to kill, again.

But I only wish to comment on one of the cases he covered: the murder of Jon Bria. Does Tony Aguilar deserve death for Jon? The law and the jury both say yes. Did Mr. Aguilar do worse crimes? Again, yes. Did he deserve to die for those? A judge decided another way. However, in the case of Mr. Aguilar, one needs to be aware that Mr. Storrs and Mr. Blumberg had seven years to find evidence that would spare him. They were able to save him once or maybe twice. But in the end they couldn't save him three times. He now gets a number of appeals, all at our expense, and may still die in prison from old age. But he and the families of his victims all know he was sentenced to die for his crime against Jon.

Did the criminal justice system fail him? I don't think you can say that until he runs out of appeals, and maybe not then.

If the system failed anyone, it was the victims that Storrs and Blumberg claimed were the cause of their own deaths. Mr. Aguilar never did anything wrong, to hear them tell it. It was his parents, school, juvenile justice, his being from Mexico and Jon who was sitting in the back of a truck talking and laughing. Those were the responsible parties. How silly of a jury not to admit they were at fault.

Detective Joe Petrosino

Skin Flak

Inquiring minds: Your recent article on the skinhead gangs in Phoenix was informative ("Local Hero," Susy Buchanan, June 19). Quoting words from these kinds of people in print and allowing them a venue to be heard is a frightening proposition. I think that Ms. Buchanan allowed them the opportunity to prove themselves not to be citizens in good standing. New Times is not known for unbiased writing style, but I think Ms. Buchanan did an excellent job of letting this group discredit itself. This style of reporting is far more credible than a bash-type, slanted commentary which gives the appearance that another opinion is just as irrational as the first. If given a long enough rope to make a noose, the extremist will hang himself. Your paper has a better chance of reaching people as the organization that offers the rope, as opposed to being the lynch mob.

My only negative comment concerns the cover. Photo, swastika, and "LOCAL HERO" is extremely offensive, and easily misconstrued. The gross concept that your organization might actually condone such symbolism with a word like "hero" is unconscionable. Surely, this decision was made for shock factor, since its initial impression is not in conjunction with the feeling of the article. I personally feel this kind of National Enquirer-type cover will degrade both the reputation of the paper, and the writing itself.

Just one reader's opinion -- who may not take your next cover literally.

Jacqueline Mitchell

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