Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sentenced to Die

Michael Anthony Morales narrowly averted death yesterday as the courts, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the public at large wrestle yet again with the ramifications, constitutional and otherwise, of the death penalty. The family of Terri Lynn Winchell, who Morales tortured, raped and murdered has been waiting for justice for 25 years. Those opposed to the death penalty have been actively protesting – again - citing the standard array of rationale for opposition; and those in support – likewise. This would have been the third execution in California in as many months. For the moment at least, it will have to wait.

My purpose here is not to come out for or against the death sentence, although I do have an opinion and it will be revealed. My angle, rather, is to examine what this ongoing debate is doing to us. The victim’s family is going through nothing that I could even begin to conceive. The press is swarming and the state is reeling. Morales? He’s still locked up and will never see the light of day. His life has been at least temporarily spared. But what about the rest of us?

Questions regarding morality, constitutionality and deterrence abound. A society that values both liberty and security is seemingly at odds when it comes to appropriate punishment in regards to violent offenders and the rights granted to them under our system of laws. We want justice - no question about it, but how to exact it remains one of a few passionately debated topics of the political, social and moral landscape today. A hot button issue to be sure.

And so the beat goes on. Every time a condemned murderer’s number comes up, the furor reignites. The arguments change little. The proponents argue that capital punishment represents justice, a deterrent and security. Opponents remain steadfast that it is not any more a deterrent and grants just as much security as life without parole and that killing a murderer is tantamount to “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Proponents claim that death in the humane fashion of the execution is better than the victim was granted. Those opposed claim that execution represents “cruel or unusual punishment.” Not much has changed of late.

In this particular case, the execution has been delayed due to the possibility raised by the defendant's attorneys and decided by the courts that the current method of lethal injection represents a potential violation of the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Yet the delays, the uncertainty and the legal wrangling must surely be cruel in their own right. Morales was minutes away from his execution twice yesterday. In my mind, simply knowing the time, place and manner of my death, never mind the uncertainty of a last minute appeal would meet the criteria set down by the Eighth Amendment.

Then there is the family of the murdered teen. What have they done to be worthy of the same anguish? Some have argued that the finality of a sentence such as life without parole would be the closure a family needs to put this behind them. How arrogant! Who can claim to be able to speak for those who have lost a loved one to a hideous murderer such as Morales? Even those that have had like experiences have differing views on what closure looks like, if at all possible. And not all victims are pro capital punishment. In this case, there is no question as to Morales’ guilt; the law allows the penalty of death and Morales has earned this judgment in a fair trial. Yet opponents to the death penalty have been able to use Morales as a legal guinea pig to delay the adjudicated outcome for over 20 years.

Here’s where I come down on this issue. I am opposed to the capital punishment, as it stands, not because of moralistic issues, not over concerns of guilt or innocence (in this case at least) and not because of potential Eighth Amendment violations. I can’t know if it represents closure for the families, (although this legal foot-dragging certainly is extending their pain), I can’t say if the possibility of death prevents murders and I doubt that killing killers makes us any more secure. I am opposed to it because every time the day approaches that one of these monsters is scheduled to meet his maker, we go through this all over again.

I don’t care if lethal injection is cruel or unusual. It is certainly more humane than he deserves. I don’t care if Morales is put to death or not. Either way his life is and has been over. What I care about is that this process takes years and years and years and when, finally, it looks like the end is near, one more “newsworthy” delay occurs and we get to do it all over again. To those that think Morales got off, that he got himself a lucky break because he gets to live another day – well, I don’t call that living. To those that think the country is somehow a better place because the moral high road prevailed, ask Winchell’s family what they think about that. I’ll tell you what I think: Do it or don’t. Kill him or lock him up forever. I don’t care how and I don’t care if it hurts for a few seconds. Finish it and be done.


Lee Ann said...

