13 March 2009

A Serious Post For Once

Don't worry, I'll post my fat pregnancy pictures just as soon as my camera decides it doesn't need new batteries after all. I'm assuming it just has to choose not to want them rather insisting than it does. Stupid, spoiled camera.

In the mean time I'm going to write about something that's been weighing on my mind for a couple of days. It's a serious topic, it's going to be very long and wordy, and it won't be funny in the least. So if you're looking for amusement today you won't find it here. I can't always be your little entertainment monkey, you ingrates.

Some drama has happened in our family over the past week. My husband's 16-year-old niece went missing on Sunday and still hadn't been heard of four days later. She hadn't taken anything with her except her ipod (very important) and her cell phone, which she never answered. Money, keys, and ID were all left in her room. Obviously, her parents were frantic, but the police labeled it a runaway situation and basically ignored it. It wasn't until she still hadn't resurfaced on Thursday that the police actually sat up and took notice and actually began investigating her disappearance. And 24 hours later, and one ex-convict 19-year-old lousy boyfriend back in prison later, she was safely back at home again. She'd been keeping this idiot boyfriend a secret for over a year. When her parents finally found out about him, they went to all lenghts to keep him away from her, all to no avail. They even had the cops come to their home and tell their daughter just how bad her boyfriend was and illuminate her life about his extensive rapsheet. She refused to believe it of course, because "he's the only one who understands me and we're in love." Got it.

The whole family assumed the worst about our niece and they were naturally worried sick. However, the more I thought about the situation and the evidence available, the more I was convinced that she was perfectly safe, being sheltered by her idiot boyfriend. He felt the same way about her--that she was the only one who truly understood and loved him for the way he was--and as such I didn't believe he would hurt her. But he would definitely hide her. I'm very disturbed that elements of this case reminded me a great deal of one that the husband and I heard about via one of our many crime shows we're addicted to at the moment, and not the fake ones but the real ones. There was a case of a young teen girl who was a bit of an outcast who befriended an older teen hoodlum with serious issues inside and out of prison. Eventually they and his friend began to do drugs together, specifically LSD. When her mother objected to their undying love for each other, they decided to do away with her. And one night, the boyfriend stabbed her mother to death while her daughter and his friend hung out in the other room or watched or helped, depending on whose version of events you believe. The daughter and friend were sentenced to prison and the boyfriend was sentenced to death. Unless it has since been overturned by appeal, he is still on death row for the offense.

Here is my problem. While a heinous act, no doubt, he should not have been sentenced to death for that. All three were unbelievably high on LSD when they not only commited the murder, but also when they discussed doing it a couple of days before. There wasn't any evidence to suggest that they discussed her murder when they were not high. If I had been on the jury that sentenced this lad you would have had to convince me that he was not only capable, but also even willing to take that woman's life while he was stone-cold sober. Drugs impair one's reasoning ability to the degree that most of us are willing to do things under their influence that we would never even dream of doing otherwise; after all, isn't that the point of doing drugs? That would be the same as taking a drunken driver who had committed vehicular homicide and sentencing him to death for it. Surely he (or she) is responsible for the deaths his selfishness and carelessness caused and he should certainly be punished for not thinking ahead to take into account the possible consequences of his actions. But it was not premediated. He did not begin drinking that evening thinking that he would kill someone with his car. It is this same reasoning that makes me believe the boy was unfairly sentenced in his girlfriend's mother's murder. It was never properly proven that took LSD that evening with the intent of using it to aid him in murdering her mother, nor was it ever proven that he took it days prior with the intent of talking about it with his friends. The prosecution argued that because they had discussed her murder prior, that pointed to intent and premeditation. However, is it truly premeditated when it only occurs to them as a viable option when they are not in their right minds? The mention of murder was never brought up in conversation until well after the effects of the drug had worked its way into their systems. So while the boy certainly deserved to be put in jail for killing her, because really this speaks to his suitability as a common citizen in general, I believe handing down a death sentence for it was unnecessarily extreme given the circumstances surrounding the crime.

