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Jewish World Review July 15, 1999 /2 Av 5759

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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The real victims of cruel and unusual punishment --
SOME PEOPLE WERE HORRIFIED by what happened to Allen Lee Davis last week.

Davis, 54, was put to death in Florida's electric chair. During his execution, a spot of blood unexpectedly appeared on his shirt; by the time the execution was finished, the blood spot had grown to approximately 8 inches across.

Prison officials later said that the blood came from a simple nosebleed, and that the blood dripped onto Davis' shirt. But some witnesses said that the blood seemed to come from Davis' chest area.

All of this was used by some as evidence that putting prisoners to death - specifically by using the electric chair -- is an appalling and cruel thing to do. The lawyer for another Florida man on Death Row said, "The degrading and mutilating manner in which (Davis) died was a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment. Blood gushing from the face and chest of a dying inmate is repugnant to the conscience of mankind." Civil liberties attorney Howard Simon said that the method used to execute Davis was "barbaric." Perhaps.

But before we go too far down the path of mourning the way in which Allen Lee Davis died, maybe, just for a few moments, it is worth reporting something that has not been commented upon much: what Davis did to get to Death Row in the first place.

On May 11, 1982, Davis -- an ex-convict -- entered the Jacksonville, Fla., home of the John Weiler family. Weiler, an executive with the Westinghouse Corp., was on a business trip in Pittsburgh.

In the Weiler home, Allen Lee Davis attacked Nancy Weiler, 37, who at the time was three months pregnant with the family's third child. Davis bludgeoned Mrs. Weiler -- who was the corresponding secretary of the PTA at her children's school -- so severely that she was barely recognizable when police found her body. Davis brutalized Mrs. Weiler with such force that the trigger guard on the gun with which he was beating her broke, as did the wooden grips and metal frame of its handle.

Davis tied up the Weiler's 10-year-old daughter, Kristy -- a 5th-grade student who hoped to become a nuclear engineer someday -- and shot her in the face, killing her.

The Weilers' other child -- 5-year-old Kathy -- tried to run from Davis. He shot her in the back, and then beat her, crushing her skull. There was quite a bit of blood in the Weiler home after Davis had killed the mother and her two children. Considerably more blood than inadvertently appeared on Davis' shirt during the execution.

When prisoners are wrongly sent to Death Row, there is justifiable outrage that the court system could condemn innocent people to death. This is as it should be. But there was no question about Allen Lee Davis. He murdered Mrs. Weiler and her two little girls. No one disputes that.

And for 16 full years the State of Florida housed him, took care of his physical needs, fed him all the food he desired (he ballooned up to 344 pounds in prison; one of his attorneys based an appeal on the theory that Davis should not be executed because his obesity might complicate the electrocution and cause him pain, which the attorney said would be cruel and unusual punishment. The attorney did not characterize the extent of the cruelty in the deaths of the Weiler family.)

As his last meal before his execution, Davis received from the State of Florida the dinner he had requested: a lobster tail, fried potatoes, a half-pound of fried shrimp, six ounces of fried clam strips, half a loaf of garlic bread and 32 ounces of A&W root beer. In 1982, Davis did not give Mrs. Weiler and her two children a choice of a last meal before he killed them.

But now the focus is on the blood spot on Davis' chest, and whether that indicates we are an immoral and vicious society for doing such a thing to him.

John Weiler -- whose wife and daughters have been dead for 17 years -- apparently doesn't think so. At one point as he waited for Davis to at last receive the punishment the courts had ordered for him, Weiler said: "It is cruel and unusual punishment of the victims, living and dead, to know that this animalÉstill breathes."

And now Allen Lee Davis is dead. Evidently his death was a somewhat unpleasant experience for him. There are a lot of things in this world for the public to worry about. Davis' discomfort is not necessarily one of them.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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