In his memoir, former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt recalled when in 1996 he had to decide whether to allow or block the execution of a convicted killer.
The killing was horrendous, and the convict, Donald Paradis, was connected to it — he admitted to helping with transport of the body — but he maintained consistently that he was not the killer.
Batt was a death penalty supporter. He was no fan of Paradis or his fellow “group of unsavory characters,” nor even of his attorney (Bill Mauk, who was a Democratic Party leader and candidate in Idaho around that time).
On the question of whether to sustain a Pardons and Parole Board decision to stop an already-ordered execution, Batt admitted, “I went into my deliberations with a skeptical attitude.”
But also a careful, investigative and thoughtful one. He cleared his calendar for day after day as he reviewed the record, weighed the physical evidence, and even talked with the mother of the victim. He struggled with it. His final conclusion: There was enough doubt as to Paradis’ guilt that he should not be executed.
That was not a universally praised decision — the governor just kept a killer from getting what he deserved, right? — but Batt’s instinct was sound. Five years later, after new evidence came to light, Paradis’ conviction was vacated. (He was convicted instead of being an accessory after the fact.) It took a lot of careful sifting of details to come up with the right answer.
The Batt-Paradis incident comes to mind in the new case of Adree Edmo, also an Idaho state prisoner but one whose decision point is different: He, a state prisoner born male who identifies as a woman, is asking the state of Idaho to pay for sex-reassignment surgery.
Edmo has been behind bars after conviction of child sexual abuse. In a statement, Gov. Brad Little notes that, “Edmo would have been eligible for parole by now but has chosen not to follow the prison’s rules of conduct. There are numerous instances of Edmo engaging in violence and other prohibited conduct while incarcerated, eliminating the opportunity for parole. … Edmo’s doctors and mental health professionals … universally agreed gender reassignment surgery is neither medically necessary nor safe given Edmo’s mental state and incarceration.”
These are all relevant points and worth bearing in mind. But in dismissing the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision imposing the responsibility for surgery on the state as simply another case of “activist federal judges (who) overstepped yet again,” and warning that the state could be on the hook for big medical payouts in this and other cases like it, he focused on urging opposition to the decision in the name of “what is reasonable and right.”
After all, who wants their hard-earned tax money being used to pay for a sex abuser’s sex-change surgery? It just seems a matter of common sense, right?
But is it that clear-cut?
Two recent news stories, both from the Idaho Press at Nampa, throw some shades of gray on the question.
One took the trouble to ask: How much might the state actually have to pay? The answer seemed to be: Maybe not much, maybe nothing at all. It said, “the state’s contract with its prison health care provider, Corizon Health, includes the cost of appropriate treatment for gender dysphoria, meaning the cost for the inmate’s surgery could be covered by the existing contract.”
The other story stopped to ask what has happened, in recent years, to other prisoners in the Idaho pen system who have had gender issues that went unaddressed behind bars. The answer wasn’t comforting. Their ranks included suicides of at least “three Idaho inmates — two who had gender dysphoria and one who was living with sexual identification issues.”
Bear in mind that, whatever these people did and whatever we may think of them, the people of Idaho are responsible for their well-being as long as they’re in state custody.
This is not an argument that Little and the state are wrong; the facts may be with them. But as Phil Batt found, first impressions can mislead and you often have to do some digging to be sure. In considering questions like this, beware of bumper-sticker simplicity.
Former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor Randy Stapilus is the author of “The Idaho Political Field Guide,” the editor of the Idaho Weekly Briefing, and a blogger at www.ridenbaugh.com. A book of his Idaho columns from the past decade, “Crossing the Snake,” is available at www.ridenbaughpress.com/.