Evening Ethics Cool-Down, 4/28/2020: Ethics Clouds In My Coffee

Good evening.

1. Here’s an ethics quote I need to use more often…I was watching the 1941 film “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” about a jury trial to determine whether the Devil will get a farmer’s soul as contracted.  It reminded me of a quote by Kurt Vonnegut: “A soul is the part of you that let’s you know when your brain isn’t working properly.”

A better definition of an ethics alarm you could not devise.

2. So where were the souls of the judges who voted for this? Thousands of prisoners have been released from incarceration to protect them from the outbreak of the Wuhan virus inside jails and prisons.  The theory is that subjecting prisoners to this special peril is cruel and unusual punishment. The theory’s not wrong, but it’s a bit unbalanced. Their peril is not entirely  society’s fault, after all.

There are activists at the extreme end of the progressive spectrum —a division getting larger all the time, it seems—who seem to want to eliminate penal punishment completely.  Not letting a crisis go to waste, a group of them , Columbia Legal Services, began pushing for inmates over 50 years old in Washington state to be released as a compassionate act to save them from the virus.

Among the intended beneficiaries: Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, and Isaac Zamora,  serving a life sentence for going on  a shooting rampage and killing six  people. Ridgeway is one of the nation’s most frightening serial killers, eventually confessing to 71 murders. Over the three decades of the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, Ridgeway captured women and girls, raped them, and  strangled them. He loved watching the life go out of their eyes as they died by his hand, though sometimes he used a  rope. Then he  would pose with the corpses. If he really liked his victim,  he’d have post mortem sex with her body. His first victims were found in the Green River, giving him a catchy name.

Ridgeway was sentenced to 500 years in prison with no possibility of parole. The victim’s families were promised that he would never be released. Ah, but poor Gary is 71 now, and thus at risk of succumbing to the pandemic, and presumed to be too feeble to be a threat. That, at least, is what Columbia Legal Services argued. (You know, I’m not much younger than Ridgeway, and I’m pretty certain I could murder someone. In fact, I’m getting ideas…)

Q13 News reported  that prosecutors protested that “the Petitioners [Columbia Legal Services] demand that 2/3 of the prison population be released into the community, a number which includes serial killers and capital murderers.” You would think that their argument would be a slam dunk. You would be wrong. Continue reading