Frazier Glenn Miller is a white supremacist who has been found guilty of killing three people at two Jewish centres in the US. William Corporon, 69, and his grandson, Reat Griffin Underwood, 14, were murdered outside a Jewish Community Centre and Terri LaManno, 53, was killed outside a Jewish retirement centre. Miller has been sentenced to death. In response to the sentence, he shouted “heil Hitler”:
Let’s assume, as a starting point, that there is no doubt about the guy’s guilt – he is guilty in law and let’s assume that there is no doubt as to his guilt in reality, that he did, IN FACT, do it – no doubt (which, of course, is brushing under the carpet the biggest issue, in my book, in the whole subject of capital punishment – certainty, error etc.). Let’s also remove, for the sake of this ‘argument’, the religious arguments against capital punishment and the “is it right, in our supposedly enlightened age, to be putting people to death?” questions. Also, put aside the “he’s sick and should be in a hospital” argument, putting all that aside and just asking the questions I want to pose, what is more fitting and appropriate ‘justice’, that this man’s life be extinguished (and there is the question as to whether lethal injection is too ‘good’, too ‘easy’ a death for him) or should he be made to live out the rest of his life, rotting in a jail cell (and I mean in abject conditions)?
What this man did, of course, can never be erased – the consequences, the ramifications, the destruction, the pain, whatever happens to him, the damage is done but is society best served by executing this person or is it better served if he remains alive? – that is one question and the other question is whether ending his life is too good for him.
I think the latter question is the easier of the two questions to answer.
Death Row, the thoughts of what lies ahead, not knowing when it’s going to happen, the day itself, back to the cell when there’s a reprieve, back the next day, being strapped to a gurney bla bla bla, yup, not an ‘easy’ way out but when it’s over, for this man, it is over. My gut feeling is that he doesn’t deserve to be ‘let out’. I think a more substantial punishment, and justice being seen to be done over a longer period of time, necessitates his incarceration for as long as he naturally lives, the removal of his human rights and his immersion in squalor for decades, hopefully – that seems more fitting that his being allowed to drift off ‘peacefully’.
Much more complex are the issues raised is my first question: is society best served by killing this man or by keeping him alive? I recently read the opinion of the late Simon Wiesenthal on the subject of the execution of Adolf Eichmann. Wiesenthal was torn on the question of whether society was well served in killing the man or whether it would have been better to have kept him incarcerated for the rest of his life. On the one hand, Wiesenthal was happy to see him executed but, on the other, he felt that society would have been better served if he’d been kept alive – education. Eichmann represented evil and the depth of depravity to which humanity could, and did, sink. Wiesenthal felt that as more information came to light, more evidence of the atrocities in which this man was involved, it would have been educational to have been able to keep putting him in the spotlight of a court’s witness box, to have been able to put more and more questions to him, to have been able to force him to face the questions and his accusers, to have been able to have shown the world and a future generation what evil looks like, not in a history book but in real life. The impact and awareness is more diluted when it’s read in a book – it’s more clear when you have the perpetrator in front of your eyes. Wiesenthal would have liked to have seen Eichmann answer/respond to accusations every time a new piece of evidence emerged. Of course, keeping Eichmann alive, keeping open the option of being able to bring the man back to court, that would have meant that justice, as and when new evidence came to light, evidence of further atrocities, justice could have been done and have been seen to be done.
I don’t know if Miller, this runt of humanitarian’s litter, operated as part of an ongoing organisation, if he had more blood on his hands than that of the victims who were the subject of this trial but my gut feeling – and I repeat gut feeling because that is what it is, that is all that it is – my gut feeling is that he is more useful in the sense of education and justice being seen to be done over a longer period of time, in those respects, it is more beneficial to keep him alive, alive as a living example of hate, evil, depravity and the ugliness of it. In the eyes and minds of the world outside of the victims family, loved ones and friends, this man actions become history when he dies – it’s easier to keep them in society’s consciousness, the lessons can be more powerfully learnt and appreciated with more impact, if the perpetrator remains alive. When Hitler was dead (or was believed to be dead), in some respects, the Holocaust became a matter of history. If Hitler had been caught, tried and imprisoned, if he had been kept alive, I think the teaching of what happened would have had more impact.
I don’t want this twisted, evil man and what he did to become the stuff of history books, to disappear off into the past, out of mind, any time soon – we should be able to keep showing to the world people like him so that the lessons to the next generation can have a more powerful, useful, shuddering impact than they deliver if they are read in books about the crimes and the perpetrators.