Carson Case - The Judicial Phase

Fred Black's picture

Orange-Chatham District Attorney James Woodall just announced that he will seek the death penalty against Demario James Atwater in the slaying of former UNC Student Body President Eve Carson.

Can it happen in Orange County?

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36 Comments

jstrope's picture

I hope not

Let's just hope that cooler heads prevail and we can all recognize that two wrongs do not make a right. The alleged actions here were certainly heinous and tragic, but let's not simply repeat them.

Jamie Bort's picture

what would you do?

Let's assume he is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and you were charged with assigning a punishment. What would be a fair punishment for Mr. Atwater? Which punishments would be too lenient? Too harsh?

"simply repeat?"

I don't support the death penalty for Atwater -- or anybody -- but surely it's an exaggeration to suggest that executing Atwater after a fair trial and full appellate process would be "simply repeating" what Atwater allegedly did to Eve Carson.
jstrope's picture

Killing is killing. You can

Killing is killing. You can wrap whatever process, justification, or language around it that you'd like, but you're still judging someone and, based on that judgment, choosing to end a human life. There's nothing fundamentally different between that and the thug who pulls a woman from the street and ends her life. Your standards might be higher, your process might be more fair, your language might be more refined, but you're still violently killing another human being and there's no way around that.

If Atwater is convicted and executed, would I have any sympathy for him? Absolutely not. A murderer, by definition, has no claim to any right to live in peace. And that's exactly why I have no interest in participating in putting an end to any human's life.

What, then, about self-defense?

What if the "thug who pulls a woman from the street" tries to end her life, but she has a weapon with her and is able to use it to kill him to save herself?

This shows that "killing" isn't "killing."  We recognize major differences among different kinds of killings, and for good reasons.

None of this is to defend the death penalty, which I find indefensible.

It's just to say that comparing a state's execution of an intentional murderer after a fair trial to what Atwater allegedly did to Eve Carson is hyperbole.  It's valid only at such a high level of abstraction that it's pretty much useless as a policy statement (unless you also want to do away with the privilege to kill in self-defense).

jstrope's picture

Even in your example, it's

Even in your example, it's still "killing". A man or woman who kills in self-defense is still a killer. Self-defense is simply the only act of killing that has a defensible logical and moral basis as it, by definition, is done in the defense of life.

The death penalty, however, is a function of punitive justice -- something that has little to no relationship to defending life and is far more akin to visceral vengence.

You may differentiate all you like between the various methods of murder. I absolutely acknowledge that two murders may not be equal in all senses. What I do not acknowledge, however, is that any killing may be justified simply by who happens to be holding the weapon.

i totally disagree

i respectfully disagree with your argument. there is a huge difference between killing an innocent person, like Eve Carson, and a beast like Atwater. There are distinctions and degrees, both legal and moral, of killing. Killing Hitler, for instance, was a beautiful and necessary thing. Oh, I could make lists of people that are or would be better off dead than alive.

And who says Atwater's execution is going to be violent? I believe it should be, but it won't. The constitution disallows it. It will be more than likely lethal injection, which will be far more humane than what Eve got.

As far as I am concerned, Eve's parents should get to choose the punishment. If they want life in prison, so be it. If they want Atwater ripped to shreds by a dull lawnmower blade and eaten by pigs, let 'er fly.

I think that your argument implies that every human life is of equal value. Of course, that's your opinion and you are entitled to it. I however, do not agree. Once this 'human-being" decided it was a good idea to brutally murder a beautiful, intelligent, innocent woman for her bank card, he made his choice and now, hopefully, he'll pay. As far as I am concerned, his life is worth no more than the ant I acidentally just stepped on...

oh, and before anyone paints me as a republican or blood-thirsty or unsophisticated or the like, please save it - it's facile. i just believe differently than you do...

jstrope's picture

Killing is never "beautiful

Killing is never "beautiful and necessary", be that of a monster like Hitler or an innocent citizen like Eve Carson.

