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