Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Two Wrongs

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a nice review of Brian MacQuarrie's book The Ride, which tells the story of MVFHR member Bob Curley. A couple of excerpts:

I don't want to jinx this, but, having finished the most emotionally challenging true-crime account I have ever read, I want this book to win every nonfiction reporting award there is.

This book was difficult to read because, as a father, I cannot tolerate violence against children. I find it unsettling, repugnant, and infuriating.

This book is about a father's encounter with the worst thing that can happen to a child, an unthinkable horror, and how he comes to terms with it.


MacQuarrie takes the story further, showing how Bob Curley became a willing, and convincing, spokesman for Massachusetts death-penalty advocates, who narrowly lost a legislative fight to restore capital punishment. He also chronicles how Curley began to drink heavily, unable to get past the guilt and horror of what happened to his youngest child.

When he was invited to speak at public forums on the death penalty, Bob Curley refused to share the same car with anti-capital punishment advocate Bud Welch, a gas-station owner who lost his daughter Julie when Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal office building in Oklahoma City. The violent death of a child had caused Welch, like Curley, to lose himself in guilt, rage, and alcohol.

Welch eventually determined that executing Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols "wouldn't be part of my healing process. I wasn't going to gain anything from an act of hate and revenge. And hate and revenge, I realized, were the very reasons that Julie and 167 others were dead. I was finally able to see what the Oklahoma City bombing was all about. It was about retribution."

Bob Curley didn't see it that way, but he shared with Welch a resentment at being used by politicians and the news media. From that common thread, the two began to talk, and Bob Curley slowly understood that to get on with his life, he had to end the cycle of anger and guilt that was consuming him.

Curley began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. After many months of inner turmoil, he decided that watching his son's murderers die would not make it easier for him to deal with his grief. Now he believes that a society that kills convicted criminals is not as strong as one that refuses to do so.

MacQuarrie's book doesn't offer answers to the larger problems of crime and punishment, but Bob Curley's story is profoundly important as the debate over the death penalty continues.

Somebody has to make us think about whether two wrongs ever make a right.

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