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Forgive me for being longwinded, but I was speaking from the heart.
March 5, 2014 3:21 PM   Subscribe

As Gawker has done for a couple years now, they sent letters to all the U.S. death row inmates who have execution dates in the upcoming year. Texas inmate Ray Jasper, who is set to be executed later this month, responded with an incredible letter on his thoughts about the US justice system, race, Christianity, and society as a whole.
posted by gman (84 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gawker did a follow-up letter written by the victim's brother the following day. An important companion piece.
posted by skammer at 3:26 PM on March 5 [30 favorites]


You didn't editorialize, so I'll just go ahead and assume that when you say "incredible" you mean incredibly self-indulgent, self-pitying, and sociopathic. If all you (the reader) know about the Ray Jasper case is from this letter, please read up a little further on the case.
posted by peep at 3:29 PM on March 5 [10 favorites]


I would say that, rather being a "companion piece," it is important to read the letter from the victim's brother first. Puts everything in a whole new light. Jasper seems like a very well spoken sociopath to me.
posted by cairdeas at 3:30 PM on March 5 [17 favorites]


The gist of the victim's brother's letter:

Jasper, according to his testimony, needed money so that he could move out of his parents house and into an apartment with the mother of his child, his girlfriend. Jasper decided to rob David.

...

Ray Jasper knew well that he could not rob David's studio equipment without being fingered to the police by him later. So it was, seven to ten days prior, Jasper made the decision to end David's life.

...

Jasper admits to then grabbing David by his hair, yanking his head back and pulling the kitchen knife he brought with him across David's throat, slicing it open. David jumped up and grabbed at his own throat from which blood was flowing. He began to fight for his life. At this point Jasper called to one of his accomplices who rushed into the room with another knife.

...

He was then covered with a sheet and the three men proceeded to tear out as much equipment as they could and load it all into the van they drove there.

...

During the trial, testimony from the Medical Examiner revealed that it was not technically Jasper's injury to David that caused death, but the subsequent 25 stab wounds. Jasper's defense team seized upon this as a defense tactic against a murder charge, and Jasper joined that opinion. Never mind that Jasper delivered the first attack. At one point while he was on the stand testifying, he asked to speak to us— David's family members. He looked us square in the eye and exclaimed "I didn't kill your son. He was one of the nicest guys I ever met, but I did not kill him." Jasper's reasoning was that since the M.E. cited the 25 stab wounds as the cause of death and not the throat slit committed by Jasper, he was technically not guilty of murder.


This took place in 1998.

posted by cairdeas at 3:34 PM on March 5 [11 favorites]


It's worth noting that United States Presidents are unable to grant clemency for crimes prosecuted under state law. This would require clemency from the Texas governor which is... unlikely.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:43 PM on March 5


Like cairdeas, I find this post oddly framed. Putting the letter of the victim's family member first to give full context to the letter of the condemned man seems much more fair to the reality of the situation and could be done without much editorializing in the phrasing used.
posted by sparkletone at 3:47 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


And, from Jasper's own letter ...
If you're not giving the death penalty for murder, then the government is already saying that the taking of one's life is not worth the death penalty. Capital murder is if you take someone's life and commit another felony at the same time. That's Texas law. That makes a person eligible for the death penalty The problem is, you're not getting the death penalty for murder, you're actually getting it for the other felony. That doesn't make common sense. You can kill a man but you will not get the death penalty......if you kill a man and take money out his wallet, now you can get the death penalty.

I'm on death row and yet I didn't commit the act of murder. I was convicted under the law of parties. When people read about the case, they assume I killed the victim, but the facts are undisputed that I did not kill the victim. The one who killed him plead guilty to capital murder for a life sentence. He admitted to the murder and has never denied it. Under the Texas law of parties, they say it doesn't matter whether I killed the victim or not, I'm criminally responsible for someone else's conduct. But I was the only one given the death penalty.
Wow, Ray. You surely are the victim here.
posted by cairdeas at 3:48 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


Wow, Ray. You are surely the victim here.

Can we reason logically about what's in front of us instead of inventing random strawmen? No one suggested that Ray is more the victim than the murdered man.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:50 PM on March 5 [12 favorites]


The man said, verbatim, "I'm on death row and yet I didn't commit the act of murder" and "they say it doesn't matter whether I killed the victim or not, I'm criminally responsible for someone else's conduct. But I was the only one given the death penalty."

That is unquestionably a self pitying and victimhood-claiming statement.
posted by cairdeas at 3:51 PM on March 5 [18 favorites]


This would require clemency from the Texas governor which is... unlikely.

Texas governors can't just grant clemency; it has to first be recommended by the Parole Board.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:53 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


The idea that injustice is being done to him for being convicted of capital murder because the victim didn't die after Ray slit his throat and had to call in a bunch of other guys to keep stabbing him.
posted by cairdeas at 3:53 PM on March 5 [6 favorites]


It is suggesting that his punishment is beyond what his crime merits. It's not suggesting that "he is the victim here instead of the murdered man" as you suggested. It's a pretty disrespectful derail to jump to hyperbole given such serious letters from both men.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:54 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


[cairdeas, you've made over half the comments in this thread, please let it breathe a little? ]
posted by jessamyn at 3:54 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


You have your opinion, esprit de l'escalier, and I have mine. He is, without question, claiming victimhood, and that injustice was done to him for having committed capital murder. Have your opinion as you like, and I will have mine. Something is not a derail just because you disagree with it, however strongly. Also, I will disrespect lies and manipulatively misleading restatement of the facts every time I see them.
posted by cairdeas at 3:57 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Ok Jessamyn.
posted by cairdeas at 3:57 PM on March 5


It is suggesting that his punishment is beyond what his crime merits.

Correct. And he's right, but only because his punishment is beyond what any crime merits. There are lots of well-spoken murderers on death row. None of them deserves to be killed by the State, but that's only because no one deserves to be killed by the State.

Read properly, and in connection with the letter from the victim's brother, I think Jasper's letter is actually a great example of exactly how dangerous men like this really are. It is a spectacular piece of manipulation and self delusion. This is not a man we want among us. But it is also not a man we have a right to kill like -- as he aptly puts it -- a dog.
posted by The Bellman at 4:01 PM on March 5 [19 favorites]


It's not really relevant that Jasper almost certainly is a 'murderer' by any sensible standard, in that he attempted to kill someone and cut their their throat with the intent of killing them, even if he technically did not strike the killing blow. His letter still makes valid points.

- The other people involved in the murder are not on death row. How does that make sense?

- How do life sentences for non-violent crimes make sense?

- How are you supposed to get kids interested in education when they live in poverty and violence?

Address the argument - he has a perspective that may be worth attention, even if he is not a good person. Ad hominem isn't interesting.

[Having said that, I'm glad that the actual facts of the crime have been clarified]
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:06 PM on March 5 [34 favorites]


Jasper's crime is much more grisly and he is much more culpable than his letter would have us believe, but his reading of some of our societal sins and our justice system's negligent treatment of convicts is accurate.
posted by Amplify at 4:13 PM on March 5 [10 favorites]


He is, without question, claiming victimhood…

We agree there. What's a derail is suggesting hyperbolically that he is more the victim by tutting at him with "Wow, Ray. You surely are the victim here." Instead of starting the thread off by saying that that you find it hard to heed his call for sympathy, you are poisoning the thread by going beyond anything that he said and suggesting that he is making himself to be more a victim than the person he killed. It's a derail because it turns a whole thread into a tug-of-war between a least one ridiculous position.

