Thursday, February 21, 2013

Rationalizing murder

Yesterday I received this comment to my post regarding the scheduled execution of Carl Blue. The author was my colleague, Murray Newman. Of course Murray felt the need to go into the gory details of the murder for which Mr. Blue was convicted. But that's just a rationale for killing another person.
I worked on Carl Blue's case when I worked for the Brazos County District Attorney's Office in college.
Carl Blue walked almost ten miles to stand outside of her apartment and douse his victims with gasoline. He later said it was just a practical joke that got out of hand.
Carmen Richards lived for several days with her eyelids burned off. She was in excruciating pain until she finally, mercifully, died. I was in charge of driving around Lawrence Williams, who survived the attack. His body was one complete burn scar and he was constantly itching from the scar tissue.
When Carl looked at a picture of Carmen Richards' injuries, he vomited on the witness stand.
Punishment testimony was a string of other victims of Carl's domestic violence, including one lady I recall who had Carl sneak into her house while she was taking her trash to the curb. He beat the living hell out of her. Multiple neighbors testified to how Carl terrorized their neighborhood with a gun.
I understand being opposed to the government having the death penalty on principle.
But I have a hard time feeling sorry for Carl Henry Blue.
I am opposed to the death penalty - in all instances. The death penalty is a vestigial reminder of the days we didn't have the brain power to reason with anyone else. It is part and parcel of our deep-seated need for revenge.

Like I've said before, it's easy to be opposed to the death penalty when there are doubts as to the condemned's guilt. It's easy to be opposed when the facts surrounding the underlying crime are murky. It's easy if the inmate looks like you. But it's the cases in which there is no doubt about guilt or the cases in which the condemned man is the embodiment of evil that are most important if our goal is to abolish capital punishment.

Yes, Mr. Blue was convicted of a particularly brutal crime as Murray points out. But there are questions about his mental condition at the time of the murder. In one of our odd ways of trying to make the death penalty more "humane," the Supreme Court ruled that the state may not take the life of a mentally retarded inmate. The state may not take the life of an inmate who is deemed incompetent (because what fun would it be to kill the guy if he didn't even realize he was being killed?).

I don't know if Mr. Blue is competent or not. I don't know if he was mentally impaired at the time of the murder. I do feel fairly safe in saying that Mr. Blue is not the same person he was some 18 years ago when he killed Ms. Richards. Eighteen years is a long time to sit in a prison cell. A lot happens to a man in 18 years.

Just think back to yourself 18 years ago. How have you changed over the years? Have you matured? Have your interests changed? Do you hang out with the same people now as you did back then? Have your views on politics changed? None of us are the same person we were 18 years ago.

There is no purpose to be served by strapping Mr. Blue down to a gurney and pumping poison into his veins. It won't change a thing. Ms. Richards will not be brought back to life. The pain her family has felt for all those years will not vanish. Killing Mr. Blue is not going to prevent someone from killing someone else down the road.

Killing Mr. Blue will only sate the need some of us feel for revenge. Revenge is such a negative emotion. There's an old proverb, or saying, from some country or another that says if you're going to seek revenge against someone that you need to dig two graves - one for the target of your revenge and one for you.

The death penalty de-humanizes each of us. It makes it easier to kill - after all, killing Mr. Blue because he killed someone else is just an excuse to extinguish a life. If we can rationalize killing Mr. Blue, then we can rationalize killing somebody else.

It is time to stop the madness. It is well past time to abolish the death penalty.

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