marți, 8 mai 2018

The double standards Margaret Vandiver displays when answering questions about death-row inmates

Last December I sent Margaret Vandiver an e-mail asking her to give me the name of the “prominent abolitionist” criticizing Ted Bundy’s appeals she mentioned to Herbert H. Haines in his book "Against Capital Punishment".

And since I knew she visited Ted Bundy in prison on the eve of his murder, I also asked her: 

“According to you, was he a transformed man by the time he was murdered, or would he have resumed the pattern of violence should he have been freed?” and also:

“how did Ted Bundy manage to be so composed, resigned to his ‘fate’, by the time James Dobson interviewed him on the eve of his murder by electrocution? I was very moved by his dignity. Was he emotionally invested in something to such a degree that it made it easier for him to accept death? What was it? Did he draw strength from love, or friends, or family? Was there something he cherished particularly in those final moments, a stress reducer which calmed him down?”.

Her reply was: “Ms. Şerban, I appreciate your interest.  I am sorry, but I cannot respond to your questions due to confidentiality requirements.”

I would have expected a slightly more sophisticated reply from her.

Also, I wouldn’t have expected double standards. In David Von Drehle’s book “Among the Lowest of the Dead: The Culture of Capital Punishment”, Von Drehle bragged about the information Vandiver gave him about Ted Bundy and other inmates. On page 442 Von Drehle wrote: “My description of Sullivan and the work of the RASLDF was drawn primarily from interview with Vandiver and Ralph Jacobs, supplemented by the personal files of both. They provided copies of their correspondence with Sullivan as well as copies of the RASLDF newsletters.”. On page 444: “Earnest John Dobbert Jr.: This passage was drawn from interviews with Doherty, Snurkowski, Dugger, Mello, Vandiver, Radelet…”; on page 446: “My description of Ted Bundy and account of his execution spans most of Part III. This work was based in part on interviews with Millard Farmer, Joe Nursey, Michael Radelet, Michael Mello, Mark Menser, Ray Marky, Carolyn Snyrkowski, Andrea Hillyer, Ann Rule, Richard Larsen, Gene Miller, Margaret Vandiver, Roy Mathews, Fred Lawrence, Doug McCray, and others”. On page 426: “Margaret Vandiver opened her substantial personal files to me and also arranged my access to the death penalty archive at Northeastern University”. On page 433: “’Execution rehearsal’: Quoted material came from ‘Execution Guidelines During Active Death Warrant… Effective May 1, 1979; Revised November 1, 1983”, a confidential document of Florida State Prison that I received from the files of Margaret Vandiver”. On page 423: “Several people deserve special mention, having given profoundly of their time, their insights, and their emotions. Dr. Margaret Vandiver patiently, meticulously, and scrupulously relived a number of experiences that were for her very ghastly. Ray Marky and Michael Mello, two walking encyclopediae of capital jurisprudence, patiently instructed me on the law from opposing viewpoints. And Dr. Michael Radelet, Florida’s leading academic authority on capital punishment, was unstinting with his time, and, despite his dark speciality, hilarious in his reminiscences”. On page 447: “My account of Bundy’s friendship with Diana Weiner, and their plans to negotiate for more time, was based on interviews with Mello, Radelet, Vandiver, Hillyer, and Dugger”.

How come “confidentiality” did not apply also in Von Drehle’s case? I would like to make sense of this selectivity in her attitudes toward people who ask her questions about death-row inmates: what made her answer David Von Drehle, a representative of the media, so abundantly, as he implied, yet she gave me a lame “I am sorry, but I cannot respond to your questions due to confidentiality requirements”? Von Drehle seemed very impressed with her answers to his questions about specific death-row inmates and specific issues related to death-row. He was fed abundant death-row accounts by Vandiver. Also, from what I’ve seen, my questions were more philosophical than Von Drehle’s, so easier to answer. My questions were from the perspective of a human being (because she visited Ted Bundy on the eve of his murder as a human being, I imagine), not from the perspective of a paralegal. It's not like I asked to see confidential judicial records!... Ironically, I think it was rather Vandiver's revelations to Von Drehle that disrupted the paralegal-client privilege. 

So I can't help but wonder how exactly she exercises this selectivity.

And in the case of the “prominent abolitionist” criticizing Ted Bundy’s appeals whose identity Vandiver would not reveal to me, I discovered in the media that one such “abolitionist” was Leigh Dingerson, director of the American Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. A report published in the Orlando Sentinel at the time revealed her statements, so it was no secret (she assumed her own statements publicly), so Vandiver would have broken no confidence here either if she had mentioned Dingerson's name.

I also found it weird that a teacher would deny an opportunity for knowledge and communication. I think it is contrary to teaching. A teacher would attempt to reward intellectual curiosity (and not necessarily by giving direct, definitive answers), not quash it.
Maria Şerban

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