May 6 in Cleveland, Ohio three women were rescued from captivity in a house belonging to a Cleveland resident named Ariel Castro. He allegedly abducted, held captive, beat and repeatedly raped these women over a decade. They were held in captivity for 11, 10 and nine years. Two of them were under 18 years old at the time of their kidnapping. Castro also allegedly induced miscarriages in at least one victim by beating and starving her until she miscarried.
Ohio Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said he may seek the death penalty for Castro’s crimes. Specifically, McGinty intends to charge Castro with aggravated murder related to the pregnancies he forcibly terminated.
One way or another, Ariel Castro is going to be killed. I choose my words carefully in saying this. If Ariel Castro is sentenced to life in prison rather than sentenced to execution, he will be executed. Sooner or later, whether he is in high security or general population, someone will kill him.
According to South Puget Sound Community College Criminal Justice Professor Warren McLeod, this is not an uncommon practice within prisons. Inmates who are incarcerated for life often seek greater fame or respect by killing a famous criminal.
McLeod says that in cases like Castro’s, where the offender is a rapist or a pedophile, this practice is even more common. General population is more likely to look down on him and despise him, and guards are more likely to turn a blind eye. It is hard to blame them. Who can empathize with a man who kidnapped three girls and proceeded to rape and abuse them for 10 years?
So the real question this all comes down to is not whether or not Castro deserves to die for his crimes, but how he deserves to die. At the hands of the commons, or at the hands of the state?
At the hands of the commons Castro will be beaten, stabbed, choked, raped, and myriad other tortures. He will be left to bleed out alone, in the dark. He will be a trophy to be paraded around, to add to the reputation of some inmate.
For however long he lives, he will be a constant fear in three women’s lives –– a bad dream, causing them to look over their shoulders and jump at the shadows. Maybe, once he dies, some will feel relief or a sense of pleasure. Maybe the news of his death will not seem real. No matter the case, he will still haunt them for the rest of their lives.
The kind of psychological damage done by this man is not the sort of thing that can be undone, only mitigated.
At the hands of the state, Castro will be executed. It will be short, humane (as humane as an execution can be) and final. We know he is guilty; he has confessed to his crimes, and there is no question as to his guilt.
Unlike most death penalty cases, his victims are still alive. The closure such a sentence can provide should not be overlooked.
Perhaps one of the biggest questions and problems with his execution is the crime that makes it an option. He forcibly aborted multiple children of his underaged victims, and the case is being made that this constitutes aggravated murder.
Roe v. Wade was a famous court case which determined that outlawing all abortion was a violation of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. While it is difficult to fully explain the nuances of constitutional law to those unfamiliar with it, I can attempt to explain why convicting Castro of aggravated murder for forcing unwanted abortions would not contradict Roe v. Wade.
The main reason given for Roe v. Wade has been substantive due process. In a nutshell, this means that the court ruled that a woman’s personal liberty superseded the rights of the fetus up until a certain point in time, and that it was unconstitutional for a state to enact laws restricting those liberties.
Without the issue of women’s personal liberties superseding the rights of the unborn children, the killing of a fetus without the consent of the mother can be a crime punished by the state. It is rather convoluted and flimsy at best, but there is good legal precedent for it.
Personally, I disagree with the death penalty for myriad reasons. Then again, I also disagree with the prevalence of life imprisonment, the culture of the American prison system, and the discussions around it. But, disagreeing with reality does not change it. I recognize that, with the system we have in place, death by the state is better than death by the commons.