Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Killing in the Name of...

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?


  1. Could not agree more, oh wise Kyklops.

    Being a parent does help with perspective on this. Seems a little like hitting your child as a punishment for hitting. And any parent knows that "guilt" is the greatest punishment, letting someone stew in their own thoughts, their own sense of guilt is a wonderous bit of payment.

    And why do these things always seem to happen in Texas?

  2. Right on. I always have people challenge my opinion on capital punishment. They invariably boil it down to an emotional appeal: Wouldn't you want someone to fry if that person had murdered a loved one? My answer has to remain, No. It is a choice I have made to reject execution.

    Oh, and Florida is close on the heels of Texas. Bush family, anyone?


  3. Totally agree with you too, which is why I was saddened to see the whole Iraq thing at Christmas. So this is a country that has been liberated from a dictator, which is now becoming a supposed democracy and the first thing they do is sentence people to death. Progress indeed.

  4. Remember when you got spanked and they tod you, "Now stop crying"?
    The final humiliation in the state's display of control is to demand that the person whose life is being snuffed out agrees that his own murder is proper and fitting.
    No government should have the right to demand the blood of it's citizens.

  5. GT,
    Yes, the "adult" equivalent being some time, or possibly life, in prison. It wasn't really my intention to single out Texas, although I guess it does carry out more death sentences than other states.

    Rejecting capital punishment is, I think, a *rational* choice. Texas/Florida/Bush connection? Hmm... you may be on to something...

    Nice to see you. And I agree that there is nothing "progressive" about the death penalty. I can't think of anything more *regressive*. Scumbag that he was, Saddam Hussein's execution gave me no comfort whatsoever. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    My sentiments exactly.

  6. That is one of the most rational approaches I've seen towards capital punishment. I do understand that someone may want revenge, I'm ok with that, but admitting anyone is beyond rehabilitation only proves society's failures. On the other hand, if that is the case, why should people spend more money on feeding them? Put them to work. Maybe "rational slavery" would provide a more civilized "solution".

  7. Usual Stuff,
    I think I get where you're coming from, but I also think there are too many ethical, political, and practical (economic) problems with forced labor/slavery.

  8. Peace Kyklops,
    There are too many complications and built in injustices within our justice system for capital punishment to work.

    In an ideal utopian society (where we prolly won't have the issue of cold blooded murder) I do see the sense in it. It is an emotional thing for me, if someone were to brutally murder my little boy or husband or loved one, I don't think any other punishment would be fitting for them.

    I read Grisham's "The chamber" recently and he deals with the ins and outs of the death penalty. Even though the protagonist was an unrepentant racist murderer, it really made me root for his life in the end. Because in the end, you just feel pity for him.

    I just contradicted myself, I guess it's one of those gray areas for me. There are too many...

  9. Hi Maliha,
    I have a lot of problems with capital punishment, some logical, some emotional. I guess it boils down to this: how does capital punishment make us more civilized? I don't believe it does, and I personally think it's a lazy solution for governments, open to abuse, etc.