Editor’s note: Virginia Nickles Osborne testified during the sentencing phase for Austin Stryker on Wednesday, Dec. 15. He was given life in prison without parole for his role in Hannah Bender’s 2019 murder.
I recently had the opportunity to testify at a sentencing hearing for a man convicted of malice murder. The District Attorney asked for life without parole, which the judge handed down. The defendant was deemed to be a danger to society, undeserving of rehabilitation.
This comes against the backdrop of South Carolina’s revised capital punishment law. The law previously designated lethal injection as the default mode of execution. The new law designates lethal injection as the default when drugs are available — they have not been since 2013 — and then give prisoners the choice between electric chair and firing squad. Both are, according to John Blume (Justice 360), barbaric. I agree with him.
But the argument isn’t really about that. That’s a straw man.
People don’t like the death penalty. Even those who legally and philosophically support it don’t want to deal with it. Thus, enter life without parole. This solves many quandaries. It serves the same purpose as capital punishment, without the state imposing that sentence.
Life without parole is merciful and civilized — and squeamish. It is a symptom of a society gone in the teeth, as Ezra Pound wrote. Moreover, it is indicative of cancel culture. Prisoners go away forever, and nobody has to think about them.
They are one of the happy number of inmates saved from capital punishment, and judges and parole boards are saved from the very messy — and moral — work of making hard decisions about a person’s life and place in society.
I am not advocating for more executions or urging South Carolina to hurry up and establish their firing squad.
I’m not denying that life without parole serves a vital purpose. Nobody wants BTK back among the masses. I am arguing for courts to have the courage of their convictions.
If they genuinely conclude that a person has no humanity or value to society, that they are incapable and undeserving of redemption, seek the death penalty. Make the hard choice.
It’s very easy to send a person away forever. Cancel them. This way they’re condemned to death and society doesn’t have to acknowledge it.
Virginia Nickles Osborne