…and that injustice was done to him for having committed capital murder.

Was this supposed to be a separate sentence (with a new subject)? I don't think Ray's claiming this.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:14 PM on March 5


The other people involved in the murder are not on death row. How does that make sense?

Assuming the facts in the other letter are correct, its because he chose not to take a plea. Getting a lighter sentence in exchange for saving the state, victims, everyone the cost and emotions of a trial is pretty standard. He chose not to do that, the other perpetrator chose the plea. I'm not a death penalty supporter, but I am fine with plea deals in general.

Ad hominem isn't interesting.

Surely its not "ad hominem" to attack the arguments he makes about himself in his own letter? People arent dragging in unrelated things here, he spends a good chunk of it talking about why he doesnt think he deserves his sentence. Its hard not to see some of his other comments as self-serving in the same vein. He could have made those comments without inserting his personal guilt / sentence as a central issue, but he did not. You want to focus on some parts of his letter but not others, but thats not how he framed it. (If people were dragging in other letters or commentary from him that would be different maybe, but this is all in the same context).

In other words, if you want to have a discussion about those other issues, there are 100x better ways to frame the discussion. I don't see a way to un-poison the well here.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:14 PM on March 5 [8 favorites]


like a dog

I had to have my dog put down (old, incurably ill and in great pain). The vet used a massive painkiller overdose. Death was instantaneous, like a switch being thrown.

In contrast, American multi-drug lethal injections are often death by slow asphyxiation. If arbitrary capital punishment is going to continue, its victims should literally be killed like dogs. Humans should not be treated worse than dogs.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:15 PM on March 5 [32 favorites]


I find arguments against the Felony Murder rule laughable. You enter into a place with the intent to commit a felony, it is foreseeable that someone will get hurt. I personally oppose the death penalty, but felony murder is a good rule with centuries behind it.

The fact that this man sliced another human being's (his own friend) throat while engaging in a felony robbery, then calls others into the room to do harm and feels he's not responsible for the death only proves the rule is a good and proper one.

I don't think he should be put to death, but most certainly this is felony murder.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:17 PM on March 5 [11 favorites]


- The other people involved in the murder are not on death row. How does that make sense?

They took a plea deal. Ray Jasper cut a man's throat, got caught and then decided to roll the dice with a jury trial (in Texas of all places). Neither of his gambles paid off and he's going to die. It's pretty simple. I don't support the death penalty but I see nothing here that's the least bit surprising or questionable as far as Texas death penalty cases go.
posted by MikeMc at 4:17 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I think the more interesting parts of the letters were: the fundamental distinction between empathy and sympathy, and how empathy — not sympathy — leads to right action and right policy. It's not about whether we feel sorry for him. It's about how we want people to be treated today. No one contests society's need to incarcerate criminals, but the purpose of that incarceration has to be limited to deterrence, rehabilitation, and protection of society.

What is happening is that the motivations for incarceration are turning towards the wrong financial incentives. We have a "prison industry" that benefits from incarceration, which is abided by a society that is decreasingly empathetic and increasingly vengeful.

This has very little to do with the particulars of Ray's crime. It has to do with the other 5 pages in his letter.

I've thought a lot about this problem over the years. I often consider economic incentives even though I know they're not popular on metafilter. I think one solution would be to introduce an anti-recidivism incentive. The idea is that when someone goes to jail, the government holds an auction whereby prisons offer to be paid by the government $X to incarcerate the prisoner. In exchange, the first ten years after release, the government will charge the winning prison a fixed rate for any crimes committed by the prisoner. Prisons that rehabilitate prisoners the best will naturally be able to bid less.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:20 PM on March 5 [8 favorites]


I thought it was big of him to express remorse for slashing the victim's throat from ear to ear.

oh, wait, he didn't do that at all.
posted by jpe at 4:25 PM on March 5 [8 favorites]


Here is a transcript of the Jasper court testimony. Mr. Jasper admitted during cross examination that he premediated David Alejandro's death; it was clearly demonstrated by the district attorney that David arranged the robbery and execution.

Q. You planned his death, didn't you?
A. Yes.


Whether you believe the death penalty is justified or not, there are many letters from inmates who have ended lives, sociopathic personalities who have taken lives in ways that we cannot not adequately describe with mere words. They speak and write of many things and of the many injustices they have encountered leading to their incarceration, but there is characteristically never a single word of contrition or empathy for the victims themselves, or for the families and friends left behind; we find only self-pity. The letter seems to be a justification of the inexcusable. It is terrible.
posted by Schadenfreude at 4:26 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


They speak and write of many things and of the many injustices they have encountered leading to their incarceration, but there is characteristically never a single word of contrition or empathy for the victims themselves, or for the families and friends left behind; we find only self-pity.

This is of course, completely false. Some people on Death Row feel genuine remorse. Some don't. Some may have at one time, but have lost the ability to show any empathy because of the brutality of the system they find themselves in (If the state feels justified in murder, why shouldn't they?). And many, many people on Death Row are completely innocent of anything besides being poor or black or being unable to afford a competent defense.

Passing moral judgment on Mr. Jasper is not really the point, and neither is broad condemnation of every Death Row inmate everywhere. Of course the state couldn't murder them if it didn't dehumanize them first, but maybe we owe even the worst among them the respect of admitting they are a distinct human being?
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:40 PM on March 5 [22 favorites]


His reading of some of our societal sins and our justice system's negligent treatment of convicts is accurate.

Except that he's obviously just parroting things he's read and heard elsewhere. I could tell by the way the tone and vocabulary shifted as I was reading it and I'm no trained analyst. (i do read a lot of poorly written academic works which are typically stitched together in this fashion by uncaring authors. It indicates a lack of understanding and ability to see the big picture to me immediately).

There are obvious issues with the prison system and overly long sentences. And I am sure there are genuinely intelligent, insightful and remorseful men and women in Mr. Jaspers position who it would be enlightening to hear from. But this letter is a case study in being a manipulative sociopath. I'm always surprised when people take things like this at face value. If entire sections haven't been lifted wholesale from other sources I'd be surprised.
posted by fshgrl at 4:55 PM on March 5 [11 favorites]


I find arguments against the Felony Murder rule laughable. You enter into a place with the intent to commit a felony, it is foreseeable that someone will get hurt.

Given that many felonies are committed in which no one gets hurt, how is it forseeable that someone will get hurt when you enter into a place with the intent to commit a felony?
posted by layceepee at 5:05 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I'm always surprised when people take things like this at face value.

What does it matter if we take it at face value and not as part of some kind manipulative trick? It's not like we're going to be "fooled by him" — He'll be dead soon enough. This letter is about social justice and social change. He made that clear twice: "'one honest man' could morally regenerate an entire society" and "'all improvement in society begins with the education of the young.'"
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:07 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Jasper, in my mind, is a murderer due to intent, the throat slash, etc. Am glad to have read the statement from the victim's brother.

