Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sympathy for the Devil?

An AP story in today’s SJ-R reports on the postponement of the execution of Michael Morales in California due to the state’s inability to comply with a federal order to administer the lethal injection in a manner that would ensure that he would not experience pain. Ben Weston, one of the prisoner’s attorneys, said that the postponement was proof that the state hasn’t yet figured out how to humanely carry out an execution. As someone familiar with the details of the crime that landed Morales on death row, Weston should know well just how difficult it can be to kill someone.

According to reports, Morales tried to strangle his victim, a 17-year-old girl named Terri Winchell, with a belt, but it broke during the struggle. He then beat her with a hammer, leaving 23 identifiable wounds in her skull. After dragging her into a vineyard, Morales raped the girl as she lay dying, and then stabbed her four times in the chest to make sure she was dead. Morales and his cousin Rick Ortega had planned the girl’s murder for weeks as “pay back” for the girl having dated a boy that Ortega was previously involved with. There have been no reports of Mike Farrell attempting to intervene on the girl’s behalf before the execution took place.

Readers of the AP story might be surprised by these grisly facts, because they weren’t included in the story. Neither was the name or age of his victim. The only mention of Morales’ crime was identifying him as a condemned killer, a factual description but one that fails to do justice to the reality of the situation.

I’m not suggesting that by not including the nature of his crime and only reporting on the ethical dilemmas and difficulties associated with state-sponsored executions, that this a liberal media conspiracy to sway public opinion. I do think, however, that it does provide the public with an incomplete picture of a situation involving one of the most contentious domestic issues that our country is faced with.

I’m conflicted over the death penalty. My instinct is that government-sponsored executions aren’t good for society. There is also the possibility that an innocent person could be put to death, although that possibility has become increasingly improbable with the introduction of better crime-solving techniques. But almost invariably, when I read the accounts of the crimes that have landed people in the chair or on the gurney, I can’t manage any sympathy for their plight nor can I imagine how society is better served by imprisoning them for the rest of their natural lives.

Even though I won’t be participating in any candlelight vigils, I wouldn’t be distraught if the death penalty were made illegal, provided that it is replaced with just punishment. This punishment wouldn’t involve lounging around a prison cell, lifting weights, and fending-off the occasional shank. It would involve a sentence that takes a lax view on what constitutes “cruel and unusual” and causes the convicted to long for the sweet release that comes from a lethal dose of barbiturate.

I believe that every person is born with the right to life and liberty, but that those rights aren’t inalienable. The point at which they should be forfeited is unclear. In Morales case, however, by the time he had delivered over 20 deathblows and made the decision to continue on with his homicidal pursuit, it is all too clear that he had crossed over the line that separates man from beast.

Ayn Rand once wrote that "pity for the guilty is treason to the innocent." To some, especially those put-off by Rand’s anti-egalitarian philosophy, her pronouncement may seem to be void of human compassion. But for many, absolute denunciation is an essential element of justice in murder cases and to qualify it in anyway is also to forgive it to some degree.

In the article previously mentioned, a prison official relayed that Morales smiled when told of his reprieve. How anguishing it must be for the family of the victim to learn that he can still experience moments of joy, 25 years after he cruelly, senselessly, and permanently extinguished the joy in her. How betrayed they must feel by all of the people who are working passionately and tirelessly, the same effort that Morales put into committing murder, to see that he lives a full life.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of Farrell, Sr. Helen Prejean, other death penalty opponents. They obviously believe that since it is too late to save the victim, their sympathy should lie with the condemned. I just happen to believe that society is no longer responsible for the well-being of people such as Morales. He sealed his own fate when he planned and brutally murdered Terri Winchell.

16 comments:

The Abstract Prosaic said...

Why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong?

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Jeff,

I don't think capital punishment is a deterrent and I agree that killing people to illustrate that killing people is wrong is damn illogical. But I just don't have any sympathy for cold-blooded killers, even if they are sentenced to death. As I said, I would rather they spend their days in misery, but even that wouldn't atone for the misery that they caused. I think that most transgressions can and should be forgiven, or at least forgotten, but intentionally taking someone else's life isn't a bygone.

