Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

File under “With friends like these…”

Posted by sanityinjection on July 24, 2008

In his last statement before being executed, death row inmate Dale Bishop urged opponents of the death penalty to vote for Barack Obama:

Apparently, Mr. Bishop’s deep-seated philosophical opposition to capital punishment had not yet fully formed when he helped his buddy beat their victim to death with a claw hammer, or when he requested the death penalty at his sentencing. The article indicated that Mr. Bishop was mentally ill, but all the quotes attributed to him sound pretty lucid to me.

In any case, I will wager you won’t be finding this endorsement on Senator Obama’s web site anytime soon.


8 Responses to “File under “With friends like these…””

  1. The OC (really) said

    Your knowledge of the late Mr Bishop’s mental illness appears limited. His particular condition would allow for “lucid” speech, might encourage him to make the strange request for his own death, and might be a contributing factor in rage or other violent behaviour: see, for example:

    The greater problem here was one of procedure and the arbitrary application of the death penalty- the actual murderer was not executed, whilst his accomplice has been, thanks to the Jesus loving Gov. Barbour.

    Obama might have some questionable supporters, but those who oppose him can be fairly strange too.

  2. sanityinjection said

    Well, OC, I have friends who are bipolar, so I’m probably at least as familiar with the condition as you are. Strangely enough, none of my friends have ever beaten anyone to death or asked to be executed. What I am opposed to is the fallacy that when someone has a clinically diagnosed mental condition and is therefore “mentally ill”, that they bear no responsibility for anything they do, because they can’t understand what they’re doing. While there are circumstances under which that can be true, they are the exception rather than the rule. I, myself, suffer from chronic depression, but if I commit a crime, I should not be held blameless on that account.

    I agree with you on this point though: If it were up to me, both of the perpetrators would be executed.

  3. Dan said

    A mental condition of any kind may possibly sound like an excuse, but it never should be.
    A mental condition may possibly be an explanation, but very few people with mental conditions actually do commit crimes. This makes it suspect as even a valid explanation. It might be a *cause*, but something else also happened (or didn’t happen) that was not managed properly.
    Regardless of whether a mental condition explains what happened, I do not regard them as a valid excuse. We wouldn’t tolerate this behavior from someone without such a condition. There is no societal reason to make an exception since the outcome is just as destructed regardless of the explanation. If someone commits an atrocity, they either should be properly horrified and want to take responsibility for their actions or else they have no understanding what they did and need to be managed as a detrimental member of society. The result is the same, a mental condition is not a mitigating factor in sentencing or punishment.

    Someone with mental problems needs to be self-responsible enough to learn controlling behavior up front. I understand that this can be difficult, if not impossible, in some situations. But again, that isn’t an excuse.

    I disagree on whether someone should ever be executed though. We can always be wrong about what we believe the facts to be, and situations as well as people can change.

  4. Dan said

    I should note, since I glossed over it, that “up front” is a very important time. Mental problems can and do make things very difficult for those who suffer from them, either directly though behavior outside the societal norm, or indirectly as a result of desperation that arose as they struggled with their problems.

    “Up front” we should be doing more to help those of us who suffer from these problems. Personal (and interpersonal) management education, vocational training, and support groups they can turn to, should really be provided. But right now we are failing these people in many ways.

  5. Fitz said

    Well, OC, I have friends who are bipolar, so I’m probably at least as familiar with the condition as you are. Strangely enough, none of my friends have ever beaten anyone to death….

    Well, they have that much in common with Dale Bishop, then, don’t they?

    I’m curious, though, ‘sanity injector’. Would you consider genuine remorse to be a valid grounds upon which to consider the reduction of a sentence? Most legal jurisdictions do, and for I would think rather obviously good reasons. With that in mind, I’m struggling to think of a more clear and unequivocal sign of remorse than actually requesting the death penalty….. especially for a murder the person in question did not actually commit. Thus far I have failed. Most people in that circumstance would instead, I imagine, be squealing ‘but it wasn’t I who killed the man!’

    Perhaps, of course, you’d be prepared to commit the obvious hypocrisy of saying that that was merely his mental illness speaking. I wish you luck. If, on the other hand, you would honestly contend that mitigating circumstance should be irrelevant to sentencing, or that legal incompetence be irrelevant to appeals for clemency when considering a man’s life…. well, I can only say that I’m quite glad that most legal systems were drafted by people more reasonable than you, the presiding judge and the ‘honorable’ Gov. Barbour.

    Otherwise this is a truly strange poster child for either the moral or pragmatic value of the death penalty.

    While you certainly seem to be injecting something into the debate here ….. it certainly isn’t sanity.

  6. sanityinjection said

    Actually, Fitz, if you study a little more, you’ll find that there are many reasons why prisoners request the death penalty, and sometimes it has nothing to do with remorse.

    You seem to be making a big deal out of the fact that Bishop did not wield the murder weapon. Do you not believe it is a crime to incapacitate someone with the intent of helping them to be killed by someone else? If I hand you a gun and tell you to go up to the top of the School Book Depository at the right time, and you shoot JFK, I am guilty of conspiracy to murder even though I didn’t pull the trigger.

