Monday, March 8, 2010

Eyes Wide Open

I've said before that when you're doing death penalty work, any time the government doesn't get to murder your client, that's a win.  Pretty much everyone doing this work understands that.  And we all shake our heads and think how perverted and offensive that is as a standard.  But it's where we are.  We cheer death by natural causes - or even unnatural ones - as we cheer life without hope sentences because the state has been deprived of its pound of flesh.

Didn't quite happen with Lawrence Reynolds whose condition has reportedly been upgraded from "serious" to "stable" and who is showing "signs of consciousness."

That's what we learn from Julie Walburn, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, quoted in the Cuyahoga Falls News Press.

It seems Reynolds was found unconscious in his cell at the Ohio State Prison in Youngstown around 11:30 Sunday night.  Assuming the rest of what they say is true, he overdosed on some pills.  As of this writing, they haven't said what sort of pills or how he happened managed to get them, but Walburn says they're investigating.

Ya think?

Meanwhile, Governor Ted has issued a reprieve.  See, they have to get him healthy enough to kill.  One week.  That should do it.  The murder is now scheduled for March 16.

That's not soon enough for Denise Turchiano.  She's the niece of Loretta Mae Foster, the woman Reynolds killed and she is, well, pissed seems to get at it.  (The News Press says she "reacted in anger and disbelief.")  How dare they?  How dare he?  Turchiano was planning to watch Reynolds die.  She wanted to see it.  And he almost deprived her of that - what? - pleasure?

And that, I guess, is why anytime the state doesn't get to conduct the murder, it's a win.  Because it's a defeat for the forces of raw vengeance.  Because it means our worst instincts don't prevail.

I have some sympathy for Turchiano.  I understand her anger at Reynolds.  I understand why she'd want to see him killed.  If I were in her position, I might want the same thing.  But if the death penalty exists to give Turchiano the satisfaction of watching a murder, then there's something about the system that we aren't mostly willing to acknowledge - and it's a pretty darn ugly thing.

Because, really, if it's not just that Reynolds needs to die, but that he needs to be killed, and if it's especially that Turchiano needs to/wants to watch him die.  Then it is about the spectacle.

I've said for some time that if we're going to be in the killing business, we should admit what we're doing, acknowledge the equivalence principle. 

If Reynolds tried to commit suicide Sunday night, and DRC isn't quite willing to admit that's what he was doing, then killing him next week (or whenever) won't really be much, will it?  Maybe he wants to die.  Maybe he just wants to cheat the state.  But a peaceful death obviously won't be a horror for him.  So why must we save his life in order to take it unless it's for spectacle, unless it's for Turchiano.  And if that's the only point . . . .

Back in September, when Ohio flubbed Romell Broom's execution, I wrote this.
Either we give up state murder, acknowledge once and for all that the death penalty, no matter how cosmetically attractive we try to make it is just another killing, unnecessary, unfair, uncertain. Or we embrace the horror, admit that we torture people to death at least some of the time and acknowledge that we're just fine with it.
We can rent out Yankee Stadium (it's new and shiny) and line the bodies up. We can set lions on them. Or have them gnawed to death by rats. Pay per view. It's better than pro wrestling.

When Florida killed Ted Bundy, there were cheering crowds outside the prison.  Perhaps they were tailgating.  Perhaps they were us.  And that suggests that we need to do some rethinking - about who we are, and who we want to be.

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