Executions to Frame Thanksgiving

Getting into the holiday spirit, North Carolina has decided to execute three individuals between Nov. 11th and the first week of December. The AP has picked up on these executions and noted that they bracket the Thanksgiving holiday.

The facts of these cases give fascinating insights into our legal system. And all of them have family members of both sides asking Easley for clemency. As someone against the death penalty, I am against all of the executions, but I wonder whether Easley will grant any of the clemencies.

Read on for more analysis.

1) Steven Van McHone, 35:

McHone was upset because his mother would not give him money she had set aside to pay his court-ordered restitution from a previous conviction. McHone, who had a string of larceny and theft convictions on his record, chased his mother around the yard of her Surry County home before shooting her in the back of the head.

His stepfather took the gun McHone used to kill Mildred Adams, but McHone then found a shotgun and used it to kill Wesley Adams Sr.

McHone's family is split about whether he should die for his crimes. Wesley Adams Jr. favors executing his half brother, while another half brother and two half sisters have asked Gov. Mike Easley to spare his life.

That would "enable us to establish new relationships for the future," said half sister Tina Walker, 41, of Winston-Salem, who added it took her years to forgive McHone for killing her parents. That lesson of forgiveness is something she wants to share with her own children,

"Maybe we can get some of the things we lost back," she said.

So a hardened criminal commits a brutal, senseless murder of his parents (most studies show that murders usually know or are family member of their victims). Yet the daughter of the murdered victims wants to show forgiveness. I could imagine a more difficult situation to be in than hers and she wants to show forgiveness. This shows an incredible amount of humanity for someone that may not by normal measures deserve it.

2) Elias Hanna Syriani, 67:

Syriani's family is united it its desire that Easley grant him clemency. Syriani stabbed wife Teresa 28 times with a screwdriver, just after she filed for divorce. The couple's four children are scheduled to speak with Easley on Tuesday.

"We just feel if this happens, we will be devastated," daughter Rose Syriani, 28, said at a news conference last month. "I don't know if we will get through this again."

This is another murder against a family member. The method of murder is less gruesome but at least there seems to be a clearer motive here. Although by no means a justification of the murder, this could be seen as a crime of passion. How does the fact that his family members are united about not having him executed cut? It makes me more likely to advocate for clemency since we do not want to victimize them again. But there is an argument that the criminal should be judged by the objective aspects of the crime and not give someone a "break" because his victims are forgiving individuals.

This case also presents a different issue in that Syriani is likely to never commit another crime again, at least much less likely than McHone. Members of the legal system debate how this issue effects the level of punishment, and it is a fascinating issue that goes to why we punish.

3) Kenneth Lee Boyd, 57

A clemency meeting for Boyd is scheduled Nov. 15.

Boyd was sentenced to death for the March 1988 slayings of his wife, Julie Curry Boyd, and Thomas Dillard Curry, his father-in-law. Boyd admitted killing them at Curry's Stoneville home, which was riddled with bullets. He later told investigators he separated from his wife in 1987 because of arguments and his drinking problem, and hadn't planned to killed either person.

We see again killings of family members with a murder than can be described more like a spur-of-the-moment killing than a planned one.

I do not know how to differentiate between these three individuals. There is no doubt as to the guilt of any of them. They all committed brutal murders. It will be interesting to see how Easley responds, but here is mine:

Murder is the taking of another person's life without justification. Killing is the taking of another person's life with or without justification. Just because the state is doing the killing, does not justify it. The state is the embodiment of all citizens of the state. The primary goal of the justice system is to protect those citizens from those that will harm them. The state killing of a criminal, regardless of how bad of a person he is, does nothing to protect citizens. In addition, the execution stains the hands of the state and all of its citizens. We lose our moral position for no benefit in protection of our citizens.