I'm glad Simon Rios will never see the light of day again, but pleading out a case this monstrous sets a troublesome precedent. Indiana has not been frivolous with its death penalty -- it's reserved for the worst of the worst. Rios abducted, raped and killed a 10-year-old girl, then murdered his whole family. If that's not the worst of the worst, what is? What's the point of even having a death penalty if this case doesn't qualify?
As instruments of criminal justice, trials serve an important teaching function. They show us not just the arguments of individual cases but the workings of the whole system. The more pleas there are, especially on the most important cases, the less public and transparent criminal justice becomes. It's hard for the public to trust, or even understand, something that is so much the product of backroom negotiations.
And there is this:
The possibility of Rios' mental retardation arose during a June hearing when Dr. Stephen Ross, a clinical and forensic psychologist hired by the defense, who oversaw testing on Rios by a Spanish-speaking neuropsychologist, testified that the findings showed Rios had an IQ in the mentally retarded range.
Ross retestified Friday after seeing a partially completed investigation into Rios' past from Kraus. He said Rios was competent to plead guilty, that he wasn't mentally retarded and that he knew what he was doing.
So, the pressure for the state to bargain came from the possibility of retardation, which could even threaten Rios' guilty plea in the earlier case, and that possibility was raised by somebody hired by the defense. Now that there's a deal, that same defense guy says Rios is not retarded and is "competent to plead guilty." Man, that's some fancy sleight-of-hand.