They got death for killing a cop, but not for killing a guard: Where’s justice?

SHARE They got death for killing a cop, but not for killing a guard: Where’s justice?
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When Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed reinstating the death penalty earlier this month, my thoughts immediately turned to Bill Sieg Sr.

A Brink’s security guard, Sieg was shot to death in an Indianapolis Kmart in August 1980.

Just 53, Sieg was gunned down in the store’s heavy-appliance section as he carried two bags filled with almost $50,000 in cash to a waiting armored car. He had worked for Brink’s for 34 years and planned to celebrate his wife’s birthday later that day.

Four months later, an Indianapolis police sergeant, Jack R. Ohrberg, was shot dead when he attempted to serve warrants for Sieg’s murder. The killers, Gregory D. Resnover and Tommie J. Smith, eventually would be sentenced to death for the murder of Ohrberg, the police officer, but neither man was sentenced to death for the murder of Sieg, the security guard.

Is there a moral balance in that?

In Illinois today, Rauner wants to bring back the death penalty, seven years after it was abolished by the state Legislature, but only in certain situations. In an echo of Indiana-style justice, Rauner is calling for the death penalty for people who kill a cop or two or more people, but not for people who kill one person like Bill Sieg.

A week before Indiana executed Smith for killing a police officer but not a security guard, Sieg’s stepson Tom Mahler urged the Indiana Parole Board to deny Smith clemency.

“I have been patient and I have been silent,” said the Indianapolis dentist, “but my patience and silence have been exhausted.”

Mahler knew why Smith sat on Death Row — for killing a cop — but he wanted the parole board to understand why Smith should be executed for killing the security guard, too. To Mahler’s thinking, his step-father’s murder was no less of a crime. The penalty paid should be one and the same.

The parole board agreed Smith should be put to death, and one week later, on July 18, 1996, he was, with me and seven other witnesses looking on.

It was Indiana’s first execution by lethal injection, and it did not go as planned. The 12-member execution team had trouble getting the intravenous line into one of Smith’s veins, so the procedure took much longer than expected.

As we waited in the prison chapel that night, one of the other witnesses, Dwight Resnover, said, “I bet it’s getting rowdy outside.”

Dwight was the younger brother of Gregory Resnover, the other killer, who had been executed months earlier.

Outside the prison, Bill Sieg Jr. was waiting, too. “It is something that needs to be done,” he told one of my colleagues at the Indianapolis Star. “I will just see it through to the end.”

It’s been more than two decades since I witnessed Tommie J. Smith’s death, which finally came sometime after midnight. And since that night, 1,142 more people have been executed in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Another 2,800 men and women remain on Death Row in 33 states.

It begs an impossible question: Who deserves to die most?

The death in February of Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer was heinous. He was shot dead in the Loop while bravely doing his job. But was Cmdr. Bauer’s life worth more than that of Shaquita Bennett, who was gunned down in April, allegedly by an ex-boyfriend who had stalked her for years?

Were the lives of Bauer and Bennett worth more than that of 8-year-old Gizzell Ford who was used as a punching bag, whipped with a belt and deprived of food, water and sleep for days by her grandmother before she was strangled?

That’s the moral dilemma we must confront if Gov. Rauner’s proposal to bring back the death penalty — so utterly selectively — becomes law.

And that is why I’m not comfortable having the state of Illinois resume killing in my name.

Suzanne McBride is chair of the Communication Department at Columbia College Chicago and an editor at the Sun-Times.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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