Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach, was found guilty tonight on 45 of 48 counts of molesting young boys in his care. He will remain in jail until his sentencing in September, while his attorneys prepare a futile attempt at an appeal. I think it is highly unlikely he will win on appeal, as everything I have read suggests that the judge granted his attorneys every leeway they requested, so I am not really sure which points of the trial they wish to contest.
Reading the public reaction to the case isn’t really surprising, he was long ago convicted in the court of public opinion. There really was little chance of an acquittal here, given the overwhelming evidence, the scandalous nature of the charges, and the publicity. One interesting facet–perhaps only to me, as I have an unorthodox perspective on some things–is the general assumption that he will die in prison. Specifically, he will die a violent death at the hands of his fellow inmates. It would seem, judging by my non-scientific survey, that this outcome is both expected and relished, as if the final leg of Jerry Sandusky’s journey through our system of justice quite correctly entails a brutal, fatal attack by felons such as himself. I find this fascinating.
It’s not that I think Sandusky is innocent, or even possibly so–I think any potential, lingering doubts were thoroughly extinguished by his inexplicable, incriminating Bob Costas interview. There is no doubt in my mind that the man did what he is accused of–I suspect more, that there are likely victims who have never come forward and never will. That Jerry Sandusky belongs in jail isn’t in doubt. What makes me uncomfortable is the rather gruesome expectation that he will be killed in prison for being a child molester–scratch that, what makes me uncomfortable is just how comfortable everybody appears to be with that.
It seems to me that if we think a crime should be a capital crime, worthy of the death penalty, that the death penalty should be among the sentencing options. If we feel that execution should be via brutal beating at the hands of fellow inmates, then let’s put that on the table: sentence the man to be released into a courtyard of inmates who are to beat him until he is pronounced dead. Let’s at least be honest about it, and not rub our hands at the prospect of a sense of “final justice”. Let us not simply wait for that inevitable moment when we turn on the news to learn that Jerry Sandusky is dead, that his victims have finally been avenged at the hands of a murderer or serial rapist–or some other, equally notable avatar of morally superior violence.
Again, to be clear here, I am not defending Sandusky’s actions. I am not arguing that he’s innocent. I am thoroughly convinced he is guilty of abusing those children and needs to be punished. All I am saying is, whatever punishment he receives should be at the sanctioned hands of the state. Brutal felons have absolutely no business passing judgment and/or summary execution on other brutal felons. The guy who is in jail for raping grandmothers or coeds has no business pretending he has any moral or ethical superiority to the guy who raped children. And we shouldn’t be cheering for their misguided attempt to find some small sense of vindication or elevation by deciding that there is one class of predatory scumbag they can look down upon. That some guy who gunned down a convenience store clerk while stealing a few dollars wants to believe he is any better than a guy who raped children in his custody may matter to the murderer, but from my perspective, it’s just hair-splitting. Some people may see merit in sitting in the sewer and rating the turds that float by on size, stench and consistency, but to me it’s still just a teeming river of shit.
Whoever ultimately kills Jerry Sandusky is not going to be some nonviolent offender in prison on bullshit drug charges, it will be a hardcore, violent felon. Someone who kills people for fun, looking for a socially acceptable outlet for their pastime. I’m not going to get behind that guy because I think what Sandusky did was wrong, or horrible, or worth it. I’m not going to root for Steve the Skinhead, serving 4 consecutive life sentences for brutally murdering minorities to further his views on “racial purity”, because one day he sharpened a toothbrush and rammed it 71 times into an elderly former priest or football coach. The man that kills Jerry Sandusky is, today, a fucking asshole piece of shit who is in prison because he did something horrible. Whatever he did will be no less horrible the day he kills Sandusky, no less horrible the day after. The family of the woman he raped and murdered, the cop he killed, the stranger he shot, they aren’t going to be showing up at his parole hearing testifying that killing a child molester in prison has changed their view of the man and that he should be released, and it’s sure as shit not going to change mine.
If we want the Jerry Sandusky’s of the world to face the death penalty, then let’s have that debate. Let’s discuss it, argue it, codify it into law. There is already a system in place for performing legal, state-sanctioned executions. If this is a crime we think should be worthy of the death penalty, let’s make it one. If we don’t, then we need to make sure that every precaution is taken to ensure that the Sandusky’s are adequately protected. What I can’t agree to, what doesn’t sit well with me, is the de facto deputization of some violent felon as a sort of informal, paralegal executioner.
It’s not about defending child molesters, it’s about defining what our system of justice is and should be. It’s about defining who are our agents of justice, and what are their roles? It’s about defining what the terms of justice are, in our legal system. And finally–and most importantly–it’s about defining ourselves.