Letter: Not the mind of a killer

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IN "THE Executioner's Tale" (Review, 23 August). Dorothy Otnow Lewis diagnoses her interviewee, Deep South part-time executioner Bob Smith, as "psychotic" because of his "contradictions". I suggest that these disappear on closer analysis. For example, Smith (on his childhood): "...we had to knock on doors for food"; later: "We had to go where there was work". Lewis: "Did you have enough to eat?" Smith: "Yes". My analysis: a) so knocking on doors worked; b) as an itinerant construction worker, Smith's father could provide for his family when in work and be in trouble when out of it - like millions pre-welfare. In her eagerness to find contradictions, Lewis reveals her inability to empathise - the product, no doubt, of a privileged childhood. No consistency - just the rough and smooth of the underprivileged.

Bob Smith may have many unlikeable qualities, but he has a useful main job (as an electrician) and his brushes with the law have not been serious enough to prevent his other, state employment. He had a disrupted and violent childhood, but is a welcomed guest at his sister's and close to his grandson.

Lewis may have 25 years' experience of interviewing and treating murderers. But she reveals herself as out of her depth - and out of touch - in dealing with a man who is deeply flawed, is not a criminal and performs a distasteful part-time job as a legally sanctioned instrument of a democratically constituted administration. Smith deserves better than the label slapped on him by Lewis in a display of confused thinking, contrasting markedly with the way in which, with far fewer educational advantages, he attempts to explain himself.

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