Monday, June 07, 2010

A Moment in Time

This is not one of my "usual" posts. But a newspaper article today brought back memories of an event long ago.

Crime and Punishment after 32 Years

Back in 1978, I was working the night shift, the graveyard shift, for the Department of Human Resources in South Austin. There is one night I remember vividly - at my "lunch" break, I needed to go out to my van to get the meal I had forgotten to bring in with me. The night watchman told me that he needed to escort me to my van because there was an active manhunt going on - a police officer had been shot nearby. When I saw the headline in today's Austin Statesman, I had a sinking feeling that it was going to be about Ralph Ablanedo's killer. I didn't have to read the article to remember the name Ablanedo - it is etched in my memory. It was a brutal, senseless murder and the next morning, David Powell was found hiding in a tree on the school grounds too close to where I worked. None of us at work felt very secure that evening, knowing that this extensive manhunt was going on around us.

1978 is truly a long time ago. The wheels of justice seem to have rolled very slowly to come to a conclusion on this case. Turns out Powell is only a year older than I. It is too easy for me to look back and think, "I was working, productive, sober, and responsible 32 years ago." But, today I'm older, slower, wiser - maybe. Am I a better person now than 32 years ago? Hard for me to know or judge. After so many years of incarceration, David Powell is certainly not the same person he was the night of the murder. I find it sad for many reasons that this case has continued on. Delayed closure for the Ablanedo family . . . prolonged uncertainty for David Powell and his family (and yes, I feel more grief for his family's ordeal of uncertainty and grief than his waiting time in prison.)

I remember another Texas death penalty case several years ago - a woman was executed who had turned her life around in prison. But once again, in youthful folly she was involved in a brutal murder. That story was also hard to follow . . . justice vs mercy for a life that had changed.

In some ways, life today still has moments where brutal murders, random, senseless death still occur. Sometimes it seems like there are more brutal crimes committed in these present years. Far too many young people are making poor choices during their teenage years when perhaps they are too young to fully understand all the ramifications of their actions.

The article in the Stateman is long by newspaper standards. Most people won't read all of it. It manages to cover most of the issues about the death penalty - determent, justice, is the person likely to commit another such crime, closure for the victim's family, etc.

I haven't chosen to listen to the video that goes with the article - an interview with David Powell. And I don't profess to have wisdom as to whether life in prison is a better alternative to the death penalty for this case specifically or for all cases. Too many issues . . . too many points of view . . . with reasonable arguments on both sides.

But I was too close to the action the night that Ralph Ablanedo died. I read the newspaper articles then that detailed how he was shot. While all policemen are not perfect, I want to live in a world where policemen are respected. They should not have to wonder each time they go out on patrol whether they will come home to their loved ones - and especially they shouldn't die making a routine traffic stop.

I also believe that there are consequences - both good and bad for what we do in life. We make choices either consciously or unconsciously every day. Sometimes our choices are good - benefiting ourselves and our families. Sometimes they are destructive - hurting ourselves and others. While I hate to see someone who may have turned their life around punished for something they did long in the past, there is a sense of justice needed here - we need to be accountable for what we do and for what we've done - both good and bad. We also need to get the word out to our young people that the choices they make when they are young can resonate through the rest of their lives.

There seems to be at least one more avenue of appeal for David Powell, I find myself not caring what the final outcome is - God is truly the final judge for David Powell. But this story needs an ending. I just hope that the final ending brings peace and closure for the Ablanedo family and that God gives David Powell's family and loved ones healing and acceptance for whatever the final decision brings.

This is such a lose-lose scenario. Sigh . . .

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