Thomas Steinbeck condemns use of John Steinbeck’s novel in death penalty case

ap916088932152Thomas Steinbeck made international headlines today for speaking out against the use of his father John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men” in a Texas death penalty case. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals compared the defendant, a mentally disabled man named Marvin Wilson, to the mentally retarded “Of Mice and Men” character Lennie Small, and used criteria from the work of fiction to support their decision to execute Wilson. This infuriated Thomas on behalf of his father, and he issued a statement this morning criticizing how the court used his father’s work.

Quotes from Thomas Steinbeck’s statement have been featured in The Atlantic, The Guardian, NPR, The Huffington Post, International Business Times, The Houston Chronicle, The Texas Tribune, and others.

Here is an excerpt from the article in The Atlantic:

It’s little wonder then why John Steinbeck’s son, Thomas, was so disgusted Tuesday at the thought of having his father’s work associated with a legal standard that could send a man like Wilson to the gurney and a needle in the wake of Atkins. “Prior to reading about Mr. Wilson’s case,” he wrote:

I had no idea that the great state of Texas would use a fictional character that my father created to make a point about human loyalty and dedication, i.e. Lennie Small, from Of Mice and Men as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die. My father was a highly gifted writer… His work was certainly not meant to be scientific, and the character of Lennie was never intended to be used to diagnose a medical condition like intellectual disability. I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous and profoundly tragic.

He is not alone. Either the Eighth Amendment means something or it doesn’t. Either the mandate of Atkins means something or it doesn’t. If these principles and precedents don’t mean anything, if a state like Texas can execute a mentally retarded man simply by labeling him as “mildly retarded,” then the Supreme Court ought to have the guts to say so by overturning Atkins. And yet if Atkins is still good law Wilson should still be alive, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. There is no in-between here.

You can read the whole article in The Atlantic.


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