June 27, 2013

Aaron Hernandez: Witness-murderer?

From the New York Times:
The N.F.L. player Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with murder Wednesday, is also being investigated in connection with a double homicide in Boston in 2012, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. 
Hernandez helped lead the Patriots to the Super Bowl two seasons ago. 
It was not clear when investigators began to look at Hernandez in connection with the double killing or what they believe his involvement may be. 
Hernandez, 23, was charged with murder and five gun-related offenses in Attleboro District Court in Massachusetts on Wednesday in connection with the murder of Odin Lloyd, 27, whose body was found in a North Attleborough, Mass., industrial park June 17. Hernandez pleaded not guilty and was held without bail. On the murder charge, he faces a life sentence without parole. 
One official said investigators were exploring a possible connection between the two cases that could explain a possible motive for the Lloyd killing. 
The person said investigators were examining the possibility that Lloyd was killed because he had information about Hernandez’s suspected involvement in the 2012 double homicide, but cautioned that that was somewhat speculative at this point.

So, this is all speculation at this point, but I want to bring up the possibility that this execution-style murder of Lloyd might have been a cold-blooded, rational response to a previous murder as an example of a phenomenon that's almost totally overlooked in the death penalty debate. 

Think about it from a game theory standpoint. Say, you murdered two people in 2012 and have so far gotten away with it. In Massachusetts, the maximum penalty is life in prison: there's no death penalty. So, why not murder a witness who could rat you out?

Well, there are practical reasons, like you might get caught for the latest murder (which may be what happened here). Presumably, though, you think the odds of getting away with another murder are better than the odds of getting away with the original murders if the witness lives. So, the incentive structure in Massachusetts looks like this:

- Murder two people, get ratted out, get life in prison

or

- Murder two people, worry about getting ratted out, murder potential rat, risk get caught, get life in prison, ... but maybe you get away scot-free and collect your $40 million contract from the Patriots.

Thus, in terms of punishment incentives, the only thing Massachusetts has to deter you from murdering witnesses is lower punishments for the original double homicide. Instead of life in prison, maybe they'll let you out in 20 years. Maybe they'll toss in some Willie Horton-style furloughs. (After all we all now know that anybody who objected to Willie Horton's furlough is a white racist, and what could be worse than that?) 

But maybe the public doesn't think being extra nice to double-murderers to keep them from becoming witness-murderers as well is a good deal. We tried lowering punishments in the 1960s. That didn't work out well, so prison terms were raised substantially, which seems to have helped drive down the crime rate. But, a long sentence era would seem, from a game theory standpoint, to need the death penalty as a super-penalty to discourage witness murdering.

That's where the death penalty could come into play, changing the incentive structure:

- Murder two people, get ratted out, get life in prison

or

- Murder two people, worry about getting ratted out, murder potential rat, get caught, get the death penalty

Now, perhaps these cases are rare. I don't know. What seems odd to me is that despite all the debate over the death penalty, the subject of its usefulness to punish and potentially deter witness murdering almost never comes up.

There are a number of other life in prison situations where the lack of a death penalty is a problem. I often cite the obscure Sandra Bullock movie Murder by Numbers, in which she plays a detective interrogating an updated Leopold and Loeb pair of thrill killers (Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt). It was a classic Prisoners' Dilemma game theory situation in which the two killers have a good chance of walking if they keep their mouths shut. (Confessions are useful not just in and of themselves, but that they help the cops recover a lot of physical evidence, as well.)

But why should one defect on the other if the punishments for both are life in prison? The threat of the death penalty gives an incentive to one to rat out the other: He pulled the trigger! I was just along for the ride. Give him the death penalty!

Keep in mind, however, that this situation increases the chances of the non-trigger puller getting the death penalty because the trigger-puller defects first.

