I remember as if it were yesterday the first time I lived within the borders of a state that committed homicide in my name. Up to September 6, 1996 I didn’t have to think about it as more than an abstraction…It was something that happened elsewhere, but not where I lived.
Then Oregon put Douglas Franklin Wright to death, and I struggled with it. The crimes he committed were monstrous…He had multiple victims, he was a serial killer. He lured homeless men with promises of work, then killed them, but the crime he committed that sticks out for me was the murder of the little boy. He kidnapped and murdered a 10-year-old boy, whose mother was pregnant at the time. His name was Luke, and to his last breath, he was worried about his mother.
A generation has been born and graduated high school since I first wrestled with the question of the death penalty.
I didn’t sleep a wink the night Oregon executed him, but in the years since I have come to believe that Douglas Franklin Wright deserved to die. Some people just don’t deserve to live. It’s the way the death penalty is applied that I have a problem with.
When he was executed, my own family was going through a brush with capital crime ourselves. John Middleton was in jail awaiting trial for the murder of Alfred Pinegar, Stacy Hodge, and Randy “Happy” Hamilton. Happy was our cousin, and it was a moniker he earned with his demeanor and affable way.
The man Missouri put to death last night deserved to die. People “from up home” know things about that crime that never came out in court because the prosecutor never asked the questions. We learned the hard way that trials guarantee a verdict, but they don’t — can’t — guarantee justice and they damn sure can’t make a community whole after it’s been ravaged by a meth-fueled rampage of violence and gore. We learned that even the “best” families are susceptible to the living hell that drug wreaks on the life of a user and those who love them.
“Up home” doesn’t really exist any more, and it doesn’t exist because of that fucking drug. Young men, men in their early forties, all died of the same rare form of cancer…and they all cooked meth. Girls I taught in school 25 years ago who look older than me. I have laugh lines. They have deep lines as if someone carved on their faces. My biggest freakout when I went face down with the first aneurysm was my smile, because it’s important to me. I’m vain that way. But they’re all missing teeth, and the kind of skinny that looks like their skin is one or two sizes too big. It’s beyond unnerving and disquieting. It’s downright creepy.
Michael and I and an assortment of others make the trek up I-35 to Indianola, Iowa to the annual Harkin Steak Fry every September. It is the political “do” of the year for Iowa Democrats and every Democrat who has gotten the nomination for 35 years has been a guest of Tom Harkin and done a photo op at the grill. But from now on we won’t be stopping between Cameron and Osceola because the odds of seeing someone who will just depress the hell out of me are too great.
A lot of people wanted to know how I felt yesterday…Honestly, I slept a lot. And when I got word that he was dead, I didn’t cheer, I didn’t feel elation or relief. Honestly, what I felt was like I had lost 190 pounds, because everything I’ve done, everywhere I’ve gone, every achievement I’ve realized…I was lugging that sonofabitch along with me, and now I’m not.