It’s past time to end the death penalty

May 23, 2019

As this is written, Kenova native Bobby Joe Long is scheduled to be executed in Florida Thursday evening for the murders of nine women in the Tampa Bay area in the 1980s. Long is 65 years old and has been on death row for 34 years — more than half his life.

Long received the death penalty for the May 1984 stabbing and beating death of 22-year-old former beauty contestant Michelle Denise Simms. He also pleaded guilty to killing eight other women in the Tampa area and claimed to have raped 40 women in three states. His killing spree lasted from March to November 1984.

His arrest came after the Nov. 3, 1984, kidnapping of Lisa McVey, 17, who persuaded him to let her go, after which she gave police information that led to his arrest.

His known murder victims are Artiss Ann Wick, Ngeun Thi Long, Elizabeth Loudenback, Vicky Marie Elliott, Chanel Devoun Williams, Karen Beth Dins-friend, Kimberly Kyle Hopps, Virginia Lee Johnson, Kim Marie Swann and Simms.

McVey is now a sheriffs deputy in Florida. She survived being raped at gunpoint and held in captivity for more than a day before Long blindfolded her and drove her home. McVey told Mirror.com she plans to attend the execution.

Long was known as the “Classified Ad Rapist” because he met his victims through newspaper advertisements, raping dozens of them in Florida in the 1970s. He also lived in California, where he is suspected to be responsible for several sexual assaults involving classified ads for which he was never prosecuted.

As reported by The Herald-Dispatch reporter Courtney Hessler, Long had a tortured life before he went on his killing spree. He was bullied as a youngster. His parents divorced when he was 2. After that he bounced between Florida and West Virginia. He attended Cammack Elementary School until he suffered a head injury when he was hit by a car. Long’s ex-wife said his personality seemed to change after he received head, back and leg injuries in a motorcycle crash while serving in the U.S. Army in the early 1970s. She has since said in television interviews that he was an abusive husband.

There were other things in his life that prevented him from living the life a person in a stable, caring home environment would experience.

None of that excuses his crimes, of course.

The crimes for which Long was found guilty or for which he pleaded guilty were heinous. If anyone deserves the death penalty, he would be on the list. But it still does not justify the death penalty itself.

There are two reasons to execute a criminal: to protect society from him and to deter other people from committing similar crimes. Neither holds up in this case. While Long is in prison, women are safe from him. And the existence of the death penalty in Florida did not prevent Long from committing his terrible acts.

We cannot be sure that innocent people have not been executed because of a mistake in the justice system or from a deliberate action by a prosecutor to frame a person he knew was not guilty.

Thirty states still have the death penalty on the books, but 20 of them have not carried out any executions in the past five years. There is too much potential for innocent lives to be lost. That, not compassion for murderers and rapists, is why West Virginia is wise to be one of the 20 states that does not have the death penalty, and it is why Ohio, Kentucky and others should consider doing away with it themselves.

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