Thursday, February 17, 2011

Voice of the Week

Two voices, one story.

Frank Spisak was murdered by the State of Ohio this morning.  The state said he was a monster, the cross-dressing, Nazi, serial killer.  At trial, he looked the part.  But he wasn't just that guy.
Frank Sisak at Trial
Frank Spisak in Prison

He was also this guy, the one with the deer-in-the-headlights eyes as he faces the camera for his prison picture, the man who's crimes were functions of deep mental illness.

And, oh yeah.  He's the guy whose last words were seven verses from the Book of Revelations, carefully written out in advance.  In German.  We abhor what he did.  But of course there's what we did to him.
One of those Spisak killed was Timothy Sheehan.  Here's a bit from the CBS News website.
WOIO obtained a statement released by the Sheehan family after Spisak's execution.

"Today we chose to celebrate the life of husband and father, Timothy Sheehan, not the death of Frank Spisak," the statement read. "We are grateful that the justice system has worked, and appreciate those in the criminal justice system whose diligent efforts have helped bring this matter to a final resolution."
Well, that's something.  Spisak's murder is an occasion to celebrate life.   I suppose I'm too old for that sort of wake.
Here's another voice.  His name is Eric.  He's a post-conviction lawyer based in Ohio, a friend, and a passionate opponent of the death penalty.  And he's now a blogging at Post Conviction Stories.  After today's murder, he wrote about Spisak.  He said the state wanted us all to know he was a nazi and a killer.
The state doesnt want you to know the rest of the story.  How Frank was never the same after a car accident.  How he dressed like a woman.  How he began to collect Nazi memorabilia and blame others for his problems.  A very mentally ill man did those things, not a cold calculated killer.  There is a difference. 

It is difficult for most to look beyond his facade of a Nazi sympathizer.  Underneath was a confused man who didnt know if he was man or woman.  A person who thought that his answers lay in the twisted theology of the Third Reich.  Whose plan was as twisted as those ideas. 

We want our killers to be bloodthirsty animals like Doctor Lechter in the movies.  They are not.  When they are mentally ill they are responding to the illness not any external forces.   Instead of understanding mental illness and how it effects criminality our system punishes for not treating the mental illness.  
Yeah.  Paul Harvey was right.  You always need to know the rest of the story.


  1. I don't know if it matters, but there was very little but the most perfunctory news coverage of the execution. The UPI story is here:

    CNN didn't have anything on its web page today that I saw.

    I have represented people who changed after a closed head injury. They behave like jerks a lot of the time. Only the people who knew them before understand the problem, and lots of times not even them. If that's what happened to Spisak, the whole thing is just sad.

  2. Thanks for the shout out Jeff