But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.
Albert Camus, "Reflections on the Guillotine"
I came across this interesting story the other day, about Patrick Knight, an inmate in Texas who's scheduled to be executed on June 26. On August 26, 1991, Knight broke into the home of Walter and Mary Ann Werner, held them captive, and the next day drove them to another location where he shot them, execution-style, and then left their bodies in a ditch. By all accounts, Patrick Knight was (16 years ago, at least) a pretty bad character, but it's not the history of this case that makes Knight interesting...
[...] Knight is accepting jokes mailed to him on Texas' death row or e-mailed to a friend who has a Web site for him. The friend then mails him the jokes.
Knight said the joke he finds the funniest will be his final statement the evening of June 26.
As you can probably imagine, there are many people who are not amused by this.
Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson thinks the whole idea is anything but cool. As chief deputy at the time of the Werners' killings, Richardson investigated the case and intends to witness Knight's execution. He said the Werners' family has already been through enough, and that Knight's attempt to make a joke at the execution is sick.
"The whole thing is not a joke to anybody here unless it is to him," Richardson said of Knight. "This tells you a little bit about the guy's character, anyway."
Knight himself has the following to say:
"I'm not trying to disrespect the Werners or anything like that," he told The Associated Press from death row. "I'm not trying to say I don't care what's going on. I'm about to die. I'm not going to sit here and whine and cry and moan and everything like that when I'm facing the punishment I've been given.
"I know I'm not innocent," said Knight, who believes his appeals have been exhausted. "They think they're killing me. They think they're punishing me. They've already punished me. I've already had 16 years of punishment. They're releasing me. They're letting me go. That's helping me out. That's the way I look at it."
So, there we have the basic facts, and I suppose one's reaction to them depends, more or less, on one's view of capital punishment.
Personally, I don't think there's anything especially "sick" about Knight's wish to crack a joke just before he's put to death. It's not even strange as far as I'm concerned. Some might think it undignified, I suppose, but really, what can anybody really say is "proper" behavior for a man about to be put to death? I'll tell you what I think. I think the only natural thing to do at the moment of one's murder (for this is what it surely is) is whatever it takes to avoid it. If there's no way to avoid it, well then, what fucking difference does it make what one does?
Having gone through the appeals process we can probably assume that Knight has, on countless occasions, said that he's sorry for what he's done. It's beyond me how expressing it one last time makes his death more dignified, let alone making him a better, or even reformed man. (And if anyone accepts even for a moment that this kind of last-minute expression of sorrow shows that he's been reformed, well then, what the fuck are you killing him for?) Make no mistake about it, what the state of Texas is going to do to Patrick Knight is no less "criminal" than what Knight did to his victims, the Werners.
No, I haven't forgotten about Walter and Mary Ann Werner, and I haven't forgotten that they were murdered (apparently) in cold blood by Patrick Knight. I fail to see, however, how murdering Knight, and calling it "justice", serves the Werners and their family or serves the larger society. Frankly, I'd worry about anyone who took comfort in the death of another person (I don't care who it might be or what he might have done).
Capital punishment is not a rational response to murder, and it places the condemned person into the unnatural position of consenting to be killed. This seems a bit "cruel and unusual" to me. Why don't we just call it what it is--state-sanctioned revenge, and drop all this high talk of "justice"? Patrick Knight may well be a worthless piece of shit, I really couldn't say. But if he wants to crack a joke as he's about to be executed, or dance a jig, or recite the Lord's Prayer, or cry and beg for forgiveness, or fight tooth and nail trying to escape, what's the fucking difference?