P.S., I'm always fascinated by the disconnect between public policy discourse and the rest of everything. For example, the problem of "witness-murdering" has been a minor obsession for me since the Brown's Chicken Massacre in suburban Chicago in 1993, in which robbers at a fast food joint got away with their crime for about decade by the expedient of murdering all seven worker-witnesses. But, it's not as if the subject of witness-murder is restricted to the crime blotter: it's a major plot device in movies, TV shows, and detective novels. How many witnesses got murdered or threatened with murder on The Sopranos or The Wire? That was the main theme of the best episodes of Miami Vice a generation ago: just how ruthless would the heroes be in badgering a witness into risking his life by wearing a wire?

Obviously, at certain points in the past, judges and legislators thought hard about witness-murdering. But, at some point, the topic's innate relationship to the death penalty debate just got forgotten. The debate has ground on ever since in well-worn grooves without any thought of this topic that is omnipresent in our fictional worlds. It's a little bit like how the relationship between affirmative action and immigration simply doesn't register on 98% of the people who want to argue about affirmative action.

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have only read about this here over the years, although I don't actively look for death penalty debates.

When I made a similar point to a friend -- based on your arguments -- he agreed and wondered why it had never occured to him.

Anonymous said...

i'm surprised they won't let him out of prison on sundays to play football.

Anonymous said...

This is a very pertinent point. In Australia a judge sentenced Adrian Bayley to life in prison with a non-parole period of 35 years. He might get out when he is 76 years old. The reason they tossed him the possibility of parole was because he pleaded guilty.

If they had the death penalty for obvious murders like this (he tells police where he buried the body, they find the woman's phone SIM card in his washing machine, etc.), then the slack cut could be life in prison with no possibility of parole rather than the death penalty.

It is interesting to contrast the experience of Australia and the USA as Marxist policies have prevailed since the 1960s. After the thumb on the scale was pressed all the way towards the criminal, America under Clinton reversed this course with 3 strikes, while Australia (and the UK I believe) kept going, oblivious to what the US was doing.

RT Ryder said...

So I wonder if they have ballistics from the Lloyd murder matching the those from the double homicide, last year - or maybe a snitch. If so, he's done.

Anonymous said...

Ace of Spades summarizes your point nicely today.

"It looks like Hernandez was upset that Lloyd was breaking the first rule of Murder Club."

Hunsdon said...

Just the other day (literally, yesterday) I quoted the old murderer's motto, "After the first one, they're all free."

Anonymous said...

You make a good point, although very few murderers would qualify for the death penalty if your rule were enacted. Texas and Florida would be heartbroken.

BTW, in the old days, reasoning similar to yours was applied to kidnapping. It had formerly been a death penalty crime, but in most states the statutes were revised to provide for capital punishment only if the victim were not "released unharmed" - the idea being that this would prevent the murder of victims and the practice of cutting off body parts to prove that the victim was actually being held. Unfortunately, many state courts interpreted "released unharmed" to mean that not a hair on the victim's head had been harmed. This turned even trivial injuries into a reason to impose the death penalty and inspired prosecutors to invent fanciful (but successful) new theories of psychological injury, thus undermining the purpose of the change.

Einherjar said...

Note that this does not imply that it's rational to do away with the death penalty.

There are, for example, much worse ways to die than lethal injection.

Ultimately the problem is with any ceiling on punishment which is the same for run-of-the-mill horrible crimes as it is for extraordinarily horrible crimes.

Perhaps we would be better off with some particularly terrible punishments for the particularly terrible crimes.

Remember the three aspects of crime deterrance: certainty, immediacy, and severity. If we're bad at certainty and immediacy (and we most certainly are), then it seems irrational to have such a low ceiling on severity despite its diminishing returns with persons with poor time preference (the bulk of violent criminals).

JL said...

Aaron Hernandez: hypergamy in action.

http://twitchy.com/2013/06/26/its-come-to-this-15-aaron-hernandez-groupies-tweet-their-lust-for-the-accused-murderer/

boorstop said...

Man, I'm just loving this Hernandez thing. Always wanted to see a tatted up jock throw it all away. Too bad it couldn't have been Sprewell.

Geoff Matthews said...

