I have known more than my share of heinous murderers. I had a cousin who, as a young man with drug and alcohol issues, struck an elderly man over the head with a two-by-four in order to rob him of his social security money. The old fellow died at the scene.
Shannon Agofsky was a student at an elementary and junior high school where I was the principal. I knew him well and also had a passing acquaintance with his older brother, Joe. As young men, the Agofsky brothers kidnapped the bank president from my home town, forced him to open the bank and its vault so they could rob the place, and then murdered the poor banker by chaining him to a chair, weighing it down, and dropping him into a deep lake to drown. Dan Short, the victim, was a good friend of mine for many years - and so were his wife and kids.
I knew Levi King when he was a young adolescent, several years before he went on a killing spree and gunned down five innocent individuals in two states. Levi was truly a soul who grew up with almost no chance in life whatsoever. His circumstances were so tragic that I testified (along with many others who knew him as a child and teen) at his sentencing hearing asking the jury to spare him from the death penalty. Remarkably, a Texas jury did just that and sentenced Levi to life in prison instead of death.
I also exchanged letters (one time) with Steven Dale Green, the soldier who raped and then murdered a young Iraqi girl - before he and his friends then murdered the rest of her family.
My cousin was killed in prison by other inmates, Joe Agofsky died in prison from natural causes, and Steven Dale Green died in prison by his own hand. Clearly prisons, at least the ones where these young men were incarcerated, are hard and brutal places.
But there are certain elements in society who choose not to talk about prisons in those terms. The same people who rail against "welfare queens" and vilify the poor, also like to talk about prisons in terms of easy living - vacation centers for the lazy and habitually unemployed. When it gets down to the nitty gritty however, none of us would want to assume a life of poverty, dependence on welfare, or live in a cage.
All of the murderers whom I have known were sentenced to life in prison for their crimes. Three ultimately died their way out of prison, but the remaining two, Shannon Agofsky and Levi King, are very likely to spend the rest of their lives incarcerated - years and years and years.
There is an alternative to this long-term incarceration of murderers, and that, of course, is capital punishment - an archaic, eye-for-an-eye system of retributive justice in which society murders the murderer. Many states in our country have a system of capital punishment in place, and many of those use lethal injection, a medical procedure, to extinguish the murderer's life.
Recently there has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding the practice of lethal injection - with some drug companies refusing to supply the drugs used in the procedure, and states having to scramble to find other providers or alternative drug compounds. Trying alternative drug cocktails is literally medical experimentation, with states learning as they go.
Arizona learned quite a bit this past Wednesday evening, as did the rest of the world, when it executed Joseph Wood, a convicted double-murderer, with a "secret" drug compound, one whose source was also kept secret. The convict lay strapped to a table gasping for breath nearly two hours until he managed to die. It was a horrific, botched execution that should clearly meet anyone's standard for "cruel and unusual."
There is no credible research showing that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to murder, it is simply getting even with a vengeance. Only a handful of countries even use capital punishment. It is not practiced by any European country, and the per-capita murder rate there is lower than it is in the United States.
Capital punishment just compounds the horror of the original crime and makes society complicit in the brutality. It is time that the United States catches up with the rest of the civilized world and ends this barbaric practice.
We are not North Korea.