Tag Archives: capital punishment

It’s Okay to Kill Men

The jokes were seemingly endless.  “No hard evidence.”  “Won’t stand up in court.”  This was part of the chaos surrounding the infamous John and Lorena Bobbitt fiasco from two decades ago.  In June of 1993, Lorena Bobbitt was an Ecuadorian immigrant living in Arlington, Virginia and married to a former U.S. Marine, John Bobbitt.  Lorena claimed John returned home in a drunken rage one night and raped her.  In retaliation, she grabbed a kitchen knife and severed his penis.  Then, she fled their apartment with the organ in her hand, dropping it into a field.

The story quickly made international headlines, and Lorena Bobbitt became an instant feminist heroine.  And then, the jokes started – about John Bobbitt.  Everyone, it seemed, especially television and radio talk show hosts, had a good time with it.  Women in my own workplace laughed out loud about it, carrying on as if they were discussing the antics at a family dinner.  But, I noticed no one made fun of Lorena Bobbitt.

Exactly one year after the Bobbitt incident domestic violence took a deadlier turn when O.J. Simpson was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend of hers, Ron Goldman.  Shortly after Simpson’s arrest, a group of women’s rights activists, led by Los Angeles-based feminist attorney Gloria Allred, demanded that Simpson be put to death, if he was found guilty.  Legal semantics did not concern them in that Simpson qualified for the death penalty under California law because supposedly he’d murdered two people at the same time.  Too many men, they declared, had murdered their female partners and gotten away with it.  They wanted an example made of Simpson.  Keep in mind that they called for Simpson’s life even before he was arraigned in court and long before the actual trial began.  But, amidst all the talk about the volatile relationship between Simpson and his ex-wife, one person was consistently left out of the picture: Ron Goldman.  He was hardly mentioned.  In fact, he was almost always referred to as “her friend,” meaning Nicole Simpson’s.  It took a lawsuit by Goldman’s father to bring Ron’s name to the forefront.  But, even now, Ron is still often referred to as “Nicole’s friend.”

Four months after the Simpson case erupted family violence took yet another tragic turn.  In York, South Carolina, Susan Smith placed her two young sons in her car and rolled the vehicle into a local lake whereupon the boys drowned.  Smith claimed that a man had carjacked her.  As with the Simpson case, race played a significant role because Smith had specifically stated a Black man had committed the crime.  As officials scoured the local area for the missing car, they also descended on every Black man in the county.  Not just those with a criminal record, of which there were few.  Virtually every Black make who passed through York, South Carolina found himself with a target on his back.  Finally, after intense scrutiny, Smith confessed to the unthinkable: she had fabricated the entire story, from the kidnapping to the pleas for her boys’ return, and led police to her car.  She had driven it into a local lake – her toddlers strapped into their car seats.  The boys’ bodies were still entombed in the submerged vehicle.

The media did a good job of showing many women lovingly holding onto their children, as if to emphasize that most women wouldn’t dream of behaving like Susan Smith.  In the Simpson case, however, the media didn’t make any effort to note that most men don’t abuse, much less murder, their wives or ex-wives.

Then, during her trial, Smith made a stunning accusation.  She claimed her stepfather, Beverly Russell, had molested her as a teenager.  And, after Smith was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, the focus suddenly shifted away from her and her dead young sons and onto Russell.  And the same band of feminists who had been so quiet throughout the trial suddenly rose up in anger, demanding that Russell be investigated.  And, just like Ron Goldman, Smith’s two sons were lost in the heated discussion about domestic violence.