I was emailing my friend, Trina, back and forth and she was talking about black and white issues in society. I was reminded then that I believe there are very, very few situations that are truly black and white in this world. I believe that there are exceptions to almost every rule and circumstances vary to such a degree that no two situations can ever be truly compared to one another with the intent of laying out a solid, indefensible solution for both. I believe God is the only one who can do so and I believe He takes everything into effect before passing judgement. We are imperfect as humans, but we do our best by usually having juries decide each individual case based upon the unique evidence and circumstances that go with it. Juries aren't perfect, but they're the best we've got in an imperfect situation.

The death penalty. I believe in using the death penalty, but sparingly. Also, not for the same reasons many people believe in it. Often proponents of capital punishment use the "eye for an eye" argument to justify its use. If you kill someone, you deserve to be killed. I don't believe that. I believe if you kill someone or multiple people, or something just as heinous AND you've proven yourself incapable of ever being a capable contributing member of society AND you are just as much a danger in prison as out and if you ever escaped you would immediately resort to your previous heinous activities, then you have forfeited your chance to live and should be put to death. In my opinion, just because a murder has been committed does not mean the person who did it should also die. Here's an example. Say that a man comes home from work, catches his wife in bed with another man, and in a fit of rage and jealousy picks up the first object he sees and chucks it at her head. The blunt-force trama results in excessive internal bleeding and she dies. Should her husband be sentenced do death? Why or why not? I believe not. Not only was there no time for him to develop a plan before his emotions took over, but what are the chances that he will go and murder again after this initial crime? For a man who had previously no former criminal past, it would seem that only such an extreme emotionally charged event was capable of making him irrational enough to forgo his usual non-violent nature and act upon his over stimulated emotions. What are the chances that this same man will be found again in a similarly emotionally charged position that would force him to react in the same way? Therefore, is he a danger to society? Possibly. Some would argue that it's easier to murder the second time than the first. If he's capable of it at all, he's capable of it again. I would argue we're all capable of it if forced into an extreme enough situation. Would I kill someone who was trying to permanately harm one of my children? Yes, I might. The law would likely excuse me for protecting my young, but not necessarily in every situation, even if we at the time feel it is more than warranted.

The husband in my example is not necessarily uncommon. There is a reason lawyers have used "temporary insanity" as a defense in the past. It is an attempt to show the jury that this was an isolated event brought on by the most extreme of circumstances and that the odds of replicating those circumstances to the point of replicating the result as well is nearly non-existent. Does that argument work? Not always. But it still brings the point across that not everyone is a serial killer.

America's prison system was the first of its kind on earth. While other countries reserved prison for people who couldn't pay their debts and handed out death sentences for nearly everything else, America used its prisons as a form of rehabilitation. The U.S. had the idea that if prisoners could be reformed, they would not need to be executed but rather re-taught and then released back into society as productive citizens. Sometimes that works and obviously sometimes it doesn't, evidenced by the number of repeat offenders out there. And some are deemed to be beyond the point of rehabilitation so that they are sentenced to life in prison. They cannot be trusted within society any longer and thus have been stripped of the privilige of living with the rest of us.

So then what specifics separate those with a life sentence from those with a death sentence? Well, that's truly the question, isn't it? This is what citizens and politicians argue about unceasingly. People in favor of the death penalty use several arguments in their favor: the afore-mentioned eye for an eye argument, the argument that it provides closure for the victims' families, the argument that it serves as a deterrent to those who would otherwise commit these crimes, and the argument that what they did is just so bad that they have essentially proven that they are inhuman enough that they cannot be allowed to live. I believe only one of those arguments holds water, and it is the last one. But first, the others. I've already gone over the eye for an eye argument and why I don't believe it's justified to kill everyone who takes a life no matter what. Every situation is different and each needs to be analyzed based upon its own unique circumstances. The closure argument. I have yet to see a family member of a victim say that the death of the murder makes them feel better. In fact, most of the time they express the idea that even though the murderer is dead, they feel just as much pain and that person's execution will never bring their loved ones back. The only positive outcome they ever express is that now the murderer can't hurt anyone else. We will be coming back to that one, guaranteed.