My argument does not imply that every human life is "of equal value". I'm not even sure what that would mean. What my argument implies is that those who do not believe in being subject to murder aren't wise to advocate for "lists of people that are or would be better off dead than alive". It is that thinking that leads to murder, as opposed to preventing it.

Justice is the path to righting a wrong, not a tool of vengeance. On March 5th, a violent fool made a judgment about the value of a human life and, invoking that judgment, destroyed it. Do you think justice is found in acting like that fool, or by acting better?

"Acting like that fool."

Here (again) is where you lose me.

We would be "acting like that fool" in executing Atwater if we did so to get his bank card.

If the state someday executes Atwater, it will do so in order to vindicate certain values that you'd surely concede are important (the value of innocent life, for example), to incapacitate a killer, and to deter others from murder.

I understand that you don't think that society actually vindicates those values through the death penalty.  On that I agree with you.  I just don't agree that the death penalty is the moral equivalent of premeditated murder just because both involve killing.

jstrope's picture

Are you suggesting that

Are you suggesting that killing someone for a bankcard is "foolish", whereas killing someone for vengence is not? If so, I think you're suggesting that murder is justified wherever deemed "beneficial" or "necessary" by someone, which in turn begs the question, why is your "beneficial" or "necessary" and more valid than that of those that you're punishing?

Executing Atwater does nothing vis a vis innocent life. Eve Carson cannot be brought back, nor will her great potential ever be realized. There is nothing that can change that. Furthermore, the death penalty is certainly not a requirement for "incapacitating" a killer -- imprisonment can accomplish the same ends without willfully ending a life. Finally, I'm having trouble seeing the determent argument as we sit here debating a murder that actually happened under the threat of the death penalty.

I'm not suggesting that the death penalty is the moral equivalent of premediated murder just because both involve killing. I'm suggesting that the death penalty is the moral equivalent of premeditate murder because both involve killing based on conveniently chosen subjective justifications termed "necessary". Be it on the street or in a prison, both justifications fail in the face of reality.

well, here is where we differ

wow - do you really think that executing Atwater and Eve Carson's murder are equivalent? wow......

 if Hitler had been killed early on, millions of innocent people would still be alive. i do think that killing (by the way - all killing is not murder. you can't make up your own definitions...) some people is great. just my opinion, but as i said, there are many people that should have never walked the earth and we are better off without them. Hitler, Himmler and crew, Pol Pot, Stalin, Charley Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Dennis Rader, Ted Bundy, Saddam Hussein, and Celine Dion (just kidding...) etc...need I really go on?

I also think vengeance is fine in this case. To each his own. If Eve Carson had been my daughter, I would torture Atwater until he cried for his mommy. Then I would kill him.

 The laws are pretty clear in this country - i don't plan on killing anybody in cold blood or committing treason, therefore i won't be subject to execution. Pretty simple, i think. Atwater knew the rules. Now, hopefully, he gets his prize. I think it's great. There will be one less piece of garbage on the planet.

 

We didn't kill Hitler, he

We didn't kill Hitler, he killed himself. Just to clarify. I'm sure we would have given him the death penalty if we could.

Lethal injection is actually more cruel than firing squad (it's the quickest and most painless). The first injection of the lethal injection paralyzes you, so that if you do feel pain or any sort of discomfort the witnesses won't see it. The person might actually be in a lot of pain, but we won't know it. Firing squad would be more humane, but we like to do what looks humane rather than what probably is most humane. 

I am against the death penalty for a lot of reasons, but I think it's a silly argument to say that it is exactly the same as what Atwater and Lovette did.

 

Fred Black's picture

The Feds Too

Federal authorities are also looking at carjacking charges, which can carry a death sentence if prosecutors can prove the crime was committed during a homicide.

For the record, since the death penalty was reinstated in North Carolina in 1977, no one has been sentenced to death in Orange County. The last person executed for a crime here was John Breeze in January 1948.
Fred Black's picture

More Info

According to what Neil Offen wrote in this morning's CHH,

the district attorney's office has sought the penalty against murder defendants at least a dozen times in recent years.

