Monday, August 29, 2005

Daniels Commutes Bairds' Death Sentence

Arthur Paul Baird II killed his parents and his pregnant wife in September, 1985. He was convicted by a Montgomery County jury in 1987. Nobody questioned his guilt and, after exhausting judicial review of his case, he was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection Wednesday morning. An appeal for clemency by his attorney, Sarah Nagy, has convinced Governor Mitch Daniels that life without parole is a more suited punishment for Baird. In annoucing his decision today to commute his sentence, Daniels said in his Order: "My review of the facts of this case leads me to exercise clemency by commuting Baird's sentence. This decision is based on the unique circumstances of this case. All the facts, not one single element, cause me to grant clemency."

In reaching his decision to grant clemency, Daniels rejected the conclusions of the Indiana Parole Board and the Supreme Court. The Parole Board last week voted 3 to 1 against granting Baird clemency. In a divided opinion, the Supreme Court also voted 3 to 2 to allow the execution to proceed after the Parole Board issued its decision.

Governor Daniels cited two issues that led him to reach his conclusion. First, Daniels noted that Indiana law did not allow the Montgomery County jury, in finding Baird guilty, to choose between a death sentence and life without parole, as is allowed under current Indiana law. Baird's family, as well as the jurors, expressed their desire to have Baird serve life without parole rather than be sentenced to death. Secondly, Daniels cited Baird's mental condition at the time he committed the murders of his family members. As Daniels explained: "Courts recognized Mr. Baird as suffering from mental illness at the time he committed the murders, and Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm recently wrote that Mr. Baird is 'insane in the ordinary sense of the word.' It is difficult to find reasons not to agree."

Daniels' hastened to add that in reaching his decision he was not "substituting [his] judgment for others on the ambiguous issue of Mr. Baird's degree of insanity." To Daniels, it was sufficient that "had the sentence of life without parole been available in 1987, the jury and the State would have imposed it with the support of the victims' families."

Daniels, a supporter of the death penalty for capital crimes, exercised common sense and good judgment in deciding to grant Baird's request for clemency. Too often in the past Governors have shown too much eagerness to carry out death sentences to demonstrate how tough they are on crime. One of the most egregious cases in modern politics was an execution carried out by then-Governor Bill Clinton in 1992 while he was running for President. Determined not to become another Michael Dukakis, Clinton rejected appeals of persons of all political perspectives to set aside Ricky Rector's death sentence. The mentally challenged Rector told prison guards, as reported in OutSmart magazine in setting aside dessert from his last dinner: "I'm going to eat it after my execution."

Daniels has demonstrated that he sincerely appreciates the executive power he holds to determine another man's fate. He acted with the care and caution with which anyone vested with such an enormous power should act. We can all be comforted when our elected officials make decisions based upon sound public policy rather than political expediency.

1 comment:

Kay said...

Of course Daniels did the right thing by commuting Baird’s sentence to LWOP.

Although, I was disappointed, given your fondness for historical journeys that you failed to mention more relevant story information. Such as: the Republican Party platform continues to support capital punishment, while the Democratic Party platform evolved with the 2000 convention when it removed the section of the document that endorsed capital punishment. Key democrats argued at the time that it was the morally right position to take as ever mounting studies revealed serious questions, racial bias, and deep disparities in the way the death penalty is applied. Basically, the same reasoning former pro-capital punishment Governor George Ryan (R) used in 2000 when he issued a moratorium on all executions in Illinois and established a commission to evaluate Illinois’ entire capital punishment system.

And…just in case you missed yesterday's Indy Star article (8/30: Daniels spares mentally ill killer) here’s a bit of that story this lesbian found rather telling…

Conservative leaders say Daniels is unlikely to suffer political fallout.

I don't think this will be seen as the governor backing away from the death penalty," said Curt Smith, president of the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative group that supports a "pro-family" agenda. "Clearly, there were extenuating circumstances."

Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, agreed, saying the concerns raised by Baird's mental condition justified special consideration.