Thanos execution: Problem with killing is it's still killing

MIKE LITTWIN

October 27, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

The do-gooders and the bleeding-hearts are out there again trying to save that creep John Thanos' life. Their argument this time is really marginal.

They say that using the gas chamber to snuff Thanos is cruel and unusual punishment because he might suffer a little at the end.

So he suffers a little.

How much suffering do you think Thanos has caused? For no good reason, he killed two teen-agers who never had a chance at life. And in case you thought you might ever feel any sympathy for Thanos, he informs us he'd kill again if given the opportunity.

I know if those were my kids, I'd probably enjoy a little suffering on his part. Maybe a lot of suffering. Maybe I'd want to rip his heart out. Let him write a poem about that.

If Thanos goes to the gas chamber -- he says he wants to, as early as next week, but there are miles yet of legal tangle before he does -- I'll cry no tears for him.

If I cry, it'll be for the rest of us.

In the end, even though it's Thanos who dies, we're the ones who get hurt. I know that sounds strange. But I really believe it's true.

The problem with killing Thanos is that it's still killing. What we have in this country is too much killing. Much too much. By executing Thanos, Maryland, which hasn't used the gas chamber since 1961, would simply be throwing state-sanctioned killing into the mix.

When you execute people like Thanos, what it says is that taking a life is an acceptable way to solve a problem.

The message is that the only way we can control our citizens is with the threat of death.

Not that it even works. If you could show that capital punishment was a deterrent -- that killing Thanos would save an innocent life -- the argument for dropping the gas pellets would be a lot stronger.

America is the only Western country with the death penalty. It is also the only Western country with a significant murder rate. In Texas, the one state where capital punishment has become almost routine, the killing continues apace.

Once you look at who does the killing, you see where the deterrence argument falls apart.

You think the psycho serial killer is influenced by the death penalty? You think Jeffrey Dahmer changes his ways if he faces the gas chamber?

How about the guy who gets juiced up and kills his wife/girlfriend/mother/fellow postal worker. You think when he pulls the trigger he's considering whether by his action he gets the death penalty or simply life in prison without parole?

Then there's the drug-war killing, which has made many of our cities so dangerous. They've already got capital punishment at work. Drug dealers routinely kill fellow drug dealers, and yet the trade seems to continue to thrive. For some, death is a way of life. Executions don't change that balance at all.

The truth is, most people favor the death penalty, but they're kind of squeamish about it. Many jurors, in places where juries decide, are reluctant to bring in a judgment of death. That's because they're decent people. It's because they see the killer close up. They hear his story. They know he's an actual, real-life, non-abstract person, with a past and a present, and they don't want to be the ones to say he has absolutely no future.

They don't want to be the ones who pull the trigger, or drop the cyanide, or throw the switch on the chair.

For much of the world's history, executions were a show. Somebody brought the beer, somebody else the nuts, you pulled up a chair and you watched some cow rustler swing.

Eventually, the concept began to feel a little uncivilized. In the 19th century, they started taking executions inside. The last public execution in America was in 1937.

A few years back, a California TV station attempted to televise an execution. The request was turned down. The death scene is too graphic, too real. It's a real person dying, and, even if we want him to die, we don't necessarily want to see it happen. Would you want to watch Thanos struggle for his last gasp of unpoisoned air?

It would be easy to say he deserves to die and let it go at that. You look at Thanos' reaction to the people trying to save him, and it becomes easier still. He has only contempt for his would-be saviors.

He dares society to kill him. That's the way he thinks. Is it the way we should think, too?

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