I thought of these cases Both the Bobbitt and Simpson cases brought the ugly specter of domestic violence into a new light.  Virtually every analysis of this subject, however, has focused on males as the aggressors.  If anyone mentions the term battered husbands, they are met with incredulity.  But, in a 1974 study of couples in which violence had occurred, researcher Richard Gelles found that while 47% of the men initiated the violence on a wife or girlfriend, 33% of the women did the same to a husband or boyfriend.  In 1980, Gelles joined with fellow researchers Murray Straus, a pioneer in family violence research, and Suzanne Steinmetz, another prominent sociologist, to analyze an even greater number of similar situations and found that the percentages had increased exponentially – for women.  In 1999, University of Wisconsin psychology professor Terrie Moffitt confirmed those findings and added that, contrary to feminist proclamations, women don’t often initiate violence as a measure of self-defense.  They are often the aggressors.

Admittedly, roughly 75% of arrestees in domestic violence cases are male.  But, does that mean men simply are more violent?  Or, that police are more likely to arrest men?  Still, the idea of women being violent is somewhat foreign.  It contradicts the stereotype of the helpless, passive female.

So, just how many battered men are there in this country?  No one knows.  Despite years of analysis – even of that particular subject – researchers still can’t present an accurate count.  To feminists, this proves that domestic violence is strictly male-on-female and nothing else.  But, to those studying this issue from an analytical perspective, it points to a cultural definition of manhood.  Men who are abused emotionally or physically by women are considered weak; the objects of ridicule; less than human.

To me, it points to a long-held assumption that violence against men is perfectly acceptable; that the male life is expendable.  It starts in infancy, when many newborn males in the United States are routinely circumcised without any type of anesthetic relief and for no established medical purpose.  The procedure became common in the early 1950s in the U.S. and soon reached a peak of roughly 90% within a few years.  That figure remained relatively steady for the next 30 years, when it began to decline.  By 2010, the rate of newborn male circumcisions had dropped to an astonishingly low 40%.  But that’s been a difficult battle to fight.  It’s still perfectly legal to sever part of an infant male’s penis for the ridiculously mere purposes of religious means or aesthetic sensibilities.  Any efforts to ban the procedure – even at a local level – have always been met with hostility and ultimately abandoned.

Yet, in the 1990’s, the issue of so-called female circumcision became prominent, and women’s rights activists pushed for laws to ban the procedure in this country.  They achieved that in 1996 with the passage of the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which received 100% support from all members of the U.S. Congress and took effect immediately.  Opponents of FGM declared that female circumcision is worst because it removes all of the genitalia, while male circumcision only removes part of the penis.  That’s like saying, if you’re going to hurt somebody, stab them.  But, for God’s sake, don’t shoot them.  Still, FGM never has been practiced in the U.S. or most other developed nations.  Personally, I’d never heard of it until the early 1990s.

On the issue of child abuse, male children are six times as likely to endure physical abuse and ten times as likely to suffer injury than their female counterparts.  Some school districts, even at the elementary level, maintain policies that forbid corporal punishment from being administered to girls, but not boys.

And then, there’s Selective Service.  Mandatory military service for men in the U.S. ended nearly half a century ago, but Selective Service was reinstated in 1980.  All males in this country are required to register for Selective Service within thirty days of turning 18.  While there’s no penalty for late registration, there are some severe penalties for failing to register; such as an inability to obtain financial assistance for college, find employment, or get a driver’s license.  Non-registrants can be fined several thousands of dollars and be imprisoned.  Even men who are only children or only sons and those who are physically disabled (but can leave their residence under their own power) are required to register.  Selective Service means young men can be drafted into the military in times of national crisis; meaning they can be forced into a war; meaning they could get killed.  It turns young men into cannon fodder.  Yet, all of that is perfectly acceptable.

Not until 2013 did the United States finally allow women already enlisted in the military to serve in combat roles.  But they still can’t be conscripted.  And Americans remain squeamish about the thought of women coming home in body bags, or with missing limbs.  Apparently, though, we’ve made peace with seeing men return like that.

