Stickman Readers' Submissions August 31st, 2010

A Matter Of Life And Death

I have just picked up on the story of Lee Aldhouse, who allegedly stabbed to death an American In Phuket, and managed to escape back to the UK before being captured at Heathrow Airport.

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As is usual, the internet is full of opinions on several aspects of this case including what might happen to him. I am no legal expert but at present, as far as the murder charge is concerned, there is a very real chance that he may never face trial.

There are several reasons for this, including the fact that I am not aware that there is an extradition treaty between the UK and Thailand. Even if there were, the European Convention on Human Rights and Protection of Fundamental Freedoms, prohibits extradition where the accused faces the possibility of the death penalty.

I am aware of at least two high profile cases in France and the UK, where Americans managed to successfully fight extradition on these grounds. Eventually the American authorities had to agree to not to seek the death penalty before the extradition was allowed.

I am aware that there is provision under UK law to prosecute UK citizens who have murdered other UK citizens abroad. These prosecutions are rare due to the problems of evidence gathering and ensuring witness attendance when the witnesses are in a foreign jurisdiction.

I am not aware if the right to prosecute under these circumstances relates to other nationals being murdered by UK citizens while abroad, or even other offences committed by UK citizens. In recent years, legislation has been passed which allows paedophiles to prosecuted for offences committed abroad. To date, there have been no such prosecutions. I suspect that the reason for this is the logistical problems in getting witnesses to attend from foreign countries, as well as identifying victims. Personally, I have always thought that any prosecutions that arise from this will be minimal, and is more about posturing, than actually doing anything due to the complexities of successfully concluding these cases.

The thing motivates me to write about the Lee Aldhouse case, is the issue of the death penalty. Notwithstanding what I have already written, I read on one site that no Farang has been executed in Thailand for over a hundred years.

Most of us have an opinion on this subject, and personally I am opposed to it. Having said that, I am not one of those wishy washy opponents of the death penalty who say that the reason they oppose it, is because “we might make a mistake and execute the wrong person”. If you take that attitude, then you have to say, “Lets close all the courts because we might make a mistake and jail the wrong person”. My opposition is more fundamental than this: I believe in the sanctity of human life.

I can think of other reasons too. If you take the US as an example, which has an Judicial Execution rate that is third only to Iran and China, you will see that invariably, those executed are from the lowest strata of society. The rich don’t get executed! In Thailand, Farangs don’t get executed!

America has in my view, been positively barbaric in it’s pursuit of the death penalty, and have executed the mentally retarded, as well as those who committed murders as juveniles, and Bill Clinton even used the death penalty to help him get elected to the White House.

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This goes back to the period when Clinton was Governor of Arkansas, he had served four successive terms but failed to be re-elected at the fifth attempt when he let it be known he was opposed to the death penalty. Come the next election, Clinton not only announced a conversion, but promised to personally witness an execution, and was reinstated as Governor.

The particular execution that Clinton signed off on and witnessed, related to a black man who had robbed a killed a store clerk. The Police were quickly on the scene, and the offender was shot in the head by police. Miraculously, he recovered, though half his brain had been removed. He stood trail and was sentenced to death.

As is the custom, he was granted a last meal, and he ordered a burger. He was still eating it when the guards told him it was time to go. He put the burger down and said that he would finish it when he came back. The man did not even know that he was about to be executed, such was the state of his brain. If you think about it, if a person doesn’t understand that they are being punished, then what is the point of punishing them?

There are only three western style democracies that still use the death penalty: The US, Japan and Korea. In the case of Japan, it is a rare event. Even though it has one of the lowest murder rates in the world, 86% of the population are purportedly in favour of this. The trouble with opinion polls on this issue, is that people give their opinion based on current circumstances. For example, there is a majority in favour of the death penalty in the UK at present. At the time when Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hung in Britain, was being executed, there was a clear majority opposed to it. Of course, she was young and blonde.

In spite of such overwhelming support, the Japanese Justice Minister has recently initiated a debate on the issue, in which she openly states that she is opposed to the death penalty. One of the first things she has done is to try to remove the veil of secrecy surrounding capital punishment in Japan. Unlike other countries, the Japanese do not fix a date for an execution and no announcements are made, even after the sentence is carried out.

I was in Japan on one of those rare occasions when an execution took place. I was horrified by the circumstances surrounding it.

The details involved a 17 year old youth, who robbed and murdered two taxis drivers. As a former taxi driver myself, I find it difficult to have any sympathy for people who attack cab drivers, regardless, I still cannot the death penalty for those who murder cab drivers.

Anyway, after the youth was convicted, he was sentenced to death. This was overturned by the High Court, because he was a juvenile at the time of the crime. However, the Japanese justice system is not the fastest in the world (who remembers the trial for the Sarin attack on the Tokyo Subway), and by the time he was convicted, he was past the Japanese age of majority. The Appeal Court overturned the Japanese High Court and reinstated the death sentence. By this time, seven years have passed,

The prisoner settled down to life on death row, and started writing. It turned out that he was quite a good writer and poet. He was published, and the proceeds of his books were donated to his victims’ families. He spent a further 22 years in custody, and one day, he got the announcement that he would be executed today. Bearing in mind that the average life sentence in the UK is about 15 years, this man had effectively been punished by serving two consecutive life sentences and then being executed.

I recall reading about a case in Thailand about a year ago, concerning the murder of a New Zealand ex-pat. If my recollection is correct, the victim was gunned down at traffic lights by another motorcyclist who fled the scene but was arrested within days. The Kiwi has a Thai wife, and as soon as he died, his family were making efforts to trace his assets without any luck.

When the hitman was arrested, he implicated the wife, stating that it was a contract killing ordered by the wife. The wife was taken into custody, and released a few weeks later due to “lack of evidence”. The assets were never found, and the wife is failing to display any signs of wealth. One school of thought is that the assets were used to pay off the local constabulary, hence the wife’s release, but during the meantime, the hitman remains in custody and faces a possible death sentence.

It always grieves me to read of any execution, and that includes those of Saddam Hussein and the Ceacescu’s. It is noteworthy, that one of the first things the Iraqis did after the removal of Saddam, was to abolish the death penalty, which was quickly reintroduced at the suggestion of the US. Of course the only people who have been executed are Saddam and his henchmen. Romania also abandoned the death penalty shortly after the overthrow of Ceaucescu, and have never reintroduced it.

Coming back to Mr. Aldhouse, from the little I have read about him, I get the impression that he is not a nice man. Nevertheless, once you decide that one person is more deserving of the death penalty than another, if he is indeed guilty, then you can no longer oppose hanging. However, as I have indicated already, the death penalty is applied unfairly in most cases. So with the Aldhouse case in mind, is it not about time that the Thai people demanded an end to executions of Thais, until such times as they are prepared to execute Farangs?

Stickman's thoughts:

Comments to follow within 24 hours – sorry, got a crazy day today!

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