Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty For Loud Cellphone User
Washington, DC (AP) – In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court validated an execution sentence for a Long Island man convicted of talking loudly on his cellphone during a train commute into Manhattan two years ago.
Irving Whitaker, 42, of Lakeview, boarded the 7:40 AM train to Jamaica, Queens on a Tuesday morning in July 2011. Within minutes of displaying his ticket for the conductor, Whitaker produced a mobile phone and began conversing loudly with a succession of interlocutors, repeatedly ignoring fellow commuters’ admonitions and requests to either reduce his volume or desist from talking. While some passengers managed to move to other cars, others on the increasingly crowded train were forced to remain in the same car as Whitaker. Word of one passenger’s misbehavior reached the conductor, but the latter was unable to negotiate the tide of commuters fleeing Whitaker’s company in order to reach the offender to remedy the situation.
As the awkwardness and unpleasantness in Whitaker’s car reached its peak, dozens of passengers rushed to get out as fast as they could at Jamaica, the next stop. Two platform bystanders were killed in the stampede and another six were fatally mauled as they were forced in front of an oncoming train on the facing track. A further twenty were injured.
Whitaker pleaded not guilty to eight charges of manslaughter, contending that he was not forcing anyone to leave; they could simply ignore his conversations as they did one another every minute of every commute. The jury was unmoved, however, and found Whitaker guilty on all counts. State Supreme Court Judge Fred Bodoff cited the defendant’s unrepentant attitude in sentencing Whitaker beyond that which state law provides, which is a maximum of 20 years for manslaughter. Bodoff noted other aggravating aspects of the defendant’s behavior, such as a tendency to laugh nervously and nasally at every single one of his own statements, and handed down a sentence of death by electric chair.
Last year a federal appeals court ruled that although the judge had not adhered to the mandatory sentencing guidelines, the circumstances of the case justified this exception. The appeals court decision focused on Whitaker’s repeated, lengthy use of “Uhhhhhhhh,” before each phrase.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case several months ago, and closing arguments were delivered in August. In a rare move, each justice elected to write a separate decision. Justices Bader-Ginsburg and Scalia found the defendant’s actions unconscionable enough in themselves to validate the death penalty, while Justices Sotomayor and Alito cited Whitaker’s overuse of, “bizarre,” “whaaaaaat?” and “I’m tellin’ ya.” Justices Kennedy, Roberts, and Kagan also mentioned the content of the defendant’s discourse, which never deviated from celebrity gossip; the continuing woes of the New York Jets football franchise and how to fix them, as if he possesses some special knowledge and expertise; and the unnecessarily salacious details of the very public affair that his secretary was having with the head of some other department at work. Justice Thomas recused himself, as he owns a significant number of shares of several telecommunications companies.
New York State is expected to finally execute Whitaker in December, barring a pardon from Governor Andrew Cuomo. A spokesman for the governor was quoted today as saying Mr. Cuomo would sooner walk on his lips through a sewage treatment plant than grant such a pardon.