Monday, April 30, 2007

The Wrong Man

Generally speaking, I suppose I’m what is normally called a liberal. I agree with the left on many things, including abortion rights, gun control (although unlike some liberals, I do feel the second amendment right to bear arms should be protected, I just think people should have a license to buy a gun, and by license I mean participate and pass specializing training and safety courses), stem cell research, universal health care – you get the picture. Yet there is one issue where I am constantly in imminent danger of losing my liberal card, and that is the death penalty.

I admit it, I am not directly opposed to capital punishment – although personally, I don’t feel that most cases should warrant a sentence of death. I do, however, feel that the most extreme cases – serial killers, for example – should lead to a death sentence, because I daresay it is the most humane option for what these people are. Serial killers have a problem - a deep rooted, psychological need to kill – and this is something that can’t be cured by a few prison psychiatric visits. While it is possible that rehabilitation might work in a case or two – and I always have hope for the future of psychiatry – the threat of recidivism is extremely high. The longer a serial killer stays in prison, the more agonized they become because they cannot fulfill that psychotic need. If we are worried about what is humane for these prisoners, and that is one objection to capital punishment – then it seems that putting them to death is in fact more humane than leaving them alive, unable to kill, unable to reach that release. But that is just my opinion.

The problem, of course, with capital punishment in the U.S. is the fact that trials seem to be a hodgepodge of misinformation, perjuries, bad defense lawyers, overzealous prosecutors, and ignorant juries. Not every trial, of course, but enough for me to realize that allowing the death penalty in a country where people don’t necessarily get a fair trial is serial killing of a different nature.

The case that is most pressing on my mind is that of Philip Workman, who is scheduled to die on May 9th for robbery and murder of a police officer. The very informative Sharon Cobb recently posted a short documentary with some information about the Workman case, and this led me to explore a little further. Watching the documentary (I’m posting it here, as well) and reading a little more about the case, it is clear to me that at the very least there is reasonable doubt as to whether Workman actually shot the police officer. In fact, I have to wonder if he wasn’t actually shot by another cop, simply because of all the coercion of witnesses and facts that seems to surround this case, but I suppose that point is moot now. The main goal is to keep an innocent man from dying for a crime he didn’t commit. At the end of the documentary there is information about how to contact the governor of Tennessee about this case.

Another man possibly wrongfully accused and facing a death sentence in Ohio is Joe D’Ambrosio. Luckily, last year a judge ordered that D’Ambrosio be retried or released within 180 days. I cannot find any details (it has been over 180 days since the order) on the outcome of his case. I hope he finally got a fair trial. This site recounts many people’s stories of false accusation and imprisonment, and I am sure there are others.

I have to wonder what we do when the America that judges the world can’t even judge itself. I expect more of my country than this.


amerimom said...

I too have thought a lot about these issues. I have flip flopped on issues as I have gone through life. I do believe if there is no doubt that a person has taken a life of another than his/her life should be taken also. I know it won't bring back the person that was killed but to the victim's family some justice. Unfortunately, in America your day in court depends on the amount of money you have for a defence and also who you are. With these issues things aren't always black or white but a lot of grey issues. Maybe with DNA etc justice will be more exact. There are no easy answers for the death penalty or gun control.

Anonymous said...

I’m really astonished! What are you talking about? This is not an issue of DNA tests, etc. The State has NO RIGHT to kill its citizens. Death penalty is barbarian, is uncivilized. That's the answer, amerimom. It's easy! You say that would take some justice to the family. Well, how about the family going to kill the killer? The vendetta would be a good way, like in old Sicily... What kind of people feel relieve with the death of someone, anyway? And why should the State (i.e. the people’s money..) be part on that kind of vengeance?
Mel, are you saying that the serial killers in fact should be gratefull to be killed by the State? They don’n need any help, Mel. They have the suicide, if they wish….


Anonymous said...

One thing you brought up needs to be expanded. You said it well when you said that serial killers have "a deep rooted, psychological need to kill." This is true even as they serve there prison sentences. There have been many documented instances where a killer continues to kill in jail. This is an injustice to fellow inmates and their families and friends. It does the greatest good to the greatest number if we institute the death penalty for severe serial killers.

melusina said...

