Thursday, October 26, 2006

The execution of Jeffrey Lundgren.

This past Tuesday Jeffrey Lundgren was executed by lethal injection in Ohio. Lundgren was a reverend in a splinter group of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (who are not-quite-Mormons) ... until he forced his own dismissal and formed his own cult. In 1989, he slaughtered five members of a family that he subsequently claimed "seemed to lack adequate faith". He invited them to dinner, and lured them one-by-one to a barn, where they were slaughtered by the shepherd with the assistance of the faithful.

Lundgren, who had been a child loner with a history of cruelty to animals, attended Central Missouri State University for electronics. Despite a four-year stint in the Navy, he had an uneven job history due to reputed irresponsibility. He also had a habit of beating his wife, yet he was asked to joined the RLDS lay priesthood. But Lundgren felt that certain church practices (like allowing women to serve in the clergy) were too liberal. He vested himself with the authority to interpret scripture directly, and proceeded to gather his flock independent of the established temple. As he assumed leadership over a small cult, he became increasingly obsessed with guns and perversity.

What specifically intrigues me about this case was the failure of the convicted to plead insanity. Lundgren claimed that he could feel no remorse for carrying out God's command, and therefore should be spared the death penalty. Surely the belief that God has ordered you to murder your followers is suitable evidence of mental illness (the story of Abraham and Isaac not withstanding). I don't know what kind of lawyer Lundgren retained, but it seems like he missed an obvious opportunity. No doubt there is a tradition of God speaking to his/her/its followers in virtually every religion... but like anything else, faith in this phenomena is a matter of degree.

It's true that Mormonism (like its offshoots) relies on revelatory experience for much of its allure. Any of the church's brethren may receive direct communication from God in the form of visions or commands. That leaves those subordiante to the most senior brethren (especially all women) vulnerable to the dictates and caprice of charismatic or dominant individuals. Of course anyone experiencing "visions" and "hearing voices" is liable to receive the DSM-IV diagnosis of schizophrenia from any competent mental health professional. Additionally, a perspective founded on the belief that you are the physical manifestation of God's Will can be characterized as "delusional thinking".

One tortured appeal for clemency that Lundgren's lawyers did use included their contention that lethal injection constituted "cruel and unusual punishment" because their client was an overweight diabetic. This argument seems rather counterintuitive. It seems obvious that diabetics, through the administration of hypodermically delivered insulin, should be desensitized to needles. That should render the delivery-method "less cruel" and "more usual" than if he didn't have diabetes. Evidently the appeal was based upon the inefficient execution of an intraveneous drug user whose vein collapsed during the execution procedure, causing "excessive" pain. Either way, a particularly conservative appellate court turned him down. Being a fat, insane, God-faring diabetic didn't save Lundgren's life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard of this guy. Chilling...but then, anyone who beleives they are carrying out God's Word is scary to me.

7:50 AM  

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