Working to abolish the death penalty can sometimes be an emotionally challenging enterprise. We are immersed in a world where people suffer unimaginable losses, and we’re constantly reading about heinous crimes inflicted with brutal violence. Some of those crimes, of course, are murders. But often we are reading about another type of crime: violent child abuse, which is a defining experience for many who end up on death row.
Daniel Cook in Arizona is a case in point. Abused from infancy, he took the all too familiar path from horrific family violence to mental illness to drug abuse to violent crime to death row:
- As an infant he was subjected to cigarette burns and beatings with a belt.
- At age three his grandparents subjected him and his sister to sexual and physical abuse; he was forced to eat his own vomit.
- At age nine he and his sister were subjected to more beatings, and sexual abuse by step-siblings.
- At 14 he was sexually abused in a boys’ home.
- At 18 he was discharged from in the US Army Reserve because he attempted suicide.
- Over the course of his childhood, he had experienced several of his mother’s suicide attempts.
- Over the years, he was diagnosed with a variety of disorders from schizophrenia to acute psychosis, alcohol addiction, passive aggressive personality, depression, and dependent personality disorder.
- At the time of his crime, he was using crystal meth, and had smoked marijuana, consumed alcohol, and taken valium.
Unless Arizona authorities intervene (the prosecutor in his case now opposes his execution), Daniel Cook will be put to death by lethal injection on August 8. But, really, what chance did he have? And what purpose is served by putting him to death now, in one final act of violence?