Steven Sandison was serving life in prison for killing his girlfriend in 1991. Years later, in 2019, he was given another life sentence for killing his cellmate Theodore Dyer, a convicted child molester.
Before murdering his cellmate, Steven had pleaded with the Michigan Department of Corrections not to place a child molester in his cell because he would kill him. In one of the more shockingly dull videos of guilty murder pleas you’ll see, Steven admits to this murder in a calm, straight face fashion as if someone had asked him for the time. In the aftermath, Steven rejected the hero praise lauded down on him, insisting he just did what he thought was right.
This story has sparked a raging ethics debate in my daily being; it’s a classic moral grey area; while killing is wrong, what about killing someone genuinely evil? Is this not the rationale we carry into war? For its all savior of the world propaganda, America remains the only country to use nuclear warfare to level two cities of innocent civilians. Yes, we stopped the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, but does that make what we did right? Murder in any form is a sin, but is it?
The bible would say so, but should man’s animalistic side be governed by a higher power if governed at all? One could argue that man’s animalistic side is why we need higher powers, to decide these gray areas rather than our monkey brains. Yet the Bible still tells us of the crusades, and god only knows the evils that lead to Vatican City’s building. One need look no further than the never-ending struggles of Israel to see the futility of any war, no matter how holy the cause. While I’m either too bitter or not naive enough to believe that organized religion has all of the answers, my faith in God assures me of some higher-order to all the evils of this human world we live in.
So if nationalist propaganda nor religion can point us to what is truly right or wrong, then I ask who or what can? Perhaps If I had taken a semester class of ethics or philosophy in college, we would have addressed these kinds of topics that academia loves to jerk itself off over. While Academia stays perched high in its’ ivory towers debating over right and wrong, troubled and more simple men like Steven Sandison take matters into their own hands every day. People like Steven do not consult the bible or an ethics course; no, given the context they live in, people like Steven Sandison do what they feel is the right thing.
Regardless of your opinion, Steven did the right thing in his mind. From Steven’s perspective of already spending life in prison, killing a child rapist allows some nobility to come from his acts of darkness. Like a lotus flower, Steven’s act of killing this rapist gave his soul a beam of light through the darkness of propensity to murder. For me, it is enough to consider what Steven did as an act of good; by Steven killing a convicted rapist, I believe he made this world a better place.
As to the question of right and wrong, context matters.
For instance, to stab someone in broad daylight is terrible.
But what if you stabbed someone because they had a gun up to your head?
But what if you stabbed someone who had a gun up to your head, but it turned out was a toy gun, and they were just messing around?
Well, in the case of Steven, I’d say, given the context of his life and his surroundings, he did the right thing.
If we’re in a world where we still think we’re the good guys of WW2, Steven should be considered the good guy for murdering a rapist.
And if you’re feeling bad for this rapist, maybe in another life, he’d also be a murderer so he could better defend himself.
As far as God and religion are concerned, I’m sure God and the angels will have numerous meetings over Stevens cases for heaven and hell.
But I’m told God is the ultimate forgiver, so I imagine this situation wouldn’t bother him too much.
As I close this out, I struggle to come to grips with the definiteness of this situation and use humor as a way to cut through it because, to me, there is no clear answer here. After some time away from this piece, I began to think about context more and more, how Steven made an arguably good thing come out of murder, and how this relates to all of us in our daily lives. We all make decisions every day, and we all try to make the best suitable decision we can. But sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do, and other times the wrong something is irresistible and other times we get to the right thing by doing the wrong thing. Luckily for most of us, the context of our lives is not confined to the top and bottom bunks of a prison cell but more along the lines of whether or not to go to the gym. So while we can sit here all day and make value judgments on what Steven did, it doesn’t change the fact he did what he believed to be right, which is something I suggest all of us bring into our lives. If we believe something to be the right thing, we need to do it no matter the consequence we face.