This post is intended to follow up on the series about killer Eric Nenno (part one here). In the comments, some of you had questions that I will try to answer here.
First a thoughtful one from "Anon" on 10/21:
It seems that he belonged to the demographic of death row inmates who (a) committed an unspeakable, tragic, reprehensible crime, but (b) had at least a partial physiological explanation for the crime, with respect to his organic brain damage linked to his military service and chemical exposure, and (c) was extremely remorseful and could have been detained safely for the rest of his life in maximum-security conditions if given LWOP. Given this mix of circumstances - a not-uncommon mix on death row - I will be intrigued to hear your assessment of whether he was evil and what the term evil means as applied to perpetrators in the homicide context.
Let me start with the assumptions that underline your question:
(a) I agree: an unspeakable, tragic, reprehensible crime.
(b) I'm not sure I agree. It's possible and I haven't studied either the chemistry or the trial transcript but defendants and their lawyers will (not surprisingly, and I'm not saying this is bad) come up with all manner of theories to explain behavior. If you are judging this as fact from the Texas After Violence Project Interviews, the chap I'm reading also claims Nenno committed these crimes and then didn't remember them until days later, when the polygraph was done. I don't buy that.
(c) I also don't buy that he was extremely remorseful. I sat opposite him, just the two of us, and we talked for hours. He explained calmly how he'd done it, denied some other things I knew to be fact (raping her after death) and his expression of remorse to me was by rote, bored almost. I do agree he probably would not have been a danger in prison if given LWOP.
Now, the subject of 'evil.' I don't really believe in evil. I do believe some people chose to do things we don't understand, for reasons we don't understand. But calling someone "evil" is almost a cop out, in my opinion, for them and for us. For us because it means we can stop looking for reasons they behave that way, just stick a label on it and be done. I'm more curious about human behavior than that. Especially criminal behavior. And it's a cop out for them, because it almost indicates they can't help their behavior. Maybe that's true, but I doubt it. Again, it's an easy end to curiosity, to investigation.
So was Nenno evil? Of course, in my book no. He didn't torture puppies, set fire to nunneries, and likely would have helped old ladies across the street. The better questions (in my mind) are whether (a) he was genuinely remorseful, and (b) he would have done it again.
I don't think he was genuinely remorseful. As explained above, when I asked him if he felt bad about this he trotted out a line about "I feel terrible for the loss the family suffered," but there was no emotion, no feeling behind it. Maybe he's numb from too many years thinking about it, expressing it, but this was days before his death and the only emotion I saw from him was concern about himself. To describe killing someone so flatly, so easily, indicated to me he has no idea of the harm he's done, the damage not just to one little girl but to her family.
And would he have done it again? Ah, there's a question I can answer. And will answer. Because I have a little story to tell you, something he told me but had never told anyone else . . .