This is a controvesial subject.
I think a criminal of that caliber should not be allowed out of the prison system. I also don't like the idea of supporting him for the rest of his life (however, we most likely would be doing that if he were out of the prison system).
I think people would feel differently if these crimes were committed against one of their own loved ones.
I have to be honest, in that light, I most likely would want the death penalty.

Sadie Lou said...

I don't know how I feel about the death penalty. It's pretty complex. I believe that if I lost a loved one to the hands of a monster, I would want to have justice. However, God says "Justice is mine".
I guess I would have to assume that sending a criminal home to meet his maker sounds like human justice--I can't say that I would want to be responsible for a man being put to death--but would I be responsible? Wasn't it the crime that put that man in prison, facing the death penalty, anyways? Isn't he responsible for the outcome?
Since he commited the crime in spite of our laws--shouldn't he reap the cost?
I feel sorry for the family of the victim having to be yanked around, emotionally, like this.
lee ann makes a good point as well--should us, the tax payers, support this man for the rest of his natural life?

Bar L. said...

Mike, this is so well stated. You covered every possible angle.

I am very passionate about this particular case and am trying to constrain myself but the bottom line is, execute him as soon as possible - like 19 years ago!

How DARE someone sugest that lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment toward this man. Terri Winchel was BRUTALLY raped and murdered.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

Ellen said...

Great post, as always! I am also impressed at how well you laid it out.

That said.....
I am a believer in the death penalty, and feel that humans have to dictate a higher moral standard against these animals that randomly kill, torture and rape.
I find these people no higher on the animal scale than a rabid dog... and we wouldn't think twice about taking it out.

I also think that it is a deterrent to consequences if more people had to answer to their crimes. This whole system has gotten too far out of whack with lawyers conspiring to find silly loopholes in order to prolong the lives of their miserable clients. Why do the victims rights fall to the bottom of the barrel, while we squander over the politically correct thing to do. I am not trying to be arrogant to think that I would know what everybody finds as justice; rather, it's how I would feel if I were a family member of a victim.

Yeah, we could put them in jail and throw away the keys. Maybe that in itself seems like "no life", but I don't believe that for one second. Their victims have no life; the criminals will still live, and with benefits aplenty... and we will be footing the cost. They don't deserve my tax dollars.

Maybe jail is horrendous and a life sentence is rough. Well why not, look at the caliber of people who are there. If we were to execute the ones who gave up their rights as a decent citizens, and held these murderers to account for their actions, I'd venture to say that more people would think twice before embarking on a life of
senseless killing... and more jails would not be so over-crowded.

I agree with barbara... Morales should have been executed a long time ago, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

just my .02....

Michael K. Althouse said...

lee ann~ If it were my loved one murdered, I would want the killer killed not only as soon as possible, but as painfully as possible. As a matter of fact, i'd like to do it myself.

The broader point you brought is about supporting him for the rest of his life. The way it works now, it takes so long to get the the death chamber, we already have supported him for most of it. That is to say nothing of the legal costs every capital case incurrs. It is a broken system. Again, I say do it or don't - quit jerking us around.

sadie lou ~ I agree, by committing the crime, the murderer seals his own fate. I do not feel any responsibility as a member of society that he gets his just rewards.

bar bar a ~ I think that this last delay is a travesty. Even if he is conscious and suffers, we would neber know it - he ain't gonna come back and tell us. Someone said something on the radio today that is as funny as it is brilliant: Give him an overdose of heroin. He would feel nothing and it would show kids what heroin can do!

Michael K. Althouse said...

ellen ~ I agree all the way, and I don't care about the murderers feelings - mental or physical. I just think that, in addition to the family losing a loved one to the hands of these animals, the system that deals with them also forces the family through years of agony waiting for justice. And it's not just them, this can of worms gets opened up every time an execution draws near.

The only real issue I have with capital punishment is the potential of killing an innocent man. That IS NOT the case with Morales. However, if there were no death panalty - this case would have been closed years ago. Like I have said, do it or don't - I'm sick of the suspense.

neal said...

