Politics of Execution

by Karoli on December 12, 2005 · 191 comments

There is an inmate in a California prison by the name of John Philip Hendrix. He has been an inmate there since 1972, when he was convicted of the murder and kidnapping of a man in downtown LA. The Los Angeles DA and LAPD believe that he is responsible for the execution-style murders of six people over Memorial Day weekend, 1971.

He was not charged with the other murders because the DA did not believe sufficient evidence could be produced to convict him of those, and they knew they had him on the one they did bring to trial because the victim’s girlfriend lived to tell the tale and identify him.

One of those six victims was my grandfather, Charles Granville Hayes. Born in 1896, he was a lifelong railroad employee who had over sixty years of service at the time of his death. He was a gentle, mild-mannered man who loved his wife, his cat, his son and his grandkids. If one were to point to an example of the “salt of the earth”, it would be my grandfather.

The weekend he died was his 40th wedding anniversary and my grandmother’s birthday. They’d planned to have dinner out that Saturday evening to celebrate both occasions. I was 12 years old; my brother was turning seven in three weeks.

I can still remember the license plate of his car, a 1968 brown Chevy Impala. KAH204. I can remember it because I have a junk mind for numbers and no one else knew his license plate number when the police came to take a missing persons report. I can remember feeling an incredible sense of doom and dread, and when I saw the police car on the Tuesday following Memorial Day, I knew. I knew that something awful had happened — something that couldn’t be taken back.

I spent the next 20 years wondering who could have hated my grandfather enough to shoot him twice and stuff him in the back of his beloved Impala. I spent longer wondering how on earth anyone could ever drive that car again after that, but once the coroner released it, my dad had it cleaned up and fixed up for my grandmother. It gave me the creeps.

In 1994 I started looking for answers again. I discovered some newspaper articles and managed to get hold of someone in the DAs office who said he pulled the files and told me that this inmate would never leave prison.

The judge commented at sentencing that if anyone deserved the death penalty, John Philip Hendrix did.

However, when Hendrix was sentenced California was between unconstitutional and constitutional versions of the death penalty. Apparently our methods of execution weren’t humane enough.

I am a victim of his crimes. I don’t want him to be executed and am grateful that quirky laws exempted him. To me, killing him would make me the same as he — cold-blooded, unforgiving, merciless.

Over time, I discovered the freedom of forgiving. By forgiving this man and letting go of my own bitterness, I’m freed of the anger and outrage that comes with unforgiveness. Had he been executed, I would have been deprived of the opportunity for forgiveness. Because he was sentenced to 25 years to life (and hasn’t a prayer of being released), I have been freed of that prison.

Until tonight. In less than 2 hours California will execute Stanley “Tookie” Williams. They will take him and strap him to a table and then inject him with a solution of lethal chemicals which will stop his heart and kill him. Somehow, we’ve decided this is the righteous way to deal with killers.

I have no opinion as to Williams’ guilt or innocence. All I know is that I become guilty by reason of citizenship in this state the minute that IV drip begins, and it offends me to the core of my being. By murdering a murderer, California makes me complicit in their crime.

Someone commented this week that our esteemed governor would have had to change parties before granting clemency to Williams. As much as I don’t want Arnold to be a Democrat, I would have preferred that to the capitulation to the party faithful that happened this week. California will take someone who is making a contribution to society through his own transgressions and killing him. We all have to live with that. We all have to live with the knowledge that we have become no better than the killers and creatures of prey.

The fact that it’s sanitary doesn’t wash away the repugnance of the act. It is a day for mourning, not just for a man murdered by the state, but the state itself. My bitterness is reserved for the proponents of this act of hypocrisy.

Update: (LA Times) “His death was announced at 12:35 a.m.”

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