James Coddington was…
…all before the age of 9 years old.
If you met a child who had gone through all these things…how would you respond? Hopefully, any of us would do all that we could to help the child. But the problem is that we didn’t help Coddington in his most crucial years…and like all problems that aren’t dealt with…things got worse…much worse.
As he got older, James Coddington turned to the only thing that he knew of that could slightly ease his pain…drugs. There was no life for Coddington without drugs. In fact, he knew of no other way to function. He’d never been taught that there were other ways of dealing with mental illness. The next high was the only thing that kept him going. To say that Coddington was a mess would be an understatement. But the problem is that we didn’t help Coddington in his most crucial years…and like all problems that aren’t dealt with…things got worse…much worse.
By the time he was in his twenties, James Coddington was largely still the person he was when he was 9…just in a bigger body. Amid constant struggle, Coddington was befriended by a man named Albert Hale…who took him in and tried to help him. Coddington seemed to respond for a while. Then one day…while in the throes of a three-day crack binge…Coddington busted into the house demanding money for drugs. When Hale refused, Coddington killed him. Though he quickly became remorseful for what he did, Coddington was dehumanized by the court. Nobody wanted to talk about the 9-year-old. Everybody wanted to talk about the grown man. The problem is that you can’t separate the two. Of course, Coddington got the death penalty…even though various experts of the mitigating circumstances of his upbringing were not allowed to testify. Now, the State of Oklahoma is trying to execute him.
Why can’t we see that the problem is that we didn’t help Coddington in his most crucial years…and like all problems that aren’t dealt with…things got worse…much worse?
These types of death penalty cases…involving horrific childhood abuse…are becoming more and more frequent. Why can’t we admit that we failed the perpetrator just as much as the perpetrator failed the victim? While it doesn’t mean that the perpetrator shouldn’t be punished, it does mean that we should have the compassion to look at our own failures as a society and consider them as mitigating evidence before we start going around killing folk.
We lament that Albert Hale was murdered. We lament that Oklahoma is seeking to execute James Coddington. We lament that we haven’t been able to abolish the death penalty yet. We lament.
Lamentations is a series of short reflections derived from a reoccurring conversation that takes place before every scheduled execution in the United States between prominent abolitionists Death Penalty Action Executive Director Abraham Bonowitz and Convener of Clergy United Against the Death Penalty The Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood.