Yesterday I posted on Facebook a piece I wrote about my friendship with Darrell Grayson, who was executed in Alabama in 2007. I got a lot of support from my FB friends, some of which are also in-person friends.
Then, I couldn’t sleep.
I got a lovely private message from a friend who told me that her heart was heavy, and torn. Heavy because my friend had been executed. Torn because a close relative of the victim in the crime central to Darrell’s case has been her dear friend.
This made me aware that I had made an error of omission, which I’m prone to do. I make plenty of the commission ones, too. Putting that post on Facebook, I failed to think of the victim of the crime at the center of Darrell’s case, and her family and friends.
I’ve been against the death penalty my entire adult life and have tried to do my part to advocate for its abolition. If you’re reading this, you’re more or less familiar with the arguments about the death penalty. It comes down, to me, to this: I don’t recognize the right of a government to take the life of someone we have in custody.
But, I’ve always believed that the anti-death penalty movement is often misguided by focusing too much on the convicted and not enough on the victims. I’ve favored a more hardnosed approach: Focusing on the fallibility of the legal system and on whether a government ought to be empowered with ending human lives.
Darrell Grayson’s case is complex. Many people believe he was innocent. Much to the frustration of some of my anti-death penalty friends, I was never fully convinced of his guilt or his innocence. What I am convinced of is that Darrell did not get a fair trial and that no unbiased person would like at the totality of the evidence and conclude he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I believe he was also denied fairness in the legal efforts on his behalf after conviction. Most notoriously, Darrell’s case was distinguished by the fact that forensic evidence containing DNA was located after his conviction and his appeals to have that evidence analyzed was denied by the courts. His confession was highly suspect. He was a poor, black kid convicted by an all-white jury 40 years ago.
None of that changes the fact that a terrible crime was committed. Darrell was one of 4 young black men convicted in this crime and one of two executed for it. An elderly white woman was the victim of a home invasion, robbery, and a terrible physical assault. The way she died makes it clear that the perpetrators didn’t intend to end her life, but she did die as a result of this inexplicably vicious crime.
I don’t think I was wrong in anything I did write. It’s what I failed to write and failed to consider. It also is another chapter in thinking about the appropriateness of using Facebook for that kind of piece. I don’t think I have a particularly healthy relationship with Facebook, even though I’m clear about why I use it the way I do.
But given the horrible facts of that crime, here is what I missed, even though it’s a miss I rail against when others miss it. I didn’t think about people who knew this victim. There is no excuse for not considering what it might be like for such a person to read something written by a guy in Birmingham they don’t know, who befriended a person they believe raped and murdered Mrs. Orr, and who weepily describes a friendship involving things like mailing poems to each other. The post was too much about Darrell, too much about me, and nothing about the victim and those who loved her.