Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Two Lives Down the Drain

It is 2 pm on Wednesday, November 6. Abdullah Sharif Kaazim Mahdi, my former client, is scheduled to be murdered by the State of Ohio in exactly 20 hours. The Governor has, so far, not announced whether he will grant clemency and commute the sentence.

As I explained the other day, nobody knows whether Mahdi is actually guilty of aggravated murder, the only capital crime in Ohio, the offense of which he was convicted. There is very substantial evidence he is not, that he is guilty only of involuntary manlaughter. That's a very serious crime, with severe punishment, but they don't kill you for it.

Why are we doing this?

Mahdi killed Sohail Darwish. It was a terrible thing to do. Darwish was, by all accounts, a fine man. Would he want Mahdi killed? I don't know. Does it matter? Not legally. Nor do his widow's feelings have any legal consequence. Aggravated murder is, as all crimes are, a crime against the state, not against the victim of the criminal act.

That's a difficult concept I've tried to explain before (e.g., here). The short version is that the civil law system is the mechanism for providing some sort of compensation to those who personally suffer from crime. The criminal law system is not about the wrongs inflicted on individuals. It's about wrongs inflicted on the social order. The wronged individuals should, properly, have no say.

Yet, of course, we strain to hear them. So listen to Charlotte Darwish, the widow of Sohail Darwish. She will watch Mahdi die. And naturally, she grieves still. But listen.
"When I look back on that day, I just see a white wall. I just see white because I lost all grip of reality. … It was blank, empty, cold," Mrs. Darwish said recently.

"[This execution] is going to open up a whole new chapter. I'm now not only the widow of the murdered man, but I'm the widow of the murdered man whose killer was executed," she said. "It's going to bother me and pester my soul. Now there are two lives down the drain, all because of the actions of Vernon Smith."

"All you have to live with is memories, but you can't touch a memory, you can't have a conversation with a memory. You may get a little solace out of it, but in the end it's empty because there's nothing there," she said.

"Pictures are amazing things, but they're also horrible things as well," she added. "You've got that picture as a memory, but that image haunts you. You just stare at that picture, but that picture doesn't talk back to you. It can't help you, it can't laugh with you when you're happy, it can't cry with you when you're sad."

"My thoughts haven't changed," Mrs. Darwish continued. "Vernon Smith, he lives, he dies. It's not going to bring my husband back."
She grieves. She will watch more death. It will solve nothing. Killing Mahdi won't heal, won't cure, won't restore. It's just another life "down the drain." It won't bring Darwish back.

It just leaves another hole. And more people grieving.

Charlotte Darwish, who grieves still, seems to understand that.

NOTE: I've taken Charlotte Darwish's quotes from this story in today's Toledo Blade.

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