Former Prosecutor Opposes Death Penalty On Christian Basis

Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor who has become a leader in religiously inspired legal reform, was the featured guest April 5 on my weekly public affairs radio show, MTL Washington Update.

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Osler, left, a law professor in Minnesota and the current head of the Association of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools, spoke out against the death penalty and overly harsh drug possession sentences.

Co-host Scott Draughon and I explored Osler's advocacy, which includes books, essays, and lectures citing a Christian basis as well as legal rationales for his views opposing the death penalty and extremely harsh sentences for possession of crack cocaine.

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Osler is a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minnesota, and a former federal prosecutor in Detroit from 1995 to 2000.

He served as lead counsel in Spears v. United States, where the U.S. Supreme Court accepted his position that sentencing judges could categorically reject a 100:1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine in the federal sentencing guidelines. His work fighting overly harsh crack sentences was also portrayed in the film American Violet, where he was the basis for the character of Professor Joe Fisher.

He is the author of Jesus on Death Row (Abingdon, 2009). The book challenges the death penalty based on the experience of Christ as a criminal defendant.

Osler has testified as a sentencing expert in Congress and before the U.S. Sentencing Commission. He has authored over 30 academic articles, and writes regularly for CNN, the Huffington Post, Sojourners, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He earned his law degree from Yale, where he was a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Among his recent artcles are forthcoming chapters in a new book, Victims: Transforming the Death Penalty Debate, and Talking to Each Other in the Dark: The American Abolition Movement and The Christian Opportunity (with Jeanne Bishop, at right). These chapters will appear in Ashgate Press’s forthcoming volume, New Voices about Capital Punishment (2013). Also, he performed mock death penalty trials with Bishop at churches in Austin, TX and Boulder, CO last month.

The show's audience is heavily comprised of business professionals, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and technologists nationally drawn by my co-host, Scott, at left, over his decade building the radio network. His vision and book, The Art of the Business Radio Show, established him as a pioneer in the new media sector targeting professionals. 

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Our radio show opened with an overview of the week's developments in Washington affecting the nation. We focused on the National Rifle Association's call for armed guards in schools, which the group announced at the National Press Club earlier this week. Speakers were protected at the club by approximately 20 private security personnel, many of them armed.

I witnessed part of it. The NRA's swagger and unprecedented show of armed security for private speakers is yet another bizarre sign of the super-aggressive takeover by lobbyists of Washington. The husky NRA plainclothesmen shamelessly intimidated a 90-year-old retiree who stands 5 foot-five, and weighs just over 100 pounds. They ordered him to go to a men's room while NRA officials were passing in a corridor. A Washington Post columnist captured part of the scene: The NRA’s disarming plan to arm schools.

Scott and I discussed the issues raised by such scenes, which was part of our weekly examination of the latest in public affairs.

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Related News Coverage

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Minnesota Public Radio, States abolishing death penalty, despite public support for it, Frank Zimring and Greg Dobbs, April 4, 2013. Guests: Mark Osler, Franklin Zimiring, law professor at University of California at Berkeley and author of many books, including, The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment, and Greg Dobbs, columnist for the Denver Post and former ABC News correspondent.

National Press Club Wire, Cummings pushes gun trafficking legislation, Bob Weiner and Rich Mann, April 3, 2013. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, urged “action” on gun legislation in Congress at an April 2 Newsmaker. He underlined the current dangers associated with gun trafficking and made the case for tough federal penalties aimed at “straw purchasers.” Cummings said, “Most Americans already think gun trafficking is a federal crime — but it’s not. They have no idea that there is no federal law targeting firearms traffickers who commonly use ‘straw purchasers’ to buy guns for convicted felons and other dangerous criminals who cannot legally buy guns on their own. Laws to prevent trafficking are toothless, like a traffic ticket.”

Washington Post, The NRA’s disarming plan to arm schools, Dana Milbank, April 3, 2013 (print edition). The gun-lobby goons were at it again. The National Rifle Association’s security guards gained notoriety earlier this year when, escorting NRA officials to a hearing, they were upbraided by Capitol authorities for pushing cameramen. The thugs were back Tuesday when the NRA rolled out its “National School Shield” — the gun lobbyists’ plan to get armed guards in public schools — and this time they were packing heat. About 20 of them — roughly one for every three reporters — fanned out through the National Press Club, some in uniforms with gun holsters exposed, others with earpieces and bulges under their suit jackets. In a spectacle that officials at the National Press Club said they had never seen before, the NRA gunmen directed some photographers not to take pictures, ordered reporters out of the lobby when NRA officials passed and inspected reporters’ briefcases before granting them access to the news conference. Thus has it gone so far in the gun debate in Washington. The legislation is about to be taken up in Congress, but by most accounts the NRA has already won. Plans for limiting assault weapons and ammunition clips are history, and the prospects for meaningful background checks are bleak. Now, The Post’s Philip Rucker and Ed O’Keefe report, the NRA is proposing language to gut the last meaningful gun-control proposal, making gun trafficking a federal crime. Apparently, the gun lobby thinks even criminals deserve Second Amendment protection. If the NRA has its way, as it usually does, states will soon be weakening their gun laws to allow more guns in schools.

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Pro Publica, Who Polices Prosecutors Who Abuse Their Authority? Usually Nobody, Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica, and Sergio Hernandez, April 3, 2013. Part I of II. A ProPublica analysis of more than a decade's worth of state and federal court rulings found more than two dozen instances in which judges explicitly concluded that city prosecutors had committed harmful misconduct. In each instance, these abuses were sufficient to prompt courts to throw out convictions. Yet the same appellate courts did not routinely refer prosecutors for investigation by the state disciplinary committees charged with policing lawyers. Disciplinary committees, an arm of the appellate courts, almost never took serious action against prosecutors. None of the prosecutors who oversaw cases reversed based on misconduct were disbarred, suspended, or censured except for Stuart. (Stuart declined repeated requests for an interview for this story.)

Pro Publica, Lasting Damage: A Rogue Prosecutor's Final Case, Joaquin Sapien, April 5, 2013 (Part II of II). Claude Stuart, after a career full of trouble as a prosecutor in Queens, finally went too far when he lied to a judge in an effort to convict a man of murder. Thirteen years later, Stuart is no longer a lawyer, the man he convicted remains in prison, and who actually killed Leroy Vann remains unclear.

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