Reading the reports from Boise Idaho whilst the jury deliberate on the fate of convicted paedophile and child murderer Joseph Duncan III, I suspect that most of us, were we to find ourselves on that jury would find it hard not to vote for his execution. The details of the crime are truly horrific. Having bludgeoned their mother, prospective step father and 13 year elder brother to death, Duncan kidnapped two young children and subjected them to weeks of torture and sexual abuse, culminating in the torture and murder of the 9 year old boy in front if his eight year old sister.
The court were left in little doubt of Duncan's guilt, as he had filmed much of the abuse, including scenes of extreme violence where he had screamed at his young victims that he was the devil and that he enjoyed seeing little children suffer.
As the film was played to the weeping jury who are charges with deciding whether he should die, or spend the rest of his life in prison, I suspect that there is little doubt as to what their final verdict will be. However, irrespective of the actual outcome, it is hard to imagine what possible benefit society will gain from keeping someone like Joseph Duncan alive any longer that it takes to ensure that he is made fully aware that he is going to die and that he is going to Hell.
Of course, many would argue Joseph Duncan III is not the example one should consider when judging the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, for he is a man who is unquestionably guilty, and self evidently evil. In the wider context, only a minority of killers fit the monster costume quite so snugly.
There are many reasons why people kill, none are forgivable, but not all killers are as irredeemably damned as Joseph Duncan.
I have long been ambivalent as to the rights and wrongs of the death penalty, not only for the reasons most often given in its opposition, namely the fact that innocent people have been convicted and indeed executed.
but also, because I doubt it's effectiveness as a deterrent. Certainly from my own point of view, were I to be convicted of murder I would consider death only slightly less attractive than spending the rest of my life in prison.
I speak there as a woman, but, were I a man, and looking at the type of existence I would face in a male prison, especially in America , I have little doubt that death would seem a far kinder option.
Another argument against the death penalty is that it is one of those decisions which should never be left to a politician or made for crowd pleasing reasons. America has the death penalty today because of politicians who pandered to public opinion and many believe that if the British public had their way the hangman would be back in business.
However, who would they hang?
Consider for a moment the opinion much of the British public have of Maxine Carr, a woman, in fact guilty only of giving the man she loved, and wrongly believed innocent, a false alibi. However, in the mind of the many, unable to see beyond the image of the two children her lover killed, Carr has become a monster often spoken of in the same breath as Rose West and Myra Hindley. Were her fate to be left to the Madame Defarges in the public galery it would not be a happy one.
Maxine Carer killed nobody, but what of others who did? Should public opinion have been allowed to decide the fate of the children who tortured and murdered the Liverpool toddler Jamie Bulger? How many could step back from the horror of that killing and see the killers for what they were, two ten year old boys, evil and demonic ten year old boys but ten year old boys all the same.
As the killers, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, were taken to court crowds attacked the police vans, and one has to wonder what would have happened had the mob got their hands on those children.
Politics, race and news management play a large part in how we view criminals, it is claimed that in the past black people were likely to be punished more severely for their crimes to placate public opinion. If that is so, then one must condemn it for no life should be taken to satisfy a prejudice. However, one only has to look at the yelling politically motivated crowds mobbing the courts in Philadelphia where three white boys are accused of killing a Hispanic paedophile (whom the US press refuse to call a paedophile on account of his race) or those who picketed North Carolina's Duke University after false rape claims were made against three Lacrosse players in 2006, to know that racist mob justice comes in many shades in the 21st Century.
As society, we must never allow the law of the mob to decide what is justice.
Thou shalt not kill states the commandment and we can not change that by pretending it said “Thou shall not commit murder”. Death is final, and once a man has been executed he can not be brought back to life, mistakes can not be put right.
However, for all my good intentions and all my right sounding words, I look at the picture of Joseph Duncan and that of the 9 year old boy he hung by the neck, whilst beating him with a belt, before “accidentally” eviscerating him, then shooting him in the head and burning his battered little body in front of the child's younger sister, and find it hard to believe a civilised society could keep such a creature alive.
In Britain, Zeeshan Shahid, Imran Shahid and Mohammed Mushtaq, the men who kidnapped and tortured 14 year Kriss Donald before setting him on fire whilst he was still alive remain in prison, fed, clothed and sheltered by the tax payers, still able to see and touch family members in a way that Kriss's mother can not see or touch the son they stole from her. What benefit does society gain from the many thousands already spent, and many more still to be spent in keeping them alive?
If the Tennessee eventually summon up the courage to try those accused of the rape, torture and murder of Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian and if they are found to have done what they are alleged to have done to those two young people, would it be justice to let them live?
I can ask myself these questions in the face of my fine words, but can only answer, I don't know.
Update: I have added a poll in the right hand column of the blog where people can express their views on the death penalty