Death penalty: 'Not worth the price'
Kentucky Post, May 31, 1999, By Bob Driehaus, Post staff reporter
Twenty-five years of fighting for poor people accused of terrible crimes
has convinced Daniel T. Goyette that an execution never serves justice.
''The death penalty brings out the worst in the criminal justice system
and everyone involved. The demands it makes on the system are not worth the price of vengeance, and that's really the only purpose it serves,'' the Jefferson District public defender said.
Goyette is handling the federal appeals of Gregory Wilson, the Covington
man sentenced to death for the murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery of
Deborah Pooley of Covington in 1987.
Q: Do you ever have trouble motivating yourself to defend a client who
may be guilty of a heinous crime?
A: No. I believe in the adversary legal system and the role that the
defense attorney is supposed to play in that system. If I had problems
with that, then I wouldn't be doing my job and the system wouldn't work.
Q: How does Eddie Harper's execution (May 25) affect the fight to keep
Gregory Wilson and other condemned prisoners in Kentucky from being
A: I'll speak (about the execution's pertinence) to Gregory Wilson, and
it affects us not at all. There are totally different circumstances.
Q: Some argue that the executions of Harold McQueen Jr. (July 1, 1997)
and now Harper potentially open the floodgates for those on death row to be executed more quickly.
A: Certainly that movement is afoot, but I'm speaking more in terms of
how it affects our legal strategy and the grounds for relief. And in that
respect, it's not going to affect us at all.
Q: Does Wilson maintain his innocence?
A: My role is to defend Mr. Wilson. I don't get into judging whether he
is guilty or innocent. I don't think based on the proof and the way that
the trial was conducted that anyone could say he was guilty beyond a
reasonable doubt because, in effect, he didn't have a trial. There was no defense.
There was no mitigating evidence offered. Often, there was no defense
lawyer in the courtroom. There is no way of judging . . . because he
didn't get a fair trial.
Q: How was that allowed to happen? How did the system fail Wilson?
A: At the time, the problem in Northern Kentucky was that they didn't
have a full-time public defender system, and they had no lawyer willing to
step forward and represent him from start to finish.
Q: What advantages do defendants with money to spend have over indigents
A: Access to investigators to conduct the same kind of investigation
from a defense perspective that police and law enforcement do; expert
witnesses, particularly in a homicide case, ranging from pathologists to
serologists to DNA experts, to psychiatrists to mental health professionals . . .
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out criminal defendants
don't have a large constituency and don't have much political power. When you get into the General Assembly and budgetary numbers, they're at the bottom of the priority list.
The legal system is the bedrock of our democracy, and we're going to
have to balance out the playing field . . .
Q: Is it a realistic goal for the state to provide more funding for this
type of defense?
A: It has to be. If we're going to continue to seek and impose the death
penalty in this state, it's incumbent upon all of us to ensure that the
system is a fair one and that the results can be trusted.
At the moment,
I'm afraid that's not the case.
Q: How much more money does the public defender's office need to level
the playing field?
A: It's going to take a 35 to 40 percent increase in funding to be in a
position where we would be reasonably funded and in a way that is the
equivalent of what surrounding states in this area of the country
Q: What motivated you to join the public defenders office instead of
pursuing more lucrative legal work?
A: There is no one grand and glorious reason. In some respects it may
have been fateful, even serendipitous. On the other hand, the work is
consistent with my views, values and philosophy of life. I remain in the field because I believe in the importance of the work and enjoy most aspects of my job immensely.
Q: Do you have a private practice?
A: No. Everyone in our office is required to work full-time. No outside
employment is permitted.
Q: Are you opposed to the death penalty in all cases?
A: After 25 years of defense work and one year as a prosecutor, I am
opposed to it . . . Everybody is seeking the death penalty as the only
punishment that will balance the crime that was committed, and yet
Harper thought it was far worse to have to serve the rest of his life in the penitentiary.
Q: Are there innocent men on death row?
A: I don't have any doubt that there are.
Q: Some death-penalty opponents have said defendants who waive their
appeals prove they're not mentally fit by the very fact they're asking
to die. Do defense attorneys have a professional obligation to file appeals against the wishes of their clients?
A: The mental health of a death-row inmate has a lot to do with
volunteering for the death penalty. Because of the serious questions of
competency to make a decision like that, I think a defense attorney has
to continue to mount the defense and litigate those issues.
Q: Is there any prospect in the short or long-term to abolish the death
penalty in Kentucky?
A: My feeling is that support for the death penalty, although it comes
in fairly consistently at 70 percent, is really uninformed and unreliable.
My sense is that the support for the death penalty is a mile wide and an inch deep.