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The Death Penalty: Cruel Vengeance or Justice Served

James H. Lilley

 

            Is the death penalty for a savage, cold-blooded act of murder cruel vengeance or justice served?  The debate over Capital Punishment has been argued on local, state, and federal levels and still rages on almost daily.  Our nation has served up the death penalty in many forms from hanging, to electric chair, to gas chamber, and even firing squad.  Over the years each of these methods was damned as cruel and inhumane treatment of the person who had committed a crime of violence.  So, along came lethal injection as an alternative to these cruel methods of carrying out a death sentence.  Suddenly there was an outcry over the way the needles were inserted into the arm of the condemned, because surely they were experiencing pain.

Is the discomfort of lethal injection any more painful than a flu shot, or giving blood?  All require insertion of a needle into the arm, or vein.  Does the act of voluntarily taking a flu shot, or donating blood make the pin prick less painful than death by lethal injection?  Or, does death ordered by the court for a violent crime somehow increase the level of pain for the condemned?  Then came the argument over the dosage, the drugs employed, and were they acting quickly enough to ensure the condemned didnt suffer.  Excuse me, but what horrible pain was being inflicted upon this person whod been sentenced to death for violently taking the life of another?

            Maybe its time to take a look at the death penalty from another sidethe side of the real victim, their family and friends.  Granted, not all victims of a violent crime that leads to their death are pillars of the community, or innocent casualties.  Still, this does not make them a lesser victim.  Many suffer grave indignity and are often tortured for hours on end before they are finally killed.  Some years ago in Washington, D.C., a few drug dealers had their own methods of dealing with rivals, and were quite brutal in their form of execution.  The death penalty imposed to send a message to others that thought of infringing on their territory was death by suffocation.  The method used, was biding the intended victim tightly to render them helpless and then wrapping their entire face and head in duct tape.  Imagine if you will the sheer terror of lying there helpless, while someone very calmly begins wrapping your head just above the eyes in duct tape.  Think of how youd feel as the tape wound lower and lower until there was no way to breathe in lifes precious oxygen.  What would your suffering be like in the final moments of life?  Still, this was a death sentence imposed and carried out by a cold-blooded killer, not a court of law after a trial and lengthy appeal process.

            I think far too often the people who cry loud and endlessly to stop the nations death penalty have never spent a single moment of their lives at the scene of a brutal murder.  Theyve been far away, sheltered from the blood, gore and stench of death.  Theyve never spent hours walking through the spilled blood, spattered brains, and broken body parts trying to make sense of what happened, and collect evidence to catch a killer.  And, surely theyve never knocked on a door and told a family member that a loved wont be coming home because somebody stuck a shotgun against their head and pulled the trigger.  If they had done any of these things, the images would still be quite clear, because theyre etched forever in the minds of those whove been there.  The sights, the smells, the sounds, and the screams never really go away.  And, just when you think that last ghost has left you a sweat-drenching nightmare will rip you from your sleep and remind you of where youve been.

            I still remember my first murder scenein fact, I can remember all of them.  Not that Ive been to as many as a Baltimore City, or Washington, D. C. homicide detective, but death is the same, whether in the big city or the suburbs.  I was a rookie, not long out of the academy, when I went to my first murder.  The victim was lying at the bottom of a stairway, his feet still resting on the third and fourth steps, his head on the landing turned just a little to the left.  At first it looked as if hed just fallen down the stairs, but the very large hole in his throat told the tale of what had happened.  He toppled backward down the stairs after being struck in the throat with a single blast from a 12 gauge shotgun.  He was killed by his drinking partner who accused him of sneaking an extra drink from the bottle of whiskey theyd been sharing.  A strange and senseless motive for murder Id say.

            I recall a woman in her mid 80s being terrorized by a prowler for several weeks.  As it turned out, the prowler was simply plotting a time to return and commit a far more sinister act.  On a Friday evening he returned, cut the telephone lines to her home, and attempted to break in. When she fled from her home and crossed the road, praying to find help, he pursed her.  There under a pine tree, in her neighbors yard, the woman was raped and beaten to death with the arm of a wooden lawn chair. 

            In the fall of 1987 a seventeen year old girl was working alone in the Highs Store at the Wilde Lake Village Green in Columbia, Maryland.  A young man she knew well came into the store to commit a robbery.  But she was unaware that hed been receiving instructions from a prison inmate telling him how to avoid arrest for his crimeleave no living witnesses.  He pulled a heavy bladed knife from under his jacket, and chased her about the store until he cornered her in a back room.  He began slashing at her with the knife and, as would be expected, she tried to ward off the attack with her hands.  Her hands, arms and wrists were slashed repeatedly until she finally fell to the floor.  While she lay bleeding on the floor he stabbed the knife deeply into her abdomen, ripped across and down, disemboweling her.  He then went to the front of the store where he waited on customers as she lay dead only 30 feet away.