Another area where the death penalty would be helpful would be prison rapes. I imagine that the bulk of the rapes are performed by men who are in prison for life (or at least a big chunk of it). Additional years on their sentence is not a deterrent. But a timely execution would be.
Something like a charge of rape, with semen found in an orifice constitutes sufficient cause for an execution (after all, who lies about being raped?).
Go from there, and I think you'd see a drop in rape.

Corn said...

This has been quoted before at iSteve by me or someone else but I'll quote it again:

In Peter Hitchens book A Brief History of Crime he relates the American experience with the death penalty in calling for a restoration of the penalty in Britain.
He cites statistics which state that up until the 1960s up to 90% of American homicides were considered "crimes of passion". Since the 1970s (when the Supremes briefly halted execution and several states have scrapped it) the percentage of American homicides considered crimes of passion have fallen to 70%.

Steve Sailer said...

"When I made a similar point to a friend -- based on your arguments -- he agreed and wondered why it had never occured to him."

I presume that this kind of situation comes up now and then in movies and detective shows. And it ties in to the endlessly discussed Prisoner's Dilemma game theory beloved of the authors of Airport Books. But for some reason, almost nobody draws the connections to the death penalty debate. Perhaps it's too logical and cold-blooded an aspect to be of much interest to either side in the death penalty debate, a venue in which people want to be emotional. Or something ...

Another reason is that Witness Murder isn't a thing the way the Rape of Nanking is a thing. We don't seem to have a conceptual category for it, even though it figures prominently in the plots of maybe 10% of all movies released each year.

Horace Staccato said...

Life in prison is WORSE than the death penalty. He killed that witness in order to avoid an option that might as well be death. What people are missing is that the severe, hell-on-earth penalties are NOT even meant to be deterrents. They are to rid us one way or another of evil people. Period.

The Left denies that true evil exists, and since the Left is purely evil, they of course point the finger at moral people for the most part. The Left therefore can't understand that true evil must simply be extinguished like a forest fire whenever it crops up, as it always and forever will.

Corn said...

"
BTW, in the old days, reasoning similar to yours was applied to kidnapping. It had formerly been a death penalty crime, but in most states the statutes were revised to provide for capital punishment only if the victim were not "released unharmed" - the idea being that this would prevent the murder of victims and the practice of cutting off body parts to prove that the victim was actually being held"

In Heinlein's Starship Troopers, I can't remember if kidnapping is a capital crime but "demand of ransom" is a capital crime. Wouldn't mind making that a law.

Hepp said...

LIke you said, the guy could only commit one murder because he'd rather go to jail for 20 years instead of life.

No matter what the maximum punishment is, the guy could always refrain from committing one more murder out of fear of the next step.

What if you had a state that was known for giving the death penalty for one murder? Then, there's no reason not to kill the rat after the first murder.

Steve Sailer said...

I read through the L.A. Times accounts of the last 2700 homicides in Los Angeles County in 2010 and most of them weren't planned out ahead of time in cold blood to gain a rational advantage. In a lot of them, the Stupid to Evil ratio was pretty tipped toward Stupid. But, I get particularly sore about the far more Evil than Stupid ones.

E. Rekshun said...

CNN, 6/27/13: Texas executes 500th inmate since 1976.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/26/justice/texas-500th-execution/index.html

"Kimberly McCarthy on Wednesday evening became the 500th prisoner executed in Texas since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated in the state...The 52-year-old former occupational therapist was convicted in 1997 of murdering her 71-year-old neighbor, Dorothy Booth, a retired college professor.
Booth was found beaten and stabbed to death, and one of her fingers was severed, indicating a ring was forcibly removed..."

Anonymous said...

Life in prison for murdering someone in Massachusetts? It's apparently calculated in dogs' years..

Melendwyr said...

Why wouldn't you get similar situations with the death penalty being applied more often? I think you'd get the same problem, set to a different equilibrium.

Anonymous said...

The Passion of George Zimmerman the Cracker. or Jorge Zimmerman el taco.

eh said...

America under Clinton reversed this course with 3 strikes,

No, you got that part wrong. "Three strikes" is California law only, not national, and Clinton had nothing to do with it.

