Here’s more on that son-killing case. It happened in Texas. The judge handed down a sentence of five years’ probation to the father, who, despite admitting he had shot his son, had at first entered a plea of Not Guilty to a second-degree murder charge and then, with a hung jury, changed his plea to Guilty of manslaughter. But even so: Probation for killing his son? What kind of sentence was that? the class wondered; and once they realized the case had taken place in Texas, they were even more surprised at the sentence.
This student tried to express this:
“With more people on death row than any other state, the one thing Texas loves more than football is exciting criminals.”
Of course he meant executing criminals: just a typo, or hasty fingers, or some such unintentional production of a spelling error.
But the presence of football in the sentence makes “exciting” comfortable in the sentence. The comparison forces us to consider execution a kind of sport, like football games. If executions ARE to be seen in the same light as football, then I suppose the more exciting the criminal, the better the entertainment. Are there tailgate parties? Special snacks? And are executions even involved, or do people just visit the prison and enjoy the closeness of all that excitement?
I like the fact that the state itself feels this appreciation—no need for the people of Texas to get excited if the state does it for them. Well, as James Thurber would say, “the container for the thing contained” (metonymy): the name of the state stands for the people in the state. But it is in fact the state of Texas “with more people on death row than any other state,” not the people of Texas; so maybe the metonymy is a little problematic. I’m not going to let it bother me, because I do know what the figure means.
But oh, those exciting criminals. Maybe the reason the judge didn’t push the death sentence for our killer-father (who, as it happens, had been a professional football player in his day!) was that the guy just wasn’t all that exciting. After killing his son he had sat outside and waited for the police; he admitted killing the young man but felt that his motive (saving his son from future addiction to drugs) made him blameless. All in all, not exciting; just tragic. Why put such a sad-sack on death row?
To be sure, this is all fantasy. The charge was never first-degree murder, so death row was never a possible destination. Still, the sentence (my student’s, not the judge’s) invites me to consider it, and to consider it in the context of exciting football games and comparable criminals. And so consider it I do, with a quick “Thank you!” to a hasty typing job and a lazy proofreading job for a laugh on the way to the grave.