Voices Lost in the Craig Wood Sentence

How Judges Undermine the Missourians who Serve on Juries
January 12, 2018
KSHB 41: Men exonerated from death row hope for change
January 16, 2018

Voices Lost in the Craig Wood Sentence

On January, 11, 2017, Judge Thomas Mountjoy dealt violent injury to a number of people:

  • Craig Wood, by giving him a death sentence.
  • Stacey Herman, mother of murder victim Hailey Owens, who now must face at least 15 years of constitutionally mandated appeals, who desired a plea bargain and the end to litigation. The worst day of her life and the horrors endured by her daughter will now take center stage in the media, court hearings, and her life.  Stacey has stated, “I don’t want to go through the trial… I will have to relive the outcome of what happened to Hailey. Like reliving the nightmare all over again.” Mountjoy denied Stacey the chance to testify in the trial.
  • Jim and Genie Woods, the parents of Craig Woods. After Mountjoy imposed the death sentence, Stacey and Genie embraced. The two mothers have become friends. Now, Jim and Genie Wood stand to lose their son to homicide, as enacted by the State.
  • The jurors who traveled from Platte County, spent considerable time and emotional energy to examine and weigh the case. Two jurors, in particular, relied on their own moral compass and respect for life to stand firm for a sentence of “life without the possibility of parole.” Their efforts have been violently ignored and disrespected.
  • The sanctity of the jury process. The Sixth Amendment right to trial by one’s peers is a touchstone of our democracy. An impartial jury has the power to limit the excesses of government.   The institution allows the ordinary citizen an opportunity for genuine engagement, for critical thinking and sincerely voting on values at a moment when it can really make a difference.  Libertarian scholarship suggests that the value of the jury is that it truly shifts power to the people.
  • The community. A jury is composed of community members and represents the community—it is best positioned to express the conscience of the community. As opposed to a single, government official, a jury may be most likely to avoid the danger of an excessive response.
  • Those who believe in a judicial system that makes case-specific decisions, without political motive. Elected judges, like Judge Mountjoy, often feel the pressure to appear “tough on crime” in their sentencing decisions.  In Alabama, a state whose legislature just repealed judicial override in capital jury decision-making in 2017, history demonstrated that judges overruled a jury’s vote for life without parole 101 times, and a vote for death only 11 times.  Furthermore, judicial override cases accounted for 50% of those wrongfully convicted and freed from Alabama’s death row between 1981 and 2015.  When jurors are trusted to engage in a case, political pressure does not dictate results.

Also read: How Judges Undermine the Missourians who Serve on Juries

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