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 for the murder of Cynthia Nelson. A week earlier a board denied parole to Charles Manson. Manson’s crime notorious, Mr. Longworth’s, not as much.
The facts: In 1985 Longworth murdered Cynthia and confessed. Behind bars he has become a writer, and the Seattle Times romanticized and glorified Longworth and his stories, now studied by various writing classes, as well as promoted by Junot Diaz. Longworth found a prison groupie (women who love convicts, now that’s a topic) and has married.
The Opinion: The article had little to do with punishment, deterrence, justice, and recidivism. And even less about the victim.
Death or Life or Parole? Those against the death penalty must stop using “he reformed” or “it’s about revenge” or any nonsense about “religious conversion” and “forgiveness” to try to secure the release of prisoners.
For Death: Even anti-death penalty adherents must acknowledge positives in execution, chief being closure, no chance of recidivism, greater deterrence, the end of the financial drain to sustain a prisoner, not to mention the risk prisoners pose to jailers and fellow inmates. Victims and society take priority over prisoners. To argue against the death penalty you must not be absolutist.
For Life: I am against the death penalty because I believe killing is wrong except to protect life, and there is a chance of executing the innocent (See The Thin Blue Line, or 60 Minutes on Michael Morton’s wrongful conviction). But society must keep felons convicted of brutal crimes locked up until there’s a zero chance of recidivism. Namely, for life.
Victims: Cynthia Nelson and her parents are dead. Cynthia was 25 when murdered; she would be 57 today. Her sister wants to keep this a private matter, and had nothing to say as Seattle Times reporter Jonathan Martin praised the murderer. Nothing about Cynthia on Google, nothing anywhere, just a dead woman.
Debt to society: After murder it’s impossible to make it even. Longworth can’t repay his debt.
Parole: Back to Manson. Why should Sharon Tate’s family have to appear at parole hearings for Charles Manson? Why should Cynthia Nelson’s sister hear, from KUOW reporter Liz Jones, Longworth posit: “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 killed over 70 in Norway and faces a maximum of 21 years. To repeat, we abolish the death penalty by never compromising life in prison. And what applies to Breivik and Manson also must apply to warm, fuzzy lovable murderers like Mr. Longworth.
Remember Jack Abbott: Norman Mailer, thirty years ago, petitioned for the release of Abbott, even though Abbott had killed another inmate while in prison. Why did Mailer (and Jerzy Kosinski and Susan Sarandon) support Abbott? Because he could write. After six weeks free Abbott killed again. Even if you write like Jean Genet (a petty thief and not a murderer), you do the time.
To revisit: That Charles Manson’s victims’ relatives appear at parole hearings, that Cynthia Nelson’s sister fields questions from reporters who praise and seek to pardon Cythia’s murderer, is obscene. Longworth supposedly “became a Buddhist and learned Mandarin and Spanish” in prison. Fucking great. Prisoners who behave can earn privileges and Arthur gets conjugal visits. But, in no ways, can there be any alternative to “life in prison.” Here is the pecking order:
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.