Posts tagged with: Murder

The Kermit Gosnell trial is about a form of live-birth murder known as infanticide, a crime that the overwhelming majority of Americans rightly oppose.

And that is what the case is about: Well formed babies that Dr. Gosnell is alleged to have removed from women by inducing delivery or “precipitating,” as he called it. Then, because they were alive and breathing, he or members of his staff would plunge scissors into the back of the neck and sever the spinal cord. He is charged with doing this seven times, but it is thought he may have done it to hundreds of infants.

The murder trial is also loaded with compelling, newsworthy moments. So why, asks documentary filmmaker Phelim McAleer, is the mainstream media largely ignoring it?

… all TV serial killers seem to collect mementos from their victims. In reality those who take trophies often take scarves, driver’s licenses, or pieces of jewelry.

But it seems that Dr. Kermit Gosnell collected babies’ hands and feet. And he kept them in jars in the kitchen of his clinic. And the jars were transparent. So when you reached up for the coffee as you heated up your panini during lunch, you would have to brush past around 20 jars with the tiny severed hands and feet stored there.

Ms Baldwin would ask Dr. Gosnell about the jars. He told her they were for research, but she never saw any researchers collect them.

I could go on and on and on. And I only spent a few days at the trial. Every minute seemed to throw up new horrors….

But the case also has a sense of unreality because there has been almost no media coverage of the evidence. There has been almost no analysis or comment regarding a man and his staff who may have taken part in one of the largest mass murders in American history. I find myself questioning my notes because there are almost no other reports verifying what I am now writing. It seems that if a mass murder occurs and no one reports on it it starts to appear as if it never really happened.

Ed Morrissey covers the debate over the media coverage and non-coverage here.

In a fine post over at the History News Network (HT: Religion in America), Jennifer Graber, assistant professor of religious studies at The College of Wooster and author of the forthcoming book, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America, reflects on what the Michael Vick saga (to date) shows us about American attitudes towards crime, punishment, and redemption.

Graber briefly traces the development of public policy and social attitudes towards punishment for violent and heinous crimes. She writes,

In the colonial era, government authorities issued tough criminal sanctions. They branded thieves; they put forgers in the stocks; they hanged murderers and even counterfeiters. The punishments came swiftly and were intended to hurt and to shame. They might deter future criminal activity. But no one expected them to prompt a criminal’s personal reformation.

But things began to change by the time of the American Revolution. At this time, she writes, “Americans encountered a host of new ideas about law, punishment, the body, and individual rights. Some citizens used these notions to call for a dramatic transformation of American criminal punishment.”

So there is a mixed legacy in contemporary attitudes toward punishment and imprisonment, particularly from a Christian perspective which emphasizes the personal transformation that is possible through God’s grace.

In round after round, the reformers claimed that a Christian nation necessarily supported criminal punishments designed first and foremost for reformation. Officials retorted that public safety demanded a realistic approach to corrections, one that used bodily punishments and shame to put unrepentant inmates in their proper place. This endless debate gave us the prisons we have today, institutions caught between simultaneous impulses to punish and redeem.

I survey four different Christian views on these matters in a 2008 law review essay, “To Abolish or to Reform? Christian Perspectives on Punishment, Prison, and Restorative Justice” (PDF). As I show in that piece, “it is more accurate to speak of a plurality of restorative
justice movements than of a unified and univocal restorative justice movement, particularly with respect to the variety of Christian approaches.” As Graber aptly notes, there are a variety of approaches to the relationship between punishment and restoration. Some hold that the two must go together, while other views hold they are antithetical to one another.

One lesson from the Michael Vick case, I believe, is that imprisonment can have a transformative effect, even if that transformation is note the sole, or even one intended, purpose of incarceration. Imprisonment is one way that society makes it clear to someone that particular behaviors are out of bounds and deserving of significant consequences. It puts the indelible stamp of “No!” on someone’s actions.

As for Vick, he’s recently made public his Christian commitment. Reflecting on his conviction and imprisonment at last week’s Super Bowl Prayer Breakfast, “I wanted a chance to redeem myself,” he said. “Pre-incarceration it was all about me. When I got to prison, I realized I couldn’t do it anymore. The one thing I could rely on was my faith in God.”

Vick’s case is only one of the most recent of many such stories of prison redemption. It’s been said before, “Prison saved my life.”