"There have been many capital trials here, but we've just never got one," Woodall said.

In all those cases, either the defendant entered into a plea agreement or the jury didn't impose the penalty.

Jamie Bort's picture

civil court vs criminal court

It is my understanding that when a plaintiff sues, and subsequently wins, because they feel they have been wronged the court must determine what actions must be taken to make the plaintiff whole again. In other words what must be done to return the situation back to how it was before the plaintiff was wronged. But that is in a civil court.

In criminal court the defendant is punished in hopes of rehabilitating that person. But death is final so what is the purpose of the death penalty?

Do I understand these two scenarios correctly?

First, you have to

First, you have to understand the two separate realms of law these are in. Criminal law is a crime that is considered to be committed against all of society. Civil law covers infractions -- contracts, personal interactions, etc.-- that are committed against you personally, but not all of society. If I steal from you, that's violating the rules of society. If I defame you, that's only violating you, not society, and it's called a tort. Sometimes a crime can be both a tort and a criminal act.

Civil laws are different in every state and for each tort. Some torts require you to be made whole again, but this will often leave the person suing worse off than they were in the first place after time, etc. is counted in. It just depends. 

The death penalty arises only in murder cases usually, and murder is a criminal act that affects society so it is in the realm of criminal law. Criminal punishments are handed out not just for rehabilitation but for punishment and deterrence as well. The death penalty, when it's used, is used for the purpose of punishment, not rehabilitation obviously.

Our criminal justice system is definitely not focused on rehabilitation. 

Rehabilitation

Jamie,

Rehabilitation of an offender is not the only purpose of criminal punishment.  Retribution for the wrongfulness of the offense is also a purpose.  So is incapacitation.  So it deterrence.

The Death of Innocents

The book for the summer 2007 summer reading program at UNC was The Death of Innocents by Sister Helen Prejean. There is no justification for the death penalty. It doesn't bring back those who were murdered. It costs the state more than life imprisonment. It always runs the risk of executing an innocent. I'm hoping the students will collectively speak out against this decision.

justification

here's a justification - you may not agree with it, but it is: to rid the planet of a monsterous human being. there is no need for him to continue to breathe. again, he made a choice and now i believe he should die. ultimately, if Eve's parents want Atwater to live, then so be it. but if the law takes their opinion into account and they want him executed, that's good enough for me.

let me ask you this - what if the person who did the killing wants to be executed? what if he or she deems it more humane to be dead then to suffer in prison and rack up bills for society?

 

Jamie Bort's picture

what about the safety of my loved ones?

"...if Eve's parents want Atwater to live, then so be it."

Assuming Mr. Atwater is guilty and assuming Mr. & Mrs. Carson wish for Mr. Atwater to live I don't want for him to live. I would be content with him being exiled so that he would never have any contact with anyone I cared for.

Mark Kleinschmidt's picture

I'm disappointed

that there is no real discussion about the alternative to death -- life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).  LWOP is the ONLY other punishment Atwater could receive if he is found guilty of 1st degree murder. There is no term of years option; the choice for the jury after a 1st degree conviction is Life or Death.

Although no one on this thread has explicitly rejected LWOP as a possibility, the discussion here around the death penalty leaves me with the sense that some believe that death is only punishment that actually punishes the convicted offender.  LWOP, which is just what it says it is:  Life in prison WITHOUT the possibility of Parole, is itself seen as such a harsh punishment it is the ultimate punishment in virtually every other country in the world.  LWOP accomplishes everything a death sentence could, and more:  retribution, incapacitation, specific deterrence [aside: the general deterent aspect of the Death Penalty is greatly debated], and rehab.

It's worth noting that a federal death sentence is a very rare thing and an actual exection even rarer.  North Carolina's death row is more than 3 times larger than the federal government's death row and at one time was almost 5 times larger.  Additionally, NC actually executes people.  There have been more than 40 executions since reinstatement of the death penalty, more than half of which have taken place within the last 8 years.  The feds have had 3 executions.

