Death Penalty

PDs argue Arizona's death penalty law is unconstitutional because it is indiscriminate

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Two public defenders in Arizona’s Maricopa County contend that the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional because its aggravating factors allow for a death sentence in virtually every first-degree murder case.

The statute, they argue in the motion filed in February, “has no method of meaningfully distinguishing the few cases in which death is deserved from the many cases in which it is not.” The New York Times mentions the motion in a story about less culpable defendants who draw harsher sentences than co-defendants.

One of those defendants is Patrick Bearup, who helped three co-defendants in the murder of a man they had accused of stealing $200 from his roommate. By all accounts, the Times says, Bearup was not directly involved in the killing, though he did help dispose of the body and severed one of its fingers to retrieve a ring. Bearup was the only defendant in the Maricopa County case to receive the death penalty. The three others, including a defendant who shot the victim, accepted plea deals and avoided execution.

According to the Times, “Such cases, in which a defendant with lesser culpability draws the harshest sentence, are not uncommon in Arizona, and elsewhere around the country.” The story offers an example, citing information from the federal public defender’s office. Four out of six inmates executed in Arizona last year were equally or less culpable than co-defendants accused in the same crimes.

In Bearup’s case, the Times says, there were problems from the start. The challenges included “an inexperienced lawyer, an implausible defense of not being there for the attack and a decision to represent himself at sentencing and offer no mitigating evidence which jurors could weigh against the death penalty.” Bearup is now seeking to waive legal challenges to his death sentence.

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