An hour before sentencing, the defendant’s grandma highlighted passages of “Basics of Teaching for Christians.” When mother and sisters arrived, little was spoken of what lay ahead. The mother rocked herself to peace in the second row. The victim’s wife, daughters, supporters and kindred blue souls gradually filled the courtroom. An off-duty supporter’s T-shirt read “Rest in Peace, Soldier.”
At 10 a.m., the cop killer took five strides from the side door. He wore a green sweater over yellow shirt, dark jeans and ice-rink-thick glasses. With a blank stare on his face, he waved a cuffed hand to loved ones.
The prosecutor suggested that the expressionless jury not carry the burden of sending someone to death row if they so choose — which they should. His admission to guilt is nothing. He is not taking responsibility for his crimes, he said. He puts the value of money ahead of the value of human life. He shook the deceased’s badge in his hand. Its pin made a death rattle amid the silence. The defense attorney said this has never been a guilt-or-innocence case: Is this person here too evil to live? No, his attorney pleaded, he isn’t.
At 1:43 p.m., the room was filled beyond-SRO. The victim’s daughter swept her blond locks back over her left ear over and over. A court officer handed tissue boxes to survivors. The forewoman declared “Death” without pause. “Death” was repeated 12 times. It doesn’t make it any easier, the police commissioner would say. “There are no winners today,” the widow said. “In our eyes, you’re the worst of the worst.”
“There isn’t anything I can do, or anything I can say, to make anybody feel better,” the murderer said. As he was led from the room, he was told his family loves him no matter what.
With that, Lynne Abraham’s final Pennsylvania death-row cell was filled by John “Jordan” Lewis, who’d accepted responsibility for being evil incarnate one very tragic 2007 day when he stole Officer Chuck Cassidy’s life. But what exactly was served last week: Justice or vengeance?
I’ll always be a vehement eye-for-an-eye guy, but if sparing someone who came clean proves there’s compassion on both sides and protects America’s ability to lethally inject stone-cold killers who manipulate truth and grief, a slow death behind bars is punishment enough.
— Brian Hickey is a freelance journalist living in East Falls.
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