I first came to CSU in June of 2005. Less than three weeks after I arrived, CSU graduates Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe were murdered in Aurora.
I never knew them or their families, but they were part of the CSU community, which, by all accounts, was enriched by their lives.
This past week, their killer, Sir Mario Owens, was sentenced to death.
The death penalty isn’t something that anyone takes lightly, and Rhonda Fields, Javad Marshall-Fields mother, discussed the evolution of her views on the death penalty in a recent Rocky Mountain News article. Previously opposed to capital punishment, she now supports the sentence passed down on her son’s killer.
“You know,” she said, “to me [life without parole] would be like he got two free murders.”
I can’t pretend to understand the emotions and experiences that these parents have endured — having to bury a child, having to sit through a trial where the details of their deaths are recounted, having to talk to the media about it year after year. The emotional impact of it all has to be overwhelming, and just getting by day to day has to require enormous strength and resolve.
There’s a disturbing coldness to this type of reasoning, though.
Rejecting one sentence because it doesn’t sufficiently match the severity of the crime feels almost like trying to balance accounts on some sort of cosmic ledger sheet. Deduct two murders from the account of Sir Mario Owens, deposit one execution, and are the books of justice suddenly balanced?
And yet, the merit of the sentence, at least for those who sought it, seems to be couched entirely in the terms of this sort of justice, the idea that one action demands one particular type of response.
“For me, it is not about revenge, it is about seeing justice done for my son and Vivian,” Fields said.
Christine Wolfe, Vivian Wolfe’s mother, has said, “We only know that we lost our child, and really justice is being served.”
Prosecutor John Hower commented, “We believe it is a very just verdict.”
Monica Owens, the mother of the man who now faces death for his crimes, sees things differently.
She commented after the trial that she wanted “to let the jurors and the mothers that wish death upon my son [know] that to me they’re no different than what they accuse him of, this murder.”
Few people would say that there’s a moral equivalence between the deaths of Javad Marshall-Fields and Vivian Wolfe and the possible execution of Sir Mario Owens. The intensity of her words, though, is understandable, from a mother who has just learned that she’s going to lose her son, not just to prison, but for good.
The nugget of truth in her statement is that the mothers and the jurors, through their declarations and their verdicts, do “wish death” upon Owens. They desire that he die in order that justice be served.
Sir Mario Owens also desired that Javad and Vivian die when he ambushed their car on an Aurora street corner, but for different reasons.
Any legal system takes intent into account, and the intent behind these two wishes for death is what causes us to call one “justice” and the other “murder.” It’s that threshold of intent that our society uses to either sanction or condemn the taking of life.
Before the death sentence was announced, Rhonda Fields said that, to murderers like Owens, “human life is nothing.”
I was brought up to believe that human life is of immeasurable value.
It turns out, according to our legal system, that it’s somewhere in between.
The human life of Sir Mario Owens appears to be worth only slightly less than the value of our collective sense of “justice.” At least the cosmic ledger sheets are balanced.
Seth Anthony is a graduate student working towards his doctorate in chemistry. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.