However, the things Jasper says about the issues of race and the prison system are all very true. I do wish he had been contrite or had some remorse, then he could have been a better spokesperson.

I am still against the death penalty, however.
posted by Pocahontas at 5:07 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


Except that he's obviously just parroting things he's read and heard elsewhere.

So do we all.

But this letter is a case study in being a manipulative sociopath.

I guess. But on the other hand, who better should we listen to than someone directly affected?

And I am sure there are genuinely intelligent, insightful and remorseful men and women in Mr. Jaspers position who it would be enlightening to hear from.

People in that position being those on death row, I am not nearly so sure.
posted by JHarris at 5:23 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


The letter seems to be a justification of the inexcusable. It is terrible.

Funny because this thread seems to largely be a justification of the inexcusable. What do people think, that your average death row inmate is Nelson Mandela? Empathizing with saints is like free speech for people you agree with. The rate of violent crime in the United States is absurdly higher than virtually any country we would consider our peer and many we wouldn't, and how unsurprising it is that its citizens just can't seem to find any empathy for a man their government is about to kill. And the band played on.
posted by crayz at 5:37 PM on March 5 [20 favorites]


Mr. Jasper is an intelligent man - he has interesting comments to make and it is sad he did not have the opportunity to apply his insights to the everyday concerns you and I face each day. Perhaps if his circumstances were different he could have succeeded in life, even with the same personality that, in the circumstances he was born with, led him to jail. However, he also made the choice to murder an innocent person, and his victim was just as ordinary as you or I or even he himself. Because he has demonstrated himself to be an intelligent person now, I do not see how he was not an intelligent person then. What he did was wrong but he wilfully decided to do it. Perhaps if he was never faced with hard choices he would not have behaved thusly.

Nonetheless, I find Mr. Jasper's letters valuable because they show how normal the individuals on death row are. It is easy to dismiss the people who find themselves in prison as monstrous or emotionally crippled. But these writings, which are just like so many other less remarkable letters from death row, clearly show the thoughts of a sensible human being. Although I do support the death penalty and feel his sentence was fair, I also think letters like these are helpful because they challenge our assumptions that convicted criminals are somehow different from us. One poster mentioned Mr. Jasper was just regurgitating phrases he has heard/read. This is a valid point. However I do feel it needlessly distances prisoners from ourselves, since many scholarly people do this as well in their writing, only in a more sophisticated manner. It is not necessarily a moral failing. And to be fair, many prisoners only have the opportunity to sit and study once they are in jail, and then with a limited library. Some did not have the luxury of post secondary school, let alone the luxury of finishing high school. So Mr. Jasper's writing style does not mean he lacks understanding.

I am not sure what point I mean to make. I definitely agree with the sentence Mr. Jasper was given, but at the same time I do empathize with his situation. I have heard the phrase "There but for the grace of God go I", and "Never judge a person until you walk in their shoes". Maybe these sentiments are what I am getting at, as tired and cliched as they are, even while I agree his punishment was just.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 5:38 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


It feels weird to me when people call someone a sociopath in an accusatory way, as if they chose to be a sociopath. Isn't it a mental illness effectively? Shouldn't we want to treat them?
posted by MrBobaFett at 6:09 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


It's because when people generally say sociopath, they actually mean it as a dehumanizing label. He's manipulating you. And since you've been manipulated, you can be safely ignored too.

Did he write this in order to try to build up support for the idea that he shouldn't be executed? Well, let me put it this way: wouldn't he be a fool not to?
posted by JHarris at 6:22 PM on March 5 [10 favorites]


In spite of how he appears in his letter. I'm nearing 30 years old now, and I KNOW without a doubt, how much of a dumbass I was when I was 19. Foolish enough to pull someones hair back and cut their throat with a knife? Perhaps not.

But I think we can all understand that sort of idea. Of what you think you know when you're 19, and how you begin to understand how BS that is as you age.

Our upbringings drive our choices, then we realize we have a choice, that's when you understand how much responsibility you have. In some cases, by the time that happens, it's already too late.

Can a person at 19 years or even younger, remain in the same state of mind for their entire lives? I've never met the person, and I don't think I want to.
posted by honor the agreement at 6:28 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


Agree with honor the agreement. This has always troubled me, long periods of time served in prison before an execution. If we all agree (we don't but hey) that the death sentence can be applied fairly and justly, surely we would agree that it should also be executed in a timely manner. I can get the whole idea of catching a killer, having a trial and executing him for murder in the same week or month. But if we're going to keep them alive for 10 or more years why don't we do something constructive with that time and hope they grow?
posted by MrBobaFett at 6:40 PM on March 5


Coming back to this thread several hours later, I want to respond to a last thing.

What does it matter if we take it at face value and not as part of some kind manipulative trick?

Considering the source of a piece of "information" is a legitimate and crucial part of thinking critically about it. You consider whether testimonials are paid for or given freely. You consider whether a news channel is controlled by a government, a corporation, or a private businessman - and you consider the politics and financial interests of those entities. You consider whether the source of the information has any education or expertise in the subject matter. And you consider whether the source of the information is known to lie.

You consider whether anyone profits if you take this piece of information at face value, and you consider what they might expect to get.

Here, we have a source of information who is known to shamelessly lie, manipulate, distort. We have a source of information who clearly believes that he can easily sway people by making specious arguments.

If our source of information manipulates and distorts the truth, it's important that we know that about him and remain aware of it as we evaluate the things that he says. That doesn't mean he can never say anything true, or that we should automatically dismiss anything that he says out of hand. It very simply means that we should be aware of his propensity to distort the truth.

Skepticism towards a source who is known to distort the truth for self-gain is completely different than skepticism towards someone because you don't like the color of his shirt or his hairstyle or because you think he's a "bad person" in some kind of general sense. There are plenty of people out there talking about these issues who are not liars, and their other traits are all over the map.

Separately, our source has consistently behaved in the manner of a sociopath - conscience-free, guilt-free, entitled, doesn't see others as real humans. "Sociopath" isn't a dehumanizing label, however, sociopaths do dehumanize others.

It hardly seems valuable to hear soppy musings on empathy from people who consistently behave, talk, and write in a way that is utterly devoid of empathy, and entirely self-focused. If a person has had little experience or understanding of a topic, then it's legitimate to be skeptical of them as a source for information on that topic.

I don't think Ray Jasper or anyone else deserves to be put to death. I don't think Ray Jasper wrote this letter out of any great caring for humanity or reforming the justice system, except insofar as it affects him -- I think he just wanted to portray his actions as more understandable and sympathetic. That's his right, but there are so many people out there - not saints, not Nelson Mandelas, plenty who have done "bad things" - who are truly doing their best to reform the justice system, who have dedicated their lives to learning about and working on the topic, and who, when offered a platform to talk about it, do their level best to use it in service of reform, rather than service of themselves.

My two cents.
posted by cairdeas at 6:45 PM on March 5 [12 favorites]


Empathy? He certainly doesn't have any for the victim and the family. Unless I missed the paragraph with the apology.

If the death penalty must exist, I think it should only be for cases where more than one person is killed...

Hey, he only killed one! What's the problem?


