BTK and Families Speaking to the Convicted

Dennis Rader, the “BTK Killer”, was sentenced to ten consecutive life terms today, with “a minimum of 175 years behind bars without the possibility of parole.” (It is unfortunate that the death penalty could not be applied.)

At Rader’s sentencing hearing, like many other sentencing hearings, the family members of the people he killed were allowed to speak directly to him. The sister of one of his victims said something to the effect of, “I have some afterlife scenarios for the day of his death. My sister, and all of his victims, will be there with God to watch him burn in hell.”

I am unsure how to react to allowing family members to speak to the person who killed their loved ones. Does it really give “closure” to their mourning? Is it for the sake of the survivors, or is it a chance to speak in hatred and vengeance? When someone like Rader is called a “monster” or it is suggested that he should be put in a pit and left to rot (which, I cannot deny, are my first inclinations as well), does such dehumanization really serve any purpose? Does it make the survivors feel better?

Certainly Rader gave expression to the most terrible, the darkest, the most horrific and sadistic tendencies of human beings. But isn’t that the point? Rader is not evil incarnate; there is no such thing. What he is is an inexplicable testimony to the depths of human depravity, even to the depths of our depravity.

Frankly, my sinful flesh hopes he burns in hell, no less than the survivors of his victims. But do such sentiments solve any problems, or do they just serve as a comparative example for showing how good we are? On earth, according to the rules of justice and law, what Rader did deserves the harshest punishment possible. In the court of God, however, none is without excuse, and, even more importantly, none is beyond redemption.

Is there any redeeming (in a higher or lower sense) value to letting family members speak at sentencing hearings?


4 thoughts on “BTK and Families Speaking to the Convicted

  1. This is a relatively new process that has been introduced into criminal trials, particularly murder trials. Maybe I’m just “old school,” but I’ve never quite been able to figure out why this started or what good it does. I’m just guessing, but it seems to be an extention of the psychological concept of “closure.” But what it really does is simply give people a chance to vent and demonstrate their desire for vengeance. I have only once or twice heard someone from a victim’s family express any sort of forgiveness or willingness to forgive.

    It seems to me, in the end, to be a cheapening of the entire criminal justice process. It should be sufficient to allow the process to take its course without all the drama at the end.


  2. Thank you for this post. I have posted several times on the notorious serial killer, including his recent transfer to the El Dorado (KS) Correctional Facility.

    I think that after 31 years of watching this guy stalk and kill their family members, and all that time never knowing who it was who killed them or the reasons behind the killings, if there could be any, those who addressed Rader were finally able to release some steam that had been building up inside them all those years. I think they would have exploded (emotionally) inside if they hadn’t been able to get at least some of that out.

    Speaking can, in a way, be cathartic. It’s kind of like screaming into your pillow: you’re getting your frustrations out without throwing actual physical blows.

    I don’t know if you could call this a “redeeming” value, but it can certainly help people deal with what they’re experiencing emotionally.

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