It was an ugly crime. They all are.
Michael Benge beat his girlfriend, Judith Gabbard, viciously with a tire iron.Then he weighted her body down and dumped it in a river. He stole her ATM card and used it to take $400 from her account. Then he tried to blame the whole mess on a couple of other folks.
An ugly crime, like I say.
And so the, er, good people of Ohio want and intend to murder Michael Benge on Wednesday. Which whether they recognize it or not, will be another ugly crime. Cold. Calculated. Aggravated Murder in violation of Ohio Revised Code Section 2903.01(A) which prohibits the purposeful taking of a life with prior calculation and design.
Of course, we've been there (here?) before.
If Benge is killed as planned, and there's every reason to think it will happen, his will be the 41st execution in Ohio since we started killing in 1999. It will be the 8th this year. Only Ohio and Texas (with 16) have more than 4. Since executions resumed nationally with the killing of Gary Gilmore in Utah, Ohio's 40 rank it 10th nationally, and moving up the list fast. The next closest state in the north, our neighbor Indiana, has killed 20.
If you believe in the death penalty, maybe you think that's acceptable. Maybe you think it's a good thing. Maybe you wish we'd kill more.
But even then, even if you believe it's OK for the government to kill in our name, maybe all this makes you a little uncomfortable.
The Parole Board held a hearing in Benge's case, as they do before every execution whether the condemned wants a hearing or not. (Someone has to provide the family of the victim with a public opportunity to express their outrage and demand another killing.) They interviewed Benge, who gave a full confession and expressed remorse. The state said he couldn't be remorseful now because he rejected a plea deal 18 years ago. (If you can wrap your head around that, more power to you.)
Other killers who did similar crimes are serving life sentences. Oops, says the state, maybe they should be killed, too. But surely we must kill Benge.
He had family and friends say how much he meant to them and plead for his life. She had family and friends explain how much she meant to them and plead for his death.
The Parole Board opinion is a unanimous statement, that he should be killed.
The Parole Board considered all of the written submissions, arguments, information disseminated by presenters at the hearing, the interview with the applicant, prior investigative findings as well as judicial decisions and deliberated upon the propriety of clemency in this case. Clemency in the form of a commutation is not recommended in this case for the following reasons:
- There is no question that the victim was beaten to death during the commission of an Aggravated Robbery because Benge wanted to gain control of the victim's ATM card.
- Benge lied to investigators and the court, and he continues to circumvent the system by telling partial truths to this Parole Board in order to convey remorse and responsibility.
- Benge admits that this case is a capital case, which refutes any proportionality claim regarding other Butler County cases.
- Benge received a fair trial as supported by all appeals courts who have reviewed the conviction and sentence.
- Benge does have tremendous family support, and he has had limited institutional rules infractions; however these factors do not outweigh the brutality and aggravating circumstances of the offense, or the impact this offense has had on the victim's family.
Sure. If you believe that everything the state said is true, then everything Benge said that conflicts even a little must be a lie. And if he lies, he's just trying to save his life. And if all he wants is to save his life, he should be killed.
You know, if you've followed this blawg even a little, that I'm unalterably opposed to the death penalty. For moral and policy and practical and other reasons, I think it's a terrible idea. And what we do is, essentially, random and meaningless.
When you look at this crime or that crime, this person or that one, it's hard to see meaningful distinctions. The killings are pretty much all ugly. They are, certainly, all unnecessary, senseless, irrational.
The Green River Killer is doing life for the murder of 48 people. Zacarius Moussaui is doing life for his part in the killing of 3,000. Find me the logic that says Michael Benge should be killed if they are not.
Oh, but they should be, you may say. Except that isn't what's happening. It's random and chance.
Is there a groundswell of support? Does the governor care about that? Is Dr. Petit screaming for blood? Does the newspaper editorialize about the case? Is there evidence of innocence? Enough? To satisfy someone who matters?
The constitutional issue of capital punishment is the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the 8th Amendment. Really, it should be a question of due process because principles of due process protect against government action that is arbitrary and capricious, and nothing is more arbitrary, nothing more capricious.
When the Parole Board's opinion in Benge's case came out, Alan Johnson wrote the story in the Columbus Dispatch. It was, he notes, a unanimous decision: 9-0.
While the vote is similar to the last case handled by the board -- an 8-0 recommendation against clemency for Kevin Keith -- the similarities end there.
There was a groundswell of support for Keith's claims of innocence for a triple murder in Bucyrus. Gov. Ted Strickland commuted his sentence to life in prison.
Other than his attorneys and family, Benge has no one lobbying for his life.
So he's easy to kill. Just another body. 41 for Ohio. 1228 for the nation. That many random killings. A few of them wholly innocent. Others guilty of less than they were convicted for. All of them victims of the chance that said, "kill that one" when it might as easily have said, "spare him."
Don't expect clemency from Governor Ted.