I'm astounded that the feds are pursing this case.  Seems to me their only reason for involvement is to ensure a death sentence because they believe location of the crime (Orange Co. NC) is a place where it is generally believed a death sentence would be unlikely.  I don't believe this is an appropriate federal response to crime especially in light of the literally hundreds if not thousands of other cases around the country where they choose not to get involved.  Should Atwater be convicted, state process will remove him from our midst forever.  And if an Orange County jury (which, as required by law, will consist only of people who actually believe in the death penalty) returns a life sentence, there is no greater punishment that could be imposed by the federal government except for a death sentence.

Discussions like the one on this thread bother me because should Atwater be spared a death sentence either through the entry of a guilty plea in exchange for life or through a jury imposed life verdict, I'm afraid many readers of this thread will conclude that he somehow "got off" or "got away with murder" when in fact at the age of 22 he will begin a prison term that will last the rest of his natural life. 

Before you jump on me for misunderstanding your commets, I know that many of you understand LWOP and appreciate it as a harsh punishment (clearly my former con law professor does), its just that I've seen readers/listeners of these kinds of conversations walk away from them without realizing that following a conviction, Atwater will be severly punished.  Followers of this conversation should understand this to be so.

George C's picture

Thanks for discussing the alternative

Mark,

Thanks for the thorough discussion of the alternative sentence for a 1st degree murder conviction - LWOP. I agree with everything you said but my own feeling is that a LWOP sentence should also include (and it might but I'm not sure) stipulations that the inmate be isolated from the general prison population. I don't support such treatment as a form of additional punishment but because I believe that someone serving a LWOP sentence might feel less inhibited in regards to committing violent acts upon other inmates or the guards. While some might be inclined to have limited concerns regarding violence committed by inmates upon other inmates I'm concerned that there always remains the possibility that some of these inmates are actually innocent, as evidenced today by yet another story:

DNA Clears Ohio Man Of Rape After 18 Years (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/08/11/national/main4342004.shtml)

So I do support LWOP as a sentence but with the provision that conditions of incarceration be such that inmates receiving such sentences not have the opportunity to ever harm others again.

 

Fred Black's picture

Thanks Mark

Your comments add a lot, especially for us folks opposed to the death penalty.  I, like Bob Epting, understand that the DA is doing his duty. Bob defended the man who received the death penalty in Orange County more than 35 years ago and had the sentence ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court:

"I'm an opponent of the death penalty, and have been for years," said attorney Bob Epting, "and I believe that Orange County has not lost anything during that time because there hasn't been a death penalty imposed. Our justice system has worked well."

Nevertheless, Epting said he was not at all surprised that Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall on Monday said he will seek the death penalty against Demario James Atwater in the slaying of former UNC Student Body President Eve Carson.

"I think Jim Woodall has made the right decision here," Epting said. "His duty at this point is to see whether those factors that justify and in this case compel asking for the death penalty are there, and he has determined they are.

"I can understand that. This case horrifies us to a completely different level than I think I've experienced before. I don't remember a crime in this community -- or in any other community -- that has generated the kind of revulsion this one has."

CHH Aug 12

It appears that the people have to act to end the death penalty for good. But it's also reassuring to know that as an opponent to the death penalty, I will not have to serve on that jury, not that I wouldn't have been challenged off for other reasons anyway.

suspicions

(Some problem creating an account. If I ever get documented, I'll be Mondo Sinistro.)

 

So many thoughts, pondering yesterday's events. Two things seem especially remarkable. First, on the WRAL blog yesterday, as usual, the preponderance of comments calling for quick death penalty, torture, and more. But believe me, it gets worse than that--take something to soothe your stomach, then have a look at Vanguard News Network, or moronsinchapelhill.org (or is it .com?)

In general terms I'm against the DP, but since it's on the books right now, in this case I wouldn't mind imposing it, just to have the maximum sentence, for the sake of precedent.

The OTHER thing much more remarkable was Atwater himself, smiling away in the courtroom. As people at the Daily Tar Heel blogs have commented, the silence from the home neighborhoods of L&A is DEAFENING. I think there's a tiny subculture there that, at least among themselves, OPENLY SUPPORTS what L&A did. Does the phrase "privileged white flaunt" signify anything for you? Near as I can tell from the Net, this was INVENTED FOR Eve Carson. Just how low and vile DOES this get?

Priscilla Murphy's picture

What on earth would you

What on earth would you expect from the "home neighborhood" of the accused? It's "vile" to presume that the boys acted as representatives of their race, city, or neighborhood when the most you could logically claim would be some sort of gang action. There have been murderers from Chapel Hill's own "neighborhoods," and how could failing to speak out mean automatically we're all therefore complicit? Why would they say anything? If I had to guess, I'd say that residents of "the home neighborhoods of L&A" are saddened, discouraged, and scared -- of exactly this kind of thinking as well as the failures that created such "beasts."

Why did Atwater grin? Would you expect a shark or a crocodile to show remorse?

As to the death penalty, there are studies (not at hand, I regret) that indicate that deterrence does not work except for those who've already been in prison and made a commitment never to return. With young criminals, many do not expect to live very long anyway and act accordingly. For them and others still young, reckless, and goal-less, the concept of consequences for actions simply has no part in their choices. Putting them to death after the fact would change nothing about how they or others got there.

Also, I've heard some say of the death penalty, "that would be letting him off too easily," and that does have some resonance. If executed, they would escape ever really having to understand and live with the depth and breadth of their crime (although spending years on death row through repeated denial of appeals must be a kind of torture).

In any case, to support the death penalty, you'd have to believe that killing is only wrong depending on who does it, when, and why.

Fred Black's picture

The Grin

Yesterday when we got the CHH, I said to my wife that I bet there will be "conversation" about the HUGE picture with the grinning Atwater and what it might mean.  After I read the entire caption, I decided that maybe the young man had some humanity and was really about trying to "help" his mom by smiling at her.  Didn't we see the same kind of expression in a picture of Sapikowski when he was in court?
Priscilla Murphy's picture

Point well taken

Point well taken, Fred -- I didn't see the photo in question. Some courtroom grins are chilling (I'm thinking of some of the Manson crew) -- don't know whether this belonged in that group or not. My comments about "a shark or a crocodile" -- admittedly a little over-the-top for luridness -- was to make the point that the grin might be a matter of Atwater's inherent nature (a predator?), not an expression of some kind of victory over "privileged white." If he was smiling in recognition or encouragement to his mother, that's still not a grin of political triumph but a matter of his nature.

Whether or not a convicted killer "demonstrates humanity," however, shouldn't change anything about our stand on the death penalty. To base imposing the death penalty on failure to show humanity (in someone's judgment) is to risk the same fatal mistakes already made -- with, just for example, severe retardation or psychopathology.

Effect of media

This seems like an example too of how the media can take a fleeting aspect from a story and give the public a kind of Rorschach image for speculating on all sorts of things. Is it responsible journalism to publish such photos?

An irreconciable argument

The basic argument for or against the death penalty much like abortion is not reconcilable.  If one believes that the premeditated taking of a life is never justified and the death penalty is the premeditated taking of a life then the death penalty can not be justified.  If one does not accept the first premise then it is reasonable to have a different view.

I have flip flopped on this issue many times.  I have come to the conclusion that there are crimes that are so heinous that the perpetrator gives up the right to life. (How heinous is always arguable and a problem unto itself).  Therefore I disagree with the first premise.  However I am still against the death penalty for other reasons.

1) It is impossible to impose the death penalty fairly and uniformly from case to case,  There are just too many variables.

2) The death penalty is irreversible and the innocent are executed from time to time.  That is just unacceptable.

3) The administration of the death penalty takes its toll on those doing the administration and the end result is not worth the price.

LWOP is a rationale alternative, that protects society from the murderer, punishes for the crime, and can be somewhat correctable when the inevitable mistakes are made.