            We hear of a mother who kills her baby by stuffing the infant in a microwave and turning it on.  And a year ago in Virginia, a husband and wife, along with their children, were murdered during a home invasion robbery.  And, almost everyday we hear of murders taking place near and far.  Gunmen open fire in a shopping center, or children are killed in schools, and workers are slain by disgruntled employees.  Hostages are killed during a botched robbery, or a parent kills their children in order to strike back at a spouse over a pending divorce.  The list goes on and on.    

Go back to September 8, 1992, and the carjacking murder of Doctor Pam Basu in Howard County.  Doctor Basu was accosted at a Stop Sign by Rodney Eugene Solomon and Bernard Eric Miller, savagely punched and kicked, and dragged from her car.  While being pulled from her car, her left arm became entangled in her seatbelt.  Solomon and Miller jumped into her car and began driving away.  Yet Pam Basu wasnt concerned for own welfare, but that of her 22-month-old daughter, Sarina, who was in the car.  She cried out, My baby!  My baby, as the car pulled away from the Stop Sign.  And, it isnt that Solomon and Miller didnt know there was a child in the car.  Only moments earlier they had walked by the Basu residence and saw Pam placing Sarina in the car.  They laid in wait for her at the Stop Sign, pulled her from the car, and sped away with her child inside and Doctor Basu trapped beside the vehicle in the seatbelt.  When they reached Gorman Road they stopped the car, ripped the car seat out and threw it and Sarina on the side of the road.  They again drove off, dragging Pam Basu beside the car and before they finally stopped and removed her dead body from the car, they had dragged her for 1.7 miles.  At the trial of Bernard Eric Miller when a witness to the crime described in vivid detail the body being dragged beside the car, Miller looked over his shoulder at friends seated in the courtroom and smiled.

        If you look at the few murders described here, youll not find even the smallest degree of mercy or sympathy for the victims, regardless of whether they were members of the criminal element, or law-abiding citizens.  Each met with death in a violent, heartless manner.  Each and every one of these victims suffered from the pain inflicted upon them.  The pain they endured was far greater than death by lethal injection.  Lethal injection is no different than humanely destroying a beloved pet by the same method.  The person, like the pet, lapses into a deep sleep and, as the drugs continue to surge through the body, the body shuts down until the heart and breathing stops, and all bodily functions cease.  Its far more humane than being beaten to death with the arm of a wooden lawn chair, or slashed and hacked to death with a knife.  Lethal injection is certainly far more merciful than being dragged to death, or suffocated with duct tape.  Yet, those who oppose the death penalty would have us believe that the persons responsible for these cold, calculated acts of violence are the ones that are really the victims.  They showed no mercy, and in many cases, these killers showed no remorse for the violent act theyd committed.  But the courts are expected to show compassion, because of the possibility that the damned soul might feel some pain and discomfort when put to death by lethal injection.  I believe they should receive exactly the same consideration shown to their victim. 

            Our Governor Martin OMalley staunchly cries that the death penalty isnt a deterrent to crime.  Well, it sure deters one person from ever committing a crime again, and it eliminates one more burden from the taxpayer.

             There are those who argue that even the most violent of offenders can be reformed and/or rehabilitated and turned back into society.  This is absolute insanity to believe these people can be changed to such a degree that they will be able to function normally in society.  Time and again, violent predators have been released from prison, over the objections of prosecutors and doctors, only to kill again within days or weeks of their release.   

            Of course, there are those who scream that the death penalty is a violation of Gods law and Gods wishes.  To those I say, youd better go back and read your Bible a little more carefully.  Certain parts of the Bible, Genesis for one, clearly shows that people who anger God also suffer Gods wrath.  Plainly translatedanger the Big Guy and Hes going to strike you dead, and he employed His own version of the death penalty on more than one occasion.  Remember, He turned Lots wife to a pillar of salt for merely looking over her shoulder after she was instructed not to look back.  Certainly this makes any argument that God opposes utilization of the death penalty moot. 

            Still, I will also admit that not everybody who takes a life deserves to face capital punishment for their act.  The taking of every life is not a cold, premeditated act, and therefore the person taking the life shouldnt face the death penalty.  A life can be taken accidentally, in self-defense, or by means other than a calculated crime of violence.  But, those who kill without remorse, those who seek to inflict as much pain as possible on their victim, or kill without fear of reprisal for their actions, should face the ultimate penalty.   Bluntlyand most are afraid to say itsome people just dont deserve to live. 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James H. Lilley is a former Marine and Police Sergeant with the Howard County Police Department (Maryland). He worked in the Uniformed Patrol Division, Criminal Investigations Division, Forensic Services (CSI) and Drug Enforcement Division. His Street Drug Unit was featured in the book "Undercover" by Hans Halberstadt and published by Simon and Schuster. Some of his awards include The Medal of Valor, Four Bronze Stars, Four Unit Citations and the Governor's Citation. He is also an 8th Degree Black Belt in Shorin Ryu Karate and the first American to be promoted to the rank of Black Belt by Mr. Takeshi Miyagi. James Lilley is the author of six books: A Question of Honor; The Eyes of the Hunter; The Far Side of the Bridge; Just Retribution; A Miracle for Tony Clements; and, Death Knocks Twice.

 

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