I think the whole situation has put a serious burden on, not only the California Correctional Facilities but, the entire corrections system of every state that uses lethal injection as a means of execution.

For one thing they want to know if the intended inmate feels any pain while dying. Unless they hook him up to an EEG and monitor his brainwaves they will never know. Then again who knows if anyone feels any pain at their own moment of death?

I think the whole appeals process takes way too long. It should be speedy and at the same time comprehensive. To wait decades before you find out if someone will or will not be executed is more than I would want to face if I was a family member of a murder victim wanting justice.

I think he should be taken to the prison courtyard and shot by firing squad. Ten men with rifles, with 3 live rounds. No one knows who has the live rounds and they all aim for the head. That is about as quick and painless as anything else and far kinder than what he showed his victim.

blair said...

Great post! I am not certain where I stand on the death penalty. In this case, I think it is warranted! I agree that all this pussyfooting around, back and forth, is putting the family through more pain. Not sure if I care whether the Murderer is suffering, ok I don't. He is scum of the earth and should be flushed away quickly.

X said...

First, I think lethal injection is more humane than previous methods of the death penalty such as the electric chair. I guess one can argue that methods such as hanging or beheading were quick and painless, so the LI falls somewhere in between.

As for where I stand, I think it should be determinded on a case-by-case basis. There have been people who were found guilty for crimes where the jury has had reasonable doubt, or the case itself wasn't presented in a solid way...therefore resulting in a false conviction.

Yes, most that are sentance to death have been successfully (and properly) been proved guilty, but what if a mistake has been made? There have been cases where innocent people have been put to death.

K, this is going to turn into a post if I don't watch myself, so I will say good post and leave this at comment length :)

Saur♥Kraut said...

I agree with you. I would just add that the death penalty WOULD be effective if there was a swift justice meted out afterwards. You're allowed so much time to appeal, or so many appeals, and after that, the needle.

Jamie Dawn said...

I support the death penalty, because I feel that heinous criminals gave up their rights to be treated like the rest of us when they showed no regard for another human's life. I value life very much, but I feel that these people give up their right to live when they take another's life away.
I also get very annoyed that some people are so concerned about the feelings of the criminals. We are not talking small crimes here, but horrific murders.
Why should I care if their death isn't instant or pain free? I've had many surgeries, and when they knock you out, there's no pain from that point on.
If we want to be assured of instant death and no pain, we need to have them simultaneously shot in the head by three guns. That would do it.
I agree that this whole ado is a circus. I hate that it takes so long for justice to be served, and when the times comes for it, pleas are made on behalf of the killer.
Life without parole is okay by me too, since I have not lost a close loved one to such a hideous murder. If I had, I would not be okay with life in prison for the offender.
Also, when horrible criminals go to prison, I never want to hear about them again, unless it is a report that they died. They should never ever receive any media attention of any kind again.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

I was here before and really could not comment....I have strong feelings about the death penalty and they revolve around "Thou Shalt Not Kill"...(two wrongs do not make a right, no matter what!) And...MOST important....What if someone is innocent? I say no more.

Unknown said...

I don't believe in Capitol Punishment because the blood of the person who injects the needle, or pushes the plunger, or flicks the switch is still on their hands, and they have to deal with that karma. I don't believe it's right to take another human's life.

Having said that, and having had an uncle murdered point blank at the age of 24 while working in his father's liquor store, I TOTALLY understand how others could and do believe in Capital Punishment. I totally understand why my Aunt would want her husband's killer to get the death penalty (he didn't, btw, and murdered again when he was paroled).

Murders and rapists should NEVER be paroled. That's ridiculous.

This is a very touchy subject, and, as you say, it is a shame that the victims' families have to go through so much drama over and over again.

This was a very well written post--it was informative and smart. Not one sided. I like that kind of 'reporting' on this type of subject. :)