And finally the deterrent argument. This is touted as being the strongest argument in the pro-capital punishment arena, and yet it is the argument that holds the least water. No one has ever provided evidence that I've ever heard of that has polled individuals with the results being "Yeah, I was gonna kill her, but man, then I thought about how our state allows the death penalty and then I thought, oh crap! I better not do it then! So I let her live." Most murders do not lend themselves to enough prior thought that would allow the would-be killer to think far enough in advance of that specific consequence. When humans are presented with enough time to think before they act on something they know they shouldn't do, the farthest their thoughts will carry them is, "I might get caught." It is from there that they exercise the idea of whether or not it's worth the risk of being caught or not. I daresay it would be a rare event for an individual to think about killing someone else for their own reasons that they've concocted as good enough to justify such an act and then pause to think about the consequences through to their complete end: "OK, so I kill this guy. If I don't cover my tracks enough, the cops might get the idea it's me. So I better do a good job of hiding what I did so I don't get caught. If I don't do that well enough, what will happen to me? The cops will come and they'll question me. If I don't lie well enough I'll have to sign my confession and get thrown in jail. Then I'll have to wait for my day in court and I'll have to have a good lawyer. If he can't argue well enough the jury might find me guilty. Oh man, and then I'll go to prison. Oh, but wait! What if they decide that what I'm about to do is so bad, despite my assertions that it had to be done because this dude totally has it coming and/or has something I really, really want that think I'm unfit to breathe another breath! OH MY GOSH I COULD GET THE CHAIR FOR THIS. Maybe this guy doesn't have it coming after all? Yeah, they're totally right. It's just not worth it. Time for Wheel of Fortune!" I guarantee you that that thought process and the type of person capable of carrying out a capital punishment-worthy offense are not compatable. As indicated, most people don't even register that what they're doing is worthy of such a sentence or it wouldn't occur to them to do it in the first place. While they may admit what they're about to do is wrong (if they've even thought about it long enough to come to that conclusion at all), they either do not believe they'll be caught for it, or they don't believe that a jury would think it's so wrong that they should die for it. Very few people on this earth would knowingly and willingly commit a crime so unbelievably horrendous that they believe they would be sentenced to die for it. Of those who know they would, typically serial killer types, those criminals believe themselves to be, and are usually correct to some degree, that they are intelligent enough to get away with it. And for those of us who do think about capital punishment, we are usually also right-thinking enough to not believe in committing the act in the first place if for no other reason than a strong sense of right and wrong. More of us are scared out of ever committing murder and other horrible acts for the consequence of eternal damnation rather than lethal injection. The death penality is not the deterrent people believe it to be.

I believe the death penalty is based in fear. There is a line that has been crossed in such a crime that is so unsettling to us as human beings that we cannot fathom its purpose or possible justification. An angry and jealous husband who murders in the heat of the moment will not be forgiven, but he can be understood to some degree. While most of us would not have reacted in the same way (or so we believe), we are not disgusted with his actions to the point of taking his life. But a man who rapes and murders dozens of teenaged girls on a spree that lasts years and crosses 32 states is unfathomable. It is inexusable. It has crossed a line. It shakes us to our cores. It terrifies us. Such a man cannot only not be trusted in society, he cannot even be trusted in prison. If he escapes he will do the same all over again because his mind is deseased to such a point that he can never be cured of his sadistic urges and he will continue until he is dead. There is little reason to keep him alive, and the risk of doing so far outweighs the guilt of taking his life. And so we execute him. It is the only solution to his personal problem and our problem with him. He will never be rehabilitated, he will never be in his right mind, he will never be forgiven by society, he can never pay his debt. He is hopeless and thus extremely expendable. There is a reason that states are willing to pay the price of killing some people versus the much cheaper option of simply keeping them in prison until they die naturally. Because they feel it's worth the cost. It's worth the peace of mind. It's worth the safety of everyone else in society because until that individual is six feet underground, he will always be a potential danger to us. And not just a danger, but a cancer. A disease that is pulling our society under with it. The criminal must be completely erradicated to cleanse us and more importantly for us to feel safe. Fear is a very powerful motivator in our society, don't ever doubt that. It can decide if you live or die.

