Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Time To Heap Stones

Governor Ted has spoken.  It's the usual content-free form.
I've looked at everything and considered everything carefully and Michael Benge must die tomorrow.
Except he doesn't even say even that much.  It would be too direct, too personal to say that Benge should be killed. Instead he says that - aw, hell, here's whole text of his statement.
As a result of his conviction for aggravated murder, Mr. Michael Benge is scheduled to be executed on October 6, 2010 at 10 a.m.  I have completed a review of the circumstances surrounding his case to determine if executive clemency is warranted.

In conducting this evaluation, my staff and I reviewed the record of proceedings and the evidence presented in Mr. Benge's case, the judicial decisions regarding Mr. Benge's conviction, and arguments presented for and against clemency at the Parole Board hearing, as well as all supplemental material submitted to my office following the Parole Board hearing regarding Mr. Benge's application for executive clemency.  We have also reviewed institutional records, letters, the exhibits and testimony presented at the Parole Board hearing and the unanimous recommendation against clemency forwarded to me by the Ohio Parole Board on September 15, 2010. 

Based on this review, I concur with the Parole Board recommendation on this matter.
Blame free.  "I concur with the Parole Board."  How's that for deflecting responsibility.
I have to admit that I was surprised, very pleasantly surprised last month when Ted commuted Kevin Keith's sentence.  I didn't think he had either the integrity or the nerve and he proved me wrong.  But this follow-up is something else.
It's not that I held out any hope for clemency or commutation.  It's the impersonal language.  Blame it on the Parole Board.
Except it's not just Ted.  The killing is, as I wrote about Michael Benge the other day, quotidian now.  I quoted then from Alan Johnson's Columbus Dispatch article on the Parole Board's decision.
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.
I said then,
So he's easy to kill.
A point which wasn't just about him but, although I perhaps didn't make it with the clarity I might have, about almost everyone on death row.  Part of how they got there is that they fell through all the cracks of life.  And those who are killed there - they mostly just fall through more.  And nobody much notices unless there's something dramatic and this or that person somehow, for some reason, becomes one of the celebrities.
And yet Michael Benge has that family lobbying for his life, and who will mourn.  He has lawyers who will grieve.
And there is a small in number but dedicated cadre of abolitionist activists around Ohio who will travel to Lucasville and stand outside the prison in vigil or do the same on street corners and in front of government buildings around the state.  They won't get much attention, but they'll be there.  There are every time Ohio kills.
* * * * * 
A long-time friend asked me the other day what I thought of the poet Gary Snyder.  As part of my
response, I quoted these lines of Snyder's.
When creeks are full
The poems flow
When creeks are down
We heap stones.
They struck me then, and strike me now (and I should add, as I did to my friend, that I'm not a nature lover) as beautiful and deeply sad.  
That same friend uses as a signature block or tag-line or whatever you call it on his e-mail a few lines from the formal invocation to the muse for help that begin Book VII of Paradise Lost.
                    though fall'n on evil days,
On evil days though fall'n, and evil tongues;
In darkness, and with dangers compast round
And solitude; yet not alone . . .
* * * * *
Michael Benge will be killed at 10 tomorrow morning.
His will be the 8th murder by the State of Ohio this year, the 41st since we started killing again in 1999.  The murder of Sidney Cornwell, scheduled for November 16 will be, it seems likely, the 9th and 42nd.
Evil days.
Creeks are way down.

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