"'all improvement in society begins with the education of the young.'"

Absolutely. But he hasn't a clue what that means, obviously.

I'm a father. My daughter was six weeks old when I got locked up and now she's 15 in high school. Despite the circumstances, I've tryed to be the best father in the world. But I knew that her course in life is largely determine by what I teach her.

Let's see....At 15, Ray stole a bicycle. During his illustrious career, he was charged with possession of drugs, attempted burglary, and before the murder, he was involved in an incident of violence against an off-duty police officer.

Then when his daughter was born, he must have decided to really start guiding her on a course in life.

Teaching by example, Ray?
posted by BlueHorse at 6:58 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Considering the source of a piece of "information" is a legitimate and crucial part of thinking critically about it. You consider whether testimonials are paid for or given freely. You consider whether a news channel is controlled by a government, a corporation, or a private businessman - and you consider the politics and financial interests of those entities. You consider whether the source of the information has any education or expertise in the subject matter. And you consider whether the source of the information is known to lie.

In all the cases you give, the overriding, yet unstated, reason for all that dishonesty is money. If this guy lies, it's not for financial gain, but to save his own life.

All the cases you give are part of institutionalized mechanisms of deception, erected by the powerful. This is one poor man in a bad situation. He can't afford PR departments, spin doctors, lobbyists or news networks. It was Gawker who contacted him. If it weren't for that, he'd have no access to our ear at all.

And, for all the cases you give, from time to time, the entity in question has not lied but told the truth. Just because a statement comes from a huge powerful interest doesn't mean it's a falsehood. It might be taken as indicative of it, if they feel they have to put a lot of money into the message, but it is not itself proof. To know truth, you should look around for yourself.

Here, we have a source of information who is known to shamelessly lie, manipulate, distort. We have a source of information who clearly believes that he can easily sway people by making specious arguments.

How is that clear? He's on death row. Obviously, his powers of persuasion have critically failed him at least once.

Skepticism towards a source who is known to distort the truth for self-gain is completely different than skepticism towards someone because you don't like the color of his shirt or his hairstyle or because you think he's a "bad person" in some kind of general sense.

When was he known to do that, yesterday or ten years ago? Have you met this man? Can you really say what he's like?

One of the obscuring aspects of this situation is that we're starting to get into what I'll call Yossarian logic: an instance where even an honest person might say untrue things to avoid being killed. In cases like that, I think the thing to do isn't to play Col. Cathcart and dismiss him as being self-serving. Instead, we should think about the situation itself, and how it perverts the cause of rational argument to put people into it.

I don't think Ray Jasper or anyone else deserves to be put to death.

And yet, that is the fate awaiting him. Until that is remedied, I'm prepared to take his statements at face value. And I have to say, regardless of the reason he makes them, there are some interesting arguments there.
posted by JHarris at 7:00 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


It feels weird to me when people call someone a sociopath in an accusatory way, as if they chose to be a sociopath. Isn't it a mental illness effectively? Shouldn't we want to treat them?
posted by MrBobaFett at 6:09 PM on March 5 [+] [!]

It's because when people generally say sociopath, they actually mean it as a dehumanizing label. He's manipulating you. And since you've been manipulated, you can be safely ignored too.

Did he write this in order to try to build up support for the idea that he shouldn't be executed? Well, let me put it this way: wouldn't he be a fool not to?

posted by JHarris at 6:22 PM on March 5 [1 favorite +] [!]

Isn't it possible that in the years since 1998 this man who was once a young man making really bad decisions about things might have actually simply grown up and matured and had more than enough time to observe what he can about the world he experiences and form some deep observations and opinions about various subjects?

He was young and was making horrible decisions, ones which people certainly should never make, like deciding to kill someone in order to keep from being fingered for a robbery. But not everyone who kills someone is a sociopath, not even people who pre-plan murders such as this one.

I'm not sure anyone commenting in this thread has had enough contact or experience with the writer of this letter to diagnose him as a sociopath, and I think it would be wise to refrain from doing so.
posted by hippybear at 7:02 PM on March 5 [10 favorites]


The problem with the "he was young and could have learned by now" is that he obviously hasn't. All you have to do is read his own descriptions of his situation. He is not taking responsibility for what he did.

Yes, that doesn't mean he can't have anything _else_ useful to say. But if he had grown up and realized "wow that was a horrible thing I did" and took responsibility and shown remorse and all that, I could agree with that line of thinking. But he's still saying "well _technically_ I didn't murder anyone!". That hardly shows someone who has grown and matured.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:09 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


Doesn't mean the rest of his observations about society aren't valid.
posted by hippybear at 7:11 PM on March 5 [4 favorites]


But this letter is a case study in being a manipulative sociopath.

I think the (layman's) concept of a sociopath is a very harmful one, and ultimately detrimental to all of us.

The explanation of a sociopath is a hormonal/biological explanation for what is really a very complicated social explanation. It's so easy to handwave things away and say, "oh, they're a sociopath", but people are also a product of their situation, and their context. Relying on the concept of a 'sociopath' to explain this all is a shortcut, a crutch, a kind of easy-out solution that doesn't in any way explain why things are, and how this specific instance is or can be a representation of society in general.

Take a drastically different case for example -- someone who steals, or someone who is addicted to drugs. By calling them a kleptomaniac, or a drug addict, you render them impossible to discuss, they've become sealed off, destined to fulfill the prophesies of forever being a kleptomaniac or a drug addict. "Of course a drug addict is going to be addicted to drugs; that's in their nature!" But in already labeling people you've foreclosed on the possibility in tracing out the reasons why they are addicted to drugs in the first place, and how you could ever begin fix that problem. Instead the tasks becomes about separating the drug addicts from the non-drug-addicts, and the normal people from the non-normal sociopaths.

The prison system is a symptom of this separation, of dividing a population up into those who are criminals, and those who are not criminals, and separating the two, forever. 'Once a criminal, always a criminal.' But criminals are made, not born; they're grown, not found. Where do they come from? Saying, "crime comes from psychopaths" sweeps this all off the table.
posted by suedehead at 7:13 PM on March 5 [7 favorites]


Under the Texas law of parties, they say it doesn't matter whether I killed the victim or not, I'm criminally responsible for someone else's conduct.
Yes, when you plan a lethal crime, initiate it, and then tell someone to complete it as you continue to participate in it, you are criminally responsible when they do so.

This man has nothing to teach me about empathy because what he knows about empathy is how to manipulate people and I'm surprised at just how well he has succeeded.
you couldn't afford an attorney, so the Judge appointed you two defense lawyers who are also black men... you look in the jury box... there's 8 more black people and 4 hispanics... the only white person in the courtroom is you... How would you feel facing the death penalty? Do you believe you'll receive justice?

As outside of the box as that scene is, those were the exact circumstances of my trial. I was the only black person in the courtroom.
With, according to the brother, "a well paid for and well known private practice firm." After, again according to the brother, refusing to plead guilty despite having confessed and having had his partner in crime plead guilty.

I just can't believe anything he's written has any veracity. There's nothing of value in the letter that's not been written elsewhere, better, by people who aren't trying to manipulate the reader into feeling that the author is the victim of a biased legal system.
posted by Candleman at 7:15 PM on March 5 [8 favorites]


Doesn't mean the rest of his observations about society aren't valid.

