The key to hardcore criminals is greed. They are greedy as a tiny tick burrowing in fur. They have no elevated ends of life. They burrow ceaselessly to obtain such things as their food, sex, tobacco, drugs, comfort, additional privilege and the safety of sleep. Their desire is simply to perpetuate their life under any circumstance, however mean, so long at gives them shelter and sustenance and poses no threat to them.
Many of the murderers I’ve known, so callous when it comes to taking the lives of others, whimper when the time comes for the State to take theirs. Killers are unsociable, aggressive, coarse, sometimes malignant creatures who have no spirituality in their souls or minds. They are far, far beyond any sense of shame. You would think that they would grasp that dying is as natural as being born, but no, not them. When their execution nears, some of them plead, beg, and cravenly bargain without any remorse. (They are exceptions. A middleweight boxing champion at the Arizona State Prison, who had shot his girl friend, donned his championship robe and threw punches all the way into the Gas Chamber Chair. Another inmate simply wanted a fine cigar and was happily puffing away at it when the gas hit him and he bridged and died.) But for most killers, they exist for the sake of one more meal, one more day, one more cigarette, one more night of safe sleep. Mere existence no matter how paltry is fine for them. Concern for their victims doesn’t exist. Their remorse is simply a posture, a pose, a bargaining chip for more leniencies, a begging for more time before the end.
I will give you a case of a killer to consider.
When I spent a month in the Arizona State Prison (as a guest of the warden, not the state,) I met Joe, a bulky, short, powerful man in his late 20s who had a faint dark prickle of a crew cut. He was wearing dark wire rim spectacles. He was the murderer I had ever met. He was celled down in Death Row. Along with his “fall partner named Larry. I had Joe’s file stolen and sat and read it. At the time of his crime, Joe had been drunk for 18 months solid. Earlier, the Marines had given Joe a psychiatric discharge, citing “anxiety, insomnia, restlessness, emotional instability.” Joe and Larry were traveling from Phoenix to the East Coast when they picked up a young woman named Sally. At some point, Joe wanted to attack her and steal her valuables, including a small TV and so Joe and Larry took her out into the desert at night, and there Joe had repeatedly struck her on the skull with a heavy rock, and then Joe had then coerced Larry into hitting her, to implicate him, both being drunk as boiled owls at the time. They then left her, wounded, alive on the desert floor where she finally died of exposure . The file said that when police found her body, the skull was laid bare of flesh. Her face had been eaten by animals.
This occurred in the December of 1962.Around Christmas in New Orleans, he had sobered up enough to go and confess to a priest about the killing, the priest turned Joe into the FBI. In every interview I had had with him, Joe rarely mentioned the girl, or if he did, it was only brusquely, cursorily, focusing his deepest wrath instead on the treacherous, dastardly priest who had betrayed his vows. And for that priest who had reporting him, Joe had only unappeasable fury. The perfidious priest was the only thing Joe talked about when the case came up, Joe using the same words to express the same infuriated thoughts over and over again. The priest had put Joe and Larry on Death Row, and Joe’s rage about being turned in never abated. It was clear he didn’t care a turd about the girl he’d killed. His sole concern centered on himself and the fact the priest got him locked up, and being locked was totally unjust, an infringement on his personal freedom. His captivity was clearly the only crime in the case.
There is no one who suffers from excessive self-love more than a murderer.
I spent a lot of time with Joe. One time he and I were to go to Mass on the grounds together, with the prison padre, but after reading his file, I told Joe that he and I could never be friends, and he appeared to accept that quietly.
The Unanswered Question
The question is, can a human being commit such horrid acts that they forfeit their any chance of living on the Earth? Are certain acts to inhumanly predatory, so greedy to inflict pain on their victims, so lacking in any mercy before killing them, that they do not simply commit murders but commit atrocities?
All societies that I have ever read of believe in the code that “the dead must be avenged.” I know of no culture where cold blooded murder is approved or embraced. Society’s safety demands that monsters that menace it must be slain.
Our vindictiveness towards killers has a long past. The Greeks, like our criminals, were subject to truly evil passions. With the Greeks, anyone in antiquity who considered himself entitled to power over others or who even aspired to such power, hesitated at nothing in vanquishing and killing his competitors and opponents, not even drawing back before the annihilation of them. In the Greeks, all political punishment, whatever the guilt of the vanquished, took the form of vengeance and obligatory execution. Things like disgrace, and the punishment of the ostracized was extended to their children and even to their forebears whose graves were desecrated. Thank God, we humans have improved since then.
But the question stands: Should a human being who is clearly a monster be killed before he takes another breath?
There is no moral struggle that takes place within the soul of a killer, at least as far as I was able to determine. Even with the ordinary law-abiding human being, the worst in us is always at war with the best. The real battles of life take place within the human personality. Because we prize ourselves as separate wells of life, sacred and unrepeatable, and on those grounds, we strive to improve ourselves. We take it as common knowledge that each man was a vessel of experience unique to him, comprehensible to him alone, forged by his own nature and by his responses to events. Society has embraced the principle that no one can live a lawless life without endangering the society at large. For the Greek society, enemies and criminals had to be destroyed before they destroyed the health of the group.
Pity, sympathy, and care, even for the most evil among us, are the sign of a civilized and cultured society. Decent people foreswear evil. Murders don’t foreswear anything if it suits their immediate needs. If a state has decided that a killer must be destroyed as punishment for something horrible he has done, he should at least expect that his execution by the State will reflect certain humane values, even if his actions have violated them. A killing is still a killing, but the state does its killing in society’s name, not for private gain. It profits nothing and no one if you cure an atrocity by committing another,
Yet it appears from news accounts that the recent execution of the inmate in the Oklahoma State Prison was a simply session of torture. The man was alive as the drugs were put into his tried to raise his chest, his head following, he writhed, he clenched his teeth, and the horror grew. Clearly, the executioners were inadequately prepared, and the man, no matter what his crime, ended his life in direst agony. The prison felt his death was of little significance, just as the killer had felt no significant concern for his victim. Both the state and the killer were careless of consequences and took no pains, whereas morality itself consists of taking pains to fulfill its duties correctly. In botching the execution, the state deprived the inmate of his dignity. What he experienced in the last minutes of his life doesn’t bear thinking of. The last moments of the girl had had shot and was buried alive don’t bear thinking about either. We like to talk of moral man and immoral society, but there are times when the interests of the state must be humane and moral, period. Otherwise, we will read of another atrocity committed in the name of civilization.