Saturday, November 19, 2005


Robert Shulman, 51, admits he murdered and dismembered five women in New York. One jury convicted him of three murders in 1999; another panel found him guilty of the other two slayings. Shulman got death.

But on Thursday a judge downgraded the sentence to life in prison without parole (an L-Wop, as railbirds like to say).

The reason, according to The Associated Press:
In a 4-3 ruling in June 2004, the state's highest court declared a sentencing provision of New York's capital punishment statute -- enacted in 1995 -- violates the state constitution. The court ruled that jury-instruction provisions in the statute could coerce some jurors into voting for death against a defendant.

"The deadlock instruction gives rise to an unconstitutionally palpable risk that one or more jurors who cannot bear the thought that a defendant may walk the streets again ... will join jurors favoring death in order to avoid the deadlock sentence," Judge George Bundy Smith wrote for the majority of the court.

Since the Court of Appeals ruling, the state Legislature has been unable to agree on a bill to correct the problem. No one was ever executed under the 1995 death penalty law.
Death-penalty proponents will make their usual noises about "activist judges" and how terrible it is that a serial killer was spared the Big Squirt. They like to exploit easy cases to make their bloody point. Shulman's a slam dunk.

Let Shulman rot in prison; it's the proper punishment. But killing him? Why would anyone want to stoop to his level?

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