Friday, October 27, 2006

Column: Each execution makes us face hard questions

George Diaz
October 27, 2006

Danny Rolling is dead, but I suspect it's impossible to bury the pain for the families of his five victims.

A handful of them were witness to his execution Wednesday. Perhaps they found a measure of comfort in the sting of a lethal injection coursing through Rolling's veins. Others would argue that a greater punishment would be to allow him to rot away in a small cell, never, ever drawing a breath of air as a free man.

We have yet to define what constitutes moral justice for barbarians such as Rolling.

The death-penalty option offers a disturbing peek into our souls, serving as a litmus test on the concept of forgiveness.The dark side tugs at me whenever I read about the despicable crimes of Rolling and society's other misfits. Rolling stabbed, mutilated, decapitated and posed his victims.

If one of the victims had been close to me, my first reaction would be to beg for 10 minutes alone with Rolling in a room, where I let rage and hatred rush through every vein in my body.

But my conscience always creeps in, warning me that if I succumb to all those emotions, I am no different from the beasts who kill for the sake of sport and visceral satisfaction.

Societal protocol mandates that we allow the government to do our bidding when it comes to justice. In Florida, the ultimate payback is the death penalty. We are one of 38 states that allow executions.

You could argue that a lethal injection is more humane than beating someone to a lifeless pulp, but ultimately, the results are the same. It takes us back to the moral dilemma:

Will finding forgiveness in our hearts bring greater peace than seeing a man die for his sins?

Trying to reconcile the conflict between sin and spirituality is a personal choice. Finding answers becomes harder whenever an execution escalates into the tawdry madness that revolved around Rolling.

Interest in Rolling memorabilia spiked during the past week on the Internet, where various auction sites sell items created by the criminally infamous. On execution day, there was the usual bickering among those who detest the death penalty and those who embrace it wholeheartedly.

My guess is that each group is a minority, with many of us trapped in an emotional middle ground.

"I don't have the answers," said Chuck Seubert, a friend who was a New York City policeman for 16 years. "In some cases, the death penalty can't be given quick enough. In other cases, it's given too quickly.

"Jumping through all the legal hoops delayed justice for 16 years in Rolling's case. He murdered those people in Gainesville in 1990. That is frustratingly absurd.

The cost of executing a prisoner, factoring in appeals and other expenses, is far greater than keeping him or her in a cell for a lifetime. And studies have proved conclusively that the death penalty is not a deterrent.

It leads us to the spectacle of Rolling's final hours. He ate a meal of lobster, shrimp, a baked potato, cheesecake and sweet tea before he was eventually strapped to a gurney with a white sheet covering everything but his face, neck and right arm.

Some may call this closure. Others will tell you it only opens a window into our soul. The view can be conflicting, if not disturbing.

George Diaz can be reached at 407-420-5533 or

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