Saturday, November 4, 2017

Just Look at Them and Sigh

It was April 2, 1997, just over 20 years ago.  A sheriff's deputy was taking Alva Campbell from jail to the courthouse where he was set to be arraigned on a charge of aggravated robbery.

But Campbell broke away, stole the deputy's pistol, and ran off.  Charles Dials was driving by in his pickup.  Campbell stopped the truck, jumped in at gunpoint, and drover around with Dials in the passenger seat for a few hours.  Then he had Dials get down on the floor and shot him twice in the head.  (It wasn't Campbell's first killing.  He'd been paroled five years earlier after serving 20 years on a first degree murder conviction.)

Campbell drove around some more, stole another car, though that driver escaped.  He tried unsuccessfully to steal another car, again the driver escaped.  Police caught him hiding in a tree.  He surrendered and confessed.

He's been on death row since 1998.  The State of Ohio plans to kill him on November 15.

I could tell you about his childhood of physical and sexual abuse (even the prosecutor concedes it was terrible).  I could tell you that he's remorseful now, that he claims he's changed, that he sees the world differently than he did before.  I could tell you that he's had a pretty good disciplinary record in prison.  I could . . . .  

Ah, the hell with it.  You know all that.

What I want to consider, want you to consider, is whether Alva Campbell should now, in under two weeks, die for what he did to Charles Dials.  Die for that, because there's no question he'll die (we all do).  And there's no question he'll die in prison.  The question, as always, is the mechanism of death.

And on that point, and in this case, it's worth looking for a bit at Alva Campbell today.  That's 69-year-old Alva Campbell. 

He moves with a walker.  That's a colostomy bag on his hip.  He gets four breathing treatments a day to keep him going.  And he may have lung cancer.  

They plan to strap him to a table, but he won't be lying down.  That's too hard on his body, so he'll be propped up somehow, sitting.  

And then they're gonna stick needles in his veins and pump poison --

Oh, wait.  They can't do that.  

See, Ohio's fucked up so many executions because our prison guards aren't really competent to do this shit.  So we have some special procedures to make sure the killin' will go well.  For instance, we have nurses assess his veins to be sure that they guards can get the needles in and set.  But damn.  They report that Campbell's veins aren't up to the task.  And, of course, he's allergic to the first drug they're using.

His lawyers suggested death by firing squad.  (Bad veins aren't an issue for death by bullet.)  But of course that's not a legal method of killin' here in the Buckeye State, and who knows if the General Assembly would actually pass a law or if Governor Kasich would sign it.  Anyway, the judge said no.

And so, here's the question.

What, exactly is the point?  

Alva Campbell's gonna die soon.  He says his doctors have told him he has 6 months to a year.  Sure, that's longer than a week and a half, but not all that much longer.  And it's not like he's livin' high on the hog.  His life, what there is of it, pretty much sucks.

A few weeks ago, the Parole Board held it's clemency hearing for Campbell.  

Then they voted 11-1 against recommending clemency.  Clemency was not, the eleven said, in "the interests of justice."*  Sure he had an horrific background, but he has a "disturbing propensity to engage in extreme and senseless violence."**  The one disagreed, pointing to that horrific background. 

So, now that the Board has spoken, Governor Kasich can do what he wants.***  Which brings me back around.

See, the plan is to kill Alva Campbell not because he deserves to die.  But because he deserves to be killed.  

Because it's important that he not be allowed to die of natural causes or any way other than by drugs lawfully administered by prison guards.  Natural causes?  Feh.  That's God or Nature or just the way things go.  Suicide?  Can't allow that.  Those other options would cheat the hangman, deny the good people of Ohio the vengence justice they deserve to inflict. 

And so the old man with the colostomy bag on his hip, with four treatments a day so he can breathe, with veins that can't support the needles they'll be using to push the drugs . . . .

Aw, fuck it.
Dear Governor Kasich:
Please just let Alva Campbell die in his own, and quickly approaching, good time.  It's too late to teach him a lesson.  And killing the old, rapidly failing guy won't teach anyone else, either.  Except, maybe, that we can be as cold-hearted now as he was then.  And that we should be.
Just deserts, and all.
Teach your children well.  Of course, that's not exactly the lesson Crosby, Still, Nash, & Young had in mind.  

* Whatever those "interests" may be.  The Board didn't explain.  It never does.  Presumably they're kind of like Justice Stewart's obscenity: known when seen but inexplicable.

** Or at least he did.

*** A Board recommendation one way or another is a legal requirement in Ohio before the Governor can grant clemency, but the Gov has no obligation to follow the recommendation.  Mostly, they do, of course.  It's good to let the Board take the heat one way or the other.  But Ted Strickland commuted a sentence when the Board said not to and refused to commute one when the Board said he should.

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