Arthur Longworth and the Woman He Murdered
On April 16th the Seattle Times published Writer’s World: Life Behind Bars, about Arthur Longworth, a man serving life in prison for the murder of Cynthia Nelson. A week earlier a board denied parole to Charles Manson. Manson’s crime is infamous, Mr. Longworth’s, not so much.
The facts: In 1985 Arthur murdered Cynthia. Arthur was 21, confessed, and now is serving life. Since the murder he has become a writer, and the Seattle Times (not fact but opinion) presented an article that romanticizes and glorifies Arthur. Arthur’s stories are studied by various writing classes, as well as promoted by Junot Diaz. The guy found a prison groupie (women who fall in love with convicts, now that’s a topic) and has married.
The Opinion: Despite the prison backdrop, the purpose of the article had little to do with punishment, deterrence, justice, and recidivism. And even less about the victim. Society should primarily consider the horrible aftermath the living victims endure.
Life in prison is the best punishment for society, yet those against the death penalty must stop unsatisfying arguments of “he reformed” or the self-righteous “it’s about revenge,” mixed in with nonsense about “conversion” and “forgiveness.”
I am against capital punishment, but anti-death penalty adherents must acknowledge positives in execution, chief being closure, no chance of recidivism, greater deterrence, and the end of the financial drain to keep a prisoner alive, not to mention the risk prisoners pose to jailers and fellow inmates. Victims and society at large take priority, prisoner rights are third. Therefore, to argue against the death penalty you must not be absolutist.
I am against the death penalty because I believe killing is wrong (except to protect life), and because there is a chance of executing the innocent (See The Thin Blue Line, or 60 Minutes on Michael Morton’s wrongful conviction). Society must not fear released felons convicted of brutal crimes, and until there’s a zero chance of recidivism, that’s how it should be.
Arthur Longworth’s victims, Cynthia Nelson, and her parents, are dead. She was 25 at time of death, she would be 57 today. Her remaining sister wants to keep this a private matter, and had nothing to say as Seattle Times reporter Jonathan Martin spoke in praise of the murderer. Nothing about Cynthia on Google, nothing anywhere, just a dead woman. But a lot about the murderer. After killing it’s impossible for any murderer to repay society. Back to Manson. Why should Sharon Tate’s family have to appear at parole hearings for Charles Manson?
KUOW reporter Liz Jones, however, adds nuance, allowing the other side to emerge. Still, her article gives Longworth room to posit the question: “All’s I’d asked for is, look, this is what I was. This is who I was. This is who I am now. This is what you sentenced me to. Do you still believe in that?” The Answer: “Now more than ever.”
Anders Breivik, who killed over 70 in Norway, faces a maximum of 21 years. Let me repeat, if we want to abolish the death penalty we must have life in prison for the most heinous. And what applies to Breivik and Manson also must apply to warm, fuzzy lovable murderers like Mr. Longworth.
Jack Abbott: Norman Mailer, some thirty years ago, defended Jack Abbott and petitioned for his release, even though Abbott had killed another inmate while in prison. Why did Mailer (and even Jerzy Kosinski and Susan Sarandon) support Abbott? Because he could write. Six weeks after Mailer helped secure his release, Abbott killed again. I don’t care if you can write like Jean Genet (a petty thief and not a murderer), you cross the line you do the time.
To revisit: That Charles Manson’s victims’ relatives appear at parole hearings is obscene. That Cynthia Nelson’s sister fields questions from reporters, who praise and ask to pardon Cythia’s murderer, is obscene. Longworth supposedly “became a Buddhist and learned Mandarin and Spanish” in prison. Fucking great. Prisoners who behave well should get privileges, and those that don’t should be denied them. Arthur gets conjugal visits. But, in no ways, can there be any alternative to “life in prison.” Because here is the pecking order for Arthur Longworth:
1. Best punishment = Life in prison.
2. Second best punishment = Death
3. Worst punishment = Any punishment that releases him back into our society.
You hear that, anti-death penalty supporters? If you are against death, you must be for life.
Update: September 7, 2012 – Arthur Longworth Denied Clemency. Nelson’s family spoke at the hearing. They shouldn’t have felt this compulsion.