On Thursday, November 1st hundreds of students showed up at Glenbrook Gymnasium to listen to the Castleton Keynote speaker David Kacynski, brother of the infamous Unabomber Ted Kacynski, speak out against the death penalty. Expecting a speech full with statistics and questions of ethics and morality, there seemed to be a sense of apathy among some of the audience members. However, once Kacynski took the stage and began speaking, he turned the gymnasium into a living room; an intimate setting for heartfelt story telling.
He started with an introduction, and at first gave two reasons why the death penalty does not serve justice. The first was the question of it’s accuracy, “How many innocent people have ended up on death row?” and the second was the point to the death penalty’s seriousness. It is “Ultimate Justice,” Kacynski said, “and if it is ultimate it must also be ultimately fair.” It was on that point that he began his hour long story.
Clearly what the students wanted to hear about was the situation he had to endure with his brother Ted, and it was that very situation that turned him on to the fight against the death penalty.
It all started with an observation from his wife: David’s brother Ted had been mysteriously in all of the locations that the Unabomber had attacked, including the school where Ted had taught for a while.
Curiosity became stronger when he heard of another attack in Salt Lake city, and remembered that Ted had a part time job for a short while in SLC. Then the manifesto came out; a 70 page document of explanation by the Unabomber, and when David read it he couldn’t help but notice the similarity between the Unabomber’s writing and his brother.
Eventually, David notified the FBI and Ted was arrested. “It was really incredible how he could talk about doing that,” said Castleton student Jordan Vickers, “to speak about something so close to his family must have been difficult.”
Kacynski approached it with apparent comfort however, he spoke of the impossible decision to turn in his own brother, and to presumably send him straight to death row.
Throughout the story Kacynski continually pointed out his brother’s lack of mental stability and cited that 10 percent of all people executed are mentally ill. It is in that glaring statistic that he finds a fault in the death penalty. He says the mentally ill who commit crimes with the ultimate consequences can not defend themselves in court; they can not afford good lawyers, and can certainly not represent themselves well enough to plead for their life on the grounds of insanity.
To hammer this point home David welcomed Bill Babbitt, Massachusetts native and California resident, who was put in a very similar situation to David. Babbitt also turned in his brother, who had assaulted and inadvertently killed an elderly woman. During the trial, what wasn’t taken into consideration was his brother’s severe mental instability. His brother was found guilty and executed in California several years ago.
At the end of Babbitt’s story there was a short intermission during which the sounding question was asked, “did this change the way you feel about the death penalty?”
Vickers, a supporter of the death penalty only in the most extreme cases said it did not, but that he respects what David did and appreciated his retelling of the impossible situation he was put through.
Later in the week two students were heard talking outside of Leavenworth hall, “It was a great speech, what he went through must have been impossible. I mean, the death penalty is so hard to decide on, but what he said really made me think about it being right or wrong.