True, but I feel like this is similar to posts with an inflammatory title or pullquote. If the discussion is not supposed to be about him, this was a poor choice of letter/article. He consistently returns to his crime / situation throughout the letter, so you can't really separate the two so cleanly, and clearly his observations are motivated by his belief that an injustice was done to him, which as far as I can tell is false.

While his opinions may be readable, I certainly don't trust any of his facts or anything, since he has ample motivation to lie and is already distorting his own record.
posted by wildcrdj at 7:19 PM on March 5 [5 favorites]


I think the point of his "I didn't even do the murder, technically" is to highlight the arbitrary nature of capital punishment. His question: how did this happen to me? is understandable in that very narrow context.

Everyone knows that plea agreements happen. Nobody honestly thinks they represent justice -- only expediency. Often the difference boils down to who gets offered the deal first, which often boils down to who the cops/d.a. think is more likely to give them what they want. So he's not wrong that the outcome is surely unfair, whether or not you believe his particular sentence is "just".

He got invited to write a letter about his situation, so he did. He did this crime at 19? -- probably after many excellent educational opportunities, supported by teachers who, you know, really believed in him, and he's been on death row for how long? How the hell do we manage to assimilate all of that to figure out what he's really like, and what's the point of it? He's not wrong that the criminal justice system is horribly broken...

I dunno. It seems a bit rich for any of us to diagnose and dismiss him given the limits of what we can possibly know. But his claims about the system stand up, I'd say.
posted by allthinky at 7:24 PM on March 5 [11 favorites]


The problem with the "he was young and could have learned by now" is that he obviously hasn't. All you have to do is read his own descriptions of his situation. He is not taking responsibility for what he did.

Yes, that doesn't mean he can't have anything _else_ useful to say. But if he had grown up and realized "wow that was a horrible thing I did" and took responsibility and shown remorse and all that, I could agree with that line of thinking. But he's still saying "well _technically_ I didn't murder anyone!". That hardly shows someone who has grown and matured.


I think you're totally right wildcrdj. That shows in how he presents himself in his letter. The thing is though, part of growing up and maturing is based on our peers. The people who we find ourselves surrounded by, and those we choose to have surround us have a large impact on how we grow.

Hell if I know what it's like in death row, but aside from books with ancient authors that are incapable of giving him any real feedback. I wonder who/what else he has left to bounce ideas off of.

It's sounds crappy. I'm not trying to absolve him of what he's done. But Ray L. Jasper is less important, while where he comes from is more so.
posted by honor the agreement at 7:32 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


His question: how did this happen to me? is understandable in that very narrow context.

Hubris.
posted by Candleman at 7:41 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


I wish we didn't have the death penalty, but given that we do, this guy deserves it if anyone does. Planning to kill someone days ahead of time and then slitting their throat is not a "bad decision". It's a horrible, unbelievable act that I would never, ever forgive if the victim was related to me. People in my mom's family were poor, and they just sucked it up and at beans and got one orange for Christmas. There's no excuse for what he did.

It's nice that he has learned things in prison, but he doesn't seem very focused on what he's done. Yes, the prison industry is an abomination. Yes, we need to improve class and race equality. But you just can't slash a stranger's throat so you can feel like a man and get new rims or something. You just can't.

I am pretty much ultra-liberal on most issues, but I can't summon any real sympathy (or empathy) for this guy. I guess that makes me a bad person.
posted by freecellwizard at 7:46 PM on March 5 [12 favorites]


allthinky: "He's not wrong that the criminal justice system is horribly broken..."

Not at all. I agree with that point as well as the societal problems in the USA such as poverty, racism, lack of opportunity for many, etc. But, for cripes sake, he slit an innocent man's throat!

I find it outrageous that a person could commit such a heinous act and then claim that it was basically society's fault for not teaching him that he shouldn't have done that.

I'm not saying it's OK for society to kill him because of what he did, but he's certainly not as much a victim as he's portraying himself to be.

And I, too, wish I could have read the letter from the brother of the victim before I read this guy's letter.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:48 PM on March 5


maybe we owe even the worst among them the respect of admitting they are a distinct human being?

He is a distinct human being. A terrible human being who destroyed the lives of those better than him. The fact that he feels weepy over his own family while still having nary a thought for David's shows that he still just as awful as he ever was.

I don't particularly like the idea of the state killing its own citizens. But I can't feel bad that a guy who decided that slitting someone's through was an easy way to make a few bucks is going to be put down "like a dog."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:48 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Ah wow. What an articulate and thoughtful statement from the victim's brother. My heart goes out to him and his family. What a tragic loss.
posted by salvia at 8:00 PM on March 5 [6 favorites]


There are so many articulate, well-researched writings about how horrible our prison system is, and also about the death penalty (which I personally oppose)... But I'm kind of dumbfounded by seeing people in this thread saying, "Weren't we all dumb teenagers once?" as if that's valid at all here.

I can think of many cases where that's a reasonable argument in favor of leniency. I do not see how you can apply that to someone who literally planned for a week to end the life of another person. This wasn't self-defense. This wasn't some more minor crime gone horribly wrong. It was indisputably premeditated. If his wound had been the one that killed the victim, that would've been fine by him! They'd have continued taking the victim's equipment.

Premeditated homicide isn't "stupid teenager shit." But even granting that: Reading what he wrote, he's expressed no sorrow. He's shown no growth. He is not a reformed person. I don't think he should die, but this is not a person deserving of any benefits of the doubt regardless of his insights in other areas.

There are many better sources for these sorts of insights than this guy.
posted by sparkletone at 8:12 PM on March 5 [16 favorites]


There are many better sources for these sorts of insights than this guy.

Sure there are. But the source for these insights is the topic of this FPP, and not a single person has bothered to link anything as succinct containing the sort of reflections or conclusions as presented by the source link of this FPP.

I get that this guy has done something really horribly awful. I don't think I ever used the phrase "stupid teenager shit" when describing what he did, although I can (in an empathetic way) understand the level of desperation which caused the faulty chain of decision-making which brought him to that course of action, given the background of inequity of opportunity and possibility based on race and class structure in the US.

I don't think it was the right decision, I don't even think it was a justifiable decision. It's certainly a rather extreme example of the sort of decision path which is followed by many many brown and black skinned youth in the US based on what they feel they are offered as ways to actually "make it" in our society.

It is easy to look around at many people who have committed much lesser crimes and see how they are simply imperfect echoing fractal reflections in the mirror of racial bigotry, which has structured things to always deal the losing hand to most of the unimaginative non-whites who have less than highly ambitious motivation and lack sufficient support structures.

You don't have to express sorrow about your actions or "show growth" in order to be able to make clear observations about how society is flawed. He says a lot of things which are entirely valid. That he may not be pleading mea culpa about his actual crime doesn't lessen at all his other observations. Dismissing every word he's said because he has left out the words you desire him to say is a bit intellectually dishonest, I think.
posted by hippybear at 8:33 PM on March 5 [6 favorites]


There are so many articulate, well-researched writings about how horrible our prison system is, and also about the death penalty (which I personally oppose)... But I'm kind of dumbfounded by seeing people in this thread saying, "Weren't we all dumb teenagers once?" as if that's valid at all here.

