Destined for Disaster?

January 9, 2012

When, last September, Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich stopped the execution of Joseph Murphy and granted him clemency, he reasoned that a childhood of “severe and sustained verbal, physical and sexual abuse from those who should have loved him” had left Murphy “destined for disaster.”

In that statement, Governor Kasich acknowledged our society’s cycle (really, progression) of violence – from child abuse to murder to execution – and acted to stop it.  (At least for this one case – Ohio has 14 more executions scheduled between now and January 2014.)

Delaware’s Board of Pardons and Governor face a similar choice in the case of Robert Gattis, who is slated to be put to death on January 20.  Gattis suffered through a childhood experts have described as “catastrophic to his development.”  Beginning as a small child, he was raped and molested and otherwise physically abused, by multiple abusers, including close family members.  This seriously impaired his ability to function as an adult.

In 1990, at the age of 27, Robert Gattis committed a terrible crime, murdering his girlfriend Shirley Slay.  The jury and judge that sentenced him to die in 1992 were never told about his traumatic childhood.  Now, 20 years later, he faces another, final act of violence – his execution.

The horrible abuse of children, if unchecked, may seem to leave them “destined for disaster”, but the cycle, or progression, of violence is not inevitable.  It can be broken.  Four Delaware corrections officers support clemency for Robert Gattis because, after two decades in the structured world of prison, Robert Gattis has become a source of support for fellow inmates and his own family including his two sons.  As one expert put it: “His current adjustment provides a glimpse of the person Robert could have been.”

Killing Robert Gattis now makes no sense.  In the case of Robert Gattis, Delaware’s Governor and Pardon Board can avert disaster.  They can grant clemency.