Monday, 2 August 2010

The Green Mile

The other day I read on Facebook someone's opinion on Ian Huntley. In case you're not aware, there's a handy summary of the recent developments in his case here.

This persons opinion was, and I quote:

"He should have been strung up by his bollocks for what he did to those girls!"

Yes, well, you see, no.

I'll talk in a moment about why I think this attitude, and the death penalty in general, is completely wrong. But first, get a mug of cocoa, and put your feet up, because I'm about to tell you a story...

St.Louis, Missouri, 1989, and for the married couple Patricia and David Stallings, life was tremendous. They had just moved into their dream home, and had also just had their first child together - a baby boy named Ryan. But it's what happened to Ryan that turned Patricia's life from blissful happiness into a living nightmare.

Because Ryan got sick - really sick. When the doctors at the local hospital performed tests on him, they found that his body contained dangerously high levels of ethylene glycol - a substance most commonly found in antifreeze. Hospital officials were concerned that Ryan had been poisoned, by his parents, so the case was referred to the Missouri Family Services and Ryan was first placed in protective custody, and then placed in a foster home.

Patricia and David were allowed to visit Ryan once a week, and it was after one of these visits that things got serious. Because four days after Patricia visited him (a visit where she fed him out of a bottle brought with her) Ryan fell ill again, with the exact same symptoms as before -which the doctors believed could only have been caused by poisoning. And then Ryan died.

"Don't speculate that 5 month old Ryan Stallings died of natural causes" the prosecutor told the jury. "You might as well speculate that some little man from Mars came down and shot him full of some mysterious bacteria."

"Don't try to understand why Patricia Stallings poisoned her child by feeding him from a baby bottle laced with antifreeze" he told them. "The point is she did it. Only she could have done it. Only she would've done it."

On the count of first degree murder, the jury found her guilty. Patricia Stallings was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

How could a mother do that to her son? Well, in this particular case, she didn't. Patricia Stallings was innocent - I'm not going to include the rest of the story here, but if you want to know the rest (and it's well worth a read) the case is summarised here.

Downstairs on our bookcase we have a book entitled "Dead on Time". I've not read it, admittedly, but the caption that runs along the bottom of the front cover states:

'How and why Barry George executed Jill Dando'

Unfortunately for the author, it looks like Barry George didn't. His conviction for the murder was quashed 6 years after his initial sentencing, due to new evidence being put forward.

As I'm sure you've twigged by now, the point I'm making here is that if the death penalty was recommended in both of those instances, two innocent people would have lost their lives. Of course, in the US the death penalty is still in operation in many states, which to me begs the question of how many innocent people have been wrongly executed over the years, and how many will be in future years.

I mention future years because the death penalty hasn't curbed crime. California has it, and I wouldn't walk around Los Angeles at night-time. Ditto for large parts of Texas. I can't understand how anyone can look at the figures regarding the numbers on the death rows in every US state that still has the death penalty, and then claim it's a deterrent.

You hear a lot nowadays about referendums. "GIVE US A REFERENDUM ON THE EURO!" "ON THE LISBON TREATY!" "ON AFGHANISTAN!"

I'm suspicious of referendums, mainly because I have a horrible feeling that, without sounding arrogant, the majority of people in this country are fucking thick. "The tyranny of the majority", as de Tocqueville said, scares the shit out of me. I'm convinced if there was a referendum about the death penalty, the majority would vote for it.

And that brings me back to how I started this blog entry. A Facebook search for "Ian Huntley" produces some interesting, and frankly disturbing results:

"I'm a fan of the prisoner who cut Ian Huntley's throat" - 14,000 people like this

"Join if you think Ian Huntley needs more than his throat cut" - 9,000 people like this


Those are just three groups, there are literally hundreds more of the same ilk. I'm not going to talk about Ian Huntley here - there's no point. We all know what he did, we all know what he is. But putting my feelings towards the man himself aside - a barbaric act against him cannot be justified - whether thats executing him or what happened to him in prison.

"That man committed a barbaric act so we should now commit a barbaric act on him" doesn't wash with me. And that's what this:

"He should have been strung up by his bollocks for what he did to those girls!"

effectively would be.

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."
Mahatma Gandhi, (attributed)
Indian political and spiritual leader (1869 - 1948)