Death-row inmates don't need pity, fame
Carlton Turner Jr. was only a few hours away from his own execution last
fall when he wrote a rambling farewell screed. Face-to-face with the stark
threat of oblivion, he viewed imprisonment, unpleasant as it is, a
preferable alternative: "I face death. I live in a box," he wrote. "Yet, I
have found joy in life."
As it turned out, Mr. Turner lived to find joy another day. Between the
time he typed out his goodbye and his appointed rendezvous in the death
house, he got a reprieve so the U.S. Supreme Court could decide whether
lethal injection would be unconstitutionally cruel.
Before I proceed, let us flash back to the events that landed Mr. Turner
where he is today.
He was a middle-class kid, the adopted son of a professional couple living
Sometime over the weekend of Aug. 7-8, 1998, the then-19-year-old shot
each of his parents repeatedly in the head. He tidied up by dragging their
corpses out to the garage to decompose out of sight. Then he rounded up
their credit cards and went shopping.
During the 3 days it took the neighbors to realize something was seriously
wrong at the Turner house, Carlton hosted a party for his pals.
It's details like those that fade over time, that get lost in the dry
legal language of the appellate courts.
Fresh examination of those 10-year-old details lends emotional urgency to
the argument in favor of capital punishment: How can lethal injection be
too "cruel" for a person who partied down in the house where his dead
parents were festering in the garage?
Yet the clamor for more executions reinforces the argument that capital
punishment is more about retribution than about justice, more about
settling scores than public safety.
Now the state has the option to set a new execution date for Mr. Turner,
and it probably won't waste much time doing just that. If so, I won't lose
But as I grow older and less certain that I'm right about everything, I
find it not especially troubling that Carlton Turner is still drawing
breath. As long as the state keeps him and other killers like him locked
up, that's good enough for me.
I don't begrudge capital offenders whatever life they can create for
themselves during permanent incarceration. And Mr. Turner admits, by his
own words, that as long as there is life, there's a spark of hope, a
possibility of joy.
But I do begrudge them their swooning fan clubs, their adoring pen pals,
their self-serving Web pages. I'm irked to the bone marrow by the fatuous
know-it-alls who fawn over their jailhouse poetry or stage gallery
exhibitions of their mediocre artwork.
I begrudge them their lionization by European wackos who make them out to
be noble, gentle, suffering victims of the cruelest human rights
oppression on the planet.
This is by no means a denigration of appellate lawyers, of religious
activists, of people who genuinely believe the state simply ought not be
in the execution business.
But the fashionable trend toward making heroes out of condemned killers
seriously damages that cause. Do people really want to end the death
penalty or do they want to parade their coolness by mocking all us Texas
I believe a serious conversation about capital punishment in this country
is way past due. But wringing our hands over the "cruelty" being done to
people like Carlton Turner isn't the way to get it started.
No matter what Mr. Turner writes and publishes via the Internet, no matter
how many of his jail-art greeting cards are sold (3 for 10 euros,
including envelopes), he's not a victim. No amount of spiritual
transformation on his part erases the sickening reality of those 2 bodies
in the garage.
That Carlton Turner got to keep his life a few extra months is a
reflection of our humanity.
(source: Jacquielynn Floyd, Dallas Morning News, April 25)