Content Warning: Severe Childhood Abuse
The most prolific serial killer in modern state history plans to kill again and has even announced when the life will be taken. On Tuesday, Missouri officials plan to execute Carman Deck. He’ll be the 92nd person executed since 1989 via a system funded by all of us who dutifully pay our taxes.
Deck did commit contemptible crimes, fatally shooting Zelma and James Long in 1996 after he and his sister Tonia Cummings robbed them in their De Soto home. I mourn their passing and all who have been killed in our world and extend condolences to those grieving such tragic losses.
Obviously, our society can do nothing to restore life to the murdered couple. That’s beyond human abilities. There’s also no justification for what Deck and his sister did.
An abundance of evidence of their horrific childhood and other traumas, however, helps explain what shaped him to be capable of causing such harm.
A petition from Deck’s attorneys urging Gov. Mike Parson to exercise clemency was recently submitted to his office and states that food insecurity, abuse and neglect were childhood norms for Deck and his three younger siblings. Their birth mother, who was developmentally disabled, abandoned her children for days at a time.
“From the tender age of five or six, he was placed in charge,” the document states. Deck “would gather whatever food was available for them to eat — sometimes a stick of butter or dry dog food.”
When they had been abandoned by their mother on one occasion, their father, who had moved out long before, was called to pick up the children from a sheriff’s office, the appeal reports.
He took them to his “brother’s house for a Thanksgiving dinner.”
“The youngest child was so famished that he wolfed down his food, threw it up on the plate, and tried to eat his own vomit before he could be stopped.”
Deck experienced frequent physical and emotional abuse by his mother, men she prostituted for and later a stepmother when the children returned to live with their father.
In one incident, the document states, their stepmother refused to let him use the toilet for hours. When he had a bowel movement, she took his soiled underpants, “rubbed feces on his face leaving only his eyes, nostrils and mouth uncovered; (she) demeaned him even more by taking a picture” and showing it to other people.
Certainly, he should be held accountable for murder, but as the petition notes, “the failure of the Missouri system to protect Mr. Deck as a child is a primary reason his life took the tragic path that it did.”
“Opportunities for early intervention went drastically awry, with the foster system repeatedly ripping him away from potentially stable home environments back into the care of his abusive and neglectful parents.”
While Deck also suffered much sexual abuse as a child, he was perhaps most traumatized when, as a young man, he was gang-raped by other prisoners at the Moberly prison, the appeal states.
Those close to him reported he was never the same afterward. His former fiancée recalled when he spoke of this he would “cry and shake.” Prior to that trauma he had “no noted history of violent or aggressive behavior, and no previous arrests for violent crimes.”
Like the several hundred other men held at the Potosi maximum-security prison, he has been held safely apart from the general public. There is no longer a segregated death row in Missouri.
The approximately two dozen men living under a death sentence are integrated in the general population and housed according to their perceived level of dangerousness.
For about the last year, Deck had been housed in Potosi’s honor dorm, recognizing that he has adjusted well to institutional life.
He was able to interact freely with other prisoners and had earned the privilege of some freedom of movement, as much is allowed in the restrictive institutional environment — since he was deemed to be no danger to others in the prison.
Once the Missouri Supreme Court issued in February his execution date, Deck was moved to an isolation cell as part of the state’s execution protocol.
Regardless of the crimes, all people — including Carman Deck, retain the most basic of all human rights, to life itself. Please urge Gov. Parson to exercise mercy, halt the execution and commute his death sentence to life in prison. Contact his office, calling 573-751-3222, sending a letter via www.governor.mo.gov or faxing it via 573-751-1495.
The public is also welcome to attend Vigils for Life, co-hosted by Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and the Mid-MO Fellowship of Reconciliation on Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. outside the governor’s office on the second floor of the Capitol in Jefferson City and from 5-6 p.m. in Columbia near the Boone County Courthouse on Walnut Street. For more information, call 573-886-0608.
Okie is a member of MADP’s Columbia chapter and the Mid-MO Fellowship of Reconciliation.