Vengeful justice

By David Solana

Michael Ross raped and murdered eight women and girls in the early 1980s. This week he decided he wants to die. He had fought his execution for 17 years but has given up and now requests it. The death by lethal injection, which was scheduled for Wednesday, had been moved to 2:03 a.m. today before the latest challenge. His attempt to be the first execution in Connecticut in 45 years is being hindered by a district judge who, citing an affidavit by Ross’ father, says Ross might not be competent to make such a decision. The case might end up going all the way to the Supreme Court before being settled.

Ross is quoted as having said he hopes his death eases the pain of the victims’ families. According to the BBC he said, “I owe these people. I owe them. I killed their daughters. If I could stop the pain, I have to do that.”

On Dec. 14, 2004, the Daily Illini ran a photo of spectators giving each other a high five. They weren’t celebrating a sports victory, an electoral triumph or the return of a long-lost dog. The glee was in response to a jury’s recommendation that a man be put to death.

The stepfather of this convict said he “got what he deserved” for his conviction of murdering his pregnant wife, according to CNN. The recommendation of death came instead of the jury’s other option – life in prison without parole.

These cases force the question, what is the difference between justice and vengeance? A thin line separates the answers, and it’s sometimes hard to see which is which. Yet that doesn’t mean statements about criminals deserving death don’t point to a vendetta. While it’s impossible to know how a person feels when a loved one is brutally murdered without experiencing it, it is possible to look at the situation from outside and note statements that ring of vengeance.

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    These cases both deal with the punishment of citizens for having committed murder. At what point does society draw the line? How can the government justify the killing of one man because he took the life of a different man into his own hands?

    The actuality of these questions could be answered if people were able to speak honestly about their emotions. What were those two men thinking when they high-fived each other? Were they thinking, “Yeah, I can’t wait until that piece of crap fries,” or were they applauding the justice of the Code of Hammurabi and the taking of an “eye for an eye?”

    Perhaps then other aspects of that code should also be brought to life today – although putting out a man’s eye was only worth one’s own if the victim wasn’t a commoner or slave. The code also calls for any woman at whom the “finger is pointed,” but who is not caught sleeping with another man, to jump into a river for the sake of her husband.

    What is apparently numbing, according the BBC’s interview with Jennifer Tabor, a sister of one of Ross’ victims, was the delay on the execution. “We’ve been waiting for this for 21 years. To get so close and have it all taken away, it just makes you numb.”

    Tabor planned to watch the execution. That in itself is wholly wrong and perhaps the most obviously vengeful characteristic of execution. Executions used to be public spectacles in Western societies. If in truth the execution is about justice, it should be done simply and without fanfare, without an audience. Allowing victims’ families to watch the execution is almost a way of hoping the suffering of the perpetrator of their misery will ease their pain and suffering.

    Aside from all other arguments against capital punishment, the death penalty is a gristly manner of exacting revenge on a criminal and in no way constitutes a form of justice that should be acceptable in our society.

    David Solana is a senior in LAS. His column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected].