Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Monday, December 12, 2005

No Mercy for the Merciless

Today, Governor Schwarzenegger denied clemency to convicted murderer and Crips co-founder "Tookie" Wilson. The top headline on CNN right now is that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear his case (unsurprising, given the extraordinarily low odds that any given case is heard).

On the visceral level, it couldn't have happened to a bigger piece of human garbage. The families of his four victims are probably less than impressed at his recent literary endeavors.

On a different level, I don't know that I agree with the end result. As I've said before, I have within the past year or so moved from pro-death-penalty to somewhere on the fence. This is a good case to illustrate why.

Tookie Williams was asking for his death sentence to be commuted to a life sentence. In his best-case scenario, he would still never walk the streets again. Therefore the specific prevention aspect of the death penalty is satisfied. Further, there is no educational/correctional aspect of a death sentence -- we don't sentence people to die to teach them a lesson about what they've done wrong. Finally, I don't know that there is a tremendous qualitative difference in the retribution aspects of a death penalty and a life sentence. Either way, the families of the victims know that the person who killed their loved-ones will die in prison -- it's only a matter of time.

It seems that only where the prisoner is still capable of committing murder against innocents, as in the case of a jailed mobster with connections on the outside, is there any real purpose served by a death sentence.

Today, conservative bloggers have sneered at Williams' post-criminal activities, such as authoring children's books and speaking out against gang violence. I did it, too, in the second paragraph of this post. We're mocking the idea that writing a book can atone for crimes of the magnitude of murder. But that, I think, misses the point. It's not that his activities turn him from a good person into a bad, but that his incarceration essentially neutralizes the bad, while clemency would allow the good (however miniscule) to continue. If Williams, by remaining alive, can persuade one youth to stay away from gangs -- and most importantly to my argument, if he is prevented from negatively influencing others -- then society is better off keeping him locked up and alive.

Dave has a link to Ace's post on Jack Henry Adams, a murderer who was granted clemency because Norman Mailer thought he had literary talent. Look, I'm not arguing that Williams should go free because he can write (indeed, I have no reason to believe he can, in spite of his being published). The problem with Abbot is that his liberal (read: idiot) champions insisted that he be released from prison, which he was, at which point he murdered another innocent victim.

More: From Balidlocks, who lives in Central L.A., and from fellow Battle Born Blogger D.C. Thornton, who grew up there. Neither of them feels any sympathy for Williams.