Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Death Reward

Harry Mitts, Jr.
They'll be killing Harry Mitts in the morning.  That's been pretty much a foregone conclusion for some time now.  If there was any doubt, it was dispelled last month when the Parole Board recommended against clemency and then when Governor Kasich denied clemency.  But really, we knew before then.  So did Mitts.

He's under constant surveillance.  He would be anyhow by now.  They keep a minute-by-minute log of the last days.  They were getting set to start doing that for Billy Slagle back in August, but he hanged himself just before they began.  Then Ariel Castro hanged himself in his cell.  And another guy less prominent.  They're not taking chances with Mitts, by god.  They're gonna kill him.  

Can't have him doing it to himself.  The sentence isn't death, after all, it's execution.  He's not supposed to die.  He's supposed to be killed.  Doing it himself?  That's how he "escaped justice" in the words of a Toledo Blade editorial.

On August 14, 1994, Harry Mitts shot and killed John Bryant and Police Sergeant Dennis Gilvar, shot but didn't kill a couple of other cops.  Just over three months later, Mitts was sentenced to be killed.  That's fast enough to raise eyebrows among the folks who have some idea how this system works.  But Harry wasn't kicking up all that much of a fuss.  At trial he didn't contest the evidence of what he did.  Instead, he argued, in the words of the Ohio Supreme Court, "that he was too intoxicated to form the required intent to kill."

His'll be the 52nd killing here in the Buckeye State, 3rd this year.  And perhaps the last for a while.  The supply of pentobarbital expires now, and there's really no more readily available.  So Harry's killing will be the last under the current murder protocol, and while they've said they'll be setting out a new killing plan by October 4 and that they intend to use it on Ronald Phillips in November, new plans mean new litigation and, well, who knows.  Harry may be the last for a while.  

We can wish he'd be the last forever, the coda to the killing fields of Lucasville.  Frankly, that's unlikely.  But it might be fitting.

None of that moves this far out of the mainstream of killing and death sentences in Ohio or anywhere else where we put folks on death row. If that's all there were, I'd be holding off on writing this.  Maybe I'd do a post-mortem piece after the killing, but not now.  Not the night before.  What has me writing now is the Bible.

Note the lower case t in the Bible.  That's because I'm not interested here in The Bible, Old Testament or New, with or without apocrypha, King James or Revised Standard or the abominable Good News.  No, this is about the Bible.  The one that Mitts has had since that day in November 1994 when he was sentenced to be killed.  The one that was handed to him by a chaplain at the Cuyahoga County Jail the day he was sentenced.  The one that he eventually learned was given to him by the mother and sister of Sgt. Gilvar, you know, one of the men he killed. 

He got a letter from Cheryl Janoviak, Gilvar's sister, too.  She wrote to tell him, to make sure he knew, that she and her mother forgave him.  JoAnne Viviano in the Columbus Dispatch.
“As Jesus forgave and still forgives, my mother and I also forgive you,” Janoviak wrote to Mitts in 1994. “Had you died on August 14, 1994, your eternal home would have been in hell. In God’s mercy, your life was spared, and He spared your life to allow you this time to choose where you want to spend eternity.”
Last week, Janoviak explained.
What my mom and I did was only a portion of what God desired to draw Mr. Mitts to the cross and the saving, redeeming, wonderful, cleansing grace that is available to all.

God works through people, but ultimately it is the Holy Spirit and his love that satisfies. Unfortunately, in this case, it took a tragedy to get (Mitts’) attention and hear God calling him.
As it happens, there's forgiveness and there's forgiveness.  
Janoviak said she and her mother plan to attend the execution. When asked whether they support clemency for Mitts, she referred to a Bible verse from the book of Romans: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”
Look, I'm an atheist.  I don't believe in God.  On balance, it seems to me that religion has been far more a force for cruelty and pain than for good which has nothing to with the existence of some deity but everything to do with the consequence of believing in her (him? it?).  But if I don't believe in god, I do believe (if you've been a reader of this blawg for any length of time you already know this) in grace.  

So Sergeant Gilvar's mother and sister believe that their god wants Harry Mitts to be killed by a bunch of prison guards in the morning.  And they plan to watch the killing themselves.  But they also believe that their god wants them to embrace love and not hate, to turn pain to forgiveness, and to give Harry Mitts what they believe to be eternal peace and happiness.

To Harry, that means a lot.  And so he looks forward to being killed.
 [M]y reason for desiring to be executed is simple. I’ll be in the presence of Jesus, and I will never sin against God again!” 
Which kind of takes the sting out of punishment, turns it into something more like reward (or so the condemned guy thinks).  But, hey, nobody said this thing made any sense.


  1. The heretics tortured and burned by the Church were undoubtedly grateful to be forgiven, and the witches tortured and burned or hanged by the Puritans, were probably just as grateful for forgiveness.

    1. Or as too many abusers say to their victims, "This hurts me more than it does you."