Let me start with a story.
Some years ago, in Northern California, a very big man abducted a 12-year-old girl from her mother's home. He raped her, killed her with his bare hands and then hid her body.
The police searched for weeks before finding her remains. They identified and charged him. He was tried for murder.
The girl's father basically made a career out of hating the killer. The father became a regional celebrity, quoted often in the press and sharing his rage and pain in impassioned speeches. He argued strongly for the strongest punishment possible: the death penalty.
At trial, the killer, a paroled felon, was belligerent. He didn't offer much of a defense -- the evidence against him was compelling. He glared at anyone who caught his eye. A former prosecutor who had encountered the killer in a previous trial said the killer was the scariest man he ever had seen.
The trial got wide coverage in the California press. There was understandable deploring of the crime and outrage at the killer's lack of remorse.
In the end, the man was convicted and given the death penalty. He smiled as he was led from the courtroom. I imagine he still has his own cell at San Quentin today.
This trial's result bothered me. It took me a while to figure out why, but I came to an understanding over time.
First, the killer preferred the death penalty and life in the capital punishment ward. Child rapists do not live long in general prison populations. With his record, he certainly knew this.
Second, death penalty executions take a long time. The last one in California, in 2006, was for murders committed in 1980. In prison, the killer would continue to receive attention for many years from lawyers, activists and courts reviewing his sentence. If he had been given life without parole, he would be forgotten and die in obscurity.
Most important, his conviction was the most distinction the killer could hope for in this world. He was a menacing thug; outside prison, he probably was avoided and shunned by employers, old friends, and even his own family. His trial and conviction made him famous around the state and region. Inside prison he would be regarded as one of the worst of the worst -- the baddest guy in a place full of bad guys.
In short, the killer received enormous attention for what he did, certainly more than he could have got if he were an honorable man who behaved himself. This attention appeared to satisfy him.
We are seeing more of this these days.
The Latest Killer
Yesterday, a man went to a community college in Oregon with four guns and a plan to make a name for himself.
He was interested in the Irish Republican Army's terrorist history, in Nazi memorabilia and in the Virginia newsman who killed two of his colleagues last month. The killer identified himself as an atheist on a dating website, and we can guess that the rest of his profile didn't attract many young women.
On social media the evening before his rampage, he seems to have posted this:
“Some of you guys are alright.
Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest.
happening thread will be posted tomorrow morning.
so long space robots.”
When he got to the college, the killer pointed his guns at given students and asked if they were Christians. If they said yes, he shot them in the head. If no, in the leg.
The killer died in a gunfire exchange with police. Had the police not killed him, he almost certainly would have shot himself.
For days and weeks now, we will hear about the Oregon shooter on television and read about him in newspapers. He could not have hoped for this much attention for his going-nowhere life.
Over time we will learn that he had not found his way in this world and that he was unhappy and angry. He is only the most recent creep to leave behind a trail of bodies in a selfish quest for quick glory.
Would we have heard these names in any other context -- Dylann Roof, Adam Lanza, Eric Harris/Dylan Klebold? Of course not.
Losers. All of them.
Let us forget him and remember instead the people whose lives he cut short.