What does it take to reform?


This article caught my eye …. Randy Ertman will very soon be taking his third trip to witness an execution in Texas. He is not the one being executed. Rather, he has been a witness to those who killed his daughter.

His daughter and her friend were 14 and 16. On their way home one night through a park in 1993 Houston, they ran into a gang in need of initiating a new member. They were kept alive for over an hour while they were raped repeatedly, hit so hard that several teeth were knocked out, some of their hair was ripped out of their scalp, and some of their ribs were broken. A few of the injuries were specifically traced to a pair of steel toed boots that the ringleader, Peter Cantu, was wearing. Their decomposing bodies were found four days later. The gang members, being ever intelligent as gang members tend to be, kept valuables from the girls as prizes, and made sure not to get rid of anything incriminating, like blood stained clothing and follow up video back at the crime scene of one gang member celebrating the event. One of the brothers of the ringleader eventually turned in the whole group after he heard them bragging about it. Sadly, after this murder, two of those involved were linked to an earlier murder, which, had they been caught, would have maybe prevented these two from happening.

Two 17 year olds are serving life sentences, only because their death penalties were overturned by a Supreme Court ruling barring the use of the death penalty on anyone under 18. A 14 year old is in the middle of a 40 year sentence. Derrick O’Brien and Jose Medellin both have already been executed.

It turned out to be a big case … You might remember that when Medellin was executed, the Mexican government filed a protest because he was Mexican born (hence a Mexican citizen) and was never advised that he had the right to speak with counselor officials from Mexico. The World Court demanded that the execution be stayed, and the State of Texas politely reminded the World Court that they aren’t a sovereign nation, and that they have no right to demand anything. When George W. Bush demanded the State of Texas investigate, in what must have been a rare moment, the State of Texas informed the President that he had not right to interfere, and that only Congress had that power.

It was also the case that led to the inclusion of a “victim impact statement” where relatives of the victims are aloud to address the court in person or in writing during the sentencing phase. It was Randy Ertman who argued for the right of the victim’s family to be represented in the death chamber to witness the execution.

While he was the first to be convicted, thee gang’s leader, Peter Anthony Cantu, arguably the most despised person in Texas, will follow two of his fellow gang members into the death chamber.

What caught me in the article was that the corrections people describe him as a model prisoner.

Let me be clear before proceeding. I am not a supporter of the death penalty. For one, I’m not sure it really works too well in deterring crime. For another, there are too many cases that have come up expressing doubt as to the guilt of a person being executed. I’m also not a fan of tax payers supporting these guys in prisons that they might escape from. The Supermax concept has some promise, though a lot of the same people who oppose the death penalty claim that treatment in these facilities causes permanent and severe emotional distress on prisoners. I could probably live with that as a happy medium.

My question is: why was a person so fraught with problems his whole life (theft, rape, murder, etc) wait until now to turn his life around?

I mean … is the point made in the horror movie Saw that correct? … do some people only learn to appreciate and respect life after they are truly … truly faced with their own impending death?

Is this one of the great twisted ironies in our country: without the death penalty, this man almost certainly would have never changed, and almost certainly would have raped and killed again, but with the specter of execution, he becomes the person that would have saved his life.

Or … is there some type of therapy death row inmates go through that turns their life around in time for their execution. If this is the answer, why isn’t this being done more with other criminals guilty of lesser offenses?

I pressed a little bit … I found an anti-death penalty website:


(please note that I do not endorse these websites because, while they may make a principled stand for something, I strongly disagree with their tactics) addendum: a protest by death penalty advocates took place today at one of the memorials to the young ladies who were killed. That borders on the tasteless, in my opinion, and makes it very easy for people to not only ignore your message, but turn against it.

… that had a statement from Mr. Cantu, specifically requesting “non-judmental, open-minded, and honest” people to communicate with, because they are “mutual traits that I reciprocate willingly because honesty is the foundation to lasting friendships.” He continues “This is a world of confinement for 23 hours a day but it’s your letter that humanize, where the Texas officials have sought to dehumanize me.”

If this is not some kind of a put up … it is a shame that it took all of this for this kid to get straightened up. If not, then I would say Mr. Cantu won’t have to worry about being dehumanized for much longer.

addendum: Peter Cantu was executed by lethal injection this evening in Texas.


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