In the realm of capital punishment, men comprise 98.5% of death row inmates.  Death penalty opponents often point out the racial disparities in meting out capital punishment, which are valid.  But, in reality, the death penalty is more sexist than racist.  And, when women are sentenced to die, the objections are especially boisterous.  In 1984, Velma Barfield of North Carolina became the first woman executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment eight years earlier.  At the time, she was only the tenth woman executed in the U.S. since 1900.  Barfield poisoned a number of people to death, including her own mother.  But, when she was sentenced to death, a tidal wave of protests, including some by religious leaders, ensued.  And, the same cacophony of protests surrounded the execution of Karla Faye Tucker here in Texas in 1998.  No one actually has declared that it’s immoral to execute a woman, even if she is a proven killer.  But, it seems to be implied.

I’m not trying to defend the likes of John Bobbitt or O.J. Simpson.  Neither has been an upstanding citizen.  And, no one really knows what happened those two different nights so many years ago, except the parties involved.  The police had been called to the Bobbitt home several times in the months preceding the knife incident.  As one observer put it, to say that John and Lorena Bobbitt had marital problems is like saying Jeffery Dahmer had an eating disorder.  It somewhat trivializes the entire matter.

Violence is violence, regardless of gender, race, age, or any other attribute.  It’s morally wrong and it serves no purpose.  We need to stop putting prices on people’s lives and categorizing violence according to how much injury the victim incurs.  Despite decades of progress regarding basic human rights, most societies – even those with high standards of living and educational rates like the U.S. – seem to believe it’s okay to kill men.  Except in rare cases of self-defense, it is not okay to kill anybody.

 

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

Image: J.L.A. De La Garza

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays

Nathan’s Promise

flat,550x550,075,f

Judge Glenda Fuentes caressed her left ear. “Is he serious?” The neatly-typed words had started to blur. She really didn’t have time for this. But, she read it anyway. Nathan Hagel was already dead. Poor little bastard, she thought. He really believed in himself. He really thought he was the victim.

“I hope you all realize what you have done to me. I know if I told you this in person you’d just laugh. But, I’m not laughing. I did not kill those people. I told you over and over I had nothing to do with it. I was there, yes. But, I didn’t take part in it. I didn’t know that was going to go down like that. I had no idea my brother and sister-in-law wanted to kill anyone. I knew James was mad at his neighbors. But, I didn’t know he was that mad!  Mad enough to want to not just hurt them, but kill them. I still don’t think he planned to kill them. I seriously don’t think that. I still think he just wanted to scare the shit out of them.”

Of course, thought Fuentes. A lot of killers say that: I just wanted to scare them; teach them a lesson; make them understand whatever. But, I didn’t mean to kill them. In her nearly two decades on the bench, she’d heard that claim more times than she could count.

Nathan and his older brother, James, had a rough start in life. Their father abandoned them and their mother, when the boys were little. Nathan, in fact, never really knew his father; couldn’t recall ever talking with him. Nathan had told his defense attorney the only clear memory he had of his father was when the old man lay in his coffin. He and James had learned by chance their father had been killed in a bar fight in Arkansas. James was laid up at home after a car accident, so Nathan drove to Arkansas by himself for the funeral.

The Hagel boys’ mother provided them no greater comfort. A “paranoid alcoholic” is how Nathan described her. The boys were pretty much left to fend for themselves from a very young age. Why didn’t someone in the family take them in, wondered Fuentes. That was the question a lot of people – inside and outside of the court – asked. Tarrant County Child Protective Services failed them, too.

But, Fuentes reminded herself – and several others – at some point, the Hagel brothers knew right from wrong. If James and his wife, Sandy, had such trouble with their neighbors, why didn’t they seek legal counsel? How could a property line dispute turn so violent?

“My mother used to beat the living crap out of James,” Nathan’s letter continued. “He’d let himself get beat up, so she wouldn’t turn on me. He didn’t want me to get hurt. Even after I got grown and could care for myself, he still tried to protect me from stuff.”

