Death penalty turns nobodies into somebodies

May 18, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. yesterday watching the live TV coverage of the John Thanos execution and I really got a kick out of it.

They didn't show the actual execution, but they had a press conference with some of the witnesses, which is the next best thing.

The part I liked best was how one witness watched the execution, then walked over to a table where prison authorities had provided "light refreshment," picked up an apple and ate it.

Talk about "call me anything but late for dinner." What a hoot!

I stayed up so late I was a little bleary-eyed in the morning, but I realized right off that I felt different:

I felt safer. Which is the same way I felt after they executed John Wayne Gacy in Illinois last week.

I said to myself then: "Any other fellas out there planning on strangling 33 young men and boys are going to think twice this morning!"

Which is what the death penalty is all about: Making people think twice.

One thing doesn't seem fair to me, though: John Thanos killed three people and was executed by lethal injection in 12 minutes, which works out to four minutes per victim.

John Gacy killed 33 people and was executed in 18 minutes or about 33 seconds per victim.

If one reason for execution is to give comfort and a sense of "closure" to the families of the victims -- and that is what one TV reporter said -- then the families of Gacy's victims got short-changed.

I don't know the solution to this. If we use the Thanos formula of four minutes for every victim, then Gacy's execution should have lasted two hours and 12 minutes.

But how do you keep a guy going that long? In the old days, executioners knew how. They knew all about slow strangulation and disemboweling. But today everything is rush, rush, rush.

I have this bleeding heart friend who says that lethal injection is a medical procedure and medical procedures should be used only for healing and not for killing. He says that lethal injection corrupts medicine.

But I say, when was the last time he got a hospital bill? If he wants to look at corrupt medicine, he should start there. Three dollars for an aspirin!

But my friend won't shut up. And he shows me this study that compared the average murder rate in 1992 in the 36 states with the death penalty to the 14 states without the death penalty.

The death penalty states had an average murder rate of 7.8 per100,000 population.

The non-death penalty states had an average murder rate of 4.9 per 100,000 population.

"Seems to suggest that states with the death penalty have more murders on average," my bleeding heart friend says. "It may be that some people want to be executed and that is why they murder."

But I was ready for him. Just because states have the death penalty, I said, doesn't mean they use it.

So he tells me to take a look at the two states that use the death penalty the most: Texas and Florida. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, Texas has executed 76 people and Florida has executed 33.

Yet the murder rate in Texas was 12.7 per 100,000 in 1992 and the murder rate in Florida was 9.0 per 100,000.

My friend says it looks to him like these murderers get in death what they feel they were denied in life: attention. Face execution and you get reporters begging for interviews. Donahue wants to televise you. People mail in marriage proposals. And your paintings sell for thousands of dollars.

For the first time in your pathetic life, you feel like you are somebody. So you murder in order to become a celebrity.

Me, I don't believe this theory one bit. Nobody in his right mind wants to die. And these fellas are all in their right minds or we

couldn't kill them.

I mean just because John Thanos kills three teen-agers, says he yearned to die in a blazing gunfight with police and tells a judge he would like to "bring those brats back right now from their fTC graves" so he could kill them again, doesn't mean he wants to die.

And just because John Gacy buries 28 bodies beneath the floorboards of his own home doesn't mean he wants to get caught and executed.

Nosiree. We are not giving these guys what they want.

Because if execution is what they really wanted, heck, there wouldn't be any punishment to it at all.

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