Amerimom, I think we share similar attitudes towards capital punishment.

Antonio, I don't think serial killers should feel grateful, but I do think it is more humane than letting them live. Most folks on death row don't even have a chance of committing suicide - they are very closely watched, especially if they are suicidal. The State doesn't take kindly to folks taking their own life. But in the end, I think a serial killer has regressed in a way, and is no longer human. Why keep them alive? Why risk some crackup in court getting them released? Unfortunately, as easy it is for an innocent man to go to jail in America, it is just as easy for a guilty man to go free. The system is corrupt - more corrupt than the criminals, and that is my only hesitation in allowing the death penalty, even though, generally speaking, I don't think it should be used except, as I said, in the most extreme of cases.

Anonymous, I agree. Serial killers cross a line of humanity. Maybe they can't help it, but we can't help them, either.

Honestly, as much as I hate the idea of the death penalty, I can't say that if someone did harm to my niece, or the children of my friends, that I wouldn't want their turn to be shed in blood. I would like to think I would be more rational than that, but I really don't know how I would feel. Hopefully I'll never have to know.

Anonymous said...

Melusina, the State shouldn´t let our private feelings interfere with the Justice. That’s not Justice. Otherwise, all the violators would be tortured and cut in little pieces; all the stealers would have their fingers cut, and even the guys who crash their cars against ours, would be slapped in their faces twenty times, by some court authority, in a public place... And each of us can imagine a lot of imaginative penalties to the offenders of our loved ones. We don’t have to be rational, but the state do. Unfortunately, states aren’t always rational, as we all know.

I noticed you consider the serial killers to be mental cases. So, they should be locked in mental institucions, for life, and not be killed, wich is even more barbarian.
Thank you for replying, melusina, and I’m sorry for my bad english.


jessica said...

Well, whichever side you are on the argument, you do need to see the other side. It's not black or white, and anyone who claims so, comes off seeming ignorant, like this certain commenter.
it is an unjust system we have in america, no matter how you feel on the subject. Even if we didn't have the death penalty- it's still unjust that there are so many people sitting in jail, wrongfully accused, and that so many of them are black...because are country is racist, even if it doesn't want to say it

melusina said...

Antonio, never apologize for your English, because it is quite good!
As to your argument, I think the death penalty is a little different than individualized punishments for specific crimes. While I don't agree with the way the death penalty is usually used in America, I do think it should be an option in some very clear cut cases (ie. serial killers).
I do respect your argument, it is the same discussion I have with my parents, my husband, and friends who do not agree with me on capital punishment. As for putting serial killers in a mental institution - I don't think anyone who has committed a crime should be in such a hospital, no matter how crazy they are, because such institutions aren't set up to handle such violent criminals. They should be in prison, and they should receive some professional help, although many psychiatrists will agree that it is unlikely their "fetish" will ever be "cured".

The main issue in America is what Jessica said - there is a great lack of justice in the court system in the U.S. - corruption, racial profiling, cover ups, you name it. I've seen cases where obviously innocent people are convicted of crimes, and cases where obviously guilty people are let go.

It has been a long, long time since the court system has been really about justice, I'm sad to say.

Anonymous said...

Melusina, I think you miss my point. I’m sorry to insist, but to me is not right to kill mental ill people. That´s absurd. In mental institutions, there should be top security rooms to guard them, with armed guards, if necessary, etc. Can´t do that in United States? In other countries, there are mental institutions with very, very dangerous people, they don't kill them. Anyway, civilized people don’t kill their mental ill people. That is a basic principle of our civilization. That’s what I was trying to say.


melusina said...

The thing is, Antonio, serial killers aren't mentally ill in the way you are thinking. They aren't ill like schizophrenics, depressives (while some may have had these illnesses in the past, but those are different cases) - they are ill in the same sense as a fetishist, which is a completely different type of thing. Serial killers kill because it gives them pleasure, power, release, in the same way sex gives normal people pleasure. To them, killing is normal, they don't see it as wrong (pederasts have the same general outlook - to them, their sexual preferences for children are completely normal).

If a serial killer was found to be a schizophrenic, yes, put him in a mental institution. But your regular old run of the mill serial killer who does it because it feels good, deserves the death penalty.