According to police records, James and Sandy had dialed 911 more than twenty times to complain about their neighbors, the McFarrells. They all lived in a relatively older section of Fort Worth – not far from where they Hagel boys grew up. The McFarrells had moved into their house next door to James and Sandy less than two years before they died. Apparently, animosity developed from the start; beginning with a new fence the McFarrells built on their property. They had to tear down the old fence, which meant getting onto the Hagel’s property. That’s where the trouble started. James and Sandy had called police some twenty times. But, the McFarrells and others in the neighborhood had also called 911. There were, in total, about sixty calls to police from that one block – all related to the Hagel – McFarrell property dispute.

Where is this, mused Fuentes. West Virginia? No, it was Fort Worth, Texas, and we don’t solve property disputes with a gun.

“I think my mother was insane,” Nathan wrote. “I really do. She would do the craziest shit. We never knew what kind of mood she’d be in. She would just go off on us. And, everyone else.”

Fuentes had heard that sad story before. So, had Nathan’s court-appointed attorney, Mark Gaston. Gaston – who looked a circus side show reject – leaned heavily on Nathan’s upbringing as a reason for his behavior. “A reason,” he emphasized, “not an excuse.” Nathan understood the consequences of his actions for the most part, Gaston insisted, but he let himself get caught up in the drama of his older brother and sister-in-law. Besides, violence was all they knew growing up.

Huh? The statement perplexed everyone involved in the Hagel case. Okay, Nathan knew it was wrong to take the shotgun when his brother offered it to him. And, he knew it was wrong to follow James next door to the McFarrells’ house. Nathan knew bad blood flowed between James and Sandy and the McFarrells, like swamp water left over from a hurricane. But, somehow, he still really, in a strange sort of way, wasn’t completely and totally responsible for his actions?

“No, he wasn’t!” Gaston proclaimed during his closing arguments, answering the very question everyone had in mind.

“That neighborhood where James and Sandy lived – it was such a dump anyways. It’s like it was born dirty and rotten. But, that house was all they could afford. Then again, that’s all we knew – dirty, rotten houses and neighborhoods.”

Gaston had subpoenaed the Hagel brothers’ mother, Sheila. When she arrived in court, she was on probation for drunk driving and looked as if she was still intoxicated. Nathan didn’t even look up at her; not once. He kept his eyes down.

“I’ve had some problems,” Sheila mumbled on the witness stand. “I almost wish I’d never met their father.”

The courtroom expelled a collective gasp, which prompted Fuentes to pound her gavel. But, she understood the shock. This wretched woman was essentially trying to say she wished James and Nathan had never been born. That’s an awful thing for a mother to say – with one son already on death row and another headed there to join him.

“I don’t believe in no god or heaven or hell or afterlife. I think that’s all bullshit and anyone who believes in that is stupid. Since I don’t believe in that, I know nothing will happen to me after I die. But, for those of you who believe in god, may he, she, it, whatever damn you and your family. But, I also hope all of you suffer for what you did to me and my brother. Suffer bad. I hate you. I hate every fucking one of you!”

Sandy Hagel had been given immunity in return for her testimony. She was in the house when her husband and brother-in-law decided to walk next door and confront the McFarrells. She could have easily called the police – which she did. But, not before she heard the gunshots. She mentioned how both the McFarrells had stood outside on their back porch and waved their own guns towards the Hagel household. “They called us trash,” Sandy said in court. “But, they were just as trashy.”

Prosecutor Carly Watson had no sympathy for any of them. She never showed concern for criminal defendants. She smirked in court when Gaston mentioned the Hagel brothers’ rough upbringing. “Cry me a river of spit!” she told reporters after the jury in James’ trial issued its guilty verdict. She repeated herself after Nathan’s trial – the exact same verbiage. The statement made it onto the front pages of local newspapers. It was such a typical Texas-style response from someone sworn to uphold the law. “If everybody who had a rough childhood could get away with murder, we’d have dead bodies piled up in football stadiums, instead of morgues!” she groused. “I don’t feel sorry for the Hagel boys one single bit. They knew what they were doing. No one forced them to pick up guns and head over to the neighbor’s house.”

