Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Suicide by Execution

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist 

While doing research for a writing project, I found some information on capital punishment that bears repeating here.  The big pro-capital punishment argument is that it deters people from murdering other people.   If that was the case, it looks as though murders would be fewer in states with capital punishment, but that phenomenon has not occurred.  In fact, there are some instances where the knowledge that one would be put to death for murder has apparently inspired a murder.

The state of Oklahoma is very fond of executions, and in fact, it is third in the nation behind only Texas and Virginia, in modern day executions.  (The Supreme Court decision in the case of Furman v Georgia caused a national moratorium on executions for several years during the 1970's.) 

Two Oklahoma inmates took advantage of capital punishment in order to end their life sentences early. The first was James Donald French who was executed in the state's electric chair, "Old Sparky," at the McAlester State Penitentiary in August of 1966.  French, a twenty-nine-year-old married father of five,  was serving a life sentence for kidnapping and killing a man who had picked him up while he was hitchhiking.  The story goes that French quickly grew tired of prison and wanted to end his life.  Supposedly he wasn't brave enough to take his own life, so he decided to have the state do it for him.  French strangled his cellmate to death in order to earn a death sentence.

James French was the only person to be executed in 1966, and the last person executed in the United States before Furman v Georgia.  He gained a lasting bit of notoriety for his final words:  "How's this for a headline?  'French Fries.'"  

What a funny guy.

John David Duty, also an Oklahoma inmate, was serving a life sentence in 2001 for armed robbery, kidnapping, 1st degree rape, and shooting with intent to kill.  After spending several years in prison, he decided that he would rather be dead - and he set about making the state assist him in a suicide.  Duty also strangled his cellmate, a crime for which he was eventually executed in December of 2010.  He became the first person in the United States to be put to death by a lethal injection cocktail containing pentobarbital - a drug used in animal euthanasia.

Duty, in order to be seen as particularly heinous, sat in his cell and wrote the following letter to his victim's mother, Mary Wise, an hour after he killed her son:

"Mary Wise, 
Well by the time you get this letter you will already know that your son is dead. I know now because I just killed him an hour ago. Gee you'd think I'd be feeling some remorse but I'm not. I've been planning since the day he moved in last Friday. Tonight I finally pulled it off. Would you like to know how I did it? Well I told him I wanted to use him as a hostage. Hell he went right for it, thinking he was gonna get some smokes out of the deal. Well I tied him up hands and feet, then I strangled him. It's not like the movies, it took awhile. But I really did him a favor as he was too stupid to live. I mean he didn't know me 5 days and he let me tie him up like that, Please! Besides he was young and dumb and would've just been in and out of prison his whole life.So I saved him all the torment. I've been in 24 years, wish someone would have done me the same favor back then. I guess you're thinking I'll be punished for this. Well not likely in this county. The DA's here are weak bitches and don't give a damn about deaths of inmates. We're all just scum to them. Besides I'm doing 2 life sentences so they can't hurt me. But you can call them and tell them about this letter, but it wouldn't do you any good. Well I'm gonna close for now and I'll tell police in the morning about Curtis." 

The letter was confiscated before it could be mailed, and Mary Wise spoke at Duty's sentencing asking that he be spared the death penalty.  She said that he should have to live out the rest of his days in prison.  Mary Wise felt that would be the worse punishment - and apparently so did John David Duty.

The death penalty is not an effective deterrent, and there is no credible research showing otherwise.  It is all about bloodlust and revenge - not justice.

1 comment:

molly. said...