God Will Grant Justice

Shawn Grell, currently on Arizona death row for murdering his two-year-old daughter Kristin, was recently granted a new sentencing hearing. The argument is whether or not Grell is legally considered mentally retarded; during his trial, Grell’s defense submitted two experts that said he was retarded, but when required by the court to submit to a State expert, Grell refused. The court decided then that Grell was not mentally retarded and sentenced him to death. With the Supreme Court’s ruling in Atkins v. Virginia, it became Unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment (which bars cruel and unusual punishment) to execute any person found legally mentally retarded. This decision was published after Grell’s sentencing and during appeal, and his defense lawyers jumped on it with both feet.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors are fighting battles over the most minuscule facts and findings. In most states, when the death penalty is considered, the burden is on the defense to present clear evidence of a mental capacity that makes the suspect incapable of understanding the gravity of his crime. Only New Jersey puts the burden on the prosecution instead. In Arizona, the defense is required to soundly prove that the suspect is truly mentally retarded; it begins with an IQ below 75, then goes on to at least two psychologists weighing in on a multitude of factors, not the least of which is the suspect’s ability to adaptively function in society.

After Grell’s flat refusal to submit to a state expert, it absolutely galls me that his defense is appealing the sentence on the grounds that their client might be mentally retarded. What’s more galling is that the Arizona Supreme Court granted the new sentencing hearing. Another argument being made is that Grell was sentenced by a judge rather than a jury–however, this was well before Arizona enacted the law that required death penalty sentences to be decided by juries. What the news hasn’t told you is that Grell knowingly waived his right to trial before a jury, opting instead for a judge-only trial, then tried to turn around and demand a jury for his sentencing in the first trial. The Judge, within her rights, said NO, you waived your right to a jury, you get me for sentencing, too.

What I’m about to do is going to be a little disturbing. If you are easily affected by descriptions of crimes, I suggest you skip this part.
***
Imagine you’re watching a young, blond man play with his toddler daughter at McDonald’s. He feeds her, takes her into the jungle gym, then puts her in the car and drives away. He stops to get some beer and drinks a couple while she sleeps in the back seat. He drives a little while longer, then stops to buy a small plastic gas can, then gets back in the car and drives some more. He then stops to fill the gas can, gets back in the car, and drives some more.

He makes his way out to Apache Junction, the middle of nowhere outside of Phoenix, and cruises for a desolate spot. He finally finds a drainage ditch about ten feet away from the road; the area is unpopulated except for this lonely stretch of state highway. The young man takes the two-year-old girl out of the car, still sleeping, carries her to the ditch and lays her on the ground. He has brought the gas can with him, which he opens–and begins to pour the gasoline over his tiny daughter’s sleeping form. She wakes up to the feel of the liquid on her skin and the stench of the chemicals. She looks at the young man, her father, wondering what he’s doing. She wonders why she’s in the mud with daddy looking down at her, innocently clueless as to what daddy is doing.

Then, the young man lights a match and flicks it at her, setting her gasoline-soaked body and clothing ablaze. She jumps up and screams, running around and stamping her tiny feet, crying for daddy. The horrific pain of the extreme burns is finally dulled by the smoke that chokes the oxygen from her blood, and she drops to her knees before falling face-down in the dirt. The young man gets in his car and drives around before going back to see if the fire had gone out. Then he stops at another convenience store for more beer, where he tells the clerk that he’d seen some kids setting a dog on fire by the roadside a few miles back. “What is the world coming to when kids set dogs on fire?” he asks the attendant, who was so disgusted by the tale that he never forgot it.

Later that night, the young man is pulled over for driving drunk and is arrested. Upon his release, he calls Capitol police and tells them what he’s done and where to find the little girl’s body. Officers reach the scene far too late; they find several charred patches on the ground, littered with melted hair clips, partially burned candy, and a trail of tiny footprints that forge a twelve-foot path to the body of the tiny girl they were told would be there. The only part of her body spared the third- and fourth-degree burns are the bottoms of her little feet.
***
I cannot imagine what it was like for the officer who had to go to Grell’s home to arrest him. Knowing what he’d done, had I been that officer, I’d have happily turned in my badge to slowly beat that monster to death. It is a testament to the goodness of the police officers you never hear about on the news that Grell was delivered to the Madison Street Jail without so much as a harmed hair on his head.

A lack of education or high intelligence does not absolve one of a horrific crime. Even the mentally retarded understand the finality of death and the fact that murder is wrong. Grell held a job and dated, proving he was perfectly capable of adaptive functioning. The way I see it, there’s a really simple way to prove whether Grell understood what he was doing. Does he understand that being burned is horribly painful? Yes. Does he understand that killing someone is wrong? Yes. Did he plan what he was doing? Yes–not only does the evidence from the convenience stores prove it, he admitted it openly to the media.

Considering the extreme evidence and the particularly depraved manner in which Grell committed this crime, I am left incredulous and flummoxed that we’re debating whether this guy understands his crime well enough to be put to death for it. Any person who has the capacity for such inhuman cruelty can only serve the world by leaving it. Either way, though, there’s a special circle in hell reserved for Shawn Grell. He’ll get there eventually, whether we help him along or not, and God will grant the justice that we don’t have the stomach for.

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11 thoughts on “God Will Grant Justice

  1. Oh my God. That is so horrifying I can’t even comprehend it. How could someone do that to any human being, let alone their own baby??

    I don’t buy this mentally retarded bullcrap. I used to work with adults who were mentally retarded, and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM would be horrified and heartbroken to hear about someone burning their sweet baby to death. They KNOW the difference between right and wrong. Especially at an IQ of 75…that’s BORDERLINE mentally retarded (down to 70 is considered borderline, iirc).

    Just disgusting. Horrifying. Inhuman and unthinkable. He deserves the death penalty.

  2. I know it’s not up to me to deliver justice, and I would not attempt to do so (which is why I don’t think I should ever be a cop and why I left corrections). I think, however, that the only punishment that would fit such a monstrosity would be the exact same crime he committed against his daughter.

  3. As henious at what he did is, I can’t support putting him to death. Mentally retarded or not, I do not support capital punishment. I once did. But two things changed my mind.

    The first was Susan Smith. She drowned her two boys. She was never charged with a death penalty crime.

    Andrea Yates drowned her five children, stacked them like cord wood, called 9-1-1, and admitted what she did. She was spared the death penalty too.

    If the above two cases don’t warrant the death penalty then what does?

  4. “I think, however, that the only punishment that would fit such a monstrosity would be the exact same crime he committed against his daughter.”

    Turning him loose in General Population of the prison might result in that very thing.

    Since you worked in corrections Mel, how do they handle people who committed crimes against children? It is my understanding these criminals are the lowest of the low especially when sexual abuse or rape is involved.

    Do they permnanently separate these prisioners from the rest of the prison population? If they are separated do they prey on each other? If a convicted pedophile wants to be placed in General Population do they allow that?

    Where I grew up a young man in his early 20’s was accused and convicted to raping and killing two teenage girls under the age of 15.

    I don’t know why he was put in General Population but he was. His life was a living hell. He frequently got beat up. His nickname was Baby Rap0 (Rape O). I thought someone like that would be separated from everyone else for his own safety.

  5. In jail, at least here in Maricopa county, there’s a unit specifically for protective custody, or PC. Prisons here have SMU/SHU, special housing units for the dangerous offenders or the ones like Grell who wouldn’t survive in gen pop. These days, you can’t leave a guy like Grell or a child molester in the gen pop for long – they’ll be raped, beaten and likely killed. MCSO had a child molester beaten to death just last year in the Towers jail.

    As for Susan Smith and Andrea Yates, I think both of them deserved the death penalty. I’m sorry, but neither of them can really claim post-partum psychosis. Smith’s kids were both over the age of two and most psychologists agree that post-partum depression isn’t very prevalent; post-partum psychosis almost never happens. I don’t buy those arguments.

  6. When it comes to the murder of children, I favor the punishment that will make the murderer suffer the most. I can really see how living in the general population of a prison would be a worse punishment than the death penalty. Of course, I’m a momma and pretty old-school about crime, so I think that the mother (or, in the case of Smith and Yates, the father) should be allowed to choose and carry out the punishment.

  7. “I can really see how living in the general population of a prison would be a worse punishment than the death penalty. ”

    I am a reader of true crime books (Ann Rule for example). There is little worse than being a famous killer. Those people become targets in prison because killing on of them is considered a prize act.

    This Grell guy might last a few days in general population. Even in a segregated unit he’d still be a target. I guess if an inmate wants to get you then that person will find a way.

  8. Oh, they’ve tried to find many ways. But Grell is in SMU for death row and is only allowed out of his cell for one hour a day for exercise in a secluded, completely fenced-in area. The area he’s in keeps all other inmates away from any physical contact. They don’t kid around at Florence/Eyman.

  9. It is something I have been struggling with for many years! To add salt to the cut, you get people that judge and try to play out the case and seem to manage to leave out & screw up the facts..

  10. Screw up the facts or leave them out? I read the police report. Not to mention seeing the video where he held a press conference, during which he described what he’d done.

    If you have specifics about which facts I “screwed up,” do tell. Regardless of anything you say the fact remains that he committed the crime. If you are his little sister, then I do feel for you, because he victimized you just as much as he victimized his girlfriend and her family.

    I will tell you this…my brother has grown up to be a very good man. If, however, things had been different, and he ever committed a felony, I would never even think about trying to protect him. Unless he accepted the consequences of his actions I’d stop speaking to him. That goes for any person in my family or in my circle of friends. To me, if you’ve earned my trust and my friendship and love, I’ll be the most loyal and trustworthy friend you’ve ever had. But if you do something wrong and refuse to own up, I’ll be all over you.

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