Because of this. Why does the media report so obsessively on the last meals of convicted murderers? This man sexually attacked a woman, stabbed her, slit her throat, and then left her to die, which took 20 hours. 22 years later, he is scheduled to die, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports — on his last meal.
Does the reporter also tell us anything so personal about the victim? No, he defines her, briefly, as a “former amateur diving champion,” then gets to the real point of the article: fomenting sympathy for rapist/killer Robert Newland by recounting the pathos of his prison diet. Seasoned collard greens? Bread pudding?
The victim takes up less space than the description of her killer’s dinner tray.
How about telling us how much it cost us to keep this man alive through twenty years of appeals? You don’t need to support the death penalty to abhor the casual sentimentality piled onto predators (in fact, death penalty opponents would get a lot further with the public if they cut this stuff out). Why do we need to know how his collard greens were prepared, but we don’t need to know what was spent on his lawyers?
Why a pity party instead of facts, except that this is what the media has done for so long that it seems natural that death row cases are reported this way. But it isn’t natural. It may be “traditional” to cover last meals, but this is a sick tradition, merely a last effort to bump up the compassion factor for a man who showed no compassion. Newspapers should save descriptions of “last meals” for editorials because they are an editorial statement: feel pity for this man.
And why an exclusive pity party for the perpetrator alone, and not his victim? Was Carol Sanders Beatty awake during those 20 hours? Did she know what was happening? Did she die alone? Did she have loved ones?
What was her last meal?
[Update #1, 3/11/09]
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a story today, “Georgia Man Executed for Murdering Woman in ’86,” with more information about Robert Newland’s crime:
Newland went to Beatty’s duplex on May 30, 1986, after a drinking binge and tried to kiss her, authorities said. When she refused his advances, scratching and slapping him, he drew a knife and slashed her neck and stabbed her repeatedly.
They also reported on the victim’s last hours. Carol Sanders Beatty did not die alone: with a detective’s help, she managed to spell out her assailant’s name:
Police found Beatty lying in her garden and rushed her to the hospital. A doctor noticed she was moving her lips to try to say something, but couldn’t pronounce the words.
He summoned a detective, who asked her if she was saying “Bob.” She nodded her head. When asked the last name of her assailant, the detective ticked through the alphabet. When he reached “N” she “nodded her head vigorously,” and squeezed his hand, court documents say.
She ended up spelling out “N-E-W-L-A” and when the detective asked if the last name was Newland, she nodded again and squeezed his hand. She died hours later.
Carol Sanders Beatty was executed by Robert Newland in 1986; Robert Newland was executed by the State in 2009, nearly 23 years later. Here are people protesting the latter execution. Note the sign that says, “Kill Fascism Now.” Robert Newland’s defense attorney mounted a similar protest before the Georgia Supreme Court earlier this week, arguing that death was an arbitrary and disproportionate punishment for Newland — not disproportionate to what Beatty suffered, but disproportionate to the punishment (some) other murderers received in Georgia. The argument for proportionality goes something like this: if I can come up with a list of murderers who received lesser sentences for similar crimes, then my client should receive a lesser sentence too. Of course, you cannot go back to a conviction and find that the defendant actually deserved death, not life, or life without parole instead of life with parole. The justice system, far from being fascist, is designed largely around this pursuit of “lesser sentencing.”
The Georgia Supreme Court denied the request to commute Newland’s sentence to life without parole on the grounds of disproportionality. They also rejected arguments that Newland should be held less responsible for his crime because, according to his defense attorney, he had been sexually and physically molested as a child, and because the murder was directly related to his alcohol and drug addictions.