28 May 2009

I'm not always sure

Next week, the state of Ohio is scheduled to execute Daniel Wilson for his murder of Carol Lutz in 1991. It was the 2nd time in his 21 years of life that he was responsible for the death of another human being. Wilson acknowledges his guilt. He is not claiming that he is innocent of the crime for which he is supposed to die. For reasons that (if you believe his confession) even he does not know, Wilson locked a 24 year old woman in the trunk of a car for a number of hours before puncturing the gas tank and lighting the car on fire with her in the trunk.

Prosecutors argued that he deliberated his course of action and chose to kill Ms. Lutz rather than risk incarceration by releasing her. He let her out of the trunk once to use the bathroom and spoke with her for a while as she plead for him to let her go. He also tried unsuccessfully to start the fire and chose to try again. Being burnt alive must be an horrific way to die and I feel sickened at the thought of it. On some level, execution by leathal injection seems hardly a fit retrobution for such an inhuman act, even with Ohio's shakey history of administration of lethal injection.

In the recently published report of the Ohio Parole Board of their clemency hearing,(pdf) the parole board included a handwritten statement from Daniel Wilson. (see image above for end of statement) When I think of how awful Ms. Lutz' final moments must have been, I cannot help feeling that a person capable of doing something so awful should not be allowed to continue to occupy space on this earth. I'm horrified, disgusted, and feel a desire for revenge on behalf of the victim and her family.

And here we encounter a problem. We, as a nation, do not really know what we want with regards to convicted criminals. Is the purpose of the legal system to exact revenge? Or are we, as we pretend, really seeking Justice?

Let's pretend that the purpose of the Justice System is to try to find some form of justice. Execution changes nothing. Carol Lutz will be just as dead and that death will have been every bit as horrific the day after Daniel Wilson's execution as the day he is killed. In 18 years, Daniel Wilson has become an adult, he has found ways to serve and to benefit his community behind bars. It is, perhaps, arguable that he is not the same person who walked into prison at the age of 21 with a juvenile criminal record that stretched back 9 years prior to that event. Wilson's lawyers are arguing that the sentencing jury was improperly instructed, that they were not allowed to consider his ugly childhood after being abandoned in his father's custody when his mother fled their abusivehome, and that they were not instructed about how to propperly consider the effect that large quantities of alcohol might have had on Wilson's reasoning. They would like the courts to award Wilson a new sentencing hearing where those facts (and hopefully the last 18 years of model prisoner behavior) will be taken into consideration.

Intellectually, I know that the death penalty is not a deterant. In Europe, where they've made elimination of the death penalty a condition of membership in the EU, there has not been an increase in previously capitol offenses now that the death penalty is no longer a potential punishment. The whole process, trial, sentencing, appeals, separate death row facilities, etc costs so much more than the cost of imprisoning someone for life without the possiblity without parole. There is, unfortunately, a very real possiblity of terrible errors resulting in wrongful execution. There are a great many logical reasons why I oppose the death penalty and hope that Gov. Strickland will commute Daniel Wilson's sentence to life without parole. I've spoken to family members of murder victims who opposed the death penalty for their loved-one's killer and to those who witnessed the execution of the murderer who cut short the life of someone they held dear. Closure is a myth.

That said, emotionally I'm torn. And I'm running out of time for this internal debate.