    The point of my original post was to note the oddity of a political endorsement from a convicted murderer. My subsequent comment was primarily directed at the misuse of mental illness as an exculpation for crimes committed with full knowledge. I have never suggested that Mr. Bishop should be the “poster child” for the death penalty. I believe in the death penalty, and I respect those who hold an opposite view. However, if you are going to contend that everybody who claims to feel sorry for their crimes should be believed and their sentences reduced, then I would recommend you be prosecuted on the charge of dangerous naivete 🙂

  7. Fitz said

    You seem to be making a big deal out of the fact that Bishop did not wield the murder weapon. Do you not believe it is a crime to incapacitate someone with the intent of helping them to be killed by someone else?

    I am making a big deal out of it, yes. It IS a big deal. I especially like how you accuse me of naivety and require me to “study more” to achieve your god-like level of knowledge on the workings of the minds of inmates when you appear to achieve your own through clairvoyance. The following occurance: “Person A rats on person B (or is believed to have done so), who then has the living shit kicked out of him by Bs associates C & D” hardly seems a wildly unusual occurrence amongst petty criminals. If you have statistics that suggest that the majority of such events occur with C & D s intention to kill A I suggest you actually present them. Otherwise there seems no especial reason to suppose that Dale’s motives were murder, or to disbelieve him when he says as much. There is a VAST difference between the guy who held and kicked a man in such a circumstance and the one who grabbed a hammer and beat his head in with it. While I very much admire your ability to read Dale’s mind to conclude that his intention was to help kill the man, you’ll forgive me for holding on to a little skepticism myself. I also particularly like how, by way of a subsequent analogy, you would suggest that – further, Dale must have cold-bloodedly instructed his accomplice to kill the man in question and then handed him the hammer to do so.

    I did not state that all who claim remorse should have their sentences reduced. I said that remorse is valid grounds for the reduction of sentence. It is a sign that the person in question may be more salvageable than we might otherwise assume. Dale’s actual words were as follows:

    “I just wanted to say…I’m sorry for what happened to Mark. Mark was my friend. You know, I – I thought Mark needed his ass kicked. I did. I didn’t know Jessie was gonna go all out like that. Mark was a good man… Mark’s in heaven right now… I ain’t going to heaven; I won’t allow it. For what I did, I deserve to die. I ain’t gonna ask this Court to spare my life”

    “These people here, some of them would like to kill me. They can’t. They don’t have that authority… But you do. You’ve got that authority. I mean, look at them. They would like to see, you know – their son was killed, you know. I played a part in that… So I’m asking you to do what they can’t do, kill me for what I done. I deserve it. I know it, I want you to sentence me to death.”

    I can think of no other likely reason in this case than remorse why Dale would have requested the death penalty. Past a request that I engage in further unspecified “study”, neither could you. Actually, the fact that he is bipolar seems to me to greatly improve the probability that this was remorse, albeit remorse triggered by a manic low. And I pointed out that if you would hold that his condition not be held as a mitigating factor in the assault, you have no right to explain away apparent subsequent remorse in such a fashion.

    You’re probably right in that I responded to more than was actually said here. I’m not from the U.S. let alone Mississippi and so only heard and read up on this case yesterday … and there’s (I think) surprisingly little commentary on it on the web. In answer to your original post, though, I would say the following: personally, I should be ashamed to count as a supporter anyone who felt anything but disgust at this rather fatally sordid affair.

  8. sanityinjection said

    Fitz – I appreciate the additional information you have provided. I can certainly understand how, based on the text you quoted, you might conclude that Bishop’s remorse is genuine – I certainly get that impression. And perhaps it is. But it could also be what a clever person might say to feign remorse. You and I weren’t in the courtroom, so we can’t assess the impact of his nonverbal cues.

    However, you are overconfident to suggest that there are no other reasons besides remorse why someone would request the death penalty. I can think of two. First, one might prefer a relatively humane death to life in prison. I can tell you without the slightest hesitation that I would. Second, one might be dissatisfied with one’s life for any number of reasons that are unconnected with the crime that was committed and seek to end it, or feel that one did not deserve to live, again for totally unrelated reasons. Neither of these possibilities requires a great intellect or imagination to come up with, which is why I recommended you might want to educate yourself a little more on the question. I’m sure you won’t thank me for saving you the trouble, but given your tone I thought you might accept it better from a third party than from me.

    I take it that you are probably from a country that does not allow capital punishment. I would also venture to guess that whatever country that may be, probably did not abolish capital punishment until the latter half of the 20th century. That seems to be a relatively short time period in which to have developed your sneering attitude toward the American justice system. It may even be (and I am speculating here) that your country was only able to maintain a free and independent judiciary because of the actions of the society that the American justice system, with all its undeniable flaws, has produced.

    I say all this not to attack your opinions about the death penalty, but only to suggest that you might pause to reconsider your assumption of the holy high ground about the matter. Nevertheless, thanks for participating in the discussion.

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