The Price of Despair

Is it ever right to take delight in the death and despair of another? Shasta County District Attorney McGregor Scott called the suicide of inmate Benjamin Matthew Williams “the best thing that could have happened for everybody” and added that Williams’ actions will save the taxpayers money.

Matthew Williams was a murderer and an arsonist. He was a religious fanatic who believed Leviticus 20:13, that homosexuals would be punished by death. What you may not know is that he was raised in a strict Christian family with a long history of mental illness. He was the recipient of abundant discipline. He once left anonymous Hanukah gifts on the doorstep of a low-income Jewish family who lived near him. He was the father of a 9-year-old daughter. He was, until recently, on medication for a mental disorder. He was extremely religious and felt, at the end, that he had been forsaken by God.

None of this information justifies Williams’ murder of the couple in Happy Valley or his attack on the guard at the Shasta County Jail or setting fire to synagogues in the Sacramento area. What this information should do, however, is remind us that Williams was more than just a burden to taxpayers. He, like many of us, was a person who experienced loneliness, confusion, uncertainty and, ultimately, despair. He was a very disturbed man, and had he lived he would have spent the rest of his life in jail.

I don’t expect District Attorney Scott to feel the slightest bit of compassion for Benjamin Williams. However, for Scott to exhibit such delectation over the suicide of an inmate demonstrates both a lack of decency and a disregard for justice, neither of which one ordinarily wants to find in a district attorney. A district attorney should be seeking justice, not worrying about how to save the taxpayers money. No justice was served by Williams’ suicide, not even for those who hold with the principle of lex talionis, an eye for an eye. Now there can be no verdict of guilt, no public sentencing and no punishment dispensed in severity to the gravity of the offense. Death is the last place of refuge, and Williams can now take up his defense with his God.

My concern is why a district attorney is making statements that an inmate’s suicide is the “best thing that can happen,” rather than demanding an investigation into why there have been so many instances of prisoners having access to razor blades? (Williams’ is the fourth reported incident of an inmate with a razor blade known to this writer and another suicide was attempted on January 11th, by an inmate who hung himself with a sheet.)

My concern is that Mr. Scott has come to the point in his career where the death of a man, even a confessed murderer, means nothing more to him than a way to save time and money.

My concern is that instead of a public outcry for McGregor Scott’s ouster, his nomination is expected for the new U.S. attorney for the federal court district based in Sacramento. (Scott is currently undergoing an FBI check and his nomination is expected to become official later this month).

Whether one feels any sense of compassion for Benjamin Matthew Williams is a personal matter. Whether one feels disgust with the statements of District Attorney Scott is not. Williams is dead; Scott is delighted. We should all be dismayed that such a man holds a public position of trust.

KELLY NOLAN lives in Chico, California. She can be reached at: