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The Killers Of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski Should Have Received The Death Penalty

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Yesterday afternoon the jury was deadlocked in deciding the fate of two men for the 2008 killing of philly cop killers and sgt liczbinskiPhiladelphia Police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski. At issue was whether Eric DeShann Floyd and Levon T. Warner should be executed by lethal injection or spend life in prison without parole in the May 3, 2008 shooting of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, 39, a 12-year police veteran.  Since the jury was deadlocked, they automatically received life sentences.

Liczbinski was killed as he pursued a car occupied by three fleeing bank robbers. At Almond and Schiller Streets, Howard Cain got out of the car and began shooting at Liczbinski's patrol car, hitting the sergeant eight times and mortally wounding him. Cain, 33, the trio's leader, was killed later that day when confronted by police.

The jury earlier last month found defendants Floyd and Warner guilty of first-degree murder, making them eligible to receive the death penalty, even though neither of them fired a shot at Officer Liczbinski.

It is almost unheard of to receive a death penalty sentence, and not commit the act of first-degree murder, which requires deliberation, premeditation, and intent to kill. Consequently, this case has sparked a heated debate whether these two men, who did not fire a single shot at the officer, deserve the death penalty.

Why They Should Get the Death Penalty

The prosecution was seeking the death penalty based on several aggravating factors-- the murder of a police officer in the line of duty, both defendants have long histories of violent crime, and endangering others. If there is a case when a murderer’s cohorts get the death penalty, this could be it.  According to the evidence, each of these defendants played a crucial role in Liczbinski’s murder although they did not pull the trigger. 

As Liczbinski gained on the Jeep of the trio at the scene of the robbery, Floyd, who drove the getaway vehicle, shouted "Bang him!" and Warner, in the back seat, handed Cain the stolen, high-powered assault rifle he used to commit the murder, according to trial evidence.

The prosecution claimed that if Floyd and Warner had surrendered rather than conspired with Cain to kill Liczbinski, the two prison parolees would have gotten life sentences for the bank robbery. Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy told the jury, "They had the chance to give up and do life that day.  “But Liczbinski was standing between the defendants' freedom and stolen bank money. Instead of surrendering they chose to roll the dice”.

Besides playing a cruel role as conspirators in the murder of Liczbinksi, both of these dependents have a long history of violence and criminal behavior

Floyd's first prison sentence of one to five years stemmed from a November 1994 robbery at Broad and Spring Garden streets. In 2002, he began serving a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted of robbing three Lancaster County Turkey Hill convenience stores, between November 2000 and January 2001. William Rowell, a Southwest Philadelphia businessman, testified that two men dressed in female Muslim attire - one later identified as Floyd - robbed his real-estate business at gunpoint May 1, 2008. After the robbers ran from his business, Rowell said, he watched as they carjacked a man's van at gunpoint.

Besides being chronic violent offenders, the two deserve the death penalty for their complete disregard for the public’s safety. "All (three) knew if anyone got in their way, they would use the assault weapon to shoot them," District Attorney Seth Williams said after the verdict.

Finally, advocates of capital punishment say the two deserve death because “Kiladelphia” needs to send a strong message to would-be cop killers - “You even collaborate with a murder of a police officer, you’ll face the ultimate justice, the death penalty."  When Liczbinski bled to death on a Port Richmond street two years ago, Philadelphia was still reeling from the death of Officer Chuck Cassidy the previous October. And the city would continue to suffer through the deaths of three other police officers before the bloody cycle of cop killing violence ended. 

Why They Should Not Get the Death Penalty

The defense has argued several mitigating factors, emphasizing that neither Floyd nor Warner was the actually triggerman, and also stressing the upbringing of both men, which their attorneys argue predisposed them to a life of crime.

The conventional wisdom among courthouse observers is that the death penalty is generally given only to the person who actually fired the gun.  Floyd's attorney, Earl G. Kauffman, called a death sentence a step back for civilization: "To sentence this person to death would be taking the proverbial ball of social conscience and moving it backward . . . We don't execute people who don't kill."

The defense also points out the troubled past of the two, calling a series of witnesses - including Floyd's mother - to speak about his growing up in a violent, abusive, drug-and-alcohol-soaked home where criminal values were instilled.

Warner's attorney, Gary Server, called forensic social worker Roya Paller, who said Warner was born a month early to an unwed, 17-year-old mother who had little interest in raising him, Paller said.

Warner was a poor student with learning disabilities and eventually dropped out, Paller said. In his youth, Warner was affected by having been hit and nearly killed by a car, by his mother's drinking, by her boyfriend's drunken violence toward him and her, and by unjustified beatings from his maternal grandmother, said Paller, who interviewed Warner.

As a response to the abuse from his mother's boyfriend, she said Levon Warner became a boxer. The beating that Warner suffered as a boxer allegedly caused brain damaged, paranoia and spells of forgetfulness.

My Turn

I get sick when I hear defense attorneys use stuff like boxing related incidences of supposed brain damage as an excuse to commit mayhem and conspire to murder. I get nauseated when I hear the defendants’ relatives beg the jury for mercy, claiming that the two were victims of poor upbringing and a savage, brutal environment that paved the way for a path of crime.

I don’t buy it. These two were not impressionable teenagers or young adults. Floyd is 35 and Warner is 41 years old. Already, these two have had several encounters with the criminal justice system.  These guys are a menace to society. They conspired to kill a police officer, not caring about harming any innocent bystanders in the processes.  They deserve the death penalty.

At least in an ideal world--- unfortunately Pennsylvania’s legal system is not an ideal way to vanquish capital murders.

Let’s be honest—here is a healthy dose of realism. Even if sentenced to death, neither man is likely to be executed. In Pennsylvania, only three men have been executed since the restoration of capital punishment in 1976, even though hundreds have been sentenced to death. As Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center testified, before the Pennsylvania Senate Government Management and Cost Study Commission just two months ago,

Despite having the fourth largest death row in the country, Pennsylvania has not had an execution in 11 years. All three of the people that the state has executed since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 have been defendants who waived their appeals. Pennsylvania has not had a contested execution since 1962.

The way that capital punishment is currently carried out in Pennsylvania (and in most states) is nothing more than a feel-good gesture to the family of victims, a “See, we showed them—justice is served!” sentence, but it’s all talk; it’s almost never carried out, and hasn’t been carried out in Pennsylvania on condemned men who hadn’t dropped their appeals.

Besides the cost of sentencing, these two thugs would be a burden on Pennsylvania’s already strained budget. How many more schools should be closed so we can carry out the death penalty sentence of these two? Pennsylvania is not alone facing the dilemma of punishing the most heinous criminals. Simply put, in today’s legal system, it isn’t cost efficient to execute such criminals. Most states face similar circumstances as Pennsylvania. For instance, a recent Duke University study of North Carolina's death penalty costs found that the state could save $11 million a year by substituting life in prison for the death penalty. An earlier Duke study found that the state spent $2.1 million more on a death penalty case than on one seeking a life sentence.

Given the additional costs, and the fact that most condemned men are never actually executed, and strained budgets that are seeing cost cutting everywhere, why do our district attorneys even bother with seeking the death penalty?

I say the people of Philadelphia have suffered enough from the irresponsible actions of thugs like Floyd and Warner. The good people of Philadelphia should not have to further endure any excessive tax burdens for meaningless, feel-good, death penalty sentences that will never be actually carried out.