Thursday, June 13, 2002

INCORRIGIBLE UNTO DEATH: When lawyers speak in court on behalf of clients, they often hedge and speak in the hypothetical about facts unfavorable to their case. Lawyers don't make definite assertions about unfavorable facts because these assertions could be construed as admissions that legally establish the facts. Our legal system figures out facts by making two adversaries duke it out, so a party's self-serving hemming and hawing about unfavorable facts isn't actually a bad thing: it just makes the other side do its own work to establish the fact. But I can't see what purpose this kind of squishy-lawyer speech serves when it comes from the mouth of a man condemned to die for committing a heinous murder. I'm referring to Walter Mickens, a man who "sexually assaulted a ... teenager, stabbed him 143 times and left him to die on a dirty mattress" and was at last put to death for his crimes last night. Some of Mickens' final words were, "To whoever I may have hurt or caused harm, I pray that you can forgive me." Whoever he may have hurt or caused harm? Note first the lawyerly redundancy of "hurt or caused harm." Obviously this man had spent too much time with lawyers, which explains his odd, legal-sounding locutions as well as the fact that he'd cheated punishment for ten years. Note, second, the hypothetical or theoretical cast of the sentence: "whoever I may have hurt or caused harm." Does it gall you that a man who had been found guilty of stabbing a human being 143 times -- ignoring, or perhaps relishing, the victim's screams, the horrifying sound of metal puncturing tissue, the sight of dozens of bleeding wounds -- a man whose last legal claim was not that he was factually innocent, but merely that he didn't have a good enough lawyer -- does it gall you that this man, at the point of death, still wouldn't give up the role of beleagured criminal defendant and simply acknowledge his guilt? What issue was he preserving for appeal? Perhaps he thought God would remand for a new trial, and didn't want to waive the issue? No. He was simply in death, as in life, an incorrigible man-turned-monster, and that's just how they talk.

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