And what do you think?

14 comments:

Jody said...

I can't wait for you to get your notice for jury duty. And I really wish I could be a fly on that wall when you argue your points with that jury.... That would be better than any crime show.

greta said...

wow. very well said. i don't think i could ever be that eloquent. why aren't you a lawyer again?

Bonny said...

Ryan and I are loving Boston Legal right now. We just started watching it and are on season 2. Your post reminded me of it.

As for my thoughts on the death penalty, I used to be all for it. Then I took a Constitutional Law class in high school and was discussing it with a classmate. Somehow we started talking about the people who are wrongfully sentenced to death row. You're right, our jury system isn't perfect. So it made me wonder, if even one innocent person is wrongfully sentenced to death row and executed, do the hundreds of guilty people executed somehow excuse that--make it worth the cost? What if it were my husband/son/brother/sister--whatever the case is--who was innocent and sentenced to death? That thought alone, that our legal system can, only because it's imperfect, allow the potential killing of an innocent person while the real criminal stays free, made me change my mind on the death penalty. I don't think we should use it, ever.

I'm so sorry to hear about Jim's family member. That must have been a scary few days. I can't even imagine what her parents were going through.

Heidi said...

I'm pretty much in the same mindset as you. Mostly I don't believe we should execute people except in the most unusual circumstances, but generally, I feel that way because I think we are such easily blinded juries that it's hard to us to really get it right. (Think of all those death row guys who got pardons when DNA evidence exonerated them.)

However, as a general principle I'm not nearly so opposed to capital punishment. Not because I feel it makes anything better, but rather if you are a believer in scripture, it is clear that God not only sanctions capital punishment, in certain situations He may command it. It's just that whoever is making that judgment needs to be very in tune with God's commands, and clearly that is not the case in our justice system! (Not that I'm knocking it. It's better than anything else out there.)

I definitely agree that fear is the prime factor in why we allow the death penalty. That's why I wish repeat child molesters would get the death penalty even if they haven't killed anyone. People like that just are too risky to leave alive because of the probable harm that could ensue to innocent lives. But then we run into the same problem-- did we convict them fairly? Is it better to let them just rot in prison? (Personally, given what prison can be like for child molesters, if it were me, I'd prefer the death penalty.)

judiroso said...

Interesting post for sure. Maybe it's not so much eye for an eye, but I think (I said THINK) it can be the first step in repentance if you have taken someone else's life. I am convinced I could kill someone if they were trying or did hurt my children, and while I am not sure I would get the death penalty, (for all the reasons you stated) I wonder if I would be damned eternally? Surely I know better, but would the Lord take the reasoning into account?

I believe the death penalty should be used, perhaps only in extreme situations but nonetheless used. But for sure it isn't a perfect system, and it surely isn't a black and white thing.

Geez, thanks for making me think on a Saturday morning!

it's just lisa said...

hum? You brought up some very good points. You have me agreeing that the young man/murderer on LSD may be capable of rehabilitation. But thing I totally disagree with is you comparing his murder of someone he knows and dislikes to that of a drunk driver's accidental murder. Did I read that wrong? Both were abusing substances but one person chose to kill and the other only chose to drive a car.

R Max said...