There are many articulate, well-researched writings about young people not understanding the consequences of their actions. Young people can be and are dumb, and impulsive, and make awful decisions. That includes horrible, premeditated crimes.

Leniency in this case is not pardoning him or releasing him from prison; it is simply not executing him.
posted by edeezy at 8:46 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I get that this guy has done something really horribly awful. I don't think I ever used the phrase "stupid teenager shit"

Those last three words was a reference to this comment and the one after it, to be more specific.

You and I, I think, are in more of a position where we'll just have to disagree in the places we do. I don't feel compelled to do googling for statistics about the racial divides in prison populations or first person stories, death row or not, from people who are genuinely remorseful. I skimmed the tags from this thread and some obvious related ones and had no trouble finding stuff that seemed relevant. It's not like our prisons being fucked up and nightmarish places is new information or a particularly controversial assertion. No one in this thread's tried to say otherwise.

I'm not saying this particular murderer is saying invalid things. I'm not dismissing what he does say out of hand. I am looking at what he's saying and where he's coming from and I'm left feeling this: His insights are neither fresh nor interesting enough to overlook what an awful human being he appears to be. You feel differently. I'm okay with that.
posted by sparkletone at 8:47 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


It's because when people generally say sociopath, they actually mean it as a dehumanizing label.

That's not why I said it. I mean the guy is clearly full of shit and if he was just a guy who I thought was full of shit I'd have just probably said that. But that letter is like something a little kid would write, it displays a total and complete lack of understanding of how other people work. Like we're going to read it and be so swayed by these arguments that sound clever that we're going to accord him the kind of treatment and respect he's seen other people who say those kinds of things get. He's not even subtle or clever about it, it's a childish and clumsy attempt to get respect with an undertone of anger and resentment which is how most people who lack all empathy are in real life.

I have definitely met more than my fair share of people like this, with the criminal records to prove it. One shitty thing he doesn't mention about prison is that people who genuinely are trying to reform have to spend years locked up with this kind of guy.
posted by fshgrl at 8:51 PM on March 5 [6 favorites]


Leniency in this case is not pardoning him or releasing him from prison; it is simply not executing him.

As I'd said already in that comment: I don't think he should die for what he's done. I don't agree with the death penalty. I don't know why I should have to repeat this or add hyperbole to it. Perhaps I could've put it in a blink tag, were we still allowed that one.

But labeling something that was planned for a week in advance "impulsive" is... What? How so? This wasn't something done in the heat of a moment. He wanted to move into an apartment with his girlfriend, and decided it was okay to murder someone and take their stuff to get the money. He thought about it for a week while he found helpers.

If in the heat of an argument (however stupid) he'd lashed out, okay, sure. That's impulsive. Lots of circumstances that result in the loss of life come from things that are impulsive, awful, in-the-moment things. But there was nothing impulsive here. This is a matter of record. He hatched a plan that included the taking of a life in it from the get go, not as a consequence of the plan going awry.

I can certainly understand his decision to go with a jury trial as dumb, impulsive, etc. In fact, I have trouble understanding that decision given that it's Texas any other way. But the root of all this isn't that one, it's his decision to plan and carry out the murder of another human being.
posted by sparkletone at 9:04 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine how it would feel to see Gawker describe the man who slit your brother's throat as writing letters full of clarity and insight. While I'm against the death penalty and believe some people on death row are innocent, and while I liked this project at first, I now wonder if there would be more responsible ways to address the issue other than giving such a big media platform to people whose importance to the national conversation comes from having been convicted for terrible crimes.

As the brother says:
I have to say to my fellow death penalty opponent friends: Keep up your fight. It is an honorable one. But do not use this man, Ray Jasper, as your spokesperson, as your example of why the death penalty should be abolished. The death penalty should be abolished because it is wrong to kill another human being. Not because a Medical Examiner said your knife wound did not cause immediate death. Ray Jasper is not worthy of your good and kind hearts.
I just wish he hadn't had to hear of this article and write the reply in the first place. I wish nobody in his family had.

Besides concern for the families impacted by these crimes, it seems counterproductive to the anti-DP movement. Imagine if, instead of the anti-DP brother replying, one of the family members who supports the death penalty had replied and then gone on the national conservative talk radio circuit.
posted by salvia at 10:41 PM on March 5 [8 favorites]


it seems counterproductive to the anti-DP movement

Yes, it's always counterproductive to be against something like supporting state-sponsored killing of human beings. Even if you think, maybe, it might be a misconstrued concept to begin with.
posted by hippybear at 10:48 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Yes, it's always counterproductive to be against something like supporting state-sponsored killing of human beings. 

To be clear, I'm not saying it's counterproductive to be against the death penalty. I'm saying it's counterproductive to the anti death penalty movement when misleading statements from death row inmates portray a horrifying crime as fairly innocent. After reading just Jasper's statement, I felt ready to send a letter to the state opposing his execution. After reading both statements, I felt angry at Jasper and disgusted by the whole thing. Do I think the state should kill him? No. But will I send a letter now? No, though I still don't support his execution. Did this media coverage leave me more or less inspired to fight the death penalty? Less. I would regard statements from other prisoners with a bit more skepticism. I didn't change my position, but I could see someone (not everyone but someone) who was truly undecided becoming slightly more pro death penalty after reading these two statements. That's what I mean when I say that Gawker's project could be counterproductive to the anti death penalty movement.
posted by salvia at 11:22 PM on March 5 [6 favorites]


Just about everyone in this thread who is doing everything in their power to discredit what Jasper has written has made it a point to say, somewhere along the line, that they're opposed opposed opposed to the Death Penalty. Then they go on and try to tear down his statement, from calling it the work of an obvious sociopath, to saying it's obviously something like a little kid would write, to a number of other things, all of them just as obvious. They're so obvious that we have to be told how obvious they are.

Well, I think regardless of why he made them, or however much dissembling artifice he piles in to try to appear like a more educated writer, that there are still interesting and valid points in there, and that that is obvious.

I also think anyone complaining that he didn't apologize to the victim's family in this letter is pushing him into a rhetorical trap, whether purposefully or not. Such a statement would be beside the point of the essay and thus bad writing, and even if he did apologize, people would then attack him with the old saw: "So he's sorry! Is that going to bring back the dead?" Ultimately, it is a sneaky way of depriving him of any way to complain about the severity of his punishment.

I'm saying it's counterproductive to the anti death penalty movement when misleading statements from death row inmates portray a horrifying crime as fairly innocent.

No, it isn't! Those who oppose the death penalty think that the state shouldn't get involved with killing its citizens, full stop, regardless of what the accused, the victim's family, you, I, the president, the pope, or Pee-Wee Herman might have to say about it. The thrust of the argument, its power to convince, is unaffected by those things, or at least it damn well shouldn't be.
posted by JHarris at 3:27 AM on March 6 [7 favorites]


I am looking at what he's saying and where he's coming from and I'm left feeling this: His insights are neither fresh nor interesting enough to overlook what an awful human being he appears to be.

