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Whither capital punishment?

In December of 1989, a man named Joseph L. Druce was convicted of first-degree murder “by reason of extreme atrocity and cruelty.” While hitchhiking, Druce was picked up by one George Rollo, a 51-year-old gay man. After allegedly being touched by Rollo, Druce bound and gagged him, threw him into the trunk, drove him to an empty parking lot, where he strangled him to death. Druce was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Father John Geoghan was one of numerous Roman Catholic priests who was at the center of the “pedophile priest” scandal that rocked the American Catholic Church. In January 2002, he was convicted of groping a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool and sentenced to 9 to 10 years in prison. Further charges were pending.

In 2001 Druce, who had by this point joined the white-supremacist organization Aryan Nation, was convicted of attempting to start an anthrax scare by sending envelopes filled with white powder and covered with swastikas to about 30 Jewish lawyers across the country. He also mailed his own feces to the Massachusetts attorney general.

On August 23, 2003, Druce followed Geoghan into his cell. He took a book and jammed the door shut. The book had originally been too thick to jam the door, so Druce had carefully torn out pages until it fit to prevent the door from opening. Druce then tied Geoghan’s hands behind his back with a sheet and gagged him. Then, while guards tried to pry open the jammed door, he repeatedly jumped off the bed onto Geoghan and beat him severely with his fists. After the guards finally opened the cell, Geoghan was rushed to the prison infirmary, but he died.

(Aside: Geoghan had yet to be tried for his many other alleged instances of molestation. Because of that, and that he was appealing his one conviction at the time of his death, Geoghan was buried with a clean record. His numerous victims now get to live with the knowledge that the crimes they suffered will never be formally accounted for.)

Druce has been indicted on charges of first-degree murder. He is currently awaiting trial.

Were I the prosecutor in Massachusetts, I wouldn’t bother to indict Druce. I would announce loudly and often that Druce would remain unindicted unless it appeared he might be getting out of jail. I would tell the people that he’s already serving life without parole; the only thing trying Druce would achieve would be to give him free trips to and from court; it would be a waste of everyone’s time and money to try him for this murder.

Until Massachusetts enacts a death penalty, Druce and every other prisoner serving “life without possibility of parole” are completely free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, without fear of serious consequences. After all, as the song says, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Druce has carried out terrorist threats through the mail. He has harassed public officials. And now he has committed cold-blooded, calculated murder. And all this he did while undergoing “the ultimate sanction” the state of Massachusetts imposes.

(Author’s note: I don’t live in Massachusetts. I’m a lifelong New Hampshirite, a state that has the death penalty but hasn’t carried it out since 1939. However, we in southern NH fall under the “Greater Boston” media area, so we get more than our fair share of Mass news.)

Jay Tea


Comments (7)

Jay, I too am a New Hampshi... (Below threshold)
Rob:

Jay, I too am a New Hampshirite (18 years) but I view things slightly differently. Druce’s recent activity should be seen as a reflection of the Massachusetts penal system and not, as you suggest, as an example that prisoners are “completely free to do whatever they want…” which is a bizarre claim if you know anything about modern prisons. And while trying Druce for this latest murder might appear to be a waste of time and money, a public trial might also help to expose security flaws within the prison and instigate a reform for those inadequacies. It also seems hypocritical to sympathize with the victims of Geoghan who “now get to live with the knowledge that the crimes they suffered will never be formally accounted for,” but at the same time overlook the family and friends of Geoghan himself, who would suffer that same knowledge were a trial never held.
I’ll admit that I do not support the death penalty. But that belief has more to do with my faith than anything else. St. Paul who wrote most of the books of the New Testament was also once Saul of Tarsus, who tortured and killed innocent babies, women and men – anybody who professed to be Christian. Valmiki, the Hindu saint who revealed the Ramayana to the world, was a highway robber, drunkard and killer. And Milarepa, one of the greatest Tibetan gurus, was a sorcerer who killed 37 people before his spiritual transformation.
My point is that we have inherited stories about the spiritual transformations of thieves, pimps, whores and murderers. Do we believe them or not? Was it only possible in ancient times to turn one’s life towards good? Janis Joplin may have been right, but I prefer Albert Camus who said “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” Or in keeping with famous musicians, “You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.”

Rob, I mean free as in "abl... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Rob, I mean free as in "able to do whatever he wishes without fear of consequences." He killed, he got the ultimate sanction, and since then he's terrorized more innocents and killed again. There is literally nothing more the state can do to him should he kill a third time. Or a fourth.

Rob, I respect your faith and your beliefs. I'm just not willing to risk any more lives on this walking piece of scum who's already deliberately killed twice already, and has absolutely no reason to not kill again. Next time it could be a guard. And now that he's shown that there are no other consequences, it's just a matter of time before some other lifer decides to kill someone they don't like.
I'm reminded of the scene in "To Kill A Mockingbird" when someone comes running in and announces there's a mad dog in the neighborhood. Atticus Finch doesn't negotiate with the dog, doesn't want to treat or save the dog. It's beyond saving. He calmly and resolutely kills the dog. He doesn't do it out of hatred, out of vengeance, out of malice. It needed to be done, and he did it. That's what Druce needs. He's a mad dog who's killed twice, and shows no signs of stopping.

J.

