Trigger Warning-pedophilia and murder
It’s 3:45 in the morning, and I have been up for over an hour. I tried to sleep after hearing of the executions of Troy Davis and Lawrence Russell Brewer. And while, I reblogged, signed petitions, made phone calls and sent emails trying to save Troy Davis, I admit to a certain satisfaction that Brewer is no longer among the living. Does that make me a hypocrite or just human? I am generally a bleeding heart liberal, but I have had experience with monsters. When I was little and lived in this house in East L.A., our next door neighbors were the B’s, for three and a half years until we moved to New York City. Benjamin B was four years younger than I, the same age as my next sister down. We had the same landlord, and the fence between our backyards had broken in places, which allowed us easy access to each other’s yards. We were constantly together with Ben and his sister, Judy. I remember so clearly playing in our blow-up pool and how Ben always tried to prove he wasn’t “ascared” of anything.
In 1976, we moved back to Southern California, first to Anaheim, where the B’s were living, and then to Fullerton, about 20 minutes from them. My mom and Ben’s mom, Kay, were best friends, and we went to the same church they did, so we saw a lot of Ben and Judy again. In 1981, Benjamin disappeared. He was 12 years old, and he had been collecting money for his paper route, never to be seen alive again. The next few days were filled with desperate praying and listening to the news in horror as they described the ongoing hunt. And then, one night, I was wakened from my restless sleep by a phone that wouldn’t stop ringing. Glancing at my clock, I saw it was after 3:00. My heart started pounding as I answered the phone, knowing that nothing could be good news at that hour.
“Mary Ellen?” came the voice on the other end. It was Kay-Ben’s mom looking for my mother. I didn’t have a chance to answer before she blurted out the awful news. ”It’s Ben. They found him. He’s dead, murdered. He was tied up in the trunk of a car and they think he was sexually molested. What am I going to do?” I sat in my dark bedroom in shock while this poor murdered boy’s mother poured out her anguish and grief into the telephone. Finally I was able to tell her it was me, and I went to get my mom.
There was no easy sleep for any of us in the weeks and months that followed. Our percieved bubble of protection had burst around us. Nothing was safe. We had prayed, and yet God didn’t answer. A monster had done unimaginably horrible things to someone we knew. As the details came out, the horror was compounded. He had been sodomized-there was semen inside him. He had been hogtied and transported in the trunk of a car, and was found still trussed up with his ankles and arms behind him. I felt like there was no foundation to my faith in God if something this terrible could occur to someone I knew.
It didn’t take long for the police to apprehend Robert Thompson. A neighbor had seen him talking to Benjamin on the day the boy disappeared. A search of Thompson’s house turned up clothing and a pair of orthopedic sandals that had belonged to Ben. Thompson admitted to kidnapping Ben, tying him up and taking him to a remote area in the trunk of his car, but said that Ben had still been alive when he left him. He also stated that he had suggested sexual relations to the boy but didn’t follow through. This was in the days before DNA testing was available, but Thompson was out on parole after serving time for sexually molesting another young teenage boy at knife point. That poor boy testified at the trial.
My mom went to court with Kay every day. The whole event shook us to our cores and pretty much took over our lives for the next year or so. Kay has never been the same but has become an advocate of the death penalty and victim’s rights. Thompson was convicted of first degree murder and other heinous acts. The first jury (whom Thompson regularly flipped off in court) was undecided on the death penalty (9-3). This necessitated another jury. At this point, Thompson’s defense attorney recused himself, because he couldn’t stand the sight of his client and thought he couldn’t provide responsible representation. Just imagine a defense attorney giving up on what was probably the most high profile case of his career because the criminal sickened him so much. The second jury recommended the death penalty and Thompson was put on death row-where he lived for another 23 years until he died of a heart attack in prison in 2006. In 1990 the court found against his appeal, and you can read how carefully they considered each objection. In 1998 the state supposedly cleared the way for his execution, but Thompson lived for 8 more years, putting Ben’s mother through more hell every time she had to show up to fight his appeals.
When my four-year-old nephew had a strangulation accident in 2009 and was left in a vegetative state, my family started having flashbacks to Benjamin’s murder. Every single one of us, all eight, experienced it. Once again that imaginary bubble of safety had popped and we were reminded that horror can take over your lives in an instant. One sister and I have gone to therapy, but the rest have not.
So when it comes to the death penalty, I am conflicted due to personal experience. I regretted that man dying of natural causes. I would have been downright satisfied to see him executed by the state, even though it seems inconsistent with most of my other beliefs. I guess life is just complicated, and I’m not going to beat myself up over it. What do you think?