I don't understand why you feel the need to make this decision in the first place.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:30 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


It is possible for Jasper to be a killer with sociopathic tendencies and be capable of intelligent criticism of the US prison system. It is possible that Donald Rumsfeld is good a macrame (I don't know, he might be). It is lazy to suggest that you can discount everything that a person does or says because they perform some appalling act(s). You know who else said, you are either with me or against me? That's right, sociopaths.

Ghengis Khan killed his half brother Begter because he wouldn't share food, at least that's his version of the story. Begter was also incidentally the defacto leader of their clan, being the eldest male, and had the right to marry Ghengis' mother. Ghengis went on to produce an estimated 20,000 descendents within 100 years and his genetic fingerprint is left on 8% of males within the area covered by the former Mongol empire today.

There are often significant rewards for sociopathic behaviour so it is difficult to see how it can be managed in the human race. That is not what the prison industry is about though. What Jasper has to say about it may not add much to the debate, but it is worth repeating. Repeating until there is change for the better.
posted by asok at 6:15 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Hector Black is an octogenarian Quaker from Tennessee, whose daughter was violently murdered by a drug addict and child abuse victim.

In this podcast, about 32 minutes in, he talks about meeting his daughter's killer and how he came to forgive him.

I'm ambivalent about the death penalty, leaning against it in most cases. But maybe Jasper deserves death, for being completely remorseless.

Yet this thread reminded me Mr. Black's willingness to grant some measure of peace and forgiveness, despite the deep chasm of grief before him.

I feel like there is something important to learn from Hector Black.

I feel like we let the state take care of the dirty work of killing people we don't want around, perhaps to slake some instinctual thirst for vengeance while letting us keep our hands clean. We don't have to face the monsters in our society. We don't even have to face the monsters within us. It's all sanitary and lawful.

Can we forgive people who are completely unapologetic for horrible crimes? I wish I knew that I could have Hector's strength of character, but I worry that I know that I probably don't, were my husband or family member be made a victim.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:28 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Well, I think regardless of why he made them, or however much dissembling artifice he piles in to try to appear like a more educated writer, that there are still interesting and valid points in there, and that that is obvious.

Here is the issue for me: there is one topic in this letter for which he has absolute, expert, first-hand knowledge--what the exact circumstances of his crime were. And on that topic he dissembles and obfuscates to the point of outright deception. And the whole "I'm not being executed for murder, I am being executed for this other thing" is stupid beyond tolerating. In all the areas we can fact-check, Jasper can't be trusted. So while would I listen to his more subtle points of societal analysis? Get me a source who is honest and respectable and I'll pay attention.

I'm saying it's counterproductive to the anti death penalty movement when misleading statements from death row inmates portray a horrifying crime as fairly innocent.

Absolutely. This document is clearly being passed around by many people as an exhibit in their anti-death-penalty argument, and if someone who was close to being influenced by it does their homework and finds out that Jasper is severely misrepresenting his crime, it drains credibility from the argument. It wouldn't be hard to draw the conclusion that someone who asked you to read this article doesn't mind influencing you through deception, or is gullible enough to take a convicted murder at his word.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:46 AM on March 6 [9 favorites]


Can we reason logically about what's in front of us instead of inventing random strawmen? No one suggested that Ray is more the victim than the murdered man.

Jasper more or less said he was an equal victim, and the comment you responded to didn't say that anyone claimed he was more of a victim, so the only strawman I see is yours.
posted by spaltavian at 7:41 AM on March 6


If I'm properly reading the argument, there is a side here suggesting that, yes, Jasper may not have been perfectly upfront about his role in the murder that led to his death row sentence, but that should be looked at as an entirely separate issue from the valid and interesting points he makes about race and the prison industrial complex.

And, sure, it is absolutely possible that a person can be 100% sincere and genuine about one thing while not totally honest about another. But I don't know Jasper personally. This piece of writing (and the companion piece from the victim's brother) is the only thing I have to go on. It is simply not possible for me to gauge which areas he is honest about and which less so. The one tangible thing I can point to about this piece is that he has grossly undersold his role in the crime that led to his incarceration and death sentence. To read his piece, one could reasonably be left with the impression that Jasper was a mere accessory to a crime, rather than the one who planned it, carried it out, and just happened to not technically deliver the death blow.

Yet some here would suggest that his lack of credibility ends here, full stop, and that we should take his other statements at face value, and not let our thoughts about his character interfere with his larger points. Which I just cannot accept, all attempts at making people with this viewpoint feel guilty notwithstanding. His lack of honesty about his crime effects how I view the other comments he makes and I don't see anything wrong with that in a scenario like this when I simply don't have any other information to go on to judge his sincerity.

Just about everyone in this thread who is doing everything in their power to discredit what Jasper has written has made it a point to say, somewhere along the line, that they're opposed opposed opposed to the Death Penalty. Then they go on and try to tear down his statement, from calling it the work of an obvious sociopath, to saying it's obviously something like a little kid would write, to a number of other things, all of them just as obvious. They're so obvious that we have to be told how obvious they are.

I'm missing the contradiction/hypocrisy here, I guess? It is possible to simultaneously be firmly against the death penalty on moral grounds, while acknowledging that some of the people on death row are not the finest examples of our humanity. I know this is possible because it is how I feel.

I also think anyone complaining that he didn't apologize to the victim's family in this letter is pushing him into a rhetorical trap, whether purposefully or not. Such a statement would be beside the point of the essay and thus bad writing, and even if he did apologize, people would then attack him with the old saw: "So he's sorry! Is that going to bring back the dead?" Ultimately, it is a sneaky way of depriving him of any way to complain about the severity of his punishment.

I think it is generally always unfair to imagine what the hypothetical reaction to a hypothetical statement would be and then skewer that imagined viewpoint. I don't think Jasper needs to apologize for his crime, necessarily. His being more honest about his part in it would simply give him credibility and allow me to read the rest of his letter at face value rather than have it clouded by the fact I *know* that at least some portions of it are filled with distortion.
posted by The Gooch at 8:20 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


Capital punishment is a hard topic to discuss rationally, and this muddled mess of a letter isn't going to help anyone's argument against it. Ray Jasper does not deserve to die at the hands of the state, but only because nobody deserves to die at the hands of the state.

Perhaps the worst part is that, by giving him a legitimate grievance against the state for putting him to death, we're foreclosing on the possibility that he may one day reach a point of true remorse for the crime he committed. He'll eat his last meal believing he's a victim, and he won't be wrong, even if he's not entirely right.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:32 AM on March 6 [2 favorites]


I'm saying it's counterproductive to the anti death penalty movement...

No, it isn't! Those who oppose the death penalty think that the state shouldn't get involved with killing its citizens, full stop... The thrust of the argument, its power to convince, is unaffected by those things, or at least it damn well shouldn't be.


I just want to say one more thing to clarify where I'm coming from. In 2012, a friend of mine did a lot of volunteering on California Prop 34, a ballot measure that would have abolished the death penalty in California. She told me about how very careful they were about their campaign's stories and materials. Presumably after conducting polls and focus groups, that campaign seemed to focus on the risk of killing someone innocent and the high cost. It was the PRO death penalty (no on 34) campaign that featured lots of prisoner case studies. The LA Times's analysis (and I don't know if this is coming from polls or their own opinion) is that people will support the death penalty if they are thinking about a heinous crime and lusting for revenge, while people will oppose the death penalty if thinking about the situation more coolly.

