Yellow Mama may be best

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 27, 2002

When I was in the fifth grade, I think, my mother was taking us (my brother and I) to school one morning.

Every morning, like clockwork, we would stop by Smith’s Bait and Tackle Shop, which was just down the street from our house. Momma would cash a check so we’d have lunch money and maybe buy us a surprise for leaving on time.

Then one morning, we didn’t stop for some reason. When we got home that afternoon, we saw on the news that Mr. Smith, the owner of the shop, had been burglarized and murdered in cold blood in his shop at the exact moment we would have been stopping by there that morning.

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It was a shock to the extremely safe world in which I lived. It really hit close to home.

The crime scene tape remained around the shop for some time after that, and currently, the shop is boarded up. I don’t believe it has ever been opened again.

I was reminded of all this recently when I read that another Russell County, Ala., man named Tarver, who had committed a similar crime in a similar bait shop about 15 miles south of my childhood home had been granted a stay of execution.

Tarver had been convicted and sentenced to die in the arms of Yellow Mama in Atmore. But Gov. Don Siegelman chose to stop the process.

Much has been said recently about the Yellow Mama, Alabama’s electric chair, and its use as the state’s form of execution.

Apparently, Alabama is one of only three states remaining which offer electrocution as the only option for those who receive the death penalty (Nebraska and Georgia are the others).

There has been a push in the Alabama Legislature to move toward a system like Florida’s, in which death penalties are carried out by lethal injection unless the murderer chooses to be electrocuted.

I waver from time to time on how I feel about the death penalty. On one hand, I hate to see anyone killed. But on the other hand, again, I hate to see anyone killed.

The prison system in our country is so messed up that sentencing someone to prison is just guaranteeing them three meals a day, a bed to sleep in, all the books and television they want and the ability to further whatever education they may have.

Something’s just not right about that. I’ve been on the scene immediately following some gruesome acts by clearly demented individuals.

I was on the scene of a pawn shop triple murder in Shelby County about an hour after it happened. I was on the scene of another triple murder/burglary in Brooklyn, Ala., and a murder-suicide in Flomaton, Ala., in which a father killed his 2-year-old and 6-month-old sons and then himself.

I’ve even been in a courtroom and heard how a mother beat her 3-year-old son until his stomach ruptured.

I’ve seen the bloodstains and the bodies, and I wonder if there is an appropriate punishment for those who commit such heinous crimes.

A jury of peers penalizing a person who commits such a crime to die may be the only justifiable future for those people.

For this Tarver person, who received a stay of execution, I sure hope he appreciates it. The man he was convicted of killing more than 15 years ago was the grandfather of a boy I went through school with &045; from kindergarten until graduation. I also hope Gov. Siegelman can live with his decision.

For others who have committed the crimes I’ve seen up close, I have ceased to even think of them as people &045; just as they did when they committed the murderers.

As for the case involving Mr. Smith, no one was ever arrested or convicted for his murder. As criminals often repeat their crimes, I can only hope that person was caught at something else and gotten off the streets a long time ago.

I am truly thankful that we didn’t stop by the Bait and Tackle Shop that morning or this could have been written about the three of us as well.