Monday, 18 May 2009

Killer is a celebrity, thanks to death row

His execution is set for Wednesday. So naturally we’re hearing a lot about how Dennis Skillicorn turned his life around while on Missouri’s death row.

Just before a court order helped him avoid lethal injection last year, we also were made aware of how he’d found God.

Which they all do. Except Skillicorn went on to start a prison ministry.

For several years, he’s been editor of a national magazine that features the work of other condemned prisoners. And he’s been involved in a prison hospice program and — well, there’s a lot more about his accomplishments and deep remorse on the Internet.

But what of Richard Drummond?

His fine points are little mentioned these days. About all we hear of him is that he was a Good Samaritan — an Excelsior Springs businessman who offered to help Skillicorn and two of his druggie pals when their car broke down on Interstate 70 one day in August 1994.

And for that kindness, Drummond, 47, was kidnapped, robbed and marched into the woods near Higginsville, Mo. It was there that one of the men, Allen Nicklasson, fired two bullets into Drummond’s brain.

This is what cuts me raw about the death penalty in this country, almost as much as the inequities of capital punishment.

The death penalty makes celebrities out of the most unrepentant killers and sympathetic characters out of those who, like Skillicorn, have managed to make something of themselves in prison.

The victims become cardboard cutouts, while the stories of the condemned are told and retold in court documents and news accounts.

And always the candlelight vigils. If Skillicorn is put to death, some will call him a martyr.

It wasn’t like this when death sentences were carried out in a matter of months. Killers were remembered only for their crimes.

No one lit candles for Charlie Starkweather.

But now it takes 12 years on average for a death sentence to be carried out, and often it’s longer.

That’s not about to change, even if states like Missouri make reforms. It’s as good an argument as any for getting rid of the death penalty.

Sentencing more killers to life without a chance of parole would recognize that people can change for the better over time. It also would ensure that they went about it in the anonymity they deserve.

Richard Drummond?

Press reports never did go into much detail about his life, except to say that he was a good husband and father.

“He loved life,” a family member said.

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