E. Rekshun said...

Florida Today, 06/27/13: All 31 teams pass on claiming Aaron Hernandez...Had a team claimed Hernandez, they would have inherited...his massive contract - Hernandez signed a deal worth up to $40 million last August..."

http://www.floridatoday.com/usatoday/article/2465465&usatref=sportsmod

Today, Sports Center advised that the NE Patriots must pay Hernandez $5MM this year and 7.5MM next year, guaranteed, regardless whether he's on the team, in jail awaiting trial, convicted, or acquitted.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said..."You make a good point, although very few murderers would qualify for the death penalty if your rule were enacted. Texas and Florida would be heartbroken"

My home state of Virginia is 2nd in executions since 1976 (when it became legal again). In 3rd place is Oklahoma. Florida is a distant fourth. Going back to 1607, we're way ahead.

One point seldom brought up about capital punishment is the recidivism rate. Opponents say it does not deter murder. However I think it clearly does: I'm unaware of a single executed prisoner that subsequently committed another crime.

Anonymous said...

What's with this dude? He had tons of surveillance cameras inside and outside his house, takes the guy out on a ride (allegedly)

Regarding multiple surveillance cameras, sounds a bit paranoid or concerned he was gonna get whacked out.
Also a bit drug influenced (as he admitted to a drug charge in college which was why he was passed over in 1st round draft)
Wonder if Hernandez is influenced by Tony Montana's Scarface character.

Orthodox said...

There was a case in CA where the thug called his lawyer in the midst of crime and asked if he would get extra time for killing a witness.

E. Rekshun said...

I wonder what Hernandez scored on the Wonderlic and the SAT. Certainly considerably less than his former QB teammates Tom Brady and Tim Tebow.

Anonymous said...

Horace Staccato.

"Life in prison is WORSE then the death penalty".

Oh really? Then why don't all the lifers in prison commit suicide, as this would be the lesser punishment?

Anonymous said...

Then why don't all the lifers in prison commit suicide, as this would be the lesser punishment?


Agreed. Tell that to all those who have organizations inside. Steve did a post a while back about the Baltimore dude who had different kids to different prison wardens. Plus they get cable tv, weight room, b'ball court, library. All off of taxpayer dime. Tons of stuff and all the time to do it.


Only thing the thugs understand, is walking the green mile to sit them down where they can be dropped off and deposited at dr. death's door.

Anonymous said...

Some states that had eliminated the death penalty have reinstated it for killing guards or other prisoners. Why these "classes" receive the protection of deterrence not allowed the general public is a mystery to me.

eah said...

This case is a nice reminder for me personally of why years ago I lost interest in professional sports entirely -- too much tatooed ghetto trash of all colors. Unfortunately college sports was not far behind -- "student athletes" my ass.

Anonymous said...

Hernandez was 17 on the wonderlic

http://www.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/graphics/04_28_11_draft_database/

Mr. Anon said...

"Thus, in terms of punishment incentives, the only thing Massachusetts has to deter you from murdering witnesses is lower punishments for the original double homicide."

They could make the Patriots trade him to a poorly ranked team.

Anonymous said...

Remember the three aspects of crime deterrance: certainty, immediacy, and severity. If we're bad at certainty and immediacy (and we most certainly are), then it seems irrational to have such a low ceiling on severity despite its diminishing returns with persons with poor time preference (the bulk of violent criminals).

Yes. If the wheels of justice grind slow, then they should at least grind exceedingly fine. Unfortunately, in a lot of places in the world the wheels of justice appear to be grinding coarsely or not at all.

john marzan said...

RT @kausmickey Life of Julia, Amnesty Applicant tinyurl.com/qxokv74 Slide 6 was new to me-Criminals get to return, victims notified but can't stop #tcot

====

what if the deported criminal is a murderer seeking revenge?

Anonymous said...

But for some reason, almost nobody draws the connections to the death penalty debate. Perhaps it's too logical and cold-blooded an aspect to be of much interest to either side in the death penalty debate, a venue in which people want to be emotional. Or something ...

