There’s a really powerful comment on the use of the death penalty that’s just appeared on Quora.
The comment is by Quora user Rick Bruno, who describes himself as “Retired cop, marathoner, husband/father/grandfather, wonderer”.
Warning – Graphic Content
Many years ago, when I was still early in my career as a police officer, I attended a training class that was taught by the FBI. The class was about forensics, and about what the state of the art was at that time. Everyone in the class was a police officer with evidence technician responsibilities.
The instructor showed us slides of a multiple homicide, and I have never forgotten those pictures.
It bothers me to relate this, but you need to know the depth of my feeling if you want my opinion.
Here was what happened. A grandfather had made plans to take his daughter and her two children to the zoo. He arrived at their house to pick them up, but the daughter (mom) was still getting ready. So grandpa waited in the living room with the oldest child (a girl of about 7) while the baby (about 18 months) slept in her crib and mom finished getting ready in the washroom.
The father/son/husband of the family found this scene upon his return home from work that afternoon.
At some point a stranger with a machete forced his way into the residence and immediately killed the grandfather. The seven year old was next, she was decapitated. The mother heard the screams, and came running out of the washroom and saw a scene from Hell. He then savagely raped her, and then disemboweled her with the machete. There were blood stains in the baby’s crib, but the baby was missing. There was an electric blender in the kitchen with blood and gore in it. The baby’s body parts were found the next day, partially cannibalized. She had been dumped at a roadside a few miles from her home.
The instructor calmly walked us through the slides, showing the splintered front door jamb, pointing out blood splatter patterns, showing the wounds sustained by the victims, describing defensive wounds on the grandfather and the mother’s hands. Bloody footwear impressions, assorted makeup in the washroom that mom had been applying to herself before she was distracted, toys, baby bottles, a diaper bag ready to go.
You could have heard a pin drop in that classroom. We sat there in the dark, listening to this matter-of-fact lecture, and I wondered if anyone else was experiencing the same rage as I felt building up inside me.
After a while, the instructor asked if there were any questions. Someone asked if the murderer had been caught, as this case was a few years old at the time. The instructor told us the father/husband/son was quickly dismissed as a suspect. Local law enforcement developed a lead and a man who lived a couple blocks away from this family had been arrested a day or two after the crime. The suspect hung himself in his cell before his trial began.
As I said, it still bothers me to relive the slides I saw that day. I have been to many homicide scenes in my career, many accidental deaths involving children. This case was always a yardstick in my opinion of the death penalty.
As a young police officer, this was my first exposure to pure evil. I knew people could be bad to each other, I was not that naive. But I could not help putting my own family into that family’s situation, and seeing their faces. I honestly do not know how the father was able to go on with his life after this. Or if he did.
I hated that monster with every fiber of my being. I still do. I would have volunteered to kill him after his trial. If anyone deserved to die for their crimes, it was this beast.
And so, years went by. The job and life and wisdom and faith too, all changed me. I saw flaws in the system I was sworn to uphold. I saw judges who knew less about the law than a rolled up newspaper. Corrupt judges, inept police officers, dishonest attorneys, mistakes at every level.
One of my law professors told me, “A courtroom is the last place in the world where you will find the truth.” I believe him.
And so, no. The death penalty should not be a part of any criminal justice system. There are too many possibilities that we could screw up justice.
There is real evil in the world. Believe it. But we should not fight it with evil.
It is a sad thing that a Buddhist king, Ashoka, was the first major ruler in history to abolish the death penalty, over 2000 years ago, and yet in the majority of so-called Buddhist countries today the death penalty still exists. It is, however, applied rarely in most Buddhist countries, so surely it can’t be that hard to take the next step and get rid of it altogether.