Sunday, August 7, 2011

To Exact Revenge

So the jury said Anthony Sowell did it.  Raped and murdered 11 women.  Kept bodies and body parts hanging around.
Now what?
For a week, the experts have been testifying and arguing.
  • He was nuts.
  • He knew what he was doing.
  • He suffers from.
  • No he doesn't.  And it doesn't matter anyway.
  • Yes it does.
All of which is about getting to the nub of things. 
Here's what we know.
Anthony Sowell will die in prison.
Here's what we don't know.
Will he be murdered by agents of the state of Ohio or will he die by other means.
Technically, and even if he's sentenced to be murdered rather than to death in prison, we won't know for years.  There are appeals and motions and a clemency hearing (some of that whether he wants it or not).  But none of that is really the point.  The point is what to do with him.
Regina Brett, columnist for the Plain Dealer, reveals her answer in the snappy title of today's column.
Anthony Sowell should not be sentenced to death.
Her argument goes roughly like this.
The death penalty doesn't deter.  It certainly didn't deter Sowell.  Whatever the experts say, Sowell is obviously crazy as a bedbug.  He actually does well in a highly controlled environment, you know, like prison.  Let him stay there forever.
Frankly, that's not much of an argument.  She's left out the connections.  A, B, Z.  Yeah, but how do you get there?  Here's what she didn't bother to write.
When we kill for no purpose other than revenge, when we kill people who are crazy, when we kill just to satisfy our own lust for blood, we become killers.  Without any hint of justification.  There's no need to kill Sowell.  There's no point to it.  It won't restore anything.  Let's put him where he can do no harm.  That protects and punishes.  But it doesn't make us into killers also.
At least, I think that's the argument she wanted to make.  And she's right.  (Or maybe I am.) She does get this part right though.
No matter what the diagnosis, those 11 women are still dead, those 11 families are still grieving and Anthony Sowell is still a man whose mind is a mess.
Of course, in today's electronic world, everyone gets to respond. So at 8:28 this morning, 1BL2MNY (which I hope doesn't stand for what I think it might) wrote
I really don't care if he gets the death penalty or not. It is the cost of this fiasco that is troubling to me. This trial has costs the taxpayers over $750,000 to date. We will be forced to pay more with the appeals that are sure to come with a death verdict. I don' know if it was ever an option, but a plea deal of life without parol should have been made from the get go. 
A fair question, perhaps.  Cost is probably the worst reason (morally, ethically, socially) to have or not have a death penalty.  In the real world, it matters a lot.  In any event, and especially for those who paid attention and know that the families of those 11 women, or at least some of them, actually petitioned the prosecutor to strike a deal (for personal reasons that had nothing to do with money), the idea of a deal for death in prison rather than death by needle in prison made sense.
Except it only made sense if you thought the death penalty served some purpose other than blood lust.  At 8:32, just 4 minutes after 1BL2MNY posted that comment, ManginisMother posted this reply.
You are 100% correct. But a plea deal for life in prison would not allow us to exact revenge.
Which is the truth.
And is, of course, at the heart of why we shouldn't kill.

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