Walker is the 50th known captial court-martial to be tried under the current military death penalty system.  (That figure counts Walker’s trial and retrial, as well as Dock’s trial and retrial, separately — as they should be, since they were two separate capital trials.)  Fifteen of those cases resulted in death sentences, for a 30% death sentencing rate.

Eight military death sentences have been set aside on appeal (another two were set aside by convening authorities).  Two of the eight cases set aside on appeal (Murphy and Quintanilla) remain pending at the trial level.  In the remaining six cases, every death sentence was replaced by confinement for life.  Only two of the cases — Dock and Walker — were retried capitally. 

For comparison purposes, a study of civilian death penalty cases imposed from 1973-1995 found that 18% of reversed death sentences resulted in reimposition of death upon retrial.  (7% of the civilian cases resulted in acquittal on retrial.)

7 Responses to “Some context in which to place the Walker case”

  1. John O'Connor says:

    “In the remaining eight cases, every death sentence was replaced by confinement for life. Only two of the cases — Dock and Walker — were retried capitally.

    For comparison purposes, a study of civilian death penalty cases imposed from 1973-1995 found that 18% of reversed death sentences resulted in reimposition of death upon retrial. (7% of the civilian cases resulted in acquittal on retrial.)”

    WWBJS (What would Bill James Say)? Small sample size. If Albert Pujols starts the year 0-8, he can still play on my team (wink). I’m not making any larger point, so please give me a break.

  2. Counterpoint says:

    J’OC,

    Of course, military death penalty cases are so rare, you’d think the government would put their best foot forward for these cases. Small sample size or not, I think the glaring lack of government success in these cases means something…

  3. Anonymous says:

    not sure if 50 is exactly a small sample size.

    It might be small relative to the number of executions done in the states, but I don’t think it so small a number that one cannot make valid inferences from the death sentencing rate in the military.

  4. One Peeved Steve says:

    It is a shame that a system which is supposed to have good order and discipline as its cornerstone, has made this such a laborious process.

    Speed it up, or get rid of it. As is, it drains resources for no practical benifit. (and to date, not even a retributive benifit).

  5. Anonymous says:

    As long as the military stays away from military justice tracks, and doesn’t have dedicated folks on the defense side (and the government) who have the experience and time in criminal law necessary to do these kind of cases well, we will continue to see such rates of death sentences being overturned.

  6. Dwight Sullivan says:

    JO’C, of course as a matter of chi square calculation, I agree with you. In fact, I’ve made the same point elsewhere. See 189 Mil. L. Rev. at 38 (“because of the extremely small number of military death penalty cases, the difference is not statistically significant”).

    That said, while the numbers are small, the time period is quite long. We’ve been operating under the current post-Matthews military death penalty system for 26 years now. And in that time, not a single death sentence reversed on appeal (and so far 80% of adjudged military death sentences that have completed direct appeal have been reversed) has been reinstated. That’s something SJAs and convening authorities should consider both when making initial determinations about whether to seek death and when making decisions about whether to accept proposed deals when death penalty cases go back for retrial or resentencing.

    It’s also instructive that the vast majority of civilian cases that are reversed on direct appeal or habeas review result in sentences other than death upon remand. It suggests that in the long run, a case that seems to cry out for the death penalty in the aftermath of a truly heinous crime may no longer do so years later. And that’s something SJAs and CAs should also keep in mind as they decide whether to devote, at the very least, hundreds of thousands of dollars in O&M funds to seek a death penalty rather than accept a deal for a non-capital referral.

  7. John O'Connor says:

    There’s a principle in private practice that when you’e got a period of intense work (a TRO, a PI, a trial, or some other all-hands-on-deck exercise) you have to get your bills out in a timely manner. The reason is that six months down the line, the client might not remember that they viewed what you were doing as a “bet the company” exercise to which they wanted all available resources dedicated.

    If eight retrials is enough of a sampkle size to draw any conclusions, the conclusion I might draw is that it’s important to get it right in the first place, because a retrial 15 years later might not capture all the reasons why it was origibnally viewed as necessary to pursue a sentence to death.

    Yes, you could also say that waiting 15 years and taking out the emotion leads to a more just and less impassioned result, but I don’t think that’s the best view.

    Regardless, I’m not sure I would agree that the lesson would be don’t retry cases capital that get bounced the first time up. The sample size is too small, each case has to be judged on its own merits, and I think that the 8 cases took place voer more than 25 years makes the statistical sample less significant, not more.