Last week when I saw the headline Sex offender yells ‘Go Cowboys!’ as he’s executed, I bookmarked it instinctively, with the idea of writing some biting snark about my old home state of Texas, and the bizarre confluence of its twin addictions to football and executions.
But then I read the story, and couldn’t bring myself to make even bitter humor out of such a monstrously sad tale of loss and waste.
I’ve been thinking about it again today, because I’m proud to note that my state seems on the verge of repealing its death penalty law. Why would the story of Jesse Joe Hernandez, who murdered a 10-month-old boy and savagely beat his 4-year-old sister, and who was separately guilty of child sexual abuse, wife- and girlfriend-beating, and drug possession, and who seems to have exemplified the most irredeemable of human behavior… why would that story move me to look favorably on the repeal of the death penalty? Surely if anyone deserved to die for the way he lived, it was Jesse Joe Hernandez, right?
Except that the story of his execution doesn’t feel like a triumph for justice… not a victory for Hernandez’ victims, nor any sort of redemption. Instead, his last moments, as the lethal drugs flooded his body, were simply pathetic — “I can feel it, taste it. It’s not bad.” — and ultimately banal — “Go Cowboys!” Howevermuch Hernandez may not have deserved to live, it’s hard to see anything other than tragedy and error in his death.
And so I thank our legislators for the courage and leadership required to, in the face of the people’s emotional clinging to a false sense of retribution, turn away from the death chamber. I commend their actions to their counterparts in Texas, and in every place where the executioner still plies hir1 trade.
1 Not a typo; my version of a gender-neutral third-person possessive pronoun.