And Cody Allen Rollins, a toddler.
They represent a cross-section of northeast Alabama: men and women, husbands, wives and brothers, white and black, young and old, native-born and immigrant. Sollohub was a policeman. Royal was a National Guardsman. Three of them died while working at Calhoun County stores. The Moyas — all three — perished at the hands of a family member.
There are many others, of course. I couldn’t remember all of them. Our list of the murdered is too long.
The trial of Nicholas Smith, accused of killing Thompson two years ago, has spurred thoughts of those taken in recent years. Anyone who recalls the brutal facts surrounding the deaths of the Blackmons (killed in 1986) or the four men executed at Blockbuster Video in 2002 should shiver at the testimony being heard this week in the Calhoun County Courthouse.
It isn’t for the faint of heart.
Thompson was one of Calhoun County’s awesome stories: a young man with a splendid attitude and stellar work ethic who enjoyed helping young people. He worked at Wal-Mart, graduated from college and taught at Wellborn Elementary.
He was only 29 when, according to testimony, three men kidnapped him, robbed him, put duct tape over his eyes, locked him in their car’s trunk and eventually killed him, dumping his body in a ditch alongside U.S. 278.
One of the men slit Thompson’s throat, another stabbed him in the chest.
Thompson yelled, “Help! Help! I’m dying.”
No one helped.
Instead, those accused of killing this young, vibrant Calhoun County man face Alabama’s ultimate justice: the possibility of death by lethal injection, our state’s preferred method of state-sanctioned killing. It’s the same fate given to William Glenn Boyd, who murdered the Blackmons, and Donald Ray Wheat, the Blockbuster killer who died in prison before he could be executed.
Up front, an admission: I struggle — mightily — with the death penalty. Eye-for-an-eye justice is about revenge, not justice. It doesn’t bring back the departed. It doesn’t deter others from committing murders; evil isn’t easily swayed. Alabama is one of the nation’s leading states for executions (55 since the death penalty returned in 1976) and still murderers walk among us. There is no inherent, human value in putting another person to death.
Yet, I get it. People who kill eat away at the souls of families burdened by this horrible experience. Their acts are indefensible, if not unfathomable, to the rest of us. It’s understandable that death-penalty advocates say, sometimes harshly, “But what would you want if someone killed a member of your family?”
Fair question. Those who have never had to bury a murdered family member have no idea — none — what it is like, so let’s not pretend that we do. My closest experience happened when my 80-year-old father was mugged, at gunpoint, in broad daylight in a decent part of his town, while taking Bama, his plump dachshund, for a morning stroll.
Neither my father nor Bama was hurt. All he lost was his wallet. Two decades later, I remain thankful.
Had that morning stroll turned deadly, my attitude might be different.
For what it’s worth, Texas, America’s judicial killing field, executed its 500th person on Wednesday: Kimberly McCarthy, a 52-year-old woman who murdered her neighbor in Lancaster, Texas, in 1997. She was hyped up on crack when she killed Dorothy Booth. Right before McCarthy drew her last breath Wednesday, she said, “I am going home to be with Jesus.”
Make of that what you will.
This, too: Of the 1,338 executions in the United States since 1976, 1,095 have taken place in the South, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center. Amnesty International ranks the United States fifth globally in the number of executions, trailing China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Of the world’s 195 countries, only 21 carried out executions last year. And none of that touches on issues as pertinent as responsible gun regulations, which Congress is too weak to adequately address.
Call those numbers what they are: staggering, disappointing, appalling.
The trial this week at the Calhoun County Courthouse is a bitter reminder that human lives are valuable, whoever they are. The sadness we feel when a life is lost prematurely, regardless of the reason, is as real as the summer day is long.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.