A Marine To Escort a Killer to Hell?

Posted on March 2, 2012

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Benjamin L. Makinen was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for randomly attacking and killing a woman here in Worcester.  In a victim impact statement, the woman’s brother threatened Makinen with this promise:  “Marines do a tour of duty at the Pearly Gates, and when your time comes, I’m going to escort you straight to hell.”

No doubt this Marine’s rage is understandable.  The defense argued that Makinen was delusional.  First thing in the morning, Makinen tried to get into Genesis Club, Inc., a mental illness safe house which promises, “You are guaranteed the right to a place to come.”  The club was closed that day.  A story in today’s Telegram and Gazette by Scott Croteau claims Makinen subsequently visited the Worcester Art Museum and then walked to the victim’s house and stabbed her over 100 times.  A truly horrendous crime.  I expect an impact statement to express sadness and rage.  So why am I horrified by the Marine’s threat in his impact statement?

I don’t see much difference between the delusional shadow in Makinen’s brain and the fantasy retribution in the Marine’s brain.  What troubles me is I think Makinen will get the help and medication he needs to somewhat lift his shadows before he is eligible for parole in fifteen years, but the Marine may receive no such perspective.  I suspect the Marine will find places that reinforce his sense of divine retribution and will deepen this absurd narrative that some people have the right and power to mediate God’s wrath.

When presidential candidate John McCain appeared with Pastor Rick Warren in his California church as was asked about abortion, McCain was unequivocally opposed to abortion.  Conversely, when candidate Barack Obama was asked by Warren at what point a baby has rights, it appeared to conservatives everywhere that Obama side-stepped the issue by explaining “The answer is above my pay grade.”

This was an appropriate response to a complex issue.  Many things are beyond our pay grade.

I can’t say with certainty that the Marine will dwell in the absurdity that he will one day have the privilege of avenging his sister’s death by blocking heaven’s entrance with his Marine sword.  Clarity on that outcome is beyond my pay grade.

What will Makinen be like in fifteen years?  It’s beyond my pay grade.

What awaits Makinen and the Marine after they die?  That’s beyond my pay grade.  It’s beyond your pay grade too.

My take-away from this odd story is two-fold:

1.  People suffering from mental illness of the kind expressed by Benjamin Makinen do need safe houses like Genesis Club to be open and ready for them.  We need to work tirelessly to find, rather than cut, resources for these vulnerable people.

2.  People suffering from mental anguish of the kind expressed by the Marine in that courtroom need access to places where complex emotions and diverse perspectives reject oversimplification of God and justice.  We need communities which draw their strength not from polarizing wedge issues but from their ability to engage difficult issues with each one understanding that many issues are beyond our individual pay grade.

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