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Billy Wayne Sinclair Diminishes the Victim: We Need a Stronger Argument Against the Death Penalty

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“A searing condemnation and a powerful guide to the futility and arrogance of the death penalty carried out in the name of justice.” – Sister Helen Prejean

Billy Wayne Sinclair: In Capital Punishment, Billy Wayne Sinclair, a convicted murderer, and his wife rage against the death penalty, yet fall short. Why? Their arguments cover little new ground, and they make the sin of weighting empathy toward the criminal at the expense of the victim.

Billy’s Crime: In the commission of a robbery Sinclair shot a convenience store clerk. Billy says the killing was unintentional, and Sister Helen Prejean agrees. Here are the facts: he held up a store, ran, fired at and killed his pursuer. Accidental? Billy fired a gun in the direction of his victim during commission of a felony. This is a murder according to law, ethically, it is also intentional.

The Penal Code: It’s murder when “someone commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.”

Shot Fired: Key is whether or not Sinclair shot with intent. In this case cynicism should be exercised. To protect himself from capture he fired a shot, perhaps to scare off his pursuer, but c’mon. His victim’s family didn’t swallow his line. Billy then advocates for the vilest of scum.

Defending a Child Rapist/Murderer:  The Sinclairs use a pseudonym, John Ledbetter Gray for Jimmy Lee Gray, but retain the name of the victim. Gray (1949 – September 2, 1983) “…was convicted for the murder of three-year-old Deressa Jean Scales in 1976, after kidnapping and anally raping her. At the time of this murder, he was free on parole following a conviction in Arizona for the murder of a 16-year-old girl.”

Deressa Jean Scales’ Father: Sinclair quotes Mr. Scales, and writes,”Even in prison he had been able to talk, to breathe, and to laugh, and he had taken all these things from my little girl,’ Scales (the father) said, continuing to stoke the flames of revenge. ‘He didn’t have the right to continue to live.'” You think this would evoke sympathy for Mr. Scales, right?

Sinclair as Judge: Wrong. The Sinclairs judge the victim for “continuing to stoke the flames of revenge.” Let’s revisit the inexcusable, the Sinclairs omit the fact Gray had committed a previous murder.

Life in Prison: But they’re not done. Billy criticizes life as slow torture and death, and that all prisoners should have hope for parole. Yes, Billy Wayne Sinclair seems to be rehabilitated, and is now a functioning member of society. But until the recidivism rate hits zero, don’t discuss why felons should be released back into society.

Focus on Victims:  Just as Junot Diaz forgets in support of his friend, the murderer Arthur Longworth, the focus should always be on victims, the victim’s friends and family, and society (potential future victims). Final question to Billy Wayne Scales, “Would you rather live in prison but know that your children are safe, or would you rather live free and see your children murdered?”

A Stronger Argument:  The Sinclairs cite racial imbalance, wealthy criminals receiving better counsel, convictions of the innocent, and ambiguous deterrence. These are strong arguments, but, forgive the redundancy, the victim and society trump the criminal. Violent crime has decreased in the U.S. (Pew Research:  Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993), partly because more criminals are incarcerated (NYC: Higher Arrest Rate Reduces Crime). Sinclair, and even Longworth, may be exceptions, but recidivism remains a problem. And the suffering of victims is paramount. Don’t talk death penalty without addressing these dynamics. Life in prisons remains the only sentence for certain crimes. If you argue against the death penalty, your focus must be the victim and society.

Voices from Texas Death Row & The Thin Blue Line:  Two excellent sources.

More:  The First Modern Day School Shooting

Written by Caleb Powell

May 23, 2014 at 8:55 am

Arthur Longworth and the Woman He Murdered

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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.

VICTIMS: Voytek Frykowski, Sharon Tate, Steven Parent, Jay Sebring, and Sharon Folger

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.”

Memorial to Victims in Norway

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.

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