Beyond the Byline: Life or death? Speech or silence? Latter decision is easy

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected] | June 24th, 2017 7:11 pm - updated: 8:03 pm.

WILKES-BARRE — It was pretty sickening sitting in a federal courtroom for two days this week.

Having to look at the autopsy photos of Eric Williams’ lifeless body — the stab wounds, the bruises, the swelling, the blood. All a result of the brutal and senseless beating given him by convicted murderer Jessie Con-ui.

What was more sickening was watching Con-ui just sit there, calmly listening to Williams’ family and friends emotionally tell about their times with the fallen corrections’ officer. And he was motionless as he looked at the same horrific photographs of Williams that showed all the wounds that Con-ui inflicted.

And all because some corrections officer searched Con-ui’s cell and found some contraband and removed it.

Like I said, senseless.

The jury that convicted Con-ui must now decide if his sentence should be life in prison without the possibility of parole, or death by lethal injection. The jurors have seen the photos and they have heard the testimony. They have also watched the videotape of the beating — how Con-ui knocked Williams down a flight of metal stairs, pounced on him, stabbed him 203 times and pummeled him time and again, stomping on his head over and over as he lay limp on the concrete floor.

The jury also has been hearing from Con-ui’s family. They will talk about how they will miss him if he is put to death. They will try to convince the jury that Con-ui’s life has value.

I’m glad I don’t have to listen to that. I feel for the jurors who must make this decision. Con-ui has killed twice now. He has been incarcerated in Colorado in isolation, leaving his 80-square foot cell for only one hour every day. He has no contact with any other prisoners. His privileges are extremely limited. His life is a bare existence.

The question is, should he be allowed to exist at all?

And along came this kid

After two days of covering the penalty phase of the trial, I returned to normal news coverage and had the opportunity to interview Peter Butera, the 18-year-old Wyoming Area graduate who got his 15 minutes of fame last week. Butera, as you surely know by now, delivered a commencement speech and, when he “went off script” to criticize the Wyoming Area administration, his microphone was shut off and he was asked to sit down, getting a standing ovation from his peers and people in attendance.

Because Butera was not allowed to speak his mind, his message has since been heard by millions who otherwise would never have known. First of all, there is nothing wrong with allowing students to offer input into decision making that directly affects them and those to follow. It doesn’t mean the students will decide anything, but maybe, just maybe, the students’ perspective might enlighten those who are making decisions for them.

What Butera said, or was gong to say, was not overly critical. Yes, the speech he submitted did not contain a paragraph of criticism, but so what. Why should he even have to submit his speech for review? He’s the president of the senior class and valedictorian. Let the kid speak. If he goes off on a vulgarity-laced tirade, then turn the microphone off and stop him.

But because he was censured, Butera was given the opportunity to tell his story to media outlets all over the country, even on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show. Consequently, the message he would have delivered to his classmates, parents, family, friends and school district personnel was now delivered to the world.

Butera is a good kid. He put an end to the national media frenzy by simply saying all the notoriety was not helping his cause. He was afraid it was becoming a circus. All he wanted to do was try to effect some positive change in the school district he loves and his family has been a part of for generations. He wanted the students to become part of the process and that’s it.

I’m not sure the current Wyoming Area administration and school board will ever see what Butera was trying to say, but they should listen.

Maybe the only way Butera’s dream will ever become reality is if he completes his education, earns an administrator’s certificate and returns as superintendent at Wyoming Area.

That is, if he could get the five votes needed to be appointed.

Beyond the Byline Bill O’Boyle the Byline Bill O’Boyle

By Bill O’Boyle

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Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]