When I first commented that this could hurt the movement, it was because my thoughts had flashed back to hearing how carefully the "stop the death penalty" campaign was about their messages. My first thought was that this series might've been a huge headache for them, because it is a huge wild card to publish case studies of death row inmates apparently vetted for the inmates' writing style rather than the content of the crime and case itself.

Many current death penalty opponents hold that position because they believe state sponsored killing is wrong. That's their reason. But what are the reasons that would persuade the majority (or supermajority) of voters in a particular electorate or decision making body to agree? Prop 34 lost (despite far outpending its opposition), so it appears that a majority of California voters don't agree yet. From a politically pragmatic perspective, how many subsets of voters does it take to get over that threshold and why would they oppose the death penalty? My hunch is that this story doesn't shake the conviction of those who believe it's just wrong, but that there are other voting cohorts who evaluate the question differently (e.g., some focus more on the risk of killing someone innocent), and that stories like Jasper's might not help or might even inhibit efforts to persuade some cohorts.
posted by salvia at 8:47 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I feel like we let the state take care of the dirty work of killing people we don't want around, perhaps to slake some instinctual thirst for vengeance while letting us keep our hands clean.

Or perhaps because people we don't want around are a danger to anyone they encounter, and society is better off without them? We let the state take care of the dirty work because a big rule of society is that the state has the monopoly on violence.

In a way, Jasper is a good case for anti-death penalty people to hold up, precisely because he exemplifies the majority of people on death row: vicious, sociopathic, remorseless, and likely to do great harm if released even into the general prison population. It's easy to say that innocent people shouldn't be executed, because no one thinks innocent people should be executed; the only disagreement is over how much process is needed to determine innocence. But whether someone like this should be executed is where you really have to choose sides.

{trigger warning for sexual violence}

The first death penalty case I crossed paths with involved a guy whose girlfriend had broken up with him. He didn't like being dumped, so he got his friends together, and had them kidnap her, and gang-rape her for a few days, keeping her from leaving with frequent beatings. After a few days of this, he decided she wasn't being properly punished, so he sawed off her head with a bread knife. It took a long time. On trial, he was remorseless; if anything, he seemed a little surprised that people didn't agree with him that the bitch had it coming for dumping him without a good reason.

Did that guy deserve to die? I have zero problem saying yes. He deserved to die, he deserved to suffer, every minute he was alive was an obscenity on the universe. Now do I trust the state to control the machinery of killing him? That is a harder question, and I'm still not sure of the answer.

But unless you can look at that guy and say he shouldn't be killed by the state, you're not really against the death penalty. And unless you can convince voters to look at that guy and say he shouldn't be killed by the state, you're not going to have much luck turning the law against the death penalty.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:02 AM on March 6 [4 favorites]


There's probably no one on earth less qualified to argue against the death penalty than Jasper: "I'm not really guilty of murder because I only slit the victim's throat then watched as the final death blow was delivered by one of the people I recruited to help kill and rob him."

This may be the single worst thing gawker has ever published and that's not exactly a low bar.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 9:44 AM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I find arguments against the Felony Murder rule laughable. You enter into a place with the intent to commit a felony, it is foreseeable that someone will get hurt.

Given that many felonies are committed in which no one gets hurt, how is it forseeable that someone will get hurt when you enter into a place with the intent to commit a felony?


the modern formation of the rule requires that the felony be "inherently dangerous" or must present a "foreseeable danger to life" that is not too remote.

Just like this case, where the perpetrator assumed that he was going to have to kill the person and sure enough, he was killed.

Some jurisdictions list the crimes. Robbery is always in that list. Just like in this case.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:08 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


But unless you can look at that guy and say he shouldn't be killed by the state, you're not really against the death penalty.

I don't think thats quite true. I'm against the death penalty because I believe that the vast majority of the time, there is no way to have a sufficient, impartial process that leads to it. The tiny handful of cases where maybe I think that happens are just not worth having a whole system for it.

I am not actually morally opposed to the state executing someone, in a hypothetical where the perpetrator's guilt and mental competence is not in question. But because I believe such situations are rare and the chance of bad outcomes is high, I do not support the system even though I might not have a _moral_ problem with a particular execution.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:14 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


Or perhaps because people we don't want around are a danger to anyone they encounter, and society is better off without them? We let the state take care of the dirty work because a big rule of society is that the state has the monopoly on violence.

I think it speaks strongly to the failure of this way of thinking that many other nations do not handle criminal justice in this manner, and at the same time have far lower incidents of violent crime than exist in the US. Maybe our emotionally charged approach that seeks to satiate our need for vengeance doesn't actually produce good results, and instead makes all of us far less safe and much poorer for it.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:15 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Absolutely. This document is clearly being passed around by many people as an exhibit in their anti-death-penalty argument, and if someone who was close to being influenced by it does their homework and finds out that Jasper is severely misrepresenting his crime, it drains credibility from the argument. It wouldn't be hard to draw the conclusion that someone who asked you to read this article doesn't mind influencing you through deception, or is gullible enough to take a convicted murder at his word.

Of all the people arguing against this letter, I did not expect you to be one of them Pater Aletheias. It is precisely because Ray Jasper is severely misrepresenting his crime that he absolutely needs more time on this planet to contemplate it.

Did you agree that the point of incarceration is "deterrence, rehabilitation, and protection of society"? The difference between a life sentence and death sentence to deterrence and protection of society is nothing. But there is something to be gained for all of us in rehabilitating people even if they die in jail.

Isn't that what you're getting at with your disgust at his lack of growth? You rightly want him to look at the mess he's made like a dog who's vomited on the floor. This is why the death penalty doesn't make any sense. Besides reinforcing the lie that life is disposable, it is us hiding from the reality that we know if we've contemplated our own hearts:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn't change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.
Socrates taught us: "Know thyself."
Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren't.
From good to evil is one quaver, says the proverb.
And correspondingly, from evil to good. — AS
All life turns towards truth and justice, some slower than others. Human beings don't earn their right to exist by being perfect (or good or kind), but rather exist in order to perfect themselves. Our brother, Ray Jasper doesn't need much of our help for his journey from evil to good — just a quiet jail cell to think…
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:07 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


esprit de l'escalier, it seems to me that most people in this conversation who were critical of the Jasper piece were not necessarily taking a position one way or the other on the death penalty itself; rather, they were reacting to the idea of his letter being celebrated as the moving, heartfelt work of a sage of our times.
posted by cairdeas at 6:03 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]


A Letter from Death Row Backfires on Gawker
Flouting convention is one thing. Allowing a death-row inmate to whitewash the facts of his case, and his role in a grisly murder, without any vetting is another matter altogether.
posted by salvia at 11:36 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


He's been executed
posted by dabug at 5:30 PM on March 19


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posted by JHarris at 5:40 PM on March 19


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posted by edeezy at 12:47 AM on March 20


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posted by tonycpsu at 6:25 AM on March 20


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