I haven't posted for awhile, but I thought that some of the readers out there might find worth reading a letter I wrote in response to a well thought out, heart-wrenching email I received about why an execution is important and necessary for those affected by a particular man's horrific crimes. Its posted below. I know I keep promising to post my usual stuff more regularly. I won't promise again, but I'll at least say, "I'll try."
I appreciate you writing to me. Please know that I read each of your words and I do understand where you are coming from. I myself have been a victim of violent crime, and I was a college friend of a woman killed in a hate crime off the Appalachian trail in 1996. I know what murder and violence does to families and to individuals and I can feel the emotion in your heart-felt and very real words. Please know how much respect and compassion I have for that. I am very aware of how real the victims and families in these situations are.
Please know this, I oppose the death penalty for anyone, no matter how horrid the crime or how obvious the person's guilt is. I've had sisters of murder victims write to me and tell me of the horror of living without their brother or sister. I know there are real people involved and I feel it every time I read of a victim's pain. The thing about it is, I do not believe that we as human beings have the right to take another life...no matter what. I find it despicable that a state takes the life of another human being in the name of justice. Even if it is not about revenge or vengence, it is not our place in the social order to decide who lives or dies. With or without a god or a moral code, society is better than that and human beings are more than that. There is a reason that doctors do not administer lethal injections; they vowed to protect human life not to take it. We should all feel that way, no matter how we feel about the life being taken.
Further, there are most certainly innocent men (and women no doubt) on death row. Some may have even been executed. Right now, even if I did not believe that, as a social/moral construct and public policy, the death penalty is abhorrent and anti-human, I would oppose the execution of anyone. We do not have a way in our justice system to assure that all individuals are treated fairly, have just trials, and are definitively guilty. Even if a man like [Jesse James] is guilty beyond any sense of doubt whatsoever, simply from the standpoint of justice, I do not think he should be executed. We cannot pick and choose which of our death row inmates should die and which should live while we figure out our justice system and assure that no mistakes are made. No matter what our moral code is, that slope is too slippery and too subjective and if we slip down it, we will never fix the system.
The death penalty is not a deterrent, that has been statistically proven (compare the "capital crime" rates of states like Texas and those without the death penalty for examples). And to shorten the process would remove one of the keys of this justice system...the assurance of checks and balances. If we shorten that process and take away the right to appeals and the right to those checks, how long will it be before a corrupt prosecutor fudges a trial and puts an innocent person on death row only to be killed a year later without a chance to prove his story? How long before someone we know and love is wrongly convicted? I suppose you think that's a far off chance and something for a made for TV movie, but I certainly don't want that risk around, no matter how small. From a sheer justice perspective, I think it better to let 100 or 1000 guilty men live than kill 1 innocent one. Those checks are there for a reason.
I am a gay woman. I have watched the news unfold over the last several years as individuals in my community, people who were essentially no different than me, were killed for the simple reason that they were gay; and I have cried in sheer horror, disgust and fear. This was the case with my friend, Julie. Julie and her partner had their throats slit execution style while they were camping on the Appalachian trail. Their murderer slit their throats simply because they were lesbians. Julie's mother, father and siblings will never hold her again, they will never get to see their 24 year old loved one live her adult life. I will never again speak with my friend and hear the excitement in her voice as she tells me about a new friend or a discovery in her research. It still breaks my heart to this day and it rips me apart inside, but I have never once thought that the man who killed them should die. In fact, I would SO MUCH rather see the bastard rot in a maximum security prison for the rest of his days. I would rather that he have to sit there and remember why he's there and to know every single day what was taken from him because of what he took from others. He can then choose to better himself or rot in his own stench and misery. Either way the world is better off. The truth is, once he's dead, he doesn't know he's dead, he's just dead and everything he ever did is left behind him. The ones who suffer after his death are his friends and loved ones...and why should they suffer for something they did not do?
I feel the same way about the men who pistol whipped Matt Shepard and left him tied to a fence to bleed to death in the cold Wyoming air. Matt's father said something simmilar at McKinney's sentencing. He read to Mr. McKinney that he hopes Mr. McKinney lives a long long life sitting in his cell separated from the world with nothing but time left to his life. You see, THAT is punishment. There's no more room for appeal; Mr. McKinney is there for the rest of his days. THAT gave the Shepard family closure. They do not have to worry about McKinney or Henderson or see them in court or watch them wage appeal after appeal after appeal until finally one day they get some sense of closure and finality. Instead, they throw those rat-assed vile little men into prison cells and let them rot there remembering why they are there and exactly what they stole.
Indeed, I feel the same about the man who killed Brandon Teena in Nebraska. John Lotter sits on death row in Nebraska as we speak, awaiting his own execution. I say, put him away and let him never be heard from again. Stop the Google searching for him [I get hits on TLA for that almost every day], stop the fascination with his appeals and the status of his execution. I have been to the town where Brandon was killed. The brutality of that crime is beyond comprehension. Yet, I do not believe John Lotter should be executed (and his guilt is almost certain).
I feel the same way about Ted Bundy, the Green River Killer, the Hillside Strangler, the Son of Sam (who has reportedly changed his life) and every capital murderer in between. So yes, despite the unspeakable nature of his crimes, I feel the same about [Jesse James].
Every time I post about an execution I read story after story after story about the horridness and the despicable nature of these men and women's crimes. It does not change me. Yet, each time I feel sick to my stomach imaging the fear and pain of the victims and the sheer heart wrenching agony of the victim's families.
Thank you for taking the time to write to me, [John]. I did not, yet, know of the details of [James's] crimes. They are heart wrenching indeed and I can only imagine how they changed you at such a young age. I can't even fathom the pain of [the victim's] sister. Nevertheless, I fail to see how [James's] death will change any of that pain or sorrow. In fact, if [James] were not on death row and were instead rotting away somewhere, I wonder if you would have even thought of him. You might have thought of your friend and of your own emotional confusion and pain, but would you have thought of [James]? Would you have given your friend's murderer another thought if he were not sitting on death row? If you had not wondered if he'd been executed yet would you have looked him up? I can see from your email that your desire for [James's] execution is not out of vengence and I do indeed respect where you are coming from. I wrote what I did because I wanted you to know where I am coming from. I want you to know that I have not forgotten the victims. My life is not one sided. Yet, I am a fighter and I believe in my cause and I am pained whenever a life is taken...no matter who's it is.
I wish you the best, [John].