Today's post is from guest author Brian MacQuarrie, whose book The Ride: A Shocking Murder and a Bereaved Father's Journey from Rage to Redemption (Da Capo Press) chronicles the true story of a child's murder and a father's transformation from vengeance-seeking victim to outspoken death-penalty critic. For the last twenty years, MacQuarrie has been a reporter for the Boston Globe, where he was nominated in 2006 for a Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Boston.
For a newspaper reporter turned first-time author, I approached The Ride, a nonfiction account of the 1997 murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the torturous aftermath for his family, as an extended journalistic exercise. I would report the story thoroughly, organize my notes meticulously, and finally write the narrative in 1,000-word segments that would allow me to march in neat, tidy, daily steps toward a timely, satisfying finish. And, of course, I would keep all the horrific details of the crime and its wide, collateral damage at proper, professional bay. After all, isn't that what I had always done?
I had been embedded with a front-line battalion during the invasion of Iraq, an engaged but unflappable witness to dozens of charred and broken bodies along the war-pocked roads from Kuwait to Baghdad. I had walked in the New Orleans Convention Center after Hurricane Katrina, at a time when the corpses of the homeless poor lay unacknowledged by both their peers and the powerful on a putrid floor inside that neglected place. And I had knocked on the doors of dozens of murder victims during my career at The Boston Globe, offering murmured condolences to the loved ones of the newly slain, and inquiring in appropriately respectful tones whether I could step inside, please, and listen to their loss.
I could do this again; in fact, I would do this again, I told myself. I had been granted a year-long book leave by the Globe, and I had been welcomed to a remote Long Island beach house with a fabulous, soul-freshening view where I could retreat to write after my reporting, and my interviews, and my leads had been exhausted in Massachusetts.
When the death penalty was resurrected in 1976, following a brief four-year
hiatus, death penalty lawyers made a fateful tactical decision. They decided to
abandon the goal of abolition and instead elected to chip away gradually. Rather
than arguing that the death penalty is always
unconstitutional – that it is necessarily
arbitrary, that it is necessarily
racist or class-ist, that it is necessarily
cruel and unusual, that it is always
wrong for the state to execute – lawyers representing the condemned chose to
home in on a particular feature of their client’s case that made his death sentence unconstitutional,
while leaving other death sentences intact.
A lawyer’s job is to save her client, not to save the world.
For that reason, the legal strategy that death penalty lawyers have embraced
over the past generation is undoubtedly the correct one. Lawyers will save
individual lives, but not every life, because abolition will not come from the
courts – especially not the current Supreme Court. The courts believe in
perfection, and perfection is the enemy of abolition.
Abolition will come anyway, because perfection (even if
there is such a thing) costs a bundle. You can send a murderer to prison for
life, or you can spend a million dollars more and execute him. In Texas, more than four
hundred men and women have been executed in the modern death penalty era. Four
hundred million dollars could have built quite a few schools; it could have raised
teachers’ salaries, provided health care for uninsured kids, and filled lots of
the state’s potholes. It could have paid for more police and more social
services that would have averted many of those murders in the first place.