The only prison I condone is the one run by Sheriff Joe.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio (in Arizona) is doing it RIGHT!! He has jail meals down to 40 cents a serving and charges the inmates for them. He stopped smoking and porno magazines in the jails. Took away their weights. Cut off all but "G" movies. He started chain gangs so the inmates could do free work on county and city projects. Then he started chain gangs for women so he wouldn't get sued for discrimination.
He took away cable TV until he found out there was a federal court order that required cable TV for jails. So he hooked up the cable TV again but only let in the Disney channel and the weather channel. When asked why the weather channel he replied, so they will know how hot it's gonna be while they are working on my chain gangs.
He cut off coffee since it has zero nutritional value. When the inmates complained, he told them.....this is a good one......"This isn't the Ritz/Carlton. If you don't like it, don't come back."
He bought Newt Gingrich's lecture series on videotape that he pipes into the jails. When asked by a reporter if he had any lecture series by a Democrat, he replied that a democratic lecture series might explain why a lot of the inmates were in his jails in the first place. You have to love this guy!!
More on the AZ Sheriff:
With temperatures being even hotter than usual in Phoenix (116 degrees just set a new record), the Associated Press reports:
About 2,000 inmates living in a barbed-wire-surrounded tent encampment at the Maricopa County Jail have been given permission to strip down to
their government-issued pink boxer shorts. On Wednesday, hundreds of men wearing boxers were either curled up on their bunk beds or chatted in the tents, which reached 138 degrees inside the week before. Many were also swathed in wet, pink towels as sweat collected on their chests and dripped down to their pink socks. "It feels like we are in a furnace," said James Zanzot, an inmate who has lived in the tents for 1 1/2 years. "It's inhumane."
Joe Arpaio, the tough-guy sheriff who created the tent city and long ago started making his prisoners wear pink, and eat bologna sandwiches, is
not one bit sympathetic He said Wednesday that he told all of the inmates: "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and our soldiers are living in tents too, and
they have to wear full battle gear, but they didn't commit any crimes... so shut your damned mouths."

Heidi said...

Gotta love Sheriff Joe. He's a bit notorious around here but you notice we keep reelecting him over and over. And I just learned recently that if you are only a work-release prisoner you miss out on the pink boxers. Bummer for Charles Barkley.

Abby said...

I finally have a moment to respond! Hooray!

Jody, I actually was on jury duty once. Rather, I was in the chair and was eliminated and replaced without anyone even asking me any questions. Dang it.

Greta, I'm not a lawyer because I wanted a shot at heaven.

I love that show, too, Bonny. We were shocked when it ended. Yeah, the fact that there are innocent men on death row gets to me, too. I also think some states are a little too free with sentencing men to death. I think it should be used far more sparingly than it is now. On the other hand, I still believe it needs to exist. For one famous example, Charles Manson should have died. Instead, he was kept alive and managed to direct his cult from behind bars; the only way to keep him from committing further horrible crimes would have been to execute him, and yet they didn't have the death penalty in the state at that time. He is only one reason why I believe it should be an option, even if only a very rare one.

I apologize for making you think on a weekend, Diana. :) Personally, I only believe it's the first step in repentance if that person goes to the death chamber willingly after admitting he did it to begin with. These guys who are guilty as sin but proclaim their innocence and go through years of appeals to get out of being punished for what they did doesn't sound like they're all that sorry, you know?

And now to Lisa. I absolutely get what you're saying about intent. However, I wasn't suggesting otherwise that a drunk driver had no intention of killing anyone while the drug addict actively picked up a knife and stabbed the woman. Two different situations, certainly. I think that's why we give (in my opinion) reduced sentences to drunk drivers who have killed on the road: what they did was cause an accident, but it was still an accident. The kid picking up a knife was very intentional. HOWEVER, what I was comparing were their mutual states of mind at the time the crimes were committed. Neither the drunk driver nor the drug addict can be fully held accountable for their actions, even though those actions were very different, because neither were in a reasonable state of mind. Neither were operating on full capacity as it were. As I said, it was never proven, only surmised, that the LSD kid ever even seriously contemplated murdering the woman when he was sober, let alone the fact that he didn't commit the murder when he was sober on top of that. He was not in his right mind when he planned it or when he carried it out. He was in a severly altered state of mind to the point where we can't prove that he would ever do the same if he were not on drugs. He had never committed murder, or even talked about it, in the past; there was no history of murderous intent in his life. Only the LSD changed his reasoning ability to the point where he thought it was a viable option for him. Without the drug, we would have to assume, given the evidence, that he would not have committed the crime. So in that sense, he is like the drunk driver in that his ability to reason and plan were severely impared and they both wound up doing things they might not have in any other given situation. For that reason alone he should not have been sentenced to death.