That night, Sandy testified, the McFarrells had stood on their back porch, waving their rifles towards her and James – again. The new fence was already up and bushes were planted.

“So, what was the problem?” Watson asked her.

Sandy paused for a minute. “They kept waving their guns at us. Like they were itching for a fight. We didn’t want no more trouble from them. We just wanted them to leave us alone.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“We did!”

“But, your husband and brother-in-law went over there anyway! Didn’t they?!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Why?!”

“Because they called us.”

“The McFarrells?”

“Yes. They called us three times earlier that evening. I don’t know why. Just to be mean.”

“What did they say to you?”

“Just stupid stuff.”

“Define ‘stupid stuff’ for us, would you please.”

Sandy sighed heavily. “That we were ugly and stupid. That we’d better watch our backs. We thought things were settled once the new fence was put up. But, they kept at us. Kept haggling us. We didn’t want any more to do with them.”

So, as Sandy recounted, James and Nathan grabbed a couple of James’ shotguns and marched next door to the McFarrell home. They merely planned to stand on the sidewalk out front, waving the firearms in the night air; the same way the McFarrells had waved theirs to the Hagels so many times before. Sandy didn’t know why James and Nathan decided to step onto the McFarrells’ front porch and force their way into the house.

“James always looked out for Nathan,” Gaston noted in his closing argument. “They were all they had. They had no one else. No one cared for them. No one cared about them. They had to take care of themselves. Always! And, the police had not helped much in this dispute on Warren Lane. They just told everyone to be neighborly and then went on their way.”

Even after other neighbors reported the McFarrells often marched around their front yard with guns in hand, as if they were guarding a vault filled with diamonds, the police still did nothing. The McFarrells had waved their firearms at other people on that street. Some had avoided walking in front of the house altogether. They’d step into the street and make a wide arc, far from the McFarrell home, before returning to the sidewalk. Gaston made certain these other neighbors testified in court.

“None of these people were pulled from the nearest church pew,” Watson announced after James’ trial.

That was nearly two decades ago. James was already gone. Sandy had disappeared into another life far away from Fort Worth. Now, Nathan had a date with the chamber. A week before, he penned this letter. Then, he slit his wrists and his throat with a piece of metal he’d somehow spirited into his cell.

“But, I hope all of you suffer for what you did to me and my brother. Suffer bad.” For some reason, Fuentes kept reading that part over and over. Suffer – that’s such a cruel word.

She finally dropped the paper onto her desk and called for her assistant, Janelle. “Can you get Ms. Watson on the line for me?” She had yet another death penalty case to discuss.

“Right away, Judge,” replied Janelle.

Fuentes returned Nathan Hagel’s letter to its envelope and wished Gaston had never wasted her time with it. “I guess he can just come pick it up,” she murmured.

Janelle stumbled into the office, sounding breathless. “Your Honor!”

Fuentes was startled. “What?! What happened?”

“I just called Ms. Watson’s office. Her secretary said she’s been in a serious car wreck.”

“A car wreck?!”

“That’s what he said.”

“When?”

“This morning – on her way to the office. She’s at JPS right now.”

John Peter Smith took the worst of the worst.

“Oh, my God!” crowed Fuentes. “That’s awful!”

“Let me make some other phone calls. I’ll see if I can found out more.” She wheeled back out towards her desk.

Fuentes sat back in her designer leather chair. “Damn! A car wreck! Good God!” She leaned forward to stand up – but her vision seemed to explode, driving her back into the chair. “Oh, God!” she screamed.

“Judge?” Janelle called out. She was already on the phone.

Fuentes stood. Another fucking migraine! She thought she’d rid herself of those years ago. She reached for her desk. This one was different, though, from what she remembered. She managed to stand.

“Judge?” Janelle repeated.

Fuentes tumbled face down. She probably didn’t feel her nose splinter when she hit the floor.

© 2014

1 Comment

Filed under Wolf Tales