Should Parents Be Allowed to Murder Child Molesters? Is This a Trick Question?

Illustration for article titled Should Parents Be Allowed to Murder Child Molesters? Is This a Trick Question?

Texan news reached almost Floridian proportions of horribleness this week, when a father walked in on an acquaintance sexually assaulting his four-year-old daughter. The father then punched the molester in the head repeatedly until he died. The incident has inspired mountains of media speculation (and applause from the frothing commentariat) about whether or not the father should be prosecuted or could ever be convicted of a crime, largely under headlines like, "Should Parents Be Allowed to Kill People Who Sexually Molest their Kids?"



Now, clearly this Texas case is one thing. The father walked in on the molestation as it was happening, and leaped to defend his daughter from imminent harm. You can't exactly blame the father for having a violent, panicked reaction in that moment—but the unfortunate result is that his daughter not only had to experience a sexual assault, she also had to watch her dad kill a dude. And, just based on my distant speculation, it sounds like the dad is suffering a fair amount of remorse for the whole thing (it also sounds like he really didn't mean to kill the guy, who died "from blunt-force head and neck injuries"). So, yay! Trauma all around!

We have a system in place to deal with this, and law enforcement can take this case in whatever direction they see fit. So far, the statement from the county sheriff sounds pretty forgiving: "You have a right to defend your daughter. He acted in defense of his third person." Fair enough.

But here's the takeaway from Time Magazine:

"We have an instinctual desire to protect our kids," says David Finkelhor, 
director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. "A sexual threat is seen as a mortal threat against their future and their reputation. It is almost like a trigger where we are completely entitled to feel righteous anger."

Are we completely entitled to use lethal force? That's a question that will be decided in the coming weeks. I'm betting the answer is yes.

Okay. You guys. Really? Do we really need to blow this particular case up on a national scale and ask ourselves if parents "should" be "completely entitled" to kill child molesters? Is that a real question? Like, okay, instead of a trial, let's just put a dad and a child molester in a room, and give the dad a sword and give the child molester a mild sedative and call it justice! And Judge Judy can referee! Nope. I'm not a legal wizard, but I'm going to stick with my gut here, which says that WE DO NOT JUST GO ABOUT MURDERING PEOPLE.

Now, for the record, I also don't believe that the government should be allowed to murder people who murder people, so take my opinion with however much salt you want. Is it less upsetting when someone murders a child molester? I guess so. (Although, and I know I'm opening a can of worms here, even child molesters are officially human beings and entitled to the same legal recourse as any other citizen. Also, a lot of them get murdered in prison anyway, guys will get your wish.) Is accidental deadly force excusable if someone walks in on a person actively molesting their child? I think yes. But that doesn't mean we should legalize murder and normalize vengeance. If that was even a real question.


Photo Credit: OlivierL / Stockfresh.



I feel like I'm seeing a lot of bravado in the comments here: "If it were me, I'd definitely try to kill the person I caught molesting my child/loved one/etc." I don't feel like vigilantism is ever something to be proud of or aspire to. I would not want the stain of someone's death on my soul. The fact is that I don't know, and no one else here knows, what we would really do if confronted with such a scenario. It sounds like the father in this case has a decent "heat of passion" defense. Assuming all the facts align with his version of events, it's not like I'd say you should lock him up and throw away the key. But someone is dead and I believe that is deserving of some punishment; that's the way things work in a civilized society. Someone mentioned the Miami "cannibal" case but I think it's totally different if you are talking about killing someone to save an innocent person's life. That is, essentially, self-defense. It doesn't sound like that was the case here.

I remember a case from around here years ago - the killer was a woman named Ellie Nesler. She brought a gun into court and shot the man who'd molested her son. I had some sympathy for her, but given the obviously premeditated nature of the killing, I felt like she she do her time and not try to make excuses afterwards or wriggle out of responsibility. I don't think it's RIGHT, exactly, but I don't feel huge sorrow for the victim and I can understand a mother, for various reasons, needing the person who did that to her child to be dead. But I feel strongly that if you make that choice, you aren't a "hero", and you need to face the consequences.