Jay, I have to say that you... (Below threshold)
Rob:

Jay, I have to say that your definition of "free" still doesn't take into account that prisons have a lengthy set of sticks and carrots or that there are MANY "consequences" (feared by most) that prison officials have at their disposal. Your concept of the penal system is extremely uninformed if you think one can murder at will and nothing will happen. You also state that you're "not willing to risk any more lives" (presumably because life holds value) but then you call for the taking of Druce's. I too respect your beliefs, but don’t you see this as even a small contradiction? I realize of course, that ultimately you mean “innocent” lives, but Geoghan wouldn’t appear to fit that classification. When you mention that a prison guard may be next, you fail to remember that guards are usually in danger from EVERY prisoner. I know you're not suggesting we execute everyone in prison but this kind of point would seem to suggest it. I also have to say that To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful novel, but I don’t think Harper Lee would be comfortable with your comparison of a rabid dog to a convict, especially considering the other themes and symbols of the story. Assertions like these, and a tendency to want to objectify, patronize, hate and/or blame our problems on an individual or group of people, may be typical of mainstream society but that doesn't make it correct. In the big picture, criminals are an easy target. And nobody is going to say that we have to love them. It's not even uncommon to say we want to kill them. We assign them deficient qualities like evil, we use words like “animal”, “scumbag”, and “lowlife” to describe them, and then we blame our fears, our economic problem, and our children's unhappiness on them. All of these things make it easier for us to forget what’s important. It let’s us off the hook, really, so that when someone does something as horrible as Druce, we don’t have to struggle with the real spiritual challenge that we should see the spark of divine in that little son of a bitch. I’m certainly not suggesting that we let him loose. We all need to take responsibility for what we have done to bring suffering to others and to ourselves. But like I said before, this appears to be a problem with the Massachusetts prison system rather than the judiciary. I respectfully disagree with you that this man (who neither of us has presumably met nor spoken to) should be killed – regardless of how safe or good it may make us feel. As Atticus Finch himself said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Rob, I'll defer to you on t... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Rob, I'll defer to you on the abstract and spiritual aspects. I'll stick to the concrete.

I'm quite comfortable with calling Druce terms such as "evil," "animal," "scumbag," and "lowlife." I'm also comfortable with going beyond what you said. You said "when someone does something as horrible as Druce." I'll take it to "when someone IS as evil as Druce IS."

There is nothing -- NOTHING -- of substance that the state can do to Druce to punish him for his calculated murder. By extension, there is nothing the state can do to punish anyone serving life without parole who kills. Any list of sanctions you could compose would simply be fodder for an ACLU lawsuit under the "cruel and unusual" punishment. With no punishment over their heads, there is no deterrent to these inmates to behave themselves.

You're hoping that Druce can be redeemed, despite all his history, and want to offer him (and by extension, others like him) a chance to save themselves. I agree that is possible, and would be wonderful. But while the race does not always go to the swift and the battle to the strong, that's the way to bet. He killed once. He terrorized. He joined hate groups. Then he killed again. Quite frankly, I'm not willing to risk a third life while hoping for the best for him. He's had numerous chances to "get right with Jesus," or whatever higher power, and he would have many more before he was executed. But I'm tired of measuring the road to his redemption in six-foot-deep graves.

J.

(also, Rob: could you possibly break up your postings in to paragraphs? That one long, skinny column of word after word after word is difficult to parse. I eventually cut and pasted it into a wider format to follow it more easily.)

Jay,Sorry about th... (Below threshold)
Rob:

Jay,

Sorry about the formatting. I'm also sorry if I sounded preachy. That wasn't my intention.

You're entitled to want this man dead. It's an opinion and it's yours. But I still think your looking at the wrong problem - which objectivity would suggest was a failure of the prison system and its officials. If you go camping and leave food out everywhere, and then a bear comes and eats it, do you blame the bear?

I still believe that your understanding of prison is uninformed, and you really haven't offered anything to make me believe otherwise. Have you ever read a book on prison reform? Have you ever spoken to a warden or a prison guard? How about an ex-convict who has served hard time? Can you honestly say there is NO deterrent to make these types of inmates behave?

The threat of an ACLU lawsuit is a lousy reason (or rationalization) for executing someone. So is the "risk" you keep referring to. And I'm not sure what you mean by the swift and the strong, but a "bet" seems inappropriate when we're talking about human life - even an "evil" one.

What it comes down to is this: You are judging a man, whom you know NOTHING about, other than what you read (in a local paper? online?), who killed someone under circumstances you know NOTHING about, in a place you know NOTHING about. That may make for an easy blogpost, but it shows a real deficiency in critical thinking.

I'm not going to cry if this man loses his life, but I'm also not going to cheer.

Wow, Rob, you gave a lot of... (Below threshold)

Wow, Rob, you gave a lot of meat to pick apart, but I'm pressed for time right now, so I'll only address one point, and that's about leaving the food around for the bear to eat, and not blaming the bear.

We're talking about a human here, who is supposed to be able to think critically and obey our laws. Sorry, your analogy sounds like a lot of the apologists who never want anyone to take the blame for anything, except for rich white males...especially if they're Republicans (or is that redundant? I mean if Clinton was our first black President, and if Kerry got elected, he'd be our second...)

Jalal, I think you... (Below threshold)
Rob:

Jalal,

I think you missed the point of my analogy. I’m not saying no one is to blame – though blame is seldom very useful. I’m saying the camper is to blame because he didn’t secure his food and should have known that a bear would go after it. It would be silly to shoot the bear without looking at the bigger picture.

Yes, Druce is a human, but he’s already proven that he doesn’t obey the law and he doesn’t think rationally, so you don’t operate a prison with the opposite assumption.

My understanding of apologetics is limited, but I’d like to point out that I am in no way defending Christianity or its tenets. On the other hand, backing up your belief system with intellectual argument seems a like a good thing to me.




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