Let's get this over with.
Three weeks ago, I invited readers to submit their ideas on how they would execute Joseph Duncan if given the opportunity. The column came out on Wednesday, and by Thursday morning, there was a hand-scrawled letter from a man in Nampa waiting for me at the BW office. I had no idea the mail could move that fast.
I copied it exactly as written: "Cope
I'll tell you what I would do to Joseph Duncan—Video tape it all Cut off his manHood—the thing between his legs—Feed it to Him Raw. Take Him to a saw mill lay Duncan down feet 1st Tie Him up. No drugs for Duncan Put a mirror so He can watch His dismise cut him length wise feet 1st Then Burn what left in a culvert."
On the back of the envelope was written, "Cope—I'd do it all." He was referring to my insistence that responders not only allow me to print their real names, but indicate whether or not they would be willing to personally carry out their ideas.
Contrary to what I said three weeks ago, I will not give you the name of the man who wrote that letter. If he's not ashamed of what he claims to be capable of doing, he should be, and I will give him the benefit of a doubt. Maybe he's young or drunk or impulsive and would later regret what he wrote.
Nor will I give the names of anyone else who answered my call. Sorry to disappoint those who seemed proud of what they dreamt up, but if you're so eager to be known publicly as the idea man behind a nightmarish execution, rent a billboard.
To be fair, very few of those who responded sent along a gruesome scenario. At least one was content with letting the designated authorities do their job, noting the important thing is that Duncan dies, not how it happens. Three or four wanted him to be given a life sentence, living out whatever's left of his miserable existence unprotected in the general prison population. Some realized that even imagining what might be appropriate for the beast diminished them and put them on Duncan's level. And some wrote in just to argue with me and my anti-capital punishment position.
• The multi-stage approach: After flaying off Duncan's skin and rolling him in a caustic substance, nail his genitals to an immovable object, give him something sharp, then start a fire in which he will either burn to death or chop off his own penis to escape. If he lives through all that, allow people to pay for the privilege of shooting him repeatedly in non-vital areas. A doctor will be present to keep him alive so that anyone who wants to pay the fee will get their chance. The proceeds would go to his surviving victims.
• "A quick trip to the landfill, one shot to the back of the head, and the burial he deserves."
• "Just have him sit in his cell and make him read every article Bill Cope has ever written ... he would find a dull blade somewhere and slit his wrists ... I'm sure even Joseph Duncan has his standards."
• "We hang him and beat him while reciting the lord's prayer (sic). Then we let him down ... shoot him in a non fatal way and promise to get help. Then we tie him up and spend about one day hitting him in the head with a hammer until he finally dies ... Isn't that only fair?"
• After considering the options of impaling him through the anus on an upright stake and letting him slide slowly down, or infecting him with horrible bacteria and letting him rot away from disease, one man decided he would be satisfied with "a single slug to the back of the head." He went on to say how much he would resent a life sentence in prison. "Beyond the outrage of allowing this man to live after what he did to that poor family, I am even more outraged to think that even one red cent of my tax dollars are going to support this guy."
• A self-described dad, husband and "reasonably sane member of our community" suggests pulling Duncan ever so slowly apart with tractors while dripping an acid-like substance on his face.
• A man called BW offices three times (each time insisting that I get his message) with the idea of slowly and incrementally starving Duncan to death. "He needs to suffer bad."
• A pleasant lady suggested to me over the phone that we use all death row convicts for medical drug tests, as lab rats, so that they might in part redeem themselves for what they've done. And if they live through one experimental drug, send them on to the next.
• One person asserted that any claim to a torturous death—or a life imprisonment, for that matter—should be given to the families of Duncan's victims. He goes on to say "Mr. Cope calls for readers to barrage him with details of unique and disturbing ways to end the life of this killer. On his request I must disappoint, for if charged to instigate the execution of ... Duncan, then I would undertake my task utilizing the cheapest and simplest method possible. My only parameters would be that it occurs without warning, without service, without ritual. His death unnoticed, his body destroyed, his gravestone unmarked."
I promised to tell what had occurred to me as appropriate punishment. As much as I hate you knowing where my hatred can take me, that is one promise I must keep: bolt a metal chair—a standard ice-cream parlor chair would do—to a low spot on a concrete floor. Lock Duncan, naked, into the chair so firmly that all he can do is scream. Fill indentation with a flammable substance and light it. Keep flammable substance coming until all that's left is the chair.
More than one responder took issue with the proposition, made by me three weeks ago and by many others in this controversy, that the death penalty does nothing to deter capital crimes. "Really," said one, "Funny, because I think the fact that the sonofabitch is dead kind of tends to prevent him from killing again, wouldn't you?"
That's an old and obvious argument, but it's only true in a limited way. There's other truth, maybe not quite so obvious, but nevertheless we can see the evidence of it everywhere we look—if we're looking: Savagery begets savagery, just as mercy begets mercy. We should not be surprised that savage people, capable of committing the most savage of crimes, arise in a savage society, willing to commit savage acts in the name of protecting and perpetuating itself. And we—as individuals, a community or a nation—can be no more merciful than our least merciful impulse.
You may not believe it, but I do: Whatever we do to a devil like Duncan—or even dream about doing to a devil like Duncan—we also do to ourselves.
Now excuse me, but I feel dirtier than I normally do. I believe I'll go take a shower.