By the time this makes it into print, Susan Atkins may already be dead. Personally, I don't care one way or the other. The only thing I care about is the fact that she breathes her last breath in custody.
For those too young to remember, Susan Atkins was part of the Manson Family, a group that centered around and did the bidding of a man named Charles Manson in California in the late 1960s.
Manson, who is still in prison, is probably familiar to even the most youthful of police officers, but Atkins is not as well known. She should be.
Atkins was a young woman who worked as a topless dancer and willingly became involved in the drug culture of that era. Manson, a hypnotic cult leader, took Atkins into his group, which included a number of young, impressionable girls. Under his guidance, several of the young women, including Atkins, participated in a series of horrific homicides in Southern California.
Atkins first helped kill a young music teacher who had befriended the "family" as Manson and his followers liked to call themselves. But it wasn't until the summer of 1969 that Susan Atkins rose to her true potential as a murderer.
Atkins, according to testimony at her trial, helped slaughter actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant at the time. Also murdered alongside Tate were houseguest Abigail Folger, the coffee heiress, Folger's boyfriend, hairdresser Jay Sebring and an 18-year-old boy who was visiting the Tate home's caretaker.
These five murder victims (six, if you include Tate's child) were stabbed repeatedly. Atkins admitted that Tate begged for her baby's life and was rewarded by being stabbed in the stomach. Atkins then tasted Tate's blood, and used it to write on the walls.
At the trial, Atkins giggled and ridiculed the proceedings. She was convicted and given the death penalty, which was commuted to life imprisonment.
While in jail, Atkins reportedly became a model prisoner. She "got religion." She got married. She went up for parole and was denied again and again. And each time she appeared before the parole commission, the friends and families of her victims came forward to oppose it.
This July, Atkins tried again to obtain her freedom. She asked for compassionate release, based on her terminal cancer. With a prognosis of only months to live, Atkins was described as paralyzed on one side, with a partial leg amputation.
California Gov. Arnold Swarzenegger opposed her release, as did the victims' remaining family members. They believed that Susan Atkins should receive the same amount of compassion she showed to Sharon Tate. I agree with them.
There is ample room for compassion in the criminal justice system. I believe that law enforcement officers display huge amounts of compassion, much of it altruistic.
The officers at the department where I once served were always passing the hat for someone. And the objects of their compassion were not always victims or innocent bystanders.
I remember quite well when a local prostitute was arrested one cold winter night. The officer who put her behind bars did it with a heavy heart. She'd been caught shoplifting food at a grocery store. The woman knew the officer who was called to transport her and told him that times had been rough and her kids were hungry. Whether it was true or not, the officer offered to pay the grocer for the food. The store owner refused and the woman went off to jail and her kids were turned over to Social Services.
Compassion for other human beings, even perpetrators, is a priceless quality that should be encouraged in those who serve and protect. But in this case, both the governor of the state of California and the 12-member parole commission got it right: Susan Atkins deserved what she got. That she lived 37 years longer than her helpless victims is more than compassionate.