(English 102 Essay: Professor Benton)
A Stone To Hug
My exploration through the depths of the death penalty is assured to be one of many paths that will carry me through an assortment of issues. I will research the past actions of attorneys, prosecuting and defending convicted murderers. I will address the views of society and some of the appeals introduced by a Kentucky death row inmate. I am still torn between support for and opposition against the death penalty and hope through this research I can gain a better understanding of circumstances surrounding these tragic events. I have made rash statements supporting the death penalty from anger for what I considered a senseless yet violent act, but as I have grown older and experienced the ending of a variety of lives, I have gained a perspective that beckons me to question my beliefs. I believe only through research will I find the answer I am looking for.
My journey begins with a phone call from an old high school buddy telling me two of our high school friends had been murdered. My heart was racing when I asked him who it was and his reply left me in disbelief. He told me it was Eddie and Tina Earley, a couple who were part of our group that went to the high school football games or all night bowling. I remember Eddie as a very mild manner guy that was kind to everyone. He didn’t live a violent life, he wasn’t boisterous, nor did he gravitate toward those who used illegal substances. Tina was just one of the girls that ran around with the group, having fun and experiencing all the things that high school kids experience. We all looked forward to those Friday and Saturday nights because those times always brought fun for us. We lived care free and Eddie and Tina were connected to many of those memories. I could not understand what could possibly cause someone to kill a couple I knew to be kind, hardworking, and trouble free.
My anger swelled as I thought about the last minutes of Eddie and Tina’s lives. I wondered if their death was quick or if they suffered in pain. The details of the investigation were only realized through the media and rumors. The court system would bring the reality of these senseless murders to the surface. Facts would be introduced and the close examination of Eddie, Tina, and the accused murderer himself Thomas Clyde Bowling would be explored in great detail. After reviewing the case history of this event, I became informed of the legal issues that engulfed this particular murder case. The chain of events introduced into evidence at Bowling’s trial included how Bowling committed the crime. The police along with witness statements basically stated that Bowling rammed his vehicle into another vehicle occupied by Tina and Eddie Earley and their two year old son while they were parked in front of their dry cleaning business. Bowling then exited his vehicle and walked up to the Earley's and opened fire at point-blank range with a .357-magnum revolver, killing Tina and Eddie and wounding their two year old son. Bowling returned back to his vehicle but decided to go back to Eddie's car to make sure they were dead and then he drove away (Thomas Clyde Bowling v. Phillip Parker, 2002). Reading, hearing, or witnessing these type of crimes may cause a variety of emotions to surface in a person. I became extremely angry and wanted Clyde Bowling to pay for his crime and for years I have felt this way, but I didn't have all the facts, I acted on emotion, not sound judgment.
Every crime has at least two perspectives, the victim’s perspective and in many of those cases we never know their perspective and the prospective of the perpetrator of the crime. Since the victims can’t speak, their story is often told by the police, attorneys, and society. We are taught from a young age the difference from right and wrong, to stand up for the weak, and always help those in need, at least those are some of the values I was reared with. Those same values can rule our lives as adults and guide us to make numerous decisions that not only affect us, but the people we love. We pass judgment on those we do not know, when they don't fit into a nice little package that we consider acceptable by societal standards. Those standards are not so easily fit into a package, since there are so many different lifestyles and cultures within our communities. The standard for one culture may be taboo for another, so how can we set a standard that is fair for all? I believe that my friends were murdered by a maniac who just wanted to kill for fun but as I poured over this case I quickly came to realize there was much more to this case than I was led to believe.
I was told the murders were committed because of a domestic dispute, only to find that Clyde Bowling and the Earley's did not know each other. This case revealed that Clyde Bowling was a man with an IQ of 74 and an age level below eighteen, which placed him on the low end of the IQ measurement chart and was considered to be mildly retarded and easily influenced. Bowling had an extensive documented history of adaptive deficits and failed the ninth grade three times (Thomas Clyde Bowling v. Phillip Parker, 2002). At what age and at what level of intelligence does a person need to be to be held responsible for their actions? I don’t remember what age I was when I knew taking someone’s life was wrong, but I seemed to develop just a little slower than my friends. I came from a family of Marine Infantrymen and even a fighter pilot, so morals and values were high on the list of things you better know. My father was very strict an honor was everything. I ponder the question, was Clyde Bowling so easily influenced that he would commit a double murder just by someone telling him to? Did someone else commit these heinous acts? Bowling's defense team thought so, they introduced a theory suggesting the Earley's were murdered because Eddie gave information to the police about a family who were selling drugs and that information resulted in the arrest of one of those individuals. The Bowling Attorneys also cast doubt on Bowling's guilt when they introduced evidence to the court that Tina was having an affair with the same man who was arrested on that narcotics intelligence. Information I was never privy to, facts that may have swayed my thoughts away from hate. I sometimes place myself on that jury and ask the question, is there enough evidence here to sentence a man to death? In a perfect world, the crime would be caught on clear and distinguishable video, DNA would match the suspect, and the police would obtain a voluntary confession laying out all the significant details, but we don't always live in a perfect world.
