Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Death as a matter of choice

One of the perpetrators of one of the scariest, most notorious crimes in Houston history was put to death tonight. Texas - no surprise - went ahead with the execution despite international opposition.

I've always been ambivalent about the death penalty, from the inequity in how the punishment is meted out (disproportionately to poor, brown people) to a general belief that humans shouldn't be in the business of handing down the ultimate judgment. More than eight years ago, I witnessed an execution in the famed Texas death house in Huntsville and left mortified at how anticlimactic it is to watch someone die.
But if there was a guy for whom the punishment was created, it was Jose Medellin (pictured above).

Medellin was one of three people condemned for the June 1993 gang rape and murder of Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, in a park on the northwest side of the city.
Ertman and Pena were raped and strangled after they stumbled into a drunken gang initiation rite while cutting through the park in order to get home before a curfew. It wasn't until four days later that authorities found their decomposing bodies.
Medellin never really disputed his role in the slayings. His was more of an argument of technicality, claiming that authorities refused his right to contact the Mexican consulate after his arrest, violating a 1963 treaty signed by the United States and 165 other countries that should have allowed him to do so.
That makes it easier for me to digest the thought of him, now 33, being sent to his death Tuesday. I was only 15 when Ertman and Pena were killed; we could have been classmates. I remember thinking that girls my age weren't supposed to die that way, that no one was born for that sort of ending. If teenage girls weren't safe, then what chance did the rest of us have?
Maybe Medellin wasn't brought into this world to die on the gurney either. But he and his friends never gave Ertman and Pena (pictured below, at right) a choice in the matter. And that's why I'm not all that interested in defending his rights tonight.

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