Maybe it's just because a lot of movies on the subject lean liberal? Can you name any pro-death penalty movies, Steve? I did a quick google, and found this and this, the latter of which makes the same point I do, that there are hardly any in existence. And there are innumerable anti-DP movies around, Life of David Gale, Green Mile, etc.

There are a reasonable number of vigilante movies though, where the justice system fails, but this is not really the same thing. It seems like there is a huge niche to be filled by an appropriate movie. Just like there are large niches just waiting to be filled by other movies that might be made with rightist politics. Consider Tropa de Elite for example. There is nothing else like it, as far as I am aware. Thus it has a monopoly on selling that movie to people who would want to watch that sort of movie. There is definitely money to be made, consider Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ".

I also did a search and could not find your argument made until I searched for 'death penalty plea bargain'. And yet, it is certainly a good one. Historically, the state did not restrict itself to just one form of DP either, having drawing, quartering etc. for crimes such as treason etc. Killing relatives of criminals has also been used in certain egregious cases, in certain periods in China, in Scotland (perhaps apocryphally) with Sawney Bean, and in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Black Sea said...

I keep waiting to see Hernandez described in the media as a "White Hispanic.

Should be coming any day now.

Anonymous said...

Hey, here in the People's Commonwealth we had a judge give a guy convicted of raping a 3-year old probation. Do you think murderers spend more than 10-15 years in jail?

Anonymous said...

Please watch "The First 48". Most murderers are completely irrational and impulsive. They are not doing in-depth cost benefit analysis.

Anonymous said...

"Australia (and the UK I believe) kept going, oblivious to what the US was doing"

They did, until a great and noble Tory Home Secretary, Michael Howard (nee Hecht IIRC) started locking people up again around 1993-4. And crime fell, causing liberal icon Polly Toynbee to complain "the prisons have never been so full, yet crime is falling".

Howard became party leader but was seen off by Tony Blair in 2005. But he made literally millions of people's lives better, as the incoming 1997 Labour administration more or less continued his policies.

Re witness murder, any interference with witnesses should IMHO be taken extremely seriously by the state - no matter what the original offence, it should carry 10 years plus.

Some 25 years back, some people near me were witnesses in a criminal trial and were attacked with machetes - one nearly lost an arm and they were all traumatised but still testified. What got me were the sentences for the attack - top was 8 years which in the UK means 4. Four years for destroying lives in an attempt to destroy justice. It should have been 40.

The UK state only REALLY cares about (white) racism and (white) "Islamophobia" these days.

Anonymous said...

I used to be very pro death-penalty but I reversed my position on that. The death penalty simply isn't civilised.

I'm willing to allow (uneasily) that someone should get the death penalty on the grounds that any two criminals committing the same crime should get the same penalty but, all the same, the death penalty shouldn't exist.

At any rate, leftists only oppose the death penalty because of disparate impact. If they really thought that life was precious they wouldn't be abortion enthusiasts. If white conservatives were disproportionately criminal, leftists would love the death penalty and most leftists probably would like the idea of us all being executed anyway, since we'eve got intrinsic qualities that stir their hatred. We'eve all heard sentiments of that sort expressed with great regularity now.

Cail Corishev said...

I'm for the death penalty in principle, but against it in practice because we do it so badly. It should be a deterrent, but it's not, because you can't deter people who are known to have terrible future time orientation with a punishment that might occur a decade or two from now if they get caught and if the prosecution goes for it and if their own lawyer doesn't prevent it somehow and if they don't get a reduction on appeal or some kind of clemency and if the state doesn't end it before then anyway. The chance of actually sitting in that chair is way too remote to affect a guy who's robbing a liquor store and hasn't thought past the part where he runs into the nearest alley.

The main reason to hang onto it as an issue is to offer to trade it to the left for something, like "Here, we'll give up the death penalty if you'll give up abortion." They never would, of course, but it'd be one way to show where their primary interests lie.

Anonymous said...

Those who oppose the death penalty for mystical reasons are unable to face the complex horrors of reality. There are possible circumstances in which even torturing suspects to extract information would be the least bad option. Those who disagree should be in favor of unilateral nuclear disarmament and negotiated surrender to foreign powers.