The adult life of Henry Lee Lucas was pretty much a never-ending crime spree--outside of the three separate times he spent in prison. Besides the crimes of robbery, rape, and attempted kidnapping, he is believed to have killed at least three people (including killing his mother). Others believed the number to be in the forties. Lucas, himself, had during his time in prison confessed to hundreds of murders. In fact, he is so notorious that he makes many lists of the most famous American serial killers. Not only that, his crimes are detailed in a film: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer starring Michael Rooker (Merle from The Walking Dead). Arrested in 1983, he was sentenced to die by the state of Texas.
So why is the execution of a clearly-guilty man be the best argument for abolishing the death penalty?
Because he wasn't executed. After fifteen years on death row his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
What bleeding-heart liberal governor would allow a such a horrible miscarriage of justice, you ask? Then-Texas governor George W. Bush. Because Henry Lee Lucas had confessed to so many murders researchers figured out he could not have killed all the people he claimed due to many inconsistencies, such as an inability to be in two parts of the country at once. He had his sentence commuted to life in prison in 1998 and died of heart failure in 2001.*
He remains now as a piece of trivia: Who is the only death row inmate to have his sentence commuted to Life in prison by George W. Bush?
I can't remember if I was for the death penalty when I read about his death years ago, but I remember being opposed to it ever since. Ironic that of all the innocent people to have died, along with all the well thought out arguments against the death penalty (the message of love and redemption throughout the four Gospels, Amnesty International, a John Grisham novel, a great Metallica song), it takes the non-death of a truly evil man to convince me that it should be outlawed. People like him are the reason we argue for the death penalty, and yet for him to avoid death due to bragging about crimes he did not commit brought home to me the injustice of state-held executions. Also consider that the man who commuted his sentence is the modern day incarnation of a hanging judge whose tough-on-crime approach helped put him into the Oval Office.
It only goes to show you the deeper you dig into vile history of the death penalty the more you truly understand how vile and unjust it truly is.**
*I could have also chosen Charles Manson, who had his sentence commuted due to California abolishing the death penalty in the 1970's. Because it would be a violation of his constitutional rights (yes, you still get to have those no matter who you are or what you have done), his life sentence remained even after California reinstated the death penalty.
**I'll blog later on in reaction to people throwing out names like Timothy McVeigh, among the other monsters who have been executed. For now I'd answer, what satisfaction did you or I get out of seeing such a person put to death? A lot of victims' family members who witness an execution of an alleged murderer come out disappointed at the abrupt and supposedly-painless death. "I only wish the person could have suffered more like how the victim did," they usually say. Some sense of closure and retribution that was.