<em>The New York Times’</em> Selective Outrage About Murder Victims Will Sicken You

The New York Times’ Selective Outrage About Murder Victims Will Sicken You

If international norms should tell, the United States should join the rest of the developed world and agree to reject this cruel and pointless practice. Right?
Margot Cleveland
By

Content warning: This article includes graphic details of torture and murder.

Alicia Elmore was 17 when she went missing. One October evening, Bill Benefiel grabbed her off the street a mere two blocks from her Terre Haute, Indiana home. Benefiel took Alicia to his house and bound her, naked and blinded, to a bed. He had glued her eyes shut.

Over the next four months, Benefiel tortured Alicia. He cut her with a knife. He cut off one of her fingernails. He stuffed clothing or toilet paper in her mouth and bound her lips shut with duct tape. He “raped her repeatedly, 64 times before she stopped counting.” He wedged a gun in her vagina and sodomized her.

Benefiel had been gentle with Alicia. Two months later, he abducted Delores Wells. Benefiel handcuffed her naked to a second bed. Alicia, whose eyes had since become unstuck, saw Benefiel beat Delores, first with his fists and then with an electrical cord. He raped her. He cut off her finger. He put super glue in Delores’ nose, pinched it together, stuffed toilet paper in her mouth and taped it shut. Delores squirmed as she tried to breathe.

After chaining Alicia to a bed, Benefiel left. Two hours later he returned, telling Alicia “he had killed [Delores] by tying her arms and legs to two separate trees. He then wrapped duct tape around her head until she died. To make sure she was dead he ‘popped’ her neck. Then he buried her.”

Police somehow connected Benefiel to Delores’ disappearance and raided his house. There they discovered Alicia hidden in a crawlspace—voluntarily, she claimed. But once safely away from Benefiel, Alicia told of her four-month ordeal. A jury convicted Benefiel of murder and sentenced him to death.

Scene Two

The doctor paused. She checked for a heartbeat. The injection hadn’t worked. He should have died, but instead his heart raced. A twitch of the leg confirmed that life still ran through his veins—innocent blood. He hadn’t tortured or raped Alicia Elmore. He hadn’t killed Delores Wells. He was innocent. But the law didn’t care. He received all the due process the law required. He must die.

First a leg. He recoiled from the doctor’s sterile grasp. But like Benefiel’s victims, he had no escape. The forceps closed. Pulled. Twisted. Relaxed. Next, an arm. Another arm. The torso stuck. Pop. The neck had snapped. Death came with one of the passes. The unborn boy, 21 weeks old, bled to death.

Every year approximately 10,000 unborn babies in the United States die this way, innocent blood spilled in the name of reproductive freedom. Of these victims, the press remains silent. Instead, on New Year’s Eve, The New York Times editorial board condemned capital punishment, calling for its abolition.

The editorial board supported its case with prose more fitting a Wallace Stegner novel, describing the impending death of a more sympathetic murderer, Alva Campbell, as “pathetic,” “vile,” “macabre,” “savage,” “racially biased,” and “pointless punishment.” Of Campbell’s victim, we learn only that Campbell killed the teenager named Charles Dials during a carjacking—because to The New York Times, Campbell is the true victim.

It’s Campbell who needs comforting. Campbell, a 69-year-old, who struggles to breathe. Campbell, who suffered for 80 minutes while doctors attempted to find a vein in which to administer the lethal injection. This portrait serves The New York Times’ goal of demonstrating “[c]apital punishment deserves a quick death.” While Campbell would have only been the 24th person executed last year, “The number should be zero,” according to the editorial board.

The way forward, they say, is the courts. It is always the courts! The Supreme Court has already found that executing juveniles, “the intellectually disabled, and those convicted of crimes other than murder” violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The board explains this then declares, “There’s no reason not to take the final step…The justices have all the information they need right now to bring America in line with most of the rest of the world and end the death penalty for good.”

Ah, yes. International norms. “The rest of the developed world agreed to reject this cruel and pointless practice long ago,” the editorial board intones.

About Those International Norms

Well, let’s compare victims. Let’s start with the Times’ preferred victim: convicted murderer Campbell. According to Amnesty International, in 2016, 55 different countries still impose the death penalty.

Now for the innocent victims of abortion. According to both pro-life and pro-choice organizations, only seven nations allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, about the time children can survive outside the womb. These countries that still allow abortion after that time include: Canada, China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam.

Also, while the number of executions in the United States consistently remain below 100 per year, statistics from 2016 from the Guttmacher Institute indicate doctors killed more than 10,000 unborn babies who were 21 weeks old or older. Dismemberment abortions are the physicians’ preferred method.

If international norms should tell, the United States should join the rest of the developed world and agree to reject this cruel and pointless practice. But no. Not long ago, The New York Times editorial board condemned the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy, writing: “Of course, the bill is not really about scientific findings of any sort. It is simply another attempt by conservative Republicans to undercut women’s constitutionally protected reproductive rights.”

First, scientific findings do show children recoiling from abortionist instruments at this gestation, and that from conception unborn babies are genetically distinct human beings. And “constitutionally protected reproductive rights?” There is no such constitutional protection. The Supreme Court invented the so-called “right” to abortion. It’s the courts. It’s always the courts. The courts to which the Left turns to fashion a nation fitting its own ideals—not the Founders’.

Capital punishment qua capital punishment is not “cruel and unusual punishment.” It couldn’t be. The Constitution expressly recognizes both federal and state governments’ power to deny a person his “life,” if given due process. That is not to say it is good policy (or morally right—my thoughts on this are extremely nuanced). It is just to say that it is not unconstitutional: It does not violate the Eighth Amendment, no matter what five justices may be inclined to say.

So, make the policy argument to the populace, not the courts. But do it honestly and without elevating evildoers in the process. Remove the pathetic prose painting an elderly murderer as the victim. Make the case. Tell Americans why men as demonic as Benefiel deserve life in prison and not death. While you’re at it, ask yourself if men like Benefiel deserve life, why don’t the unborn innocents?

Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.

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