James Granvil Wallace, a 62-year-old murderer from Tucson who has been on death row for more than a quarter-century, now will spend the rest of his life in prison after a highly controversial Arizona Supreme Court ruling.
The court's unanimous reasoning for allowing Wallace to escape execution: "We find that the State has not established beyond a reasonable doubt that Wallace inflicted gratuitous violence on the [victims]."
"Gratuitous violence," it seems, is a term of legal art that defies any kind of common-sense logic from where we sit.
A 2008 Arizona Supreme Court case (State v. Bocharski) says that prosecutors must prove that the killer used "violence beyond that necessary to kill," and continued to inflict violence after he or she "knew or should have known that a fatal action had occurred."
In other words, overkill.
That's exactly what Wallace did, three times, or so it sure seemed that way.
(In Bocharski, a Yavapai County case, the killer stabbed the victim 24 times in the head, including eight wounds that penetrated deep into the skull. The court in that case concluded that the multiple, rapid attacks on the victim, "although reprehensible," did not necessarily establish `gratuitous violence.' Go figure.)
We'd long thought of Mr. Wallace as the perfect "poster child" for the death penalty (not saying whether we, personally, are pro or con the execution-by-government thing).