Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Compassion, Forgiveness, Vengeance, and Justice

Susan Atkins is a sixty year-old woman who has 3 months to live. She is dying form brain cancer. She suffers from paralysis, and has had a leg amputated. Her husband and other relatives wish she could spend her remaining days near them.

In 1971, Susan Atkins was convicted for her participation in the murders of Abigail Folger, Voytek Frykowski, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Leno La Bianca, and Rosemary La Bianca. Yes, and actress Sharon Tate and her unborn son.

Susan Atkins was sentenced to death for these crimes, specifically the murder of Sharon Tate, who she admittedly stabbed over and over and over again. She admitted to tasting Sharon Tate’s blood, and using it to write graffiti on the walls of Sharon Tate’s home.

In 1972, the California Supreme Court determined that the death penalty was not constitutional, so Susan Atkins sentence was commuted to life imprisonment with parole. Susan Atkins had been denied parole on 12 separate occasions.

For many years, Susan Atkins did not show remorse for these crimes. She did express remorse at some point, as had the other female participants, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten. Susan Atkins did have a religeous conversion and awakening, and even has been married while enduring her sentence.

Susan Atkins is no longer a threat to anyone. In fact Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the murder case, has stated that Susan should be released under California’s “Compassionate Release” policy. His quote "just because Susan Atkins showed no mercy to her victims, we therefore are duty-bound to follow her inhumanity and show no mercy to her" shows a great deal of compassion

At first blush, I agreed with Bugliosi. Wouldn’t the release of Susan Atkins show real compassion? Isn’t compassion and forgiveness a hallmark of our pervasive Christian faith? Her release would not inspire other would-be killers, and after 37 years in prison, can’t she be let out so she can pass away with loving family around her?

What is compassion if Susan Atkins can’t be released?

However, perhaps Susan Atkins has been shown enough compassion.

The California Supreme Court showed compassion when it stopped capitol punishment.

The State of California showed compassion when it commuted Susan Atkins’ sentence to life with the chance of parole.

The Prison System showed compassion by allowing Susan Atkins twelve opportunities to be paroled.

The State of California has showed compassion by spending over $1.4 million dollars to care for Susan Atkins over the last few months.

Life in prison is life in prison.

Justice tells us that Susan Atkins must die in prison. It is sad. No more sad, however, than a pregnant woman being stabbed to death as she pleads for the life of her unborn child, as Sharon Tate did the night Susan Atkins murdered her. “Woman, I have no mercy for you" is what Susan Atkins admits she told Sharon Tate. Perhaps those words could be played back now for Susan Atkins.

Justice is for the survivors. Justice is for the families of the victim.

Perhaps Sharon Tate’s mother and father, now long dead, wanted Susan Atkins to die in the gas chamber. I don’t know if that is justice or vengeance. I do know that because they attended every parole hearing of each of the convicted killers, they saw justice being served by parole not being granted.

Justice is for the survivors. Justice is for the families of the victim.

Part of me wishes that Susan Atkins family could have their wish. But part of me also wants Sharon Tate’s family to have theirs.

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