The death of innocence

If as a federal trial judge you handle habeas corpus cases involving the death penalty your sensibilities will never be the same. What do I mean? Take the beheadings in the middle east as an example. I have had death penalty cases that make those rather quick killings look merciful.

Let me be illustrative. Take a little girl. Rape her. Terrify her. Despoil her. Then kill her inflicting the most pain possible and pose her in an obscene position for the authorities to find. Leave that image forever burned into the memories of her parents. Beheadings? Child’s play. ISIS better up its game if it desires to remain competitive in the horror business. Advice: ISIS please read American law books, you will learn a lot from our monsters. We have the really good ones.

That brings me to satire. There are historical figures we should venerate because they wrote with the irony that shocks and illuminates and stays with us forever. Jonathan Swift comes to mind. Example: On Irish beggar children: “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.”

And Swift takes me to the Onion and the death penalty.  A dear friend, a former law clerk, and a real lawyer who despite her gender spits on the idea of trigger warnings sent me this: Death Row Guard Has Always Had Soft Spot For The Innocent Ones. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

"Saying he’s seen 'a lot of people come through here in [his] day' and met prisoners of every type, longtime Louisiana State Penitentiary death row guard Dwayne McFadden confided Wednesday that he’s always had a bit of a soft spot for the innocent ones. . . . McFadden says he always goes a bit easier during cavity searches of inmates who didn’t commit capital offenses."

“Saying he’s seen ‘a lot of people come through here in [his] day’ and met prisoners of every type, longtime Louisiana State Penitentiary death row guard Dwayne McFadden confided Wednesday that he’s always had a bit of a soft spot for the innocent ones. . . . McFadden says he always goes a bit easier during cavity searches of inmates who didn’t commit capital offenses.”

Have a nice day!

RGK

Hat tip: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (داعش).

 

8 responses

  1. This is going to be a grim post.

    Even though I’m just a law student, I will be forever changed by my experience in capital work, even though it only lasted a summer. You don’t come out the same way you go in.

    I don’t know if it’s possible to tell innocent people by their behavior in prison. The human mind is a slippery, selfish thing. I looked at the photographs of every single defendant whose file I interacted with, and I don’t know what an innocent or a guilty person looks like. I don’t know what they act like, either. I’ve seen a huge variety of behavior in the trial transcripts I’ve read.

    RGK, normally we agree on many things, but I firmly disagree with holding a human being out as a monster. That’s just our brains’ attempt to dissociate them from itself by saying that “we can’t possibly do this! We would never do anything like this!” I invite anyone who thinks this to read Rudolph Hoess’s Kommandant at Auschwitz. It shows a typical person who just happens to have the job of murdering people by the millions. It is a profoundly disturbing insight into just how thin the line is between murder, torture and rape, and being a normal, well-adjusted member of society.

    Murderers, sadists, rapists, and child molesters are not monsters, they are human beings like you and I. That, to me, is far more terrifying than any monster I can imagine in my head.

    Walt Kelly put it best:

    -SLS

  2. RGK,
    Thank you for your kind words. I hope so too, but the knowledge scares the hell out of me.

    Sincerely,
    SLS

  3. Judge:
    I will see your habeas death penalty cases and raise you the abuse and neglect of children. Yours truly has worn many hats in the profession that we all love but nothing was as heartbreaking and, at the same time, more rewarding than representing children in family court. While I was there I saw the ugliest part of the human experience (things that I would rather not relate) such that the phrase “the death of innocence” had to have been invented for such an experience. ISIS has nothing on those who would harm helpless children in their midst.
    Robert

  4. It’s worth pondering that ISIS is certainly killing innocent people, but they don’t stand out in this regard. People who bomb hospitals and schools full of refugees, and who fire tank shells and machine guns at fleeing civilians, and slaughter hundreds of kids, are in the same company, along with those who enable them. People who fill places like Fallujah with depleted uranium so that babies are born with vital organs outside their bodies and 10-year-old girls are getting breast cancer certainly put ISIS in the shade. At least the gifts of ISIS in this regard will not keep on giving 1000 years from now.

    Among this company of barbarians, ISIS is doing the usual murder of innocents as theater, in order to incite the United States to get involved some more. And why not? They wouldn’t even be here themselves today, if it were not for the American invasion that turned Iraq into a failed state.

    You would think that since Osama bin Laden played this trick so successfully, that the United States would not allow itself to fall for it again when somebody goes nah-nah-nah-nah-nah in this way. But if such capacity to learn were to be expected, I suppose that the US would have learned in the first place from the Soviet Union just before us in Afghanistan.

  5. Like finding a lone green tree in the barren desert, yes, there are good people everywhere. Some of us have to stand up for the right things. If we do, then generally, others will stand with us. Even Nazi Germany produced a Dietrich Bomhoeffer.

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