Our Prediction that California's Billy Joe Johnson Would Help the Fight Against the Death Penalty Proves True

Right before Halloween, we posted about the new Death Penalty Information Center revelation that focusing solely on a state's budget bottom line, capital punishment should be outlawed because it just costs too much -- and how Billy Joe Johnson's request to be sentenced to death in California only added fuel to that fire.  (Billy Joe wanted death because the digs at California's Death Row are so much better than those for lifers.)

Well, looks like that October prediction was right and Billy Joe Johnson is doing a lot to help the cause of Abolishing the Death Penalty. 

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog is pointing to Billy Joe Johnson in California, and publishing a quote from Johnson's attorney that originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times -- Billy Jo isn't asking for Death Row because "...' he thinks conditions wiil be better, they are better," explains defense counsel Michael Molfetta. 

The Los Angeles Times has a lengthy feature article that actually goes into the details surrounding Billy Joe Johnson's decision (and yes, his request was granted and he has been sentenced to death by the State of California).   According to the LA Times, on California's Death Row:

1.  inmates get single cells, they don't have to share a two bunk cell

2. their cells are bigger than the standard maximum-security cells for lifers

3. inmates get better telephone access

4. they are allowed "contact visits"  by themselves, although the visit is in a see-through plexiglass booth (lifers have to visit in a communal hall, no one on one contact)

5.  they get breakfast and dinner served to them in their cells

6.  Lunch is served in the exercise yard, so they get to go outside daily

7.  Death Row inmates are allowed to visit with other Death Row inmates during the lunch hour

8.  Death Row inmates get to have TVs, CD Players, and the like in their cells

9. While other inmates are limited to six cubit feet of personal property, this doesn't apply to California Death Row inmates

10.  They get to wear jeans and chambray shirts

This description of life on California's Death Row is getting lots of attention -- all because Billy Joe Johnson's request has taken flight.  The prison authorities have good reasons for each of the list's purported "benefits" -- for example, Death Row inmates get more than 6 cubic feet of personal property space because their cases are so voluminous, they need more square footage than that for all the paperwork that their defense requires.  Similarly, they get more lenient phone rules than the usual inmate because they are literally fighting for their lives and there are times when communication with their counsel by phone is immediately needed and legally vital. 

Still, proponents of the Death Penalty may look upon this list with outrage and think that Billy Joe Johnson is somehow working the system by asking to die.  And, if that enables the Death Penalty Information Center's study on costs to get more footing, great. 

Because the goal is to end the death penalty, and if capital punishment is stopped for no other reason that it costs too much, fine.  The goal is to stop the State form killing people, period.

Florida Death Row Inmate Sues Estate of Murder Victim for Ownership of Truck

There will be many people who read about the actions of Florida Death Row inmate William Deparvine with disgust, or anger, or both - and with his appeal on the truck claim going forward, there will many more new stories to invite further emotional response to Deparvine's actions.

Who is William Deparvine?

William Deparvine is currently housed in the Death Row Unit of the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida. He's been found guilty of murdering Richard and Karla Van Dusen and he's been sentence to death for these crimes. This criminal conviction is being appealed.

Deparvine is an Excellent Example of a "Jailhouse Lawyer"

Many inmates in facilities across the country spend lots of time learning the law - and then sharing their information with fellow inmates, as well as entering the system with their own handwritten filings and letters to the court. However, in the case of William Deparvine, he's gone further than most: Deparvine has filed a lawsuit, representing himself (acting "pro se"), seeking to gain title to a classic pick-up truck from the Estate of Richard Van Dusen.

What many find particularly reprehensible about this act is that Deparvine met Van Dusen and his wife through a classified ad placed to sell the classic truck, and killed them while he was purportedly discussing its purchase with them. The jury found that the "bill of sale" for $6500 from VanDusen to Deparvine was not legit, and there is no other evidence that a sale ever took place. The executor of the Van Dusen Estate sold the truck shortly after the deaths - so all that Deparvine can hope to achieve, should he win his case, is a monetary sum. Many view this civil suit as a strategy on Deparvine's part to favorably impact his pending criminal appeal.

Still, Deparvine has survived the first level of any lawsuit without being thrown out. He has lost at the trial court level, but his case was not dismissed on grounds for which other jailhouse lawsuits are notoriously booted: lack of jurisdiction, for example, or failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Deparvine, the Jailhouse Lawyer, has successfully taken his case to the appellate level and his arguments are being considered by the 2d District Court of Appeals. Even the Van Dusen Estate's counsel has given Deparvine his due, as he was quoted in the media as saying "[Deparvine]'s one of the best jailhouse lawyers I've seen."

Deparvine Is Also an Example of Death Row Inmates Still Having Legal Rights

Due to the heinous nature of the crimes upon which their sentences are based, many Death Row inmates are considered by much of the public - as well as many in authority, truth be told - as not having any legal rights once they have been assessed capital punishment. And, while it is true that many of their rights have been taken from them as they live, day after day, in those small Death Row cells, they are still U.S. citizens and they still have many of the same legal rights as you and I.

For instance, they can still file suit. And, they can still seek monetary damages. As William Deparvine is educating so many with his Classic Pickup Truck lawsuit today.

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