Friday, October 27, 2006

Among the Lowest of the Dead

There was a lot of discussion in the boodle this morning (see comments on previous item) about the death penalty. Yesterday Danny Rolling, the serial killer, was executed for the 1990 student slayings in Gainesville. In the end, he left it to his attorney to pass along an apology to the families. He chose to sing a hymn instead.

Back in 1991 I went to Gainesville to report on the aftermath of the murders. At that point the murders were officially unsolved, but Rolling had been named as a suspect. Many Gainesville residents told me they didn't think Rolling could have done it -- he wasn't smart enough. They were expecting a criminal mastermind. They were expecting Dracula.

There's a tendency to imagine these killers as being rather smarter and more gothic, shall we say, than they really are. A lot of this is media-driven, a Hollywood fantasy. We think of a serial killer, we think of Hannibal Lecter. Even Ted Bundy was romanticized (played on TV by Mark Harmon back when he was People's Sexiest Man Alive). Rolling was a two-bit loser, a bit of a bumbler. Homicide doesn't actually require any special genius. There's also a tendency in the media to underplay, or ignore completely -- for whatever reason -- the sexual sadism that almost invariably motivates these killers.

(Note: The headline on this item comes from a book about Death Row in Florida, written by my friend and colleague David von Drehle.)
Actual exchange of messages:

Achenbach: No one will remember me when I'm dead.

Weingarten: Now, now. That's not true. There will be a period of time between your death and funeral when people will remember you. People who have to speak at the funeral, for example.
By Joel Achenbach October 26, 2006; 12:51 PM ET

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