I was shuffling through one of my many boxes of “stuff” a few days ago (looking for my passport, which I successfully located) when I ran across a bevy of old writings.
Short stories and other creative writing I authored in junior high, poems, position pieces, and those “papers” we all had to do in junior high and high school.
One such handwritten paper was on my opposition to the death penalty. It was written in 1988.
Growing up, I fiercely opposed putting prisoners to death. Re-reading this paper, I was reminded why, at the time, I had such ardent resistance to it. Killing our prisoners, I reasoned, put us in some pretty awful company around the world. The vast majority of countries do not practice the death penalty on its prisoners. And, if we were to lead by example, we shouldn’t either.
In high school and college, I supported the efforts of Amnesty International, writing letters to foreign countries. I did then and still believe in the work that group does to shine a light on international countries that do not share our beliefs in human rights.
Groups like the Innocence Project, too, have put the spotlight directly on our justice system, helping free at least 18 people from Death Row since 1992. People that were wrongly convicted. This, too, back in 1988 was a concern outlined in my paper.
Over the years, though, it has been harder and harder to support a 100 percent, no death penalty stance.
Then, there was Pamela Butler in 1999. The sweet little girl rollerblading her way through the neighborhood, innocently enjoying her childhood when a monster named Keith Nelson took that away.
Nelson was convicted and sentenced to death for her rape and murder. Of course, he still sits on federal Death Row, where he has been since 2002. He’s been awaiting his execution longer than Pamela Butler had on this earth.
There is just something patently wrong with that.
Now, 15 years later, we have an eerily similar case with a girl the same age and in a circumstance that is just too awful to fathom.
Hailey Owens lost her life this week, likely at the hands of another monster, Craig Michael Wood.
In 1988 I couldn’t imagine strapping these two to a chair in our old gas chamber and flipping the switch to initiate the toxic fumes.
After following the Butler story and driving to the church field where she was murdered in 1999, I was so disgusted I think my views even then started to change.
Now with a daughter by my side, and reading the report on Wood and his alleged acts against a little girl, I can’t find my way to letting him live. I just simply cannot.
Much consternation around the death penalty filters from the amount of time it takes (see Nelson) to actually exact the justice.
The hosts of a local radio talk show, “Dana and Parks” on 98.1 KMBZ have coined the phrase, “If we know, you go” when referring to death penalty cases, a nod to some sort of compromise on cases where we do not have iron-clad proof of the killer. Otherwise, in their view, inject them and get it over with.
Anymore, I really don’t care if a Keith Nelson or, if he’s guilty, Craig Michael Wood can be rehabilitated or ever contribute something to society.
I don’t want to sound cold or heartless, but in these types of cases, 2014 John just cannot agree with 1988 John.
The deaths of Pamela Butler and Hailey Owens were just too painful to think otherwise.
John Beaudoin is the publisher of the Lees Summit Journal. To comment, call 816-282-7001 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.