Bonny said...

I bet you would enjoy jury duty, Abby. I have been summoned at least 3 times and served on a jury once. It was an interesting, somewhat traumatic, experience that I am grateful to have had. I'll have to tell you about it sometime.

Benteti5 said...

So you're saying they need to have a drugicular homicide. My experience with people on drugs and alcohol is that yes they do things they normally wouldn't do, but it usually brings out inner thoughts they've already had and impules they usually control. He might have had murderous thoughts sober, but who admits that.
Your death penalty reasoning is full of shoulds and probablys and most likelys. That won't fly because you cannot allow something to happen based on a probability and like whats her name said, if God was doing the executing, he has the knowledge to determine if that person will follow the odds or by some chance beat them. We don't and we don't have the judgment privledge to be "God" to anybody. I disagree completely with the DP. Doesn't mean I feel bad for somebody who gets killed after being so heinous. Death is an easy option. If had the option of dying or lifing, I would die in a heartbeat.

Abby said...

If a human is put under the influence enough and put in the right situation, that person would be capable of just as much as the next person. I'm not saying the kid didn't hate the mother and didn't wish her dead. He may have even planned her death in his sober moments. My point was that it was never PROVEN that he did so. I also never said the kid shouldn't have been locked away for life for what he did while he was under the influence, but I sure as heck don't believe he should have been put on death row for committing a crime that was never sufficiently proven he was as capable and as willing to commit as when he was not under the influence of drugs. You could give me enough LSD until I wound up torching the neighborhood, stealing a grayhound bus, and then crashing it into the White House lawn, but that doesn't mean I'd ever dream of doing such a thing with my wits and reason in tact. Drugs deprive you of your conscience, personal and societal norms of behavior, any sense of reason, and all self control. Surely you aren't suggesting he's just as guilty as a fellow who did the exact same thing but without the hinderment of illegal substances clouding his judgement, are you?

I don't really care if you believe the death penalty is wrong. It's not what I believe. My post was about me and the folks who also believe that the death penalty has a place in our justice system. You'll notice I hardly mentioned those who don't believe in it at all, only those who do and the supposed arguments in favor of it. That's because I don't care about the other side; I've done enough research and pondering about the subject to determine for myself that there is a need for it, albeit a far more restricted one than our courts seem to implement at this time.

As for shoulds and probablies, did I not say at the very beginning that I don't believe in black and white issues? You're right: for people who only see black and white there is no room for probably and maybe and likely. In reality though, that's exactly what life is: probablies and possiblies. I can't for sure say that Ted Bundy would have killed again and could never have given up his maniacal ways, but I'm pretty sure he would not have. I'm also pretty sure most people on earth thought the same thing and that's why he died. Case closed.

God didn't say not to judge one another. He said not to judge one another unrighteously. This, while His knowing that men are imperfect and don't always judge perfectly as a result. If you are on a jury and believe that putting a wicked man to death is the best option for the society at large, I'd call that as righteous a judgement as a common man can give with his limited knowledge in tact.

Benteti5 said...

It's not like he was forced to take LSD. That added time is for being stupid. DP for that, I agree, no. I guess I just don't trust the legal system to make righteous judgements. And righteous or not I don't think life is something that is ours to give or take as we please.

Abby said...

Meh, I disagree. If someone is dangerous enough to society that nothing short of killing him will keep us safe, I don't see the Lord condemning us for that. Killing him for no cause (Salem witch trials anyone?), absolutely. But someone like Manson or Bundy? I don't see that being a problem. My problem is with folks who think every idiot who commits a major crime should die. I think they'd do just as well their whole lives in prison. I fully support some folks who fall into the sex crimes category spending their entire lives in prison because there is almost no hope of recovery for them. Killing them? No. I think we still need the ability to kill the worst of the worst, but we have to somehow impose stricter rules about who has it coming and who doesn't.

And glad to see you back, Kristi, it's been a while.