Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kill Me Now or Kill Me Later: But, Please, Kill Me

Robert Gleason wants to die.
More precisely, he wants to be killed.  By the Commonwealth of Virginia.  This is, sort of, his story.
Gleason, an inmate at Wallens Ridge State Prison was in prison, serving a life sentence for murder when he got a new cellmate, Harvey Watson.  Watson was annoying.  Really, seriously annoying.  Gleason begged the prison authorities to move Watson.  Dena Potter, writing for the AP, tells the story:
For seven days, Robert Gleason Jr. begged correctional officers and counselors at Wallens Ridge State Prison to move his new cellmate. The constant singing, screaming and obnoxious behavior were too much, and Gleason knew he was ready to snap.
On the eighth day -- May 8, 2009 -- correctional officers found Harvey Gray Watson Jr., 63, bound, gagged, beaten and strangled. His death went unnoticed for 15 hours because correctional officers had not followed proper procedure for inmate head counts at the high-security prison in Southwest Virginia.
We'll ignore for the moment the failures of the prison guards since there's nothing Potter's report to suggest that they actually contributed to Watson's death.  But we'll be coming back to them, so remember that they seriously screwed up.
Anyway, Gleason was arrested and charged with capital murder.  Lawyers were appointed, motions were filed.  Last month, while his lawyers were trying to work out a deal to spare him the death penalty (they actually did work out the deal), Gleason fired them.  Then he entered a guilty plea.  
And he's asked for death, promised not to appeal if he gets it.  Actually, he did more than ask.  He's made it a threat.
Kill me or I'll kill again.
He doesn't say he can't control himself.  He told the prosecutor he has no remorse, but he also says he deserves death.
"I did this. I deserve it," he said. "That man, he didn't deserve to die. . . .  He needed help."
So he threatens to kill again.  (And I suppose, again and again, until Virginia kills him.)
What do you do under these circumstances?  Gleason's now at Virginia's supermax prison.  If it's like other supermax places, he's single-celled, confined 23 hours a day, never in the presence of anyone - including the guards - without being bound and shackled.  Ah, but there's that threat.
Ultimately, Gleason's trying to control the process, just as tried to control (and finally did, though in a different way) the situation with Watson.
Watson's sister, Barbara McLeod of Longmont, Colo., said Gleason should be forced to spend the rest of his life in prison with no privileges.
"He doesn't deserve to be able to control his own destiny at this point. He doesn't deserve to have his death on the conscience of the state of Virginia," she said.
Which seems right.  Ah, but there's that threat.
Which brings us back to the incompetent guards. 
How does Gleason make good on his threat if Virginia does a competent job of keeping him in custody?  Remember, single-celled, confined 23 hours a day, never in the presence of anyone - including the guards - without being bound and shackled.  How's he going to kill?  Or is Virginia unable actually to run its most secure prison's so that they're, well, secure?
This is Gleason, not Houdini.
I don't know what will happen.  I don't know Virginia law.   I haven't spoken with anyone who has an interest in the case.  What I know is that Virginia can ensure that the threat is empty.  Or it can bow to his threats and desires and say that Gleason gets to decide how he should be punished. 
There are those who claim that the death penalty is a deterrent.  For Gleason, it seems to be a goal.
Who's in charge, anyway?  Who should be?
Sentencing is scheduled for August 31.


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