When Teresa Lewis is executed tonight in a Virginia prison, there will be a room full of people watching her death throes. Including her stepdaughter.
Cathy Clifton's father, Julian Clifton Lewis, and younger brother, Charles, were both killed in a murder-for-hire scheme that landed her stepmother on death row.
Most of America is lucky enough not to face Cathy Clifton's demons, but is viewing an execution the answer?
Conventional wisdom says allowing victims to view an execution is part of the healing process. Texas -- the most prolific state at executions -- began allowing victims into a viewing chamber in the mid-1990s based on victim survivors and victim advocacy group members making a plea to the state's board of criminal justice.
A state explanation of the viewing process reads almost like a disclaimer:
"Allowing victim witnesses the opportunity to view an execution is a Texas Board of Criminal Justice Rule, and not mandated by law."
The insinuation -- that this is something the victims want rather than the state pushing -- is clear. But it doesn't remove the sadistic undertones of the entire process.
Where else in society are the people present at a death made whole by the loss of life? Even in cases of terminal illness, the onlookers may report relief ... but the death does not improve their lives.
That the Cathy Cliftons of the world would feel relief even in a sense of "justice served" is natural. "Losing" Teresa Lewis does not create a hole in her life. That's already been done with the loss of both her brother and father.
But after the highly publicized and highly controversial taping of the Timothy McVeigh execution so more of the victims of Oklahoma City could watch, some survivors confessed it had not made them feel much better. Their loved ones were still gone.
Lewis' death has created an international frenzy, not least because her IQ has been reported as borderline mentally retarded. But she will die tonight by decree of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.
Does having people watch make it any more real?
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