That’s the current subject of discussion in my “Law in Society” class. My professor is a liberal (shocker!), as is my TA, so it’s been quite interesting to see which angles they have been pushing on the issue. Right now, we’re reading Craig Haney’s article, “Psychological Secrecy,” in which the author laments how our society renders criminals as “less than human,” and “depicts the killing process as less than grotesque.”
Welcome to class at the UW.
Haney uses the 1992 execution of Robert Alton Harris as the framework for his argument. On July 5, 1978, Harris and his brother decided to steal a getaway car in order to carry out a bank robbery they had planned later that day. They came upon two teenagers, both sophomores in high school, who were sitting in a car at a nearby Jack in the Box. The brothers then commandeered the car at gunpoint and drove to a wooded area with the teens still in the car. The brothers had promised that they wouldn’t hurt the teens, but that promise was broken when Robert Alton Harris proceeded to shoot and kill them both. Later that day, the men carried out the bank robbery, which netted them $2,000 in cash.
More from a 1990 article by Kevin Leary of the San Francisco Chronicle (found through ProQuest):
Later, after he was arrested, Robert Harris boasted to a cellmate that he told the terrified Baker boy to “quit crying and die like a man.” And when the boy started to pray, Harris said, “God can’t help you now, boy; you’re going to die.”
After killing the two boys, according to testimony, the Harris brothers drove to a girlfriend’s apartment, where Robert finished the rest of the murdered boys’ half-eaten hamburgers and flicked bits of gore from his pistol barrel. He laughed and bragged about how he had killed them and giggled at what it would be like to be a police officer telling the victims’ families that the boys had been murdered.
In other words, Robert Alton Harris was vile scum.
That’s not how Craig Haney see it, however. In his article, he decides not to talk about Harris the murderer, but Harris the victim of a troubled childhood. In Haney’s words, he focuses on the “significant psychological events that helped to shape his life.”
In section today, my TA said that he literally cried when reading Haney’s article. Not for the victims, mind you, but for Robert Alton Harris, the man who was executed for brutally murdering two teenagers.
Again, welcome to class at the UW.
I will never understand the mentality of someone who cries for the murderer rather than the victim. Never.