[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is a fictional account intended to illustrate the author's feelings about the controversial subject of capital punishment. While the case described therein is based in fact, the names and location have been changed. The author is not an attorney.]
It was around 10am when I arrived at the Fort Bend County Courthouse. I was late because my hot coffee spilled on my new white blouse. I tried to continue my morning routine of grabbing the mail, saying hello to my co-workers, and checking my emails.
As I approached Danny, a highly intelligent defense attorney, he smiled and said his usual, “How’s it going, beautiful?”
I replied with the usual, “Same old, same old, Danny.” He was always hinting that he wanted to date me, but we both knew it would never happen.
I continued to walk to my desk when I overheard two other co-workers arguing about some intense case. “You know he won’t be charged with the death penalty, John,” I heard Adam say.
“Probably not, but at least he’ll be locked up,” John replied.
I knew the exact case they were talking about. It was the case that everyone was talking about.
On May 12, 2008, Jose Gutierrez, age 29, was arrested for the murder of his wife Claire, 23, and their son Michael, 11 months old. Jose allegedly killed both his wife and son, and then stuffed them inside plastic containers in their home. After being advised of his constitutional rights, Jose admitted that he had murdered his wife and child and then stuffed them into a plastic storage container seven days earlier. The court case has just come up, and has brought controversy to the law office.
I myself, being a strong supporter of the death penalty, find it frustrating when murderers are stuck in jail for the rest of their life. Lethal injection is complex and expensive and I catch myself reminiscing about the old days where criminals were hung within days of their trial.
“Why should a murderer have a better life in jail than some innocent family struggling to make ends meet out in the real world?” I overheard Danny argue. “Sometimes I’m amazed why the country is the way it is.”
By this time, there were three prosecuting attorneys against five defense attorneys, and I knew it was not going to end in Danny’s favor.
“Chill out, Danny,” John replied, “You can’t win them all. And besides, Jose will be locked up forever.”
Amazed, the majority of my office smiled and agreed with him. As the dispute came to an end, and all of the lawyers got back to work, I noticed how upset Danny still was.
“How’s it going, Danny?” I asked, trying to get him to think about something different.
“Terrible,” Danny replied. “How can this country be okay with murderers and rapists sitting in jail continuing to live their life when they’ve harmed so many other lives?”
I thought to myself that it’s not fair, and Danny’s right, but that wouldn’t solve anything. So I told him, “All you can do is try your best, Danny. You send some to lethal injection, and get the rest off the streets so they can’t harm anymore people.” I was hoping it would help, but all I could see was Danny cramming his pencil even deeper into his stack of case papers.
“How is a murderer getting to choose his last meal fair?” Danny asked. “The people he murdered didn’t get to choose their last meal. They didn’t even get to choose how they died!” Anger filled his face.
There wasn’t much I could say; I agreed 100% with him.
“Danny, life isn’t fair, you should know that by now,” John whispered as we walked by.
“Life isn’t fair, and since we’re lawyers, we should know that by now,” I muttered.
Danny’s hand released the beat up pencil and he put both hands to his head. “It’s just so frustrating to know that this man will be alive until his body gives out,” he muttered.
“I know, Danny,” I told him, “but that’s just how life goes, all we can do is look forward to the next day and the next criminal to put behind bars.”
After about an hour of talking with Danny, I eventually made it back to my desk full of case files. All I could think about for the rest of the day was Danny’s frustration, and the face of Jose.
I went online and found his case file, along with his mug shot. This evil man was going to get to live, and his eyes knew it.
When I was driving home, I tried to distract myself with music and even a phone call to my mother to see how she was doing.
At home, I cooked my typical Lean Cuisine meal and watched the evening news, like always. When I eventually made it to bed, I couldn’t sleep. Again, all I could picture in my head was Jose sitting in jail, wasting space and tax dollars.
After about an hour of contemplating the case back and forth in my head, I became frustrated and turned on Lonesome Dove, an old western favorite.
I always enjoy watching this show because the laws were so simple back then. No yearlong trials, and when a killer was caught, he was killed immediately after trial.
Why can’t we go back to the simple way of hanging? It’s not expensive and it’s over quick. Did it go away because the government didn’t like an execution in public? Or was it because the electric chair came and that brought the criminals pain? All I know is that the government could take a breath and look back on those times.
After watching an hour of Gus and Call serve justice and wander around the open range, I went to bed.
When I woke up in the morning, I had a revelation about how the world, in the eyes of the justice system, could be much better served. With the help from both Lonesome Dove and Danny, I came up with the idea of a happy medium that had pro-death penalty and the opposing view in mind.
Why not let the loved ones of the dearly departed have a choice in what happens to the monsters that severely disrupted their lives? Some people would choose to kill the murderers instantly. Others might have a softer side and let the killers sit in jail and hope that they someday find God or a higher matter. There would be three choices: let them rot in jail, hang them, or kill them through an execution by gunfire. All three options would be better than what is in use right now.
If they were hung, all you would need is a rope and a tall tree or hanging post. If they were killed execution style, then you would need a firing squad and a wall. Both would result in a dead murderer or rapist, and would be very low in costs. If the choice were to keep them locked up, then that would be what it is like today. It’s a happy medium that serves justice in a better way, in my opinion.
I thought about how I would approach and tell Danny about my brilliant idea when I was driving to work. I purposely screwed my coffee cup lid on extra tight so there wouldn’t be another delayed morning, and continued my genius planning. I talked it out to myself to practice, because I knew that Danny wouldn’t be the only one listening.
When I got to work, the office was silent. Had I missed something epic on the news while I was planning out my discussion? No, it was Jose Gutierrez’s trial. The television screen captivated everyone; it was the last day of the trial.
I walked up quietly to Danny, after putting my coffee mug, mail, and bag on my desk. I whispered to him, “I’ve got a brilliant idea that you are going to love.”
He replied half consciously, “Oh yeah? What’s that, beautiful?”
“I know how we can make the judicial system more fair, Danny!” I said with too much enthusiasm.
The rest of the office shushed me, and I went back to my quiet whisper. “I swear, Danny, you’re gonna love it.” Right then and there, it seemed like the world was stuck in the moment. The jury was making its final decision.
Jose pled guilty to three counts of murder pursuant to a “statement of plea agreement to ensure that the defendant is never released from prison.”
With the recommendation of the victim’s family, Judge Thomas J. Singer sentenced him to consecutive terms of life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole on Counts I and II, and to a fixed term of 65 years imprisonment on Count III.
John was right. Danny and I were wrong. Better yet, the judicial system was wrong again. After part of the office cheered because they were right. Of course it was all a game to them.
Danny and I went back to my desk. Feeling defeated, we sat in silence for a couple minutes. To break the silence, Danny asked, “What were you going to tell me earlier?”
I replied, “Oh, I was just dreaming.” Like my idea would change how this crazy world is played out.
Danny pushed on about my idea, and I eventually told him, of course without the previous enthusiasm. He loved it, like I expected. But, we both knew that it would take a lot of time and hundreds of people to push this new idea forward.
After discussing the idea for a good hour, we decided to keep the pet project in the back of our minds. And when the opportunity presented itself, we would take charge and attract the right people to help us change the world, as the judicial system knew it.