Dan

Gish said...

We kill them because humans have an uncanny ability to adapt. Imprisoning someone for life leaves them to adapt to prison and lead a life that, relative to others, may have quite a bit of joy, peace and fulfillment.

I feel nothing for the condemned.

Anonymous said...

Dan - you said yourself that the continuation of the death penalty may result in the death of an innocent. However, your pithy remark that technology is reducing that likelihood is patently false. Do the research before you make a blanket statement like that. The innocent, especially the poor and uneducated, are still to this day being held accountable for crimes they did not commit. And the fact that they they often lack the financial backing required to access these saving "technologies" you reference shines and even brighter beacon on the disparities of this country. The death penalty does not deter crime – that it a pretty well supported statement. It serves neither a positive purpose for society nor does it give the victim’s families relief. Only forgiveness will - it’s unfortunate, but that's the way life is. Just ask Jesus . . .

-Your Friend

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

Anon 10:48

Technology is reducing the likelihood that an innocent person will be sentenced to death. Haven't death sentence verdicts been overturned after DNA evidence, which wasn't able to be tested when the original verdict was reached, exonerated the accused? Doesn't it then stand to reason that this technology will help prevent false verdicts in the future? It won't completely safeguard against them, but it will decrease the likelihood.

Concerning the poor, I agree that they don't get the same level of defense that a weathlier person will get. But, and correct me if I'm wrong here, if DNA evidence is found at a crime scene, it will be tested even if the accused has a mope for counsel.

Concerning blanket statements, what research have you done that indicates that victims' families don't receive at least some measure of relief when their loved one's murderer is put to death. Obviously it won't erase the pain, but I've read many interviews on the subject where families indicate that it does help to bring some closure. I'm not saying that this is noble, or that I would necessarily find relief in it if I were in that situation, but I think that it is a very real human emotion to demand justice in this way.

I suspect that you are correct that foregiveness is the best way to come to peace with such a tragedy. But that doesn't mean that murderers deserve foregiveness.

Thanks for being my friend.
Dan

Anonymous said...

Dan - you are right, technology is helping us determine what really happended at crime scenes. But it is still and art, and very far away from being a science, no matter what David Carruso says on "SCI: Miami."

But that was not really my point . . .

Ultimately I think it is dangerous and disingenous of you to try and talk the talk of an enlightened individual on this issue and admit the death penalty doesn't really solve anything, but then embrace it when it suits you. Murder is wrong - and we are a barbaric society if we allow it under any circumstances. Do these people deserve to die? Perhaps. Do we have the moral authority to decide that? I firmly believe the answer to that is no. And I guess that is where we will have to agree to disagree . . .

-Your Friend

Monkey Boy said...

Let me start by saying that I am for the death penalty, but I don't know why. There is no good argument for it just as there is no good argument against it. But I do have a few points to ponder.

Please hypothetically consider those currently on death row & those whose future convictions would have led them there if the death penalty were abolished. Is it any less of a travesty that an innocent person would be sentenced to life in prison as opposed to death? Some, myself included would, argue otherwise. I would not want to spend my life in a cage surrounded by the worst society has to offer.

Secondly, before one advocates for the death penalty to be abolished in favor of harsh punishment in prison one must consider those who have to house and guard these animals. Treating a prisoner incarcerated for life to harsh conditions creates dangerous conditions for prison employees. What does the prisoner have to lose by assaulting an employee?

Lastly, consider this as a possible solution to wrongfully convicting a person in a death penalty case. I propose that two of the following three requirements be met before a person can be sentenced to death.
1. Physical evidence (DNA, fingerprints, etc.)
2. Confession
3. Witness(es)
I find it hard to believe that a person who meets any two of these requirements would not actually be guilty.

I thought that "Gish's" comment in regard to a person's ability to adapt and thus incarceration not being equal to death interesting. I have to say I would agree to that. Good point Gish!

Anonymous said...

