Serial killer Clifford Olson, the “beast of British Columbia,” died 30 September of cancer at the age of 71 after 30 years in prison for the torture, rape and murder of eight girls and three boys in the 1980s.
So he won. He lived out the natural life span nature allotted him. He collected $100,000 from the RCMP in a deal to show them where the bodies were buried (bet he would have done it for free if he were waterboarded). And he collected a “small fortune” in government pensions and the sale of his possessions on an auction website.
Parents of his victims were overcome with emotion. They had waited a long time for this day. Terry Bizeau, mother of Terri Lyn Carson, murdered by Olson when she was fifteen years old, described her relief and sense of closure: “He’s not going to bother us...it’s finally the end.”
Why do we put up with such a parody of justice? Because for no good reason the idea of the death penalty has become an untouchable subject. For some reason most people in the West equate being civilized with housing and feeding and indulging the “rights” of a demonstrably evil monster for decades, while the families of victims endure the same decades in the silent imprisonment of their grief and loss and impotence to redress his unspeakable crimes.
It has come to be a liberal mantra that it is better for nobody to be executed, even uncontestably proven murderers, so that there is no possibility of an innocent person dying. That so many US states feel no guilt about the continued use of the death penalty (about 60% of Americans support the death penalty) is a thorn in the side of liberal elites and a fillip to their sense of superiority to our insensitive and benighted neighbours.
On the other hand, consider the Troy Davis case in Georgia. More than a dozen courts have looked at Davis’s case and none overturned his death sentence. But you would never know that from the media coverage of the case, reading which one might well believe that Davis was home barbecuing hamburgers for his family when the police broke down his door and arrested him.
The troubling aspect of the case for most pundits who had not done their homework was that seven of nine eyewitnesses recanted their testimony, in many cases claiming they had been coerced by the police. Out of context, that sounds pretty grim. And it would be if there were only nine witnesses to Davis’s crime instead of 34.
Amongst the eyewitnesses for the prosecution were people who actually knew Davis, so there was none of the usual doubt one associates with supposed eye witnesses about whom they were fingering. And they are not recanting. The jury was made up of seven blacks and five whites, so there’s no racism here, folks, just move along. It took the jury all of two hours to convict Davis.
What really happened was that in August, 1989, Davis and another black man were harassing a vagrant in a Burger King parking lot (this was a few hours after shooting at a car – with a black driver - when he was leaving a party). Davis wore a white shirt and his partner a yellow shirt. Davis pistol-whipped the vagrant with his revolver. When a policeman approached, Davis turned and shot him, then walked closer to his body and shot him again, reportedly smiling as he did so. The shell casings from his gun matched those in the body (even though the New York Times claimed there was no “physical evidence” to convict him).
So who recanted? Well, three were friends of Davis, and they made modest changes in their testimony, without actually denying that Davis shot the officer. One was the vagrant’s girlfriend; hers wasn’t a proper recantation in that she did not deny that Davis shot the policeman. Two of the friends did recant – but the court discounted them because Davis refused to allow them to testify at the post-trial evidentiary hearing. The court told Davis that if they did not appear, their recanted testimony would not have worth, but he still refused. It is reasonable to conclude that their affidavits, drawn up by a lawyer, would not have matched up with the witnesses’ testimony under the stress of cross-examination.
The fact is that it is virtually impossible for an innocent person to be executed and has been so for decades. Davis, about whose guilt there is simply no question, had 22 years for his appeals to travel through the system. Ironically, that’s almost as long as Clifford Olson spent taunting his victims’ families.
The difference between them, though, is this: Olson’s victims’ families knew they would never see justice done, and Olson knew he need never lose a night’s sleep fearing justice would be done. But there has been some comfort for the slain Officer Mark MacPhail’s family in knowing that however long it took, they had every reasonable expectation of seeing justice done at some point, and Davis had no reasonable expectation of believing he would escape justice. The time between the crimes and the deaths of the murderers was similar, but the moral chasm between the situations was immense.
Barbara Kay is a weekly columnist for the National Post.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.