Monday, November 28, 2011

Murder Me Now

I've taken to calling it "Death in Prison," but whether it's called that or the psychologically wrenching "Life Without Hope" or the legalistic "Life Without the Possibility of Parole" or the acronym "LWOP" doesn't matter.  It's horrific.  For many folks it's worse than the death penalty.
It lingers forever.  World without end.  Pain everlasting.
Some, not all, maybe not most but some, say they'd prefer death.
Kill me now.
They're often called "volunteers," and they raise what are for some thorny issues.
When they're being sentenced, during their mitigation hearings, sometimes even from the moment of arrest, they demand death.
  • Kill me, or I'll kill again.
  • Kill me, I'm a monster.
  • Kill me, I deserve it.
That's one sort of thing.  Try to force the issue.  But if the point of sentencing is punishment or retribution or deterrence or anything other than killing for its own sake - and in the killing fields of the U.S. we like at least to pretend there is, then there's a complicating subtext to those demands.
  • Kill me, it's the choice I prefer.
  • Kill me, it's the penalty I want.
  • Kill me, it will make me happy.
And when the guy (it's almost always a guy) has been sitting on death row for god knows how long and festering in his own feces and maybe he's gone completely bonkers what with 23 hour/day lockdown isolation and not having seen natural light or felt a fresh breeze or whatever for maybe a decade or two and being told you'll die on Thursday and maybe even being led to the gurney before learning that some court just granted a stay as a sick joke and maybe that's happened more than once (depending, of course, on the state and the institution and the particular case).  And so he says,
Get it over with.
Hell, you're gonna kill me anyway sooner or later.
So do it now.
I beg you.
What then.
It's suicidal, of course, and that raises it's own issues.
Is suicide ever moral?
Is suicide ever the choice of a competent person.
Can death be a rational choice?
Can life ever be that bad?
And what of the killers?
Carrying out a punishment raises one set of moral questions.  The law in most states, in the federal system, in the military allows state murder in some cases.  Assisted suicide doesn't have that same broad legal approval.  Assuming, of course, that it's not the same as state murder.
Carol J. Williams writing in the Los Angeles Times.
Serial wife-killer Jerry Stanley wants to die.

Imprisoned on death row for the past 28 years, Stanley insists he deserves execution for the cold-blooded killing of his fourth wife in 1980 and for shooting to death his second wife five years earlier in front of their two children.

Despairing of the isolation and monotony of San Quentin's rooftop fortress for the purportedly doomed, Stanley earlier this year stepped up his campaign for a date with the executioner by offering to solve the cold case of his third wife's disappearance 31 years ago — by disclosing where he buried her body.

When bartering failed to secure him a death warrant, he offered himself up as the test case for resuming the three-drug lethal injections, which had been suspended for six years and remain under judicial review.

"I am willing to be the experimental guy to see whether or not they work," Stanley, 66 and ailing, said in a statement to The Times. "Assuming I can't get lethal injection because of the injunction on the chemicals, I am willing to accept the gas chamber. I understand the gas chamber is available and I insist on getting a date."
Well, that calls the question.
So does this from the Statesman Journal.
Death-row inmate Gary Haugen ripped Gov. John Kitzhaber on Friday for blocking his scheduled Dec. 6 execution.In a telephone interview with the Statesman Journal, Haugen mocked Kitzhaber for not having the guts to carry out the execution.
"I feel he's a paper cowboy," he said. "He couldn't pull the trigger."
The 49-year-old, twice-convicted murderer said he plans to consult with attorneys about possible legal action to fight the temporary reprieve issued Tuesday by the governor.
"I'm going to have to get with some serious legal experts and figure out really if he can do this," Haugen said. "I think there's got to be some constitutional violations. Man, this is definitely cruel and unusual punishment. You don't bring a guy to the table twice and then just stop it."
Some folks on death row commit suicide.
Whatever the moral or legal standing of the act, they do it themselves.
Others try to commit suicide and fail.  They get patched up and returned to the row - or in odder cases almost directly to the murder chamber.
Maybe they're competent to make the decision they do.  Maybe not.  But it implicates nobody.
Volunteers are different. They implicate everyone:
  • The killers.
  • The lawyers who support their efforts.
  • The lawyers who oppose their efforts.
  • The psychologists on both sides.
  • The judges.
  • The prosecutors.
  • Maybe the jurors.
And those who stand on the sidelines cheering or crying.
After reproducing a chunk of the Williams article about Stanley, Doug Berman asked one of the relevant questions.
If one is eager to torture (psychologically and physically) a condemned murderer by denying him the opportunity to end his LWOP suffering, I suppose it makes sense not to honor his wish to die.  But is there a truly humane reason to refuse such a request to end LWOP suffering if the condemned murderer has no reasonable basis to hope for any eventual freedom from harsh imprisonment?
But it's only one of the questions, and really, it's the wrong one.
Because the request isn't, not ever,
Go away and let me die.
These folks aren't saying
Give me some pills and leave me in peace.
They aren't the one's slitting their wrists with their fingernails or fashioning nooses out of prison jumpsuits or smashing their heads into the wall repeatedly in the hope of breaking it open.  As I say, there are suicides and attempted suicides on death row.  Allowing them to act, unimpeded, may or may not be humane.  But it's not what we're talking about.
We're talking about the ones who are asking us to kill them.
Not, I want to kill myself, but I want you to kill me.
Which is something very different.

1 comment:

  1. It's a question of semantics in this case. What the justice is failing to act on is the cruel and unusual punishment of putting someone on death row for 28 years while submitting them to the conflicting arguments of the pro- and con- crowds. The daily, reinforced fact that "you'll be executed... maybe tomorrow." is always countered by the "not necessarily, it depends on... something." After a while anyone would be driven out of their mind by this treatment.

    This serial wife killer (I didn't know there even was such a thing) has no business being on death row. He should have been shot and killed 27 years ago, but failing that he should be in prison without possibility of parole. Ever. While life without parole is not my first choice for some of these prisoners (firing squad!) it's preferable to this crap, which is cruel and unusual.

    How can anyone not agree that this is cruel and unusual punishment? It's beyond me.