DNA evidence is far from infallible; confessions are easy and very often coerced; witnesses are very often mistaken or are just plain lying. The system, as is, cannot guarantee that an innocent person won’t die.

The Death Penalty has been abolished in all other Western Countries and civilized societies, except the US. The European Union (EU) is opposed to the death penalty. Even Russia and Turkey have abolished the death penalty.

Anonymous said...

DNA evidence is far from infallible; confessions are easy and very often coerced; witnesses are very often mistaken or are just plain lying. The system, as is, cannot guarantee that an innocent person won’t die.

The Death Penalty has been abolished in all other Western Countries and civilized societies, except the US. The European Union (EU) is opposed to the death penalty. Even Russia and Turkey have abolished the death penalty.

-Your Friend

Monkey Boy said...

Turkey? Isn't that where it is legal to stab someone below the waist?

Anonymous said...

Monkey-Boy – you are FUNNY!! Yes, we all loved Oliver Stone's classic 1978 prison flick “Midnight Express” - about an American youth caught up in a drug smuggling ring who eventually lands in a Turkish prison. In the film he describes what's known as “Turkish Revenge,” whereby prisoners are not punished for stabbings below the waist because they are considered non-lethal.

But, unfortunately, no - this is not a public policy of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Ergogan. But if it were, wouldn’t that make acceptance of the death penalty in the US even more ludicrous???

Anonymous said...

Monkey-Boy – you are FUNNY!! Yes, we all loved Oliver Stone's classic 1978 prison flick “Midnight Express” - about an American youth caught up in a drug smuggling ring who eventually lands in a Turkish prison. In the film he describes what's known as “Turkish Revenge,” whereby prisoners are not punished for stabbings below the waist because they are considered non-lethal.

But, unfortunately, no - this is not a public policy of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Ergogan. But if it were, wouldn’t that make acceptance of the death penalty in the US even more ludicrous???

-Your Friend

UMRBlog said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Monkey Boy said...

Just curious Mr. Anonymous. Are you advocating that it is OK to incarcerate an innocent person for life in prison?

If you have read any of Dan's past blogs I am on record stating what a mess the entire CJS is. That being said, there have been and will continue to be mistakes made such as wrongful convictions. How do you stop it? And again, how is it any better for an innocent man to spend his life in prison as opposed to being executed? Both options really suck.

I also would like to thank you for your lesson on the pitfalls in the various forms of evidence used in criminal trials. Gee, can you now enlighten us with your vast knowledge on children playing with matches?

Anonymous said...

Monkey-Boy,

I think you are making my point, however inadequately. You are right; the CJS has proven that it will, from time to time, wrongfully convict people. However, I believe that a life sentence - and the possibility to overturn an erroneous conviction - is much more appealing than an incorrect (yet very final) execution.

You brought up the various forms of evidence – and you posited that finding 2 out of 3 of these was good enough evidence to kill some over. I merely pointed out that those are not as solid as you might have portrayed.

You asked how we can stop mistakes in the CJS – and I certainly don’t know the answer. But I do know that once the state kills someone, they have effectively ended all debate. Being granted immunity postmortem certainly doesn’t help anyone. If you can admit to the shortcomings of the CJS, then you have to admit that killing people based on it’s potentially flawed conclusions of guilt is outrageous.

-Your Friend

Monkey Boy said...

Mr. Anonymous,

Lets imagine hypothetically that a person confesses to multiple killings of children and provides detail that only the killer would know about. They are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Do you still favor allowing him/her to spend life in prison as opposed to the death penalty?

I will agree with you that in the past there has been some people convicted wrongfully and sentenced to death, which has made the entire system look bad. However, I think that if states were more selective (such as meeting certain requirements as I suggested) in who they condemn to death it remains a valid punishment. Do I think it is a deterrent? No. But it has it's time and place and can sure make one feel good to know that some animal finally got his and is no longer a burden on society. And please spare me the drivel about how much more it costs to kill an inmate as opposed to housing him for life. That is another flaw of the CJS that needs to be rectified and has a large degree of subjectivity to it. It is not a reason to discontinue the death penalty.