In a perfect world not a single person would lose his or her life by the hands of another. Bowling filed several appeals after his conviction that included mental retardation, innocence, and a breach of medical ethics, most of his appeals were denied but did extend his life for many years. What would be the mitigating factors that would cause a jury to allow a person to escape the death penalty? For me, the reasons were simple, but my reasons to feel somewhat comfortable in agreeing to assign a death sentence are far more critical than the individuals themselves. Those reasons are deeply rooted concerns over fairness and cultural bias. I believe we as a society should institute policies that are fair and applied to everyone equally, then the system of putting a person to death for his or her crimes would be more acceptable. Our system statistically sentences the poor and those of color to death far more frequently than other demographics, black males being disproportionately sentenced to death at a much higher rate in southern states as opposed to northern states (DPIC, 2015). U.S. Crime rates for violent crimes against persons are similar across the country (Federal Bureau of Investigations, n.d.). Why is there such a large difference in the death sentences in the southern states?
According to David R. Dow, an attorney and the author of, The Autobiography of an Execution, and who has represented several convicted killers on death row. Sometimes when he goes into the court room to fight for his client he knows he is not going to succeed, his clients were going to die no matter what he did (Dow, 181). He understood this due to the behavior of the judges and prosecutors. The prosecution although an admirable career field comes with an enormous amount of power and that power sometimes corrupts even the most moral of men and women. Pressures from the public, cries of sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers of victims that want justice now, and a monstrous since of duty can often push a person to make decisions that are disastrous to a case or disregarding basic evidence. I sympathize with all parties to these tragedies but we must not overlook the moral obligation of representing everyone fairly. I have witnessed the loss of friends and family and have felt the range of emotions that inevitably brought me to my knees. I implore all in favor of or opposed to the death penalty to educate themselves on the case law behind some of the death penalty cases. Take a critical look and evaluate the cases to find out, like myself, that situations are not always as they appear. I agree if we as a society are going to put a person to death than we need to be reasonably confident if not one hundred percent sure that that person committed the crime that warrants an execution. I also agree that there are people living among us that are extremely dangerous and uncontrollable, but they to still have the right to due process. As long as we let emotion and prejudice seep into our legal system then there will always be those who are unfairly convicted and put to death.
I have felt the pain of a friend murdered and do not wish to see another family or friend suffer the anguish these events produce. I choose life and I will always think of the victims and their families but I cannot in good conscious forget those on death row and their families because they too have become victims in a strange game called poverty and racism. I have felt the fear of death looking down on me and I know what my friends must have felt during those last moments. They were so young and had a lifetime of memories to complete. They had a two year old son to raise and guide through life, morals and responsibilities to teach. None of that for them will come to past now, they lay cold in the ground with only a stone for their son to hug. I will always remember Eddie and Tina and who they were and not who they could have been. I will cherish the memories I was able to be a part of. I will promise to fight injustice were I encounter it and never stand on the side of racism and or indignities toward others, even if it means I stand alone and I encourage all to do the same. We as a society cannot kill a person without absolute proof, I advocate that we introduce all evidence at trial and not just the evidence that bolsters a case. We must open a dialog to address racism in our communities and our legal system. The same expert legal representation must be made available for those of all financial levels. All of these issues must be addressed through cultural changes and may even take generations to accomplish, but if one innocent person is put to death because of a flawed system then we have failed as a society.
Crime Reporting Statistics (FBI)
Death Penalty Information Center.
Dow, D. R. The Autobiography of an Execution. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2010.
Thomas Clyde Bowling v. Phillip Parker, 01-5832 (United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit December 10, 2002).