No kidding. I am surprised that the State has decided to seek the death penalty.
Because no one murder is any worse than another. They are all horrible. The taking of a human life is, under any circumstance, the most intense of all human interactions. It is the taking of the life, not the circumstances that surround the taking, that is the crime. Thus, in my opinion, it is the taking and not the circumstances that should dictate the punishment.
I dont believe in the death penalty. That is not because I don’t think that some people need exterminating (especially one in particular that I can think of). No, it is because we have a system that permits the execution of innocent men. Don’t think so? Ask Wilson Dodge, or any of the other men that spent 25+ years in prison on bad DNA. Now, makes you wonder how many innocent men have already . . . well, anyway. I digress.
This case reminds me of the great Clarence Darrow, and his successful fight for the lives of Leopold and Loeb. They were wealthy young men, charged with murder for killing a young boy for no other reason than to see what death was like. Darrow won the case – meaning his clients got life in prison, not death. He made some very salient points.
That the crime was simply a tragedy, not born of hate or passion:
What is this case?
This is a senseless, useless, purposeless, motiveless act of two boys. Now, let me see if I can prove it. There was not a particle of hate, there was not a grain of malice, there was no opportunity to be cruel except as death is cruel,–and death is cruel.
There was absolutely no purpose in it all, no reason in it all, and no motive in it all.
Cruelty breeds cruelty:
If these two boys die on the scaffold, which I can never bring myself to imagine,–if they do die on the scaffold, the details of this will be spread over the world. Every newspaper in the United States will carry a full account. Every newspaper of Chicago will be filled with the gruesome details. It will enter every home and every family .
Will it make men better or make men worse? I would like to put that to the intelligence of man, at least such intelligence as they have. I would like to appeal to the feelings of human beings so far as they have feelings,–would it make the human heart softer or would it make hearts harder? How many men would be colder and crueler for it? How many men would enjoy the details, and you cannot enjoy human suffering with out being affected for better or for worse; those who enjoyed it would be affected for the worse.
What influence would it have upon the millions of men who will read it? What influence would it have upon the millions of women who will read it, more sensitive, more impressionable, more imaginative than men. Would it help them if your Honor should do what the state begs you to do? What influence would it have upon the infinite number of children who will devour its details as Dicky Loeb has enjoyed reading detective stories? Would it make them better or would it make them worse? The question needs no answer. You can answer it from the human heart. What influence, let me ask you, will it have for the unborn babes still sleeping in their mother’s womb? And what influence will it have on the psychology of the fathers and mothers yet to come? Do I need to argue to your Honor that cruelty only breeds cruelty?–that hatred only causes hatred; that if there is any way to soften this human heart which is hard enough at its best, if there is any way to kill evil and hatred and all that goes with it, it is not through evil and hatred and cruelty; it is through charity, and love and understanding.
To continue institute the death penalty is a savage practice:
Lawyers stand here by the day and read cases from the Dark Ages, where Judges have said that if a man had a grain of sense left and a child if he was barely out of his cradle, could be handled because he knew the difference between right and wrong. Death sentences for eighteen, seventeen, sixteen and fourteen years have been cited.
I have heard in the last six weeks nothing but the cry for blood.
I have heard from the office of the State’s Attorney only ugly hate.
I have heard precedents quoted which would be a disgrace to a savage race.
I have seen a court urged almost to the point of threats to hang two boys, in the face of science, in the face of philosophy, in the face of humanity, in the face of experience, in the face of all the better and more humane thought of the age.
The death of the children should not be in vain:
And I want to say this, that the death of poor little Bobby Franks should not be in vain. Would it mean anything if on account of that death, these two boys were taken out and a rope tied around their necks and they died felons? Would that show that Bobby Franks had a purpose in his life and a purpose in his death? No, your Honor, the unfortunate and tragic death of this weak young lad should be something. It should mean an appeal to the fathers and the mothers, an appeal to the teachers, to the religious guides, to society at large. It should mean an appeal to all of them to appraise children, to understand the emotions that control them, to understand the ideas that possess them, to teach them to avoid the pitfalls of life. Society, too, should assume its share of the burdens of this case, and not make two more tragedies, but use this calamity as best it can to make life safer, to make childhood easier, and more secure, to do something to cure the cruelty, the hatred, the chance, and the wilfulness of life.
* * *
In short, there will be no good of the killing of Julie Schenecker. None whatsoever. Her children are gone. Her life is over. Her husband’s life is over. By killing her for these murders serves no purpose in this circumstance. This was not a crime of hate – it was the unfortunate result of mental illness. Cruelty in killing her breeds further cruelty (the message: if it’s OK for the State to kill, then it’s OK for anyone to kill). And finally, the death of these children should not be in vain. If their killer is killed, under the conditions I have outlined above, then their deaths are senseless.
If she killed them (which the evidence says she did), then she deserves to be in prison for life. But putting her on death row serves no purpose, and only adds to the erosion of society.