Shame On Maryland

America’s membership of the Capital Punishment Club (current chair, Kim Jong-Il) is well known. So when America executes someone it rarely grabs our attention. I woke up this morning with a vague idea that someone was going to be executed this week in Maryland. I gave it no thought. Until this evening.

I was driving through the city and quite coincidentally passed the jail where Wesley Baker was due to die by lethal injection. There was a small vigil outside and some cameras from local TV. I did not expect this to happen, but I suddenly felt sick. “They’re going to kill the poor bastard,” I thought. And tonight they did. Call it bleeding-heart liberalism. Call it Mitleid for another human being. Call it what you want.

Arguments for and against the death penalty are well rehearsed. Let me just state that before tonight I opposed the death penalty. Tonight, my opinion is clearer: shame on Maryland for killing a man today; shame on those Christians who perpetuate this barbaric Old Testament-style justice; shame on those who think that revenge will ever satisfy; shame on the governor for supporting a system that sees black-on-white crime more worthy of death; shame on a system that has been known to kill innocent men; shame on all of us for not raising our voices before it was too late.

Baker committed a terrible crime, and he deserved to be punished. I cannot blame his victim’s family if they wanted to see Baker die. Baker deserved many things, probably even to die. But the state can pursue a merciful course instead, do what Baker did not. He was a killer; now we are too. Shame all round.

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7 thoughts on “Shame On Maryland

  1. <>Baker committed a terrible crime, and he deserved to be punished.<>What do you think his punishment should have been?Do you believe it is possible that there is an objective measure of justice in this universe and that Baker’s victims’ families would be denied justice if Baker were not executed?If America said no to the death penalty and gave Baker life in prison, would that satisfy you, or would you then be arguing that America is incarcerating him for too long and thus ruining his life? What is your view of the D&C authorization of capital punishment? Honestly, do you really think God has anything against society executing someone who has murdered?

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  2. First up, I’d rather keep a discussion of religion off this blog. Mormon scripture may indeed give capital punishment the green light, but then again Mormon scripture promotes several things which Mormons today no longer practice. Thank God for that: it’s 2005 not 1836. (Or should I ask Becky whether I can take some more wives and that we’re going to move to a egalitarian commune?)As for a a punishment befitting the crime… I <>agree<> that talion seems so “just” but I also happen to be one of those Jesus guys who likes the concept of mercy. Life in prison? Sure. But if the man hit 70 and no longer posed a threat? Parole? Dunno, man. Sure.I’m just reporting here the nausea I felt last night at being so close to the death of another human being. Utterly subjective, I know. I just didn’t feel right.BTW, whatever America’s doing to bring down its extraordinarily high murder rate, I respectfully suggest it ain’t working. Or maybe you don’t execute enough people….

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  3. Ronan, here is something I wrote in 2002 after Governor Glendening imposed the moratorium on Maryland executions. One reason Glendening gave to the time was that murderers in Baltimore County were more likely to be given death sentences than murderers in Baltimore City. This is pretty long for a comment, so I have no objection if you remove it from Headlife.———————Within my lifetime, two friends have been murdered. They weren’t close, intimate friends, just the sort of people you cross paths with often and stop to talk with when you do. The first was a middle-aged man killed in Baltimore seven years ago. His body was found in the street with a bullet wound in the head. It was surprising and sad. I don’t think the killer was ever identified.The death of the second was harder to take. One night last summer, an 84-year-old great-grandmother in my hometown was raped and strangled in her home. It is possible to exaggerate the virtues of the dead in our memories, but I think I have not. One of the best people I have known suffered one of the worst atrocities thinkable. It is one of those things to leave one uneasily pondering what the nature of our society is that such things happen.Well, what is the nature of our society? If it is a place where crimes like this go unanswered, then one word to describe it is unjust. And if a society cannot meaningfully show that it does not accept such crimes against its members, then that society as a whole shares in the guilt of its rapists and murderers.My second friend’s killer was charged last week. The police had ample physical evidence to match with the murderer: fingerprints, DNA, even bite marks damn him. They also had the convenience that the accused had since been imprisoned for an unrelated probation violation. So assuming the course of due process is run and a guilty verdict is rendered, what should be done with this man (using the term loosely)?My feeling is that he should be executed by the state. Some object that since it is wrong for individuals to kill that it is also wrong for society to kill. There is an inconsistency in that argument, unless the person making it is libertarian. It is wrong for an individual to hold another captive or to confiscate another’s property, but the state properly has authority to do these things.As for Maryland Gov. Glendening’s professed concern that murderers in Baltimore County are dealt with too harshly, it may be that the opposite is the problem. Maybe Baltimore City is not properly offended at the murder of its citizens. Maybe Baltimore as a whole deserves a measure of shame for the deaths of an absurdly high number of its people, people like my first murdered friend.Others don’t like execution because of the possibility of injustice if the wrong man is convicted. This is a serious concern, but to focus here on the sentence seems misguided if justice is the concern. Suppose one falsely convicted of murder receives a life sentence and is then exonerated twenty years later. It feels hollow to count the years of life lost and then console the man that at least we didn’t kill him. And if we are going to throw out execution to avoid punishing the innocent, what do we do to deal justly with those convicted of noncapital offenses? Cut all prisoners’ sentences in half?We should focus instead on those matters leading up to conviction. We should ensure that due process is served. Of all the protections in our Bill of Rights, due process is the one I cherish the most and see preserving ours as a free land. If prosecutors are railroading innocent defendants, so they can make a name for themselves without bringing the true criminals to justice, then we should find a place for them in prison or on death row, or at the least out of office. Just keep in mind that for every convicted murderer there is a murder victim. We owe it to that person to find her killer and then to punish the guilty. If our society fails to uphold that responsibility, then a portion of the guilt and shame for her murder is ours.

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  4. I knew I’d be flamed for this. Apologies, all, for expressing the thoughts of my heart when I passed the jail yesterday where a man was about to be killed.

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  5. The real question: what’s the point of prison? Reform? Punishment? It seems to me that until we can figure out what it is we’re trying to do when we put someone in jail, then questions like what to do about the death penalty simply cannot be answered.

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  6. Ronan, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t get so mad about things like this. It’s just politics. Anyway, soon you’ll put American barbarism behind you and go to Austria where there is no death penalty, and after that, England. So, that’s something to look forward to!

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  7. John,All good stuff, man. I apologise if I seemed callous in my attitude towards the pain of the victims. If anyone gunned down my mother in a parking lot in front of my kids, I’d probably think he should die too. No other punishment seems fair. But that’s exactly why it is the state that supplies justice, not the victims, thank goodness.Anyway, it goes like this. Imagine you have been brought up to think that the death penalty is barbaric. Imagine that you come to the same view as an adult. Imagine then how you would feel when you quite unexpectedly find yourself at the jail where a man is going to die, complete with the spectacle of vigils, cameras etc. It was quite a visceral experience for me, and I was trying to capture that feeling, and not argue against capital punishment per se. It turned into that because I can’t help but try to score points. Silly.Anyway, that’s it. (And John M, thanks for your thoughful anecdote too.)

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