By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
In Barry Graham's article "Curtains for Ceja" (February 5), he stated that at the age of 18, he himself had the urge to go to a local bookstore and kill the owner and take the money. Graham wrote, "It wasn't my conscience that saved him, though I'd like to believe that it was. The truth is, I chickened out."
Criminals do crimes every day, and everyone says, "They have no conscience." They do have a conscience, but they don't heed the warning not to commit to what they do. Graham heeded the warning, and even though he went away feeling like a chicken, he went away a man. It takes a strong man to realize what's right from wrong. Don't underestimate the power of a conscience, for in it is the secret of what's right or what's wrong.
At the time of his death, Jose Ceja looked a bit like me. Same age, thinning graying hair and thickening around the middle. So what? There was no doubt that he committed the crimes for which he was condemned. Barry Graham says he could see himself in Ceja's place because he once considered knocking someone in the head to get food and shelter money. (I'm guessing Graham's intent was to render the elderly book merchant unconscious, not kill him.) That would have been bad, but understandable. Ceja was after drugs. To me, there is a big difference between the two.
Let's look at the facts: Ceja brought with him not a bludgeon, but a pistol. He did not shoot Linda Leon once and run away, like a startled burglar might. He shot her twice, dragged her into another room and shot her four more times to make sure she was dead. When he heard Linda's husband drive up, Ceja still did not run. He searched for, and found, another pistol and used it to kill Randy Leon. This is not a case where someone was railroaded by authorities under pressure to solve a crime quickly. Nor was he stealing in order to stay alive. Ceja was stealing, and ended up killing, in order to get high. The fact that he educated himself and got a GED during his time on death row is irrelevant. He got to live at taxpayer expense, 23 years longer than his victims. I think the appeals process should be limited to five or six years. That way, if someone is unjustly condemned, there is time to discover the truth. If they are guilty, they won't have to endure the "torture" of living with three meals a day, free medical care and no responsibilities for very long.
I have a perspective that is unique in that I was a police officer in Canada for 20 years (eight as a detective), and a corrections administrator in charge of county jails in Austin, Texas, for almost 10 years. In regard to Ceja: I met many inmates who were in similar circumstances. You find that in a structured setting, they can sometimes be so pleasant and easygoing that it is impossible to imagine them committing such heinous crimes.
I still believe that certain people should be executed because I wouldn't want them to have the remotest possibility of killing again. There are others who should spend the rest of their lives locked up, with no possibility of parole. There is a large number already under this kind of sentence, but I have a problem with the way it is being carried out. If we substitute a no-parole life term for the death penalty, why should that person be given privileges? They have phone calls, visits, TV, commissary, library, physical recreation, etc., all in a federally mandated humane environment.
The Ceja story is a sad one, with innumerable victims. I don't pretend to have the answers, but as long as we have laws, they should be enforced. The alternative is not a viable option.
When will people like Graham let it go and let the justice system do its job? Ceja was convicted for what he did, not for what he could be later, much like Karla Faye Tucker in Texas. If I had it my way, all death-row inmates would get one year from the date of conviction and sentencing for all of their appeals, then it's adios, buddy. Save time and money.
So let me make sure I've got Barry Graham's personal story straight. He's 18, a little hungry and a little behind on his rent. Instead of productively looking for work, he has the free time to case a bookstore "for more than an hour" with the intent of assaulting (and possibly killing) an innocent person for some spare change from a cash box.
Is it any wonder that he feels (felt) such a close bond to Jose Ceja? Graham and he are both examples of the same bad seed that plagues our society today. Feeling "desperate"? Go ahead and kill some bystander to make your life a little easier.
The execution of Jose Ceja was a necessary evil, and if Graham had committed the crime he intended and that crime had resulted in death, then I would support a similar fate being imposed on him.